31 March 2010
Slampo: Aloysius Chronicles, the Hoang Way
SLAMPO checks in on the latest antics of favorite councilmember Al(oysius) Hoang.
Council approves Lakewood sale
CORY CROW posts two perspectives on the Summit/Compaq Center sale (three, actually, counting his).
Chron star section apologizes for unfunny joke
AMERICA'S WORST BIG CITY DAILY was forced to run a correction today after a joke* in MeMo's Star section missed the mark:
AS April Fools’ Day approaches, we called psychologist Muriel Meicler to see if she could think of some pranks or practical jokes that parents might play on their kids. “I might sound like an old sourpuss,” Meicler said, “but I’ve never been a fan of those jokes. The purpose is to make the recipient look stupid, silly, gullible. It’s humor at the expense of somebody else’s feelings. So no, I don’t encourage April Fools’ jokes for children or even adults. Nobody likes to be laughed at.” We should have called her earlier. Tuesday we ran a short list of possible parent-on-child pranks.
No. 3 was this: Tell the kids they were adopted and now their birth mothers want them back.
Many readers have let us know how unfunny and inappropriate that advice was.
We don't have a link because that elaboration on a teaser correction isn't to be found on Chron.com; we pulled it from the e-edition.
Back when the Chronicle actually had a reader representative who wrote a regular column, MeMo's horrible Star section regularly was in the crosshairs. It's not improved since then.
That description is the newspaper's. Many readers might well have difficulty distinguishing the types of content in the section.
30 March 2010
Changes at the Housing and Community Development Dept
ROUGHLY TWO WEEKS AGO, Bill White appointee Richard Celli resigned from the City of Houston's Housing and Community Development Department (seemingly under pressure).
Last week, Mayor Annise Parker quietly appointed former councilmember Ada Edwards to head the organization on a temporary basis, while a search for a permanent director is conducted.
Texas Watchdog adds that before that resignation, Mayor Parker had asked Celli's assistant director to leave as well.
29 March 2010
Sports economist on economic impact of stadiums
KUHF'S JACK WILLIAMS runs an interesting perspective on the economic impact of sports stadiums:
Andrew Zimbalist, a noted sports economist, says you can't just plop a stadium downtown and expect the area around it to flourish.
"A sports facility by itself cannot be expected to boost the area economy and when we say area economy we're talking about the amount of output in the area and the number of jobs in an area. The evidence simply does not suggest that one could reliably depend upon any type economic boost whatsoever."
Zimbalist says downtown projects that have been successful in other cities have usually included a commitment by the city, county or team to invest in the surrounding area.
The skeptical perspective is a nice addition to the debate, although we hope the powers-that-be don't take that last as a reason to invest even MORE in the soccer boondoggle.
Russian bombings: METRO's on it!
KTRK-13 just reported that METRO, unlike some American transit agencies, will not be increasing security in response to the Russian bombings, but will be monitoring the situation closely.
Two quick thoughts:
1) All those broken cameras in the park-and-pillage lots? Yeah, no rush to fix those in response.
2) METRO PD Chief Lambert will be monitoring world transit terrorism closely!
A new Chron eye (fore!)
THE CHRONICLE has posted a new Chron Eye for the Death Row Killer Guy.
It sticks to the formula pretty well.
28 March 2010
Good news: Sports Authority to oversee construction of Dynamo Stadium
THE LOCAL QUASI-GOVERNMENTAL SPORTS AGENCY THAT has been on shaky financial footing several times in recent years (including, er, now!) will oversee construction of the quasi-privately funded Dynamo stadium, and then manage it. Will the Dynamo pay for their own grass? Will taxpayers pay for Dynamo parking while the Dynamo make off with the proceeds? Did the Sports Authority resolve their most recent bond crisis?
Just for kicks, let's recall the way former Sports Authority head honcho and current Dynamo prez Oliver Luck USED to talk about a stadium:
And among the first promises [newly named club president Oliver] Luck announced was a most important one that every sports fan should note: A soccer-specific stadium here would not be financed like every other sports mansion on the local landscape.
Financing will not be another tax burden on citizens.
When the pols and the powerful get together, the taxpayers always end up with the burden.
Wolff: Everything is great at METRO!
UNBIASED *wink* OBSERVER DAVID WOLFF writes that "an objective review of Metro's progress during this board's tenure would conclude that we accomplished a great deal.... and have positioned the organization for a bright future."
On the other hand, we think another observer (the one who won the mayoral election) was right in saying METRO needed new leadership -- and going on to nominate Wolff's replacement.
BLOGVERSATION: Harris County Almanac.
Non top-10 stuff we read
27 March 2010
METRO PD: Tell us how we can do our jobs better
METRO PD WOULD LIKE YOU TO TAKE A SAFETY SURVEY: "One of our goals is to provide the highest quality of professional police services to the community. You can help by providing useful information to us about how we do our jobs and what we can do to meet your expectations."
The survey is here.
This from the agency that admits it cannot adequately police its bus stops, and encourages riders to carry their own protection. And this from the agency that pulled security guards from Park and Rides without a backup security plan, thereby turning them into Park and Pillages.
26 March 2010
A "broad range of opinions" on term limits in Houston?
THE CHRON'S MIKE SNYDER writes that Houston's term-limits panel has generated "a broad range of opinions from local civic and community leaders and members of the public."
Marc Campos, on the other hand, has a less enthusiastic view:
Commentary doesn’t think the case has been made to tinker with H-Town’s City Council term limits. At last night’s meeting only one person got up to speak during the public session. Less than a handful of folks showed up if you don’t count the Term Limits Review Commission members and some staff.
Last night’s meeting was the third that has allowed the public to give their three cents worth. Commentary has been to all three and I haven’t seen leaders from either political party, no labor folks, none of the Dem Party groups that endorse in city races, no GLBTers, aside from the engineers, none of the other interests groups that get involved in city races like realtors, apartment owners, home builders, and business PACS, no media members, and none of the online opinion givers. A few from the mover-and-shaker crowd, a couple of super neighborhood types, a few civic leaders, a couple of elected officials, a couple of former elected officials, and a few others have weighed in. So far it looks like there is not a whole lot of public interest to change or not to change the current system.
It seems like a whole lot of something for nothing if you get my drift. Stay tuned!
The Chron's wrong side of history
REGARDING THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Perry vs World posts:
I've never quite figured out why a corporation would let its brands (in declining industries!) be run by people who have a habit of chasing away potential customers.
Robb Walsh leaving the Press
FOOD WRITER EXTRAORDINAIRE ROBB WALSH is leaving the Houston Press and becoming a full-time freelancer.
We presume the tired corporate alt-weekly will take this "opportunity" to build on the Village Voice strategy of proliferating nonprofessional (but relatively cheap!) content, along with other stunts to boost pageviews artificially.
Here's hoping Walsh will find some way to highlight his freelance work, because we're gonna miss his perspective on local food.
UPDATE: The man himself says to follow him on his blog.
25 March 2010
Chron editorial counterpoint from Unca Darrell
UNCA DARRELL thinks the Chron editorial board's "end of history" healthcare sermonizing "should be filed under 'Graveyard, Whistling Past the Political,' with a carbon copy to 'Thinking, Wishful.'"
TW update on nontransparent weatherization stimulus boondoggle
As the Texas Watchdog headline describes, the State of Texas can't provide addresses of Houston homes retrofitted with $3.7 million in stimulus money, and the nonprofit overseeing the work won't release the addresses.
Nothing to see here. Your money is surely being spent wisely. Move along now.
24 March 2010
A question you won't see on ChronBlog
CORY CROW asks, "what is the difference between the downtown Dynamo Stadium and the Harris County Soapbox Derby Hill" (other than $32 million)?
23 March 2010
Houston pols can smoke the Hopium too
PAUL KNIGHT writes that the City's Dynamo Stadium plan is magic!
Chron: McClelland to be named HPD chief this week
THE CHRON'S BRADLEY OLSON reports that Mayor Annise Parker is poised to name her new police chief this week... and that it will be acting police chief Charles McClelland.
UPDATE (03-24-2010): Isiah Carey questions the contradictory comments from the Mayor's office.
KPRC: "Open season" for helicopter rides for mayoral aides
KPRC-2'S STEPHEN DEAN reports that various aides to Mayor Annise Parker have apparently been having quite a time riding around in HPD helicopters that are on patrol, occasionally posting about the adventures on Facebook.
Mayor Parker, who says her aides are engaged in a wide range of orientation activities, has suspended the ride-alongs for the time being, saying she will not tolerate "frivolous flights."
That's too bad. We were sort of hoping maybe the mayor's office wanted to do some HPD helicopter ride-along blogger outreach!
22 March 2010
TW followup: Moonlighting attorney continues to draw check from County Attorney
REMEMBER THAT ATTORNEY who resigned from Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan's office about the time that Texas Watchdog started asking questions about potential conflicts of interest?
In a followup to the story, Texas Watchdog reports that the attorney has continued some work for the County Attorney as a consultant.
That's your ethical, watchdog County Attorney's office in action!
King, Kirkendall critique METRO; Chron breaks out pom-poms
OVER THE WEEKEND, PUBLIC POLICY PUNDIT BILL KING had a Chronicle op-ed noting the various myths espoused by our light-rail Houtopians and special interests.
Tom Kirkendall followed with "The Bad METRO bet."
The editorial board at America's worst big-city daily, on the other hand, paid homage to Houston's new establishment by lauding Mayor Annise Parker's efforts to put her stamp on the rogue agency (enabled for years by Chronicle cheerleading, of course).
21 March 2010
At the bottom of Mayor Parker's priority list
YOU HAVE ANY MONEY TO PAY FOR THAT DREAM? A Montrose resident doesn't want a new H-E-B at the site of the former Wilshire Village apartments, so she has started a petition calling for a different purpose for the land: "Heg, who rents an apartment in the neighborhood, said she and other residents would prefer the land be turned into a park with a cafe and a small commercial space where artists could sell their work."
The petition says, "We are opposed to the appropriation of the land for a chain supermarket that will displace existing business and stifle the opportunity to maintain the integrity of the Montrose community, which has been and continues to be a great draw for tourism and gives vitality to the people living therein." Existing business?
Swamplot points to the aggrieved resident's Facebook page which aims to clarify her demands: "An autocentric development would be of less use and value to the immediate community and the city of Houston at large than would a progressive development that encourages ambulatory traffic, combines retail space with green space, and bears in mind the future growth and change that is inevitable in the Montrose and Houston generally. We are aware of the shifts in population and economy that will occur with the advent of the 2012 light rail, and seek a development solution for this valuable tract that will best benefit businesses and the communities that surround it."
The Danger Train will definitely bring a shift in the economy! Just look at Main Street.
20 March 2010
METRO has multiple "backbones"
AND WE THOUGHT THE DANGER TRAIN WAS METRO'S BACKBONE: Lamely attempting to counter the accusation that it has
improved reduced bus service to focus resources on light rail, METRO now says, "Our bus fleet has been, and will continue to be, the backbone of Houston’s transit system." Sure.
19 March 2010
The outgoing METRO board's last act?
BEFORE MAYOR ANNISE PARKER'S METRO ANNOUNCEMENTS yesterday, the METRO board made one big decision: They voted in favor of paying CEO Frank Wilson's legal expenses related to the allegations about an improper relationship with a subordinate.
Previously, Wilson booster David Wolff announced that he had commissioned an "independent" investigation into the alleged improprieties.
Question: How independent will that investigation be if Wolff and his board have already decided, by virtue of covering Wilson's legal expenses, that Wilson is innocent? And if the guy was guilty of wrongdoing at the expense of the public, why should the public ultimately pick up his legal tab?
18 March 2010
Mayor announces METRO board appointees, releases transition committee reports
MAYOR ANNISE PARKER held a press conference today to release the findings of her METRO transition team and to announce her new appointees to the METRO board.
This Texas Watchdog post is a one-stop shop for information related to the announcement, as they have posted the résumés of Mayor Parker's appointees and the committee reports.
We haven't had a chance to read the reports yet, but feel free to discuss anything interesting in the forum.
17 March 2010
King/Kirkendall/Reed: METRO economics
PUBLIC POLICY PUNDIT BILL KING posted another critique of METRO this week. Here's the intro:
There could hardly be a more fitting image for the close of the current Metro administration than the recent photographs for a wrecked Metro buses in front of Metro's headquarters after having been broad-sided by Metro's Main Street light rail. The last six years are likely to be remembered as the most ruinous time for public transportation in Houston's history as Metro has pursued a single-minded obsession to build its version of an at-grade rail system regardless of the cost, both in financial terms and in the degradation of the bus system on which over 100,000 Houstonians rely daily.
What follows is a good discussion on how METRO has squandered both the public's treasure and trust over the last six years.
Tom Kirkendall riffs off that with a fine post of his own that describes how urban rail/planning/development special interests manage to push forward their favored boondoggles despite dubious economic justification and public benefit:
The costs of such systems are widely dispersed among the local population of an area such as Houston, so the many who stand to lose will lose only a little while the few who stand to gain will gain a lot. As a result, these small interest groups recognize that it is usually not worth the relatively small cost per taxpayer for most citizens to spend any substantial amount of time or money lobbying or simply taking the time to vote against an uneconomic rail system.
And as if on cue, the Examiner's Michael Reed reports these interesting financial tidbits:
The city’s commercial paper lending program for Metro has cost Houston taxpayers more than $3.2 million in interest toward long-term promissory notes for Metro street projects so far, according to the City Controller’s office.
That money — $359,635 of which appears on the fiscal 2009 debit side of the city budget — will never be recouped.
Separately, as of Feb. 23, the amount of Metro’s unbilled commitment to the city from the general mobility fund collection — dating as far back as 2004 — stood at $161.3 million, according to a Public Works Department document on Metro project expenditures.
Sooner or later, all that money starts to add up. But hey, at least we have a World Class Bus/Car/Train Pinball Machine down Main!
Frank Wilson's main METRO booster commissions "probe" of relationship
METRO put out a press release yesterday announcing that outgoing chairman David Wolff "has asked UHY Advisors... to conduct an independent investigation into allegations that public funds were misused at METRO because of an inappropriate relationship." The press release also contained this laugher:
METRO’s Board of Directors and staff have worked very hard over the past six years to improve mobility in Houston and build the public’s confidence in their transit agency. An independent investigation is necessary to maintain that trust....
Improve mobility? Build public confidence? Maintain trust? Right!
The Chronicle, which describes the coming "probe" of Frank Wilson's alleged relationship (to borrow from Cory Crow, YUCK!), managed to find out that the independent investigator will be charging METRO $310/hour. Apparently, local media were not able to obtain an exact, contractual description of the work to be performed (or at least no such document has been published).
Here is what Wolff, who commissioned this "probe", details of which apparently have not fully been shared with local media, had to say about Frank Wilson to the Chronicle in 2004, when Wilson was under investigation by New Jersey's capable, independent Commission of Investigation:
"He's not just a visionary but a person who has operated and constructed every form of transit in cities all over the country," Metro Chairman David Wolff said Thursday. "He's the best. Everybody loves him."
Wolff dismisses Wilson's critics, noting any political appointee is bound to garner enemies. The search firm Metro used to screen candidates thoroughly vetted Wilson's background. It found nothing that would disqualify him from consideration, Wolff said, and he has the board's unanimous support.
We're thinking Mr. Wolff's standards on Wilson's performance in many areas are lower than some. Will those low expectations influence the "independent" probe?
KTRK: METRO crash victim suffers broken back
KTRK-13 reports today that one of those injured passengers has a fractured vertebra.
That sounds kind of serious to us, but maybe the Chron style guide does not allow for injuries to be characterized as serious unless suffered by Chron staffers. Our email inquiry to the Chronicle reader representative on the topic was not answered.
15 March 2010
KHOU: Firing Frank Wilson could get expensive
If his contract is terminated before 2012 and the firing is not "for cause," it could trigger a pricy escape clause Wilson negotiated into his most recent contract.
The clause includes an automatic two years worth of salary (more than $600,000 in total), an agreement to move his family to any city in the United States, automatic qualification for a pension and payments of $40,000 a year for the rest of his life, which would begin when he reaches retirement age.
If Metro terminates his contract "for cause," those provisions do not become effective.
Well, won't it be interesting if a possible relationship with a female staffer is the "cause" that gets taxpayers off the hook? If not, former Mayor Bill White's lack of interest in overseeing METRO could turn into a costly headache for taxpayers.
Greenblatt also reports that Wilson was trying to jump to Denver several months ago, but their transit authority board had the good sense not to hire him. Perhaps they vetted his background more thoroughly than David Wolff and the Houston Chronicle when Wilson came on board here in 2004. Imagine if Wilson's track record had been examined more carefully back then by Houston's political leaders and newspaper of record. Alas...
Another METRO bus/Danger Train collision downtown (updated)
ANOTHER COLLISION between a METRO bus and the Danger Train has taken place.
Houston needs more at-grade rail down busy streets!
UPDATE: Here's more on the KPRC-2 website.
UPDATE 3: KHOU's report has been updated to include a passenger who asserts that the bus had the green light, and the Danger Train rammed it. Raequel "9 Volt" Roberts promises another investigation. Perhaps someone should obtain an injunction that keeps METRO from destroying/altering the evidence!
KHOU's report also includes this great quote:
Janet Gates was a passenger on the light rail train.
"You just got to pray every day, because you never know what will happen from one moment to the next," Gates said.
Not when it comes to the Danger Train!
UPDATE 4: Here is the lede for the pro-METRO Chronicle's story:
Nineteen people were injured, none seriously, when a Metro bus and a light rail train collided Monday afternoon in front of Metro's downtown headquarters, the second such crash at that intersection in five weeks.
So, all nineteen people were transported to the hospital by ambulance, but the pro-METRO newspaper editorializes that their injuries were not serious in their news story?!
Perhaps the injuries were not life-threatening, but it strikes us that injuries that result in ambulance transport to hospitals should not be deemed not serious. The 19 people whose commute was interrupted by a bus/rail crash and ensuing ambulance ride to the hospital probably thought it was serious!
But why editorialize at all? Report the facts and let readers decide what to think. This is just another data point for why we refer to the Chron as America's worst big-city daily.
UPDATE (03/16/2010): METRO has released a video that would seem to show the bus driver ran a red light.
14 March 2010
A good indicator that the political winds have shifted
ON FRIDAY, THE CHRONICLE'S SENIOR METRO/STATE COLUMNIST startled us with a column headlined as follows:
The pro-establishment newspaper is a little late to the party (METRO has been cutting bus service and losing riders for quite some time, even though the 2003 referendum promised a 50% increase in bus service), but we welcome them nonetheless.
It's a shame they haven't been a more forceful advocate for area transit users over the last decade, though.
Slampo: Downright PISSy at the Houston Chronicle
SLAMPO writes that "they're getting downright PISSy at the Houston Chronicle."
13 March 2010
METRO's PR department strains credulity
LAUGH OF THE DAY: METRO's press release after last week's visit before the judge to discuss document retention:
District Judge Al Bennett laid down the law Friday, ordering the embattled Metropolitan Transit Authority to stop shredding and start saving all of its documents.
The order comes after Metro tried to argue against it [...]
METRO's 9-volt battery could use some recharging.
12 March 2010
KRIV: Celli resigns housing post
KRIV-26'S ISIAH CAREY reports that Richard Celli has resigned as head of the City of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department.
Mayor Parker promises a search for a new and non-traditional leader for the organization, although the late-Friday release of this news would suggest it's not one of the busy new mayor's highest priorities. She has been left with more than a few messes to clean up, after all.
BLOGVERSATION: Houston Politics.
Narrow lead for Miles in HD 146 Buffoon Blood Feud Rematch
THE CHRON HOUSTON POLITICS BLOG notes that Borris Miles remains ahead of Al Edwards in the great HD 146 Buffoon Blood Feud rematch, after a canvassing board looked at provisional and mail ballots. Edwards is apparently still considering his options:
I asked the veteran lawmaker just a few minutes ago what he plans to do. "I haven't revealed that yet," he said. "We're looking at all different angles."
Borris Miles did not tell the blog, "The first thing I plan to do is plant a big smooch on the lips of the first babe in sight, whether she's willing or not" but he may have been thinking it.
11 March 2010
King comments on CoH finances; White comments on King
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS reports that public policy pundit Bill King testified to the Senate Finance Committee yesterday on the state of Houston's finances:
A longtime critic testified that during White's six years as mayor, Houston masked an operating deficit by issuing hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of pension bonds.
Nearly half flowed through its general fund, which would have run out of cash last year if not for the borrowing, William E. King of Houston told the Senate Finance Committee.
"It's a way to kick the can down the road and not have to pay for your current expenses," said King, a small-business owner and lawyer.
Bill White's gubernatorial campaign was quick to assert that Bill King previously had little interest in the issue, until he decided to run for political office, even though he ultimately didn't run for political office. That's certainly a muddled talking point, but then again, even the best talking point can't change facts.
The fact is, Bill King has been a frequent -- and frequently sensible -- commentator on area public policy, did not run for any office in the last election cycle, and is not running for any office at the moment so far as we know. So the notion that a self-serving pol would accuse King of being a self-serving pol is more an amusing distraction than a rebuttal of what King had to say.
The other fact is, the City of Houston under Bill White did punt tough financial decisions down the road, as fellow Democrat and current Mayor Annise Parker made clear yesterday:
“For years now, we have spent more money than we have taken in,” she said. “You can't spend more than you earn. It is a very unbusinesslike approach to running things.”
We have not seen any variant of the DMN story in the Chronicle. Perhaps the Chron editorial board will offer the promised "rebuttal" for their man in a few days!
BLOGVERSATION: Pondering Penguin.
King: Would you like a transit lesson with that shoe shine?
BILL KING has a nice new blog post, "Would you like a transit lesson with that shoe shine?"
Under the current METRO leadership, the needs of those who actually use transit in Houston seem much less of a priority than the desires of urban-planning special interests, developers, and insecure editorialists to craft their version of a world-class Houtopia.
Here's hoping Mayor Parker's promise to change the leadership at METRO will return the focus to transit users (whose numbers are shrinking despite record METRO expenditures).
10 March 2010
Mayor Parker casts doubt on METRO finance plans
THE CHRONICLE reports that Mayor Annise Parker is skeptical whether METRO can afford to build two controversial rail lines (the Westpark/University and Uptown lines), and that she reiterated her call today for new management at the rogue organization.
Question 1: Will the rogue agency's embattled leadership blast ahead on the two projects before Mayor Parker actually delivers her promised changes?
Question 2: Was that a collective gasp from every urban-planning/architectural/development/minority/bond-underwriting/consulting special interest that was banking on its part of the (previously) generous METRO boondoggle pie?
BLOGVERSATION: Campos Communications.
Parker: "For years now, we have spent more money than we have taken in"
MAYOR ANNISE PARKER said today that all options but tax increases will be considered in trying to make up a multimillion dollar budget shortfall. Here's an interesting quote from the Chronicle story by Bradley Olson:
“For years now, we have spent more money than we have taken in,” she said. “You can't spend more than you earn. It is a very unbusinesslike approach to running things.”
That could have been in a Dave Carney email!
America's worst big-city daily covers the important news
MATT BRAMANTI scores with this tweet:
We expect Jeff Cohen will be hitting the links the rest of the week.
Honestly, though, did America's worst big-city daily really need to devote 30+ grafs to this not-story?
Campos on HISD and change
MARC CAMPOS notes that new HISD chief Terry Grier has been busy in his first six months, upsetting the usual suspect:
So far it looks like to me that the only person that is publicly unhappy with the Superintendent is the teachers’ union honcho [Gayle Fallon]. Everybody is A-OK, just observing, or keeping their pieholes shut. Commentary is one of the ones that is A-OK.
The folks who hired Grier had to know they were getting a reformer. He has hit the ground running. That all seems A-OK so far to us.
More on METRO's $2.6 billion referendum workaround
THE CHRONICLE reports on METRO's plans to issue $2.6 billion in bonds to finance its light rail construction (and, ostensibly, to avoid the limits imposed by the 2003 referendum on the boondoggle's skyrocketing costs).
Klein: More trains + short blocks -- The coming downtown mobility mess
BARRY KLEIN passes along a guest commentary ("More trains + short blocks: The coming downtown mobility mess") that we have posted here.
We have previously reviewed METRO's coming downtown mobility mess here.
09 March 2010
Shreddergate update: METRO has standards, you know!
ONE OF THE (MANY) DISTURBING ASPECTS OF SHREDDERGATE is how chatty METRO officials have been about the firing of Pauline Higgins, former chief counsel for the transit agency. They even released personnel documents purportedly showing what a terrible employee she was. Now, Texas Watchdog's Lee Ann O'Neal reports that one of METRO's reasons for dumping Ms. Higgins is that "she held meetings after-hours at the agency's offices for a charity golf tournament named in memory of her dead son."
Metro also accused Higgins in the report of giving Metro jobs to people who also helped out with the golf tournament. But one of the four people referenced told Texas Watchdog Tuesday that he's been doing legal work for Metro since well before Higgins arrived at the agency. Another one of the four was hired as a summer intern, not as a full-time permanent employee.
But, you see, this can't stand. The transit agency that employs Frank "Procurement Disaster" Wilson, and his close friends, has standards and policies, and Higgins violated them with her charity golf tournament.
That revelation led me to a bit of rummaging around METRO's website, and in their Outreach section, there is one M. Helen Cavazos, METRO VP of Human Resources and Diversity, who was recognized by the Dynamo as a 2009 Outstanding Hispanic Community Leader for "her continuous contribution and giving back to the community." Did Ms. Cavazos do ALL her continuous contributing and giving back after hours AND off-site? Ms. Higgins' problem, apparently, was having after-hours meetings at the Lee P. Brown Administrative Building.
Since METRO is a-okay with speaking at length about personnel issues, METRO should disclose how many other employees it has investigated (and fired!) for after-hours charitable work done at METRO HQ. We're most curious.
Except that now, METRO spokeswoman Raequel "9-volt" Roberts says, "We've said all that we're going to say as far as personnel issues." Smearing complete, mission accomplished.
08 March 2010
Slampo: Aloysius Update: Too Many Siddiquis for One Dummy to Behold
SLAMPO checks in with an update on his favorite, non-resident Houston Councilmember, Al(oysius) Hoang.
Rick Casey recaps Shreddergate scandal
THE CHRON'S SENIOR METRO/STATE COLUMNIST (and plagiarist) apparently decided that it was time at least to acknowledge METRO's Shreddergate scandal.
It's a typically lazy, lackluster effort that breaks little new ground*, save that we learn METRO's PR blitz apparently included a meeting with the Chron editorial board,** one of the organization's biggest cheerleaders over the years (along with some transit "reporters").
UPDATE: Apparently, The Plagiarist's column had an embarrassing problem for those reading the print edition (the online version has been corrected): It referred to fired attorney Pauline Higgins as Wiggins repeatedly:
In Rick Casey's Sunday column, former Metropolitan Transit Authority chief counsel Pauline Higgins' name was spelled correctly the first time, but misspelled in subsequent references.
Whoops! Copy editing is not a strong suit of America's worst big-city daily.
*Reader Participation Opportunity 1: Go help out Cory Crow by answering his question, "Can someone tell me the point of this Rick Casey column?"
** Reader Participation Opportunity 2: Imagine the fun naming possibilities of that meeting of the minds! We immediately thought of, "LET'S TRASH THE WRITTEN WORD TOGETHER!" Feel free to add yours in the comments.
Unca Darrell: Unprincipled, deliberately false, and wrong
THE CLEARLY UNRETIRED UNCA DARRELL explains that the Chron editorial board's latest health care screed is "unprincipled, deliberately false, and wrong."
How does that distinguish this one from most of their output exactly?
UPDATE: On a sort-of-related note, Matt Bramanti called our attention to this brutal graf that the editorial board generated over the weekend:
The proposed loan guarantees are also a clarifying recognition by the administration that nuclear power, which supplies 20 percent of the nation's electricity, has a significant role to play in the steady greening of the nation's energy supplies backed by Obama.
They also called nuclear energy a "fuel."
Dreadful prose. Dreadful substance. Occasional dishonesty. The editorial board certainly does its part at America's worst big-city daily!
Chron editorial board gets pom poms ready for White campaign
THE CHRON EDITORIAL BOARD sums up the mentality at America's worst big-city daily very well today:
In a pre-primary interview, White said he fully expects the GOP to make the state of Houston an election issue. He expects the rebuttal to come not only from his own campaign but from Houstonians and local news media.
Local news media might not completely go along, but the Chronicle will be cheering loudly for their man, we're sure. America's worst big-city daily loves to play cheerleader for favorites (pols, causes, and boondoggles alike), even if the folks at 801 Texas Avenue are usually not so candid about it.
07 March 2010
METRO: We talked to the important people, not the little people
THAT'S HOW METRO ROLLS: Business owners along Post Oak have been left "totally in the dark" about METRO's light rail plans for their area. The Examiner's Michael Reed notes METRO's lame response -- they consulted with the Uptown Management District, the City of Houston, and oh yeah, some unnamed "area property owners." Maybe Ed Wulfe was one?
06 March 2010
Shreddergate: Judge extends order barring METRO document destruction
VARIOUS MEDIA OUTLETS reported on Friday's court decision in which a skeptical state district judge extended an order barring METRO from destroying any further documents (Chronicle, KHOU-11, KTRK-13, KPRC-2). The judge expressed skepticism of METRO's assurances regarding its shredding (he must not find the past David Wolff/Frank Wilson fibs about transparency as compelling as, say, the last few Chron transit reporters). He also criticized the agency's apparent effort to smear recently fired attorney Pauline Higgins by making her personnel file a part of the proceedings.
Additional developments since the last Shreddergate update:
- The Harris County District Attorney's Office confirmed it had opened an investigation into Shreddergate.
- The Chron's Mike Snyder posts an instructive METRO "transparency" training video that was referenced several days ago by KHOU-11's Mark Greenblatt.
- KTRK-13's Ted Oberg asks questions of METRO's speaking attorney (apparently, insider Gene Locke just draws up documents, sits, and makes lots of money but not so many oral arguments lawyering for METRO).
05 March 2010
Saturday blogger/beer/BS gathering
SPRING MAY FINALLY HAVE SPRUNG, and that's as good an excuse for an outdoors blogger/beer/BS gathering as any.
We're gonna hit the West Alabama Icehouse this time, Saturday, 2pm-???
As an added bonus, a friend's band is having a CD release show there at 4pm, so you can stick around for some music if the mood strikes.
Shreddergate: Conflict of interest, shredding likely topics in court hearing
IN THE LATEST SHREDDERGATE DEVELOPMENT, the Chronicle reports today that the relationship between a high-level exec with METRO's light-rail contractor and a senior light-rail executive within the organization is a potential topic at today's court hearing over a judge's order barring METRO from shredding documents.
METRO (represented by rejected mayoral candidate Gene Locke, a nice Houston Way touch!), which apparently would like to resume shredding documents without all this unusual and pesky media scrutiny, assures that it took steps to prevent any conflict of interest: METRO's executive, the organization tells reporter Mike Snyder, "signed a memo agreeing, among other things, not to talk to his wife about business included in the contract."
So there you have it!
UPDATE: The Chron Houston Politics blog has posted supporting documents for today's story.
04 March 2010
Shreddergate: Texas Watchdog asks if attorney was thrown under the bus
TEXAS WATCHDOG tonight reports on the release of the personnel file of Pauline Higgins, METRO's recently departed attorney who claims she was fired because she raised questions about the organization's document retention policies/shredding.
Higgins' counsel Rusty Hardin told Texas Watchdog that the release of Higgins' personnel file is an ongoing effort by METRO to malign his client's reputation, to distract from the bigger issues raised by Shreddergate.
Shreddergate just keeps getting more interesting!
Sit and Spin: Need more cash?
OUR FEEDREADER popped up this headline from METRO's blog earlier:
We clicked over thinking METRO's expensive blogger might be elaborating on the agency's apparent plans to reclaim millions in general mobility fund obligations, but it was just a filler post on how much money one might theoretically save with an efficient transit system of the sort that does not exist in the Houston area.
Examiner on METRO finance
THE EXAMINER'S MICHAEL REED has a nice story this week on METRO, its $2.6 billion bond plans, the general mobility trust fund (that does or does not exist as a coherent accounting line item, depending on which authority is trying to peddle which snake oil), and METRO's apparent plans to start keeping general mobility funds after 2014 (despite the fact that voter approval will be required).
It's the sort of informative story that hasn't been done by the area's newspaper of record, which prefers the role of METRO cheerleader (and METRO advertising outlet). We hope that Reed will continue to report on the state of METRO's finances.
HEB confirms intent to purchase Wilshire Village property
METRO Shreddergate (03/04/2010 update)
KHOU-11'S MARK GREENBLATT has a METRO Shreddergate update:
Texas officials say the troubled transit authority has failed to follow a state records and documents preservation law.
That statute requires local government agencies to tell the state how long they will keep public records before destroying them. Officials with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission say Metro has failed to comply with state law since 1991.
Rusty Hardin, counsel for Pauline Higgins (the attorney recently fired by METRO), told Greenblatt that Higgins was fired for trying to push METRO's management to comply with the state law.
METRO, which fulfilled a recent Chronicle public information request on its document retention policies on the same day*, did not respond to Greenblatt's request for comment, according to the story.
* When does THAT ever happen? Perhaps being a METRO cheerleading outfit for years does have its benefits.
03 March 2010
Houston Press update on HCDAO and 2008 dogfighting bust
HOUSTON PRESS JOURNALIST CRAIG MALISOW posts a depressing update about the 2008 bust of a dogfighting ring in the Houston area:
The majority of Harris County dog fighters charged after a massive 2008 undercover investigation were given deferred adjudication, served as little as two days in jail, had their charges dropped, or were never arrested.
Harris County prosecutor Belinda Smith came off much better in this lengthy, riveting piece that Skip Hollandsworth did for the August 2009 edition of Texas Monthly. Apparently, that wasn't the whole story of this massive (and massively expensive, we expect) law-enforcement effort.
BLOGVERSATION: Harris County Almanac.
2010 Primary open comments thread
THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE and most every other major newspaper in Texas endorsed Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican gubernatorial primary.
It didn't seem to have much impact. Maybe it's time for the Chron to follow the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's lead and think about getting out of the endorsement game altogether -- although they could still record screening interviews as a public service and post them online for citizens.
We'll throw this thread open for your thoughts on that or anything else related to yesterday's primary election.
02 March 2010
Unca Darrell to the Chron: Replace your editorial board
UNCA DARRELL wishes the Chronicle management would show leadership by "firing this [editorial board] and starting over with editors tethered by wisdom and common sense to the soil of Texas."
01 March 2010
More "news you can't use" on Chron.com
THE HEAD HONCHOS AT HEARST CORPORATE must not be happy with February's Chron.com pageview totals, because the webpage of America's worst big-city daily has been even more insipid than usual today.
Earlier, Cory Crow noted there was plenty of "news you can't use."
And here's some more.
Apparently, serious news people no longer make decisions about the Chron.com site (if they ever did).
Troubles at the Houston Housing Department (updated)
ON FRIDAY, KRIV-26 REPORTER ISIAH CAREY posted that the city's Housing Department had a big problem: City Controller Ron Green has temporarily shut down a housing assistance program because of a multi-million dollar shortfall in accounts. Here is the related KRIV story, and here is the Chron story that ran on Saturday.
CORRECTION (07/22/2010): An earlier version of this post misidentified the City's Housing Department as the Houston Housing Authority, which had a different problem that was also previously referenced in the post. The two organizations are completely separate, and blogHOUSTON apologizes for the error. We should have caught that, and regret the mistake.