BG Reads | News You Need to Know (November 9, 2018)



Austin urbanists see support for denser housing in defeat of Prop J and Laura Morrison (Austin Monitor)

Most mornings, Dave Sullivan bikes from his house in Clarksville to the University of Texas. He then hops on an express bus to his job as a researcher at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus.

During the election season, his daily commute served as a sort of poll of voters – albeit with a minuscule sample size.

“I would pass by signs in support of Prop J and I didn’t see any signs against Prop J,” said Sullivan, who serves on the city of Austin’s Planning Commission. “My own small sample from my own observations made me think it was going to get more support than it did.”

Proposition J would have required the public to vote on every citywide land development code rewrite and would have enacted a waiting period between City Council’s approval of a new code and the code going into effect. But it failed on Tuesday night by a 4-point margin. Former City Council member Laura Morrison also lost – in this case badly – falling to the incumbent Steve Adler who secured nearly 60 percent of the vote.

“If you look at the people who show up at City Hall on Thursday,” said Kevin McLaughlin, a board member of the nonprofit AURA, which advocates for more housing, a walkable city and better public transit, “you would think that neighborhood preservationists were a majority of Austinites.”…

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Music Management Group BMI To Open Office In Austin (KUT)

Broadcast Music Inc. will be opening an office in Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott and the music rights management group announced Thursday.

"Today we are proud to announce that BMI’s support of Texas songwriters, composers and music publishers will become even more Texas-focused,” Abbott said in a statement. "This capital investment expansion represents a real commitment to continue Texas' rise as a music industry business center."

BMI officials said they will be working directly with musicians and artists to help them "get a leg up from making a living from their career."

"Creative people have been drawn to Austin forever," said Jody Williams, BMI's vice president, creative. "It's the merge of all of the influences that have settled in Central Texas, and that makes for really incredible culture and really incredible music that sounds like Texas."

Williams, who is based in Nashville, will be working directly with an Austin-based team…

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$31M deal to move Austin Municipal Court to east side shaken up (Austin Business Journal)

A 10-year, $31 million deal for the Austin Municipal Court to relocate to the MetCenter business park near the airport appears to be off the table, as the city has introduced fresh competition to the fray.

On May 10, Austin City Council authorized staff to negotiate and execute an agreement with Zydeco Development Corp. for a 120-month lease of 96,000 square feet of office space in Building 3 of MetCenter II, at 7000 Metropolis Dr. The agreement, which would have included an option for a 10-year extension, was for up to $31.3 million.

That deal was never signed.

Instead, on Oct. 18 Council unanimously approved a new authorization for staff to negotiate a $30 million agreement for the same amount of space at the Bergstrom Tech Center at 6800 Burleson Rd., essentially across the street from MetCenter. The agreement would be with CCI-Burleson I, an entity owned by Austin-based Capital Commercial Investments, Inc…

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Houston’s Harvey recovery contracts face questions, delays as $1B in aid looms
(Houston Chronicle)

Despite ongoing delays and questions about the procurement of contracts to manage massive disaster relief programs, Houston officials this week said they hope to finally get more than $1 billion in federal Hurricane Harvey recovery aid flowing to storm victims next month.

City Council nailed down one of the most crucial arrangements on Wednesday, approving a $36 million contract with a Virginia-based firm to help Hurricane Harvey victims access some of the $1.17 billion in federal aid the city soon will receive, a key component of Houston’s recovery from the catastrophic storm. The contract with ICF International, which will be paid for with the federal aid, reached the council more than three months after it had been expected to and passed on a split vote amid questions about the firm’s work after Hurricane Katrina, the local subcontractors it has selected and the work it will do to find storm victims and help them apply for assistance.

Although city officials say they could receive the long-delayed federal aid as early as the end of this month, another crucial Harvey recovery contract remains in the city procurement process. That deal, to hire construction firms that will carry out more than $300 million worth of repairs on as many as 6,000 homes, originally was expected to reach a vote in August. Another procurement snafu has forced the city to narrow the scope of its first key Harvey contract from $25 million to $11 million after state officials said the deal ran afoul of federal rules. That contract, with a firm that provides disaster experts to augment city staff and help administer the recovery, will need to start the procurement process over again. Houston housing director Tom McCasland acknowledged the city’s timeline has shifted, but he stressed that is due partly to delays in securing state and federal approval of its “action plan,” the planning document required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Once that plan, which outlines how the city will implement its recovery efforts, gets federal approval, Houston can sign a contract with the Texas General Land Office and access the $1.17 billion…

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Texas Republicans ponder path forward after close statewide races and down-ballot defeats (Dallas Morning News)

After Tuesday's midterm election leaders of the usually dominant Texas GOP are pondering how long the party will be on top. Close statewide contests, including the race for Senate, and numerous defeats down-ballot stunned the GOP, which usually wins easily in midterm elections.

"We're in the process of trying to understand it a little bit better," said Sen. John Cornyn during a stop at the North Texas Food Bank in Plano. "It was an incredible confluence of events. One of them was a very charismatic candidate for the U.S. Senate who more than doubled his fundraising over what Sen. Cruz was able to do. Doing that against an incumbent Republican in a red state is unheard of." Cornyn said Texas was still a red state but that the 2018 midterm elections should be a source of concern. "I don't know whether this is a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events or whether this represents something of a new normal," he said. "It is a wake-up call. We're thinking though this. We're going to try to be prepared for 2020. We're all very proud of what we've accomplished here in Texas." Cornyn has a personal stake in 2020, since he said he will be running for re-election. With the exception of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Republicans struggled to win statewide contests, highlighted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton winning by 5 and 3 percentage points, respectively. And in down-ballot races, there was all kinds of GOP carnage. Democrats won at least 12 statehouse races, two state Senate contests and two congressional seats. In Dallas County, Pete Sessions, the longtime Republican incumbent and chairman of the House Rules Committee, lost to first-time candidate Colin Allred. What should be particularly disturbing is Democratic performance in counties long dominated by Republicans. In Collin County, state Senate candidate Angela Paxton (wife of Ken Paxton) won by a narrow margin, and state Reps. Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach of Plano, who usually dominate, had tough re-election bids. Senate hopeful Beto O'Rourke carried Tarrant County, and he had 46 percent of the vote in Collin County.

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Texas state lawmaker wins reelection from jail (Dallas Morning News)

Call him inmate 232573. But he's better known as state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, from Fort Bend County. Reynolds, 45, won re-election this week while he serves a yearlong sentence in the Montgomery County Jail. He received 47,305 votes in his unopposed bid for a fifth term.

He was booked Sept. 7 after five misdemeanor convictions in 2015 for illegally using a middleman to drum up business for his law firm. The lawmaker isn't required to resign from office because the cases are misdemeanors. It's unclear how he will serve his constituents because the Legislature meets in 2019. Many county jails allow inmates to receive two or three days of credit for every day they serve. Investigators found during an undercover investigation in 2012 that a chiropractic firm urged patients to hire Reynolds without meeting them after they were hurt in accidents, KHOU-TV reported. Investigators were accused of stealing evidence in unrelated cases, and prosecutors dropped the charges against Reynolds. A year later, authorities arrested him and seven other attorneys, accusing them of being involved in a $25 million kickback scheme with the owner of two chiropractic clinics. Reynolds spent three years appealing the conviction. The State Bar of Texas says he is not eligible to practice law and suspended his license in 2016…

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FDA plans to ban most flavored e-cigarette sales in stores (Austin Business Journal)

The Food and Drug Administration plans to ban sales of most flavored e-cigarettes in retail stores and gas stations around the country, in an effort to reduce the popularity of vaping among young people.

The agency also plans to require age-verification measures for online sales to try to ensure that minors are not able to buy the flavor pods.

FDA officials have been weighing measures to try to curb the use of flavored e-cigarettes among teenagers. A senior agency official said details of the plan would be announced next week, and that menthol and mint flavors would be exempt from the restrictions. The FDA stopped short of including menthol flavors in the vaping sales ban, partly out of concern that some users would switch to traditional menthol-tobacco cigarettes…

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s ouster throws future of special counsel probe into question (Washington Post)

The future of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign was thrown into uncertainty Wednesday after President Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, giving a political loyalist oversight of the probe.

Trump named as acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, Sessions’s chief of staff, who as a legal commentator last year wrote that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III appeared to be taking his investigation too far. A Justice Department official said Wednesday that Whitaker would assume final decision-making authority over the special counsel probe instead of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Since last year, Rosenstein has overseen the investigation because Sessions, a key Trump surrogate in 2016, recused himself from dealing with matters involving the campaign. It wasn’t immediately clear what role, if any, Rosenstein may play in the probe going forward. As acting attorney general, Whitaker could sharply curtail Mueller’s authority, cut his budget or order him to cease lines of inquiry. Within hours of his appointment, there were mounting calls by congressional Democrats and government watchdog groups for Whitaker to recuse himself, citing critical comments he made about Mueller’s investigation. Furious Democrats, emboldened by winning control of the House in Tuesday’s elections, also promised to investigate Sessions’s forced resignation and suggested Trump’s actions could amount to obstruction of justice if he intended to disrupt the criminal probe. “There is no mistaking what this means, and what is at stake: this is a constitutionally perilous moment for our country and for the President,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) said in a statement. He is set to take over in January as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that would oversee any impeachment proceedings…

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