Monthly Archives: May 2013

RESHONDA TATE BILLINGSLEY EXPLORES MOTHERHOOD WITH A NEW BOOK!

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Reshonda Tate Billingsley decided to write her next book with somewhat of a support staff. 

She decided to solicit stories from other women around the country.

After a long exhaustive process Reshonda narrowed it down to about 20 women.

They were all mothers who told their extraordinary stories from their perspective.

The book exlpores various aspects of motherhood from abusive mothers to special needs moms.

Friday night a book signing was held here in Houston where many of the women from around the country came together and once again shared their stories.

The book The Motherhood Diaries can be found on Amazon.

The event was held at Dionisio Winery in Houston located: 2110 Jefferson, Houston, Texas 77003

LACTATION DISCRIMINATION REMAINS ILLEGAL AFTER EEOC VICTORY!

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HOUSTON–Overturning a federal trial court’s decision from the Southern District of Texas denying the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s discrimination lawsuit, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held unanimously yesterday that firing a woman because she is lactating or expressing milk is unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978).  Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to protect working women against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.   The appeal arose from a lawsuit filed by the EEOC on behalf of Donnica Venters, who claimed that she was fired after giving birth once she inquired as to whether she would be able to pump breast milk when she returned to her job.  The EEOC sued, alleging that the employer, Houston Funding II, LLC, engaged in sex discrimination. The district court dismissed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Houston Funding II LLC, No. 4:11-CV-2442) on a motion for summary judgment.

Following that decision, the EEOC appealed to the Fifth Circuit (EEOC v. Houston Funding II LLC, No. 12-20220) In its decision, the lower court ruled that “lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition,” and thus decided that “firing someone because of lactation or breastpumping is not sex discrimination.” The district court suggested that “pregnancy-related conditions” ended on the day that a mother gives birth. “Pregnancy discrimination is something that the EEOC takes seriously and sees far too often,” said David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC. “We are gratified that the Fifth Circuit gave plain meaning to the words of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and ruled in our favor that discrimination on the basis of lactation is discrimination on the basis of sex.” In examining and overturning the lower court’s ruling, the Fifth Circuit addressed the question “whether discharging a female employee because she is lactating or expressing breast milk constitutes sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.” The appeals court found that “it does.” The Fifth Circuit noted the biological fact that lactation is a physiological condition distinct to women who have undergone a pregnancy. Accordingly, under Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, firing a woman because she is lactating or expressing milk is unlawful sex discrimination, since men as a matter of biology could not be fired for such a reason. The case was remanded back to the lower court for a trial on the merits. “Now that the Fifth Circuit has reaffirmed the EEOC’s long-standing position about the broad coverage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, we look forward to trying the underlying case,” said Jim Sacher, regional attorney in the EEOC’s Houston District Office which brought the initial litigation. “We hope this litigation sends a message to other women that discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions is against the law and that the EEOC is here to help.” One of the six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan is for the Commission to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC may be found at www.eeoc.gov

NORTH FOREST GETS ANOTHER REPRIEVE!

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The North Forest Independent School District today won a temporary restraining order halting plans to merge the district with the Houston Independent School District.

 

The TRO granted today mandates a 14-day reprieve in which the Texas Education Agency must halt all activities leading to the merger it ordered.

 

NFISD filed a petition in state district court in Travis County against Michael Williams, as Commissioner of Education, and Lizzette Gonzales Reynolds, as chief deputy administrator at TEA.  The TRO was ordered this morning by Judge Jon Wisser in Austin.

 

A hearing on a preliminary injunction will be held June 13.

 

“There have been illegal actions by the Commissioner and his appointees throughout this process,” said NFISD attorney Chris Tritico.  “The law does not permit the government to manipulate the law to accomplish its own ends.  Today is a major step in ensuring the continuation of the North Forest School District.”

ATTORNEY GENERAL GOES AFTER ALLEGED TIMESHARE FIXER!

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A state district court in Dallas issued a temporary injunction and maintained an ongoing asset freeze against a local firm charged with defrauding timeshare customers.

The court’s order stemmed from an enforcement action filed by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which named Charles H. Williams II, his wife, Glenda Williams, and their firm Legal Advocate for the Consumer as defendants. Also named in the State’s legal action was Advocate for the Consumer (Mediation) LLC and Charles Williams’ aliases, Chip Townsend and Charles Robertson.

According to state investigators, Charles Williams used several aliases and fabricated portraits in various states to advertise his “mediation” services. Williams represented that he had access to licensed attorneys who were able to represent clients’ interests in abolishing onerous timeshare payment obligations and contracts.

After accepting clients’ payment of $1,500 to initiate the process, the defendants promised to use their legal skills to void the timeshare contracts, obtain refunds for the clients and protect the clients’ credit ratings.

The State’s investigation revealed that to convince clients of the firm’s legitimacy, the defendants used fake forms designed to give the impression that the firm would be contacting timeshare brokers and negotiating refunds. In reality, the defendants never followed up with any contact or mediation. Instead, they retained clients’ advance fees and never provided refunds.

Investigators also found that the defendants’ website falsely claimed that the firm would “initiate and maintain communication with the applicable regulatory and governing agencies to effectuate a resolution.” Further, the defendants suggested that they work closely with the Texas Attorney General’s Office and other agencies on proper contract cancellations. Such statements misled customers that the defendants’ conduct was a collaborative process under the protection of government agencies.

WAYNE TAKES HIS UNIQUE STYLE TO THE HIGHWAY 6 LANDFILL FIGHT!

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Note: Former investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino was hired as the public relations rep for the groups fighting the Highway 6 landfill in Waller County. Here is his latest press release grilling county officials.

Judge Glenn Beckendorff, Commissioner Stan Kitzman and Commissioner Frank Pokluda are spending your money to keep you from seeing the truth about their landfill deal.  But do you know how much?
 
In just the first three months of this year, the law firm of Allison, Bass and Associates has charged Waller county taxpayers more than $32,000.  Much of that money was to fight your right to see records they could show you for free.   At this rate, county commissioners will have spent $60,000 by mid-June, not counting money they are spending on lawsuits relating to the landfill, and not counting more than $30,000 spent last year.  
 
You know why that $60,000 number is so important?  It is supposed to be the entire legal budget for Waller County for the entire year.  The budget blown in a fight to keep landfill secrets.
 
Tonight, more than three months after we asked to see e-mails written on county computers, Judge Beckendorff hasn’t shown you them.  Commissioner Kitzman hasn’t turned over phone records and e-mails.  Commissioner Pokluda fought to keep his phone records secret.  And Judge Beckendorff says he doesn’t have records detailing his text messages.
 
Why are they fighting so hard?  Cell phone records obtained after a two month fight show the Judge was not telling the truth when he claimed he only learned about the landfill weeks before taxpayers did in June of 2011. 
 
Busted. 

Now the Judge has a new story. 
 
The County Judge told the Houston Chronicle last week that he was calling the landfill folks for months, just to tell them to stay away.       

REALLY?
 
Think about that. 
 
Makes you wonder, when did he learn the landfill folks even wanted to come to Waller County?
 
Who else did he tell?  Did he tell other commissioners?  We know he did not alert the county district attorney.  And he sure did not call a meeting to warn residents.
 
Now we are supposed to believe the Judge was fighting the landfill all by himself, in secret, so hard that the landfill guys gave him their personal cell phone numbers?
 
This is a fight for all taxpayers in Waller County.  You deserve the truth.  You do not deserve your hard earned tax money being wasted keeping secrets.
 
Isn’t it time they tell you whole truth, instead of spending your money to keep secrets?
 

MAN CHARGED IN FATAL SHOOTING!

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Charges are pending against a suspect arrested in the fatal shooting of a man at 5914 Jim Street about 11:05 p.m. on Wednesday (May 29).

Suspect Joshua Mayfield (b/m, DOB: 6-7-79) has pending charges of murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  No photo of Mayfield is available at this time.

The victim, Donald Waguespack, 70, of Houston, suffered a gunshot wound to the head and was pronounced dead at the scene.

HPD Homicide Division Sergeant W. Meeler and Senior Police Officer J. Villareal reported:

According to a witness, Mr. Waguespack was helping Mayfield fix a car when for some reason Mayfield shot him. 

Mayfield then fled the scene in a red Jeep Cherokee.  While at the intersection of Kempwood Drive and Wirt Road, Mayfield shot at a male motorcyclist, critically wounding him.  After striking the motorcyclist, the bullet then ricocheted and struck another man in the shoulder, causing him to suffer a non-life threatening wound.  Mayfield then fled the scene.

Further investigation identified an apartment complex at Blalock Road at Kempwood Drive as a possible location where Mayfield might be found.  Houston police located Mayfield there and an HPD hostage negotiator was able to convince him to surrender without incident.

THE TOOL THAT HELPED GET RID OF THE GANGS!

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There was a new tool used in court to help get two violent street gangs out of a southwest Houston neighborhood this week.

That tool was the Harris County Assistant Attorney contract program.

It allows local management districts to pay the County Attorney’s office for its services to address quality of life issues.

Ryan came up with the attorney for hire program after county budget cuts.

I’m told in Bray’s Oaks they used the program to tackle the gang problem.

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County Attorney Vince Ryan says a good guess for the cost of retaining an attorney from his office on a case like that was anywhere from $100,000 to $120,000.

A contract attorney along with a staff attorney from Harris County were successful in getting a permanent injunction banning members of the Bloods and Crops from Bray’s Oaks.

Here’s more about the county program:

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County Attorney Vince Ryan worked with various management districts to create a program for the districts to provide funding for Harris County to hire attorneys to work with those management districts on quality of life issues.  

Under Texas Law the County may enter into contracts with other governmental entities such as management districts or nonprofit corporations such as property owners association for these organizations to provide funding to hire additional assistant county attorneys.

In July 2011 Brays Oaks Management District, Sharpstown Management District, and Spring Branch Management District entered into the first of these Assistant County Attorney Contracts.  Senior Assistant County Attorney Laura Cahill who has been with the Office since July 1977 was the first attorney to serve under the County Attorney Contract Attorney Program.

The Assistant County Attorney working under this program focuses on neighborhood protection issues such as filing civil lawsuits to shut down businesses that operate outside the law or allow criminal acts to occur on their premises.

Management Districts are local governmental entities that exist to enhance the physical, social, and economic well- being of the communities in which they are located.

Districts work with local businesses and others on such matters as mobility and transportation planning, environmental and urban design, health and public safety initiatives, and business and economic development.

The contract with Brays Oaks Management District, Sharpstown Management District, and Spring Branch Management District was renewed in July 2012 with funds being added to provide an additional paralegal.

In February, 2013 a contract was signed with the International Management District, Montrose Management District, and the East Aldine Management District. Celena Vinson was appointed as a Contract Assistant County Attorney to work with these districts.

In the nearly two years the program has been in effect:

Three after-hours clubs have shut down.

The 51 owners of a gang-infested condominium complex are under a court order and receivership to make repairs to the property and take other steps to fight crime.

Two convenience stores where gang members congregated are under a court order to keep the gangs out.
A sexually oriented business is under a court order to comply with the law.
An apartment complex is under a court order to take steps to control crime.
Lawsuits are pending against two after-hours clubs and a motel.

David Hawes, the Executive Director for the Greater Sharpstown, Spring Branch and Brays Oaks Management Districts has praised the program as “a public partnership that works.”  He said, “We all want to live in communities where businesses are in compliance with the law and are good neighbors.”

HOW FIT IS HOUSTON?

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Houston ranked 43rd in the American College of Sport Medicine’s (ACSM) American Fitness Index™ (AFI), which measures the health and community fitness status of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

Similar to an annual physical or wellness exam, the sixth annual report evaluates the preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, health care access and community resources and policies that encourage healthy and fit lifestyles. Included in the report’s latest edition are benchmarks for each data indicator to highlight areas that need improvement.

The metropolitan statistical area (MSA) of Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown scored 38.3 (out of 100 possible points) in the 2013 report, up two spots from last year. In 2012, the metro area ranked 45th with a score of 36.4. Minneapolis-St. Paul achieved a high score of 76.4 to capture the top ranking for the third consecutive year.

Houston ranked 36th on personal health indicators related to health behaviors, chronic health conditions and health care access. The area ranked 47th on community/environmental indicators associated to the built environment, recreational facilities, park-related expenditures, physical education requirements and primary health care providers.

“We have issued the American Fitness Index each year since 2008 to help health advocates and community leaders improve the quality of life in their hometowns,” said Walter Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, chair of the AFI Advisory Board. “As urban areas attract more and more residents, it’s imperative for cities to create a built environment, fund amenities and form policies that get residents active and encourage healthy lifestyles.”

To assist with measurement and to provide a baseline measure of health and fitness status, ACSM worked with the Indiana University School of Family Medicine and a panel of 26 health and physical activity experts on the methodology of the AFI data report. Researchers analyzed the data gleaned from U.S. Census data, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), The Trust for the Public Land City Park Facts and other existing research data in order to give a scientific, accurate snapshot of the health and fitness status at a metropolitan level.

For a complete list of Houston’s areas of excellence and improvement priorities, plus a breakdown of the components that helped make up its score, please visit the AFI website at AmericanFitnessIndex.org and download the metro area report.

STATE AUDITOR SAYS CPS NEEDS TO DO BETTER!

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The following report is available on the Texas State Auditor’s Office Web site:

An Audit Report on Caseload and Staffing Analysis for Child Protective Services at the Department of Family and Protective Services, SAO Report No. 13-036

http://www.sao.state.tx.us/reports/report.aspx?reportnumber=13-036

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Overall Conclusion

The Department of Family and Protective Services’ (Department) competitive starting salaries for Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworkers and its recruitment strategies helped it hire 1,704 CPS caseworkers in fiscal year 2012.  Despite its hiring efforts, the Department experienced average vacancy rates as high as 15.9 percent and turnover rates as high as 34.3 percent in some regions for the same time period.  Although the Department offers competitive starting salaries to CPS caseworkers, the Department loses significant ground on salary competitiveness  by the time CPS caseworkers reach the second level of their career tracks, which complicates the Department’s efforts to retain tenured staff (see Chapter 1).

While compensation issues are among the most common reasons that departing caseworkers give for leaving the Department , there are other factors that lead to high caseworker turnover that the Department can also address. To reduce vacancy rates and better control caseloads, the Department should improve its efforts to retain qualified caseworkers. Specifically, the Department should:

– Improve the way it rewards caseworker performance.

– Strengthen its oversight of the regional offices to help ensure that administrative processes do not unnecessarily increase caseworkers’ workloads.

– Analyze its recruitment and hiring strategies to help ensure that it is hiring caseworkers who are more likely to perform well and stay with the Department.

– Strengthen its processes for selecting, training, and evaluating caseworker supervisors.

Auditors communicated other, less significant issues regarding calculations of caseload performance measures and improvements to the system controls for case approvals and closures separately in writing to the Department.

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By John Griffing

CSCOPE, a controversial school curriculum management system in Texas that once included a description of the Boston Tea Party as an act of terror and has called Islamic terrorists freedom fighters has given up pages of its financial records under threat of a subpoena by state Sen. Dan Patrick.

Patrick sought the records after Texans told him they had uncovered financial irregularities in the organization’s financial records.

Patrick threatened CSCOPE with a subpoena of all financial documents if disclosure was not achieved voluntarily. CSCOPE provided 5,000 pages of documents in response to Patrick’s request, and the information now is being reviewed.

“I’m glad that the CSCOPE board finally recognized that they must respond to our request for detailed financial information,” said Patrick. “I only wish I didn’t have to threaten a subpoena before getting this information.

“For some reason the board at CSCOPE believes they are above open disclosure and total transparency to parents and legislators,” Patrick added.

CSCOPE is owned by a corporate nonprofit started in 2009 called the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC). TESCCC is comprised of 20 separate “Education Service Centers” who all pay for the right to sell CSCOPE as a product to independent school districts.

Board members of the TESCCC claimed for months that no financial documentation existed, since all funds leave the nonprofit and are transferred to a “fiscal agent,” a claim which has stumped some financial experts who told WND that only public agencies have “fiscal agents,” and that a nonprofit must show distribution of funds.

According Chriss Street, the former treasurer of Orange County, Calif., and the individual who was instrumental in exposing the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s, the TESCCC reporting methods are questionable.

“The Texas Educational Service Center Curriculum Collaborative appears to have not applied for a Government Exempt, or a Tax Exempt 501C-3 or 501C-4 determination letter. I have made an investigation and have not discovered any Government Exempt or Tax Exempt determination letters on file,” said Street.

“There is no federal or state requirement for individuals or associations without revenue or sales to file any tax reporting. But it is my understanding and belief that TESCCC appears to have substantial sales and significant fee income and may be fully taxable as a trade or business and or subject to gift taxes,” Street added.

All nonprofits are required to file what is called a “Return of organization exempt from income tax” – form 990 – which would show income and distribution. CSCOPE has never filed a form 990, even though it handles millions of dollars annually.

As Patrick told the press in his release of May 10, “It was clear to me the non-profit was set up to hide information from someone. I’m glad the board is beginning to understand they are a public entity and the people of Texas and the legislature have a right to their records.”

TESCCC board minutes obtained by WND show that expenses and payments have been approved by the nonprofit, yet no public record exists for these transactions.

According to information sent to WND through citizen public information requests, the TESCCC also did business with companies without formal contracts, and paid millions of taxpayer dollars to these companies.

“National Education Resources, Inc. (NER),” which turns out to be a single individual, James Jennings, who filed a DBA under his residential address, received over $6 million from the TESCCC without a formal contract, records show.

The documents indicate that CSCOPE did not have a contract with NER until spring 2011, when the contract was put in place and made retroactive to July 2010.

NER was paid an estimated $3 million from 2010-2011 and about $3 million 2011-2012, records show.

The TESCCC (CSCOPE nonprofit) voted against conducting an audit or background check of Jennings when his two-year contract was negotiated. When the contract termed out, CSCOPE gave Jennings another $213,000 during the summer, when teachers were not even utilizing CSCOPE.

CSCOPE’s original price tag was just over $4 million, but schools are required to lease the product annually, and costs by district can exceed the $1 million mark. Ector County ISD paid $1.7 million in a single year for what certified curriculum professional and WND education correspondent Mary Bowen says is a “glorified calendar.”

WND previously reported on a school district’s attempt to charge parents for copies of CSCOPE lessons that are the property of taxpayers.

Amy Zimmerman, a mother in the Collinsville Independent School District, asked to see the 7th grade CSCOPE science lessons used between September 2012 and May 2013, citing her “parental right” under state law.

But Zimmerman received a letter from an attorney for the district requiring the payment of $770 to see the materials.

CSCOPE has faced heavy criticism by parents, teachers and legislators, culminating in legislative hearings that revealed serious academic deficiencies in the areas of math, science and English, as well as what many critics believe is an agenda-driven bias in social studies content that promotes a negative view of America.

WND has reported on lessons claiming the Boston Tea Party was a terrorist act, and lessons requiring students to design flags for a new communist country. The latter lesson was created in October 2012.

Teachers also have told WND:

Lessons are not matched to grade level; a ninth-grade lesson asks students to circle capital letters in a sentence.
One social studies lesson teaches that capitalism is obsolete and communism is the best economic system, using a diagram that shows a man climbing a ladder towards communism.
A third-grade lesson defines American “equality” as “fair share.” Competing definitions that include “equality under the law” or “equal opportunity” are not discussed.
Muhammad is portrayed as a social justice crusader. There is no mention of his marriage to a young girl or his beheading of indigenous population groups.
Political parties are taught from what critics claim is a subjective and left-leaning perspective, e.g. Democrats “benefit each individual” while Republicans “favor big business.”
WND has also recently acquired lessons covering the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, teaching students that “medicine” and “food” are “rights,” and not a matter of personal responsibility.

Students who do not answer that “medicine” and “food” are “rights” have their answers marked as incorrect, sources report.

Other controversial lesson content includes a science lesson that instructs students to set things on fire in the middle of class and also lessons that promote anorexia and mercy death, according to Bowen.

CSCOPE also has come under fire for its secrecy and lack of transparency, forcing teachers and districts to sign “user agreements” – what whistleblowers say amount to “gag orders.”

Teachers are exposed to legal liability if they share lesson content or other class materials with the general public, and threats of termination have been reported by teachers who attempt to engage parents about controversial CSCOPE content.