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December 22nd, 2012:

Saturday video break: The Charlie Brown School of Dance

Just watch:

Admit it, you always wondered what those dances were called.

Happy birthday, Lady Bird

Lady Bird Johnson would be celebrating her 100th birthday today if she were still with us.

Lady Bird Johnson

Catherine Robb’s eyes blurred with tears and she paused, overcome by the emotion of trying to find the right words to express how much she misses “Nini” – the affectionate name she called her grandmother, Lady Bird Johnson.

After all, the nation’s former first lady, catapulted into history after President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in Dallas, came closer than she ever expected to attending her 100th birthday celebration Saturday. She died at her Texas Hill Country ranch in 2007 at age 94.

“My grandmother probably never thought she’d get that old. After all, her mother died very young when my grandmother was only 5,” said Robb. By comparison, Lady Bird founded the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin on her 70th birthday and was still swimming laps in her late 80s. Only one other presidential wife, Bess Truman, lived longer.

In 2002, Lady Bird was slowed by a debilitating stroke. She completely lost her voice and macular degeneration claimed her eyesight.

“Even though her body was no longer cooperating with her, she managed to find different ways to communicate through her expressions or jotting things down. She also utilized audiobooks,” said Robb, 42, an Austin lawyer, who for many years had a standing dinner date with her grandmother nearly every Thursday night. “She found ways to keep up with what was happening with her family and the world until very close to the end.”

Her centennial celebration is being commemorated by the U.S. Postal Service with the release of a stamp featuring her in a canary yellow gown from her official White House portrait; a wildflower sculpture made in her honor; and a massive, multimillion-dollar renovation of the LBJ Presidential Library, to be unveiled Saturday and that for the first time features excerpts from 643 hours of telephone conversations that President Johnson secretly recorded of his political dealings in that era.

I don’t really have a point to make, but like Catherine Robb, I had a grandmother that I was very close to, so reading this story got me a little misty-eyed as well. Happy birthday, Lady Bird.

Are two courts better than one?

Why exactly do we need two top courts in Texas?

A proposal for the upcoming legislative session is resuscitating a debate that goes back to the writing of the Texas Constitution in 1876.

The bill, authored by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, would abolish the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for all criminal matters, and bring all criminal cases under the Texas Supreme Court, which now hears only civil and juvenile cases.

Texas and Oklahoma are the only two states with their highest courts divided between civil and criminal jurisdictions, though others have considered it as a means to deal with large case backlogs. Last year, lawmakers in Florida considered splitting the state’s Supreme Court, particularly to deal with a growing list of death penalty appeals, but a political battle killed the proposal.

Raymond’s bill and joint resolution, pre-filed last month, would allow the Texas Supreme Court to decide which criminal cases to review but would require that it look at all death penalty appeals.

He says that the change should be a no-brainer, because 48 other states and the federal court system have a single highest court. “The model is there for most of the country,” he said. “The more people talk about it the more they will agree.”

It’s an interesting story, which includes some of the history of the CCA and how it came about. Though the attempt to do away with the CCA has come up multiple times before in the Lege – Rep. Raymond filed similar legislation two years ago that got nowhere – I confess I’d never heard about any of those efforts before. According to Scott Henson, who is quoted in the story and who elaborates on his remarks and the history of the court here, it’s usually the minority party pushing these efforts, as it would result in fewer offices for the dominant party to occupy. That’s as may be, but for what it’s worth I’ve never heard a Democrat talk about this before now. I personally am agnostic on the idea. I doubt it will actually save much money – the extra caseload on a single court would necessitate a much larger staff to handle it – and I do think it will make the appeals process take longer. Having said that, the fact that 48 other states survive with one top court suggests that we’d be just fine, and the fact that “we’ve always done it this way” isn’t really a justification. And hey, if it means that Sharon Keller would be finally put out of a job, then you’d better believe I’d vote for it.

Greanias officially resigns, interim Metro CEO named

George Greanias may have stepped down as CEO of Metro, but he’ll still be around for awhile, as Metro searches for his successor.

George Greanias

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members on Thursday accepted Greanias’ resignation, named an interim replacement and approved a six-month, $117,500 contract with Greanias – equivalent to half his annual salary – to consult for Metro.

“Don’t think you’re getting away scot-free,” board member Carrin Patman told Greanias after a 90-minute closed session. “We have a job for you.”

Greanias’ consulting duties will focus on leadership transition, increasing bus and light rail ridership and improving the MetroLift service for disabled passengers. These are key areas where Greanias can be an invaluable asset, said Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia.

“Who better than someone who has been here that knows all the parts, all the intricacies,” Garcia said.

To replace Greanias, the board appointed Tom Lambert, Metro’s executive vice president and the agency’s former police chief, as interim CEO. Lambert, a 32-year Metro veteran, told the board he is not interested in the position permanently.

He said Greanias leaves the agency after 30 months in much better shape than he found it. Lambert said his goal for his time at the helm is to keep the staff directed on its long-term goals of improving bus and train service.

“I think the real issue is how can we take the system today and make it even better tomorrow,” Lambert said.

Greanias didn’t give any specific reason for leaving – he did deny that a difference of opinion over the Metro referendum was a factor – he just said he was ready to do something else. Easy enough to understand – he inherited a mess and turned it around, which has to have been exhausting as well as satisfying. The next CEO will be more in run-and-maintain mode, though he or she will have to figure out how to expand bus service and getting the new rail lines going while still working towards building the University line. It’ll be a challenge of a different kind, but a challenge nevertheless. The Board has a big task ahead of it in finding the right person for that job.