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The QueQue

 

The QueQue didn’t discover this bedrock principle of physics, but we preach its self-evidence weekly: When it rains, it pours.

Check:

Party line

The City’s long game of telephone line with whistleblower John Foddrill is coming to an end, and the municipality’s mouth must now speak directly to its public’s ear. The former Telecom Manager’s lawsuit commenced this Monday under the oversight of District Court Judge Antonia Arteaga, who does not like digression, or even explanation. She repeatedly seconded the COSA lawyers’ objections when Foddrill tried to outline his complaints in detail, i.e.: What the “telephone variable” is and how his former department, the Information Technology Services Department, milked it for decades for unrelated expenses. Why an internal audit couldn’t reconcile padded invoices for a City contractor. Why a department supervisor was pushing a more expensive private contractor over the City Council-approved official supplier. [See “Off the hook,” October 8, 2008.]

That was much of Monday afternoon’s testimony, and we suspect things will heat up under cross-examination while your dutiful QueQue is getting this print edition to the press, so keep your eye on QueBlog for details. Chisme overheard in the courtroom: Former Municipal Integrity Manager Virginia Quinn had not yet answered her official invitation (read: subpoena) to appear and explain her CYA memo of Fall 2005, in which she admitted that the City needed to clean up the telephone-variable mess, but nonetheless had closed Foddrill’s official complaint as “unfounded.” Shortly thereafter, Foddrill claims, he was “reorganized” into an administrative corner, humiliated in front of his peers, and eventually fired for trumped-up minor infractions.

The City failed to get Her Honor to remove former City Auditor Pete Gonzales — unveiler of the playground scandal that cost Parks & Rec Director Malcolm Matthews his job — from the plaintiff’s list of witnesses. COSA Attorney Debi Klein previewed the bulk of the defense’s remaining strategy in her opening statement: “John Foddrill deals in half-truths and lies,” said Klein, promising that during the course of the trial “he will contradict himself.” The courtroom dynamic seems to be shaping up thusly: COSA is trying to impugn Foddrill as a small-time troublemaker who filed complaints to mask his own dissatisfaction and lack of performance — their only hope given that the City’s own documents, including internal audits, support Foddrill’s account of long-term, widespread mismanagement problems in ITSD. Foddrill attorney Malinda Gaul is painting the portrait of a City that doesn’t even understand whistleblower legislation, much less protect employees who try to point out areas of needed improvement.

“If [Foddrill] had not reported these violations of law, if he had just sunk back into his chair,” Gaul told the jury, “he’d probably still be working there.”

Park place

Now that our currency’s going the way of Monopoly money (sans those sweet pastel colors), you’d think near Eastside parkland, burdened as it is with various sale restrictions, would be off the market. But speculation knows no bounds, or as a Spike Lee character might advise: When there’s blood on the streets, buy property. So the Parks & Rec Department will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, February 12, at the Little Carver Civic Center (a nice touch) to unveil the draft “request for bids” for little, neglected Healy-Murphy Park.

Named for the indomitable Irishwoman who founded a religious order to aid SA’s disenfranchised African-American community, the scant acre of playground and hoops has become a catcher’s mitt for the foul balls that miss the adjacent Salvation Army residential center and (unrelated) Healy-Murphy academy for at-risk youth. Following last fall’s pitch from a deep-pocketed suitor (repped by City Hall regular Walter Serna), District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil put the auction in motion, which brings us to this point: a public hearing, a bid request, (presumably) a winning bid, a Council meeting, and unless the opposition produces the John Hancocks of 1,500 registered SA voters (no problem, they say), the park becomes the Healy-Murphy Memorial Hotel (parking lot). (Not the official name yet, but as our radical poets have oft pointed out, this is America, home of the Jeep Cherokee and Apache helicopters.)

The draft bid answers many of the opponents’ concerns, Parks & Rec Director Xavier Uruttia told the Current last week — including the preservation of the historic building that has housed the CentroMed Clinic — except for that biggest concern, of course: The East Side needs greenspace like you need oxygen. Dig?

Read about the proposed sale, and purported hush-money investment in the Hays Street Bridge project, in the MashUp, January 7. See you at the meeting.

Driving under an influence

The QueQue’s Machiavellian imagination fails us on occasion, so it was weeks before we suspected that a certain Mayoral brain and Castro campaign maestro engineered Sheryl Sculley’s iron-clad contract ahead of the spring election season so that our popular City Manager’s tenure wouldn’t be a ballot-box handicap for one of her few vocal (and now former) critics. If we were to indulge in conspiracy theories of Mel Gibson proportions, we might even imagine you-know-who’s hand in the Planning Department’s recent surprise announcement that it wanted more time to study the impact of Clear Channel’s 12 new digital billboards (and Lamar’s solo sign) on traffic safety.

The City Council is obliged to at least look at said study before it considers extending the digital-billboard pilot program that expired last December — a move that would gratify Clear Channel, one of the city’s more generous electoral philanthropists (you remember: $40,000 for the 2007 bond election, $25,000 for the term-limit extension, at least $8,000 for County Commissioner Kevin Wolff).

But the City staff proposal — to compare data from accidents within sight of the signs from two years before and one year after — doesn’t pass muster with electronic-billboard expert Jerry Wachtel, whose pre-report advice to Planning we excerpted in last week’s QueQue. Wachtel took a look at the report, released January 26, and was disappointed that the City is still driving right past the main point: “It’s not enough just to collect data,” said Wachtel. You also need control sites where there are no digital billboards, or where traditional billboards have not been converted to digital.” Even then, a meaningful study would take years, he argues, because statistically speaking, traffic accidents are rare, and most of them go unreported, or are so minor the causes are not really investigated by the police. “Doing this kind of accident analysis is almost never going to give you meaningful results,” he said. Unless you work for the digital-billboard industry, in which case you get another faulty study “proving” that your product isn’t dangerous to wave in front of city councils and legislatures.

Sunny side up

In case you’ve had your head stuck in the want ads for the last week, QueQue is proud to alert you that our long-sought Teletubby utopian revolution with giggle-inducing jobs for all is on the way.

First, super-bad CPS Energy adopted a resolution in favor of transitioning to a decentralized power model, a critical first step toward a future in which our electricity is generated on the rooftops and in the backyards of homes across the city (instead of in polluting power plants).

Next, Mayor Hardberger unleashed his vision for “Mission Verde,” which starts by turning the city’s power grid into a two-way street ripe for homemade power, and ends with “green” job-training programs and hyper-efficient building codes.

Then solar goes apeshit in Austin.

Already this session, lawmakers have filed 15 bills seeking to expand solar-energy use in the state, according to Texas Legislature Online. (Solar advocates count “at least” 18 bills.)

At a Pearl Brewery press conference Monday, San Antonio’s favorite solar celebrant Bill Sinkin said in perfect 19th-century speak that solar power is already a full-grown child in need of proper rearing — that state residents “need to insist lawmakers stay behind building the best, the strongest child of the sun, in the state of Texas.”

A new report from yet another green advocacy amalgam — one part Public Citizen, one part Environment Texas, and a third part Vote Solar — suggests that by adopting a solar-based renewable portfolio standard of 4,000-megawatt capacity within 10 years, ramping up rebate programs, and ensuring fair buy-back prices for homemade power, the state is ready to reel in “22,000 manufacturing and installation jobs, stabilize energy prices, and avoid 29 million tons of climate change inducing pollution.”

So has Texas reached a critical mass for solar?

Pearl’s 200-kilowatt solar array, projected to be the largest in the state, is nearing completion. CPS Energy is committed to building a West Texas solar farm to start generating “up to” 100 megawatts as soon as next year. Solar breakthroughs in thin-film that could lead to the rapid deployment of solar power to residential rooftops across the city keep on coming.

With climate projections suggesting that even if world governments are able to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 the planet may still reverberate cataclysm, we’ll be needing every pollution-free kilowatt we can lay our hands on.

You can check out the latest solar jobs projections on the Texas Solar Roadmap at cleanenergyfortexas.org or environmenttexas.org.

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