The QueQue

Like the literature says, it’s a day on, not a day off, people, and this year the Martin Luther King Day March bears special significance nationally and here at home, falling as it does one day ahead of Barack Obama’s historic inauguration and one week out from the Free Speech Coalition’s court date in the lawsuit over Say-town’s unconstitutional parade ordinance. If you missed last week’s free-speech plática at the Esperanza, you can get your talking points at a mock trial, 3 p.m. Saturday, January 17, 922 San Pedro. It’s free and open to the public. That should get you riled up for Monday’s march: Gather beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the MLK Academy, 3501 Martin Luther King Dr. The parade, the largest in the nation, begins at 10 a.m.

What lies beneath

Unwilling to let the enviro-disaster spotlight linger on Tennessee’s coal-ash misadventure, San Antonio is working on headlines of its own, thanks to the Housing Authority’s determination to develop the old Swift meat-packing plant site. (And just in time, as EPA cleaning crews have prepped Big Tex for its rebirth as a lifestyle destination.)

SAHA and partner Franklin Development started digging up coal-ash waste in September at the old Swift site on San Marcos street on the city’s near West Side, where the Housing Authority’s original plans to build a $3-million warehouse were scuttled in 1998 when workers discovered a thick layer of buried coal ash. The coal ash, which contained beryllium, a toxic substance that can cause bone and lung damage, was speculated to have come from old boilers and/or animal residue from Swift’s rendering operation. (Think about that over your next hot dog.)

According to a recent New York Times story, “Numerous studies have shown that `coal` ash can leach toxic substances that can cause cancer, birth defects and other health problems in humans … ”

SAHA spent $300,000 to install an underground plastic liner, and shut down the redevelopment, but at the end of 2006, SAHA decided to dig back in after receiving clearance from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — an about-face that the Current is still investigating. The new plans call for a low-income housing complex called the Artisan Apartments at San Pedro Creek.

But site neighbor Fred Perry is waving a red flag. Perry says he became so ill after dust from the ongoing excavation blew into his used-furniture warehouse that he shut down his business at the end of December. He suspects that toxic heavy metals and/or dioxin in the coal ash are the culprit for his new health problems. The 60-year-old Perry isn’t a scientist, but he has plenty of experience investigating toxic threats, having previously lived near the Brio Superfund site in Houston, where the entire neighborhood he lived in was eventually razed.

“I’m just the canary in the coal mine,” says Perry. “But I’m at least smart enough to know that this stuff can kill me and that the testing `SAHA` has done is not adequate.”

SAHA and Franklin claim that the site has been remediated in compliance with TCEQ standards, but the QueQue has yet to be convinced that (cue tremolite-asbestos flashbacks) those standards are sufficient. “In Texas, the vast majority of coal ash is not considered a solid waste, according to a review of state regulations by environmental groups,” the Times reported in its unrelated article. “There are no groundwater monitoring or engineering requirements for utilities that dump the ash on site, as most utilities do, the analysis says.”

SAHA is taking a closer look at Perry’s problems, but only after he raised hell. Read the full story next week in the Current and online at

McCusker’s last stand

Public concern for Lucky, the San Antonio Zoo’s ironically named elephant, got a professional bump this month from an article in Science magazine. The unsurprising nutgraf: Elephants in captivity live shorter, sadder lives than their wild counterparts. Lucky’s been keeping solo time since November 2007, when her companion Alport left for the great ivory graveyard in the sky.

Since our first story on Lucky ran July 30, 2008, the Animal Care Services Advisory Boardhas written to the Zoo to advocate for Lucky’s release, and taking a cue from the British study cited by Science, In Defense of Animals released its “2008 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants” on January 6. Guess who’s not only making a repeat appearance, but topping the list? Hang your head, San Anto.

From the IDA press release:

“Elephants are intensely social animals who need companionship in order to thrive. Free-ranging elephants live in large matriarchal family groups in which females remain with their mothers for life.

“The zoo refuses to do right by Lucky and send her to a sanctuarywhere she can live in a spacious, natural environment with others of her species, even though San Antonio’s plan is to replace Lucky with African elephants.”

Will the added factual firepower finally prompt our City leaders to intervene on  Lucky’s behalf?




Piss poor results

Another question: Can we start firing people yet?

Over the past few months, we’ve written a bit about problems with the Bexar County Probation Department and their mercenary pee-testers at Treatment Associates. `See “Test-tube maybes,” October 3, 2008.` The latter’s under investigation by Tejas AG Greg Abbott for disposing of client records in a public dumpster. The former is prime lawsuit bait for jailing clients based on TA’s highly suspect urinalysis results.

As expected, the Bexar County Supervision Department Revocation Compliance audit, published December 31 and released to the Current last week, confirms many of the additional allegations made against the department by unhappy former employees, and expands on a disturbing trend we wrote about in our December 23, 2008 Year in Review: While programs in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, and Austin decreased their revocation rates by an average of 14 percent since 2005, Bexar County probation revocation rates skyrocketed by 80 percent.

Why so high?

That’s what the Texas Department of Criminal Justice wanted to know when they sent a team down last February to investigate. They found a startling lack of managerial oversight; failure to follow the Progressive Sanctions and Incentives Supervision Model (or PSISM), an evidence-based, tiered-supervision model that has resulted in serious declines in probationers going back to jail in other Texas cities; an overall lack of PSISM awareness; a District Attorney’s office that refused to accept PSISM-based recommendations; and pitifully bad bookkeeping.

Reads this most recent report:

“The case files contained documents using an unorganized methodology or contained no relevant documents when such were expected. Relevant documents missed included urinalysis results, vendor letters, and new offense information. The review team noted the case files missing several months’ worth of documents if not an entire year.  Some case files were found with hand-written notes added to demographic printouts.  The team was hard pressed to locate sanctions and incentives during the period of recurring entries.”

Again, we ask: Can we start firing people yet? Or should we wait for Probation Chief Bill FitzGerald to navigate the intricacies of the

brought against him last Friday? Tough call.

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