in Houston, Texas
Allen ISD approves $2 million in one-time payments to staff
Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012, 11:37AM CST
By Curt Olson
money

Allen Independent School District, known for its shiny, new $60 million football stadium, has a split school board over $2 million in lump-sum raises to district teachers and staff.

The recent 4-3 board vote authorized the one-time payments in November, ranging from $375 to $1,000. The payments are aimed at keeping district pay competitive with that of its neighbors, the Allen American reports.

Trustee Mark Jones contended the raises are fiscally irresponsible after asking taxpayers to dig deeper for Allen ISD last November.

"Our greatest charge is to ensure the future financial viability of this school district,” he said. “I don't think we can do that by offering a $2 million bonus when we just got finished asking our taxpayers to pony up 13 cents extra just last year.”

Supporters see the move as the district keeping its promise to employees at a time of state budget cuts that have hurt Allen ISD. They argued it is the best conservative option given the district’s circumstances.

The district of about 19,000 students in Collin County, north of Dallas, has gained national attention for its $60 million football stadium, which opened in August. There’s also been controversy over the location and about $40 million in construction costs for a new bus service center, CultureMap Dallas recently reported.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Photo of money by flickr user 401 (K) 2012, used via a Creative Commons license.

Former mayor sues El Paso, city leaders to prevent demolition of City Hall for baseball stadium
Monday, Oct 08, 2012, 01:43PM CST
By Curt Olson
baseballs

The fight over the proposed Triple A baseball stadium in El Paso will head to the courtroom as former Mayor Ray Salazar and two others have sued the city and several city officials to prevent the demolition of City Hall.

David Ochoa and Jesus B. Ochoa Jr. joined Salazar, the city’s mayor from 1977 to 1979, in the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court against Mayor John Cook, City Manager Joyce Wilson and city Reps. Susie Byrd, Ann Morgan Lilly, Cortney Niland, Dr. Michiel Noe and Steven Ortega, the El Paso Times reports. The five city representatives have voted to let the baseball stadium proceed.

The 13-page complaint alleges an orchestrated strategy by Wilson, Niland and Ortega to ensure the stadium proceeds as “a done deal.” The lawsuit also seeks immediate relief because city hall’s demolition could begin soon, and Salazar and the Ochoas want voters to decide the issue.

The lawsuit comes two weeks after City Council approved a contract with MountainStar Sports for the lease of the ballpark, which requires the demolition of City Hall, the Times reports. The group would bring the Tuscon Padres, an affiliate of the San Diego Padres, to El Paso for the 2014 season.

This also comes following two attempts by city residents to put the issue on the November ballot. The second petition had enough signatures, but it was too late for the November ballot.

The lawsuit also comes amid heavy campaigning for passage of a “quality of life” bond issue. Voters also will decide the fate of an increase in the hotel tax to cover most of the stadium’s construction cost.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of baseballs by flickr user paul.hadsall, used via a Creative Commons license.

‘Nobody’s Women,’ a true crime thriller by Texas Watchdog’s Steve Miller, tells the story of the Cleveland Strangler and his victims
Friday, Oct 05, 2012, 04:24PM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal
prison bars

You know Steve Miller for his dogged reporting on government here at Texas Watchdog. His work has revealed shenanigans in state and local government, officials’ conflicts of interest, and a first-hand account from a paid vote harvester.

Miller is also a well-regarded author of true crime. His latest book will be featured on Cleveland radio and TV shows next week.

Nobody's Women: The Crimes and Victims of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Serial Killer,” is described in this way on Amazon:

On a Thursday evening in late October 2009, Cleveland Police detectives arrived at the home of Anthony Sowell—an ex-Marine and a registered sex offender—to arrest him on week-old rape charges.

But this was no ordinary house, nor would it be a routine arrest.

For even though Sowell was not at home, officers knew immediately something was horribly wrong. After initially finding two rotting corpses inside the home, their investigation would lead them to discover the bodies of eleven women.

This is the shocking true account of Sowell’s legacy of depravity and cold-blooded murder. His mannered and well-spoken veneer masked a monster who felt no mercy for those he butchered. His twisted existence spent among the decaying bodies of his victims. And how he picked his victims from the fringes of society—lost souls with criminal records or drug habits that would make them less likely to arouse alarm if they simply disappeared.

But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t be avenged…

So if you happen to be in Cleveland next week, tune in (show times below). You can also catch Miller on this recent installment of “True Murder,” (click player below) a Blog Talk Radio program hosted by Dan Zupansky that examines “the most shocking killers in true crime history and the authors that have written about them.” Here are those show times:

  • 6:45 a.m. Monday on “Fox 8 News in the Morning,” WJW Television.
  • 10 a.m. Monday on "Rover's Morning Glory, " WMMS.
  • Times TBD Monday on WEWS-TV and Tuesday on WDOK/WQAL.

Listen to internet radio with True Murder on Blog Talk Radio

***
Contact Lee Ann O’Neal at 713-980-9777 or leeann@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo by flickr user jellevc, used via a Creative Commons license.

Former El Paso ISD superintendent Lorenzo Garcia sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison, ordered to pay $236K in restitution, fines
Friday, Oct 05, 2012, 04:00PM CST
By Curt Olson
scales of justice

Former El Paso Independent School District Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for his role in a scheme to manipulate test scores.

Garcia, who pleaded guilty in June to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, will also pay $180,000 in restitution and a $56,500 fine, the El Paso Times reports. Garcia steered a $450,000 district contract to a mistress and rigged the testing system to boost scores and meet federal accountability students.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, who made the first accusations in 2010 that ultimately proved true, called on Senior U.S. District Court Judge David Briones to give Garcia a harsher sentence.

Garcia’s sentencing ends only a part of the sordid story that has plagued EPISD. The district, under the guidance of trustees who have failed to lead, is under state oversight.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of scales of justice by flickr user mikecogh, used via a Creative Commons license.

Public schools in Texas ban fewer books, ACLU report shows
Friday, Oct 05, 2012, 10:38AM CST
By Steve Miller
bookshelf

The number of books banned by public schools in Texas dropped in the past year dropped to the lowest in a decade, with the subjects of cursing, teen and race issues, illustrations and sexuality being the sticking points for parents, teachers and administrators.

The annual banned books report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas reports the drop, based on a mass open records request to more than 1,000 school districts. Both bans and challenges have dropped since 2007.

Most objections to book begin with a parent. From there the matter is referred to a review committee – 59 percent of them in 2011-2012 school year. The previous year, 50 percent of districts said the issue went before administration or the vague “administration or other.”

The annual report hits during Banned Books Week, which wraps up tomorrow.

Best-selling author Dean Koontz is among those whose books were banned. Books by Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger and Thomas Hardy were on the list of restricted books, titles where access was limited by age or parent request.

The Michael Moore movie “Sicko”, which promoted the national health care policies in Europe and Cuba, was challenged in the Edna Independent School District in South Texas by parents who felt the liberal political view was presented without debate. The issue was resolved when the teacher “also planned to show alternative side of issue,” the ACLU report states.

The school district in Allen north of Dallas banned “The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To,” by D.C. Pierson,  for middle schoolers, a book that was in the news recently when a student sought help in its meaning on the Internet and received a note from the author instead.

It seems a little tame in comparison to the unintended marking of Banned Books Week in 2010, when Texas developer Hiram Walker Royall sued an author for an unflattering portrayal of his use of eminent domain.

Royall was defeated in his effort to ban the the book by a state appeals court.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feed in your newsreader. We're also on MySpaceDiggFriendFeedNewsVine and tumblr.

Photo of bookshelf by flickr user zetson, used via a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, e-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

Robstown ISD voters will decide fate of smaller bond issue after $1 million mistake
Thursday, Oct 04, 2012, 03:00PM CST
By Curt Olson
money

A last-minute change of plans and human error created a $1 million mistake for the bond issue on the November ballot for Robstown Independent School District voters.

District leaders discussed plans over the summer for a $12.5 million bond issue to demolish and reconstruct 30 Robstown High School classrooms and a cafeteria and library. Days before the final vote, trustees increased the bond issue to $13.5 million after input from financial advisers, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports.

The district’s bond counsel didn’t amend the election order, and the board secretary, who was absent from the special meeting for the final vote, didn’t notice it before sending it to Nueces County elections officials, the Caller-Times reported. Officials of the district of more than 3,300 students about 20 miles west of Corpus Christi sought the $1 million cushion in the bond for unexpected higher costs for the projects.

The district chose not to spend $15,000 to change the ballots, the newspaper reported.

Robstown ISD School Board President Osvaldo Romero wasn’t happy when he noticed the mistake on a sample ballot.

"I was livid,” he told the newspaper. “That's a million-dollar mistake.”

If voters approved a $13.5 million bond, Robstown ISD tax rates would have increased to $1.67 per $100 valuation from $1.61 per $100 valuation. That will drop if voters approve the $12.5 million bond issue on Nov. 6, though the dust hasn’t settled enough for officials to say by how much. When they do, we hope they’ve checked those figures twice.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of money by flickr user 401 (K) 2012, used via a Creative Commons license.

UH professor’s high-flying expenses include $500 pens, luxury rental cars, thousands of dollars for booze
Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012, 02:05PM CST
By Steve Miller
Audi

The Cadillac tastes of a University of Houston professor are fine when he’s spending his $198,954 salary on his own. But a KHOU report uncovers physics professor Arthur Weglein’s fancy tastes even when the money he spends is the public’s.

Think $500 pens, and nightly rates of $535 at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, and $567 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

He even rents Land Rovers and Audis when he has business in San Francisco, a city where a car is a liability.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the story is his utter lack of regard for the perceived overspending.

“I do things that are appropriate and serve this university,” Weglein said. Weglein told the news station that he needed the luxury cars to “navigate the steep hills.” Flying first class? Weglein has a doctor’s note saying “he suffers from back pain.”

In an interview with KHOU, Weglein clams up when it comes to his alcohol bills, $17,000 worth, funded by the Cullen Foundation, according to the report.

In fact, Weglein claims that most of the money he spends comes from the private sector, donations to Weglein’s research program at the university.

But if that’s the case, why is it that the pens - $8,000 worth of the finest MontBlanc over the past few years – have prompted an “ongoing investigation,” according to UH Provost John Antel.

Antel also said the days of the $500+ hotel stays are over for Weglein. Thanks to this report, there will be someone watching to make sure.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of an Audi by flickr user FotoSleuth, used via a Creative Commons license.

Chesapeake Energy has near-perfect win rate in mineral rights cases before Texas Railroad Commission
Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012, 11:38AM CST
By Steve Miller
gas flame

The land grab rights of Texas are legend, handed over to corporations fairly easily. Reuters writes another piece on the simple process of taking private land for mineral rights, using a couple from Arlington as a jumping off point.

Chesapeake Energy Corp., the story notes, has an overwhelmingly high success rate at getting approval from the Texas Railroad Commission. It has been rejected in its overtures for land rights in 5 of 1,628 cases since 2005, or .03 percent of the time, the story reports.

 

“Chesapeake has sought the most exceptions during that time -- almost twice the number sought by a subsidiary of giant rival Exxon Mobil,” the story reports.

 

The company obtains the authority under a state statute from 1919 called Rule 37, originally intended “to prevent excessive drilling of oil wells and to protect the mineral rights of small landowners, say legal experts.”

 

Fast-forward a century, and small landowners like the Arlington couple say they don’t feel very protected. The couple is not owed any money for the mineral rights Chesapeake secured under Rule 37. A commission spokeswoman says her agency isn’t charged with weighing the fairness of the law, but rather making sure natural resources don’t “go to waste.”

 

Indeed, the Commission has allowed Chesapeake to run over private land holders, a land grab strategy that Chesapeake itself brags about on its corporate Web page, speaking of its successes between 2003 and 2007:

During this time, we rapidly increased our acreage positions in these unconventional plays as we won what we have called the “gas shale land grab.” We believed that by winning this land grab, we could establish Chesapeake as the premier U.S. natural gas producer for decades to come.

It’s one thing to strike a deal, albeit a bad one taking advantage of someone, as happens a lot.

 

But it’s quite another when a corporation has an advantage at the regulatory level. We reported in early 2011 about the notion that energy companies run the Railroad Commission as the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission considered the need for the agency.

 

But the numerous complaints from the public fell on deaf ears, as a report on the commission failed to address a perceived coziness between big energy and the state.

 

***

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

 

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Photo of gas burner by flickr user c.a.muller, used via a Creative Commons license.

Houston teachers’ union president Gayle Fallon fined $5,000 by Texas Ethics Commission; Fallon: Cheaper to pay fine than lawyer
Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012, 03:29PM CST
By Curt Olson
Gayle Fallon

The Texas Ethics Commission has fined Houston teachers’ union leader Gayle Fallon $5,000 for campaign finance reporting violations, including almost $40,000 in credit card expenses that were not properly detailed.

The 10-page ruling focused on allegations regarding campaign finance reports submitted from 2009 to 2011 by the Houston Federation of Teachers Committee on Political Education (COPE). Fallon is president of the union and serves as committee treasurer.

The most significant allegations, that Fallon failed to pinpoint tens of thousands of dollars in expenses paid by credit card, were found by the commission to be true. State law requires reporting of the actual vendor being paid, rather than just the credit card company.

“Regarding the four political expenditures to American Express totaling approximately $38,590, the respondent did not disclose the ultimate vendors who received the payments,” the ruling states.

Fallon failed to properly document two political expenses totaling $840 in 2010, listing a last name and initials rather than a full name as required by law, and submitted three reports late. The commission dismissed the other allegations or found them to be more minor, technical errors.

Fallon said the complaint that prompted the ruling was politically motivated and emphasized that the commission rejected most of the allegations.

“It was cheaper to pay the fine than to pay the lawyer to fight the fine,” Fallon said.

Fallon also received ethics attention in 2011 when Texas Watchdog reported on $477,687 in payments from the union to her son, lawyer James Fallon III, for “legal counsel to members.”

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of Gayle Fallon from Gov. Rick Perry's website.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, e-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

After $140K inside theft, ballooning miscellaneous expenses, tiny Gregory, Texas, can’t afford its auditor
Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012, 01:45PM CST
By Steve Miller
Humpty Dumpty

There once was a town that was so broke it couldn’t even afford to pay an auditor to help it put the pieces back together.

"First, we have to get our books straight," said Tino Zambrano, mayor pro-tem of Gregory, Texas, in a story in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

The town, population 2,300, could start its fiscal recovery by addressing how a $600 office chair and $30 trash cans for City Hall were approved, as this story points out. The math behind spending $42,000 for miscellaneous expenses when $4,250 was budgeted could also be explored by the auditor the city can’t afford.

The town was contracted to pay this auditor $12,000, but, what with the trash cans and the office chairs, things are a little tight. Add to that the alleged inside theft of around $140,000, for which a city employee was arrested a couple of weeks ago, and Gregory is vying for the title of most messed-up city in Texas. Such a mention would add to the dubious honor of being ranked the 3rd most risky place to live in the U.S. in terms of potential natural disaster.

The city is raising its property tax rate by five cents per $100 valuation as a start on coping with the adventurous city spending. On Monday, a $170,000 payment on a $3 million loan is due by the city, but it will only be able to pay the interest portion, $68,000. The rest of the payment is due 10 days later.

The town claims to be plagued by drainage problems that result in frequent flooding. In June, the town was upbeat about some federal money that would help it deal with the trouble. No word on the status of that bailout.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Illustration by flickr user merlinprincesse, used via a Creative Commons license.

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Will Sullivan | 6 years 8 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 6 years 8 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 6 years 8 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 6 years 8 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 6 years 8 months
Go ahead, chalk it up http://t.co/YMWpC5wM #satx #chalkitup
Caller.com | 6 years 8 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 6 years 8 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012 http://t.co/eodxBYVD
Dallas Morning News | 6 years 8 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) http://t.co/gURdYkj1
Caller.com | 6 years 8 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run: http://t.co/NgerCdsQ
Karen Townsend | 6 years 8 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 6 years 8 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business - http://t.co/kWY8gwPV http://t.co/bw25JP5R
News 4 WOAI | 6 years 8 months
If you see news in or around San Antonio 'SEND IT' to @NEWS4WOAI here: http://t.co/uMqbMXQv OR email us at: NEWSDESK@WOAITV.COM
swamplot | 6 years 8 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 6 years 8 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 6 years 8 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 6 years 8 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https://t.co/YUWi19WY
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