Wells Dunbar

Online Editor

As  online editor for KUT News, Wells Dunbar covers news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond. Before joining the KUT family, Wells served as staff writer and news blog editor at The Austin Chronicle, and covered the Texas Legislature for Gallery Watch. Hailing from El Paso, Wells is a longtime Austin resident whose interests include technology and social media, film and music, and spending quality time with his wife and cat.

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Austin
11:11 am
Mon January 23, 2012

Electric Utility Commission Talks Rate Review Process

Austin Energy's rate hikes were designed to account for the costs of electricity generation and delivery, but opponents claim they're unfairly written.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

The Electric Utility Commission (EUC) may be about to get a lot more popular. The commission is responsible for helping the city council formulate their energy policy.

The seven-person committee meets tonight at the Town Lake Center. Several mundane items are on their agenda, but one topic is sure to bring lots of discussion: Item 15, a staff report and discussion regarding Austin Energy’s electric rate review process.

Austin Energy’s proposed rate increase has been in the works for months, but it wasn’t until a recent public hearing before the Austin City Council that citizens had a chance to sound off. The response was overwhelmingly negative, so much so that Mayor Lee Leffingwell recently announced he did not support the increases as currently proposed.

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film
5:08 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

Cinema Weekend: Cows on Drugs, Deep Space, and Non-Sparkling Vamps

Two limited release features open in Austin this weekend, while a third installment of a violent fantasy series caters to its fans.

The Alamo Drafthouse is having another big weekend, with two notable premieres. While "Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission" has screened in Austin during South by Southwest, it begins a limited theatrical run tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.

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Wildfires
4:33 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

First Person: Surviving The Bastrop Wildfires

It’s been four months since Bastrop County's devastating wildfires. While residents are trying to rebuild their lives, the destruction and trauma of the fires still lingers. KUT freelancer Jeff Heimsath recently sat down with one Bastrop resident to hear his story.  

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Politics
4:12 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

SOPA Hits the Skids, For Now

Rep. Lamar Smith's photo is featured in a rapidly proliferating meme attacking his SOPA sponsorship.
Photo courtesy of Rep. Smith's website

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has been pulled by its sponsor, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith.

Smith issued a statement today in response to the news that SOPA’s companion bill in the Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, had been pulled from by majority leader Sen. Harry Reid. Smith writes:

“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products. …  

The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

Smith’s announcement will likely due little to stem the vitriol directed his way in a stream of memes that started in the wake of the SOPA blackout.

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Austin
3:23 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

Austin Homeless Count Getting Underway This Weekend

The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless is one of few shelters for the city's homeless.
Photo by KUT News

Last year, 2,362 homeless people were counted in the combined Austin–Round Rock area. This Sunday, the 2012 count of Austin’s homeless begins, and count organizers still need volunteers.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) needs people to travel parts of Austin and report the number of homeless, and volunteers to help enter the data they collected.

ECHO describes the work in more detail:

Teams of volunteers will canvas Travis County to count homeless men, women and children in the area to get an accurate sum of the homeless population to help secure federal funding, which provides resources for the county’s homeless service providers. The results of the count will include demographics, reasons for homelessness and trends in homelessness to compare with previous data to assess and improve community performance in preventing and ending homelessness.

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Austin
1:45 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

Mayor Leffingwell Speaks Out in Support of Gay Marriage

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has joined nearly 80 mayors from across the country in supporting same-sex marriage.
Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/hippie

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has joined dozens of mayors in support for same-sex marriage.

“I’m proud to stand with the gay and lesbian community and defend their right to equal marriage,” Leffingwell says in a press release. “The tide is changing in America and I hope that by joining this loud chorus, I can play a small role in helping set us on a path to full marriage equality in our country in my lifetime.”

Leffingwell is one of several officials listed among the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. An offshoot of the broader Freedom to Marry campaign, founded in 2003 by Evan Wolfson, some 80 American mayors have signed a pledge in support of gay marriage. Houston Mayor Annise Parker is one of the five mayors comprising the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry board. She’s joined by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, and Los Angeles Mayor  Antonio Villaraigosa .

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Politics
11:10 am
Fri January 20, 2012

How 'Reasonable' is the Supreme Court’s Redistricting Decision?

This map drawn by a San Antonio court needs to more closely resemble one passed by the Texas Legislature last year, the Supreme Court says.

It’s back to the drawing board for a San Antonio court that reworked Texas’ most recent redistricting plan.

This morning, the Supreme Court offered an opinion in a lawsuit brought by Gov. Rick Perry, representing the State of Texas, against members of a three-person San Antonio court. The San Antonio justices had rejected the Texas Legislature’s 2011 overhaul of congressional districts, drafting their own map of new districts.

At issue was Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Enforced in southern states including Texas, the act requires the Department of Justice to “preclear” election changes with the Department of Justice to ensure changes don’t adversely affect the ability of ethnic minorities to elect the candidates of their choice. The San Antonio court felt that with 2010 census numbers confirming explosive growth in Texas’ Hispanic and Latino population, the new map drawn by the Texas Legislature in 2011 wouldn’t meet preclearance standards.

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Politics
9:29 am
Fri January 20, 2012

Supreme Court Throws Out Redrawn District Maps

This morning, the Supreme Court asked a San Antonio court to create new electoral plans.
Photo courtesy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:350z33

The Associated Press reports the Supreme Court has dismissed the map of Texas electoral districts redrawn by a court in San Antonio. The districts were reworked by the San Antonio court amid complaints an earlier map drawn by the Texas Legislature in 2011 created gerrymandered districts and didn’t allow minority voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.

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2012 Presidential Election
5:07 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

A Frosty Moment for Perry

Perry staffers take down the governor's signage following a fateful decision announced over fast-food .
Photo by Ben Philpott, KUT News

Was Rick Perry ‘eating his feelings’ when he abandoned his presidential bid today?

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Austin
4:12 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

Commitee Mapping Out Changes to City Charter, Elections

Detail of a six-district map proposed by Lee Leffingwell, a proposal that's garnered little support.
Image courtesy City of Austin

Tonight, the 2012 Charter Revision Committee takes another step towards completing the biggest task in front of them: a recommendation on the format future City Council elections should take.

The committee – a citizen panel of fifteen City Council appointees – was convened last year to recommend changes to the City Charter (the city‘s bylaws). The charter can only be amended by Austin voters once every two years, and the city plans on holding just such an election this November.

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Austin
1:52 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

For City Council Incumbents, A Huge Fundraising Advantage

Money raised, spent, and remaining as of January 15, by candidates in May 2012's City Council election. [* Denotes incumbent; ** Denotes candidate has not specified the seat they will run for.]

File under ‘not terribly surprising:’ In their January 15 fundraising reports, incumbent City Council members running for re-election show a sizable fundraising advantage over their sparse opposition.

The reports, filed 120 days out from the May election, show Mayor Lee Leffingwell leading the pack. He reports $87,624 in contributions, with $7,912.61 spent, and $80,123.19 remaining cash on hand. By comparison, former council member Brigid Shea, who is exploring a run for mayor but hasn’t yet declared, reports $4,200 in contributions, with only $3,200 remaining.

The rest of the reports tell a similar story:

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2012 Presidential Election
11:13 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Listen to Rick Perry Drop Out of the Race

Gov. Rick Perry, flanked by wife Anita, at the announcement this morning.
Photo courtesy MSNBC

Perry Announces End to Campaign - Jan. 19, 2012 by KUT News

"As someone who’s always admired a great, if not the greatest Texas governor, Sam Houston, I know when it’s time to make a strategic retreat.”

So said Gov. Rick Perry moments ago, retreating not from Santa Anna’s armies, but instead from dim prospects for this Saturday’s Republican primary in South Carolina. 

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2012 Presidential Election
10:10 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Live Blogging Rick Perry's Announcement

Rick Perry, late last year in Iowa.
Photo by Ben Philpott, KUT News

Word that Gov. Rick Perry is bowing out of the GOP presidential primary will soon be confirmed by the man himself. Perry's team called a press conference in South Carolina for 10am Central Standard Time this morning, where he should confirm what aides told The Texas Tribune this morning: That Perry "is pulling out."

We'll be liveblogging the announcement from the KUT Newsroom in Austin, and via Ben Philpott's tweets on the ground in South Carolina.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Wed January 18, 2012

Texas Legislators Sound Off on SOPA Blackout

An image created by SOPA opponents, imagining how alleged illegal content might be seized if the bill were passed.
Image courtesy americancensorship.org

With the sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) hailing from Texas, and Austin being a high-tech hub, there’s been plenty of local reaction to the internet blackout in protest of SOPA and the accompanying Protect Intellectual Property Act. We have reactions from several Texas lawmakers on the bills:

  • Sen. John Cornyn writes on his Facebook page that “Texans have soundly rejected the ‘pass now, learn later’ approach that we saw with Obamacare, and the potential impact of this legislation is too far-reaching to ram it through Congress in such an abrupt way. Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about the internet and free speech necessitate a more thoughtful, deliberative process.” This isn’t the first time Cornyn’s been pressed on the issue, as SOPA-opposed constituents met with his office earlier this week.

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Education
3:01 pm
Wed January 18, 2012

Texas School Finance Lawsuits Get a Judge

2011 cuts to public education inspired protests at the Capitol - and subsequently, a round of lawsuits.
Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/jesabele

A judge has been named to hear several lawsuits brought by school districts against the State of Texas, to protest the way public education is funded.

Judge John Dietz, of the 250th Judicial District Civil Court in Travis County, will preside over the suits. The news was trumpeted by the Equity Center, a coalition of several poorer school districts. An Equity Center offshoot, the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition sued the state last year alleging Texas’ system of school funding was unconstitutional. As the coalition wrote in a complaint, “Taxpayers in low wealth districts who are willing to tax themselves at the highest rates allowed are unable to access the same dollars for education as taxpayers in high wealth districts who tax themselves at a lower rate.”

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