Wells Dunbar, Texas Standard

Social Media Host & Producer, Texas Standard

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.

Before joining KUT, Wells served as staff writer and news blog editor at The Austin Chronicle, and covered the Texas Legislature for Gallery Watch. Hailing from El Paso, Wells is a longtime Austin resident whose interests include technology and social media, film and music, and spending quality time with his wife, child and cat.

Ways to Connect

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: Mayor Leffingwell just finished fielding questions in his Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session. Here's a sampling of his answers.

A robust defense of South by Southwest:

In response to a question describing the "burden" of hosting SXSW, he wrote:

"SXSW brought $218 million of economic impact in 2013. Austin benefits incredibly from being on the international stage due to the festival. I believe it's well worth a week's worth of minor inconvenience for all of the positive impacts it brings. It is also a tourism festival. People come here, spend all of their money and then go home. Not too shabby."

A dig at Austin's wage floor:
In October, the Austin City Council approved a $11/hour wage floor for companies receiving city incentives. Leffingwell used his IAmA to take a swipe at the requirement, in answer to what can be done about Austin's growing economic divide:

"We collaborate with educational organizations, such as UT, ACC, etc. I believe increased training and education will help create more opportunities and a better quality of life. I support bringing manufacturing level jobs to our city, but this is challenging because of wage restrictions recently passed by council. I realize that this is an important issue."

The story of Austin's various "Don’t Move Here" t-shirts is, in many ways, the story of Austin itself: the transformation of an undiscovered secret into something much bigger. 

While the "Don’t Move Here" meme certainly predates its first recorded t-shirt printing – not to mention the concept of a "meme" itself – modern history posits spring 1997 as the time it was first put to cotton.

It was then that Austin pop-rockers The Wannabes minted a batch of merch bearing the slogan.

The ruling this week calling Texas' ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional prompted plenty of reaction from politicos.

One of the lesser-known politicians to sound off: Dana DeBeauvoir. As Travis County Clerk, she's decidedly downballot of the state's top races. But DeBeauvoir is also uniquely affected by the decision, since the county clerk's office is responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Austin and Travis County.

When the ruling was announced, DeBeauvoir offered a ringing endorsement:

“Because of the stay order in the ruling, the County Clerk cannot issue marriage licenses to gay couples at this time. This is a joyous day, but we will have to wait a little longer to actually deliver the justice and equal rights gay couples so deserve.” 

Update: Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell  delivered his final "State of the City" address today at noon.

Leffingwell's office billed the 40-minute speech as an overview of the mayor's two terms in office. Leffingwell was elected mayor in 2009 and 2012; Austin will elect a new mayor this November. Read below for a real-time report on the mayor's remarks. Video of the mayor's speech will be included in this post once it is available. 

That's a wrap: Leffingwell ends his speech with a call for interconnectedness going forward into single-member districts. On to a Q&A session with the crowd.

Not many major proclamations coming out of the mayor's address: calls for a medical school innovation district and urban rail were big moments from the mayor's speech last year. Still, the address can be viewed as doubling down on initiatives Leffingwell wants to accomplish before leaving office; as soon as his speech ended, his office issued a statement titled "Mayor defines focus for
 final 10 months in office."

KUT News

Morning delays at Austin schools are receiving some ribbing online.

Austin ISD, the University of Texas, the City of Austin and dozens of other school districts and government agencies postponed start times until 10 a.m. this morning.

Some districts, like Round Rock ISD, also posted through explanations of their thinking in making the decision to issue late starts.

Reddit user KidOmni

Disclaimer: Capital Metro is a sponsor of KUT.

Capital Metro's new MetroRapid bus service launched on Sunday. And with the new route came additional service changes some say give short-shrift to existing riders on Cap Metro's most popular lines.

MetroRapid line 801 travels from Southpark Meadows to the Tech Ridge area in North Austin. Its route through the urban core – along South Congress Avenue and Guadalupe Street – parallels Cap Metro's 1L and 1M bus lines, the routes with the highest ridership in Austin. And another route – the 101 Express – traveled largely along the same line. (Read more about service changes.)

flickr.com/rs_butner

The Austin area’s freeze this morning is no laughing matter: The wintry weather – which worsened in tandem with the city’s morning rush hour – snarled traffic and caught schools and government offices by surprise. (See a list of delays and closures here.)

But it’s also provided ample fodder on social media, where Austinites are sharing stories and images of their morning commute – or their snow days.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Gov. Rick Perry is asking President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Administration [FEMA] to reverse a decision denying benefits to individual victims of southwest Austin’s Halloween floods.

Fast moving floodwaters in the early hours of Oct. 31 last year – concentrated in the southwest Austin neighborhood of Onion Creek – claimed six lives and ruined hundreds of homes.

In a letter to the President, Gov. Perry writes:

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Austin City Council elections are still some nine months out – but the races are already heating up.

Today saw one of 2014’s first official announcements for mayor: Patsy Woods Martin, a former executive with the United Way for Greater Austin, and founder of umbrella charity organization I Live Here, I Give Here. (Disclaimer: Martin also launched online giving campaign Amplify Austin, which KUT participated in last year.)

Martin is the latest in an increasingly crowded field of official and unofficial candidates. The Austin Chronicle has a comprehensive rundown of candidates. Martin is joined officially by Bill McLellan, whom the Chronicle describes as a “former 3M executive, chief development officer at Family Eldercare, and longtime civic activist.”

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Less than a year after expanding, an Austin startup is shutting down.

As KUT reported in February of last year, “Outbox picks up its customers’ mail, scans it, and makes it available online. … Outbox workers open and scan letters, catalogs and flyers. Customers log in to Outbox’s website to see their – now-digital – mail.”

At the time, Outbox had expanded its operations into California after testing its service in Austin. But citing a litany of issues impacting its service, Outbox announced today it was ceasing operations.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Nearly two months after devastating floods impacted Southeast Austin, President Obama has signed a disaster declaration for Travis, Hays and Caldwell Counties. The declaration offers federal help with recovery from the Halloween floods that rocked the region earlier this year. 

Pete Baldwin, emergency management coordinator for Travis County, says he’s still waiting for a list of categories the federal money will cover, but he says it could address everything from debris removal to roads and bridges. “Until we get those spreadsheets,” Baldwin says, “we won’t know which categories that we were awarded.”

The findings will be sent to the state and then be sent on to the local level; Baldwin says it’s unclear how soon that will happen.

youtube.com/apple

Update: Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell says Apple’s local manufacturing of the Mac Pro means about 800 new jobs.

“I think it’s another day in the life of a growing city,” he tells KUT News, “but it’s a big day in the life of Austin, because as you know, Apple is a premiere company around the world. When they make an important step like this here in our city, that’s going to be heard around the world to our advantage.”

Apple has already announced it’s building a $300 million operations center in Northwest Austin. For that project, Apple is receiving a $21 million grant from the state, over $8 million from the city and $6 million from Travis County

Original story (11:58 a.m.): Apple’s new Mac Pro is being manufactured in Austin.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Update: The City of Austin is looking into what caused its 911 system to stop working yesterday.

The system is running as normal today.

Original Story (Dec. 16, 6:14 p.m.): Austin's 911 emergency call functions were disrupted Monday afternoon, leading to some longer wait times for callers.

The city activated its Emergency Operations Center to manage the outage. The Austin Police Department put more officers on the streets to increase visibility and accessibility.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the city has been getting help from agencies in surrounding communities.

Update: Sites Approved

The Austin City Council approved recommending 99 public and nonprofit organizations for free access to Google Fiber. The much-anticipated high-speed internet service will include 23 public libraries.

Read more about the council's actions - and which site got cut from the initial list - here: City Council Update.

Update: Council Postpones Action (Nov. 21)

This morning, the Austin City Council voted to postpone adopting a list of 100 sites receiving a free “community connection” to Google Fiber.

A rendering of upcoming changes to Auditorium Shores.
City of Austin

In its final meeting of the year, the Austin City Council approved a full slate of items.

Among the measures passed was a decision restricting where dogs are permitted at Auditorium Shores. More than a dozen speakers took to the council floor to argue against the change, which would prohibit dogs from lingering on the so-called "Event Lawn" on the east end of Auditorium Shores.

Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hensely said the department took community suggestions under advisement when revising the $3.5 million plan for the parkland. But under a new amendment, dogs are only allowed on the event lawn when traveling from a parking lot to the neighboring areas where dogs are allowed. (No one on Parks staff or the City Council bothered to explain just how that would be enforced.)

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Disclaimer: Project Connect is a KUT sponsor.

Update: The Austin City Council unanimously endorsed two locations for urban rail last night: the Highland Mall region and East Riverside. You can watch citizen testimony and council action on the recommendation.

As KUT reported, investment in those corridors was proposed by Project Connect – a working group of City of Austin, Capital Metro, and other regional transportation officials.

Project Connect named Highland and East Riverside after what it said was a robust, data-driven public input process – but many rail advocates present at the vote last night questioned the process and the decision.

Original story (Dec. 12): To hear Project Connect tell it, they’re practically drowning in data. Project lead Kyle Keahey cited some 45 different measures of information and 11 indices when the group announced its recommendation. (You can look at lots of that data here.)

Highfield Media

Think of the Austin skyline as a canvas. Despite all those cranes and construction, it doesn’t change very much on a day-to-day basis.

Andrew Takano’s very familiar with the skyline’s appearance. He filmed and produced two time-lapse videos documenting the city: a haunting tour of the city at night, and an amazing journey through downtown, sunrise through sunset.

In his latest time-lapse video, “Start Fresh: Never Give Up,” he turns to a much more dynamic medium: the HOPE Outdoor Gallery at Castle Hill. 

Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The Austin Police Monitor's Office finds racial disparity continued in police activity during 2012.

According to a recent report, almost 1,300 people contacted the independent Monitor’s Office to make a complaint, a decrease of 11 percent from 2011. But concern about racial profiling remains: African-Americans and Hispanics are still more likely to be searched by police, with blacks three times as likely to be searched as whites.

National Weather Service

Update: The National Weather Service has removed a winter storm warning from the Austin area forecast. It had been scheduled to go into effect Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and last until Monday at noon. However, a winter weather advisory is now in effect for Central Texas until 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

The National Weather Service says we could get some light sleet through Monday evening and some light snow flurries from Monday evening into Tuesday morning.  The advisory area covers Comal, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties. A winter weather advisory is also in effect for the Hill Country until 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Original story (Nov. 23): The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the Austin region, beginning tomorrow. It's an upgrade from the winter storm watch the NWS previously forecast for the region.

flickr.com/loudtiger

Update: Controversial Event Called Off

The Young Conservatives of Texas has canceled its “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” event, originally scheduled for Wednesday. 

Citing the university’s condemnation of the event, UT chapter chair Lorenzo Garcia claims he canceled the event out of fears the university would retaliate against the group’s members, “and that the protest against the event could create a safety issue for our volunteers.”

You can read Garcia’s full remarks here.

Original Story (Nov. 19): The news that the University of Texas chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas is planning a campus "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" game for this week has taken the political blogosphere by storm.

In case you haven’t heard: The group’s UT chapter has stated on Facebook that it’s planning to hold the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant game” this Wednesday. (Here’s a screen grab of the invitation in case it’s taken down.)

Project Connect

The group advising the city on urban rail has come out with initial recommendations: a transportation investment that runs from the East Riverside Corridor, through Downtown and out to the Highland Mall region.

As KUT previously reported, the recommendations began by dividing Central Austin into 10 subcorridors – similar to compass points pointing out from a center, including Downtown and the UT campus.

In the end, they chose two subcorridors for investment: Highland and East Riverside.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Thursday night was the final public input meeting for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission – the group drawing Austin's ten new city council districts.

Held at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin, it was a homecoming of sorts. The same places the commission’s first input meeting back in August.

While many district boundaries have evolved, the district containing the Millennium Complex – District 1 – really hasn’t between the commission’s preliminary and final proposed maps.

Reuters /Kevin Lamarque /Landov

America’s oldest living World War II veteran lives in Austin. And today, he was the guest of honor for a very notable host: President Barack Obama.

Today wasn’t the first time 107-year-old Richard Overton made the trek to Washington D.C. For this May’s Armed Forces Day, Overton was part of an Honor Flight to the nation’s capital. Nonprofit group Honor Flight Austin flies World War II veterans to D.C. to show them the national memorial built in their honor.

As USA Today reports, when Overton visited the capital this spring, he expressed a wish to meet President Barack Obama. “The president was out of town that day,” the paper writes, but Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s office facilitated a return visit to D.C. this weekend. And this time, Overton’s request came true.

Project Connect

Now’s your chance to name the parts of Austin that should be served by urban rail.

This week, the City of Austin and its transportation partners are inviting the public to name the subcorridor that would benefit the most from urban rail.

Planners at Project Connect, the team coordinating the city’s rail and regional transportation efforts, have identified 10 subcorridors within central Austin. Not counting downtown’s core, they are (in clockwise order): Lamar, Highland, Mueller, MLK, East Austin, the East Riverside Corridor, South Congress, South Lamar, West Austin, and Mopac. 

Barton Springs Pool was supposed to re-open today. The beloved swimming hole had closed following heavy rains and flooding two weeks ago.

Cleanup at the pool was finally complete. But in the video below, you’ll see rain this morning has flooded the pool again: 

An Austin mother sent out a call for help Monday night – although she was already at the hospital with her son.

Laura Wilson-Swanson had taken her 10-year-old Gabe into Dell Children’s Hospital earlier in the week. Laura says he’s affected by an autoimmune disease called PANDAS that can lead to seizure-like episodes.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

Update: With a federal judge blocking enforcement of a key restriction on abortion in Texas, here’s reaction from Gov. Rick Perry:

“Today’s decision will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life and ensure the women of our state aren’t exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories that have made headlines recently. We will continue fighting to implement the laws passed by the duly-elected officials of our state, laws that reflect the will and values of Texans.”

NARAL Pro Choice America President Ilyse Hogue:

"We are pleased but not surprised by this development. It has been clear from day one that the laws advanced by Governor Perry and others are unconstitutional and put women at greater risk. We will continue to fight to ensure all parts of this law, and other laws restricting women's health care options, which are clearly unconstitutional are defeated."


flickr.com/utnapistim

This is the first of a two-part look at the University of Texas' Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), now halfway through their initial semester. Read Part One here.

So what it UT getting for its $5 million investment in edX? 

UT Psychology department chair James Pennebaker describes the money spent on edX as a "great investment." He isn't certain how education will look in the near future – but he said no one has that answer. 

"UT and any serious university has to be revolutionary in its thinking,” Pennebaker says. “We have to look forward to new technologies and teaching strategies.”

Magnum Photos/Harry Ransom Center

Magnum Photos was founded in 1947 as a photographer’s co-op. Created by photojournalists with the memory of World War II fresh in their minds, Magnum’s cooperative format allowed for an artistic, unvarnished look at photography.

Since 2009, the 200,000 photos in the Magnum Archive has resided at UT’s Harry Ransom Center. And, thanks to a recent donation, the archive will stay there.

Classes resumed today at Lanier High School, after a student fatally shot himself there yesterday afternoon. More than 25 counselors were at the school for students and teachers still trying to cope with what happened.

All schools in Texas must have suicide prevention plans to help teachers and faculty identify and address suicidal behavior, says Karen Ranus of the Austin Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. These signs include changes in behavior, talking about death or a lack of motivation. But, she says, some people are afraid to address these issues openly.

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