31 January 2010
CoH expands curbside recycling
ON WEDNESDAY, COUNCIL voted to expand the city's curbside recycling program.
We liked the conclusion to KHOU-11's story:
The program is being paid for with federal stimulus money.
That's so... stimulating!
KTRK: City slow to tear down abandoned properties
KTRK-13'S TED OBERG checks in on the City of Houston's backlog inspecting and tearing down dangerous, derelict buildings. Mayor Parker promises improvement, and tells Oberg to check back in a year's time.
Gattis on the future of commuting
HOUSTON STRATEGIST TORY GATTIS argues that "point-to-point express buses are the future of commuting."
We hope someone in the mayor's office is reading, since METRO seems determined to sink several billion more dollars than voters approved (and probably can't afford) into an at-grade rail system that reduces traffic mobility.
30 January 2010
AMERICA'S WORST BIG CITY DAILY thinks this "exclusive" content will entice you to purchase their product this weekend:
29 January 2010
HCA: Stop me if you've heard this before
You knew there had to be such an angle, right?
28 January 2010
More on METRO land grab, "transparency"
THE EXAMINER'S MIKE REED continues his fine coverage of METRO with this story on the "University Alignment" land grab (along with helpful links to various documents).
In other METRO news, the organization was recently ordered by the state Attorney General to turn over information it was trying to hide from an interested public.
It is worth recalling this recent lie from outgoing Chairman David Wolff:
“We are transparent. We are accountable. Those who say we are not are not well informed,” he said.
We operate the METRO organization in a completely transparent manner.
Subtraction by addition?
The Chron web team apparently just recently noticed she was gone, putting a notice on their columnists page. We're not sure if many readers noticed at all.
* With particular emphasis on "I" of course.
** Double standard, or just a double whammy for readers? You decide.
Slampo: The Aloysius Chronicles, Part V
SLAMPO continues his fine series on
carpetbagger Councilmember Al Hoang, alleged campaign-finance and voter-registration scofflaw.
McGuff: Lee McGuire exits KHOU
MIKE MCGUFF posts that KHOU-11 reporter Lee McGuire has left the station for a new post in his hometown of Boston.
A Galleria-area soccer stadium proposal?
ON TUESDAY, KTRK-13'S MIYA SHAY reported that a development group hopes to build a mixed-use complex to include a soccer stadium in the Galleria area near 59 and the West Loop. KHOU-11 and the Chronicle have since reported more of the details.
As reported, the proposal would much include less public involvement than the plans for a downtown stadium, which have been stalled over (former) Mayor White's request for Harris County to commit $10 million to the cause during a recession.
27 January 2010
Brown/White legacy: The Crime Lab is still broken
LAST WEEK, THE CHRON'S BRADLEY OLSON reported that Council had approved $4.2 million for tackling the HPD Crime Lab's massive backlog of rape test kits. Unfortunately, only a small percentage was allocated for this fiscal year. While that alone illustrates it's a much higher priority for the new Annise Parker Administration than it ever was for the Bill White Administration, that in itself is more than a little shameful.
On the topic of shameful, we enjoyed the quote from Councilmember (!) Clarence Bradford, under whose Crime Lab "leadership" so many problems developed (although the independent crime-lab recommendation is one we support).
Staying on the topic of shameful, we learn from Olson today that there is a backlog of firearm forensics in that same HPD Crime Lab. Councilmember Jolanda Jones is outspoken, as usual:
“The crime lab is still broken, notwithstanding what the previous administration said about it,” said Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, a criminal defense lawyer.
24 January 2010
Bill White's financial acumen (cont'd)
BILL KING comments on the City of Houston's questionable use of pension bonds over the last five years:
In addition to simply borrowing money to make up existing shortages in the pension plans, since 2004 the city has been borrowing funds every year to make part of its current contribution to the pension plans. In doing so, the city has accounted for these borrowed funds as “resources” to “balance” its budget. In any other form this would be deficit budgeting, which is specifically prohibited by state law and the City Charter and obviously is a practice that cannot go on forever.
From 2004 to 2009, the city used about $225 million in pension bond proceeds in this manner. Without these bond proceeds, the city would currently have a deficit in its general fund. In other words, the city would be broke and could not pay its bills had it not used pension bonds to make part of its pension contributions over the last five years.
The massive unfunded pension liability has also attracted the attention of John Diamond on the Baker Institute Blog.
BLOGVERSATION: Unca Darrell.
More METRO absurdities
THE CHRON'S MIKE SNYDER APPEARS TO BE handling transportation reporting these days (he'll never be mistaken for Rosanna Ruiz), and the METRO cheerleading beat has some new offerings:
1. Outgoing METRO Chairman David Wolff said, apparently with a straight face, that he expects Houston and other municipalities to repay all the Mobility Funds METRO has handed over since 1987 -- $1.6 billion. Wolff said, "Originally, it was Metro's money. It was taken away in the '80s." Actually, it was originally taxpayers' money, but that's a nice display of METRO's entitlement mindset.
Fontaine resigned Thursday after six months on the board and will start work Monday as head of a new group focused on system performance and compliance, spokesman George Smalley said in a news release. Parker will name Fontaine's replacement on the nine-member board.
In his new job, Fontaine said Saturday, he will develop data that measures the most important elements of the transit agency's performance, such as on-time bus arrivals.
On-time bus arrivals?? A couple of paragraphs down, Snyder hints at a data measure that is surely more pressing than on-time bus arrivals: declining ridership. Readers of the Chronicle probably have no idea METRO continues to see monthly declines in riders and revenue, and we won't hold our breath that Snyder will actually report that information in any substantive way. The declines are a big reason why METRO needs the mobility funds repaid -- it faces a huge cash crunch with the voter-unapproved METRO Solutions plan ballooning to $4 billion.
Locally, is there a greater political cesspool than METRO? There are contenders out there, but no other local entity can claim the title of Numero Uno.
UPDATE: A certain someone emailed Kevin Whited (can't say whom, but the emailer's name rhymes with Bike Rider) to say that my post is incorrect. Apparently Chairman Wolff didn't say he wanted mobility funds repaid; rather, he wants them stopped. But that's not what Mike Snyder's blog post initially said this morning. Here's the blockquote of what Snyder originally wrote:
Wolff said he knew it would be unrealistic to expect Houston and other recipients to return the money all at once. But they need to start talking about a schedule and conditions for doing so, he said.
Emphasis added. I got that blockquote from the cached version of the post. The reason we need that is because this is what the blog post says now:
Wolff said he knew it would be unrealistic to expect Houston and other recipients to stop the general mobility payments all at once. But they need to start talking about a schedule and conditions for doing so, he said.
Emphasis added. How in the world does a professional journalist make an error like that? I mean, that's a sea change difference in meaning! And as a nice touch, nowhere in the post is there any indication the wording was changed. Just one of those *poof* things Chron.com loves to do.
23 January 2010
Record of Decision for Grand Parkway F-2 segment
BLOGHOUSTON FRIEND CONNIE O'DONNELL posts the Record of Decision for the F-2 segment of the Grand Parkway. She notes that page 64 shows the preferred alternative route. I'll note that most residents in the area are opposed to the F-2 segment, but that's of no concern to officials and developers pushing for it.
22 January 2010
Here's hoping Mayor Parker gets control of this near-rogue agency
Who ever would have seen that coming (aside from folks who are always derisively labeled "METRO critics" in the typical METRO cheerleading stories/blog posts)?
The Chron story did feature this bit of amusement from David Wolff:
“We are transparent. We are accountable. Those who say we are not are not well informed,” he said.
Baghdad Bob was more credible.
UPDATE: Barry Klein's comment on the Chron.com story is worth reproducing in its entirety:
At yesterday’s board meeting the Metro chairman admitted that four rail extensions will cost $1.5 billion. Combined with the $1.5 billion for the University line, the fifth extension, announced in December, the cost of the 30 mile Metro rail project is now $3 billion. Six years ago Metro won a referendum claiming that 22 miles of new rail in five corridors would cost $1.2 billion. All this was explained to the Metro Board.
So...instead of reading about the $1.8 billion difference between the cost projected on election day in 2003 and the cost today, and the several people who asked the Metro board for a new election because of the higher cost and other changes, we are reading about a relatively small amount of $100 million added to the 2009 contract for four corridors...Why is that fact more noteworthy than the additional $1.8 billion budget busting difference in the cost of five corridors?
21 January 2010
Slampo: The Aloysius Chronicles, Part IV
SLAMPO REPORTS THAT
carpetbagger Councilmember Al Hoang has finally updated his scandalous campaign finance reports. And they still aren't quite up to snuff.
Reed: METRO Galleria-area land grab will include part of Water Wall
THE EXAMINER'S MIKE REED reports on all the land takings that will be necessary in the Galleria area as METRO tries to move forward with its plans further to hinder traffic mobility in an already congested corridor.
Apparently, the METRO Cheerleader beat remains unfilled at the Chronicle, but maybe we'll eventually see what would have appeared there on METRO's expensive blog.
19 January 2010
New cheerleader assumes Chron baseball beat
NEW CHRON BASEBALL BEAT WRITER Bernardo Fallas introduces himself on the former beat writer's blog.
And if you (rightly) thought the last guy was a cheerleader, get a load of this prose:
The Chronicle has a longstanding history of excellence in covering the national pastime in Houston. It extends from the press box to the Sports Department at 801 Texas.
Of the folks I have had the privilege to meet and work alongside, I'm talking about outstanding professionals, respected and admired colleagues and, above all, great human beings.
As I take on this challenge, I realize I have some pretty big shoes to fill.
Cheerleading is required of sports writers at America's Worst Big City Daily, and Fallas leaves little doubt that he'll be up to the task. And the new beat gets rid of that pesky problem of his cheering on the team that employs his sister.
Jeff Cohen and Kathryn Kase are gonna be jealous!
THE VILLAGE VOICE HOUSTON CORPORATE WEEKLY encroaches on Chronicle territory this week with their *ahem* Alt-Weekly Eye for the Death Row Killer Guy.
18 January 2010
TBIFOC: Brotherhood and Unity
IT'S MLK DAY in Houston, and that means it's time to turn over the commentary on Houston's competing MLK Day parades to Laurence Simon.
Slampo: Portrait of Hunger, with bluetooth
LAST WEEK, the Chron predictably covered the OUTRAGE from an Obama Administration official that the State of Texas is allegedly so stingy with its food stamp program. Lefty bloggers/editorialists piled on afterwards, just as predictably.
Today, Slampo posts an alternative perspective.
Chron eye for the affluent university president guy?
THE LATEST IN THE CHRON'S SERIES of reporting for and of the newspaper's niche education sources focuses on... how university presidents in the state of Texas are weathering the recession.
As we asked last time, why would any Chron editors think this niche, inside-baseball stuff would ever appeal to a general readership?
17 January 2010
Klein High parents suddenly agree with bond opponents
Back when Klein ISD was promoting an ill-conceived bond proposal that included plans to build a new high school, temporarily relocate Klein High School to the new campus, then demo Klein High and rebuild it, bond proponents did everything they could to drown out opponents who didn't understand why district leadership would support such a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer dollars. We wondered why it was not enough to renovate Klein High, especially considering Klein High was not facing the student growth other district high schools were. We wondered when the looming economic downturn (which was already within sight) would burst bond proponents' bubble. Anger was high in the district before and after the election, with the bond narrowly passing.
In November, the bubble burst, with news that Klein was rethinking how to spend the bond money. Growth was slowing, and property values were decreasing. Suddenly, razing and rebuilding Klein High was off the table, and new scenarios were on, including closing Klein High (Option B), and renovating the school while it remained in session (Option C). And just like that, bond proponents were crying foul -- where was their brand new Klein High?
The district finally decided on Option C: renovate Klein High with students on site. In this Fox report, it's amusing to see Klein High parents and district officials have suddenly become big fans of the option to renovate the school while it stays open. I guess Option B -- closing Klein High -- helped them see the light.
MORE: I should add, back when the district was trying to sell the bond, Superintendent Cain was asked how he could justify a raze and rebuild as opposed to just a renovation. The district never provided engineering reports that said a complete rebuild was necessary, and in fact, the district's engineering reports recommended renovation.
15 January 2010
Texas Liberal: Transparent as a wall
TEXAS LIBERAL offers Mayor Annise Parker some good tips on transition team transparency.
Imagine the OUTRAGE if Karl Rove had made such a call
THE WHITE HOUSE apparently didn't like the fact that President Obama's phone call congratulating Mayor-elect Parker went public. Craig Malisow has the details.
Boehme: West U stands for open government
BLOGHOUSTON FRIEND AND WEST U POL GEORGE BOEHME lands a small blow for open government, concluding as follows: "If you want to make your decisions in private, don’t run for public office."
KHOU's Greenblatt wins award
CONGRATULATIONS TO KHOU-11'S MARK GREENBLATT, whose reporting on the Texas National Guard has won a duPont award.
13 January 2010
Isn't that quotation space normally reserved for Bob Stein?
THIS ASSESSMENT appears towards the end of a Chron story on Mayor Parker's transition team:
Councilwoman Jolanda Jones praised Parker for putting community leaders and “regular” citizens on the committees, noting it was a continuation of the attention given to grass-roots politics in her mayoral campaign.
“I am extremely pleased,” she said.
How did Councilmember Jones steal Bob Stein's reserved Chron quotation space? Was the Bicyclist/Professor unavailable?
Kirkendall: What to do with the Texas Bowl?
THREE YEARS AGO, the Chron was doing its part to cheer on the Houston Texans' backing of the irrelevant Texas Bowl, and their dream of becoming "one of those big-time bowls everybody's talking about...."
Tom Kirkendall has been (clearly) thinking about the still-irrelevant bowl game, and asks: "Frankly, why bother with it?"
Slampo: Shami Time
SLAMPO has a great name-change suggestion that could really boost the gubernatorial campaign of Farouk Shami (so go read to the end).
Cy-Fair ISD PSA
PSA: LOU MINATTI points out that Chapstick and Carmex are banned substances at Cy-Fair ISD.
BREAKING: A Chron editor sighting?!
LEDE FROM A NEWS STORY that appeared on Chron.com yesterday morning:
Texas has the worst performing food stamp program in the nation, says the federal director who oversees the project designed to help desperate people get nutritious meals.
Emphasis supplied. Nice editorializing, no?
LEDE FROM THE REVISED NEWS STORY on Chron.com today:
Texas has the worst performing food stamp program in the nation, the federal director for food assistance told state officials here Tuesday.
Who knew there were still editors to fix these things?
Chron sports section paves way for conflict-free cheerleading?
JOHN ROYAL points out on the Houston Press blog that the Chron was beaten once again on a bit of baseball news, but his news of interest is that Jesus Ortiz has been moved from the Chron baseball beat (where he reliably served up Drayton McLane cheerleading) to the soccer beat, and that rumors have current soccer reporting Bernardo Fallas (whose sister works for the Dynamo) shifting to baseball.
If so, that will remove one conflict-of-interest, and the two reporters' cheerleading for their (new) teams can resume guilt-free!
12 January 2010
HCGOP: "Everything's cool" with previously uncool campaign finance reports
TEXAS WATCHDOG follows up on its earlier reporting on some campaign donations the Harris County GOP had apparently misplaced/misreported. The Harris County GOP informs that their campaign finance documents have been amended and "Everything's cool." So there you have it.
Maybe they could put Martha Montalvo in a hot air balloon?
Newman: Lowry and the partisan debacle
MURRAY NEWMAN comments on Terry Lowry and the partisan (judicial) debacle.
Problem solved. Next?
SLAMPO proffers a solution to the problem (according to the Chronicle) of not enough Spanish-speaking cops.
11 January 2010
Chron: Queen Sheila will lose. Or she'll win.
THE CHRONICLE runs a three-reporter story today that begins by speculating the climate is ripe for change in Queen Sheila Jackson Lee's Congressional district, then points out that it will be an uphill struggle for her poorly funded opponents. Democratic Professor Richard Murray is quoted in the story, but Democratic Professor (and bicyclist!) Bob Stein is not, sadly.
10 January 2010
Sudden acceleration = bad mistake (unless you know a journalist)
KPRC-2 REPORTS on a poor woman who stomped her accelerator instead of her brake and crashed into a local strip center.
It's too bad she's not married to a Houston Press staffer, or a story of "sudden acceleration" might have found its way across the Village Voice empire. Alas, this one appears to be just another case of clumsy footwork.
METRO's ridership/financial situation continues to deteriorate
TOM BAZAN passes along the latest dismal METRO ridership and fare-collection statistics, which we have posted for public review.
Just another weekend at America's worst big-city daily newspaper
FRESH OFF TWO EDITORIALS on college football (!?), the Chron editorial board decided effectively to outsource one of its weekend editorials to Christof Spieler, a local urban-utopia professional/activist/blogger.
With Carolyn Feibel's departure, we wondered if he'd be getting as much time in print, but between the editorial board and Mike Snyder, we suspect he'll remain a go-to source for the local Hearst daily, which is fairly predictable on these sorts of matters.
MORE (Six points more, in fact): Harris County Almanac.
09 January 2010
If this had been the Center for the Mentally Retarded...
MAYBE IF THE CITY didn't let tenants fall hundreds of thousands of dollars behind in rent, its financial outlook wouldn't be so bleak. How many other tenants owe the city money?
Via KPRC-2, which pointedly notes that this happened under former mayor and current gubernatorial candidate Bill White's watch, and that Mayor Parker just learned of the situation. Back in 2006, Mayor White created a new department to handle city rents, after a similar, embarrassing KHOU-11 story. That seems to have worked out well.
Mayor Parker left to tighten City Hall's belt
THE CHRON'S BRADLEY OLSON writes about the challenge Mayor Annise Parker faces in dealing with the city's worsening financial situation. Mayor White's finance director makes an appearance:
Finance Director Michelle Mitchell said the sales tax collections are likely to improve and defended the White administration's decision to use $50 million in reserves to meet expenses.
Someone's a little defensive.
06 January 2010
Bennett: DIVERT agreement
ATTORNEY MARK BENNETT posts a copy of the Harris County DWI/DUI DIVERT agreement.
The Chron doesn't have a monopoly on bad Houston journalism
THE USUALLY SOLID FINANCIAL TIMES takes a page from the Chronicle in its selection of sources for a story on Bill White's gubernatorial run. Only two sources are quoted -- Bicyclist Bob Stein and Richard Murray. Neither one is identified by author Sheila McNulty as a Democrat (nor did the FT mention that Stein's wife worked for the White administration, or that Stein himself was an occasional advisor), and of course neither one had anything negative to say about the great White hope of Texas Dems. The sloppy story also still has Kinky Friedman in the gubernatorial race.
04 January 2010
2010: Things you won't hear
CORY CROW posts a fun list of "things you won't hear (or see, or read) in 2010."
Local news comings and goings
MIKE MCGUFF has the scoop on a couple of Houston Chronicle departures (sports editor Carlton Thompson and assistant business editor Tara Young) and a couple of TV news reporter arrivals (Jason Volentine and Hasti Taghi).
If he could just get as excited about actual reporting and analysis....
THE CHRON'S MAIN TEXANS CHEERLEADER "is already excited about next season."
Hard to see that one coming, huh?
UPDATE: While McClain was leading the cheers for next season, the best coach in the NFL ripped the terrible surface at Reliant Stadium today. Bob McNair really should consider replacing that sorry "grass" (in varying shades of gray/green/brown!) with Field Turf. It is not world-class.
Councilmember Johnson to take on Queen Sheila
COUNCILMEMBER JARVIS JOHNSON has decided to challenge (Queen) Sheila Jackson Lee for the CD 18 primary.
This could prove to be entertaining (although wouldn't it be refreshing if some Houston pols could just focus on the jobs they already have?).
03 January 2010
Keeping the cheerleading in the family
SLAMPO FOLLOWS UP on some recent BH forum discussion with a fun and informative media-criticism post.
As it turns out, the Chronicle's main staff Dynamo cheerleader, Bernardo Fallas, has a sister who happens to work for the soccer club. Fallas assures Slampo that his superiors know of this relationship, and that it does not affect his coverage. Readers were never informed of the relationship, of course.
"News" is kind of a stretch at times
SOMETIMES, messages of 140 characters or less really DO say quite a bit (like this 30 December tweet from the "Content director of chron.com, Houston Chronicle's news Web site"):
Going out on New Year's Eve in Houston? Share party photos from your cell phone on chron.com!
THIS is some heavy-duty cheerleading.
The next Chron transportation reporter is going to have some mighty big pom-poms to fill. Or something like that.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE HOUSTON TEXANS, for the first winning season ever.
And congratulations to the fans, who made enough nosie at the end to help seal the deal against the Pats' backup quarterback.