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Good News Dallas
by Trey Garrison    Mon, Feb 27, 2006, 01:38 PM

A slate of ethics complaints against Mayor Laura Miller and 10 council members were dismissed this morning by the Ethics Advisory Commission.

The 11 complaints, filed by Richard P. Sheridan, all stemmed from his complaints about the city's policies regarding homeless people. The commission found that the complaints were entirely political in nature, and there were no violations of the ethics code.

"This is a complaint by someone who is unhappy with the political decisions of our elected officials. This is not the forum for these kinds of complaints," commission member Gloria Tarpley said.

Sheridan, a self-styled homeless advocate who appears professional and calm but has a car with enough homemade bumper stickers to make him look crazy as an outhouse rat, attended the morning meeting and didn't comment when his complaints were dismissed.

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by Mike Fisher    Sun, Feb 26, 2006, 05:22 PM

Yes, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells lunched with Terrell Owens' agent. But when it comes to Cowboys personnel targets, you go ahead and put stock into who Parcells breaks bread with. I'm going to put stock into who Parcells is IN BED with. Check it out by clicking on 'The School of Fish':

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by    Sun, Feb 26, 2006, 04:50 PM

The Public Utility Commission decided last week to leave intact the price-top-beat, allowing the market to determine the price of electricity for retail customers. The commission’s action places responsibility on the customer and the market through competition, rather than the government through regulation, to control electric rates.

SB7, the law allowing retail competition in the electric industry, created the price to beat as a temporary phase-in mechanism.

Retail electric providers affiliated to formerly regulated utilities were required to charge a PUC-set price designed to be slightly higher than the market prices. The theory was that the price-to-beat would give consumers an opportunity to shop around.

Three years after retail competition began, the affiliated retail electric provider could charge a market prices but had to off the price-to-beat for an additional two years (i.e., until December 31, 2006).

The law allowed retail electric providers to request price-to-beat adjustments up to twice per year to account for changes in the price of fuel. The main purpose for this provision was to ensure utilities were not forced to price below cost. California tried below-cost pricing; the consequences included utility bankruptcy and service disruptions.

Toward the end of 2005, natural gas prices rose rapidly. In response, Texas’ utilities petitioned for increase in the price-to-beat. Because a significant portion of the residential utility customers have yet to switch, this can be a politically touchy topic.

But now the natural gas markets are changing, and the PUC Chairman Paul Hudson (who could not be reached for comment pr) made a proposal that the commission reexamine the possibly lower the price-to best. Hudson’s proposal was on the agenda for the PUC’s February 23d meeting to consider whether to publish it in the Texas Register. In the end, Commissioners Barry SMitherman and Julies Parsely objected and the proposal was defeated.

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) supported Hudson’s proposal. “Since the price to beat is $12 – 18 above what’s already an above market rate. This disparity is unacceptable … Over the past four years (affiliated electric providers) have not hesitated to increase their price to beat rates when natural gas prices increased; now it is imperative that rates decrease as natural gas prices decrease.”

Turner later blasted the commission for rejecting the Hudson proposal, stating that the other two commissioners have shown” wanton disregard for the interests of Texas’ electricity customers.”

The state’s electric utilities, however, note that competitive markets give consumers remedies when prices get too high. “The regulators are telling the consumer what’s best for them,” said Chris Schein, of TXU, concerning the proposal to lower the price-to-beat. “Let the market work. If you let the market progress the direction that is, you’re going to get these new products, you’re going to get these new services, and you’re going to be driven by the competitive marketplace, and its going to be what the consumers want instead of what others think they should have.”

A little context is helpful. During last 2005 the PUC, with assistance from the Governor’s office, made deals with affiliated retail electric on the price-to-beat increases. (To simplify we’ll discuss TXU). The TXU deal phased in price-to-beat increases over several months. In addition, TXU agreed to donate money to help lo income customers pay their electric bills.

The company also donated to the state’s “Power to Chose” campaign, which informs Texans in areas that have competition that they can choose their electric provider. The state’s website even has a feature where customers can type in their zip code and get a comparison of electric rates. Both donations were multi-million dollar gifts.

If you try Power to Choose and typed in 75202 (Highland Park) and found 13 different rate plans from 12 different companies that would offer prices lower than the price-to-beat; in zip code 78401 (Corpus Christi) there were 19 different rates lower than the price-to-beat.

In addition to finding lower prices from competitors, several affiliate providers are offering rate packages as alternatives to the price-to-beat. TXU created a freedom plan, which locks in the current rates for 12 months. It also has a plan that guarantees the price for 24 months, but that product has a fee for early cancellation. More, starting in March, TXU will unveil a MarketTracker+ electric plan, where rates fluctuate with the price of natural gas.

In the Houston area Reliant Energy offers three different pricing plans that are lower than the price-to-beat, according to a search of the 77005 zip code. Hence, customers in Texas’s largest metropolitan areas are saving money either by switching providers or by choosing a different rate plan than the one offered by the affiliated retail electric provider.

At the end of the year, retail electric providers will not longer be required to offer the price-to-beat. In areas with competition, the markets will determine the retail price of electricity. (Areas historically served by municipally owned utilities or cooperative, including Austin and San Antonio, are exempt from deregulation unless their city councils or governing board opt-in to competition.)

The controversy comes just after the PUC released a report showing that electric competition is saving consumer’s money. The PUC found that since competition began, the average consumer would have saved $1450 in the Houston area by switching to the lowest-cost provider and the average Dallas-area consumer would have saved $800 compared to the regulated rate. The study also found that utilities cut pollution because the deregulation encouraged them to replace older power plants with newer ones that emit fewer pollutants.

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by Scott Bennett    Sun, Feb 26, 2006, 04:28 PM

DallasBlog editor Trey Garrison has been keeping (or making) Dallas citizens aware of the Forward Dallas plan.  At last week's citizens meeting there were many assurances offered that the plan would not threaten existing neighborhoods or zoning.  Those same assurances were offered on another plan in New Jersey.  It hasn't turned out as promised.  The Weekly Standard reports on a sad case of fine print and the meaning of the word "blight."  Yes, the magazine is a conservative mainstay but this is pure reporting and reporting everyone in Dallas, regardless of political leanings, should read.

Read story here

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by Special to    Sun, Feb 26, 2006, 03:54 PM

A new Rasmussen poll released yesterday shows that just 17% of Americans believe that Dubai Ports World should be allowed to purchase operating right to several US ports.  Rasmussen also found that just 39% of all Americans realize that those same ports are currently operated by a foreign government.  The worse news for President Bush and the GOP, however, is that while 41% trust the President on national security issues, 43% trust congressional Democrats.  In a poll released today Rasmussen found that 44% of the US public has a favorable overall opinion of the job President Bush is doing while 54% hold an unfavorable opinion.  Rasmussen was the most accurate predictor of the last Presidential election.

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by Carolyn Barta    Sun, Feb 26, 2006, 03:28 PM

Mother Baird's Bakery has been speculated as a likely site for the Bush Presidential Library, if SMU gets the go-ahead, but the old Mrs. Baird's property at Central and Mockingbird isn't big enough unless planners are thinking high-rise library, underground parking. More likely as the site: The University Gardens property at Central north of Mockingbird, plus what is now student housing in the aging Binkley Apartments and other land SMU owns up to Yale.

University officials are keeping any plans close to the vest, but campus scuttlebutt is that the Mrs. Baird's property might be used for parking. Other parking lot possibilities would include land the university owns on the east side of Central alongside Yale, which used to house a favorite student watering hole, Jack's Pub. Parking already is a problem on campus, and planners need to head off any more congestion that would be created by additional car, van and tour bus  traffic -- which a more removed parking lot site east of Central would do.

Ingress and egress to the site off of Central also has to be a consideration. One wonders if the university is thinking of providing shuttle service from detached parking?

Today's DMN story about SMU's property acquisitions since the 90s can be found at under Park Cities.  

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by Scott Bennett    Sun, Feb 26, 2006, 02:43 PM

It has been three years since the monumental battle in the Texas legislature to redistrict Texas to produce a solid GOP Congressional district. That battle shifted six Democratic seats to the GOP’s side of the isle and provide a Texas President the votes in needed on a dozen key issues. The full consequences of the redistricting battle are far from playing out and this Wednesday a new chapter will begin: The US Supreme Court will hear arguments from plaintiffs seeking to overturn the plan. The outcome is anyone’s guess.

There are several plaintiffs challenging the Congressional map. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) says the census numbers used to draw the map are outdated. Another Mexican American group, the GI Forum argues that the city of Laredo was split in violation of the Federal civil rights laws. Travis County argues that splitting it among three districts denied a clear community of interest its due representation.

The most interesting challenge, however, comes from current and former Democratic members of Congress who claim the sole point of the map is partisan advantage. The Supreme Court has never struck down a redistricting map based on partisan prejudice and the move would call into question virtually every map of every state in the country.

There is uniqueness to the case. The Texas Legislature, then sporting a Democratic majority in the Texas House and a Republican majority in the Senate, failed to draw a map as constitutionally required. The courts wound up drawing the map and for the most part protected all incumbents and preserved a Democratic majority. In 2003, with majorities in both houses, the GOP in a called special session drew a map that ended the careers of six incumbent Democrats. The effort was masterminded by then Congressional Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Did the legislature have the right to draw new district lines after it failed to do so at the constitutionally mandated time? That is one issue the high court must determine.

The Supreme Court has a range of options. It could affirm the map. It could toss the map in whole and either substitute its own map or order a lower court to do so. It could order the Texas legislature to take another crack at the job. Or it could make minor adjustments affecting only one or two districts. Democrats would particularly like to insure DeLay’s defeat and would also like to defeat Hispanic Republican Henry Bonilla of San Antonio.

Most observers believe that fact that the high court took the case indicates some bias against the plan. They also believe that whatever course it is likely that any new plan will be put into effect for this fall.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is defending the plan for the state. A ruling is expected in late spring or early summer.

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by Scott Bennett    Sun, Feb 26, 2006, 02:07 PM

Star Telegram Building
The Fort Worth Star Telegram turned 100 years old this month and today's copy of that venerable paper has a well written history of the paper's beginning and evolution.  In 1906 Fort Worth was about the size Corsicana is today and a very rough tough West Texas oil and cattle town.  Today, it is a city of over 600,000 and the 19th largest city in America.  For perspective Fort Worth proper is larger than Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston and Denver proper.  The Star Telegram has been Fort Worth's most powerful community resource for all its 100 years.  Congratulations.


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by Trey Garrison    Sat, Feb 25, 2006, 09:40 PM

Just to throw a little jet fuel on the fire, there's this.

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by Trey Garrison    Sat, Feb 25, 2006, 03:33 PM

Dallas needs more cops, no doubt. And pay is part of the problem, at least when it comes to losing cops to the suburbs.

But it turns out that when you put it in national perspective, Dallas cops are actually some of the highest paid in the country compared to the cost of living, ranking just inside the top 20 highest paid forces in the United States.

Dallas is No. 20. Plano is No. 9.

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