Austin’s biggest stories of 2016: No. 10: Campus carry law

YEAR IN REVIEW

COUNTING DOWN AUSTIN’S 10 BIGGEST STORIES

We’re counting down Austin’s 10 biggest stories of the year as chosen by American-Statesman reporters and editors. We’ll unveil one story each day through Jan. 1. 

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On the day that it marked the 50th anniversary of the University of Texas Tower sniper shooting, UT joined other Texas public colleges in implementing rules allowing holders of concealed handgun licenses to carry handguns in campus buildings.

The changes were mandated by the Texas Legislature in 2015 when it passed Scampuscarryfront2enate Bill 11, the so-called campus carry law.

In the year after the law passed, college presidents and boards of regents spent months drafting rules for complying with the law — a period marked by numerous demonstrations in Austin, mostly by opponents of campus carry. Some UT-Austin faculty members lobbied for a ban on handguns in classrooms, but UT President Gregory L. Fenves said that would have amounted to a general prohibition of the weapons on campus, which the law forbids. Three faculty members who want the option of barring handguns from their classrooms sued but ultimately lost.

The new rules went into effect Aug. 1 and sparked new protests once students returned to campus, including one in which UT students wielded sex toys to make a point about what was permitted and what was not at UT these days.

Our coverage

April 12: Haruka Weiser death spurs campus carry debate

May 8: UT System regents unlikely to change campus carry rules much

July 1: How the 1966 Tower sniper attack fueled debate over campus carry at UT

July 29: UT’s controversial campus carry rules go into effect

Aug. 22: Judge rules againts 3 UT professors in campus carry case

Aug. 24: UT students use sex toys to protest campus carry law

The El Arroyo sign nailed what every Austinite wants for Christmas

Let’s be real, 2016 has kind of sucked. But one thing remains truly great in this world, and that one thing is the sign at El Arroyo, which continues to tell the world (or at least, like, West Fifth Street) exactly what we’re all thinking.

The sign weighed in on that whole clown thing, the election and even Beyonce’s “Lemonade.”

Its most recent proclamation is perhaps the most relatable of them all.

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Same, El Arroyo sign. Same.

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(If you actually want to gift someone queso for Christmas, you can buy Kerbey Lane Cafe queso at Whole Foods! Maybe 2016 isn’t so bad after all.)

 

Austin dishes make two publications’ ‘Best-of’ lists for 2016

Austin is a food-lover’s paradise, full of culinary creations for even the pickiest of eaters. It’s no secret we’re a fan of the Austin restaurant scene. And, as every publication starts publishing its year-end “Best-Of” lists, it seems some other publications are fans, too.

The secrets to Aaron Franklin's brisket aren't a secret anymore, thanks to his new book, "Franklin Barbecue, " which features photography from Wyatt McSpadden.
The secrets to Aaron Franklin’s brisket aren’t a secret anymore, thanks to his new book, “Franklin Barbecue, ” which features photography from Wyatt McSpadden.

The Ringer’s Danny Chau ranked Franklin Barbecue as his best meal of 2016, calling the Austin establishment’s smoked brisket “damn near perfect on every level.”

Watch: What does a day of work at Franklin Barbecue look like?

“The brisket at Franklin’s makes me want to throw my hands up and declare it all an act of occultism,” Chau effused.

Another Austin spot earned Chau’s approval: The  No. 2 spot on his list belongs to the now-closed Qui, where Chau had the confit maitake mushroom. The meal reminded Chau of shared dining experiences with his father as a child.

“I’d never eaten anything that so succinctly, so vividly, like a photograph, captured a moment in time,” he wrote.

More: ‘Top Chef’ winner Paul Qui opens up about arrest, path forward

In another publication, Kate Krader at Bloomberg ranked the cacio e pepe at Emmer & Rye second on her list, calling the dish “an improvement” upon the most classic of pastas.

“Not only does [chef Kevin Fink] make his supple pasta with freshly milled grains so it tastes as if it comes directly from a wheat field,” Krader raved. “Even better, Fink adds a little fermented tomato water to its buttery coating, injecting a refreshing tartness and a hit of sweetness.

It’s the most brilliant of reinventions.”

Now, if we could just get the rest of the country to rave about our queso

12 feel-good stories that prove some positivity came out of 2016

This year served as a reminder that the news isn’t always good. But sometimes it is. In a year that brought us countless acts of senseless violence, horrible natural disasters, the deaths of celebrities and American legends near and dear to our hearts and one of the most caustic elections in memory, quiet stories of human goodness often got overlooked. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t important.

Clifton Hayes, 51, who was homeless, gets a hug and housewarming gifts from friend Courtney Saxton, at his house blessing ceremony at Community First Village June 25, 2016, a few days after moving into one of the microhouses. The village is a familial community where formerly homeless people mingle with those who have never experienced homelessness and slowly gain back their dignity and their will and ability to live normal lives. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Clifton Hayes, 51, who was homeless, gets a hug and housewarming gifts from friend Courtney Saxton, at his house blessing ceremony at Community First Village June 25, 2016, a few days after moving into one of the microhouses. The village is a familial community where formerly homeless people mingle with those who have never experienced homelessness and slowly gain back their dignity and their will and ability to live normal lives. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Now, more than ever, it seems we need happy news. And on that note, we rounded up 12 stories that reminded us of the good in the world in 2016.

Rapper turned teacher: Ten years ago, Bavu Blakes was the most prominent rapper on the Austin scene. Today, he’s a middle school teacher working toward a master’s degree at UT, but the power behind rap music hasn’t left him. He uses the language of hip-hop and modern rap music to better relate to his students and bridge the gap between education and the music community.

Dog forgotten in floods saved: In 2016, Texas experienced severe flooding that damaged countless homes and endangered residents. One dog’s luck changed quickly, however, when it was spotted chained to a porch and forgotten in neck-high floodwaters by a team of rescuers. A warm bath and half a ham sandwich later, the pup was up for adoption at the Humane Society.

Community gives another chance to those in need: Community First Village in East Austin is a master-planned community where homeless people can find shelter, regain dignity and reconnect with family. The village works to connect them to the general public, thereby reducing stereotypes, and also helps teach them ways to make money. The sense of community throughout the community aims to help residents grow re-accustomed to daily life and re-establish the feelings of family.

Laurie Allen celebrates moments after she removed her cervical collar at the NeuroTexas Institute on Wednesday April 29, 2015. At the appointment more than two months after her accident, she was able to remove and stop wearing her cervical collar. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Laurie Allen celebrates moments after she removed her cervical collar at the NeuroTexas Institute on Wednesday April 29, 2015. At the appointment more than two months after her accident, she was able to remove and stop wearing her cervical collar. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A new normal: Before her debilitating accident, which left her paralyzed from the waist down, Laurie Allen was a lifelong athlete who completed nine triathlons. Adjusting to her new lifestyle has proved difficult, but with her husband at her side, Allen continues to make progress and vows to return to triathlon.

Bevo sends sympathies: If anyone knows what a mascot can mean to a school, it’s the Texas Longhorns. That’s why when young Bevo XV sent a bouquet of “get well” flowers to Louisiana State University’s Mike the Tiger after a cancerous tumor resumed growth, we were happily not surprised. The tiger has since passed, but Bevo’s gesture reminds us that no matter the team, we’re all in this together.

Austin’s homeless find escape in writing: A formerly homeless 55-year-old man who now studies English at UT, Barry Maxwell was moved to expand the book donation program Street Lit after he realized that writing offered him a unique escape from his situation. He now runs a regular writing workshop at the ARCH where members of the homeless community can share poems and other pieces of original work.

Veteran and service dog get job at Lowe’sCharlotte the Golden Retriever is a service dog for veteran Clay Luthy, who injured his leg while in the  Air Force. When Luthy got a job at an Abilene Lowe’s, Charlotte tagged along and even got her very own employee vest. The two quickly experienced viral fame, showcasing a bit of good cheer at the beginning of December.

Kacee Jackson paid for the presents ordered at Toys R Us by 83 families who found themselves unable to afford them.
Kacee Jackson paid for the presents ordered at Toys R Us by 83 families who found themselves unable to afford them.

Man pays for families’ Christmas layaways: Speaking of December, an Austin man recently made the oft-stressful month of present-giving a lot easier for 83 local families when he and some buddies paid off more than $11,000 in layaway fees at three different Austin Toys R Us locations. Kacee Jackson works as a financial advisor for people who are trying to avoid foreclosure, and when he encountered a client who couldn’t afford to pay for her children’s Christmas presents, he decided to step in. And then, he paid the debts of dozens of other local families, too. “I’ve had a fortunate couple of years, and it just felt good to give back,” Jackson, 41, told the American-Statesman.

BookPeople orders more Jen Hatmaker booksIn other local news, Austin standby BookPeople decided to support a local author in the heat of controversy. Jen Hatmaker, noted Christian author, speaker, I-35 ranter and HGTV star, had her books pulled from the shelves at LifeWay Christian Stores (also one of her publishers) after she stated in an October interview with the Religion News Service that “any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love.” BookPeople’s response was to order even more of Hatmaker’s books to counteract the boycott.

Dolly Parton helps victims of Smoky Mountain firesWhen a brushfire in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains quickly turned into an out-of-control wildfire that killed at least 14 people, injured dozens more, burned at least 500 acres of property to the ground and caused at least $500 million in damages in early December, nobody acted quicker to help victims and their families than firefighters and other rescue personnel. But the person who was the quickest to use their celebrity to help raise money for those who lost everything was country music icon Dolly Parton. She established her “My People” fund shortly after the damage was assessed, and pledged to donate $1,000 a month from her Smoky Mountain-area Dollywood Theme Park to every family affected by the disaster until they could get back on their feet. A telethon arranged by Parton helped raise more than $9 million for the families, and people are still donating.

Man holds ‘You belong’ sign outside mosqueThis year’s election brought out the worst in some people and the best in others. Justin Normand of Dallas falls into the latter category. Normand was photographed outside of a mosque in Irving in November holding a sign that read, “You belong. Stay strong. Be blessed. We are one America.” “This happened because I needed to do something, and I had nothing else that I could do,” he told the Dallas Morning News when they asked about the photo. He later said in a Facebook post that he was inspired to make the sign to “share peace” following this year’s election. “This was about my religion, not theirs.”

‘I love you so much’ honors Orlando victimsThe “I love you so much” mural at Jo’s Coffee has long been a popular photo opportunity for Austinites and guests. On one Friday in June, the popular South Congress coffee spot was turned into a way to spread love to the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando. The photos quickly went viral, showcasing a popular mural’s tribute to the victims of a senseless tragedy.

University Co-op honors biggest Texas Longhorn fan with themed Christmas tree

Austin resident celebrity Matthew McConaughey, with family and friends, donated his time on Thanksgiving Day to deliver hot meals to clients of Meals on Wheels and More Thursday November 24, 2016 and meets with President and CEO Dan Pruett and Thad Rosenfeld, VP of Communications to finalize his route. Meals on Wheels and More served over 450 Thanksgiving Day meals to clients this morning for those that didn't have family or friends to share the holiday. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Austin resident celebrity Matthew McConaughey, with family and friends, donated his time on Thanksgiving Day to deliver hot meals to clients of Meals on Wheels and More Thursday November 24, 2016 and meets with President and CEO Dan Pruett and Thad Rosenfeld, VP of Communications to finalize his route. Meals on Wheels and More served over 450 Thanksgiving Day meals to clients this morning for those that didn’t have family or friends to share the holiday. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

If Bevo is the Texas Longhorns’ official mascot, and Hook ’em is some sort of secondary mascot, what does that make Matthew McConaughey? We’re not entirely sure, but the actor and beloved Austinite has been unofficially inducted into the school’s mascot troupe after being honored with his own themed Christmas tree at the University Co-op.

The tree is decorated with burnt orange garlands and McConaughey face-ornaments, but what really ties it all together is the winking McConaughey tree topper.

The Co-op took to Twitter to clarify that it wasn’t as much a Matthew McConaughey themed tree, as it was a McConaugh-tree. Merry McConaugh-mas to all.

PHOTOS:  Inspired by new movie ‘Sing,’ here are the best smooth-talking Matthew McConaughey characters

REVIEW: ‘Sing’ charms with likable characters, fun music

Follow live: Protesters gather outside Texas Capitol ahead of Electoral College vote

Protestors gather in front of the Capitol in Austin, Tx., to voice concerns of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency prior to the electoral college vote on Monday, December 19, 2016. Voters in the electoral college will convene to cast their votes later in the afternoon at the Capitol. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Protestors gather in front of the Capitol in Austin, Tx., to voice concerns of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency prior to the electoral college vote on Monday, December 19, 2016. Voters in the electoral college will convene to cast their votes later in the afternoon at the Capitol. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Protesters have gathered outside the Texas Capitol to call on the Electoral College to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of president-elect Donald Trump. Members of the Electoral College will meet today in every state to cast their votes in the presidential election. Read more about the protests, and a petition signed by more than 200,000 Texans, here: atxne.ws/2h2sFnU

Follow live coverage of the protests and vote from Austin American-Statesman reporters Jonathan Tilove, Sean Walsh and Ken Herman below:

Those aren’t ladybugs — Central Texas sees influx of biting Asian Lady Beetles

What’s cuter than an invasion of ladybugs? Arguably nothing. What’s less cute? An invasion of Asian Lady Beetles. Although Central Texans might be seeing a lot of what look like ladybugs this winter, Texas Parks and Wildlife clarified on Facebook earlier this week that they may in fact be a nonnative species of ladybugs, Asian Lady Beetles.

What’s the difference between the two doppel-beetles? Terrifyingly, and most notably, Asian lady beetles actually bite, KEYE reports. “They have a habit of tasting things they land on,” University of Texas entomologist Dr. Alex Wild told KEYE. Additionally, Asian Lady Beetles are not native to Texas, or the United States for that matter. The Japanese insect was purposefully introduced to several southern states beginning in the 1960s as pest control. The species presence in some of these states has grown majorly since its introduction.

According to the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Asian Lady Beetles “are attracted to illuminated surfaces” (like sunlit walls), and “are such a nuisance” in some parts of the U.S. come autumn “that they affect quality of life.” The insect tends to infest buildings during the fall in search of warmth before winter and can leave a yellow stain on surfaces it touches.

Tips for ridding your home of these ladybug “nuisance” impostors? Wild suggests a vacuum cleaner.

READ: Chirp, chirp: Here’s why it might feel like crickets have invaded

Keep Austin City Council Weird: The 5 strangest things from City Hall in 2016

At this point, “Keep Austin Weird” has become more of a callback to a bygone era than an actual lifestyle tip. But every now and then, something happens here that truly couldn’t happen anywhere else. And in 2016, a year that has proven to keep getting weirder by the day, Austin City Council provided us with some truly odd moments.

Whether it involved zombies, Satanists or salamander DNA testing, this year’s top 5 strangest moments from Austin City Council proved that if nothing else, we have some unique legislative matters in Austin.

5. With others away, Austin council’s conservative trio prevails for a day

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In June, while Mayor Steve Alder and Council Members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen were in Washington, D.C., campaigning for a $40 million federal transportation grant in the Smart City Challenge, the three conservative members left on the council (Don Zimmerman, Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo) tried to block several items on that meeting’s agenda from passing. One of those items was a $210,000 grant to the Salvation Army to expand social services at the Austin Shelter for Women and Children (already included in the budget).

4. Austin Council Member Leslie Pool’s mistaken and loaded tweet

Twitter fingers turned to butter fingers for Council Member Leslie Pool back in January after she accidentally tweeted about Council Member Sheri Gallo in what was supposed to be a direct message.

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Pool posted the tweet after she and Gallo split on a rule change for certain kinds of planned unit developments – including one known as The Grove at Shoal Creek, a controversial development that Pool opposed at the time while Gallo supported it.

“It was intended to be a private message, but I should never speak badly about my colleagues,” Pool told the Statesman at the time.

3. Zimmerman slams salamander DNA testing while Austin has rape kit backlog

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In September, amid a DNA rape kit backlog at Austin’s police crime lab (which would go on to create more problems for the department), a representative from the Watershed Protection Department went before the council to request $13,000 to do DNA sequencing on Barton Springs salamanders. Council Member Don Zimmerman asked why the funding wasn’t going to be used to test the rape kit backlog, despite the two departments drawing funds from different sources. The salamander funding passed 9-1-1, with Zimmerman opposed and Council Member Ellen Troxclair not present.

2. Austin leaders debate blocking zombies from city cemeteries

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Yeah, you read that right. During a September council meeting, the council members went down a rabbit hole that started with a question about a $1.2 million construction contract to rehabilitate an Oakwood cemetery chapel and ended with speculation about skeletons, zombies, parties and weddings at area burial grounds. The discussion arose after a cemetery advocate complained about people visiting cemeteries in zombie attire or taking selfies with prop skeletons.

“I’m not sure who the zombies are who come through there… but I’m not sure how we would manage keeping zombies out,” Council Member Ora Houston said.

1. Austin council member offers Satanic amendment to compassion measure

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Coming in at first place is another “How did we get here?” moment. In April, Council Member Ann Kitchen offered a resolution involving support for the Charter for Compassion, a 2009 document crafted by religious leaders worldwide that calls for compassion to be a “clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.”

Council Member Don Zimemrman objected, according to our report:  “Zimmerman [said] the language urged ‘idolatry’ of Earth rather than its creator and talked about compassion breaking down ideological boundaries when Jesus did that better than anyone. He also said the resolution was ‘marrying religion with politics.'”

Zimmerman eventually went on to add wording from the Satanic Temple website to Kitchen’s resolution in an effort to prove the resolution was a mix of religion with politics. “The three sentences that came from a religious, Satanist website were included without objection because they’re so very nearly the same as what the Charter for Compassion already has,” Zimmerman said. “So those are accepted under the excuse that they’re not religious, but they are religious. I think you would insult my Satanist constituents. They say their religion is a religion.”

Later, in November, a Satanist almost gave the invocation at a city council meeting, but had to back out because of a scheduling conflict.

Rick Perry’s three greatest dancing moments

To commemorate former Gov. Rick Perry’s pick as President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of Energy, a coming-together that required Perry and Trump to dance around their put-downs on the campaign trail, we’ve unearthed three of Perry’s most famous dancing moments.

Former Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation on Wednesday February 24, 2016, after the state's top criminal court threw out the remaining charge against him. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Former Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation on Wednesday February 24, 2016. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
  1. Perry celebrates the lighting of a menorah at the Capitol.

From a 2014 story by American-Statesman columnist Ken Herman, in which Perry recalled his 14-year tenure as governor:

And then he pinpointed his pick for most interesting thing that’s ever happened in the room.
“Lighting the menorah with the Orthodox Jews,” he said, recalling the immortal 2010 moment when he danced around the table with Hanukkah celebrants. So classic is the video that David Letterman still finds reason to show it.
I told Perry I noted he’s planning to do it again this year and asked if there will be a dance ban.
“No, no, no, man. You gotta do the dancing,” he said, twitching into what was either dancing or a cry for help from a man whose shorts were riding up.

2. Rick Perry dances the cha-cha-cha.

Perry’s reactions to his weak scores — he and his partner won only 5’s (on a scale of 1-10) — shows his “contagious enthusiasm,” our political columnist wrote, possibly bemusedly.

3. Less than a year after calling Trump a “cancer on conservatism” and his politics “toxic,” Rick Perry says supporting Donald Trump is a “no-brainer.” Politics, you might say, is a lot like dancing: Keep your eyes up and make sure your partner feels like the only person in the room.

 

Austin ranks among GoFundMe’s ‘Most generous cities’ for 2016

Southern hospitality extends to online giving, it seems.

In a new end-of-year report released by the popular crowdfunding site GoFundMe, Texas ranked second in the “Most Generous States” and “Top Fundraising States” categories. Austin, Houston and San Antonio also placed high in the corresponding city categories.

The GoFundMe homepage.
The GoFundMe homepage.

“We’ve now reached a point in popular culture where ‘GoFundMe’ has become shorthand for help,” GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon wrote in the report. “2016 saw record amounts of help given and received, and we’re proud of our progress and grateful to our community. But it’s only a start.”

Part of that record amount of help came from Texas, which placed second in both the “Most Generous States” (states with the highest volume of donations) and “Top Fundraising States” (states with the most fundraising campaigns started) categories. Houston and Austin placed 3rd and 5th, respectively, in the “Most Generous U.S. Cities” category. Houston and San Antonio placed 1st and 4th in the “Top Fundraising U.S. Cities” category.

According to the report, $3 billion has been given on GoFundMe since 2010. The biggest campaigns from 2016 found people donating to relief and aid for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. ($9 million raised in total); supporting the protesters at Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota; and charitably giving to former British MP Jo Cox’s favorite charities.