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Joe Jaworski

Eiland will not seek re-election

This is a tough break for the Democrats.

Rep. Craig Eiland

Rep. Craig Eiland

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, will not seek re-election, he announced in a tearful personal privilege speech on the House floor Wednesday night.

Eiland, who has served in the Legislature for two decades, said it has been hard being away from his wife and children, but that he would deeply miss being a member of the Texas House.

Eiland said he even liked serving in a session with an exceedingly large number of freshmen legislators, though he joked that “some of them are crazy.”

The Galveston legislator and attorney was first elected to the Legislature in 1993. He won a sometimes tough campaign for re-election last year in which his work on windstorm insurance became an issue along with his residence in Austin. Eiland has a $3 million home in Austin. An early ad from his Republican opponent attacked Eiland as someone who got wealthy “as a trial lawyer suing Texas businesses” and for living in a city well outside the district.

Rep. Eiland is a veteran member with a lot of expertise and experience, and he won in a district that has been trending away from the Democrats for a long time. I identified him as potentially vulnerable way back in 2011, and indeed HD23 was Republican overall – Eiland was the only member of the House to win in a district that was carried by the Presidential candidate of the opposing party. While it’s not clear to me that his district would have been any less hospitable in a non-Presidential year, it is certain that he’d have had another tough race ahead of him. With the seat being open, it automatically moves it from being Lean Dem, on the strength of Eiland’s experience, abilities, and campaign bank account, to at best a tossup for the Dems, if there’s a decent candidate waiting in the wings. The good news is that according to QR, there are several good potential candidates – former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, District Judge Susan Criss, and former Galveston County Commissioner Pat Doyle. I’ve already heard a rumor that Criss plans to run. Like I said, this will be a tough race, but having a good candidate at least gives us a fighting chance.

Rep. Eiland joins Rep. Mark Strama in calling it quits; there’s already a hot primary for the open HD50. One thing Eiland’s retirement has in common with Strama’s is that it will surely mean fewer Anglo Dems in the Lege in 2015. Regardless, I wish both outgoing Reps all the best with whatever comes next for them. Thank you for your service, gentlemen.

Who wants to live in Galveston?

Galveston would like to know.

Although the city is still rebuilding with new private investment and hundreds of millions in federal disaster money, Galveston finds itself at a crossroads and confronting fundamental questions: Will its population continue to shrink until it becomes nothing more than a husk of tourist attractions? Will the city attract new industry?

The city’s population was declining for decades before Ike reduced it from 57,000 to about 48,000. Restoring the city’s population is crucial to establishing a stable tax base, especially as the University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas A&M-Galveston pay no property taxes on the large tracts they occupy.

“The biggest problem is not the creation of industry, it’s getting people who work here to come back to live here,” said Harris “Shrub” Kempner, head of Kempner Capital Management and a member of the city finance advisory committee.

Although the Island’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate mirrors the nation’s, it’s higher than Houston’s at 6.5 percent and masks an unusually high ratio of population to jobs because so many people who work in Galveston live off the island, Kempner said.

[…]

The city needs a population of at least 50,000 to continue getting the level of federal aid it received before the storm. Restoring the population is a priority for both of the mayoral candidates preparing for a June 23 runoff, incumbent Joe Jaworski and challenger Lewis Rosen. Both say they want the population eventually to grow to 70,000.

A perception of low-performing schools once contributed to flight from the island, but that perception has changed, said Galveston school district Superintendent Larry Nichols. Discipline and test scores have improved, he said, and affluent residents like [UTMB president Dr. David] Callender are sending their children to public schools despite the availability of two charter academies and a Catholic school.

To entice people to live on the island, the city must overcome significant hurdles.

The scattered lots available for building don’t lend themselves to the same cost efficiencies developers can realize on the mainland, where large tracts are available. The potential for hurricanes is frightening to some. High insurance costs and stricter building codes on the coast make housing more expensive. Galveston lacks large retail outlets, forcing residents to leave the island to shop.

And the island, despite its natural attractions of sun, sand and surf, has a reputation for shabbiness.

Barton Smith, a University of Houston economics professor emeritus, said efforts to attract population and new business won’t be successful until Galveston overcomes the blight that motorists see coming in on Broadway Boulevard, and the industrial ambience of Harborside Drive that greets cruise ship passengers.

Really, this is a marketing question. What is it about Galveston that would make someone want to live there? That’s what they need to figure out. Is there an Island version of ttweak that can come up with a snappy catch phrase and a campaign to back it up? I know what draws people to a city like Houston, and I know what draws people to the various suburbs, and I know what draws people to small towns and the country. What is it about Galveston that makes people want to live there? Not everyone, of course, just that subset of people who would live there if given a reason that made sense to them. I wish them the best in figuring it out.

Lampson says he’s looking at CD14

Some potential good news from the Chron story about Ron Paul’s announcement that he will not seek re-election in CD14:

One with a definite interest in the race is Nick Lampson, a Beaumont Democrat who represented Texas’ 9th Congressional District from 1997 to 2005 before falling victim to the controversial mid-decade redistricting effort engineered by then-House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

Lampson lost in 2004 to U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, regained a seat in 2006 when he defeated DeLay and lost again in 2008 to U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

“I certainly have an interest in taking a look at being back in Congress,” Lampson said. “I don’t want to go back and get caught up in all the divisiveness that’s going on now, but I would really look at an opportunity to explore serving Texas.”

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray, a redistricting expert, noted that the newly drawn 14th district is very similar to the district Lampson represented before DeLay took it apart. “A strong Democrat deeply rooted in Jefferson County would have a chance,” he said.

Yes, I thought so, too. Lampson is a known commodity and a strong fundraiser, both of which are big advantages. If he can get the Republican-inclined folks who used to vote for him back in the day to do so again, he can win. He’s not the only possible option – Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski would be a good candidate as well, though so far he has not said anything publicly about this – but the fact that at least one credible candidate is expressing interest is a good sign.

Ron Paul not running for re-election in CD14

Looks like we won’t need to challenge him after all.

Late Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, sent out the following message to his Twitter followers: “I have decided not to seek re-election to Congress.”

Brazoria County newspaper, The Facts, has more details. The 24-year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives told them he planned on devoting more time to his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election,” he said. “It’s about that time when I should change tactics.”

This is a change from 2008 when Paul was in both races; he drew 4.87% of the vote in the Texas primary, which was basically a non-event as John McCain had already wrapped up the nomination, finishing third behind McCain and Mike Huckabee. Either he seriously thinks he’ll still be in contention as of next March, or maybe he’s just had enough of Congress. I don’t much care one way or the other, I’m just happy to see him go.

As I said, this means we don’t need to challenge him, we now just need to find someone to take a crack at an open seat. As BOR notes, that’s a potentially long list, though everyone they name with the exception of Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski would have to give up their own seat to do so, as they will all be on the ballot in their own primary otherwise. (Also, at least one name on that list is looking at CD36.) It’s possible Paul’s decision could have quite the ripple effect. As for the odds of a Democratic win, I will point you to Greg’s numbers and note that despite my moderate pessimism, CD14 is quite reasonably competitive and now deserves even more than before to be vigorously contested. A moderate Dem with crossover appeal, especially in Jefferson and Galveston Counties, would make a race of it. Anyone know what Nick Lampson is up to these days? Because if you’d just woken me up out of a ten-year coma and showed me this map, I’d say this CD14 is a district drawn for him. Texas Politics has more.

UPDATE: One GOP hopeful steps forward.

Galveston’s comeback

I wish the city of Galveston all the best with this.

Community leaders here, concerned that 50 years of steady population loss could transform what was once one of Texas’ great cities into a hollowed-out tourist resort, are scrambling to reverse the decline.

Hurricane Ike bit into the island city’s population in 2008, knocking it from 57,000 to about 48,000.

“Our population is going to recover from a bottomed-out low point,” Mayor Joe Jaworski said. He wants to restore the population to 50,000 in one to two years. “My sweet spot is to get it up to 75,000,” he said.

The idea, echoed by others in the community, is to capitalize on the layout of the historic neighborhoods, historic downtown and seashore by making the city greener and pedestrian- and bike-friendly.

Jaworski says people are leaving the island for three reasons: a misperception that the schools are poor, the shortage of affordable, attractive housing, and a sense that the city lacks cleanliness and safety.

I don’t know how much fear of hurricanes plays into that, but as there’s not much to be done about it they may as well concentrate on the things they can control. It won’t be easy, but a great city like Galveston deserves the effort. I hope they succeed.

On a side note, apparently some people are circulating a petition to recall Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski. I don’t know anything more about this.

The gambling industry keeps trying

I’m not sure how successful an approach this will be, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

Expanding gaming requires a vote of two-thirds of the legislature, with voters getting the final say. A new poll done for the Chronicle and the state’s other major newspapers found 60 percent favored an expansion of gaming.

Expanding gaming may be a last-ditch attempt at saving racing. Without slots, Texas track operators say, they won’t have the additional revenue to increase purses and attract quality horses .

“You will likely see the fall of several players,” predicted Andrea Young, president and chief operating officer of Sam Houston Race Park . She wouldn’t say whether Sam Houston would be one of them.

Bryan Brown, chief executive of Retama Park in Selma, had an even more fatalistic view if lawmakers can’t be persuaded.

“Our industry, over a period of years, will just disappear,” Brown said. Retama hasn’t turned a profit since opening in 1995.

I blogged about the poll in question the other day. I have to say, this is not an approach I’d take if I were the horse racing industry. There were plenty of Republicans who were perfectly content to let the US auto manufacturers die back during the early days of the economic crisis. If this is the pitch, I have no trouble imagining it being recast as a “bailout” in the 2012 primaries. Stick with your projections of economic benefit for the state and hope for the best, I say. The gloomier the budget picture and the harder it gets to make cuts, the better it’ll sound to them.

To be fair, the racetracks did also talk up the economic benefits they say allowing them to have slot machines would bring:

Under the racing industry’s proposed legislation, the state would get 30 percent of the slots revenue. The tracks would keep 58 percent, and the remaining 12 percent would be earmarked for purses and other items for the horse and greyhounds industries, Hooper said.

If slots pass, Sam Houston’s Young said it will spend $350 million for new facilities, gaming terminals and other amenities. Retama expects to spend $200 million.

Young pointed to Parx Casino in Philadelphia as a venue she’d like to emulate, raving about how well it has integrated slots (and table games) with horse racing.

“It feels like you’re walking into a Vegas-style casino,” she said, referring to the layout and finishes.

I still don’t think much of their odds of success, but this is as sensible an approach as you could expect.

I nearly did a spit take when I read this:

The Texas Gaming Association, which represents casino operators, is proposing four to eight casinos. Three would be in the largest counties – Harris, Bexar and Dallas – and at least one other would be in a coastal town, said spokesman Scott Dunaway.

Whoa! I’ve been following this issue for awhile now, and this is the first time I can recall seeing any specific location mentioned for a casino, especially Harris County. In the past, the talk has always been that there would be local elections to determine whether or not a given city would allow a casino to be built there. (Go take a listen to my interview with Joe Jaworski, now Galveston’s Mayor, in which we discussed this issue, for an example.) I was sufficiently surprised by this that I contacted Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, to see what his position was. Judge Emmett told me that it was the first he had heard of it as well. As such, I don’t know if this is something new, something that’s always been there but is just now coming out, or if the story got it wrong.

Whatever the case, the casino interests say they will be releasing their financial projections next week. I can hardly wait to see it, and I’ll be sure to write about it when I do.

Galveston commuter rail project off track

Bummer.

A depressed economy and a budget-cutting political climate have indefinitely delayed a proposed Houston-Galveston passenger rail line, a project that could have been under construction by now according to earlier predictions.

Despite strong support from governments in Galveston County, federal dollars are harder to come by than when the idea gained favor in 2007, and local money is too scarce to finance the $650 million project, said Barry Goodman, whose Goodman Corp. consulting firm spearheaded the effort to win federal money for the project.

“The reasons for that are the economic downturn the last two years has impacted local political subdivisions very dramatically,” Goodman said.

The dearth of local and federal money has turned the project from something over the horizon into a more distant goal, he said.

But Goodman says he’s not giving up and will continue to lobby for the money. Neither is Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, whose city has led the fight for the commuter rail line.

“I’m certainly not letting it go,” said Jaworski, who vowed to seek support for the project at the regional, state and federal levels.

More here, here, here, and here. I wish Mayor Jaworski the best of luck with that, but I’m not terribly optimistic about his prospects at this time.

State Supreme Court asked to reconsider open beaches verdict

Good luck with that.

Galveston has joined key state agencies in pleading with the court to reconsider a ruling that favors private property rights over public access to Texas shores.

“I think the Supreme Court really needs to understand the impact of its ruling. It’s not just a theoretical question — they just changed Galveston Island’s ability to nourish its beaches,” Mayor Joe Jaworski said.

“These are Texas’ beaches,” he said. “It’s ironic that the Supreme Court has essentially said it’s every man for himself.”

Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, said he canceled the beach project because the court ruling removed the guarantee of public access to the area, which extends west of Galveston’s seawall to 13 Mile Road . The Texas Constitution forbids spending public money to benefit private property.

“Our hands are tied now,” Patterson said at the time.

[…]

Late last week, Galveston County joined a motion by Patterson and Attorney General Greg Abbott that asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling as unwise, unsound and unworkable.

The motion for rehearing argued that the ruling disregarded the state’s long-valued tradition of public beach access. The court also ignored its own precedents and the policies of “every other branch of Texas government” when it declared that the public beach easement lasts only until the next devastating storm, the brief said.

The motion also warned that the ruling threatens other beach-restoration projects, not just the canceled Galveston effort.

“In the absence of a clear public easement, the state also lacks any clear authority for pursuing the kind of essential beach-renourishment projects on which the local economies of our coastal communities depend,” the brief said.

See here for more. I don’t have a whole lot of faith that the court will take any action, but it’s worth a shot to ask them. You’d also think, if Abbott and Patterson are on board with this, that it ought to be possible to get a constitutional amendment to correct the court’s erroneous ruling through the Lege. I hope someone is thinking about that.

Galveston’s housing issue

Got the following email from Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski:

Kuff – here’s what I just posted on my facebook pages: “Catch Mayor Joe Jaworski on Houston PBS Channel 8 discussing Galveston’s need for affordable housing and how he intends positively to deal with it so we don’t recreate intergenerational poverty. Featuring host Ernie Manousse and guests Mayor Joe Jaworski, Galveston Housing Authority Chair Paula Neff and Galveston Open Government Project’s David Stanowski (he opposes return of public housing). THIS SHOW WILL AIR Sunday Nov. 14 at 5:30 pm and Wed. Nov. 17 at 11 pm. Thanks!! Give us a plug for tomorrow night’s airing? The 26 minute interview/discussion should be on Channel 8’s website starting Monday. Thanks!

Looks like you can watch it now on the KUHT webpage if you don’t want to wait. Check it out.

Tar balls in Galveston

Let’s hope this is not the start of something bigger.

About a dozen tar balls that washed ashore on Crystal Beach were identified Monday as oil from the BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the first evidence that oil from the spill has reached the Texas coastline.

But it was unclear whether the oil from the blowout dropped off a passing ship or drifted nearly 400 miles.

[…]

An onslaught of tar balls on Galveston’s beaches would be disastrous for the island city’s tourism economy. Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski hoped the tar balls were a one-time occurrence.

“It is such a small amount that I’m waiting to see whether more comes or not the next few days before getting really upset,” Jaworski said.

Like I said, let’s hope this is all there is to it. Hair Balls and In the Pink have more.

House committee hearings on emergency preparedness in Houston on Friday

The House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness will be holding some hearings in Houston on Friday at the George R. Brown Convention Center. From the email I got about this:

Those testifying at the hearing include Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, representatives of the GLO, RRC, TCEQ, the Harris County Sherriff’s Office, Houston Office of Emergency Management and Rice University.

The committee will be talking about evacuation plans, terrorist attacks on petrochemical plants, the possibility of an Ike Dike sea wall, the possibility of a deepwater horizon type event, and using social media to warn people about impending disaster.

Here’s a rough run down of proceedings.

9am-11am approx.
HSCEP s/c Hurricanes, Flooding and Evacuations – Hamilton (Chair), Taylor, Frost Focusing on hurricane preparedness – specifically evacuations, early warning systems and storm surge mitigation

11am-1:30pm approx.
House Select committee on Emergency Preparedness (full committee) Focusing on how infrastructure, law enforcement and emergency planners prepare for major industrial accidents and homeland security threats relating to transnational criminal activity

1:30pm-3pm approx.
HSCEP s/c Continuity of Government, Communication and Infrastructure Dutton (Chair), Strama, Lewis Focusing on judicial continuity in the aftermath of a hurricane, government communication during emergencies, and the recovery of critical infrastructure after disasters

All events will be in room 351. The official notices are posted here. These hearings will not be streamed but a recording will be made available at a later date. My thanks to committee clerk Benjamin Wright for the heads up.

Meet Joe Jaworski

The Chron had a profile of newly-elected Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski over the weekend.

Jaworski said he will focus on improving the life of existing residents rather than encouraging construction on the west end.

[…]

Jaworski said he wants to lure businesses to the city by making it a better place to live. Part of that solution, he says, is changing Galveston’s image. “Now the hit is that it’s dirty and the schools are poor,” he said.

He doesn’t believe that Galveston schools deserve their poor reputation, and he wants to talk with the school board about how to change it.

Jaworski wants a report from city staff at every council meeting on what is being done to spruce up the city. He wants zoning regulations enforced to rid Galveston of shoddy buildings. And he wants to entice development on the thousands of empty lots that dot the city’s east end.

He also embraces a report by the Urban Land Institute that says Seawall Boulevard could be converted into one the nation’s great boulevards.

Galveston works on a city manager system, so Jaworski can’t do these things on his own, but I have faith in his ability to get stuff done. You can listen to the interview I did with him before the election here.

Election results

Congratulations to Galveston Mayor-Elect Joe Jaworski, who won a majority of the vote in a five-candidate race.

“I think our message was one of energy and it was one of progress in Galveston,” Jaworski said. “I think people are tired of thinking of Galveston as a wounded city, and I think, in our campaign, they saw something that showed a clean, powerful, connected Galveston for the future.”

Jaworski beat four challengers, including one who dropped out midrace, according to complete but unofficial results.

Jaworski’s closest competitor, Betty Massey, earned just less than 25 percent. Massey on Saturday night congratulated Jaworski and promised to remain involved in shaping the island’s policy and recovery.

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Weber earned 20 percent; Bill Quiroga earned 2 percent, and Greg Roof, who stopped campaigning in March, had 1 percent.

Jaworski said his first acts as mayor would be to clamp down on the pettiness and hostility that bubbled up among sitting city council members.

“I expect a first meeting that puts away the rancor, a first meeting that follows an agenda, and a first meeting that prioritizes our city’s appearance and infrastructure and economic well-being … before any personality contests, before any petty disputes,” he said. “And, every minute of every city meeting, we’re going to be spreading hope and optimism.”

I’m delighted by this. Jaworski’s an ace, and I think he’s exactly what Galveston needs now. My best wishes to Mayor-Elect Joe Jaworski. Other Galveston County results are here; there will be several runoffs for City Council there. In the other race I was following, Chula Ross-Sanchez fell short in her race for City Council in District 6, losing to Diana Puccetti by a 51-49 margin. The Chron and Martha have more, while Stace reports on results in his area.

There will be a runoff for the open SD22 seat.

Republicans David Sibley and Brian Birdwell will meet in a runoff — date to be set by Gov. Rick Perry — for the open state Senate seat in Central Texas.

Sibley led in the special election voting with 45 percent of the vote, followed by Birdwell, with 36.5 percent, Democrat Gayle Avant, with 13.3 percent, and Republican Darren Yancy, with 5.2 percent.

[…]

The election pitted Sibley, a former Waco mayor and state senator who’s been lobbying in Austin for the last decade, against Birdwell, a survivor of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon who is now a conservative Christian motivational speaker living in Granbury. Avant will retire after the end of the current school year after a career as a political science professor at Baylor. And Yancy, a salesman who lives in Burleson, has now lost two shots at the seat. He was on the ballot against Averitt in the March primary, coming up far behind even though Averitt didn’t campaign.

The winner of the special election runoff will serve until January. The winner of the general election — Averitt or a person to be named later — will run for the chance to serve starting then.

Sibley won in all but three of the district’s ten counties, but two of those — Hood and Johnson — turned out relatively big votes. The former senator got walloped in Hood, where Birdwell got 3,625 votes to Sibley’s 819 (in percentages, that’s 68 to 15, in Birdwell’s favor, with the rest of the votes going to the other two candidates).

Here was Burka’s preview of that race. It’s highly likely that Averitt will withdraw from the ballot after the runoff, and that the winner of that runoff will be selected as his replacement for the November election. The Democrats will then get to pick someone as well, as they had no one file for the March primary.

BOR has some Austin-area results, including the good news that Tom Musselman, father of BOR’s Karl-Thomas Musselman, was elected Mayor of Fredericksburg.

Finally, on a personal note, congratulations to my cousin-in-law Bill Metzger for his election as Dallas County Community College District trustee. Way to go, Bill!

Interview with Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski

Today is the start of early voting for the May 8 uniform election date in Texas. There’s not a whole lot happening in Harris County, but down in Galveston they will be electing a new Mayor to succeed the term-limited Lida Ann Thomas. One of the candidates running, the one I would be voting for if I lived in Galveston, is Joe Jaworski, who served three terms on Galveston’s City Council from 2000 to 2006 and made a spirited but unsuccessful run against State Sen. Mike Jackson in 2008. I’m obviously not following Galveston’s elections very closely, but I wanted to interview Jaworski about his candidacy, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so:

Download the MP3 file

I have one more Galveston election interview lined up and will present it later this week. Early voting runs through next Tuesday. You can find early voting locations and hours here.

Joe for Galveston

From my inbox, some good news from Joe Jaworski:

Galveston matters, and the Island’s next Mayor must ensure this message is clearly understood: Galveston is more than a storm ravaged Island with a history; it is an iconic Texas coastal community with a future!

It’s time to make it official: I announce my candidacy to become Galveston’s next Mayor. The election is one year away on May 8, 2010, and I’m looking forward to leading a robust, positive campaign for Galveston’s future.

The Joe Jaworski for Galveston Mayor Campaign believes that Galveston matters, and it’s our intention to broadcast that message positively and often. We begin by announcing the launch of our campaign website www.JoeForGalveston.com. Please visit our website, review the issues, email me your views, sign up to volunteer, add your name to our list of supporters and help us raise the money we need to reach every voter by making a secure contribution online via credit card. The www.JoeForGalveston.com website will be our primary communication tool, and we’ll maximize our campaign’s presence on social networking sites such as Facebook, Youtube and the like, so stay tuned.

Our campaign proudly acknowledges support from both on and off the Island; that’s one of our strengths. Galveston is coming back, and whatever your zipcode – especially after Ike – we are all Galvestonians! So join our campaign to show your support for Galveston’s brightest future.

Ultimately, this campaign is about Galveston’s future and the Galveston voters who will step up and make this campaign something we can all be proud of. Here’s my pledge to you: We’ll campaign the same way we’ll lead: expect a clear, positive and thoughtful campaign where we will adress issues, determine priorities and draft an action plan. The election is a year away, but Galveston’s future begins now.

I’m asking for your vote and your support. I’m running to be Galveston’s next Mayor because I’m ready to work for you every day to show the world that Galveston’s best days are ahead.

Jaworski is a heck of a guy who ran a strong campaign for SD11 under some tough circumstances last year and who recently helped force a settlement with UTMB over the faculty and staff it laid off after Hurricane Ike. He’ll make an excellent Mayor for Galveston, and I heartily support his candidacy.

Settlement in UTMB lawsuit

Hot off the presses.

University of Texas regents today settled an open records lawsuit, agreeing to give hiring priority to 2,400 employees laid off at UTMB in December, one of the plaintiffs said.

In return for dropping the lawsuit, the regents also agreed to allow a Harris County judge to act as an arbitrator in disputes over rehiring, said Tom Johnson, Texas Faculty Association executive director.

The association and three Galveston residents filed the lawsuit last month saying that the firings were illegal because they were done in violation of the open meetings act. The suit accused the regents of convening four closed meetings, three by conference calls.

Barry Burgdorf, UT system vice chancellor and general counsel, said that the agreement to give fired employees priority was already policy at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

I’m sure there will be a longer version of this story in the morning. Given that this lawsuit was only filed in December, I have to think that the quickness of this settlement is indicative of UTMB deciding that its position was not tenable. The first ruling, over venue, went for the plaintiffs. Given that UTMB was going to be staying in Galveston and was already rehiring laid-off workers, you have to wonder what there was left for them to go to the mat over. Be that as it may, kudos to the winners for forcing the issue. I’ve got a press release from the Texas Faculty Association, which has some related news on its blog, beneath the fold.

(more…)

UTMB rehiring

This is good news, though it does make you wonder what the point of all the initial layoffs was.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which laid off more than 2,400 employees last fall because of damage caused by Hurricane Ike, has begun rehiring in earnest.

School officials said Monday they’ve rehired about 500 people since January and will continue hiring in large numbers in coming months, action that has caused some to question whether last November’s cuts were rash.

“It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback, but in October and November there was no crystal ball available to tell us what our fate was going to be,” said Karen Sexton, executive vice president and CEO of the medical branch’s health systems. “We didn’t know how quickly we could get clinical facilities up and running and whether we’d be getting legislative support.”

Sexton added that the expenses reduced by fall’s workforce reduction enabled UTMB to get through the period during which it had no clinical revenue and be in a position to start hiring again this year.

[…]

Joe Jaworski, a lawyer in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the layoffs, cited the rehirings as evidence that many of last fall’s “pink slips were premature.”

“I think it’s reasonable to ask whether UTMB had to let employees go in such huge numbers if it was able to turn around and rehire them months later,” said Jaworski. “But I’m happy to see many coming back and hope the rehiring continues.”

Jaworski added that the rehires and the regents’ decision to remain in Galveston seem to be “an effort to recapture what was lost.”

Recent news about that lawsuit is here. I’m glad UTMB is rehiring, too, I just can’t help but feel that much of this could have been avoided. There should have been a stronger commitment from Governor Perry and the Legislature from the beginning, and a stronger push for such a commitment from UTMB.

UTMB layoff lawsuit update

Missed this last week.

A lawsuit challenging the layoffs of nearly 3,000 employees at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston will be fought on home turf, a state district judge ruled Wednesday.

The courtroom audience applauded as Galveston County District Judge Wayne Mallia rejected an attempt by attorneys for the University of Texas Board of Regents to move the lawsuit to El Paso.

Alistair Dawson, an attorney for the regents, had argued that El Paso was neutral ground.

The lawsuit was filed in December and it alleges that the regents violated state open records laws in making the decision to lay off these employees.

Galveston attorney Joe Jaworski, interviewed after the ruling, said a move to El Paso would have stripped the plaintiffs of the advantage of trying the case in the area most affected by the layoffs.

“The fact that UT would as a matter of first action try to get the case out of the city shows how important it is,” Jaworski said.

[…]

Both sides were given 30 minutes to convince Mallia where the proper venue should be. Dawson argued that the law required the case be tried where the meetings were held, in Austin or El Paso. He acknowledged that Austin would be favorable to the regents, but said El Paso was neutral.

But Mallia sided with Jaworski, ruling that the lawsuit sought to reverse the layoff of UTMB employees and therefore Galveston was the proper venue.

The next hearing is scheduled for October 19. In the meantime, regents will be meeting today to discuss the suit and the future of UTMB clinical enterprise, which is to say whether or not to accept the report by Kurt Salmon Associates that recommends moving those operations to League City. The Texas Faculty Association has more – if you really want to get into detail, start here and work your way through.