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Downtown Planet reports theft, meets same fate

Friday, July 21, 2006 by

It’s been a long, strange week for the staff at the twice-monthly Downtown Planet.

After the publication ran a story detailing how $17,0000 of Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) funds were stolen from the home of the association’s board president, the newspaper suffered its own loss of the edition reporting the incident.

Nearly 5,000 copies of the paper disappeared from distribution points shortly after being delivered last Friday, and Downtown Planet publishers believe they know who is responsible.

On Monday, Downtown Planet editors filed a report with the Austin Police Department concerning the alleged theft of its July 13 edition.

"We filed the report on Monday with the APD," Downtown Planet Publisher Will Atkins said. "We do plan on pursuing it and there is legal precedent for pursuing this…in my personal opinion, there’s no doubt he’s (Clements) the one who took them."

Atkins said after the scheduled delivery of the paper’s July 13 edition last Friday, several subscribers and distributors started calling and complaining they hadn’t received the paper. Atkins said one subscriber, who wished to remain anonymous, asked the front desk manager at her loft why the paper hadn’t arrived. She was told that Clements picked up the papers, identifying himself to the manager and telling him the issue had a misprint, Atkins said.

DANA steering committee members have been sympathetic towards Downtown Planet’s situation, but have stressed that the alleged theft is solely between Clements, the paper and the Austin police. Clements didn’t return phone calls or an email from In Fact Daily asking for comments. He also declined to comment for several local TV stations.

"Nothing has been extended to DANA," said Marshall Jones, DANA membership committee chair. "We are grateful to Will (Atkins) for having the forethought to let us know about the complaint they filed…Even though we do not see this as a DANA issue, he has the full cooperation of the board."

The original story, by Downtown Planet’s Ann Fowler, covered a July 11 DANA meeting in which Clements described the theft of $17,000 in cash from his apartment, money that had come from DANA’s May 21 fundraiser, a downtown living tour. According the Downtown Planet’s story, Clements told DANA members and the steering committee that he took home the $21,000 in cash and checks raised during the event.

"The Downtown Living Tour was an unqualified success — $21,000," Downtown Planet quoted Clements saying during the meeting. "I took it upon myself to take all the cash and checks home, and I delayed depositing that. My residence was burglarized while the cash was in my house. They located the cash and the money bags, and that is gone. It happened three days after the tour. It was immediately reported to the police, who came out and fingerprinted. But it’s one of those things where they have no leads."

In Downtown Planet’s July 13 story Clements told DANA members the burglar left $4,500 in checks, which Clements deposited. As a renter, Clements said he didn’t have insurance, which might have covered the theft.

Detective Craig Ligon said the investigation into the burglary is still in progress, but that he has little hope of recovering the cash. The report Clements filed with the Austin Police Department indicates his laptop was also stolen.

According to the Downtown Planet, association members reacted with anger to the delay in announcing the theft, and to what some called negligence on Clements’ part. Some called for Clements’ resignation and for restitution from Clements of the stolen money. The Downtown Planet story said about a dozen members of the association’s 192 active members were present at the July 11 meeting.

DANA Secretary Ted Siff said the steering committee would meet again on July 25 to discuss DANA leadership.

"We are talking about what responsibility each and every DANA steering committee member has regarding the loss of these funds," Siff said. "There will be a cash management plan in place before we have our next major event, and it will include at least the possibility of event insurance and definitely a set of procedures regarding the handling of cash, including a timely deposit in a secure location."

The organization raises funds for various projects, such as improvements for the Town Lake Trail.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Strama files late . . . State Rep. Mark Strama was late filing his semi-annual financial report to the Texas Ethics Commission due on Monday, a slip-up that did not escape the notice of his Republican opponent. Jeff Fleece pointed out the problem in a news release to local media yesterday. For his part, Strama says he takes full responsibility for the mistake. "We had a technical problem," he said, explaining that the information must be filed electronically. Although the information was prepared on time, it could not be transferred on Monday. "The Ethics Commission has proprietary software and I try to run a very efficient IT operation. I probably have asked too much of our organization." Strama said the information was filed by 9:30am yesterday. He said he gave the information to the Statesman on Monday. Failure to file on time draws an automatic $500 fine from the Texas Ethics Commission, and other fines and penalties may apply . . . Video is greeting, not campaign ad . . . Brewster McCracken begs to differ with a report in yesterday’s In Fact Daily that he is running a video of a campaign commercial on his city website. The video that looks like a recent campaign ad has been on the website for three years he said. "We created a welcome video," using elements from the 2003 ad campaign and other materials. "Right after I took office, Karen, Matt and I were trying to get a welcome message," he said. "We took out the political content, "adding other images . . . Leffingwell marries . . . Council Member Lee Leffingwell got married while on vacation earlier this month in New Mexico. He wed Julie Byers, an ICU nurse at Seton Northwest Hospital. Congratulations! . . . Pogue named to state panel . . . Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Christie Pogu e of Buda to the State Board for Educator Certification for a term to expire Feb.1, 2011. The board develops certification and continuing education requirements and standards of conduct for public school teachers. Pogue is a former director of the Texas Association of School Boards. She is founder and former chairwoman of the North Hays Leadership Council in Hays County, a former school board vice-president for Hays Consolidated Independent School District (CISD) and a member of the Parent Teacher Association for Hays schools . . . Williamson Bond meetings . . . Beginning today, Williamson County is sponsoring a series of meetings to present information on the more than $530 million county bond proposal featuring road projects and park improvements. A nine-member road bond committee, appointed by the Commissioners Court in April, is charged with culling the projects into two measures that the court will consider putting before voters this year. The meetings are designed to gather public input to help the committee pick the road and park projects most important to voters. County Commissioners will vote by Aug. 29, the last meeting before the state deadline to call an election, on whether the bonds should appear on the Nov. 7 ballot. The meetings are set for 10am at the Sun City Texas Activities Center atrium, 1 Texas Drive in Georgetown; 6 pm at the Round Rock Public Library, 216 E. Main St.; on July 25 at 6pm at the Williamson County Central Maintenance Facility training room, 3151 S.E. Inner Loop in Georgetown; and July 27 at 6 pm at Taylor High School, 3101 N. Main St. in Taylor. . . Late-night revolt . . . At least one member of the city’s board and commission appears to be fed up with late meetings and is doing something about it. At Wednesday’s Environmental Board meeting, which featured five staff reports stacked back-to-back, members were asked shortly before 10pm to extend the meeting for one-half hour. As debate on the final report neared the 10:30pm deadline, Board Member Mary Gay Maxwell interjected "and I’m not supporting an extension past 10:30." As the meeting wore on, the board completed action on the item, but Acting Chair Karin Ascot implored members to stay and take care of a couple of small matters, but Maxwell wasn’t having any of it. "Move to adjourn!" she said, and was quickly seconded. All but Ascot voted to go home, and they did.

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