Vol 29, Issue 47 Print Issue

Chairman of the Railroad Commission, Barry Smitherman, talks with Evan Smith at TribLive on December 13, 2012.
Chairman of the Railroad Commission, Barry Smitherman, talks with Evan Smith at TribLive on December 13, 2012.

At Texas Railroad Commission, a Flurry of Rulemaking

A veritable flurry of rule-making is under way at the Texas Railroad Commission, involving everything from how oil and gas wells are drilled to the recycling of fracking water.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Bill Gimson, executive director of the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, has submitted his resignation, which will take effect Jan. 17. The agency had been embroiled in controversy over its granting of $11 million to a Dallas company without sufficient scientific review, and is now facing an investigation by the attorney general’s office. Officials will try to determine whether any of the agency’s staff members benefited financially from the award to Peloton Therapeutics.

In the latest round of Race to the Top grants doled out by the federal government, two Texas charter schools were winners. IDEA Public Schools and Harmony Science Academy are both now eligible to receive almost $30 million in grants. Both schools were able to show concrete plans to improve student performance based on specific programs, including professional development for their staff and community engagement programs. Several other individual school districts applied for the money, but the state as a whole declined to participate.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women in Texas earned 84.8 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts in 2011, putting Texas women above the national average of 82.2 cents. But the figure dropped from its high of 85.6 in 2010. The percentage had been trending upward since 1997 before its slight drop this year.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, outlined his priorities for the upcoming session in an interview with The Associated Press and stressed his commitment to restoring funding to public education. While he stopped short of promising to reverse funding cuts suffered by school districts in the last session — to the tune of $5.4 billion — he repeated his resolve to fund population growth in schools, which is estimated to cost the state about $2 billion. Straus pointed out that the state’s economy is much stronger than it was two years ago, giving lawmakers options for funding that weren’t available then.

A lawsuit against the Keystone XL pipeline forced a temporary halt of its construction, which was then temporarily lifted on Thursday. Landowner Michael Bishop sued to stop the building of the pipeline, after what he claimed was a mischaracterization of the pipeline’s intended contents. The suit alleges that crude oil was what landowners were sold on, but TransCanada, the owner of the pipeline, intends to ship tar sands oil through the structure. Bishop and other concerned landowners whose property would be affected in the event of a leak contend that the substance would contaminate their property.

A New York Times article detailing the extent of subsidies for business provided fodder for discussion between legislators and business leaders about how much is too much. Committees held hearings this week in light of allegations that dollars spent on tax incentives or subsidies for manufacturing don’t provide enough benefits to the state to justify the cost. Texas reportedly hands out more than $19 billion in economic development funds to businesses, outpacing every other state. Officials pointed to the need for transparency and accountability when the funds are awarded.

Against the backdrop of a business incentives debate, the city of San Antonio and the Brooks Development Authority continued their negotiations with Nexolon America, hoping to ink a deal that will bring a solar panel manufacturing facility to Brooks City-Base. The company has committed to bringing its U.S. headquarters to San Antonio and providing solar power to the municipal utility for 25 years, but is still negotiating its physical location. City officials have differing opinions on the incentives being offered, depending on how close they are to the proposed location.

El Paso school board members didn’t like the latest development in the cheating scandal that’s been overshadowing their district for more than two years. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams appointed a conservator to manage the board’s actions and overrule the members if she thinks it’s necessary. Meanwhile, Williams will get approval from the Department of Justice for a board of managers to oversee the district. The cheating scandal led to the resignation and conviction of former Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia, and public confidence in the school district’s operations eroded. Trustees were accused of poor oversight in the ensuing fallout from the scandal, which involved administrators from many El Paso schools.

Texas’ petition to secede from the U.S. has yet to receive a response from the Obama administration. Creators of the petition posted it on the We the People website, which the administration set up for the public to use with the promise that it would respond to petitions that gathered more than 25,000 signatures. Texas hit that threshold four weeks ago and is up to almost 120,000. It’s unclear when a response will be issued.

Political People and their Moves

Former Rep. Rick Noriega won’t run for Mario Gallegos’ Senate seat, leaving that race to former Harris County Commissioner, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Republican R.W. Bray, who lost to the late Gallegos in the November election. And to anyone else who wants to jump in before the filing deadline. “The time is not right to take on this race, and the fundraising needed, for the Noriega family,” he said in a speech written for delivery at an SEIU state meeting. Gov. Rick Perry chose a Saturday election for that open seat, setting January 26 as the date. Candidates have until closing time on December 27 to file.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas announced the appointment of Dr. Margaret L. Kripke as the agency's chief scientific officer. Kripke, formerly of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, will oversee the agency's research portfolio.

Check the interesting language in the announcement of new management at the Employee Retirement System. That agency says Paula Jones, its general counsel and chief compliance officer, will be acting executive director “during the entirety of Ann’s temporary leave of absence.” The Ann in that sentence is Ann Bishop, who is serving as Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff. Temporarily, apparently. 

Buddy Garcia, who left the Texas Railroad Commission earlier this month, leaving government after 22 years, announced his entry into the lobby. He’ll hang a shingle of his own and partner with Eric Wright, Eric Woomer and Gregg Knaupe on some business.

Meanwhile, Garcia’s early exit made way for Christi Craddick’s early entry. Craddick, who won a term in last month’s election, is taking office a couple of weeks early, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to fill what’s left of the term.

Austin adman David Weeks sold his political and corporate advertising and public affairs firm,  Weeks&Co., to R&R Partners, based in Las Vegas. Both he and Suzanne Hofmann Erickson will continue with the buyers, running the Austin offices for R&R.

Emily Fourmy Cutrer has been named sole finalist for the position of president of Texas A&M University-Texarkana. Cutrer is currently the provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University San Marcos.

W. Bradley Parker of Fort Worth is the new president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. And the new president elect is Michael Guajardo of Dallas. They’re both Texas Tech law school grads.

Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Robert Moore of Bryan and Ronald Poynter of McKinney to the Texas Commission on Fire Protection. Moore is director of the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Emergency Services Training Institute. Poynter is a regional sales manager at Sklar Instruments.