Crystal Chavez, KUT News

Morning Edition Producer

Crystal Chavez has been at KUT since January 2007.  She currently produces the Central Texas content for Morning Edition and starts her day in the newsroom at 4:30 a.m.  Crystal is a 2005 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Communication.  Her hometown is Corpus Christi, Texas.

Ways to Connect

Update: The following announcement is posted on the Manor ISD website:

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller/KUT News

Stratfor Chief Lays Out Hacking Ordeal

Austin-based intelligence analysis firm Stratfor's website is back up and running after hackers, who claimed to be with the group Anonymous, stole thousands of credit card numbers and other personal information belonging to Stratfor customers.

Photo by KUT News.

City Commission to Review Proposed Bags Ban

The City of Austin’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission is scheduled to take up a proposed plastic bags ban tonight. The draft ban would ban single-use plastic and paper bags starting in January 2013. And from this June to December businesses would have to charge ten cents a bag.

Tonight’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission meeting starts at six thirty at City Hall. The Austin City Council would still have to vote on the ban before it could take effect.

Recovery Work Resuming in Bastrop

Recovery work will resume in wildfire-damaged Bastrop County. Federal officials yesterday cleared Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative to get back to work clearing trees, picking up debris and putting up electric lines and meters in burned areas.

Photo by Matt Largey/KUT News

Texas Primaries Could be Delayed Further

The Texas Primary Election is scheduled for April 3rd but the U.S. Supreme Court could delay it. The Court heard arguments Monday in a case that could determine what Texas’ legislative and congressional districts look like for the upcoming primaries.

Legal wrangling over proposed redistricting maps already delayed the state's primaries by a month. As KUT's Matt Largey reported during Morning Edition, Monday’s Supreme Court hearing left open the possibility the primaries could be delayed further.

Police Meet with Neighbors about Central Austin Murder

Austin Police met with residents last night concerned about their safety after the New Year's Day murder of 29-year-old Esme Barrera.

Photo by KUT News.

Supreme Court Hears Texas Redistricting Case Today

Today the U.S. Supreme Court takes up Texas' redistricting maps. Legal teams from Texas are gathered in Washington for oral arguments over which redistricting maps should be used for this year’s primary elections.

At stake are the congressional and legislative boundaries the state of Texas will use for the next decade. And as KERA’s Shelley Kofler reports, the impact on minority voters is at issue.

Photo by Matt Largey/KUT News.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is taking his campaign to New Hampshire and South Carolina, which hold GOP presidential primary elections this month. Perry had members of the press corps scratching their heads after Iowa over the mixed messages from his campaign staff.

Logo courtesy of the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

Longhorns Top Cal in the Holiday Bowl

The UT Tower was lit burnt orange this morning. The Texas Longhorns won last night’s Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Texas beat the Cal Golden Bears 21-10. The Horn’s defense forced five turnovers. Quarterback David Ash threw one touchdown and caught a touchdown pass.

The win brings Texas’ overall record this season to 8-5. This was a return to a bowl game for the Horns who weren’t bowl-eligible last season.

Next Up, the Alamo Bowl...

Another Big 12 team plays tonight. The Baylor Bears will take on the University of Washington in the Alamo Bowl. The Bears finished up the regular season 9-3. The Washington Huskies finished 7-5.

Baylor’s going into the game with this year’s Heisman Trophy winner- quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Alamo Bowl starts at 8 p.m. in San Antonio.

Stratfor Providing Free ID Protection Services Following Security Breach

The Austin-based intelligence company Statfor is providing one year of identity protection services for free to its members whose personal information may have been compromised.

Photo courtesy of holidaybowl.com

Holiday Bowl Time!

Texas and California clash tonight in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The Texas Longhorn football team is looking for its eighth win of the season. A lot’s at stake for the Horns and the California Golden Bears. Both ended the regular season 7-5. And both teams are making a return to a bowl game after not qualifying last season.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:00 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

Free Pet IDs Ahead of New Year's Eve

Photo by Ben Philpott/KUT News.

The Final Stretch in Iowa

There's just one week to go until the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses. An average of recent polls shows Texas Congressman Ron Paul leading the field of GOP candidates in Iowa. Governor Rick Perry comes in at fourth place. Perry will continue trying to win over voters, as he resumes his bus tour of Iowa this week.

Perry Dominates Most-Read Trib Stories

Photo by KUT News.

The Austin Independent School District says all 30 slots are filled to speak at tonight’s specially-called board meeting. The board is scheduled to vote on a contentious proposal to partner with a charter school operator to run programs at two East Austin schools. Members last week delayed a vote to partner with IDEA Public Schools amid some questions on the contract and pushback from some teachers and parents.

Photo by KUT News

New figures show the unemployment rate in Texas dropped slightly from this time last year. Texas’ jobless rate was at 8.1  percent last month, compared to 8.3 percent in November 2010.  The Texas Workforce Commission released the numbers today.

The Austin metro area’s unemployment rate was 6.6 percent last month. It was 7.1 percent in November 2010. Austin lost 600 jobs last month, many in construction and professional and business services.

KUT News

ACC Accreditation on Warning

A warning has been placed on Austin Community College's accreditation status for the next six months. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) says it issued the public sanction because ACC violated rules for reporting significant changes to its academic programs. ACC is still accredited.

The SACS Board will review ACC's status again in June 2012. At that time it could lift the warning, keep it in place, or as a last resort remove the college's membership. Accreditation is used to determine eligibility for federal financial aid and gives colleges a reputable standing.

ACC responded to the warning in a statement to the Austin American-Statesman:

Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/KUT News

Vote Today on State Water Plan

We may not be thinking about the drought as much with the rain we've seen in Central Texas. But the prolonged dry spell is still going on, the state’s population is growing, and water supplies are getting tighter. Today the Texas Water Development Board is scheduled to vote on its 2012 State Water Plan. The report calls for billions of dollars in water infrastructure projects and conservation- to meet water needs over the next half century.

The board is limited in power. It does give out loans and grants to local governments, but it would ultimately be up to local officials to carry out the state water plan.

You can read the plan and check out a power point presentation on it here.

Final Vote on Parks Smoking Ban

Photo by Matt Largey/KUT News

Texas Redistricting Maps, Election Dates Still Up in the Air

Lawyers for the Texas Republican and Democratic parties plan to meet with a mediator to figure out primary election dates for next year. It appears candidates will have until Monday to file to run for state legislative and congressional seats. Texas elections are in limbo because the U.S. Supreme court blocked interim maps drawn by a San Antonio court. And maps drawn by the Texas Legislature still haven’t been approved by a Washington court.

It's still unclear if all primary elections will be held in March as regularly scheduled, whether they will be pushed back or whether we could have two split primaries on separate days. Ross Ramsey, with our political reporting partner, The Texas Tribune, has more on those possibilities in his article here.

Photo by Nathan Bernier/KUT News

AISD Delays Vote on Partnership with IDEA Charter Operators

The Austin Independent School District’s Board put off a controversial vote last night on whether to partner with a charter school operator from South Texas to run in-district college prep programs in East Austin.

Three board members took issue with the latest version of the proposed contract with IDEA Public Schools. Those three board members have been skeptical about partnering with the charter school. The board delayed a vote until next week. KUT's Nathan Bernier was at last night's meeting and reported dozens of people showed up to protest the IDEA charter proposal.

The board did vote last night to reject all bids from those interested in buying two AISD administrative centers, including district headquarters on West Sixth Street.

Photo by KUT News.

AISD Board to Vote on In-District Charter, Dual Language Programs

The Austin Independent School District’s Board has a long agenda and is scheduled to take several important votes tonight. The board is voting on whether to partner with a charter school to run programs at some East Austin campuses. Some teachers and parents are opposed to the proposed contract with IDEA Public Schools.

The board is also voting on adding more dual language programs, in which students are taught in two different languages at the same time. The goal is for students in those programs to become bilingual.

Here are more of the district's so-called Annual Academic and Facilities Recommendations being voted on tonight:

  • Address overcrowding in north-central elementary schools in the 2012-13 school year by: eliminating the sixth grade at Barrington, Brown and Walnut Creek elementary schools; creating a Pre-K center at Dobie Middle School and moving pre-K programs at Graham and Hart to Dobie; making Webb a pre-K-8 school, and reassigning part of the Barrington attendance zone to Webb; and moving remaining Barrington Pre-K to Reilly.
  • Establish an in-district charter agreement with Responsive Education Solutions to operate a graduation pathway program at Lanier and Travis high schools for students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out.

Also on the agenda: whether to keep or sell the district’s headquarters on West Sixth Street and the Baker Administrative Center in Hyde Park. Staff is recommending the board reject all submitted bids.

Board to Review Design for AISD Performing Arts Center

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board has approved a specialty license plate that reads “One State Under God." It has three Christian crosses on it.

The DMV board voted 4-3 yesterday to approve the plate.

Photo by KUT News.

City Losses Out on Federal Weatherization Money

More than 50 low income households in Austin won’t get federal stimulus money to make their homes more energy efficient. $600,000 in federal weatherization funds were on the table. But the city of Austin missed a deadline to get $400,000 of that money because of a lack of communication among city leaders and staffers. The council did vote yesterday to approve the remaining $200,000.

Council members spent a great amount of time questioning department heads and the city manager to see where the breakdown in communication happened. You can watch that interaction in the video archive from yesterday's council meeting here.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Holman: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shannonholman/2830804591/

City Council to Vote on Permanent Parks Smoking Ban

The Austin City Council is scheduled to vote today on an ordinance to permanently ban smoking at all city parks. That includes athletic fields, nature preserves and swimming pools. Golf courses would be exempt from the ban. There could also be exemptions for some special events. The proposed ordinance includes several reasons for the ban including:

Tobacco related litter is the most common form of litter and over 40,000 cigarette butts have been collected from 39 Parks and Recreation Department sites this year. Cigarettes also pose a significant fire risk. According to the Austin Fire Department, 9 out of 10 fires along our roadways are caused by cigarettes and at least 25% of all wildfires have been caused by cigarettes.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of death and disability in Austin and Travis County. By restricting smoking in City parks, the Department is protecting the health, safety and welfare of community members

Smoking in city parks is prohibited right now because of a city-issued burn ban still in effect. But if this ordinance is passed, smoking would not be allowed at parks even after the burn ban is lifted.

While we're talking about parks, KUT's Matt Largey reported during Morning Edition, on the struggle state parks officials are having in funding state parks. Texas Parks & Wildlife says it needs more than $4 million to keep parks running.

TCEQ Approves Plan that Could Cut Off Water for Farmers

Photo by KUT News.

Austin's F1 Race is On

Local organizers told KUT News this morning that an agreement has been reached over a contract with Formula One management. Also today in New Dehli, India the World Motor Sport Council officially approved the 2012 F1 calendar. It includes Austin’s U.S. Grand Prix next November. F1 Boss Bernie Ecclestone had set today as the final deadline to reach a deal for Austin’s race after the contract had been in dispute.

Photo by KUT News.

20 Years Since Yogurt Shop Murders

Today marks 20 years since the Austin yogurt shop murders, and the case remains unsolved. Four teenage girls were murdered at a north Austin yogurt shop in December 1991. The victims were 13 year-old Amy Ayers, 17-year old Eliza Thomas and sisters Sarah and Jennifer Harbison, who were 15 and 17.

In October 2009, Travis County prosecutors dropped murder charges against two men who had been convicted of the murders, amid new DNA evidence and allegations of coerced confessions. A third suspect in the murders was fatally shot by a police officer last year after slashing the officer with a knife.

Photo by KUT News.

Central Texans are all wrapped up for this cold and breezy day. We got some much-needed rain over the weekend and through early Monday morning. Most areas got between one and two inches - some places as many as three.

“This rain did percolate into the topsoil which prior to this event had very, very little moisture in it," Bob Rose, Meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority, said. "This is good for our landscape, our trees, wildflowers next Spring. It did put some water into area ranchers’ stock ponds and things like that.” 

But a good drenching does not “an end to a drought make.” Rose says the rain didn’t do much to fill area aquifers or the Highland Lakes.

Photo by KUT News.

Weekend Rains Drench Central Texas

Chances are you woke up to some drizzle. The rain came down steady earlier this morning and over the weekend. YNN Meteorologist Rich Segal says Camp Mabry got more than two inches since Friday. Downtown Austin got an inch and three-quarters of rainfall. Lakes Buchanan and Travis remain at 37 percent capacity. Austin remains in exceptional drought - the worst case.

Imagine Austin, Occupy Protests on Public Safety Agenda

The City of Austin's Public Safety Commission has a busy agenda today. It will get briefings and updates on the city's Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, the Occupy Austin protests and downtown cameras. The public meeting starts at 4 p.m. at City Hall, in the Boards and Commissions Room. Citizens are allowed to speak.

KUT News

Eastside Memorial Principal Resigning

Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus Principal Joseph Coburn is resigning effective January first. The Austin Independent School District told KUT he announced his resignation during a staff meeting yesterday. An AISD spokeswoman says Coburn is leaving to pursue a doctoral degree. The Eastside school has struggled to meet state academic standards for years.

UTMB Likely to Continue Prison Health Care in 2012

University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have reached a tentative agreement on prisoner health care. The state would continue to fund UTMB to provide health care to about 120,000 Texas inmates through next August. UTMB was concerned about rising health care costs and more losses in running prisoner health care.

As KUT's Ben Philpott reported during Morning Edition, the Texas Legislature will begin its periodical review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice starting in January. Scott Medlock, with The Texas Civil Rights Project, spoke to KUT about the group's concerns over health care in the state's prison system.

The TCRP sent a letter to the Sunset Advisory Commission pointing out what it considers inadequate health care for prisoners. Arguing for prisoner rights doesn’t always get results, Medlock said, so he’s also proposing measures to improve prisoner conditions while cutting costs for the state. For example, Medlock said the state should review policies that keep geriatric inmates behind bars as they will require a disproportionate amount of the state prison system’s healthcare dollars.

You can read Philpott's entire story here.

ERCOT Warns of Tight Power Supplies

The state's grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is warning there's a threat for rotating power outages next summer- especially if we have more record-setting temperatures. ERCOT says power reserves are down because some power plant units are scheduled to go offline and some planned units have been delayed.

Photo by Lord_Henry http://www.flickr.com/photos/10567940@N05/

Organizers of Austin's South By Southwest Music Conference and Festival announced the keynote speaker for 2012. It's the biggest catch yet for the 26 year-old event.

It was a well-kept secret but SXSW organizers revealed Bruce Springsteen will be the music conference's keynote speaker in March.

"After the death of Clarence Clemons, it marks a new chapter. So doing something like this which you know, it's an event where he can kind of assess his career; makes tons of sense," said Ann Powers, NPR Music critic and correspondent.

Image Courtesy of the City of Austin.

How Should Austin City Council Members be Elected?

The City of Austin's 2012 Charter Revision Committee is meeting tonight. It's scheduled to discuss whether to recommend a single member district map, which could include some at-large seats. Under single member districts, council members would represent specific geographic areas of town. Right now all Austin city council members are elected city-wide.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Carver Library, 1161 Angelina Street. KUT has reported on some of the proposals on the table, check out that story here.

World AIDS Day

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin Independent School District’s superintendent says there will be no layoffs this school year. Meria Carstarphen made the announcement this morning during her 2011 State of the District Address inside McCallum High School's new performing arts center.  Carstarphen said she will ask the school board to lift the financial emergency declaration made back in February.

Travis County Report Assesses Wildfire Response Successes, Failures

Travis County's Office of Emergency Management has released a report outlining what went right--and what didn't--in the response to the Labor Day weekend fires. Travis County had six large fires on September 4th, including the Steiner Ranch and Pedernales fires.  57 homes were destroyed and the fires burned about 7,000 acres. The report praised responders for doing their best with the local resources at hand. The report says state and federal resources were not available because of all of the other wildfires burning across the state.

The report laid out several communication failures. It says more public information officers were needed to get accurate information out to residents more quickly. The report even cited a "rumor mill at the shelter due to lack of information and conflicting media reports." It also suggested more social media networks need to be created to get out information to the public.

Hasan Hearing Wednesday

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Today’s cold weather has probably prompted the few bird stragglers that didn’t migrate already to hit the skyways fast.  But many local species don’t migrate. If you’ve noticed more grackles around Austin, you’re not the only one.

“People do notice them more in the wintertime because that’s when they are in their large communal roosts,"  Jane Tillman, chair of the Urban Habitat Committee for Travis Audubon, said. "In the summer they spread out and nest, so the males actually have territoriality. But in the winter there’s no breeding going on so everybody gets together in these huge flocks in our H-E-B parking lots."

But just because we may not notice grackles in large flocks year round, doesn’t mean they leave town.

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