30 June 2010

Campos: Redistricting to run through CM Sullivan's committee

MARC CAMPOS reports an interesting bit of news to come from City Council discussion today: Apparently, the council redistricting process will flow through Councilmember Mike Sullivan's Ethics and Council Governance committee, rather than a special committee created for the purpose. Although council races are officially nonpartisan, Sullivan is regarded as a Republican.

We suspect that a few LibDem partybloggers will not be as sanguine as Campos about this development.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/30/10 12:38 PM |

Tidbits: Watchdog journalism, and WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE

THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE/TEXAS TRIBUNE partnership has produced an interesting watchdog story on those with criminal records being approved to work in foster-care positions.

The wall-to-wall storm coverage* may well drown out the story (pardon the bad pun), but we thought it was a nice bit of work.

* Seriously, isn't it always fun to watch area news teams mobilize for the season's first serious storm? WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE (err, just practicing, this time, but do stay tuned!).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/30/10 09:41 AM |

28 June 2010

McGuff media updates

MIKE MCGUFF notes that Alan Hemberger is no longer with KIAH-39 news and that Mary Flood has departed the Chronicle.

McGuff beats everyone to the interesting media news these days!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/28/10 08:47 PM |

Chron: Budget remainders

THE CHRON'S BRADLEY OLSON posts some city budget remainders (and a spreadsheet) here.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/28/10 08:05 AM |

26 June 2010

Texas Watchdog: Sheltering Arms weatherization official out

TEXAS WATCHDOG reports that Sheltering Arms Senior Services of Houston has removed the director of a "stimulus" weatherization program. The move comes after some damning reporting by the Houston-based watchdog news organization on shoddy workmanship and lack of transparency regarding the weatherization program.

The deposed director tells Texas Watchdog the move was part of a reorganization planned prior to the earlier Texas Watchdog reporting. *wink* Nobody at the organization would discuss the move.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/26/10 01:22 PM |

Unca Darrell: Chron and the oil industry's pain

UNCA DARRELL takes the Chron editorial board to task on... the six-month deepwater drilling ban.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/26/10 01:13 PM |

No shame

HAIR BALLS has some sneering good fun with an all-too-typical case of "sudden acceleration" in Galveston (apparently, the gas pedal was mistaken for the brake).

Of course, when the poster's wife had a bout with "sudden acceleration," that was worthy of an expose by the entire Village Voice empire against the carmaker (because surely the wife -- never identified as the wife, a nice lapse of journalistic ethics that agitated one Village Voice editor when pointed out -- didn't mistake one pedal for the other).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/26/10 01:08 PM |

25 June 2010

Blogger happy hour


Time for a beer, we think. A group is descending on the West Alabama Icehouse today about 6pm for some cold brews, the typical blogger BS, and some cool tunes from old fav Mary Cutrufello.

Come on by and have a beer with us if you can.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/25/10 01:14 PM |

Another day, another Chron ed board error

MATT BRAMANTI forced this correction today from the Chronicle editorial board:

The editorial "Other worldly" in Thursday's Chronicle incorrectly stated that the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet squad to win the gold medal in the 1980 Olympic Games. Following its upset victory over the Soviet Union, remembered as the "Miracle on Ice," the American team defeated Finland to win the gold medal.

Factual errors, poor writing, and frequently condescending lefty sermonizing are all too typical of that editorial board's output. The newspaper would be so much better served by shuttering the thing and redeploying the resources to the local news space.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/25/10 08:09 AM |

24 June 2010

Chron: Budget wins approval; councilmembers question $22 million hole

THIS INTERESTING LINE was tucked away in Bradley Olson's Chronicle recap of the unanimous Council vote to approve the budget:

Some council members questioned how Parker will cut $22 million in spending during the coming year through unspecified "efficiencies."

That sort of makes it sound like our "balanced" budget still has a $22 million deficit. So Councilmember Jolanda Jones probably isn't going to get her shower built any time soon.


Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/24/10 10:12 PM |

Swamplot on the Astrodome redevelopment boondoggle "polling"

SWAMPLOT mocks the unscientific online "poll" being spun by Astrodome redevelopment boosters as evidence that folks want to spend $1 billion+ on the boondoggle they've constructed.

As we noted earlier today, the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation really is shameless. It would be nice if some leader would step up, put a demolition plan together, and end this madness.

Do we not have any leaders in Harris County?

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/24/10 12:20 PM |

Gattis on Astrodome redevelopment sleight of hand

TORY GATTIS asks and answers an interesting question regarding the latest Astrodome redevelopment proposal:

How does demolition cost almost as much as two new Reliant Stadiums, you might ask? Well, they cleverly included their real wish-list with all 3 options: a new mega-hotel on-site, new arena, additional exhibition space, and a large parking garage. There's no option to vote against any of that. It's also a clever way of making the all-out revamp package seem not that much more expensive than demolition.

It was clever. That sort of clever sleight-of-hand was apparently all that taxpayers got out of that $50,000 sweetheart consulting deal that produced three poor "package" options for a building that has outlived its usefulness and should have been demolished years ago.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/24/10 08:21 AM |

23 June 2010

Houblog: Public Works director resigns (updated)

HOUBLOG posts that the word at Public Works is that director Michael Marcotte has tendered his resignation.

Houblog says multiple sources claim Mayor Annise Parker requested the resignation.

UPDATE (06/25/2010): The Chronicle finally got around to reporting this news. Advantage: Houblog!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/23/10 08:27 PM |

Chron: Parts of HPD fingerprint lab remain in disarray

HERE'S ANOTHER SERIOUS PROBLEM that Mayor Annise Parker has inherited from the Bill White/Harold Hurtt dynamic duo (as reported by Moises Mendoza and James Pinkerton for the Chronicle):

In the Houston Police Department's fingerprint lab, counter tops rot, leaky chemicals spill out of their packaging and some equipment doesn't work.

Four years after police became aware of troubles at the police facility that processes fingerprint evidence, and months after its problems first came to public light, parts of the lab remain in disarray, internal police documents show.

The documents obtained recently through an open records request also provide a glance into how HPD commanders allowed the problems at the lab to fester over the past decade.

This is a nice job of watchdog reporting, using public information requests to track/document an ongoing problem.

Incidentally, the comments from blogHOUSTON fav* Martha Montalvo later in the story are worth reading. Unbelievably, she was reportedly one of the names that was considered to replace Harold Hurtt as chief a few months ago!

* We are being facetious, for those who aren't inclined to follow the links.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/23/10 08:39 AM |

22 June 2010

Unca Darrell and the Chron's bad habits

UNCA DARRELL observes, "You can take the girl out of the Houston Press, but...."

Then again, the Chron editorialist DID finally discover Ixtoc this week, so that's progress at the newspaper of record in the energy capital of the world. Baby steps!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/22/10 07:48 PM |

Examiner's Reed details METRO's "Houston Way" real-estate dealings (updated)

IN SOME OUTSTANDING REPORTING for the Houston Community Newspapers, Michael Reed details an interesting deal put together by the outgoing board at the "old" METRO for its real-estate agency. Among other fascinating tidbits, he notes:

Be sure to check out the story in its entirety, as Michael Reed ties together all of that and more. It's yet another fascinating chronicle of The Houston Way and a rogue transit agency.

Apparently, Mike Snyder's celebratory piece that all the problems are fixed at the "new" METRO was premature (as this bad deal and these persistent apparent conflicts of interest are ongoing concerns)! Of course, as Cory Crow notes, METRO's response will almost certainly appear shortly in the Chronicle. And it would not surprise if the Chronicle's new media-criticism department turns its fire on Michael Reed!

The only really good news to come out of Reed's story is this:

Under the terms of the agreement, the contract can be dissolved by Metro at any time the agency feels its best interest is no longer being served.

Mayor Annise Parker acted decisively in getting rid of some of the bad apples at the "old" METRO, and George Greanias acted decisively recently in firing some bad bus drivers. Will they take on this latest instance of The Houston Way in a similarly decisive manner?

UPDATE (06/23/2010): Does anyone recall the original, stated purpose for the contract with McDade Smith, the real estate firm that just scored this sweetheart deal with the outgoing METRO board?

Fortunately, our archives provide some guidance. Both the Chronicle and Houston Business Journal reported back in 2005 that David Wolff/Frank Wilson brought the company on board for two major purposes: Transit-oriented development and helping METRO to sell unneeded properties.

Only one of those purposes (selling unneeded properties) really strikes us as legitimate or proper for the area's transit organization. Clearly, the outgoing METRO board's decision to expand the real-estate firm's role AND to give it a sweetheart deal goes WAY beyond any rationale or justification that was ever presented to the public. It's another example of David Wolff/Frank Wilson/Bill White arrogance and the Houston Way "bidness" model that Mayor Parker and her new METRO board should correct as quickly as possible.

BLOGVERSATION: Harris County Almanac, Swamplot, Texas Watchdog.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/22/10 06:53 PM |

District Court upholds massive water-rate increase

THE AUSTIN DISTRICT COURT where the City filed its effort to uphold the massive water-rate increase (a case subsequently joined by water-rate increase opponents Hotze and Bettencourt) has found in favor of the City.

Documents posted here.

UPDATE: Well lookee, the Chron finally decided to cover the story. Better late than never!


Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/22/10 11:05 AM |

Houston media departures

MIKE MCGUFF notes that longtime KUHF news anchor Jim Bell is retiring (here's hoping he has more time for online commentary now!).

McGuff also reports that Chronicle legal journalist Mary Flood is leaving the newspaper.

Finally, a Twitter user posts that several Chron editors were let go last week.

Best of luck to the departing/departed!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/22/10 09:31 AM |

KPRC: New METRO terminates bad bus drivers

KPRC-2 reports that METRO has terminated a couple of bus drivers who were recently featured on the news.

One was allegedly using social media websites while driving; the other had a suspended license.

Another interesting tidbit from the report: METRO apparently has no system for tracking the videos it keeps from buses and trains, although the agency promises it will fix that.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/22/10 08:30 AM |

21 June 2010

Growing Houston smartly (or something)

ONE OF SEVERAL INTERESTING ASPECTS of this Culture Map Houston article on Houston's Smart Growth crowd and their vision for Houston... is that it pretty clearly confirms that the Citizens Transportation Coalition (which now has a former* board member represented on Mayor Annise Parker's METRO board) is indeed a smart-growth advocacy organization, rather than merely an organization that gives voice to local citizens on transportation matters (which is how more than one incurious Chron reporter has mischaracterized the group).

Maybe whoever is handling transit issues for the Chron these days will take note! (Okay, in all honesty, we doubt it).

Please feel free to discuss other interesting aspects of this article about the grand vision of Houston's smart-growth visionaries.

* updated for greater accuracy.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/21/10 10:11 PM |

KPRC: City Hall nixes HPD phlebotomy practice plan

LOCAL BLAWGGERS PAUL KENNEDY AND MARK BENNETT offer their takes on an HPD plan, nixed by City Hall, for officers to practice drawing blood from state prison inmates (HPD Practices On Prisoners For Drawing Blood From Drunk Driving Suspects, KPRC-2 News).

BLOGVERSATION: Grits for Breakfast.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/21/10 07:59 AM |

Yeah, but Chron.com has world-class user party pics!

MARC CAMPOS observes:

The Chron can send a reporter over to France to cover a bike ride but not the World Cup Ė huh? How can we claim to be an international city when our newspaper canít even send their soccer beat writer to cover the World Cup.

Surely there's a local reader blog or some other amateur coverage to offer a local perspective. That seems to be the trend in area print journalism these days, unfortunately.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/21/10 07:51 AM |

19 June 2010

Sit and Spin on some online travel mag and the Danger Train

METRO'S SIT AND SPIN BLOG* excitedly points out that some online travel magazine touts the Danger Train as a great way to "see the sights" in Houston.

Our advice to sensible people is to ignore any travel magazine that tells you a one-line "rail system" that is only 7.5 miles long in a city with Houston's sprawl is useful for seeing the city's sights.

* If the "New METRO" is so concerned about being accountable and transparent to the public, could someone PLEASE tell us why this blog still exists?

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/19/10 07:44 PM |

CM Clutterbuck proposes eliminating bilingual honor-system giveaway (updated)

HERE is a strange lede from a news story:

In Houston's massive $4.2 billion budget, bilingual pay is a blip on the radar.

It's a $1 million "blip" annually, according to Councilmember Anne Clutterbuck, and a "blip" that is funded completely on the honor system. Clutterbuck proposes that, going forward, the City specify language needs when it offers jobs, instead of just offering to pay any employees who say they are bilingual.

That sounds way too sensible to us -- she surely won't put together a majority!

UPDATE: Some special interests are already upset, right on cue!

UPDATE (06/21/2010): Councilmember Clutterbuck has clarified her intent (not that we really thought it needed clarification):

After hearing concerns from the public and administration, Clutterbuck has offered substitute language to her amendment that reads: Eliminate bilingual pay for all non-classified employees unless the employee is in direct contact with the public, demonstrates proficiency and there is a reasonable expectation that the language will be used in the normal course of their job duties.

The Councilmember continues to sound eminently sensible. That will never do.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/19/10 07:33 PM |

18 June 2010

Unca Darrell: A bridge too phor

UNCA DARRELL continues his running critique of the editorial board at America's Worst Big City Daily.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/18/10 08:48 AM |

17 June 2010

Dueling special interests battle over red-light cameras

KHOU-11 NEWS checks in on the ongoing red-light camera battle.

Big Jolly Politics posts more.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/17/10 12:34 PM |

Chron: All of METRO's problems are fixed. Rah rah!

AS A PRO-ESTABLISHMENT, PRO-METRO CHEERLEADER, the Houston Chronicle metro desk doesn't aggresively promote or deliver watchdog reporting in the public interest on a regular basis. Too often, the newspaper is simply pulled along by events; sometimes, it even pushes back against those who actually do watchdog reporting in the public interest.

This is the sort of rah-rah "journalism" that the newspaper and certain reporters much prefer to do (and, as we've said before, that they do pretty well). In fact, it wouldn't surprise if the "bones" of this story were laid out some time ago, with only a few quotes needed to fill space in the print newspaper when the time was right (so to speak).

In any case, it's good to know that the new leadership has fixed all the problems at METRO after just a few weeks on the job. That was certainly a fast learning curve! Obviously, there won't be any need for anything but a return to METRO cheerleading now from the Chron -- certainly not skeptical/watchdog reporting in the public interest -- until the next change of mayoral administration! Rah rah!

To be completely serious: It's good if the new METRO leadership recognizes some of the old problems at the agency, and will strive to promote transparency and accountability (to taxpayers and to customers). But an engaged, watchdog press is an important component of ensuring transparent, accountable, efficient performance from government. METRO has a large staff to handle PR. Most of the public, on the other hand, relies upon a small "staff" of watchdog journalists to help keep an eye out for their interests.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/17/10 12:29 PM |

16 June 2010

The costs of bad government (cont'd)

KHOU-11 reports that City Council today approved a $70,000 settlement with a veterinarian whistleblower who was fired from BARC during Bill White's administration.

Between Frank Wilson's golden parachute, the BARC issue, and ongoing problems of the crime lab and municipal pension funds, the costs of problems that date back to previous mayoral administration(s) just keep going up.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/16/10 09:44 PM |

Chron on more Sheltering Arms problems

THE CHRON'S JUNIOR METRO/STATE DIARIST follows up again on earlier reporting by Texas Watchdog on Sheltering Arms with a specific report on how an organization with little accountability/transparency helped weatherize one Houston home.

It's too bad the Chron no longer encourages its journalists to do video. It would have been interesting actually to see some of the shoddy workmanship purchased by the public's money.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/16/10 06:24 AM |

14 June 2010

Astrodome redevelopment boondoggle's cost could be $1 billion+ (updated)

RELIANT PARK officials unveiled their options for revamping the Astrodome space, and one plan could cost taxpayers nearly a billion dollars according to the Chronicle's Chris Moran. The most ambitious proposal, he reports, "would require public approval of as much as $900 million in taxpayer financing. Not only would the architects of such a plan not seek voter approval until at least 2012, but they likely would approach the public in phases for piecemeal approval to tackle the costs incrementally."

The least expensive option -- demolition and the construction of a park -- would cost an estimated $88 million (likely inflated).

That seems like a relative bargain compared to the other madness. Demolish the thing before the upkeep costs us any more millions.

UPDATE: Edgar Colon points out to Marc Campos that the rehab of the Astrodome itself is not the sole driver of the billion dollar + price tag of one option. That price tag apparently includes a spending orgy on other dubious projects as well (but thanks for the clarification -- clarity in terms of the madness of local "leaders" and their delusional spending preferences is always appreciated).

BLOGVERSATION: Hair Balls, Harris County Almanac, Swamplot.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/14/10 10:54 PM |

Crime down in Westchase

KTRK-13's ANDY CEROTA reports that crime is down in my neck of the woods (west Houston), and attributes the decline to added security cameras. They may be having some effect, but so may more active measures:

In addition to the mobile cameras and part-time security patrols, Westchase has hired four part-time investigators.

"They'll actually review every report on those crimes that happen within the district's boundaries, look for any leads, any trends, develop suspects," said Mark Hubanek with the Westchase District.

In other words, Westchase has more boots on the ground in the form of a private security/investigation force. And it seems to be making a difference!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/14/10 10:46 PM |

METRO posts "Buy America" response to FTA

METRO posts its official response to the FTA's questions regarding its "Buy America" compliance.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/14/10 09:09 AM |

Live Oaks: Preserve Houston's Culture

LIVE OAKS suggests preserving some Houston buildings is not the same as preserving Houston's culture.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/14/10 08:53 AM |

Lifestyles of the self-important?

HAIRBALLS posts a fun, gossipy little story on some apparent differences between HISD chief Terry Grier and Councilmember Melissa Noriega.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/14/10 08:49 AM |

11 June 2010

Texas Watchdog reviews HISD travel expenses

TEXAS WATCHDOG posts an analysis of recent HISD travel records that suggests the school district isn't spending the public's travel dollars as wisely as it could be.

We'd be curious what Terry Grier thinks of this.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/11/10 02:12 PM |

10 June 2010

Prime Property: River Oaks center bags new tenants

NANCY SARNOFF reports that Weingarten's expanded River Oaks Shopping Center is filling out its new space, despite the sluggish economy.

Apparently, that cute little Facebook petition hasn't had much impact on Weingarten's expanded development. It's a good thing Weingarten made room for all those new businesses (in a down economy no less) before Councilmember Sue Lovell could dictate to them how they might use their property!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/10/10 10:14 PM |

Council blasts forward with CM Lovell's property rights restrictions

COUNCIL yesterday passed a "temporary" set of property-rights restrictions that will apply to certain neighborhoods (most media reports characterized it differently than that, of course).

The restrictions will stand until Councilmember Sue Lovell can craft more permanent property-rights restrictions.

As Cory Crow suggests, we wouldn't want to let little things like low cost of living and economic growth get in the way of our pursuit of World Class Urban Houtopia!


Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/10/10 10:03 PM |

Gattis: Pros/Cons of Renew Houston initiative

TORY GATTIS posts his "pros and cons of Renew Houston."

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/10/10 10:48 AM |

Complaints: City-mandated compostable bags break down

KTRK-13'S GENE APODACA reported Tuesday that the city's biodegradable yard-waste bag program has hit another snag -- apparently some of the bags are breaking down too quickly, so the City has ordered a stop to citations while the problem is investigated.

The Chronicle follows up with more information here.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/10/10 10:45 AM |

Who's left to gather news?

CORY CROW notices that the Chron has been outsourcing quite a few stories with a local angle.

Maybe they should redirect some of the resources devoted to lackluster columnists, lackluster editorialists, and even twitterers to.... really owning the local/regional news space?

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/10/10 10:40 AM |

09 June 2010

County officials to discuss future of Astrodome

KRIV-26'S MARK BERMAN reports that Harris County officials next week plan a news conference that will discuss options for the Astrodome. The options that will reportedly be presented include demolition, redevelopment into a planetarium, and redevelopment into a planetarium with associated science institutes. The Chronicle has more.

My preference is demolition, and it would be nice to start moving the process along. What do you think?

BLOGVERSATION: Houston's Clear Thinkers.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/09/10 10:50 PM |

Bill White's tax returns and The Houston Way (updated)

THE AP'S JAY ROOT has reported an interesting finding in the tax returns finally released by former Mayor Bill White yesterday.

In preparation for Hurricane Rita, Mayor White lined up several companies whose services might be needed for emergency response, including Btec Turbines, a private company that would be able to supply generators to ensure the operation of the water system in the event of widespread power outages.

After one year, according to Root, White invested $1 million in the company. His tax records show that he has profited by about $500,000 from that investment.

Critics have pounced on the arrangement because of the potential conflict of interest, but White defends the investment:

White says he made the investment for the same reason that he called the company during a crisis.

"I thought the company was good at what it did," White said. He said he considered keeping the water supply flowing to refineries a "matter of national importance." While acknowledging he has made money from Btec, White said he saw no conflict of interest in the arrangement.

That rationale seems fair enough on its face, right?

Here's where The Houston Way comes into play. As noted by Root in his reporting (and above), Btec Turbines is a private company. That means small-time investors like you and me don't generally have any ability to invest in the company, no matter how impressed we might be with their performance during a regional weather event or otherwise. It also means that even while serving as an elected public official, Mayor Bill White was actively building his personal wealth in part from knowledge gained as a public official and in part by taking advantage of an apparently fantastic investment opportunity that most members of the public could not.

That arrogant little exercise in investing may not shock locals familiar with The Houston Way (by which Houston's elites sometimes do "bidness"), but perhaps it does explain why the White campaign resisted for so long releasing the candidate's tax records. The way Houston's elites sometimes do "bidness" may not appeal to a statewide audience!

UPDATE (06/10/2010): In a press conference today, Bill White petulantly told reporters, "I didn't stop investing because I was mayor."

That's kind of the problem, isn't it? I prefer my elected officials to be tending to the public's business, not profiteering through knowledge and connections directly related to the office they currently hold.

Incidentally, the AP report (linked above) and KTRK-13's Tom Abrahams (no link available yet) both reported that comment. Most media outlets apparently decided it was not worth reporting.

BLOGVERSATION: Texas Watchdog, Harris County Almanac, Campos Communications, Perry vs World.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/09/10 12:59 PM |

Obfuscation, UTMB-style

TEXAS WATCHDOG'S STEVE MILLER posts a story about former UTMB police chief Charles Brown, who was fired in February but apparently still continues to be paid.

That seems odd, but perhaps there is a good explanation. Unfortunately, the disdain for the reporter (and, by extension, the public) shown by UTMB's public information officials means we still haven't heard it. As Miller is left to wonder, "do they just cut him checks because he's a good guy?"

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/09/10 10:14 AM |

08 June 2010

No press conference from Queen Sheila to announce this proposal?

THE HILL reports that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is one of several co-sponsors of a bill that would weaken the ability of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate member behavior.

Interestingly, we can't recall seeing Queen Sheila knock anyone out of the way to commandeer a camera to announce this particular initiative to news outlets.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/08/10 05:22 PM |

Emmett: Let's study elections administrator issue

HARRIS COUNTY JUDGE ED EMMETT makes the case that Harris County should seriously consider creating a nonpartisan office of elections administration (and corrects a Chron editorial board error).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/08/10 01:15 PM |

KPRC on UHD's inaugural party expenses

KPRC-2'S STEPHEN DEAN reports that the new president of the University of Houston-Downtown has generated controversy after spending public -- not private -- money on a big weekend celebration of his arrival.

Dean reports that when new president William Flores was pressed on repaying the money with private funds, Flores said "that's our intent" but declined to provide a time frame for the repayment.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/08/10 08:25 AM |

Can we retire the "rail as game changer" meme?

A RECENT CHRONICLE ARTICLE described the construction of light-rail on the near northside as a potential "game-changer" in terms of development (sadly, the Chron tradition of uncritical cheerleading for METRO rail seems now to have spread from the newspaper's METRO and urban-affairs desks to infect the real-estate desk).

Barry Klein offered an astute response in the comments section:

How is it that a Walgreens relocating from part of Fulton that will be rail served to settle on a part that remains auto-friendly is a sign of rail's positive impact.

Two years ago this reporter found almost two dozen businesses in the CBD that closed during the rail (and road) construction.... Since Metro is on the verge of a $4 billion expansion program why not do an in depth story today on the businesses that were in that corridor, how many remain, how many jobs were gained or lost, and how many of the new businesses are sites where an earlier business folded since rail construction started in 2001?


Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/08/10 08:13 AM |

07 June 2010

Chron: Houston Marathon adopts lottery system for registration

THE CHRONICLE reports that the Houston Marathon will be adopting a lottery system for registration.

This sentence appeared in an early version of the story:

The races have sold out for the past five years despite a growing number of participants.

A Chron.com commenter posted as follows (prompting a correction):

I'm not sure you're clear on the meaning of the word "despite".

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/07/10 07:40 PM |

Chron: Progress on city's new radio system lagging

THE CHRONICLE'S JAME PINKERTON reports that the City of Houston still lacks an FCC license for its ambitious public safety radio makeover.

A city official assures us that the project -- which dates to 2003 -- remains on schedule, although critics question the city's progress.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/07/10 10:33 AM |

KTRK, Chron report on METRO's safety record

NEARLY TWO WEEKS AGO, KTRK-13's Wayne Dolcefino had an interesting story on METRO bus drivers regularly blitzing through red lights.

Today, Chron.com follows up* with a more comprehensive analysis of accidents, citations, and breakdowns involving METRO buses last year. The report also notes the dismal on-time performance of the buses, which is almost certainly even worse than METRO admits (since really late buses are simply not counted).

* The story appeared in Sunday print editions, but was held from Chron.com until today.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/07/10 08:13 AM |

Chron investigation: Offshore accidents bring few penalties

CHRONICLE REPORTERS Lise Olsen and Eric Nalder have posted an interesting story today that analyzes offshore accidents investigated by the Minerals Management Service as well as other public documents in recent years, and draws some interesting conclusions.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/07/10 07:43 AM |

05 June 2010

Gag order issued on double-jeopardy case

IN THURSDAY'S CHRONICLE, BRIAN ROGERS reported on double-jeopardy arguments surrounding the case of a man now being tried for arson after previously being acquitted of a capital murder charge related to the fire that killed his daughter.

Today, Rogers reports that Harris County prosecutors asked for -- and received -- a gag order on the trial (a reaction that seems a little extreme to this layman).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/05/10 12:50 PM |

04 June 2010

Justice dupes the Chron.com editor/aggregator

THE FRONT PAGE OF CHRON.COM is touting the news that UH could be invited to join the Big 12 conference soon.

Unfortunately, they are linking to a tongue-in-cheek post from unstable sports columnist Richard Justice.

There's no imminent Big 12 invitation. The poor editor (or maybe aggregator is a better term) of the online version of America's Worst Big City Daily just got duped (by taking one unstable sports columnist seriously). Doh!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/04/10 11:08 AM |

More parking meters coming soon

KHOU-11 reports that the City will be adding more parking meters around town, starting this fall:

The areas for the meters are east of downtown near the Museum District, Hermann Park, the Arts Warehouse District and possibly Washington Avenue.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/04/10 08:40 AM |

Ultimately meaningless "Buy America" theater

THE CHRON HOUSTON POLITICS BLOG posts the latest on METRO's ongoing "Buy America" problems.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/04/10 08:04 AM |

03 June 2010

The "new" METRO sure sounds a lot like the old METRO

METRO'S bloated PR department has lashed out at the Houston Press over Paul Knight's fine print story about the rogue agency's behavior in recent years. The Press posts the METRO letter and Knight's capable rebuttal here.

We can't help but wonder if the Chron's new media-criticism department will jump into the fray!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/03/10 09:45 PM |

The Apple Dumpling Gang

CORY CROW highlights (lowlights?) the latest odd editorializing from America's Worst Big City Daily.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/03/10 09:24 PM |

Major property-use restrictions tagged for one week

YESTERDAY, THE CHRONICLE reported that Council would consider temporarily tightening the city's property-use regulations, "long maligned as overly deferential to developers" (as the Chron lede characterized* the matter). The "temporary" tightening would go into effect while Councilmember Sue Lovell (er, Council) crafts permanent tightening.

The Chron's Houston Politics blog reports that Council tagged the proposal temporarily to tighten property-use regulations. In that post, we also hear from a dissenter who believes the move is hurting her ability to sell her property. Maybe in the next update, we'll even hear from some groups like the Houston Property Rights Association or Houstonians for Responsible Growth. Surely more sources, more diversity, and more debate beat obfuscation, no? In the meantime, maybe the "temporary" tightening could be postponed permanently while the debate ensues.

* As Cory Crow rightly notes, some special interests have long maligned the rules, but criticism of a growth culture that has served Houston well over the years is not as universal as this lede would make it seem.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/03/10 08:45 AM |

A Gulf Coast PSA

SWAMPLOT calls our attention to the news that any tar balls found along Texas shores at this point are almost certainly not from BP's ongoing offshore environmental disaster.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/03/10 08:23 AM |

02 June 2010


CLEAR THINKER TOM KIRKENDALL comments on a New York Times piece on the government tactic of obfuscation, which frequently is used to hide/obscure the true cost of promises made today for benefits tomorrow.

Kirkendall cites the massive unfunded pension liability and METRO's precarious financial condition as local examples of the dynamic at work. One might as easily add METRO's characterization of a hush-money settlement as transparency or the City of Houston spearheading a preemptive revenue-cap lawsuit in a jurisdiction perceived as friendly to its cause as additional examples.

The problem can be even worse in communities where the newspaper of record is frequently more of a cheerleader for the establishment doing the obfuscating than a watchdog for the public paying the bills.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/02/10 08:36 PM |

The drainage tax is back (update)

AS UBU ROI notes in the comments, the City's drainage fee is back. Or a big tax increase (as Bill King notes at the end of the story). Or whatever euphemism one prefers for a massive new revenue stream proposal.

Interestingly, Mayor Annise Parker says she supports the program, while at the same time maintaining her distance.

UPDATE: Ubu Roi posts much more about the return of the drainage tax.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/02/10 08:18 PM |

CM Sullivan: "A sneaky way to do business"

KPRC-2 reports on the City's shameful efforts to defend the recent water-rate hike by way of a pre-emptive lawsuit away from Houston:

Former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said he takes issue with the increase and the lawsuit the city of Houston filed against itself in Travis County.

The mayor said the rate validation suit was a preemptive measure to preserve this move.


"Seems like a sneaky way to do business, to run off and try it in another jurisdiction," [Councilmember Mike] Sullivan said.

Incidentally, the assessment in KPRC's story that "apartment owners and their tenants will take the biggest hit" is inaccurate, as previously discussed.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/02/10 08:34 AM |

Transparently secret hush money! (updated)

THE CHRON.COM HEADLINE on the "new" METRO settlement with Lloyd Kelley is succinct:

Metro: Open-records suit settled, but secret for now

How's that for transparency and accountability?

Reporter Renee C. Lee did determine that METRO will be paying Kelley's legal fees with your money.

UPDATE: A state judge approved the settlement today, which will pay Lloyd Kelley $40,000 in legal fees (hush money).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/02/10 08:23 AM |

01 June 2010

METRO announces settlement of Kelley lawsuit

METRO announces today that its board has authorized a settlement of the Lloyd Kelley lawsuit.

The press release does not indicate how much hush money will be transferred from taxpayers, but METRO does assure that the settlement will help to restore public trust in the agency (again, not kidding!).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/01/10 05:36 PM |

Train wreck

THE HOUSTON PRESS ran a fine piece by Paul Knight last week with a title that's perfect:

Train Wreck: How Metro and its president Frank Wilson got so far off track

It's a comprehensive look at METRO, its evolution from bus-heavy to rail-envious, and all the various characters, controversies, cheerleading (Chron), watchdogging (other media), and nontransparency along the way.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/01/10 03:58 PM |

They should have let a fifth-grader have a go at it

OF THE CHRONICLE EDITORIAL BOARD'S Memorial Day effort on the day's meaning and succulent corn (not kidding!), Unca Darrell asks:

Has there ever been a more awkward and inapt pairing of topics in a single essay north of a fifth-grade classroom?

Maybe instead of Jeff Cohen's plan, the Chron ought to outsource the editorializing (poor already, it can surely be done more cheaply), and redeploy those resources to the suffering, understaffed business and metro desks? Just a thought.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/01/10 03:45 PM |

Texas Watchdog, Chron question Sheltering Arms stimulus transparency

THE CHRONICLE followed up this weekend on Texas Watchdog's reporting on Sheltering Arms, a Houston nonprofit group that has been entrusted with millions of stimulus dollars for weatherization, yet has been accused of shoddy workmanship and lack of transparency.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/01/10 02:56 PM |

Chron plans to outsource more content, charge more

BANJO JONES notes that the ever-shrinking Houston Chronicle will be outsourcing even more of its content these days, and that the newspaper's diminutive editor says some of the dwindling content may go behind a pay wall online in the near future.

Question: Will the Chron enforce its copyright on the stuff behind the paywall? Will the Chron Brights be able to blockquote with impunity? Or will the Chron charge to see the Brights too?

The Chron doesn't answer questions about its operations, so we'll just have to "stay tuned" we suppose.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/01/10 02:36 PM |

We did not advocate bombing a (hypothetical) mosque while on hiatus

WHILE ON OUR BLOG VACATION IN MAY, we did not advocate bombing any (hypothetical) mosques.

Local talker Michael Berry, on the other hand, apparently got into a heated discussion with a caller over the proposed mosque, and said something along those lines.

His bombing comment was over the top, and his apology correct. The strong sentiment against memorializing that spot with a symbol of the "religion of peace?" We get that. Calls to take the guy off the air for the comment? Come on.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 06/01/10 02:22 PM |


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