John Tedesco https://johntedesco.net/blog Investigative Reporter for the San Antonio Express-News Tue, 16 Jan 2018 17:44:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 26139830 Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Jan. 14, 2018 https://johntedesco.net/blog/2018/01/14/must-reads-texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-for-jan-14-2018/ https://johntedesco.net/blog/2018/01/14/must-reads-texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-for-jan-14-2018/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 20:15:03 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14206 If it seems like facts no longer matter in politics, there’s a sliver of good news:

Investigative journalists are still writing powerful, evidence-based stories that help us understand a complicated world.

Here are the latest examples of watchdog stories in Texas that show why facts still matter.

Gov. Abbott’s appointees have given him more than $14 million | The San Antonio Express-News

"Despite pleas for more diversity and less of a big-money presence, Gov. Greg Abbott's appointments to state boards and commissions remain mostly Anglo, largely male and liberally sprinkled with donors to a giant campaign war chest years in the making, a San Antonio Express-News analysis shows." Read more ...

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott greets supporters
Photo credit: San Antonio Express-News

If it seems like facts no longer matter in politics, there’s a sliver of good news:

Investigative journalists are still writing powerful, evidence-based stories that help us understand a complicated world.

Here are the latest examples of watchdog stories in Texas that show why facts still matter.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointees have given him more than $14 million | The San Antonio Express-News

“Despite pleas for more diversity and less of a big-money presence, Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointments to state boards and commissions remain mostly Anglo, largely male and liberally sprinkled with donors to a giant campaign war chest years in the making, a San Antonio Express-News analysis shows.” Story by Peggy Fikac and Annie Millerbernd

Cruel and unusual: Dallas County teen inmates locked indoors for months | The Dallas Morning News

“Death row inmates in Texas are given at least an hour a week outdoors. Hardened criminals inside California’s famous San Quentin prison get 10 hours. Yet kids at a Dallas County correctional center for boys went months, sometimes more than a year, without going outdoors more than a few times.” Story by Steve Thompson and Naomi Martin

How a South Texas bureaucrat became a multimillionaire amid the rush to build a border fence | The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

“A decade ago as the federal government rushed to construct 60 miles of barrier in the Rio Grande Valley, it entrusted the chief of a little-known local agency to execute a compromise project. What it didn’t know was that he — and his family — stood to make millions from it.” Story by Kiah Collier, T. Christian Miller and Julian Aguilar

Records: County housing official tried to get herself big raise weeks after starting job |KSAT 12

“Email records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders confirm that the recently hired operations coordinator for the Housing Authority of Bexar County tried to arrange a large raise for herself, 10 weeks after starting her position. The employee, Amy Hopper, resigned in October, hours after the Defenders requested emails related to the pay increase.” Story by Dillon Collier

Bibles, boots and booze: Lawmakers go big with campaign cash gifts | The San Antonio Express-News

“It’s the season for giving. But state lawmakers already have been gifting generously all year, using campaign cash to buy spa services, alcohol, porch rockers, Bibles and other items for their staff, constituents and fellow legislators.” Story by Allie Morris

For buyers within ‘flood pools,’ no warnings from developers, public officials | The Houston Chronicle

“A Houston Chronicle review of how more than 100 subdivisions were approved shows that flooding spawned by Harvey was predicted for 26 years in obscure local and federal reports that were either ignored or not widely distributed. The record rainfall came from nature, but its impact was multiplied by man.” Story by Lise Olsen

Transportation commissioner billed taxpayers for trips while advocating for auto industry | The Texas Tribune

Texas Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff repeatedly conducted private business in Austin while the Texas Department of Transportation paid for his travel and other expenses, blurring the lines between his role as a gubernatorial appointee and his paid consulting gigs, according to a Texas Tribune investigation of government travel vouchers and agency correspondence. Story by Jay Root

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.

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Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Dec. 19, 2017 https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/12/19/must-reads-texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-for-dec-19-2017/ Wed, 20 Dec 2017 01:36:36 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14170 If it feels like you're trapped in a topsy-turvy world where facts no longer matter, there’s a sliver of good news:

Investigative journalists are still writing powerful, evidence-based stories that help us understand a complicated world.

Here are the latest examples of watchdog stories in Texas that show why facts still matter.

Accountant tied to embezzlement at Centro San Antonio has history of bank fraud, bankruptcy | The San Antonio Express-News

The accountant suspected of embezzling $260,000 from Centro San Antonio, a nonprofit organization focused on revitalizing downtown, was hired without a background check. It turns out she had been convicted of felony bank fraud and theft by check. Read more ...

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Barge on the San Antonio River
The San Antonio Express-News investigated an accountant accused of embezzling $260,000 from Centro San Antonio, a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing downtown San Antonio.

If it feels like you’re trapped in a topsy-turvy world where facts no longer matter, there’s a sliver of good news:

Investigative journalists are still writing powerful, evidence-based stories that help us understand a complicated world.

Here are the latest examples of watchdog stories in Texas that show why facts still matter.

Accountant tied to embezzlement at Centro San Antonio has history of bank fraud, bankruptcy | The San Antonio Express-News

The accountant suspected of embezzling $260,000 from Centro San Antonio, a nonprofit organization focused on revitalizing downtown, was hired without a background check. It turns out she had been convicted of felony bank fraud and theft by check. Story by Richard Webner

Blockback: How police put guns on the street and Congress hides what happens to them | The Texas Standard and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting

Nearly half of Texas’ 50 largest law enforcement agencies sell their used firearms to the public, creating a pipeline of guns flowing right back into communities and potentially putting weapons in the hands of criminals.

“The San Antonio Police Department, which faced a series of city audits for inadequate tracking of departmental guns, appealed to the Texas attorney general’s office to hide specifics of its weapons sales. When the attorney general forced the department to release information this year, it reported selling 2,855 handguns in the last decade.” Story by Alain Stephens

The Taking: How the federal government abused its power to seize property for a border fence | The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

“An investigation by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune shows that Homeland Security cut unfair real estate deals, secretly waived legal safeguards for property owners, and ultimately abused the government’s extraordinary power to take land from private citizens.” Story by T. Christian Miller, Kiah Collier and Julian Aguilar

Unresponsive: More women are going to jail in need of drug and alcohol treatment. Help often comes too late | The Dallas Morning News

“As a record number of women go to jail in Texas, sheriffs are increasingly coping with a special class of inmates: women with minor criminal records but major mental-health and addiction problems. A recent federal survey found that almost a third of women in jails showed symptoms of serious psychological distress, even higher than the rate for men.” Story by Cary Aspinwall and Stephanie Lamm

After the deluge: Unfettered building, scant oversight add to cost of hurricanes in U.S. | Reuters

“Across the country, newer construction in flood-prone areas generated more than $9 billion in claims for structural damage on the cash-strapped flood insurance program between 2000 and 2015. Flood-management authorities say that some of those claims probably never would have been filed had proper building controls and accurate flood maps been in place.” Story by Benjamin Lesser and Ryan McNeill

How the oil industry set out to undercut clean air | The Center for Public Integrity and the Guardian

“Air quality is the new frontier for climate-change skeptics long tied to the American Petroleum Institute. The institute has fueled uncertainty on climate by producing what critics call misleading scientific and economic studies. Now, by attempting to discredit established research on ozone and fine particles, API and its cadre of doubters are trying to undermine the Clean Air Act — the landmark U.S. law credited with saving millions of lives.” Story by Jie Jenny Zou and Tom Dart

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.

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Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Dec. 10, 2017 https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/12/10/must-reads-texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-for-dec-10-2017/ Mon, 11 Dec 2017 03:46:06 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14143 At a time when it feels like facts don't matter, there's a sliver of good news.

Investigative journalists are still writing stories that help us understand a complicated world.

Here are the latest examples of watchdog stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable: Read more ...

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Houses built in flood plain in Harris County

At a time when it feels like facts don’t matter, there’s a sliver of good news: 

Investigative journalists are still writing stories that help us understand a complicated world.

Here are the latest examples of watchdog stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable.

Build, flood, rebuild: flood insurance’s expensive cycle | The Houston Chronicle

“The National Flood Insurance Program, designed to protect Americans from catastrophic floods, has failed in almost every way, encouraging people to buy and build in flood-prone areas while increasing the cost and magnitude of disasters.” Story by David Hunn, Ryan Maye Handy and James Osborne

3 Dallas cops indicted in death of unarmed man who had called 911 for help | The Dallas Morning News

After the Dallas Morning News spent more than a year investigating how a frantic, unarmed man named Tony Timpa died at the hands of police, a grand jury indicted three officers on misdemeanor charges of deadly conduct. Officers mocked Timpa, who was handcuffed, as he died. “Timpa’s death was ruled a homicide, and the cause was sudden cardiac death due to the toxic effects of cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint.” Story by Tasha Tsiaperas

‘Want to F*ck With Me Tonight’: Texas Capitol Horror Stories | The Daily Beast

Two Democratic state lawmakers from Texas, Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti, are accused of groping and forcibly kissing women and making lurid cat-calls. Both men deny the allegations. “Women in Texas’ statehouse created their own online whisper network to help protect themselves — more than a year before the bombshell allegations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.” Story by Olivia Messer

ICYMI: This was all about racism | Folo Media

A four-part series examines the lasting effects of racism, deed restrictions and educational disparities in San Antonio. “When you develop a school finance system that’s based on local property values at the exact same time that you’re explicitly segregating neighborhoods on race, then you can’t act surprised 50 years later — 70 years later — when things are unequal,” said analyst Chandra Villanueva. Story by Matt Worthington and Bekah McNeel

Builders Said Their Homes Were Out of a Flood Zone. Then Harvey Came. | The New York Times

“A New York Times examination found that in the years leading up to Hurricane Harvey, the developers of The Woodlands had used a wrinkle in the federal flood-mapping system — along with many dump trucks’ worth of dirt — to lift dozens of lots out of the area officially deemed prone to flooding. What they had done, in effect, was create gerrymandered maps of risk.” Story by John Schwartz, James Glanz and Andrew W. Lehren

Suddenly disabled, unable to work and need benefits? Prepare for financial ruin first | The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“In Fort Worth, and across the nation, the system is backlogged to the point of near-absurdity. Local applicants can wait up to two years for a hearing before a judge, with many cities facing longer waits.” Story by Jeff Caplan

Diversions and disguises: Behind Austin’s city manager search | The Austin American-Statesman

“To dodge reporters, consultants suggested the finalists to be Austin’s next city manager don wigs, pretend to be tourists or possibly even wear Halloween masks after American-Statesman reporters managed to identify several candidates during the city’s top-secret search for its next leader.” Story by Philip Jankowski

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.

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Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Dec. 3, 2017 https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/12/03/must-reads-texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-for-dec-3-2017/ Mon, 04 Dec 2017 00:31:03 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14131 The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Centro San Antonio CEO quits amid allegations of embezzlement by staffer | The San Antonio Express-News

A former employee of Centro San Antonio, the nonprofit organization focused on building a "more prosperous downtown," is accused of embezzling $175,000 by fabricating emails and audits and using an accomplice who posed as an auditor to cover the theft. In response to the discovery, Pat DiGiovanni, Centro’s president and CEO, quit last week. Read more ...

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View from the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas

The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Centro San Antonio CEO quits amid allegations of embezzlement by staffer | The San Antonio Express-News

A former employee of Centro San Antonio, the nonprofit organization focused on building a “more prosperous downtown,” is accused of embezzling $175,000 by fabricating emails and audits and using an accomplice who posed as an auditor to conceal the theft. In response to the discovery, Pat DiGiovanni, Centro’s president and CEO, quit last week. Story by Josh Baugh

Hundreds of dams in Texas could fail in worst-case flood | The Austin American-Statesman

Hundreds of substandard dams upstream of populated areas in Texas violate state law intended to guard against failing in catastrophic floods, an investigation by the American-Statesman has found. The newspaper’s article sparked a review by Texas lawmakers. Story by Ralph K.M. Haurwitz

Alive Inside | The Houston Chronicle

“Thousands of people are discharged to nursing homes or acute care hospitals each year, assumed to be unconscious after suffering a severe brain injury. Experts now believe a staggering number of these patients — more than 40 percent, according to some estimates — are covertly aware, in what scientists have dubbed the ‘minimally conscious state.'” Story by Mike Hixenbaugh

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.

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Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Nov. 19, 2017 https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/11/19/must-reads-texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-for-nov-19-2017/ Mon, 20 Nov 2017 03:01:24 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14083 The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Apple served with search warrant in Sutherland Springs shooting | The San Antonio Express-News

Texas Rangers investigating the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs have served a search warrant on Silicon Valley giant Apple Inc. and are seeking digital photos, messages, documents and other types of data that might have been stored by gunman Devin Patrick Kelley, who was found with an iPhone after he killed himself. Read more ...

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Press conference at Sutherland Springs

The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Apple served with search warrant in Sutherland Springs shooting | The San Antonio Express-News

Texas Rangers investigating the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs have served a search warrant on Silicon Valley giant Apple Inc. and are seeking digital photos, messages, documents and other types of data that might have been stored by gunman Devin Patrick Kelley, who was found with an iPhone after he killed himself. Story by John Tedesco and Kelsey Bradshaw

At the Texas Capitol, victims of sexual harassment must fend for themselves | The Texas Tribune

“Interviews with more than two dozen current and former lawmakers and legislative aides indicate sexual harassment regularly goes unchecked at the Texas Capitol. And sexual harassment policies rely on officials with little incentive or authority to enforce them, particularly in cases of harassment by lawmakers.” Story by Alexa Ura, Morgan Smith, Jolie McCullough and Edgar Walters

Reversing course, Austin council to reveal city manager finalists | The Austin American-Statesman

“Austin City Council members will reverse course on their secret search for a city manager and release up to five finalists’ names in the next few days, a week after the American-Statesman staked out candidate interviews and sued the city over refusing to release records on the search.” Story by Elizabeth Findell

Arkema documents: Planning, mechanical failures led to Harvey chemical fires | The Houston Chronicle

Poor planning and a series of cascading equipment failures led to dangerous chemicals erupting into flames in late August during the height of Hurricane Harvey at Arkema’s Crosby plant. “The miscalculations indicate the company’s lack of preparation for more than 3 feet of flooding, reflected by an emergency management plan that barely addressed how to handle such a storm.” Story by Matt Dempsey and Jacob Carpenter

Investigation finds corruption, intimidation at Temple VA campus | The Austin American-Statesman

Struggling veterans who work at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Temple campus have lodged nearly 50 grievances in the past decade, claiming they’ve endured verbal tirades, witnessed thefts and were forced to perform personal work at the homes of high-ranking VA officials. An internal VA inquiry has finally corroborated their complaints. Story by Jeremy Schwartz

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.

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Making sense of the unthinkable in Sutherland Springs https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/11/12/trying-to-make-sense-of-the-unthinkable-in-sutherland-springs/ Mon, 13 Nov 2017 01:51:03 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14081 The tragedy at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs is incomprehensible. But so is the flood of misinformation about the heinous shooting that left 26 worshipers dead. If you Google “Sutherland Springs church shooting,” you’d have to wade through 1.4 million search engine results to read everything about the worst mass shooting in modern Texas ... Read more

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Remembering the fallen in Sutherland Springs
Photo credit: San Antonio Express-News

The tragedy at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs is incomprehensible. But so is the flood of misinformation about the heinous shooting that left 26 worshipers dead.

If you Google “Sutherland Springs church shooting,” you’d have to wade through 1.4 million search engine results to read everything about the worst mass shooting in modern Texas history. We’ve been drowning in real news, fake news and everything in between.

How are we supposed to make sense of it all?

On Wednesday morning, I thought we might have enough information about the shooting to sift through the verified facts and write a detailed, chronological narrative about what happened.

A team of San Antonio Express-News reporters had spent the past three days in Sutherland Springs, doing the difficult work of interviewing witnesses and trying to figure out exactly what happened. Good Samaritans Stephen Willeford, who shot the gunman, and Johnnie Langendorff, who helped Willeford pursue him, had provided detailed accounts to other media outlets. I thought we could tell the story through the eyes of the survivors and the heroes.

Related: Contact John Tedesco at the San Antonio Express-News

We also knew the killer, Devin Patrick Kelley, had been kicked out of the Air Force for abusing his wife and infant stepson and wasn’t supposed to be able to buy firearms — but the Air Force had never reported the domestic abuse case to the FBI, which meant Kelley could pass criminal background checks.

If ever there was a time for narrative journalism, this was it.

San Antonio Express-News coverage of Sutherland SpringsI emailed my editors Wednesday morning offering to cobble together a long narrative telling readers everything we knew at that point. My boss, projects editor David Sheppard, told me to go for it.

For any writers tackling a complicated story, the best advice I can offer is to start putting words on the blank page as soon as possible. If you don’t know where to start, that’s OK. Write details from your notes that you know for sure will be going in the story. Flesh out an outline. As your story grows you’ll move things around, figuring out how it all fits together. You finally reach a point where everything gels.

Working from home to avoid distractions, I spent Wednesday and Thursday writing, reading and transcribing interviews, figuring out what information we had and what else we needed.

It’s always a challenge trying to decide how to begin a story. But I quickly found my lede in notes taken by Guillermo Contreras, our federal courts reporter who had interviewed a witness, Lorenzo Flores.

Flores had been standing outside a Valero gas station across the street with his girlfriend, Terrie Smith, when he spotted a man in black tactical gear holding a military-style rifle standing outside the church before the first shots were fired. Flores told Contreras:

“I see this man and he had a high-powered rifle. And I had a bad feeling about it. I said, ‘Terrie, look at that.’ And the guy’s like making up his mind on whether to cross the street or not. Finally, I see him walk across the street from the church. And so, I’m like, there’s something wrong here. I had a bad feeling.”

Those details clicked with me. I chose that moment to begin our 3,400-word article about the tragedy at Sutherland Springs and how two men tried to stop it. The Express-News published it online Friday and it ran in today’s paper.

It’s just one story among thousands.

But I hope it helps make sense of the unthinkable.

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Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Oct. 29, 2017 https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/10/29/must-reads-texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-for-oct-29-2017/ Mon, 30 Oct 2017 02:31:29 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14067 The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

How renting furniture in Texas can land you in jail | The Texas Tribune

"Rental companies can avail themselves of a little-known law written decades ago by the rental industry lobby — in Texas and in many other states — that can turn a dispute over a love seat or big screen TV into a criminal offense report, a trip to jail and even felony theft charges." Read more ...

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The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

How renting furniture in Texas can land you in jail | The Texas Tribune and NerdWallet

“Rental companies can avail themselves of a little-known law written decades ago by the rental industry lobby — in Texas and in many other states — that can turn a dispute over a love seat or big screen TV into a criminal offense report, a trip to jail and even felony theft charges.” Story by Jay Root and Shannon Najmabadi

Tricentennial leaders crafted partnership with local TV station before releasing RFP | The San Antonio Express-News

“Emails obtained by the San Antonio Express-News under the Texas Public Information Act show that Tricentennial Commission officials, operating under city authority, had been discussing a partnership with KSAT since January 2016, raising questions about whether the commission appropriately handled the process of selecting that outlet as its broadcast partner.” Story by Josh Baugh

Charities still waiting for millions pledged for Harvey relief | The Houston Chronicle

“After Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, major corporations such as Exxon Mobil Corp., Home Depot Inc. and Kellogg Co. announced big financial pledges to help the people of Texas and Louisiana feed their families and rebuild their homes. Two months later, at least $76 million in pledges from companies, foundations and individuals still has not been delivered to the designated charities, a Houston Chronicle review found.” Story by Emily L. Mahoney

Mayor Adler aide’s nonprofit benefited from lax oversight on city contracts | The Austin American-Statesman

“A nonprofit co-founded and once run by an Austin City Hall insider reaped $1 million in public money for programs he helped create, a seven-month American-Statesman investigation found. It was possible thanks, in part, to a city procurement system that allows departments to award millions in contracts with little oversight or accountability — or even having to put the work up for bid.” Story by Nolan Hicks

Cameras on school buses catch thousands breaking law; less than half of drivers pay fines | KSAT

School districts are trying to discourage drivers from endangering students who ride school buses. “But the KSAT Defenders have learned less than half of the drivers who are issued citations aren’t actually paying them and there’s not much that can be done to force drivers to pay up.” Story by Tim Gerber

Some high-profile local divorce cases are hidden from the public. Why? | The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“A Star-Telegram investigation found a number of cases that cannot be accessed through the county’s computer system. The documents for about a half-dozen cases the Star-Telegram researched don’t appear, raising concerns about whether the public can actually find all the open records in Tarrant County’s family courts.” Story by Max B. Baker

Emails: ICE whiffed in hunt for Austin’s ‘egregious’ criminal immigrants | The Austin American-Statesman

“As the first nationwide immigration raids of the Trump administration were unfolding in February, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials struggled to justify their claims that they had netted serious criminals in the Austin area, according to internal emails published this week.” Story by Sean Collins Walsh

Everyone knew Houston’s reservoirs would flood — except for the people who bought homes inside them | The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

None of the residents interviewed after the floods say they knew they were living inside Addicks or Barker reservoirs — many of their neighborhoods are several miles away from the dams. Several local officials — including Houston’s ‘flood czar’ and a neighboring county executive — said they had no idea the neighborhoods had been built inside the flood pools. Several real estate agents said they didn’t realize they were selling homes inside the pools.” Story by Neena Satija, Kiah Collier and Al Shaw

How dozens in southern Dallas were swindled out of homes — under the government’s nose | The Dallas Morning News

“Alleged scammers took at least $320,000 from victims and were about to close on another $223,500 worth of deals when police intervened in 2016, according to a Dallas Morning News review of deed records and court documents.” Story by Naomi Martin

Excited. Delirious. Dead. | The Texas Observer

Is excited delirium syndrome a medical phenomenon, or a convenient cover for deaths in police custody? Thanks to Vincent Di Maio, a former Bexar County medical examiner turned celebrity scientist, it’s a diagnosis police know well. Story by Michael Barajas

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.

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Texas watchdog journalism roundup: Arson, the Red Cross and Trump’s wall https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/10/05/texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-arson-trumps-wall-and-the-red-cross/ Thu, 05 Oct 2017 18:26:11 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14045 The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Investigators: Gym owner started deadly blaze that killed firefighter Scott Deem | The San Antonio Express-News

Local officials have released few details about a deadly blaze that killed San Antonio firefighter Scott Deem. But an arrest affidavit obtained by the Express-News reveals that arson suspect Emond Javor Johnson was plagued by financial problems and confessed to starting the fire to get out of a monthly $2,500 lease at the Spartan Gym. Authorities arrested Johnson Wednesday. Read more ...

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Chief Charles Hood Press Conference
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood announces criminal charges have been filed in the case of a suspected arson fire on May 18 that killed firefighter Scott Deem

The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Investigators: Gym owner started deadly blaze that killed firefighter Scott Deem | The San Antonio Express-News

Local officials have released few details about a deadly blaze that killed San Antonio firefighter Scott Deem. But an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the Express-News reveals that arson suspect Emond Javor Johnson was plagued by financial problems and confessed to starting the fire to get out of a monthly $2,500 lease at the Spartan Gym. Authorities arrested Johnson Wednesday. Story by Emilie Eaton, John Tedesco, Caleb Downs, Fares Sabawi and Kelsey Bradshaw

The Wall | USA Today Network

More than 30 reporters and photographers interviewed migrants, farmers, families, tribal members — even a human smuggler — to examine the feasibility of President Donald Trump’s border wall. “In this report, you can watch aerial video of every foot of the border, explore every piece of fence, even stand at the border in virtual reality.”

Harvey laid bare lack of resources, training at Houston Fire Department | The Houston Chronicle

When Houston firefighters rushed into Tropical Storm Harvey’s currents in late August, they were hobbled by a lack of resources, old equipment and a shortage of manpower ready to go when the storm hit, according to a Chronicle review of internal reports and emails, and dozens of interviews with firefighters and other officials. “Internal reports show fire department leaders should have known they weren’t prepared for a catastrophic hurricane.” Story by St. John Barned-Smith

Texas official after Harvey: The ‘Red Cross was not there’ | The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

“The Red Cross’ anemic response to Hurricane Harvey left officials in several Texas counties seething, emails obtained by ProPublica show. In some cases, the Red Cross simply failed to show up as it promised it would.” Story by Justin Elliott, Jessica Huseman and Decca Muldowney

Police responded to his 911 call for help. He died. What happened to Tony Timpa? | The Dallas Morning News

Dallas media organizations spent more than a year examining Tony Timpa’s mysterious death and fighting for public records from the city of Dallas and Dallas County after Timpa’s family complained that police were stonewalling. They discovered that Timpa, unarmed and frightened, died in the custody of police officers as they mocked him. Story by Cary Aspinwall

Kilgore College VP was told quit or be fired, files show | The Longview News-Journal

At the time of his June resignation, records obtained by the News-Journal reveal that former Kilgore College Vice President of Finance Duane McNaney was set to be fired over performance issues and “serious misconduct” — problems that weren’t previously known until the newspaper filed an open records request. Story by Meredith Shamburger

Amid staff exodus at health agency, some say chief has political agenda | The Texas Tribune

Dozens of experienced senior staff members have left Texas’ health and human services agency, saying morale has sunk after the arrival of Executive Director Charles Smith, a longtime ally of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “Current and former employees attribute the exodus to widespread dissatisfaction with the executive commissioner, whom they say lacks technical knowledge of the agency and pushes a political agenda backed by the governor.” Story by Edgar Walters

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.

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Texas watchdog journalism roundup: The impact of Tropical Storm Harvey https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/09/13/texas-watchdog-journalism-roundup-tropical-storm-harvey/ Wed, 13 Sep 2017 23:31:58 +0000 https://johntedesco.net/blog/?p=14023 A fresh batch of must-read investigative stories that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable across Texas:

Fifty-one inches: Terror, heartbreak and heroism as five souls brave the worst storm in U.S. history | Houston Chronicle

A gripping narrative that focuses on the plight of five people caught in the path of Tropical Storm Harvey. Read more ...

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Texas National Guard responds to Tropical Storm Harvey
Photo credit: Texas National Guard

A fresh batch of must-read investigative stories that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable across Texas:

Fifty-one inches: Terror, heartbreak and heroism as five souls brave the worst storm in U.S. history | Houston Chronicle

A gripping narrative that focuses on the plight of five people caught in the path of Tropical Storm Harvey. Story by Mike Hixenbaugh, David Hunn and Mark Collette

As Houston grew, officials ignored ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to spare thousands from flooding | The Dallas Morning News

“My embarrassment is that I knew enough that this was going to happen. And I was not smart enough, bold enough to fight the system, the politics, and stop it.” Story by Steve Thompson

Houston’s Floodwaters Are Tainted, Testing Shows | The New York Times

Scientific tests paid for by The New York Times found troubling levels of E. coli, lead, arsenic and heavy metals that wound up in homes. Story by Sheila Kaplan and Jack Healy

Government ill-equipped to monitor industrial plants damaged by Hurricane Harvey | The Houston Chronicle

“More than a dozen Texas chemical and refining plants reported damaged storage tanks, ruptured containment systems and malfunctioning pressure relief valves as a result of Hurricane Harvey, portending safety problems that might not become apparent for months or years, according to a Houston Chronicle review of regulatory filings.” Story by Mark Collette and Matt Dempsey

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.

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Is bike commuting the answer to the crazy gasoline crisis of 2017? https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/09/10/is-bike-commuting-the-answer-to-the-great-gasoline-crisis-of-2017/ https://johntedesco.net/blog/2017/09/10/is-bike-commuting-the-answer-to-the-great-gasoline-crisis-of-2017/#comments Sun, 10 Sep 2017 23:04:56 +0000 https://www.johntedesco.net/blog/?p=12307 After Hurricane Harvey made landfall and motorists in San Antonio besieged gas stations like frantic bank customers in “Mary Poppins,” there’s probably never been a better time to try something that lets you avoid gas stations altogether — commuting by bicycle. I’m here to help. We can all come up with excuses to avoid riding ... Read more

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A highlight of bike commuting in San Antonio
A hidden gem in San Antonio, discovered on a bike commute.

After Hurricane Harvey made landfall and motorists in San Antonio besieged gas stations like frantic bank customers in “Mary Poppins,” there’s probably never been a better time to try something that lets you avoid gas stations altogether — commuting by bicycle.

I’m here to help.

We can all come up with excuses to avoid riding a bike to work or school. I know, because I made those same excuses, too. But in January, I finally bought a snazzy Cannondale Contro and became a bike commuter.

It’s been quite the journey. I ride a few days a week, and so far I’ve gradually saved about $350 in gas and maintenance expenses for my car. On the days I rode my bike, I avoided burning fossil fuels while burning an estimated 55,800 calories over the course of 1,000 miles.

Along the way, I dragged myself out of the insulated bubble of the automobile and explored parts of the city I’ve never bothered to really see before.

I’m not saying cycling is for everyone or that we all should abandon our vehicles. I live less than 5 miles away from downtown (although my usual biking route is longer). I can avoid busy roads most of the way. There’s a shower at the office I can use in the summer. When I need to drive somewhere during work hours, I use Lyft.

If you’re in a similar situation, here are some answers to questions you might be asking about the pros and cons of commuting by bicycle and whether it’s worth it:

How strenuous is bicycle commuting?

That depends on you and your route. I live in the Woodlawn Lake area and typically ride 6 to 7 miles to and from work on a route with modest hills.

I was already an avid jogger and hiker, but cycling wore me out after the first few commutes. I was sore and tired.

I got used to it. You will, too.

According to my Sports Tracker smart phone app, I’ve ridden more than 1,000 miles since January 2017 and burned nearly 56,000 calories. The vast majority of those trips were to and from work. I didn’t always feel like doing it. But most of the time it was fun and challenging and it slowly became part of my routine.

Is cycling dangerous?

San Antonio has a bad reputation for bicycling, much of it deserved. There are, indeed, motorists who don’t like sharing the road with cyclists and some streets are an obstacle course of bumps, debris and potholes.

One of the best ways to stay safe on a bicycle is to make sure drivers can see you. Buy front and rear LED lights that are bright and blinky. I bought mine on Amazon and they work fine. Shop around and find something that works for you. So far I’ve rarely had a problem with a motorist pulling in front of me or failing to yield. I’m not saying it’s never happened. But it’s rare.

Related: Interactive map of road-rage incidents in San Antonio

When I was deciding whether to make the jump into bike commuting, I spent a lot of time looking at Google Maps figuring out how I was going to get to and from work and avoid busy roads. Why ride on Broadway, where some drivers act like they’re Mad Max extras, when there’s a peaceful, parallel bike path that runs past Brackenridge Golf Course, dips under U.S. 281, then takes you to the pleasant Museum Reach of the River Walk?

Find those quieter routes and side streets. Google offers a bike-route feature in its maps app that can help.

Don’t motorists have to share the road with cyclists?

Yes, but not every driver likes it. I had someone tailgate me on Fredericksburg Road one time when we were the only two people on the road. It was weird. Sometimes cars and trucks speed by a little too close for comfort.

But motorists don’t cause every problem. Cyclists also have to obey the rules of the road. And not just that — they need to be smart. Spend some time learning how to be an observant, safe cyclist. Check out this guide that helped me. The title says it all: “How to not get hit by cars.”

Among the lessons: Don’t ride against traffic — it’s actually riskier than riding with the flow of traffic. Look out for parked cars — someone might open a door in front of you. Don’t ride on sidewalks — it’s a bad idea, plus it’s illegal in San Antonio.

You don’t always have to move as far to the right as possible to let traffic go by. The Texas Department of Transportation publishes a guide that notes cyclists can use the full lane if the street is too narrow to safely accommodate cars and bicycles at the same time.

Remember, you’re riding a type of vehicle. You have to be comfortable cruising among other vehicles.

To avoid feeling vulnerable riding with the flow of traffic, you can buy a mirror that attaches to your left handlebar or your helmet that lets you check your blindspot and see what’s coming up behind you.

I also bought a waterproof GoPro I attach to my helmet in case I have any close calls (or see something cool on my ride). Let’s say somebody clips me and takes off. I figure it will probably happen so fast I won’t be able to get a license plate number. The GoPro gives me a chance to take some video of that number, or at least get a good description of the car.

You can buy an air horn that attaches to your bike. It works as advertised — it’s loud and lets drivers know you’re there. I’ve only had to use this once, when I was riding at the roundabout on Fulton and Blanco and a car failed to yield to me.

For a less obtrusive warning, don’t forget a bike bell. You’ll need this for pedestrians, especially if you ride on the River Walk or one of the many creek trails in San Antonio.

What’s the best bicycle to buy?

For me, buying the bike was more daunting than actually riding the thing. There are so many choices out there.

You’re faced with three types: Sturdy mountain bikes, fast road bikes or hybrids of the two. From there you can dive into countless brands and variations.

I spent an unhealthy amount of time researching bikes and reading reviews. I finally lucked out at REI, where I found a slightly used Cannondale Contro for sale. REI employees are amazingly helpful and they also offer a free tune up you can use later if you buy a bike there.

You’ll want to find something with fenders and a bike rack or buy those extras later. Even if it’s not raining, sometimes you have to ride through puddles and you don’t want mud staining your work clothes. The bike rack helps you carry the standard gear of a bike commuter — a change of clothes, patches and spare tires, a pump, a bike lock and a multitool.

The best advice I can give is don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect bike. Find a decent one and start riding.

Can you wear work clothes or do you get all sweaty?

Depending on the weather and the distance of your commute, you can totally wear work clothes. There’s a lot of breathable, stretchy, moisture-wicking clothing out there, even for office attire. Check out Ministry of Supply if you have money to burn. Their stuff is expensive but their office slacks feel like yoga pants.

In mild weather I work up a bit of a sweat but I cool off at the office. Either I don’t stink or my colleagues are really nice. In the oppressively hot San Antonio summer, I wore exercise clothes to work and brought a change of clothes for the office, which has a shower, which I most definitely used. The ride home in San Antonio is brutal in summer. When you’re moving, the wind helps cool you off, but bring a water bottle and use it.

For chilly weather, check out this helpful guide that offers some tips about bundling up. When you ride a bike there’s going to be a windchill factor. But you’re also going to get warmer as you ride.

What gear should you buy for bicycle commuting?

Cycling makes you spend a little time thinking about the logistics of what you need to get from Point A to Point B. A bike drags you out of your comfort zone.

Did you prepare for the chance of rain today? Do you have your patch kit and other tools? Do you know how to change a flat if you need to?

In the summer, you’ll probably have to shower at your workplace after your morning ride, which means you’ll have to pack your clothes and gear into a backpack, messenger bag or saddlebags. I attached a trunk bag to my biake rack, and put the rest of my stuff in a Timbuk2 messenger bag. Messenger bags are bit more uncomfortable than backpacks, but they do allow more air flow to cool off your back. If you use a messenger bag, buy a cross strap to prevent it from sliding around.

You’ll have to come up with a system to keep track of all your stuff. Use a checklist to make sure you bring everything … you don’t want to show up sweaty at the office and realize you forgot fresh socks.

In the summer, I leave all my toiletries in a duffel bag under my desk so I don’t have to carry them back and forth. It’s just extra weight and space you don’t need to worry about.

Is cycling worth the hassle?

What I learned in 1,000 miles of bicycle commuting is you really get to experience and explore the city in ways that just aren’t the same in a car.

I’ve driven down Mulberry Avenue a million times but never bothered to take a detour on Avenue A, a narrow side street that winds along the shady San Antonio River.

Well, things changed on my bike. One day I was riding by that bumpy little street and decided to find out where it goes.

It turns out, the street ends at a cool pedestrian crossing that spans the river. It was a tranquil setting — and I had no idea it existed until I bought a bike.

All kinds of things good things happen when the wind is in your face.

How much money do you save riding a bike?

When I drive my car to work, it’s 8.8 miles round trip. IRS guidelines say driving a car costs 54 cents a mile in fuel, insurance and maintenance costs. So I’m saving about $4.75 a day every time I ride my bike.

That might not sound like much but it adds up over time. I’ve ridden to and from work 75 times so far, which means I’ve saved about $350.

Keep in mind, I had to buy my $680 bike and the gear to go with it, so it will take several more months of commuting to break even. I also got extravagant with a $300 GoPro, although I use that for other things besides biking. It’s easy to get sucked into buying tons of gear and apparel that can quickly get expensive if you’re not careful.

But compare that to how much it costs to own a car. Even if you go a little crazy on a bike-gadget shopping spree, riding a bicycle even a few times a week saves money that will gradually add up over the years.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about those long Mary Poppins lines at the gas stations.

Every bicycle commute is a small victory. You got off your ass and did something to stay healthy. You did something to keep a car off the road and help the environment. And you did something to break out of your vehicular rut and challenge yourself.

Those small victories add up.

Bike commute on the San Antonio River

Did I overlook any good tips? Leave a comment or let me know and I’ll update this post.

Update No. 1: Abigail Rodriguez, San Antonio’s former bike coordinator who is now with VIA Metropolitan Transit, emailed me some useful tips I didn’t know.

The Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization offers a free, hourlong “Street Skills” class for anyone 14 years old and older who wants to brush up on their cycling skills. If you sign up in advance, you get a free helmet and set of bike lights. Nice.

VIA buses have bike racks. Abigail said she knows some cyclists who can’t shower at the office in the summer, so they’ll take the bus in the mornings, change at the end of the day and ride home from work.

“You only get half the workout, but the summer days can be brutal, even in the morning,” Abigail told me.

Update No. 2: The MPO publishes a bicycle map that shows “traffic stress” on local roads, giving you an idea of how comfortable cyclists might be riding on any given route.

Here’s an interactive version of the traffic stress map I downloaded from the MPO’s website. Click on a colored trail or road to view more information about it:

Check back here for new updates.

A note about affiliate links: Sometimes I blog about stuff that helps journalists. I pay for all the products I review on my blog. To help defray those costs, I use Google ads and Amazon’s affiliate advertising program, which provides a way for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon.com. There’s no extra cost to you, and I’ll never link to stuff I don’t like or try to make you buy something that sucks. These reviews are my honest opinions. Thanks for reading.

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