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August 29th, 2010:

Angelika Theater closes

Bummer.

“After 13 years of continued service to the Houston community, the Angelika’s lease has been terminated by the Angelika’s landlord….”

No word yet as to whether the Angelika, one of a global group of affiliated theaters, will reopen outside of the Bayou Place location downtown.

As one commenter said, “Houston, a city of 5+ million, only has 1 independent/alternative theater now?” That’s just wrong. Hey, if the Alamo Drafthouse doesn’t move into the Alabama Theater, maybe the Angelika can. Can’t hurt to ask about it, that’s all I know. CultureMap has more.

Cause of fire that destroyed voting machines still not determined

I sure hope it’s not arson. Lord knows, though, there’s a million conspiracy theories you could spin if it turns out it was.

Houston’s fire marshal’s office hasn’t made a ruling on whether Friday’s early-morning fire was accidental or deliberately set, said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, who hopes to hear something on the cause early this week.

“It would break my heart to think someone would do something like this to the election process,” she said, adding that she was unaware of anyone who might have had a motive to burn down the building.

Maybe you don’t have a suspect in mind, but it’s not hard at all to imagine a motive. Everyone knows Bill White will need a strong showing in Harris County to be able to win the Governor’s race. Perhaps someone who doesn’t want him to win decided to do something about it. I’m not saying this is what happened – we don’t even know if the fire was deliberately set or not yet – just that this is what everyone will be thinking if it turns out it was arson. See the comment thread at Political Wire and Burka for examples of this. Believe me, I very much hope this is a tragic accident.

Kaufman said she and the office’s election administrator, John German, are focusing on figuring out where 15 to 30 staff members will report for work, what the county needs to hold the election and how to execute and pay for the plan. The office is exploring whether to borrow machines from counterparts across the state, among other possibilities.

Harris County Commissioners Court will meet in an emergency session Monday to receive the county clerk’s proposed recovery plan.

Joe Stinebaker, spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, said Saturday he hasn’t a clue whether the financial needs will be minor or major. County reserve funds may be available for the expense, Stinebaker said.

So, um, does this mean that the county didn’t already have a disaster recovery plan in place? If you’re going to have all of the voting equipment in one place, shouldn’t someone have asked the question “Hey, what do we do if that place burns down”? Speaking as an IT guy, I can tell you that businesses ask these questions, and they make it someone’s job to come up with and test a plan to deal with things like a sudden, catastrophic loss of a data center. Is this really saying that the county had never considered this particular scenario? Because that sure seems like very poor planning to me.

Weekend link dump for August 29

Try to remember a kind of September…

It’s not violating your First Amendment rights if someone tells you to STFU.

Boy, if you can’t trust the World Bikini Sports League, whom can you trust?

Oh, Staten Island, why must you be such an embarrassment?

Now, that’s how you dress for the beach.

Some things are so stupid I can’t even make a snarky comment about them for the link text.

And sometimes, some things are so depressing that snark fails me as well.

Enjoy your retirement, Sweet Lou. And don’t feel like you have to mellow out if you don’t want to.

Where we went wrong with computer security.

Unlike some bloggers, I am not for sale.

What does your WiFi network name say about you?

OK, traffic here isn’t that bad.

I’m not a big Jerome Solomon fan, but when he’s right, he’s right.

No dissenters, please.

Here’s another great argument for letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

Sue, Shirley, sue!

For people who claim to love the Constitution, they sure want to change it a lot.

Windows 95 plus 15. Start me up!

Does Morgan Spurlock know about this?

Where your stimulus dollars went.

Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman comes out, to no one’s surprise but not everyone’s acclaim.

What a real fortune cookie would be like.

I for one will welcome our new nanobot overlords.

The TYC still has problems

Three years after the Texas Youth Commission was rocked by a sexual abuse scandal, there are still major problems at its facilities.

In a formal complaint asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate, Texas Appleseed, Advocacy Inc., the Center for Public Representation and the National Center for Youth Law said the commission is unable to ensure the safety of the 1,700 youngsters it incarcerates because of operational flaws, including inadequate staffing, improper restraints and excessive force.

The complaint also alleges that:

• Youths are not being provided proper medical and mental health care and educational programs.

• Youths are improperly restrained to keep them under control, and excessive force has been used on several occasions.

• High numbers of youth-on-youth assaults continue to plague the agency’s lockups in Beaumont and Corsicana — which last year won the dubious distinction in a federal report of having the second-highest sexual assault rate in the country among youth prisons.

“Our recent visits to facilities indicate broader systemic problems that TYC leadership has not resolved,” the complaint states. “These problems are not isolated to specific sites, but exist throughout TYC’s system of lockdown facilities.”

Youth Commission officials said that the safety of its inmates and staff members remains “a top priority” and that they planned to investigate the allegations.

The commission is “taking this letter and the concerns presented in it seriously,” an agency statement said.

You can read the letter here. Governor Perry, of course, thinks everything is just peachy:

Gov. Rick Perry’s office said in a statement that Texas can fix any problems on its own.

“Since 2007, Gov. Perry has passed sweeping reforms to ensure the safety of incarcerated youth in the TYC system, and the state will continue to improve the system without the help of the federal government,” the statement said.

But some other folks think maybe it’s time to tear it all down.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, says keeping young offenders in their home communities has proven more successful than any other approach. Most offenders are from urban areas where there are greater professional services available than in small, rural towns that are home to TYC lockups. “They just can’t get a staff … that is competent to provide safety for the children,” Whitmire says of TYC. If he had his druthers, Whitmire says, he would consolidate and shrink TYC facilities and instead put more money into community-based plans that keep youths closer to home. “It’s just dilapidated,” he says. “They need professional help, and [it’s] just not in these facilities.”

When Whitmire first brought up the idea of abolishing or downsizing TYC, [Deborah Fowler, the legal director of Texas Appleseed] was opposed. She was hopeful two years ago that [Cherie] Townsend, TYC’s new executive director, who had three decades in juvenile justice and a track record of successful programs in other states, could save the agency. But after touring the facilities in recent months and talking to inmates, she changed her mind. “I’m certainly open to ideas and thoughts about how to reform TYC short of abolishing it,” Fowler says, “but my primary concern right now is making sure kids in TYC facilities are safe.”

I will be running an interview with Sen. Whitmire next week. This is one of the topics we discussed. Tune in then to hear more about what he thinks about this.

Rick Perry isn’t the only debate ducker out there

Speaking of debates and those who don’t want to have them, meet Greg “I’ll leave the decision about whether or not I participate in a debate to my staff” Abbott. What are these guys afraid of? Is the thought of defending your record in front of an audience that might not include people who already support you that scary? I guess that like Perry Abbott doesn’t want to face a smart, engaged opponent in Barbara Radnofsky who will aggressively challenge him. Much safer to stick to approved talking points about political matters that don’t really have anything to do with his job.

Marmion Dambrino

A little history was made in HISD last week.

For more than 20 years, Marmion Dambrino has spent countless hours impacting students and student-athletes in Houston ISD. On Friday, she reached the district’s top position in athletics.

Houston ISD named Dambrino its newest athletic director on Friday, making her the first female athletic director in the history of the district. She has worked in the district’s athletic department since 2005 and has been its Senior Athletic Program Administrator since 2007 under former athletic director Daryl Wade. Wade left on July 9 to become the director of the Astros’ Urban Youth Academy.

“It’s a dream come true,” Dambrino said. “It’s a true honor for me.”

Dambrino, 49, has been in HISD since 1988 and has served a myriad of roles from coaching to teaching to academic administration. She has coached in Aldine ISD and Houston ISD and has also served as a secondary assistant principal, associate principal and dean of students in HISD.

[…]

Dambrino said one of her primary goals is increasing athletics participation in the district as well as continuing to increase the number of scholarships the district’s student-athletes earn annually.

Wade said Dambrino is dedicated to the district.

“She eats and sleeps Houston ISD athletics,” Wade said. “She stays on the job 24-7. I felt all along that she was the best one for the job and I’m proud that the district took this step. She’s going to do what’s best for the district and right for the kids.”

Sounds like she’s a great fit for the job. As the story notes, three area ISDs also have female athletic directors, but Dambrino is the first for HISD. Congratulations!