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.

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Photo courtesy www.herobuilders.com

Rick Perry’s been immortalized in plastic.

Texas Public Radio reports that Texas governor and faltering Presidential candidate has been cast in plastic by a Connecticut-based boutique toy firm, Hero Builders. You can score a “Regular Man Rick Perry” for the low, low price of $39.95, or spring for the speaking “Executive” version of the Texas Governor for $69.95. (The doll “speaks” the infamous audio from Perry’s presidential debate where he couldn’t remember the third federal agency he would eliminate.)

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/msjacoby

A ruling earlier this week affirmed that Texas can implement its controversial law requiring a non-medically necessary sonogram prior to an abortion while the law is being challenged in court.

Today, an order from a federal appeals court states the procedure can be required immediately, without the customary waiting period accompanying judicial decisions.

Image courtesy americancensorship.org

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has provoked a firestorm of controversy online.

Ostensibly drafted to crack down on piracy of films, music, and other items illicitly traded online, SOPA proponents like the Motion Picture Association of America argue the law will protect intellectual property. But opponents of the bill fear the legislation will effectively cripple the Internet by targeting the hosts of user-generated websites like YouTube instead of the offending uploaders; hoist huge legal uncertainties and liabilities onto websites and start-ups; and create potential security threats in the way it redirects traffic from so-called “rogue” websites.

The proposed SOPA legislation, introduced by Texas Rep.Lamar Smith, is a big deal in tech-savvy Austin. Today, members of Austin’s tech community are making the case to Sen. John Cornyn’s office that SOPA is a bad bill.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

There were plenty of signs that today’s City Council meeting would be controversial. It wasn’t electricity rates, but debate over a study of short-term rentals (STRs) that ate up hours of council’s time this morning and afternoon. (That hearing on Austin Energy’s proposed rate increase is on for around 6 p.m.)

Avalanches of amendments were offered to the STR proposal by Bill Spelman and Chris Riley, but not enough for a unanimous vote. It passed 5-2, with Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting no.

Photo by Teresa Vieira for KUT News

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce took aim at the Obama administration this morning, with a call for the president to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would end at the Texas Gulf Coast.

Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue claimed in his annual “State of American Business” address that “This project has passed every environmental test. There is no legitimate reason—none at all—to subject it to further delay.”

But the National Resources Defense Council says the Chamber is waging a “disinformation campaign” on the pipeline’s behalf.

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/superamit

Imperial Sugar-sweetened Dr Pepper will no longer be bottled in Dublin, Texas.

The news was a shock to Dr Pepper fans in Austin and across the country, as conversations began bubbling up online regarding where to procure the suddenly scarce beverage.

As explained in a report by The Dallas Observer's Unfair Park blog, the shutdown stemmed from a legal dispute between Dr Pepper's parent company (who, as it happens, has their own cane syrup version of the soda) and the Dr Pepper Bottling Co. of Dublin, Texas (henceforth to be known as Dublin Bottling Works).

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

The lockdown at Manor High School has been lifted, after it was determined the "suspicious device" in question was a non-explosive replica of a military grenade.

Meanwhile, Pflugerville ISD police and the Pflugerville police department briefly investigated a threat at Hendrickson High School before giving the all-clear.

The following statement is from the Manor ISD website:

This morning an unauthorized adult brought a suspicious device onto the Manor High School campus. The device was only seen in the school parking lot and the person never entered the building. All students and staff were moved to Manor Middle School as a safety precaution. Travis County Sheriff’s Office has determined that the device was a replica grenade. Law enforcement and school officials are in the process of returning students to their campus. Students can be released to parents from Manor High School but we prefer that students remain on campus so instruction is not disrupted any further.

Photo by KUT News

The Austin Police Department crime lab is getting another round of scrutiny.

The Travis County District Attorney’s office announced yesterday they referred allegations of sloppy work at APD’s crime lab to the Texas Department of Public Safety and local criminal defense attorneys for review.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/e06158

The home of the Texas Prison Rodeo is being demolished, according to the Associated Press.

While an event hasn’t been held on the Huntsville prison grounds since 1986, the rodeo has a rich history dating back decades.

The Handbook of Texas Online says once the rodeo was created in 1931, it was a near-instant success: “Within two years public attendance swelled from a handful of outsiders to almost 15,000, prompting prison officials to erect wooden stands and charge admission. The revenue raised covered costs and subsidized an education and recreation fund that provided perquisites from textbooks and dentures to Christmas turkeys.”

Photo by Eric Reyna/KUT News

Travis County wants assistance in planning their new civil and family courthouse. “We are currently analyzing how to finance and build the new courthouse and develop the site in the way that is most cost-effective and responsive to the community,” they write in a release promoting a community meeting next week. But it sounds like there’s also dissension on the Travis County Commissioner’s Court about how to proceed.

In December 2010, the county purchased land at 308 Guadalupe, a parking lot bounded by Third, Fourth, Guadalupe and San Antonio. The Austin American-Statesman reported the purchase price at $22 million.

The following spring, the county asked for pitches from developers on how to build – and more importantly, how to finance – the project.

KUT News

“Understand that human trafficking is very, very profitable. You can sell drugs or a gun only once. You can sell a human 12 times in one day.”

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and those words from Texas State Senator Leticia Van De Putte underscore the gravity of the problem. Van De Putte co-hosted a summit on Human Trafficking this morning, focused on how health providers can identify and assist victims. The affected can include anyone from young runaways coerced into sex work and prostitution, to American immigrants promised work but essentially bound into slavery.

Van De Putte spoke to KUT News, addressing the role health providers can play and dispelling some common assumptions about what trafficking actually is and who it affects.

Photo by KUT News

A year-old report on “Texas’ School-to-Prison” pipeline is spreading across the Web, due to a report in The Guardian looking critically at police arrests and citations in Texas (and Austin) schools, and follows recent efforts within AISD to change the way it disciplines students. 

The Guardian describes the story of Sarah Bustamante, a 12-year old student at Austin’s Fulmore Middle School. She was issued a criminal misdemeanor citation by a campus police officer for what she describes as spraying herself with two bursts of perfume during class.

This phenomenon – issuing criminal citations for student behavior that, in the past, wouldn’t earn offenders much more than a trip to the principal’s office – is examined at length in a report from Texas Appleseed.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

The issue of short-term rentals – residential vacation rentals advertised by their owners on sites like HomeAway and VRBO – has fomented friction between renters and neighbors, and created a regulatory gray area for the city. Now, a resolution slated for this Thursday’s City Council meeting is dividing the dais.

Item 68 from Council Members Bill Spelman and Chris Riley asks the City Auditor's Office to compile police and code compliance calls on short-term rentals (STRs). They call the measure necessary to assess how many city resources problematic rentals consume in police and code compliance hours. 

But Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo are raising concerns about that assessment. They argue it could delay code amendments underway that are related to the rentals.

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/meredithfarmer

Texas can enforce a controversial abortion law while it’s being challenged in court. The ruling came this morning from a federal appeals court in New Orleans. The law requires doctors to perform a sonogram on a woman seeking an abortion and to read her the description of it.

The Texas Tribune’s Emily Ramshaw writes:

In an opinion, the judges said the measure's opponents "failed to demonstrate constitutional flaws" in the measure, which they said was "fatal" to their effort to prevent it from taking effect.

Photo courtesy decentralizeddanceparty.com

Austin’s never wanting for parties, and certainly not last weekend: A touring soirée known as the Decentralized Dance Party invaded downtown Saturday, Jan. 7, leaving a trail of a boombox-touting party people in its wake.

The brainchild of Canadians “Tom and Gary” (no last names given), the DDP is essentially a flash mob on steroids, embodying the nimble, adaptable nature of those gatherings, with a nod to the public space reclamation in movements like the Occupy protests. Or more simply, Tom and Gary use radio frequencies to transmit music from an MP3 player to party goers’  boomboxes. (The music encompasses “Booty Bass, Eurodance, Party Metal, Jock Jams and Choice Hard Rock,” according to the Music section of their “Party Manifesto.”) Wherever the crowd goes, the tunes do to.

For some time, the city has hovered above the 90 percent “live outcomes” benchmark animal centers must meet annually to be a “no-kill” shelter. And now it’s official: With a 91 percent live outcome for all of 2011, the Austin Animal Center is now officially no-kill.

The city’s animal rescue efforts have made big strides over the last few years, first with City Council adoption of a no-kill plan [PDF], and more recently with the opening of the new Animal Services Center in East Austin.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The shock and disbelief at Esme Barrera’s murder early New Year’s Day – shared in a stream of social media updates – is giving way to questions about the police investigation.

As the young and vibrant Barrera was friends with dozens, if not hundreds in Austin’s close-knit music scene and beyond (including, I should note, this reporter), the news of her death spread rapidly over Facebook and Twitter.

But while many posts are links to tributes and fundraising initiatives, many others are pointedly questioning the Austin Police Department’s response that morning, and the subsequent manhunt.

Photo by Erika Aguilar, KUT News

The 2012 Charter Revision Committee – the group tasked with recommending items to be placed before voters for a November charter election – met again last night at the Mexican American Cultural Center. And while they shied away from making any recommendations to City Council, it sounds like some final recommendations – including a decision on district representation – are on the way.

Sabine Romero with the city’s Law Department serves as the city’s staff liaison to the group, and notes final recommendations are expected at the group’s next two meetings.

As the deadline to apply for federal wildfire disaster aid approaches, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)  is sharing some statistics that underscore the fires’ impact: The disbursement of some $36 million in wildfire aid, including $13.2 million in grants, and $19 million in low-interest “disaster loans.” And the agency is urging anyone who hasn’t yet filed a claim to do so before Friday.

FEMA public information officer Bob Howard says the agency’s grants have gone to different needs: $10.7 million to rental assistance and grants to rebuild homes, and $2.5 million to cover lost personal property, medical care, and even funeral expenses.

New year, new laws: The Texas Tribune reminds us that legislation aimed at reining in payday lenders, passed by the Texas Legislature last year, came into effect January 1:

New laws aimed at curbing predatory lending take effect this week, meaning payday and auto title loan businesses will have to be licensed by the state and post a schedule of fees in a visible place, similar to the overhead menus seen in fast food restaurants.

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