Combs names Hubert deputy comptroller
Other key hires announced; no word on Hubert replacement at TCEQ
Martin Hubert, who has served on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since September, has been named by Comptroller-elect Susan Combs as Deputy Comptroller.
Hubert served as Deputy Agriculture Commissioner for almost eight years during Comb's tenure in office as Agriculture Commissioner.
"I have admired Martin Hubert for the eight years I have known him," Combs said. "I am delighted that he is willing to take on the challenge of Deputy Comptroller. Martin is a superb administrator, has an impressive command of budget and tax matters and is widely respected for his thoughtful approach to all issues."
Hubert has served as a federal government relations representative for Texas A&M University and as general counsel for the Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee. He also was a member of the personal staff of Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, as an adviser on agriculture and natural resources and as general counsel.
A graduate of Texas A&M and St. Mary's Law School, Hubert also received his master of law degree in federal income taxation from Georgetown University.
Combs also announced three other key appointments: Mike Reissig, currently director of tax administration, will become associate deputy comptroller. Suzy Wittenton, currently assistant director of fiscal management, will become director of fiscal management. William Hamner, currently assistant director of tax administration, will become the director of tax administration.
Gov. Rick Perry's press secretary Robert Black said that Perry would want to find a possible replacement for Hubert at the TCEQ "sooner rather than later." At the same time, Black said the governor would spend as much time as necessary to find the best qualified individual.
Susan Combs· Comptroller-elect of Texas
Education: B.A. from Vassar College; J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law
What I like best about my job is: Working with the great people of Texas - and helping men and women of agriculture find opportunities for their great agricultural products. This also means working with small towns and communities to be successful.
Best advice I've ever received: As a freshman legislator: "Be quiet, listen and learn."
Biggest challenge of your new job: Trying to master the complexities of tax policy and the enormous variety of information that streams through the agency, with the hope of extracting useful data from it that can be used by all Texans.
What advice would you give a new hire in your office? Work hard and have fun.
People would be surprised to know that I: Love to read and listen to music when I am not on the ranch.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: On the road heading west towards the ranch.
Book, magazine or newspaper article I've read recently that really influenced my thinking: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
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Fundraiser named as Gates' interim replacement
Ed Davis, Texas A&M University's longtime chief fundraiser, will serve as interim university president while officials begin a search for a replacement for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
In his role as president of the A&M Foundation, Davis has helped raise millions of dollars for scholarships, faculty positions, academic buildings and athletic facilities. The university is winding up a $1.4 billion capital campaign that exceeded its initial goal of $1 billion.
A tenured English professor, Davis said he would not seek the position permanently. A&M chancellor Mike McKinney said Davis' "knowledge, skills and leadership will be particularly valuable as we enter the next legislative session in January."
Bush signs bill extending sales tax deduction
President Bush this week signed legislation that allows Texas residents - as well as residents of seven other states - to continue to deduct sales tax from their federal income tax forms.
The sweeping tax and trade bill would also open up more than 8 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling which could produce more than $1 billion in royalties for the state of Texas over the next decade.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison called the two-year extension of the sales tax deduction an issue of "fundamental fairness" to Texans.
Vouchers possible for autistic kids; Catholic to rally
Sen. Florence Shapiro, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, plans to sponsor legislation that would allow parents of autistic children to choose the best schools for their children by providing vouchers that could be used in another public school district or even private school.
In the last five years, the number of children diagnosed with autism has doubled, from 8,972 to 17,282 in the last school year, according to the Texas Education Agency.
"I would like to see a choice program," Shapiro said. "I think it's what we should do for children with autism."
In a related development this week, officials announced that Dallas Catholic schools would close on Feb. 7 to allow children to attend a pro-voucher rally in Austin.
Nueces County may get tough on beach development
Nueces County is considering a strict new rule prohibiting construction within 350 feet of the beach vegetation line - expanding the state's marker of 200 feet.
The new rule must be approved by the Texas General Land Office. If approved, it will be the strictest construction restriction on the Texas coast and will affect 21 miles of beach.
City officials in both Corpus Christi and Port Aransas have written letters protesting the proposal. According to a letter signed by Corpus Christi City Manager Skip Noe, the proposal will have a "devastating effect" on development on North Padre and Mustang Islands."
Michigan educator to lead HCC
The Houston Community College Board of Trustees has chosen Mary Spangler, a longtime English professor who leads Michigan's largest community college, as the sole finalist for chancellor. Under state law, the board must wait 21 days before formally hiring her.
Spangler will replace Bruce Leslie, who departed to take the top job for the Alamo Community College District in San Antonio.
Currently chancellor of the Oakland Community College in suburban Detroit, Spangler has also served as president of Los Angeles City College. HCC is one of the nation's largest college districts with six campuses, roughly 55,000 students and an annual budget of more than $200 million. The chancellor's position pays $275,000 annually.
Houston housing agency targets apartments
The City of Houston plans to spend $35 million to renovate ailing apartments in the Southwest section of the city and near Hobby airport, giving neighborhoods in both areas a much-need facelift, while guaranteeing the availability of affordable housing.
Mayor Bill White called the initiative "one of this administration's major contributions. A large number of Houstonians make their homes in apartments and those dwellings must be brought up to standard."
The initiative will be funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's federal HOME funds and from the Houston Housing Finance Corp. Apartment owners who wish to take part in the program will have to sign a 15-year agreement to keep rents affordable.
Officials noted that many of the Southwest area complexes were built in the 1970s as housing for single adults, but are now occupied by low-income families. Neighborhood leaders are hoping some of the funds will help pay for badly needed playground and community centers for after-school activities.
San Antonio City Council approves tax zone
The San Antonio City Council approved a new taxing district in hopes of attracting commercial and residential development of a neighborhood north of downtown.
The tax increment reinvestment zone would grant tax incentives to developers along the River North - an extension of the city's famed River Walk. The council hopes the incentives will encourage investment in the area and become a model for inner-city revitalization.
Mayor Phil Hardberger noted that private developers must commit to the project if it is to succeed. "It is an exciting project that should be a Renaissance for the area," he said. "The city can stimulate, but for this to succeed, I fully expect private citizens and corporations to be involved to make this a true partnership."
UT regents award $1.25 million to Cancer Institute
The University of Texas System Board of Regents awarded $1.25 million from its special Stars Fund to the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
The award will be used to purchase imaging equipment for Dr. Tyler Curiel, the new head of the Cancer Institute, who studies how cancer converts immune system cells.
The Stars Fund was established by the regents to recruit and retain top faculty at the UT System's institutions.
McNay Art Museum gets $1 million gift
San Antonio businessman Charles Butt, chairman of the H-E-B grocery store chain, has donated $1 million toward the proposed expansion of the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio.
The 45,000-square-foot expansion, called the Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions, will double the art museum's space and will cost $50.8 million. The museum needs another $10 million to reach its fundraising goal.
Site preparation has already begun and the new center is expected to be completed by the summer of 2008. Tom Frost, chairman of the museum's capital campaign, called the project "far and away the biggest thing that ever happened to San Antonio."
New Dallas DA names top aides
Newly elected Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins announced that Terri Moore, who ran an unsuccessful bid to become Tarrant County District Attorney, will serve as his first assistant.
Watkins also announced that Dallas County defense attorney Kevin Brooks would serve as his trial bureau chief.
Moore was an assistant district attorney in Tarrant County for a decade, including four years as deputy chief of the criminal division. She has worked as a local defense attorney since 1997.
Perry announces law enforcement grants
Gov. Rick Perry this week approved more than $5.9 million in grants to 11 local law enforcement agencies to establish special criminal enterprise units targeting violent crime and drug enforcement activities.The awards include:
New Braunfels names superintendent finalist
Forney Independent School District Superintendent Michael Smith has been named sole finalist for the superintendent's position in New Braunfels.
"I'm very honored," Smith said. "We are excited and we are ready to move to New Braunfels."
The board now must negotiate details of Smith's contract and wait 21 days before formally hiring him. His selection will fill a vacancy created in June by the retirement of Superintendent Ron Reaves, who led the district for 10 years.
Brazos County courthouse gets technology upgrade
The Brazos County courthouse in the last month has unveiled significant technology upgrades, including wireless Internet and public computer terminals offering free access to legal research Web sites.
Video screens by the first floor entrance list the hearings taking place in all of the county courtrooms, much like airport departure arrival boards.
County Judge Randy Sims noted that the improvements make Bryan the most technologically advanced among counties of a similar size. "This is something that is bringing us into the technological future," he said.
Bryan Habitat gets private, public grants
The Bryan-College Station Habitat for Humanity has received a financial boost of $468,000 from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and a $58,165 gift from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
Officials say the funds will help the nonprofit group build 15 homes for needy families next year in the city's Angel's Gate area.
The TDHCA grant was awarded from the agency's Texas Bootstrap Loan Program and will allow Habitat to offer qualifying families 30-year, zero-interest loans to purchase homes.
Free tuition offered at UT-Tyler, Pan Am
Students whose families earn less than $25,000 annually will be eligible for free tuition at UT-Tyler and UT-Pan American if they agree to complete 30 credit hours each academic year and maintain a 2.0 grade point average.
"What this program is about is doing the right thing and I'm really excited about that," said UT-Tyler President Rod Mabry. "This says to families that need the most help that there is help."
UT-San Antonio announced a similar tuition program last week.
Increased globalization raises Texas' trade profile
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
A famous cartoon magazine cover presents a skewed map of New York by illustrating in great detail the city's rich cultural features - and a looming giant void west of the Hudson. The map mocks the typical New Yorker's view of the world by suggesting that to many of the city's residents, nothing important lies outside its boundaries.
Certainly, we Texans may have been guilty of living in a similarly distorted world. Even marketing slogans - everything is bigger in Texas and Texas, a whole other country - seem like obvious statements of fact to those of us who have lived here our entire lives.
Now comes a scholarly research article published by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank that seems to verify what we all have felt was true all along - that Texas, if not already the center of the universe, will soon become it.
In an analysis of trade passing through U.S. ports in the last decade, the value of imports and exports processed through Texas ports was two and half times more than it was in 1996, growing about twice as fast as the national average.
Ports throughout the state have seen huge growth, with Laredo and Houston the fastest growing of the top 10 U.S. ports. Their growth has been spurred by globalization, particularly increased trade with China and Mexico, and will likely continue. Mexico's lower west coast is home to a port that has become a cheaper alternative to Los Angeles and a U.S. railroad company has recently acquired railways connecting the port to Laredo.
The study also concludes that inland ports, where goods can be processed and assembled away from congested border areas, will play an increasingly important role as globalization trends continue. Texas inland ports are in their "infancy," with facilities at Alliance Texas Logistic Park in Fort Worth the only "significant" processor of foreign trade.
But the study cites two other large projects as potentially stepping into the void: a project by the Port Authority of San Antonio, and a proposed inland port, also on the drawing board, by the Port of Dallas in south Dallas which may act as an inland distribution center.
The surge in trade passing through our state will present opportunities and challenges as Texas experiences greater strain on its transportation networks.
For those of us who work closely with government, the study is extremely positive but it also alerts us to numerous obstacles we must overcome in the next few years. Without a doubt, Texans from all walks of life will be forced to become more immersed in issues that deal with transportation, the environment, air quality, water, globalization and infrastructure.
If you want to read the entire report, click here.
Rice University announces biomedical initiative
Rice University this week announced plans to build a 10-story, 477,000-square-foot Collaborative Research Center across from the Texas Medical Center to allow physicians and researchers to pursue biomedical research partnerships.
The cost of the $280 million project will be borne by Rice and partnering academic institutions and hospitals that lease space in the building.
Among its partners will be the Texas Children's Hospital, which needs more research space. Mark Wallace, president and chief executive of the hospital, said the project will allow doctors to tap into Rice's "outstanding intellectual capital," particularly in the fields of math, physics and informatics.
Alamo Community College to get new buildings
The Alamo Community College Board of Trustees approved $47 million worth of construction projects, clearing the way for groundbreaking for several new buildings.
Among those approved were a $24 million allied heath and nursing building, a $13 million academic building at San Antonio College and a $5 million veterinary technology building at Palo Alto College.
The board also approved expenditures of $4 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment in the new building at San Antonio College and $1 million for tennis courts and a parking garage at St. Philip's College.
Seguin to begin master planning
Having reached a critical threshold of 25,000 population, the City of Seguin has decided to begin formulating a comprehensive master plan and will issue a request for consulting services to assist with the project in January.
City Planning director Don Smith advised the city council that because of the rate of growth in Seguin, the city staff "finds it both necessary and beneficial to develop a detailed, goal-oriented comprehensive plan that will lead the city to a successful future."
The plan will cover land use, annexations and open space, economic development, infrastructure, water supply, public safety and other key elements of city planning.
City of Aubrey names acting mayor
Prompted by the death of Mayor Tim Leslie earlier this month, the Aubrey City Council named Mayor Pro Tem Gary Hammett as acting mayor, to serve until the May election.
Hammett has served twice on the Aubrey City Council. A Denton native, he is a land surveyor and partner in Metroplex Surveying, Inc.
Council members said they expect a smooth transition because Leslie kept them well-informed of all ongoing projects.
Pearsall city government gets new digs
The new Pearsall City Hall, a 4,500-square-foot building a block away from the old city government headquarters, opened this week.
The new facility, located in a renovated bank, features council chambers and a drive-through window where citizens can pay their utility bills, said City Manager Jose Trevino.
The city bought the building in July and began renovations in September.
Greenville development board gets new members
The Greenville City Council has named Mike Taylor as chairman, and Ron Robinson and Jerry Grady as members of the Greenville Board of Development.
The appointments will become effective with the combined meeting of the Board and the Chamber of Commerce in January.
North Texas COG gets new council member
Allen Harris, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem of the Colony, has been appointed to the Regional Preparedness Planning Council of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Chaired by Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, the council serves in an advisory role, with responsibility for providing policy direction and oversight to the development of a coordinated regional approach to emergency management response.
TDHCA names new director
Jeannie Arellano has joined the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs as director of the newly created HOME program division.
A previous employee of the agency, Arellano has been involved in the housing industry for 10 years and has acquired extensive knowledge of rental analysis and single-family lending.
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Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI) is a research and consulting firm offering business development and public affairs services.
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