Sunday, September 11, 2005

What FEMA and the government have apparently been incapable of doing, a relatively small number of private citizens with good will and some Web expertise (and financial assistance from a couple of small foundations) have succeeded at doing. At, people have gathered together online to assist victims of Katrina in reuniting with family members, finding shelter, and community. Thanks to their efforts, many victims of Katrina were able to find out for the very first time that their loved ones had not drowned or died, but were simply like them, looking for a way to connect. And at this page on the same website is perhaps the most worthwhile compendium anywhere on the Internet of the best local blogs as to what is actually going on in New Orleans and Mississippi.

If not for Katrina, surely this would surely be big news

Elizabeth Reyes, an attorney in the elections division of the Texas secretary of state's office, has been fired by her bosses for talking to the Washington Post about whether ownership of property in Kerr County, Texas qualifies him to vote in the state. As this account in the San Antonio Express-News explains it, Reyes feels "twice burned": not only by her employers, but also from talking to a newspaper that apparently (by their own admission) took her quotes out of context and not very carefully or even accurately reporting their story.

INGRAM-— A state agency lawyer quoted in a nationally-circulated news story as questioning Karl Rove's eligibility to vote in Kerr County is out of a job and feeling twice burned.
Elizabeth Reyes said she was fired Tuesday as an attorney in the elections division of the Texas secretary of state's office because she appeared in a Washington Post story Saturday about the presidential adviser.
The article, which was reprinted in papers across the country, quoted Reyes as saying Rove's ownership of Kerr County property may not qualify him to vote there.
Reyes, a 30-year-old San Antonio native, is seeking reinstatement to the job she'd held since May.
She said she was dismissed on grounds of violating an agency policy that allows staff to respond to routine questions but directs them to refer controversial, sensitive or legal inquiries to their supervisors or a press officer.
Reyes said the fateful phone call she fielded last week from an unknown party involved answering a hypothetical question:— "If someone had a rental cottage and it's really old and shabby looking and it looks like no one lives there, could that be a residence for voting?" is how she remembers the question.
"I said if it's falling down and its uninhabitable I don't think it would be anyone's fixed place of habitation," Reyes said Friday. "I also said whether you rent or own doesn't determine residency. It's largely based on intentions. If you intend to return, (you can register to vote there)."
Reyes said she didn't know she was speaking to a reporter and that Rove never was mentioned.
In a letter sent Friday to her former bosses asking to be rehired, Reyes wrote, "The fact that you will hold me responsible for someone else's misleading statements is unjustifiable."
The Post's assistant managing editor for metropolitan news, Robert McCartney, on Friday confirmed Rove's name didn't arise during two interviews by reporter Lori Montgomery. He said a correction would appear today.
McCartney also said the correction would say articles on Rove printed Sept. 3 and Wednesday "should have included Reyes' statement that a person's intent to return to Texas is a primary factor in qualifying for residency."
However, he said Montgomery identified herself to Reyes as a reporter and told Reyes the subject of the story was a presidential adviser who'd moved from Austin to Washington and claimed a Kerr County cottage as his residence for voting.

"We're sorry to hear that Elizabeth Reyes lost her job. We regret that," McCartney said. "We erred and we are running a correction to set the record straight."
McCartney said Montgomery had not seen Rove's cottages but used information provided by the appraisal district for Kerr County. He denied Montgomery described them as "run-down" or "uninhabitable" in her talks with Reyes.

The residences are, in fact, quite habitable.

The two small stone cottages owned by Rove and wife Darby are part of a bed and breakfast complex overlooking the Guadalupe River outside Ingram.

When the Roves aren't there — which locals say is most of the time — they are rented to guests of nearby River Oaks Lodge, which the Roves once owned as well.

The nearest neighbor, Bill Petty, estimated he'd seen Karl Rove there about five times since 2000, mostly near holidays.

"We see him out walking around getting a signal on the cell phone more than anything," said Petty, 65.

Former lodge manager Linda Day said Rove had visited "infrequently" in the past year but declined to be more specific.

Attempts to reach Rove were unsuccessful. Kerr County officials said he registered to vote here May 26, 2004, and voted in the 2004 presidential election by mail from Washington, where he owns a home reportedly valued at more than $1 million.

The cottages and 0.39 acres are appraised at $57,258. The 494-square-foot "Ivy House" has two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, porch and two baths. Furnished, it has rented for up to $120 a night.

It costs $200 a night to stay at the 814-square-foot "River House," which has screened porches on two sides, two bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen and bath.

"The feeling at the River House is pure relaxation," says the Web page for River Oaks Lodge, which appraisal records show the Roves bought in 1997.

Records indicate the Roves divided the site and sold the main lodge, a 3,863-square-foot structure, and 0.72 acres in 2003. The new owner is listed in county tax records as Estadio Partners LLC, of which Darby T. Rove is listed as a director.

Kathie Thomas, one of the lodge's new owners, declined comment when asked how often the Roves stayed there.

"I'm not going to discuss anything," she said.

The Post story prompted a government watchdog group in the nation's capital to file a complaint Monday with the Texas secretary of state's office about Rove's voter eligibility.

"The Texas Election Code requires you to reside in the place where you're voting," Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Friday. "Apparently, he's never lived there."

Scott Haywood, spokesman for Secretary of State Roger Williams, said the District of Columbia group lacks legal standing and that any such complaint must come from a Kerr County resident and be handled by local authorities.

Haywood also took issue with the "inference" by Reyes in the Post report "that Karl Rove was committing voter fraud."

"Our office does not agree with that or stand by that assessment," he said. "We feel that because Mr. Rove has expressed the intent to return to Texas, that he is covered under the residency requirements."

Haywood declined comment on Reyes' employment status.

Kerr County Voter Registrar Paula Rector said she fielded a few inquiries this week about Rove's voting status, but no complaints.

"He's followed all the necessary steps to be a qualified voter," she said. "At this point, we have no reason to investigate."

Texas Election Code provisions state an otherwise qualified voter does not lose eligibility by leaving home "for temporary purposes."

It continues, "A person does not acquire a residence in a place to which the person has come for temporary purposes only and without the intention of making that place the person's home."

For election law purposes, a residence means "one's home and fixed place of habitation to which one intends to return after any temporary absence."

Some comments of my own: If it were not for Katrina and the Roberts hearings, this story ordinarily would be playing bigtime among bloggers. For those on the left, it has Karl Rove. For those on the right, this was a major instance of the Washington Post making some very foolish mistakes in their reporting, with some very serious consequences-- at least for Elizabeth Reyes.

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