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The QueQue

Once again, Friday the 13th proved that this most historically maligned of arbitrary dates (it’s not the Ides of March, after all) is hexed no more or less than any other planetary revolution. Evidence gathered from the days and minutes surrounding the witching hour:

Lifeboat

It was rainbows and unicorns last week for opponents of CPS Energy’s proposed expansion of the South Texas (nuclear) Project. Shotgun-wedding partner Austin Energy filed for a quickie public divorce, citing financial risk and that niggling problem of long-term nuclear-waste storage. That announcement was practically choreographed with news that a proposed $50-billion nuke-plant subsidy had been stripped from the federal stimulus bill, making those financial risks even scarier. But for the power suits it’s business as usual: Austin’s split was all too expected, three companies are already sniffing around to partner on the new plants, and $18.5 billion in unspent Department of Energy loan monies still look promising to CPS, said Mike Kotara, executive veep of energy development.

“We’re still planning to continue on course,” he said. “The work that’s being done right now, the engineering work that’s going on, and construction planning … all that is going to continue going forward,” he said.

CPS Energy’s dos-nuke proposal currently ranks third on the DOE’s list of nuke plants meriting easy money. If the City-owned utility is still in the top three come May, Kotara said, the federal cash will likely be there for the taking whether or not a new energy bill comes to the industry’s aid this summer.

Shadow of a doubt

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On February 11, the jury came down against would-be city whistleblower John Foddrill, news that didn’t surprise the QueQue team member who sat through some of the trial. The plaintiffs were outgunned by a super-prepared City Attorney staff, and many of the jurors often looked bored or confused by the complicated paper trail between the Information Technology Services Department, Municipal Integrity, and the Contract Services Department. The QueQue wonders what will happen to the current COSA employees who testified that Foddrill was a good manager, that mismanagement was rife in his old department, and that others weren’t even given a slap on the wrist for the same infractions used to justify Foddrill’s 2006 termination. Two off-the-record inside sources told the Current this winter that although the telephone-variable slush fund has been replaced with more concrete accounting methods, the department’s problems are far from resolved.

Another detail needles us in the rare quiet moment. An Express-News story reporting on a trial day that the QueQue could not attend seemed to place great weight on a statement by Texas Rangers Captain Hank Whitman, who met with Foddrill for a few hours last fall. “ ... `Whitman` and other officials with the Rangers and Bexar County District Attorney’s Office found no evidence of fraud or official misconduct, Whitman testified,” wrote the reporter. “’We could not substantiate any of the allegations at that time,’ Whitman said.”

But Whitman told the Current in a conversation late last year that his department did not investigate Foddrill’s claims, and wouldn’t unless asked to do so by the DA; First Assistant DA Cliff Herberg confirmed Tuesday that they never made that request because they didn’t think there was a criminal case to prosecute.

Foddrill’s claims against his old employer didn’t look like criminal action to him, either, Whitman said, but “I agree that they had some accounting problems there.” The issue was one of jurisdiction in a way: “We’re not administrative violations investigators,” he said. If the DA declined to investigate, he added, Foddrill’s remaining avenue was the civil suit.

The bottom line, said Whitman: “We’re not doing an investigation; at this point we don’t have an active investigation. That was a meeting only with Mr. Foddrill.”

Is it surprising that an investigation that was never conducted didn’t substantiate anything?

 

The man who knew too much

Bexar County Probation Chief Bill Fitzgerald must still be working through his nine lives. Although a growing paper trail confirms that his department knew contract urine analyzers Treatment Associates was returning false positives on probationers’ drug tests and did nothing about it, the man’s still employed, as are the judges who purportedly oversee him. Roads not taken by Probation include confirmation tests, and firing Treatment Associates sooner rather than later. On the heels of last month’s news that the department is under state scrutiny for its failure to implement progressive case-management methods `see “Breasts, toes, and probation,” January 28` comes evidence that during the first four months of Treatment Associates contract with the department, there were ample warning signs that something was terribly wrong.

Almost immediately after closing their in-house drug lab, Bexar Probation began receiving startlingly high numbers of positive drug results from its chosen cup sniffer, Treatment Associates. Suspicions were raised. Since the original contract between the County and TA provided for free confirmation testing via the industry’s leading technology — gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, or GC-MS — some of those early positives were apparently shipped for confirmation. Of 26 “positive” drug tests performed by TA that were shipped off for confirmation during those first four months of TA’s contract, only eight came back actually tainted by opiates, cocaine, or methamphetamine, according to newly released documents. Of 39 alleged positive claims of drug use fueling one of attorney David Van Os’s suits against the department and Fitzgerald, only 10 came back positive from their GC-MS confirmation test.

An amended contract between the County and TA in July of last year added a $25 fee for GC-MS confirmation, but according to current and former case managers, these confirmation tests were rarely used by the department after privatization, and were quickly done away with altogether. When we cranked out our cover story `“Test tube maybes,” October 1, 2008` about problems at Probation, department big shots told the Current that while judges may order GC-MS confirmations and probationers may request such tests from the judges, Probation is out of the game. It was unclear (though a hair on the pretty-fuckin’-doubtful side of things) whether or not case managers inform their clients they have the right to a scientifically accurate drug test.

Treatment Associates supposedly changed the pee-cup provider they were using since the rash of so-called false positives were made. How that may have altered the game — and what happened to the probationers being served false results prior to the change — only a select few know. For now.

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I confess

While Bexar Co Probation is playing the strong, silent type, Franklin Development and Geo-Marine, SAHA’s partners in Westside low-income housing development, admitted to the Pendleton Street neighborhood at a public meeting last week just how unfortunate they were last fall: A smallish pile of waste containing highly carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene was left uncovered for up to four days during its removal from the site in September, free to waft around the neighborhood along with heavy-metal-contaminated coal ash from the former Swift meat-packing plant `See “Dust mights,” January 21.` SAHA and TCEQ still insist that toxin levels in the coal ash are below state regulatory levels (an argument based on a second, controversial test that was used after an initial test returned levels high enough to kick in state oversight), but a May 2007 memo in TCEQ’s files show that the dirt pile contaminated with benzo(a)pyrene registered well above EPA’s acceptable exposure levels. While local residents, a former site worker, and at least one businessman have complained of acute health issues they believe were caused by the coal-ash dust, equally worrisome are the potential long-term effects of exposure to the toxins, which also include arsenic and dioxin. District 5 Councilwoman Lourdes Galvan says she supports the residents’ requests for a medical testing trailer, but SAHA is still insisting that anyone who’s tested at SAHA’s expense relinquish their patient-doctor privilege and medical records.

Notorious

For cats and dogs and those who love them, an even scarier week: We’ve long heard about SA’s sorry history of animal care, but last week’s Council meeting offered a statistic guaranteed to startle even the most jaded followers of our ongoing struggle to become a No-Kill city before Quetzalcoatl’s 2012 reunion tour.

Vincent Medley, interim director of Animal Care Services, appeared before the Council to pitch the purchase of a $102,000 cremator (from Air Pollution Control Products, Inc.) designed to help the City dispose of its euthanised animals in a manner that makes some ecological sense.

Medley revealed that Animal Care Services currently dumps two tons of euthanised animals in local landfills every day. While you try to get that horrifying image out of your head, keep in mind that SA, according to Medley, has actually reduced its animal killing by roughly 40 percent since the City adopted its “No Kill by 2012” campaign. The Council unanimously approved the purchase of the cremator.


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