in Houston, Texas
Weekend Watchdog: Primary battles, wind power, whooping cranes and more
Friday, Dec 09, 2011, 11:21AM CST
By Trent Seibert


It’s gotten cold here in Houston and across Texas and I can’t think of a better weekend activity than curling up with Texas Watchdog stories published this week that you may have missed.

Last week we started a Friday feature that looks back at some of Texas Watchdog’s best work from the past week. If you missed some of our daily or featured reports, here they are, so you can get in some relaxing reading this Saturday and Sunday.

We’re also going to include in future Weekend Watchdog reports some of the best citizen journalism from around the state. Keep your eyes open, and e-mail suggestions to or

Here’s your Weekend Watchdog.

Trent Seibert, editor.

US House enjoys incumbency rate the "Chinese National Peoples Representative Congress would envy," group aims to get more voters to the primary polls

A pair of prominent small government conservative activists want voters to know their apathy during primary elections robs them of a stake in their democracy.

The Alliance for Self Governance has the non-partisan, non-profit goal of getting voters to realize that it is too late for them to affect their government if they wait until November to cast their first ballot, Alliance co-founder Leo Linbeck III says.

Read the full story here

Missing whooping cranes vex court weighing water suit against state of Texas

Call out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the World Wide Bird Hotline. The fate of all surface water in Texas rests on the whereabouts of 19 missing cranes.

Read the full story here

Texas Watchdog's Jennifer Peebles joins head of Google News, editor-in-chief of Yahoo, others to discuss journalism ethics in the digital age

First, there were newspapers. Then there was radio, and then TV. And now, in the last 15 years or so, there's the Internet.

Times sure have changed, and so have the ways that we in the press gather news and distribute it to the world. And the core ethical principles of our profession have had to be expanded on and tweaked with each new technology that developed.

I was honored to be one of the working journalists asked to take part in a really cool day-long session at Santa Clara University in California on Monday on journalism ethics in the digital age.

Read the full story here

Pension reformers warn of looming breaking point, cite governments' 'actuarial bullshit'

You might call it the Big Little Bang.

On Nov. 17, the assembly for the smallest state in the Union voted by a landslide to take some pension benefits away from all of its public employees and 21,000 retirees.

For pension reformers in Texas and across the country, Rhode Island was just a matter of time and a bellwether. In a report issued late last week, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation of Houston warned of underfunding of the nation’s public pensions by $1.26 trillion and the “catastrophic” municipal bankruptcies, pension debasement and wholesale public service cuts that were sure to follow if something wasn’t done.

Read the full story here

Using public information, Daily Toreador follows the money on a Texas Tech parking garage, arrangement with well-connected alum

The case of a parking ramp, a wealthy alum and his pals on the governing board of Texas Tech University's alumni association has been investigated with professional journalistic prowess by the school’s student-run newspaper, the Daily Toreador.

Read the full story here

Texas Public Utility Commission pushes for $7 billion transmission lines for wind power

With a shale oil and gas revolution bringing us an era of inexpensive fuel and greater energy independence, an ever-resourceful state has found a way to add $7 billion to our electric bills.

Read the full story here


Texas Attorney General cuts off e-mail for public records filings

The cost of obtaining public information just got less convenient and more expensive.
The state Attorney General’s open records division launches an online appeals system in February, which will require parties to cough up $30 if they want to use the system to respond to a government body’s appeal of an open records request.
Read the full story here


Houston school district says food services company reneges on contract

Senior Houston schools officials are considering terminating the district’s agreement with Aramark after they say the Philadelphia-based food-services company incurred a loss of $1.9 million in district taxpayer money - a contract violation.
Read the full story here

Texas Workforce Commission official who coached businesses on avoiding workers' benefits gets promotion

A state official who had advised Texas businesses how to skirt paying workers' benefits was later promoted to division director at the Texas Workforce Commission.

Read the full story here

Prison beds increase, just months after Texas Legislature cheers prisons spending cuts

Shrinking the size of government is like popping a water balloon with one hand.

Take the closing of a state prison over the summer, part of a $60 million prison spending reduction for which the Legislature could not stop congratulating themselves. Think of all those millions of dollars in tax savings not having to fill those more than 1,000 beds, they said, some of them, no doubt, already spending the money someplace else in their minds.

They never got the chance. While the Central Unit in Sugar Land, near Houston, closed, officials at the remaining 111 prisons were adding more bunks, 2,000 more than the state had a year ago.

Read the full story here

Contact Trent Seibert at or 832-316-4994 or on Twitter at @trentseibert  o@texaswatchdog.

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Photo of ‘Snowman Reading to the Penguin' by flickr user Family O’Abe, used via a Creative Commons license.
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