31 August 2010
The Sports Authority is broke (cont'd)
THE BOND BUYER trade publication has an update on the Sports Authority's debt problems: Texas Sports Agency Flirting With Default.
30 August 2010
METRO is broke (cont'd)
NEARLY TWO WEEKS after the Examiner's Michael Reed reported on METRO's deteriorating financial situation after analyzing June/July 2010 financial information, METRO's PR wing at the Chronicle concedes today that METRO's (and, by extension, the Chron's) previously "sunny outlook" has now been "replaced by warnings of fragile finances."
Last Friday, Paul Knight revisited one aspect of METRO's financial mismanagement under the Bill White era management team: The questionable process by which Frank Wilson consummated a $118 million deal with Spanish rail-car vendor CAF.
27 August 2010
Competing press conferences scheduled on voter fraud revelations
FOLLOWING ON THE ALLEGATIONS OF VOTER FRAUD from Harris County officials on Tuesday, two related press conferences are scheduled today.
Houston Votes has finally scheduled a press conference. Preliminary indications suggest the press conference will consist of accusations "of partisanship against Republicans from a group that claims to be 'non-partisan.'" Their presser will take place at 10:30 am at 715 Franklin.
King Street Patriots/True the Vote, the organization that called attention to the irregularities in the applications submitted by Houston Votes, has called a press conference of their own, apparently in response. Their presser will take place at 11:00 am at 220 Main St.
Since we know journos occasionally read the blog, here's your chance to help 'em out: What questions would YOU like them to ask these organizations?
26 August 2010
Moody's further downgrades Sport Authority's junk-bond debt
“Moody’s believes the liquidity reserves are sufficient to cover the November 2010 payment, but their depletion may result in a payment default from pledged revenues as early as March of 2011,” the report said.
J. Kent Friedman, board chairman for the Sports Authority, downplayed the report.
Of course he did.
King on the absurdity of MORE at-grade tram service
IN HIS LATEST OP-ED, BILL KING asks a question that will be familiar to our readers:
If nearly every other major city has decided not to build their rail systems in the middle of their streets, why are we?
King doesn't have space even to get into the traffic jams that will result from METRO's at-grade tram plans for the Galleria and Downtown, which we also have discussed.
UPDATE: It is worth linking to this presentation King put together on problems with METRO's LRT plans.
Dolcefino: CM Johnson solicits for charity, pockets cash from charity
KTRK-13 UNDERCOVER MAN WAYNE DOLCEFINO is back with another look at Councilmember Jarvis Johnson.
It seems Councilmember Johnson has been soliciting city contractors for donations to a favored charity. Interestingly, as Dolcefino reports, Councilmember Johnson received over $50,000 from that charity for consulting last year.
Councilmember Johnson still isn't talking to the Undercover Man on camera. And for whatever reason, KTRK-13 is making it very difficult to find the Undercover Man's stories on their website/RSS feed of late.
Is "melted brain" protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
THE CHRON EDITORIAL BOARD has finally penned a lede with which we agree completely:
Here in the depths of a Houston August, we sometimes suspect that the heat has melted our brain.
We frequently have that feeling when reading these sorts of editorials and wondering how they ever made it into a major American newspaper.
Since they admit to a brain disorder, there's really no reason the management shouldn't reclaim the column space/resources and redirect them to local news coverage.
25 August 2010
An IAH data point in the TSA's ongoing Security Theater
BH FAV TOM KIRKENDALL frequently comments on the TSA's Security Theater, the agency's intrusive, inconvenient, and sometimes ineffectual rituals designed to make someone (Pols? Largely unskilled screeners? Travelers? It's really not clear) feel better about air travel.
This post from frequent-flyer forum FlyerTalk, in which a traveler was apparently detained and his photographic equipment confiscated by overly zealous TSA and HPD officers at Bush Intercontinental Airport, is yet another data point in the ongoing absurdity that is TSA Security Theater.
Hair Balls on Dr. Michael Brown, wife-abuser and Houston celebrity!
HAIR BALLS posts about the arrest of Dr. Michael "Hand Center" Brown, who seems to have had some serious issues with spousal abuse over the years.
As Hair Balls notes, however, that's not been a disqualifier for fabulous treatment from Houston society writer Shelby Hodge.
Gattis on The Wave
TORY GATTIS takes a look at Houston's Wave jitney service, which is flourishing.
It's nice to see the market responding to shortcomings in the area's transit coverage.
An update on the West U Council spat
THE WEST U EXAMINER reports that West U's council is functioning somewhat normally again, after a spat between Mayor Bob Kelly and Councilman George Boehme.
Several weeks ago, Boehme apparently took umbrage at the mayor's criticism of his pursuit of city concessionaire business, pledging not to seek it in the future. Frankly, Boehme should have given it up when he became an elected official, so at least the childish antics eventually led to something positive.
24 August 2010
"Nonpartisan" Houston Votes group accused of voter fraud
A FEW WEEKS AGO, TEXAS TRIBUNE led the cheers for Houston Votes, which it characterized as a "nonpartisan" voter registration group targeting the Houston area. Of course, our cursory search indicated the board of the "nonpartisan" group was composed exclusively of Progressive/Democratic activists and donors, even though such a review apparently eluded the Texas Tribune reporter and editing staff.
Today, as Texas Watchdog reports, the Harris County Voter Registrar Leo Vasquez accused the group of voter fraud:
“The integrity of the voting rolls in Harris County, Texas, appears to be under an organized and systematic attack by the group operating under the name Houston Votes,” Vasquez said at a 2 p.m. press conference at his office, where he also released copies of applications in some of the most egregious cases.
“Evidence shows that the Houston Votes and Texans Together organization are conspiring on a pattern of falsification of government documents, supporting perjury in a deliberate effort to overburden our processing system," he said.
Vasquez compared the group to ACORN, another disgraced progressive organization.
Texas Watchdog has posted supporting documents from Vazquez's office on their website.
UPDATE: Texas Watchdog posts more details here.
UPDATE (08/26/2010): Predictably, some of the lefty partybloggers who were touting Houston Votes have all weighed in with angry outbursts.... mainly about racist Republicans. When you got nothing, cry RACISM RACISM?! That dog has just about stopped hunting.
John Thornton's Texas Tribune still has not provided an update to that embarrassingly bad puff piece they ran a few weeks ago.
METRO is broke (cont'd)
THE EXAMINER'S MICHAEL REED reports that METRO's liquidity ratio -- a key measure of an organization's ability to pay short-term debt -- has dropped to its worst level in five years (0.86 to 1).
The federal government prefers that agencies have at least a 1 to 1 ratio. In typical government-speak, METRO insists its ratio would look better if only the federal government would give it more money!
Another car takes on Danger Train
METRO'S DANGER TRAIN apparently had another fender bender today.
We should build more at-grade rail!
Anti-red-light-camera petition ceritified, to go on ballot
KUHF-88.7 reports that the City of Houston has certified the anti-red-light-camera petition, and that Council today approved putting the question on the ballot this fall.
It will be nice for voters finally to have a say on the matter (which won't necessarily please some members of Houston's ruling class).
23 August 2010
Slampo on Dumb Justice and KTRU
McClelland continues to imitate predecessors
MARK BENNETT posts about some recent backtracking by HPD's police chief.
METRO's latest service adjustments
METRO'S EXPENSIVE BLOGGER touted the organization's latest service "adjustments" over the weekend:
This Sunday, METRO is changing some of its bus service to improve reliability and efficiency.
These changes include adjusting trip times, adding service or eliminating trips to match ridership. No entire route will be discontinued.
TRANSLATION: We're broke, can hardly afford the tram we have let alone the additional lines we're trying to build, and so we're cutting bus service where we can to save a few pennies. Have a nice day!
Chron: Watchdog criticizes Texas legislator "double dipping" on expenses
THE CHRON broke a nice story over the weekend on state legislators' "double-dipping" when it comes to reimbursements from campaign accounts and the state per diem.
Well, the Chron didn't exactly break it (that's watchdog journalism, after all) -- the Chron reported on a watchdog group that did the work. Several Houston-area legislators got the treatment.
20 August 2010
TW: Did UH Regents KTRU meeting violate state law?
DID THE UH REGENTS MEETING that authorized Chancellor Renu Khator to pursue the purchase of Rice station KTRU (in a divided vote) violate state law?
Texas Watchdog's Steve Miller reports that the meeting probably violated the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of the law:
[T]he agenda item for Tuesday's public meeting at which the U of H purchase was approved may have been lacking in full disclosure, said Joe Larsen, a lawyer with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
“The agenda did not make reference to the sale of KTRU, so the question becomes, how high is the expected level of public interest?” Larsen said. He said one explanation might be that there was more than one radio station under consideration for purchase, but "the best I can say is, if UH knew at the time the target was KTRU, that this fact should have been included in the agenda because they should have anticipated a high level of public interest."
It is fairly obvious from different reports that Rice (a private university), wanted details of this deal kept quiet. Unfortunately, the University of Houston (a public university) decided to help out as much as it could, possibly violating state law, and with the assistance of the area's newspaper of record. The vote was close, so interested citizens/taxpayers might well have influenced the decision with a little more notice and information. Shame on UH and the Houston Chronicle for withholding both.
19 August 2010
METRO is broke (cont'd)
FRESH OFF MICHAEL REED'S reporting on METRO's precarious financial situation, KHOU-11's Mark Greenblatt reports today that the transit agency has announced a budget shortfall of $49 million for this year.
The agency says this development will "slow" spending on light rail. Perhaps it will also kill this murky real-estate deal favored by "NEW METRO" appointees George Greanias and Christof Spieler.
Unca Darrell: There's something about Tom DeLay...
UNCA DARRELL notes that the Chronicle still has trouble when it comes to reporting objectively about Tom DeLay.
Old habits die hard.
Chron: HCC board to get report on smelly contracting deals
THE CHRON'S ERICKA MELLON reports that HCC's Board of Trustees will meet in closed session to receive details on an investigation into possible conflicts of interest involving Yolanda Navarro Flores and Abel Dávila and work done for HCC.
The HCC board's attorney told the Chronicle that "he doesn't know when or if the public will learn what the investigator shares with the trustees."
We hope that local news organizations make sure that the public is kept informed on the matter.
Chron: Plan to change term limits "all but dead"
THE CHRON'S BRAD OLSON reports that Council surprised Mayor Parker by effectively killing an effort to modify the city's term limits yesterday. Mayor Parker has declared the effort "all but dead," Olson writes.
Can we just declare the current misguided effort (launched by former mayor and current gubernatorial candidate Bill White) completely dead, and move on to more important matters?
Hair Balls criticizes Chron/UH KTRU news embargo
HAIR BALLS' RICH CONNELLY engages in a bit of the media criticism once practiced at the Houston Press many years ago (before the quest for pageviews led to the proliferation of so much amateurish online content at Village Voice Houston). In this post, Connelly criticizes the Chronicle's agreement to embargo the UH/KTRU story in exchange for the exclusive right effectively to post the university's press release ahead of other media. Village Voice Houston, to its credit, heard rumors of the planned purchase and posted them, forcing the Chron to post their UH press release early.
As Connelly laments, the earliest version of the story -- which we still have, thanks to the wonders of the Diigo cache -- truly reads like a press release:
[E]mbargoed stories are rarely critical of the entity you've made the embargo agreement with.
Chron.com later "updated" the story in that annoying, nontransparent fashion of theirs to add a little balance.
This really shouldn't surprise, of course. The Chronicle is a pro-establishment newspaper, and that has frequently been reflected in the newspaper's coverage of various local entities (whether it was Jesus Ortiz's homages to Astros owner Drayton McLane over the years, or various METRO beat writers' sloppy kisses to METRO, or even Jeannie Kever's most recent article celebrating the UH chancellor's big raise, due to "world-class" performance!).
No, it's not the best journalism, and like Connelly we have little use for most news embargoes or the journalists who agree to them. We'd rather see the newspaper more often reflect the perspective of readers/taxpayers instead of so many of the newspaper's favored sources, and be much more aggressive in its watchdog role. But that's just not the institutional perspective at Jeff Cohen's Chron, unfortunately.
18 August 2010
Examiner's Reed on METRO's deteriorating finances
THE EXAMINER'S MICHAEL REED continues to lead the way in terms of METRO reporting, with this assessment of the organization's precarious financial state relative to its grand plans. Here is an important takeaway, but be sure to read the entire story:
Based on the June 2010 unaudited report, Metro’s [liquidity ratio*] for 2009 appeared to be about 0.79-to-1, having fallen from 1.55-to-1 in 2007 to 1.03-to-1 in 2008, according to Metro financial reports for those years.
The FTA is already reviewing Metro funding documents following allegations the agency used outdated, pre-market-bust sales tax revenue projections in its November application for $900 million in funding. Metro has denied that allegation.
Clearly, METRO's financial condition was deteriorating under the previous leadership, which largely kept the public in the dark about it**. Here's hoping the "NEW METRO" will take a much more sober, public, look at the agency's finances versus the agency's grand plans -- and put these sorts of murky Houston Way deals on hold in the interim.
* Defined elsewhere in the story as "cash, accounts receivable and nonrestricted investment portfolio vs. current liabilities."
** Not that this was hard, given the lack of interest displayed by Chron reporter Mike Snyder, or even the Snyder/Falkenberg attacks on a KHOU reporter who was looking more closely at the rogue agency's financial dealings.
17 August 2010
TMW: Renew Houston tax "is regressive, open ended, and [frustrates] political accountability"
THE MIGHTY WIZARD posts a detailed analysis of the massive tax increase being proposed by the Renew Houston special interest group.
16 August 2010
One crazy Chron correction
THE CHRON recently posted one hellacious correction:
A story on Saturday’s front page incorrectly characterized the relationship between Angela Gomez, her husband and Global Financial Services. She is accused by the federal government of using a brokerage account there to move money in a bribery scam involving a Mexican government official. The couple does not own the firm. Gomez was arrested while in town for a civil arbitration involving Global Financial Services. No allegations of illegal activity have been made against Global Financial Services. “Ms. Gomez was a customer of Global Financial Services several years ago and never has been an owner of the firm,” said Andrew Harvin, an attorney for Global Financial Services. “Global Financial Services had no role in any wrongdoing by Ms. Gomez or her husband and it will fully cooperate in any investigation.”
Hmm, did Hearst's lawyers come up with that?
Chron: Pasadena cruise facility fails to attract ships
THE CHRONICLE'S JENALIA MORENO reports that a Pasadena cruise-ship terminal constructed as part of a $387 million bond issue approved by Harris County voters... has not managed to attract any cruise ships.
Hard to believe, we know, that the mere thought of Pasadena, TX hasn't attracted the eye (or several eyes, even) of the cruise-ship industry!
The people behind the boondoggle remain optimistic, however, hoping that further development of the property (translation: spending) will make it more attractive. Can we suggest a new-and-improved Gilley's? Or not...
3CB: The end of horse racing in Houston?
THE END OF HORSE RACING in Houston?
Cory Crow says.... maybe.
What ever happened to decency, anyway?
We had no idea some criminals were too evil to merit a Chron Eye, so that's a development.
Of course, some activists just couldn't resist taking their inappropriate protests to a memorial service for the victims.
METRO boardings down again for July; METRO rips out seating on tram
TOM BAZAN passes along the latest (July 2010) boarding/revenue information for METRO, and the results aren't pretty. Boardings are down significantly, again, for the Main Street tram and for the bus system.
Always good at putting lipstick on a pig, METRO's PR department announces on the agency's expensive blog that the organization has removed two benches per light-rail tram to accommodate more bikes!
Unfortunately, with the declining ridership, METRO probably could have removed a few more benches and nobody would really have noticed.
15 August 2010
Hair Balls on METRO Galleria Real-Estate discussions
SHOCKINGLY, the Houston Press broke some actual news on Friday.
Some METRO board members are apparently balking at a proposed Galleria-area real-estate deal related to the proposed Uptown line.
Since the Uptown Management District probably can't deliver on promises of $70 million worth of improvement that the previous METRO administration squeezed from them, "the Uptown line is on hold" according to Hair Balls.
Undeterred, "NEW METRO" appointees George Greanias and Christof Spieler apparently both think METRO should move ahead on the real-estate deal.
Chron: Violent crime falls, property crime increases (updated)
THE CHRONICLE reports that violent crime is down in Houston through the first half of the year, although property crime continues to be a problem.
Strangely, the online version of the story didn't actually report any hard numbers on crime, just selected percentages (the print version had a graphics box with some numbers, but not as much detail as we'd like). Perhaps the online crew was too busy innovatin' with Twitter to trifle with basic crime reporting.
UPDATE: Bill King sent out a somewhat more detailed analysis of recent crime stats on August 10, but we had been unable to locate the post on his website. It is located here.
Live Oaks: You have no choice
LIVE OAKS posts about a recent Chron editorial that takes a familiar approach:
To oppose the mosque, the paper implies, is to be a bigoted red-neck who opposes anyone who is 'different.'"
Hey, the lead editorialist must be back from vacation!
HCA: Piling on
HARRIS COUNTY ALMANAC posts an update on plans by Renew Houston and the City of Houston to raise taxes significantly and perhaps, one day, share more detailed plans with the public.
13 August 2010
McGuff readies his "News Imaginator" application
KIAH-39 is taking applications for its new "News Imaginator" position, and Mike McGuff has his ready.
He continues to solicit advice from the online community on how to proceed with this experiment in social-media jobseeking, so be sure to drop in and leave him your thoughts. McGuff would be a perfect fit for the position!
12 August 2010
KTRK, Chron dig deeper on ethics
LAST NIGHT, KTRK-13'S WAYNE DOLCEFINO continued to examine ethics questions surrounding Councilmember Jarvis Johnson, looking at the councilmember's ties to a fifth-ward charity.
Also, the Chronicle's Ericka Mellon takes a closer look at an HISD controversy involving the MEAD Group, a nonprofit founded and run by.... a one-time aide to the councilmember.
What a twisted web!
That cartoon seems kinda familiar...
HERE is an interesting political cartoon by Jon Richards (who regularly appears on the Huffington Post) on the topic of immigration, dated 4 August.
Here is a very similar political cartoon by the Chron's Nick Anderson, dated 12 August.
Queen Sheila catches a little shuteye
QUEEN SHEILA JACKSON LEE apparently had a little trouble staying awake while waiting her turn to drone on about some Congressional topic or another, as reported by Fox News:
Thanks to Catherine Athearn and John Vaughn for passing along those entertaining screen captures!
11 August 2010
Your newspaper will keep shrinking, but hey, there's a twitter feed!
MIKE MCGUFF served on a panel with Chron.com's Dean Betz, and learned more about the newspaper's online vision than the insular organization usually bothers to share. McGuff posts about it here.
Two big takeaways: The Chron.com paywall that had been rumored for some time apparently has been nixed for now, and the online crew regards adding a twitter feed to their homepage as a major accomplishment in 2010.
Oh, and the dead-tree version of the newspaper will probably continue to shrink (even though it's hard to imagine it could get much smaller).
And on the HISD beat...
Cat mutilations in The Heights
JOHN NOVA LOMAX posts an update on cat mutilations in The Heights.
Dolcefino: Former aide lashes out at CM Jarvis Johnson
A FORMER AIDE to Councilmember Jarvis Johnson says he thinks that Johnson has been dishonest when it comes to ethically questionable financial solicitation.
Councilmember Johnson still isn't talking to KTRK-13's Wayne Dolcefino, however.
10 August 2010
Controversial firefighter arrested in uniform for shoplifting
VARIOUS NEWS OUTLETS reported today that Ena Jane Draycott, the female firefighter who notably accused HFD firefighters of harassment, was arrested in uniform Monday night on suspicion of shoplifting. She apparently was trying to steal a DVD player and some other items at a Wal-Mart.
We have a possible explanation. We're pretty sure that some mean sexist and racist HFD firefighters sneaked in, put those items in the cart, and set her up. Yes, that is surely what happened!
Gattis: Quality/Quantity? Both!
TORY GATTIS asks, "Is best-of-both-worlds Houston pulling away from competitor cities?"
Parker signals City in no hurry to vet red-light referendum petition
THE ANTI RED-LIGHT CAMERA FOLKS have submitted their referendum petitions to the City of Houston, and Mayor Annise Parker is signaling that she's not going to make it easy for them to get on the ballot:
Mayor Annise Parker questioned whether there would be enough time for the city secretary to verify that the signatures are from registered Houston voters before an upcoming Aug. 24 election deadline.
Parker said the city secretary's office would follow the same procedures used for Renew Houston, a group of engineers seeking voter approval for an $8 billion initiative to prevent flooding and shore up Houston's infrastructure. Backers of that referendum turned in their signatures July 8, and they were verified July 30.
One favored interest group spent tons of money to gather signatures and buy its way onto the ballot on a separate issue. Another less-favored interest group gathered its signatures less quickly, and won't be getting any help from the City in getting on the ballot.
We appeal to our fine progressive mayor to vet the signatures as quickly as possible, so that our fellow citizens can decide both issues.
Chron finally covers Victims Rights office move
TODAY, THE CHRONICLE finally got around to covering Mayor Annise Parker's decision to de-emphasize Andy Kahan's victim's rights office by moving it from the mayor's office (where it was placed by Mayor Bob Lanier as part of his emphasis on tackling crime in Houston, and where it remained under several mayors) to HPD.
The newspaper needed to cover this story. It's just surprising it came a week after KTRK-13's most recent coverage, and several weeks after KTRK-13 first reported it.
Shutter the staff editorials (cont'd)
UNCA DARRELL wonders why the Chron editorials have been a little less offensive than usual... and figures out that one editorialist is apparently on vacation.
It's still bad. Shutter it, we say, and redeploy the resources to local news coverage.
Fortunately, no bus riders were on the bus that crashed (what?)
LAST NIGHT, a METRO bus driver crashed into an empty building to avoid a car running a red light.
Neal Meyer noticed an interesting fact in the reporting:
No passengers were on the bus or riding in the Infiniti at the time of the crash.
No riders were on the bus around 7pm last night? Why not?
Seriously -- transit usage continues to plummet in town. Perhaps the New METRO needs to consider why usage is down, even though population is increasing and the economy isn't exactly humming. Since Mike Snyder opined two months ago that all METRO's credibility problems had been solved, surely it's time to start tackling the main task of moving more citizens about the city.
More (amateurish) content isn't better, whatever Village Voice HQ says
WE don't comment much here on professional food writing in Houston these days, since we're still somewhat in denial over the fact that our big and diverse restaurant town is pretty much covered by one truly professional*, experienced restaurant critic these days.
That said, this recent line on the Village Voice Houston food blog was pretty bad even by their low standards:
Though Killen's menu described blue as having a cold, red center, it sure gave me a warm fuzzy center.
We really do miss the days when professional journos staffed the local alt-weeklies (yes, plural!), and the writing was compelling and substantive.
* By this, we don't mean simply "paid," but rather paid, anonymous, and possibly able to visit a restaurant more than twice before declaring it inconsistent.
09 August 2010
Dolcefino: Is CM Johnson avoiding 13 Undercover?
KTRK-13'S WAYNE DOLCEFINO says that ethics questions are swirling around Councilmember Jarvis Johnson's office.
Chron: "City's take-home cars burn red ink by the gallon"
THE CHRON'S JAMES PINKERTON AND YANG WANG turned in some excellent watchdog reporting today on the city's fairly lax (and costly) take-home vehicle policy. Here's a teaser:
[A] Houston Chronicle analysis shows hundreds of municipal employees use taxpayers' cars more for commuting to work than they do for job duties. According to mileage reports filed for 1,200 vehicles assigned to city employees, only 54 percent of the total mileage reported was work-related.
It's also worth revisiting Rorschach's earlier post on the costs associated with former Mayor Bill White's preferred "green" Toyota Prius purchases.
Yellow Cab vs World Class?
THE NEW YORK TIMES posts a blurb on Washington Avenue and Houston's Washington Wave jitney service.
08 August 2010
Headline: Women at Houston Port win a round in Potty Wars!
THIS may have been the best local news headline of the week:
Definitely go read, then come back to comment!
Carey: Are black newspaper owners going to blackball Bill White?
ISIAH CAREY asks, Are black newspaper owners going to blackball Bill White?
Live Oaks on the Jitney re-regulation
LIVE OAKS comments on Houston City Council "absurdity" regarding the latest jitney regulations.
Texas Watchdog notes campaign-finance irregularities, pol jumps!
ON FRIDAY, TEXAS WATCHDOG reported on some irregularities in campaign-finance reports from HISD board president Grey Myers.
Not many hours later, Texas Watchdog reported that Myers was *ahem* correcting his campaign-finance reports.
Maybe next week, the Chronicle will have something on this story!
Houston DWI Blog: Preferential treatment for athletes?
HOUSTON DWI BLOG has an interesting question about the Pat Lykos DWI divert program and preferential treatment for athletes.
06 August 2010
Blogger/Journo/Activist/Citizen-Journo meetup Saturday
TEXAS WATCHDOG is hosting a blogger/journo/activist/citizen-journalist meetup at the Stag's Head Pub, Saturday, 3-5 pm.
The BH crew encourages fellow bloggers/readers/commenters to show up a bit early (say 2pm), and have an early drink (or several).
Hookers, HPD, dismissed charges, oh my!
In all seriousness, a hat tip to the Chron's Brian Rogers, who wrote up that story much more professionally than we might have.
Parker Administration shrinks Housing and Community Development
THE ANNISE PARKER ADMINISTRATION started making headway today on another of many problems they inherited from former Mayor Bill White.
Jim Noteware, the person Mayor Parker appointed to reshape the city's troubled Houston and Community Development Department, announced a significant downsizing at the organization:
The Houston Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) today announced a restructuring that will restore financial integrity, improve performance and facilitate expansion of the mission to include a new focus on community development.
“This is a top to bottom reorganization reflecting our commitment to improved operations and changing the overall culture and public perception of HCD,” said HCD Director Jim Noteware. “It involves everything from greater focus on communication and transparency to improved staff training and enhanced monitoring of compliance with federal and state guidelines. This department has had difficulties for years. Mayor Parker’s charge was to fix it. This plan will do just that.”
The restructuring includes a reduction in force of 29 positions. “This step is necessary to reduce spending that has exceeded our allowance for administration of the grants that we manage,” said Mr. Noteware. “We have to live within our means.”
Frankly, this city department probably is still larger than it should be, but we commend Mayor Parker and her staff on the downsizing. We're not quite sure why they saved it for a Friday, though. We would have tried to get this "good government" story on all the news broadcasts at the start of the week.
Chron ed board: Rah Rah establishment (whoever they are today)
HERE is the conclusion to a recent Chron editorial:
It will take time to change Metro's internal culture while altering its public image of executive arrogance and unresponsiveness. The new team has the right priorities and the right talk. We hope that with all possible speed they can turn that talk into reality.
It's the sort of establishment cheerleading (and complete amnesia regarding their cheerleading for the previous corrupt leadership) that we've come to expect from America's Worst Big City Daily.
As a reminder, this is the same editorial board that all but screeched to the new Mayor-elect back in December to keep her hands of METRO (exact headline: Full plate: With a plethora of pressing issues, the new mayor should tread lightly on Metro). Thankfully, Mayor Parker ignored them (like most Houstonians do) and replaced the corrupt leadership at the organization, without any support at the time from America's Worst Big City Daily (indeed, quite the opposite).
05 August 2010
Prof 13: Redistricting, Part Two
RICHARD MURRAY takes a closer look at the upcoming political redistricting in the City of Houston.
Funny enough, but some of us remember when the Village Voice Houston corporate alt-weekly was staffed with professional journalists who covered the city well. Now? Cheap/amateur content and fluff predominate.
Times change, we're told.
Texas Tribune on HC jail overcrowding
TEXAS TRIBUNE'S BRANDI GRISSOM looks at the ongoing controversy over Harris County jail overcrowding.
McGuff: Houston radio reception
MIKE MCGUFF explains why you might have had reception problems with Houston radio stations last weekend.
Live Oaks: METRO's got a gun
More on that non-partisan voter registration project
TEXAS LIBERAL concedes that those "non-partisan" claims from Houston Votes look a little bit shaky.
That conclusion is so obvious that one may have to be a staffer for Texas Tribune to miss it.
04 August 2010
Yellow Cab snaps, Parker and Council jump
SWAMPLOT reports that Mayor Parker and her Council nixed small jitneys today.
Yellow Cab doesn't especially like competition, you see, and as we've noted before, what Yellow Cab wants from Houston's pols, it usually is able to buy.
03 August 2010
METRO: METRO PD's a prestigious flagship agency!
METRO'S EXPENSIVE BLOGGER cheers the METRO police department's recognition as a "prestigious 'Flagship Agency.'"
She did not include Tom Bazan's classic snapshot of a METRO police officer snoozing in her car during work hours.
UPDATE: Tom Bazan passes along word that he did not take the photo. It was passed along to him, and he later circulated it.
Why has Mayor Parker de-emphasized Crime Victims Assistance?
HOUSTON is somewhat unique in that it has long maintained a Crime Victims Assistance unit as a branch of the mayor's office.
KTRK-13's Andy Cerota follows up on earlier reporting that current Mayor Annise Parker has transferred the unit to HPD, effectively de-emphasizing it.
Mighty Wizard METRO rail update
THE MIGHTY WIZARD posts a very informative roundup of recent events concerning METRO.
Tax first, plan later (what could go wrong!?)
CORY CROW links to this KTRK-13 story on an interest group's proposed drainage tax, noting properly that "it's not a drainage plan, it's a funding plan with the promise that, if passed, a plan will soon follow."
02 August 2010
Chron ed board stays timely
Way to stay timely, Chron!
RELATED (08/11/2010): Be sure to see the clarification at the bottom of this post.
Looking more closely at that "nonpartisan" Houston voter outreach group
The disappointing Texas Tribune played up the "nonpartisan" background of the group in a story back in June. Of course, tax-advantaged nonprofits are required to be technically nonpartisan, so those sorts of legal descriptions aren't very helpful to readers.
Big Jolly notes that Fred Lewis, the public driver of the effort, likes to donate to lots of Dem and Progresssive causes. That's easy research the Tribune reporter might have done, but didn't. It's a not-insignificant part of the story.
So, too, is the composition of the board of Texans Together: James Aldrete (Dem consultant based in Austin), Christopher Ashby (appointed by Bill Clinton to an ambassadorship, donor to Dems), Ann Del Llano (lobbyist, consultant, and activist for Progressive change), John Donisi (aide to former Governor Ann Richards, Dem supporter), Cris Feldman (Dem Party attorney who pursued action against Tom DeLay), Rita Lucido (Progressive/Dem donor, onetime board member of Planned Parenthood), Keir Murray (Dem consultant), Andres Pereira (self-described "longtime Democratic activist"), Keith Wade (Dem consultant).
Certainly, there's nothing illegal about a Progressive nonprofit working to boost Harris County election turnout by registering voters via a legally "nonpartisan" front group staffed by Dems and Progressive activists (heck, maybe conservatives with deep pockets should give this sort of "grow the vote" electioneering a try -- but they should be careful not to get sued by a Texans Together board member!). However, media organizations* could do a much better job of identifying the interests behind such organizations, especially when it requires so little effort.
* Of course, Texas Tribune itself was born as the vanity project of a Dem activist/donor with millions of dollars apparently burning a hole in his pocket, so maybe more junior colleagues there just don't consider it all that important.
01 August 2010
Well hello again, Houston. We're back.
Judging by the amount of media coverage in the three weeks we've been on hiatus, apparently the only significant news we missed was the corpse flower.
In all seriousness, why do Houston news organizations do some of the things they do?
Here are some quick thoughts to catch up on the news while we were away:
- The "new" METRO decided to kill that stinky Houston Way real-estate deal that Michael Reed reported on a while back. While a blogHOUSTON editorial urged METRO to kill it a month ago, neither the editorial board at America's Worst Big-City Daily nor Houston's Sexiest Blogger* had anything timely to say about it that we could find. Hey, if it's not in the New York Times or easily blockquoted at copyright-abusing lengths, we don't expect much original work from either of those sources. Kudos to Michael Reed for his watchdog journalism!
- The Chronicle's Bradley Olson quaintly describes Council's latest efforts to rework jitney rules in order "to encourage the growth of jitney services in downtown and other major thoroughfares...." Of course, Yellow Cab has long opposed true jitney service in Houston, and as we've noted previously, what Yellow Cab wants, Yellow Cab usually buys from our local pols. BH favs Matt Bramanti and Alison Cook provided succinct perspectives that mysteriously eluded the Chron's experienced City Hall beat reporter; we're happy to link to them.
- Wal-Mart is coming to The Heights (not really The Heights proper, but hey, who wants to dissuade these folks from entertaining us). Here's hoping all the nice Heights residents put out gawd-awful ugly signs like the anti-Ashby high-rise folks.
- HPD's new chief tries to live
updown to the reputations of the last few buffoons who held the job by ordering that officers will not show up for court subpoenas before 1:00 pm. It's hard to know what to say. Perhaps our commenters can help out.
- America's worst big-city daily basically rewrote** a Texas Watchdog story that appeared a week earlier and posted it as "news." With no attribution, and no development of the story. As friend Cory Crow has said, the area newspaper of record isn't even trying any more. Pathetic.
- The FTA gave METRO a green light on one of the last remaining technical roadblocks for the Westpark/Richmond/University line, but one little problem stands in the way of METRO actually starting land acquisition: They're broke. Bill King elaborates on other problems that will be familiar to readers of this blog.
- The whimsical linkblog that Dwight Silverman used to maintain on the Chron.com editorial page has disappeared without explanation. *poof* Silverman's probably too busy these days playing on Twitter and apologizing for Apple's latest shortcomings. That's okay, though. We like linking to good local stuff, and (frankly) are better at it (at least when we're not on hiatus).
Finally, a quick thanks to those of you who shot me a note or email or text message over the last few weeks. Your kindness was comforting and much appreciated.
* Hat tip to Slampo.
** CLARIFICATION (08/11/2010): We are not accusing the Chronicle of LITERALLY rewriting a Texas Watchdog story. Obviously, the Chronicle wrote a very similar story using similar data. A week later. With no further development of the story or reference to the organization that actually did wind up breaking the story. The following email excerpt from the Chronicle today prompted this clarification, lest any other LITERAL readers be misled by our commentary:
The Chronicle's latest story about the E-rate scandal in HISD was based off a public document.... Our story was all original reporting.
We are happy to provide this clarification for any readers who may have read our tongue-in-cheek characterization 100% literally, and apologize for any misunderstanding.