Commissioners approve Central Health performance audit
Central Health spending under attack from three sides
City staff failed to stop mayor from misusing city resources
Why is Apple Getting Tax Incentives?
Austin Won Apple Without Competition
‘The Arizona Republic’ Reported
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012
The Arizona Republic, that state’s largest newspaper, yesterday reported that Phoenix was never in the running to attract the Apple Inc. facility for which Texas has committed tax incentives, and both Austin and Travis County are considering doing likewise.
Governor Rick Perry is offering Apple $21 million in incentives over 10 years and the City of Austin is considering sweetening the deal with $8.6 million, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Travis County is also considering incentives.
Those incentives were based on the premise that Apple was considering Phoenix and Austin.
However, The Arizona Republic’s story published yesterday reported Phoenix “never had a chance” because the proposed site was on state land and “state trust land did not excite them” (Apple), so there was no Phoenix site reasonably in contention.”
Looks Back On 15 Years of Accomplishments
Preserve Still Short of Acreage But Provides
a Lasting Legacy for Future Generations
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011
Spirits were high on May 2, 1996, when Nancy Kaufman, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed the permit at 10:24am, the stamp of approval obtained through the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP). The plan called for the creation of a preserve system (the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve or BCP) to protect endangered and at-risk species. The overcast morning cooled temperatures and saved a lot of sweat for those who attended the invitation-only celebration, including Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Representative J.J. “Jake” Pickle, and other dignitaries.
Holding the permit aloft after signing it, Kaufman said, “It looks like it’s made out of paper but it’s really made out of blood, sweat and tears.”
That was not an exaggeration, considering the plan was eight years in the making. From 1988 through 1996, concerned citizens, business leaders, landowners, developers, environmental groups, scientists and the Fish and Wildlife Service collaborated to create a Habitat Conservation Plan that allowed the permit to be issued under the Endangered Species Act.
We were bussed in that morning amid tight security that blocked access by the protesters, who had massed outside the gate to Reicher Ranch on Ranch Road 620. Inside, we stood amid the junipers and watched turkey vultures coasting lazily on the currents overhead. Remarks were purposely kept short so that all in attendance would have time to sign the registry that would stand as testimony to this unique achievement, which Babbitt called, “the very first place in the United States we have produced an urban conservation plan.”
Kerry Tate, chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce said, “In developer’s terms, we could shout, ‘Done deal.’”
But Babbitt issued a warning: “I recognize this as the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The irony of this project being ramrodded by Babbitt, who said he was drawn to the challenge of working on the Endangered Species Act for President Bill Clinton, is that around here Babbitt wasn't exactly thought of as a friend of the environment. As I later wrote in the July 2002 edition of The Good Life magazine, in a story titled “The Life and Death of Barton Springs,” it took two federal lawsuits filed by the Save Our Springs Alliance to force Babbitt to finally declare the Barton Springs Salamander an endangered species in 1997.
But then, theBalcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan was not simply about the environment. It gave landowners who wanted to develop or otherwise alter habitat for endangered species that’s outside the preserve boundaries an alternative to seeking an individual permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The FWS permitting process requires development of an individual habitat conservation plan tailored to the project and may require additional habitat to be set aside.
The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan offered landowners a faster process administered by Travis County in which they could buy participation certificates to allow development in habitat located outside the preserve.
On May 13, 2011, fifteen years after the BCCP permit was signed, there were no protesters at the gate and precious little cloud cover to ward off the heat, but the spirit of the event was again one of celebration.
Bad press, mea culpas
Bulldog’s Complaint Dismissed
City of Austin Committed Alleged Violations
Bulldog’s Complaint Was the First Presented
for Violation of Texas Pubic Information Act
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011
The Travis County attorney’s office today issued a response to The Austin Bulldog’s complaint that alleged the City of Austin had violated the Texas Public Information Act by withholding public information.
The letter signed by James W. Collins, executive assistant Travis County attorney, states that the county attorney’s office “cannot determine that the violations alleged in your complaint were committed by the City of Austin.”
The letter states that this was a first complaint received by the Travis County Attorney’s office that was filed under Section 552.3215 of the Texas Public Information Act.
Attorney Bill Aleshire of Riggs Aleshire and Ray LP, who represented The Austin Bulldog in this matter, said, “This decision does not say the county attorney’s office exonerated the city, just that the county attorney’s office could not determine that the violations occurred as worded in the complaint.
Commissioners Responsive to Record Requests
Open Record Requests for E-mails
In Sharp Contrast to Resistance
by the City of Austin, Capital Metro
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011
The clear leader in local government transparency at the moment is the Travis County Commissioners Court, whose members have unanimously said they would provide e-mails involving public business requested by the Austin American-Statesman and other news organizations—including those sent or received on personal e-mail accounts.
Not so with the City of Austin and Capital Metro. These agencies are using the public treasury to commit to spending as much as $250,000 for the purpose of getting advice about how to deal with violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act and resisting disclosure of records that should be available upon request under the Texas Public Information Act.
On March 1, The Austin Bulldog sued the mayor, each council member and the city over the refusal to turn over e-mails concerning city business that were generated on personal computers or cell phones, as requested under the Texas Public Information Act. That lawsuit, which also seeks a permanent injunction to require all communications involving city business be retained and made available upon request under the Texas Public Information Act, is pending. The city has until April 4 to file a response.
Capital Metro is following the city’s example by announcing last Friday it would release some of the e-mails requested by the Austin American-Statesman and other media, and not saying whether it would release board members’ e-mails about Capital Metro that were created or received on private accounts.
Commissioners proactive responses
Judge, Commissioners Face Token Opposition
Face Token, Underfunded Opposition
Research Provides Detailed Background
Information on All Eight Candidates
Investigative Research by Jacob Cottingham
© The Austin Bulldog 2010
Editor’s Introduction: As we did with our investigative research for Hays County candidates published October 19, The Austin Bulldog is again stepping off the beaten path of how to cover an election. We point you to some of the stories written by other publications, but we also provide detailed information that journalists seldom take the time to dig up and assemble.
Rather than selectively quote from our background research, our approach is to use an extensive, organized plan to find, copy, and publish source documents that you can explore to form your own conclusions about people seeking elective office.
We’ve dug into the public records and published what was found, to include voter registration and voter history; personal financial statements, campaign finance reports, business records, property records, service on boards, key staff, spouses, web pages, and links to news stories. For some candidates we also found track records for previous bids for public office, State Bar profiles for attorneys, and real estate broker and mortgage broker licenses.
Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, who has held this position since 1999, is being challenged by Republican Mike McNamara, who has raised a single $100 contribution and spent a total of $1,308 on his campaign. Most of that, $1,250, was to pay his filing fee. Libertarian Mark Tippetts, also running for county judge, has raised nothing and spent nothing.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, who won her post in 2006, is opposed by Libertarian Matthew Finkel, who has neither raised nor spent any money on his campaign. Also running against Eckhardt is Republican David A. Buttross II, who vowed to raise no more than $500.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez has held this office since 1995. She staved off a strong challenge from former Austin City Council Member Raul Alvarez to win this year’s Democratic Primary. Since then, she has missed months of meetings due to open heart surgery and hasn’t attended a full meeting since April, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman. In the general election, she faces only Libertarian David Dreesen, who hasn’t raised or spent any money.
Most rich folks who vie for public office spend sizeable chunks of their own money doing so. Farouk Shami, a Palestine-born Houston businessman, pledged to spend $10 million of his own money in the 2010 Democratic Primary. Tony Sanchez, the West Texas businessman, paid out-of-pocket a reported $60 million for his doomed 2002 Democratic gubernatorial bid, in which he got 40 percent of the vote in losing to Rick Perry.
Buttross is wealthy, too. How wealthy is questionable, but one of his websites claims he owns a $50 million real estate portfolio, with $20 million in real estate notes and $30 million in real estate consisting of office buildings, apartment complexes, residential properties, grocery stories, warehouses, hospitals, hotels, and churches.
Our research connected him and his family to 19 separate businesses and 33 properties, most in Travis County, but also in Bastrop, Bexar and Williamson counties, with a total market valuation of $17.4 million, according to appraisal district records.
His home in West Austin, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District, is valued at nearly $1.9 million.
Yet Buttross does not risk his personal funds to further his political ambitions, or even bother to raise much.