Hate crime bill has its first effects
BY ERIKA ANDERSON
.....A Kountze County man pled guilty to arson on Tuesday under the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, in what appears to be its first application.
.....Norman Lee Warden received a 16-year sentence for targeting a Pakistani man, Tahir Mahmood in the act's first usage since it passed in 2001.
.....Mahmood, who is Muslim, was not injured in the May 2002 fire, though it did cause damage to a gas pump at his Buy-N-Bye convenience store. More.
'02 election ads haunt business lobby
BY MIKE REED
.....The head of one of Texas' largest business lobbies was taken into custody Monday after refusing to turn over documents concerning the organization's secretly-funded advertising campaign during the 2002 legislative races.
.....Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond also decided not to pay his $500 fine for contempt and was ordered held in the Austin jury room until 5 p.m. when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals set bail at $1,500 and he was released.
.....That brought to four the number of TAB officials cited for contempt since a Travis County grand jury was convened to investigate whether state laws barring corporations from electioneering had been violated. More.
UH announces replacement for top post
BY BRANDON MOELLER
.....At a brief but boisterous ceremony yesterday, the University of Houston System announced its sole finalist for the position of UH main campus President and System Chancellor. Former New Mexico State University president Jay Gogue - who has had similar positions at other universities and colleges - will replace UH's Arthur K. Smith. Smith is retiring after a six-and-a-half-year reign effective September 1st.
.....While at New Mexico State University, Gogue improved and updated the administrative infrastructure of the land grant university. As the UH system's new leader, Gogue will direct four campuses in the greater Houston area with more than twice as many students. More.
San Antonio decides to go coal
BY KAREM SAID
.....In a board meeting on Monday, the municipally-owned electric company City Pubic Service decided they will pursue a permit for a coal-fired plant in San Antonio. The city already has two coal plants. The new plant would cost residents $750 million. CPS spokesperson Bob McCullough says the company received tremendous support throughout the city:
....."On Monday afternoon - the City Public Service Board of Trustees which is the policy-making body for the utility system serving San Antonio - the board decided unanimously to pursue filing for a permit to construct a coal-fired power plant to serve San Antonio's future energy needs. This came after a tremendous amount of input from the community, from staff members, from industry experts and based on the current energy situation, the feeling is that coal can best meet San Antonio's needs for liability, for cost, so that was the direction the board decided to take."
.....However, Environmental Defense activist Ramon Alvarez says his watchdog organization tried to postpone the company's permit application until after they'd adequately consulted the public. More.
Bucketeers claim chemicals leaked during plant fire
BY ERIKA MCDONALD
.....Following a fire at a Nova Chemicals plant in Bayport on June 11, official reports assured surrounding communities that no toxic chemicals had been emitted. But nearby neighbors weren't so sure. Monday night, 40 residents gathered in Shoreacres to find out what citizens uncovered from their own air samples taken after the blaze. Erika McDonald was at the meeting and spoke with the concerned residents:
....."We didn't believe the propaganda that they put out in the newspaper. And we were sure that she would have the straight scoop."
.....The straight scoop about a June 11 Nova fire was high level emissions of toxic chemicals used to manufacture styrene, according to a citizens' air monitoring group. Unconvinced by company claims of no emissions, residents packed the tiny city hall in neighboring Shoreacres Monday to hear the results of samples taken by the Texas Bucket Brigade. The Bucket Brigade's Ken Martinez:
....."Nova got out in front, which is, you know, good PR [public relations] for them. And they came back and they said, 'Hey, there's no ethylbenzene out there. You know, you all are safe.' They didn't mention anything else, but they did fail to tell you if anything else is out there. And what we found was that yes, maybe ethylbenzene wasn't in super high concentrations - although we did find some, so it wasn't true that there was none. What we found even more important was that high level of benzene." More.
Redistricting hearings continue in Houston
BY ROBERT CARDENAS
.....The special session called by Governor Rick Perry has lawmakers back at the capital this week, with senators addressing the issue of redistricting.
.....It's a process that some lawmakers say could have been avoided. Others suggest the Republican's proposed map could bring Texas back into the courts.
.....Meanwhile, special hearings taking place around the state by the senate redistricting committee continue to be filled with citizens voicing clear opposition to the changes Republicans are proposing. Robert Cardenas was at the hearing in East Houston today and files this report:
.....Almost 300 people turned out this afternoon at Ceasar Chavez High School where the senate redistricting committee held its latest hearings.
....."I think it's obvious that the Republicans - I won't say all Republicans - but first of all I think they should be ashamed to have persons like DeLay among them, because all he's doing is power-grabbing, and he's not even thinking about the state of Texas or the people." More.
Activists to City Hall: Free Williams from death row
BY RENEE FELTZ
.....Two months ago local activists mounted a public awareness campaign about a man sent to Texas death row by Harris County prosecutors.
.....In 1992, Nanon Williams - then a 17-year-old Black man - was sentenced to death for his part in a drug deal gone bad. Williams' capital murder conviction was based on testimony from HPD's ballistics expert Robert Baldwin.
.....This morning, activists took Williams' cause to city hall. There, Gloria Rubac explained why she feels testimony by HPD's expert in Nanon's case was faulty:
....."His testimony said that it was a .25 caliber gun that killed this man. And Nanon had a .25 caliber gun. Then, a few years later, after Nanon's attorneys hired their own ballistic expert - after the court finally allowed them to do that - it was proven that it was a .22 that killed this man. And then Baldwin recanted, and said 'Oh, that's right, it was a .22'." More.
Garden tries to help one carrot at a time
BY KAREM SAID
.....Yesterday the city auctioned off a community garden called The Last Organic Outpost due to unpaid property taxes on the garden's land. Joe Icet started the garden nearly two years ago on a small piece of overgrown land in the Fifth Ward. The original land is owned by Jim Omar, an environmental design associate Icet met years ago.
.....But then Icet got carried away, as he puts it, and began clearing surrounding greenery to make space for more vegetable beds. He didn't know who owned the surrounding land, but it was obviously abandoned. The landscaped garden now includes over a dozen large plant beds, three ponds, picnic tables, tiki torches and a hammock. Visitors will find green beans, cantaloupe, tomatoes, lettuce, green peppers, cucumbers, yellow squash, watermelon and more.
.....On Monday, devoted volunteer, Nancy Sorenson, worried aloud that the land's new owner would turn the garden into a parking lot:
....."The garden could be bulldozed and they could put up more warehouses or parking lots or apartments or things. And there's so much more opportunity here to teach people about what it is that is possible in a small amount of land. We've had children come out here and pull carrots from the ground and just shriek with delight ... More.