29 September 2010
THE LITTLE BLOG is going on vacation for a couple of weeks.
Unlike earlier this summer, it's an actual vacation. Feel free to discuss local news of note in the open-comments section of the forum. I may check in from time to time if I find myself on the net... or not, so we'll close the forum to new registrants to foil spammers. Here's hoping everyone enjoys this fantastic weather (save some, okay?).
28 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/28/10 edition)
HERE is the day's news and views roundup (the "on-the-cusp-of-a-vacation" edition):
- Metro's Greanias Forcing His Top Execs To Take The Bus Or Rail (Hair Balls)
We've LONG criticized the arrogance and waste of so many generous car allowances at the area's public transit authority, so kudos to George Greanias for cutting that nonsense. Requiring 40 trips/month of execs seems excessive, but perhaps that sort of shock therapy is in order after the White/Wolff/Wilson "rogue transit agency" era.
- There are so many things wrong with this.... (Harris County Almanac)
The Gulf Coast Institute can rename, rebrand, and remarket itself, but at the end of the day, Crossley is still Crossley.
- Global and racial Houston, top rankings, good govt, healthy housing, and more (Houston Strategies)
- Houston Community College System's Official Newspaper Attacks King Street Patriots (Big Jolly Politics)
- Trial Lawyer millions funding Bill White attack ads? (Perry vs World)
Be sure to click over and check out Evan's sharp guess (which gives the link a Houston flavor).
So is the DGA targeting Perry? Maybe...but likely not because there are much smarter places for the DGA to spend its money (FL, CA, OH, MA, PA, IL, MD, etc off the top of my head). It is much more likely that an uber-rich political donor is using the DGA to temporarily conceal the source of the money. That way, the media won't report who is funding the attacks, just that the DGA is spending money. Not only does it more or less conceal the source of the funds, but it leads political reporters who aren't paying attention (what's up WaPo?) to write about how the DGA is targeting the campaign, thus creating the illusion that DGA thinks the race is winnable.
Who would have a motive to try to conceal their identity for at least a few weeks?
- Two City Council members, controller, fined (Chron Houston Politics)
27 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/27/10 edition)
WELCOME to the "CB/LST alumni" edition of news and views:
- Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis' firm profits from bond business with local public agencies, including many he represents in Austin (Jennifer Peebles and Steve Miller, Texas Watchdog)
- Houston tower once coveted by Omni Hotels to be demolished (Barbara De Lollis, USA Today)
One "expert" in particular: John Keeling!
The news lays to rest a plan announced by Omni Hotels in July 2007 to transform the structure into a luxury hotel.
- Metro Unveils New Transit Plan (Live Oaks)
- Teen robber gets wrestled by angry family (Mike McGuff, KIAH-39 News)
- Fake general denies fraud after donning medals at Parker party (Dane Schiller, Houston Chronicle)
- Fire Pelosi Bus Tour: Republican Thugs Try to Intimidate Blogger (Big Jolly Politics)
- Happy trails to you... (David Benzion, Lone Star Times)
I'm genuinely sad to see this conservative voice closing up shop, whatever our differences on occasion (in retrospect, too often kind of stupid and childish, at least on my part). The association with Dan Patrick that originally led us to create Chronically Biased eventually spawned his Lone Star Times as a followup effort, this blog as an independent spinoff, and, over time, countless other area blogs produced by Chronically Biased or Lone Star Times "alumni" so to speak. We wish all such "alums" the best in whatever comes next!
26 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/26/10 edition)
HERE is a lazy-weekend edition of news and views:
- Reimbursing HUD may cost Houston millions (Bradley Olson, Houston Chronicle)
City officials characterized HUD's challenges to its use of federal money as old news, but sources with knowledge of the matter say the city could be on the hook to pay back between $35 million and $45 million due to previous issues and newly identified problems. Those include questions about "Houston Hope" homes, a signature initiative of then-Mayor Bill White that sought to help low and middle-income individuals buy their own homes.
- Houston Hope and Bill White's Legacy (Live Oaks)
- A conversation with Houston Mayor Annise Parker (David Taffet, Dallas Voice)
- The actual truth about Bill White and Houston property taxes (Bob Lemer, Scribd)
- Cell Phone Wreck Hot Spots In Houston (Mike McGuff, KIAH-39 News)
- Bus ads, fewer riders, ticket surcharge: Metro's 2011 budget (Chron Houston Politics)
At some point, one has to wonder if the compulsion to spin any and all METRO news positively is pathological at the Chron.
Fixed-route bus and rail ridership, which has declined annually since it peaked in 2006, is projected to decrease again in 2011, by a combined total of 2.8 percent. (Page 90). That would be a dramatic improvement from the 8.7 percent decline expected this year. (Page 91).
To approach this slightly differently: Suppose the GDP of Country A shrank by 8.7% in 2008. Suppose it shrank by 2.8% in 2009. Would it make sense to say the country's economy enjoyed "dramatic improvement" in 2009 compared to 2008 (no), or would it be more appropriate to note that Country A had been mired in recession for two years?
- The Race for District Clerk (With Updated Links) (Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center)
- Scared White Republican Fear of the Day: Third-World Document-Review Terrorists (Defending People)
- Proposed condos stir up controversy in the Heights (Gabe Gutierrez, KHOU-11 News)
- This Draft of Changes to the Preservation Ordinance Is Different, Somehow (Swamplot)
Of COURSE Mayor Parker's valid criticism of the fiscal policies of her predecessor was going to be an issue in the gubernatorial race. How could it not be?
As mayor of the state’s largest city, Parker said she’s had more contact lately with Gov. Rick Perry than former Houston mayor Bill White.
“But I am absolutely livid that Rick Perry has an attack ad on Bill White that features me,” she said. “I don’t want to be used as a wedge in that campaign.”
Parker said that Perry used a quote of something she said while controller. She said it was not out of context....
24 September 2010
Where are the editors? (updated)
IT'S just another Friday at a newspaper without enough editors:
Hosuton Chronicle? Ummm...
This is good too (from the FRONT PAGE of the little print edition):
We think the right verb is "elicit" (hat tip to Slampo for the catch).
Meanwhile, the newspaper's erratic features editor wonders if readers have seen "any language grotesqueries lately." Gotta love that.
UPDATE: It was even worse than we thought on Friday!
Cory Crow notes that the newspaper's editorial board apparently can't even read a candidate bio and incorporate the information into an endorsement accurately.
And a correction to a candidate profile that appeared Friday reads as follows:
A story on page B1 of Friday's City & State section incorrectly identified Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson's undergraduate alma mater. He attended Texas A&M University.
23 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/23/10 edition)
IT'S THURSDAY EVENING, and we thankfully haven't been subpoenaed by anyone for exercising our First Amendment rights, so here's a quick news and views roundup:
- Metro finally faces facts about its financial straits (Bill King, Houston Chronicle)
One of the smartest opinion pieces on METRO that's appeared anywhere in recent years -- a must-read.
- Metro trustee legally stays on after term expires (Michael Reed, Examiner News)
- West U wants Metro answers (Michael Reed, Examiner News)
- Your opinion on METRO (GeorgeBoehme.com)
- This Draft of Changes to the Preservation Ordinance Is Different, Somehow (Swamplot)
- No Refusal DWI Crackdowns: Every Weekend For The Next Three Years (Hair Balls)
- New Urbanists Running Around with their Hair on Fire (Harris County Almanac)
22 September 2010
Millionaire trial lawyer/political activist Mostyn goes after journalism nonprofit Texas Watchdog (updated)
TEXAS WATCHDOG reports tonight that several members of its staff have been subpoenaed by mega-rich trial lawyer and bigtime Texas political donor Steve Mostyn.
Mostyn's gambit -- seemingly the filthy-rich-trial-lawyer version of a temper tantrum -- comes on the heels of a Texas Watchdog story about Mostyn's $25,000 donation to a state lawmaker who wound up mediating a proceeding that involved... some of Mostyn's clients. Although Mostyn has hurled accusations of political partisanship at Texas Watchdog, the complicating factor in that proposed narrative is the fact that the state lawmaker who received the donation is a Republican. As Texas Watchdog's Trent Seibert told the Quorum Report concerning the accusation, "If we’re a front group, we’re the worst front group of all time."
Millionaire Mostyn himself mostly backs LibDem candidates -- and in a big way. His Back To Basics PAC has been pounding Republican Governor Rick Perry for weeks. And taking a page from the Colorado Blueprint, Mostyn's PAC has more recently gone on the attack against Jim Murphy, who is taking on Democratic State Representative and progressive darling Kristi Thibaut. The crowd that sometimes bellyaches about money in politics doesn't seem to mind Mostyn's activities (to the contrary!), but of course Mostyn's on the right "team" (to use LibDem partyblogger parlance).
The filthy rich will always find a way to throw around their millions to exert political influence (even after untold campaign-finance "reforms" -- shocking, we know!). However, it's unfortunate when they start throwing around their millions in an effort to intimidate journalists. In fact, it's shameful.
We've linked many Texas Watchdog stories, and respect the work they do. They've taken on Democrats, Republicans, bureaucrats, you name it -- consistent with their stated mission. They are one of the more interesting experiments in nonprofit watchdog journalism, in a town that can definitely use that sort of journalism.
What Texas Watchdog's classy editor Jennifer Peebles didn't emphasize in the report I linked above -- but I will -- is that their organization is a small, bootstrap startup. They don't have a progressive activist's millions backing their operation. They don't have a huge staff. There is no legal department. And dealing with this nuisance lawsuit is going to cost Texas Watchdog, in dollars (First Amendment lawyers don't come cheap!) and in time (sitting in a deposition is time away from reporting).
We aren't normally big on telling people what to do with their money, but I'm going to make an exception tonight. If you have enjoyed the reporting done by Texas Watchdog and are in a position to toss a few bucks their way to help them defend themselves against a rich bully, I would highly encourage you to click on that donation button in the top right corner of their site. Texas Watchdog is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so any donation should be tax deductible. If you're not in a position to help them out financially, perhaps consider leaving a word of encouragement on their site.
UPDATE: Village Voice Houston had a post critical of Mostyn's legal intimidation tactics on their blog earlier, but just like that *POOF* it was gone, without even a google cache of the full post remaining. WEAK.
UPDATE 2: And now, HOURS later, Village Voice Houston has put the post back up, with edits and an addendum. Frankly, the updated post has become something of a butchered, incoherent mess, not unlike so much of the amateur content that is regularly posted to the publication's website now.
We may offer a more definitive post-mortem tomorrow, but the short of it seems to be that Mostyn finally called back Village Voice Houston, rattled their cage pretty good*, and scared them* into an embarrassing amount of equivocation -- so much so that they seemed to have missed what was newsworthy about Mostyn's latest attempt to bully journalists*: He's backed down from his efforts to subpoena Texas Watchdog.
We imagine they're celebrating that victory tonight over a LibDem bully and blowhard, but here's hoping Texas Watchdog will have more to say about it tomorrow as well.
* Our interpretation of what most likely happened. For you overly-literal readers and thin-skinned lawyers who like to take writers to court, we were not there and are merely exercising our First Amendment rights by offering speculative opinion.
News and views roundup (09/22/10 edition)
THE DAILY DOSE of local news and views (99.95% guaranteed to offend some Sensitive, somewhere, for some reason):
- Cities and Democracy vs. Freedom (Houston Strategies)
Some communities - like Portland or Austin - want to set and enforce a majority vision (or at least a majority vision among the politically active), and the minority can love it or leave it as far as they're concerned. Other cities - like Houston - don't impose a vision, and let the city develop bottom up from individual decisions. It's chaotic, but there's also a beauty in the chaos. I'm not saying one is right and other is wrong, but they are distinctly different approaches, and I think Houston should be proud of its (relatively rare) freedom-centered approach (like being the largest city in the country without zoning).
- How Houston Became A Global City (Next American City)
- Houston city council approves controversial Wal-Mart project in Heights (KTRK-13 News)
In a tough economy with tight credit, Mayor Parker's Council wasn't about to kill a big new development so that urbanists from A Place Called Perfect could pontificate on what might be done instead. I am sympathetic to folks in the immediately surrounding neighborhood (like my boss) worried about traffic and drainage, and hope the city does work hard to to deliver needed infrastructure improvements.
- Council Vote Means Improvements To Walmart Site (Pat Hernandez, KUHF-88.7 News)
- Texas reaped $4.6 billion from federal stimulus (Stewart Powell and Yang Wang, Houston Chronicle)
That's roughly $865,000 per job!
[O]utside the Texas capital, Houston far outpaces Texas cities, with $1.69 billion of money covering an estimated 1,953 jobs.
- High costs, low production, substandard workmanship dog state's stimulus weatherization program (Mark Lisheron, Texas Watchdog)
These guys just keep on cranking out the details of your tax dollars being wasted in the name of the stimulus boondoggle.
- This time, a wall helped unite people (Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle)
We hope that everything is okay with Ms. Falkenberg. That said, if the Chron's local editorialists (metro/state columnists and editorial board) all took an extended leave, would the opinion space in Houston take that much of a hit? And if not, shouldn't the newspaper consider redeploying at least some of those resources to local news coverage?
Note to readers: Today's piece will be my last for a while, as I'll be out on leave for several weeks. I look forward to returning to the column as soon as possible.
- Corrections, Sept. 22 (Houston Chronicle)
Matt Bramanti strikes again
Tuesday's editorial "No Job left unfilled" on Page B9 discussed a mismatch between available jobs and workers with appropriate skills to fill those jobs. The editorial stated that fixing the mismatch could be: "Big enough to drop the national unemployment rate by 2.5 percent." The editorial should have stated: "Big enough to drop the national unemployment rate by 2.5 percentage points."
- Interview with County Judge Ed Emmett (Off the Kuff)
- If you had your HCA political decoder ring.... (Harris County Almanac)
- Sometimes this job is just too easy (Unca Darrell)
- And while we're at it . . . (Unca Darrell)
21 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/21/10 edition)
IT'S THE GRAY TUESDAY edition of local news and views:
- Chron Arts Writer Sends 1,400-Word Email on How to Communicate Efficiently (Gawker)
Words fail, so we'll turn it over to Culture Map....
- The CultureMap guide to arts coverage: An open letter (Sarah Rufca, Culture Map)
- Another Chronicle intellectual is being forced against her will . . . (Unca Darrell)
- Big state, bigger hearts (Andrea White, Chron.com)
Where's Anita Perry's Chron.com blog?
- Continental, United make way for new NYSE ticker (Christine Hall, Houston Business Journal)
- Metro Meetings Go Live On the Web (Wendy Siegle, KUHF-88.7 News)
This is a good move by METRO.
- Houston DWI "No Refusal" Weekends - Now Every Weekend in Harris County? (Houston DWI Blog)
- Bruce Mosier: A Democrat I will vote for, and reflections on the insanity of Democracy (Fireballs, Lightning Bolts, and Hell Storms)
- Massive, nationwide vote fraud is the among the most rotten fruit of ACORN-type activism (Washington Examiner)
- King Street Patriots on Frontline of Clean Election Fight (Big Jolly Politics)
As The Blueprint makes clear, progressives would love to bring the Colorado model (in which a disciplined alliance of filthy rich donors, lawyers, and an effective communications network managed to flip a previously reliably Republican state the other way) to Texas. Some local conservatives are starting to snap to components of the game plan.
20 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/20/10 edition)
IT'S a catchup edition of the news and views roundup after a weekend of travel:
- Harris County kicks in $2 million more in stadium bailout (Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle)
As Cory Crow notes, the decision came Tuesday and finally hit Chron.com late Friday night -- not that it is any great surprise to anyone who's paid attention to the sports authority's travails.
- Time for a change: Chronicle endorses Bill White for governor (Houston Chronicle)
Another for the "no great surprise" category.
- On ex-chief’s watch, Metro derailed expansion plans (Mike Snyder, Houston Chronicle)
This is a solid historical account useful "for the record," so to speak. The Chronicle, as the establishment newspaper, is pretty good at serving up these sorts of definitive narratives when the city's "new" establishment inevitably finds problems with the "old" establishment's way of doing things. And so, the departed Frank Wilson gets (pardon the pun) thrown under the bus.
Unfortunately, the Chron seems less interested in the sort of real-time watchdog/public-interest journalism that might expose/avert/mitigate expensive fiascoes in the first place. MANY Wilson subordinates who might have blown the whistle on Wilson's "Buy America" shenanigans are STILL at the "New" METRO, but undoubtedly knew that going to the Chron with their concerns would not be productive. As the FTA investigative report makes clear in faulting the organization generally (and not Wilson specifically), many METRO officials simply went along with the unethical and illegal procurement practices.
- City's attorney emerges as Houston's new power player (Bradley Olson, Houston Chronicle)
For those keeping track of the "new" establishment.
- The Greening of Houston (Write on METRO)
Sedlak was a key player in the "old" METRO that has been criticized by George Greanias for having two empty floors of office space in its palatial headquarters. As my blogging colleague Anne Linehan pointed out in an email, that doesn't seem very green!
METRO's John Sedlak, executive vice president, said METRO is not just into sustainability - it's our business.
- Metro Tackles Huge Budget Gap...By Getting Rid Of Some Office Printers? (Hair Balls)
- School defying closure order loses bid for funds (Ericka Mellon, Houston Chronicle)
- Investigators: Motel shooting of Aldine football coach was a set-up (KHOU-11 News)
- Odd Headline In Harris County Voting Machine Fire Story (Rhymes with Right)
- Leo Vasquez Promoted Voter Registration, Did Not Suppress It (Big Jolly Politics)
David Jennings continues his efforts to disrupt the LibDem partyblogging echo chamber's "voter suppression" meme.
17 September 2010
Chron: "Metro’s flaunting of federal rules could cost taxpayers millions"
CHRON.COM is now touting (not taunting*) the latest big weekend "exclusive" designed to get you to purchase the shrinking, declining print product:
We think they meant "flouting" of rules, but whatever.
Obviously, the White/Wolff/Wilson-era METRO's "Buy America" fiasco is a big setback for an agency that is broke and planning to cut next year's budget by a few hundred million dollars, so we sort of already know the substance of this story (although we're sure it will have some really reassuring quotes from various METRO sources).
* Sorry, we couldn't resist the little pun.
UPDATE: The story is finally posted on Chron.com.
16 September 2010
Examiner: METRO to seek new light-rail referendum (updated)
THE EXAMINER just posted breaking news from reporter Mike Reed that METRO will seek a new light-rail referendum:
The Examiners' Michael Reed reports from Metro this morning that Metro chair Gilbert Garcia has announced the transit agency will be seeking voter approval of a new referendum to go forward with its light rail projects.
It has become increasingly clear that a financially strapped METRO simply cannot afford to build the light-rail system specified in the last referendum with the funds specified in the last referendum.
That leaves METRO in the position of either disregarding/deceiving the public and moving forward (largely the approach of the White/Wolff/Wilson-era METRO), or revamping the plan to make it realistic and going back to voters.
Rather than simply cobbling together a new funding mechanism and presenting the same flawed rail plan, we hope METRO, area leaders, and concerned citizens work together to reconsider our whole approach to area mobility/transit as well as the funding. Looking to this Tory Gattis post as a starting point wouldn't be bad, either!
UPDATE: The updated version of the story is posted here. Unfortunately, it does not appear any significant reconsideration of METRO's plans is on tap -- at least not right now.
News and views roundup (09/16/10 edition)
THE "fall is coming, really" news and views edition:
- Metro tied bonds to fare hikes in early ’10 (Michael Reed, Examiner News)
More detailed, adult reporting on METRO finances. Reed and the Examiner have become the go-to print sources for grown-up, balanced news coverage of METRO. Chron enablers should read and learn.
- Houston Metro: We're a Train Wreck (Harris County Almanac)
Cory Crow's thoughts on the above.
- METRO to start fining drivers illegally using diamond lanes (KTRK-13 News)
Side benefit. Real goal: METRO is hoping to raise revenues because the organization is BROKE. See above.
METRO is hoping to reduce the number of bus accidents.
- Metro Cops Will Be Getting Ticket-Happy Downtown (Hair Balls)
Some years ago, the Chronicle's METRO PR desk at the time told readers it was safe to ignore the "diamond lane" guidelines (a later METRO PR desk writer hedged somewhat last year, leading to our prediction that a new revenue scheme might not be far off -- ADVANTAGE: blogHOUSTON). Will the Chron, as the area newspaper of record, wind up being used by defense attorneys to thwart METRO's new revenue scheme?
- Houston is role model on public pensions (Mitchell Schnurman, FWST)
Alternate headline: How a lazy MSM columnist takes the Bill White campaign talking points and uncritically spreads them.
As BH readers know well, the real story of Bill White and the pension mess is quite a bit different: In reality, White inherited a $1.7 billion (give or take) unfunded liability in the municipal employees pension fund, appeared ready to tackle the problem, apparently realized the political pain involved in truly fixing the problem, and wound up nibbling around the edges with incremental reforms that have hardly fixed the problem, but instead punted it to future Houston political leaders.
Don't believe me? Go pull up page 67 of the most recent HMEPS annual report, which projects a $1.194 billion unfunded liability out to the year 2018. That's better, but still not my idea of "fixed." You'd think a columnist at a big newspaper could at least pull off that minimal amount of research and fact-checking.
- American Express and Continental to part ways (The Wandering Aramean)
- Fall? I’m Still Sweating (The Loop Scoop)
- Re: Koehler St. Development (NeoHouston)
The view from twentysomething Houtopian Planner Fantasyland, where millions of dollars to develop property the "right" way magically appear as if one had a cheat code for SimCity!
- Attaboy (and -girl) to the Chronicle (Unca Darrell)
- Why "Mr. Jones" quit the Chronicle (Unca Darrell)
- Hurricane Ike lawyer, Democratic mega-donor Steve Mostyn makes false accusations against Texas Watchdog (Trent Seibert, Texas Watchdog)
LibDem activist Mostyn looks foolish lashing out at alleged "partisan" news outlet for a story that... really made a Republican look bad.
- 5th Ward charter school defies order to close, welcomes students (Ericka Mellon, Houston Chronicle)
Kudos to Ericka Mellon for standing her ground.
The school’s founder refused comment this morning, kicking a reporter off her campus.
15 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/15/10 edition)
HERE is today's roundup, heavy on the views....
- A better vision for Metro (Houston Strategies)
How much better would the "New METRO" be with this guy on their board?
- Isn't it painful when your true love . . . (Unca Darrell)
- White takes hands-on approach to campaigning (Corrie MacLaggan, Postcards)
The pol who micromanages his campaign ads down to font size and who won his first mayoral campaign on the theme of "Getting Houston Moving" nonetheless wants you to believe that he had no idea of the financial shenanigans at METRO during his tenure as mayor. Gotta love political season!
While in flight from Harlingen to Austin today, Bill White peered through glasses perched on the end of his nose and marked up drafts of newspaper-insert ads for his gubernatorial campaign.
The Democrat is taking a hands-on approach as he seeks to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Perry. White said he writes many of the messages that come from his campaign. And he’s heavily involved in editing.
“Somewhat larger font,” he wrote on one part of an ad today.
- For some, Walmart fills a need (Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle)
The Chron's precious teen columnist tries to go populist. Yeah, she has trouble pulling it off, but there ARE some folks who support the inner-loop Wal-Mart (even though *gasp* they don't have blogs and facebook petition pages).
- Falkenberg’s Wal-Mart strawman (Off the Kuff)
Houston's most prolific blockquoter takes the Falkenberg bait.... Just one question, though: If light rail must be built "where the people are," as Kuffner and others contend, despite the traffic impact of running play trains down busy streets, then why doesn't that same "logic" apply also to Wal-Mart?
[Wal-Mart opponents] want something other than a Wal-Mart, something that they think will be a better fit for the dense urban area immediately around it....
Yeah, we know -- the smart crowd likes toy trains and doesn't like Wal-Mart.
- Pat Lykos' Accomplishments (Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center)
- Public Defender Board appointed (Chron Houston Politics)
Be sure to check out Rorschach's comment on the post.
- Sam Houston gets racing reprieve (Greg Barr, Houston Business Journal)
- Will Attacks on King Street Patriots Keep Citizens Away? (Big Jolly Politics)
14 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/14/10 edition)
HERE'S a fresh dose of news and views. Please discuss!
- Metro will stop borrowing for mobility payments (Mike Snyder, Houston Chronicle
Good. Now the organization needs to pay the City of Houston what it owes. By the way, kudos to various activists and citizen watchdogs who have kept the heat on METRO for its mobility evasions over the years. You're doing the work the newspaper of record might do in other towns.
- Greanias Presents Overview of Proposed New Budget (Write on METRO)
The "Old METRO"/"New METRO" propaganda was kind of cute for a while, but it's probably about time to give it a rest. Or, they could go all in, and put a big picture of George Greanias on the side of the METRO building, like so many authoritarian regimes used to do after a change in leadership.
- 3 storms on the hurricane map, only 1 to worry about (ABC13 Weather Blog)
- Houston crime up in 2009 (Christine Hall, Houston Business Journal)
- Harris County considers elections chief outside politics (Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle)
- New poll: Houstonians oppose drainage fee (KHOU-11 News)
- New poll: Voters weigh in on the future of Houston's Astrodome (KHOU-11 News)
- New Poll: Houstonians support the use of red-light cameras (KHOU-11 News)
- Red light camera fight heats up around Houston (Deborah Wrigley, KTRK-13 News)
- Why hasn't the Chronicle come out against . . . (Unca Darrell)
- Metro's Train Wreck (Live Oaks)
12 September 2010
Weekend news and views roundup (09/12/10 edition)
HERE are a few news items that popped up over the weekend:
- City Flip Flops on Cop-in-Court Policy (Isiah Carey, KRIV-26 News)
This minor change is unlikely to make anyone very happy.
- Not everyone is opposed to a new Wal-Mart (Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle)
- Rocky road: Past Metro mistakes complicate the effort to build Houston's light-rail system (Houston Chronicle)
Wait a minute, isn't this the same editorial board that basically shrieked at Mayor-elect Annise Parker NOT to mess with some of the shady characters who made those "mistakes"? We would also note that gubernatorial candidate Bill White seemed to agree with the editorial board's shrieking at the time.
- Spanish firm jumps into Metro rail dispute (Mike Snyder, Houston Chronicle)
What, nobody was around to okay a Snyder-supplied quote? We're sure this story will "evolve" by the morning and that METRO's PR section at 801 Texas Avenue will get their quote.
Metro officials were not immediately available for comment.
- 92 Eminent Domain Cases on 3 Lines: Metro’s Light Rail Land Acquisition Scorecard (Swamplot)
- Houston Votes Antagonistic Towards Leo Vasquez From the Start (Big Jolly Politics)
More on the FTA's investigative report on METRO's CAF procurement fiasco (updated)
WE finally had some time this weekend carefully to examine the FTA's detailed, 38-page report on METRO's "Buy America" violations and irregular procurement practices.
We thought that media coverage of the FTA announcement had been fairly critical, but the report itself is even more damning of METRO's procurement mess. Here are the major findings:
We have found three substantial violations of FTA's Buy America and procurement rules:
a. METRO and CAF violated FTA's Buy America requirements. This began with METRO's release of a Request for Proposals (RFP) that stated FTA's Buy America requirements did not apply to the procurement~ continued with METRO's unsupported evaluation of the various offeror's Buy America compliance, including the Certificate of Compliance submitted by CAF; and culminated with METRO's decision not to require CAF to meet its contractually mandated Buy America obligations and to circumvent the Buy America requirements by entering into a separate, locally funded contract with CAF for the pilot vehicles;
b. METRO violated FTA's competitive procurement rules when it chose to negotiate with one of the offerors, CAF, to the exclusion of all other offerors, and allowed that offeror to continue revising its price while refusing to allow other offerors the opportunity to present their Best and Final Offers (BAFOs); and
c. METRO’s LRV procurement was flawed due to the sum of many failures, including the lack of an adequate procurement plan, the lack of an adequate source selection evaluation plan, METRO’s failure to disclose all evaluation factors in the solicitation, METRO’s failure to inform potential offerors of the relative importance of those factors that were disclosed in the evaluation, METRO’s use of undisclosed changes in evaluation factors, and METRO’s failure to perform a complete best value analysis.
In addition to being violations of the law, these findings describe an unfair procurement. METRO’s actions resulted in less than full and open competition for a several-hundred-million-dollar LRV contract.
As the heavily footnoted (nearly 200 footnotes total!) document makes clear, METRO's procurement practices with regard to CAF were deceptive, unfair, and illegal. The criticism is not directed at Frank Wilson exclusively (although his directives are cited in several spots); indeed, METRO staff, many of whom are presumably still employed by the agency, are referenced frequently, which raises the question of what policies George Greanias and the new METRO board have implemented to ensure that this sort of procurement fiasco does not occur again.
Incidentally, Frank Wilson's trip to Spain in 2009 got a bit of attention in the report (footnote 148):
Apparently, further negotiations with CAF were needed even after the METRO Board’s authorization. On March 25, 2009, METRO President and CEO Frank Wilson travelled to Seville, Bilboa and Madrid to “visit CAF Manufacturing Facility.” The documents do not further describe the activities of the trip. Metropolitan Transit Authority Expense Report for Frank Wilson. It is unclear why a visit to CAF’s rail car manufacturing facility was needed after the procurement had concluded, especially since METRO staff had visited the facility in November 2007 during Step-1 of the procurement.
The Wolff-commissioned sham "investigation" also never got to the bottom of the purpose of Wilson's trip. We're sure CAF made sure it was *ahem* a relaxing getaway for their guy, though.
Be sure and read the entire FTA report on the procurement fiasco.
UPDATE: In late August, Paul Knight posted about some of the email exchanges by METRO officials that basically amounted to collusion in the flawed (and, as it turns out, illegal) procurement practices with CAF. Those emails are cited in the FTA report. While Frank Wilson may be gone, most of those players remain with METRO today, hence our concern above about what steps METRO has taken to clean up the procurement procedures. Indeed, given the facts that some of these players are still in place, that the "new METRO" will apparently require an Executive VP of operations who actually knows something about transit operations, and that the most likely person to fill that slot is John Sedlak (a participant in the emails described by Knight), the need for METRO to clean up and make transparent its procurement process is even more pressing.
10 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/10/10 edition)
HAPPY FRIDAY everyone! Here's today's morning news roundup:
- Metro: Completion of 3 light-rail lines pushed back up to a year (Examiner News)
That METRO backtrack yesterday came following (dubious) assertions on Wednesday that METRO hoped to push ahead on schedule.
- METRO's alleged violations to delay construction of rails (Deborah Wrigley, KTRK-13 News)
Alleged? Come on, now, KTRK headline writer.
- Perry quick to pounce on White-Metro connection (Joe Holley, Houston Chronicle)
As we noted Wednesday, perhaps more careful vetting was in order. Wilson's troubles in Jersey were already making news, although the damning investigation had not yet concluded.
As mayor, White was known for his aversion to delegating when it came to executive decision-making, but Katy Bacon, White's campaign spokeswoman, noted that Wilson was hired by the board, not the mayor, after a search firm conducted an national search.
Bacon said White was told one candidate — Wilson - stood out as one of the most experienced transit executives in the country.
UPDATE: Cory Crow adds what Holley left out of his story.
- Crime lab director says "It's a new day" (Isiah Carey, KRIV-26 News)
How many times have we heard that? Let's hope it's finally true.
- Group sues to block vote on banning red-light cameras (Bradley Olson, Houston Chronicle)
- Houston Texans, Year Nine (Houston's Clear Thinkers)
- Lefty Party Bloggers: Truth? We Don't Need No Truth! (Big Jolly Politics)
Big Jolly is back from vacation and blasting away, with the read of the week!
09 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/09/10 edition)
Here are today's morning tidbits:
- Lifelong -- except for three years (Chris Moran, Chron Houston Politics Blog)
Nice catch by Chris Moran, who notices that Gordon Quan seems confused about the meaning of "lifelong." That may not be the biggest problem for a campaign going nowhere, though....
- State ethics probe focuses on Quan's campaign finances (Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle)
- Tropical Storm Igor forms. It's far away for now (Chron SciGuy Blog)
The view from the Chronicle's pretend weather guy.
All we can really say is that this is potentially a very powerful hurricane and it bears watching as it crosses the Atlantic toward the Americas.
- Why we probably don't need to worry about Igor (ABC13 Weather Blog)
The view from an experienced professional meteorologist.
- Cuba, embargo, Chronicle (Unca Darrell)
- More "concern" at the Chronicle (Unca Darrell)
08 September 2010
FTA blasts White/Wilson/Wolff-era METRO procurement practices
FRANK "PROCUREMENT DISASTER" WILSON's legacy as the METRO chief during Bill White's tenure as mayor took another blow today, as the FTA blasted the "old" METRO's efforts to subvert "buy America" rules in signing a rail-car deal with a favored contractor. Here are various accounts of the news:
- FTA: Metro violated law; $900 million grant stalls (Michael Reed, Examiner News)
- FTA: Metro in violation of federal 'Buy America' requirements in light rail deal (KHOU-11 News)
- Rough road ahead as feds deal blow to METRO rail line (Mike Snyder and Bradley Olson, Houston Chronicle)
The Chron.com story continues to "evolve" in the usual annoying, nontransparent manner, so who knows what story/headline will be at this link by the morning!
- FTA: METRO Made $900 Million Mistake (Jason Volentine, KIAH-39 News)
- FTA: METRO light rail plan violates federal laws (Wendy Siegle, KUHF-88.7 News)
Perhaps if Mr. Wilson had been vetted just a little bit more before he was hired, this setback to METRO and area transit users could have been avoided. Two big procurement screwups in his last two transit posts are not glittering résumé items. But, he's probably enjoying the generous payoff he got upon his departure from METRO.
News and views roundup (09/08/10 edition)
As the Hermine rains move on, reporters will be returning to actual news beats (we hope). In the meantime, here are some morning tidbits from another slow news cycle:
- Gov't ethics probe turns into probe of gov't waste (Wayne Dolcefino, KTRK-13 News)
You never know what an investigative report might turn up for citizens/taxpayers. It's far preferable to PR posing as journalism.
- Tomball trying to outlaw illegal immigrants (Jason Volentine, KIAH-39 News)
The absurdity of the headline does say something about the problem, no? The Chronicle reports that Tomball's council voted down the proposal.
- Houston, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico Receive $923,000 to Reduce Greenhouse Gases (EPA)
Woo, free money! It IS free money from someone else, right? Err... yeah, well, let's just not worry about those pesky details. After all, FREE MONEY will be helping us develop "solar-powered LED lighting on bike paths to improve safety!"
07 September 2010
News and views roundup (09/07/10 edition)
THE LONG HOLIDAY WEEKEND combined with a minor storm event (rain! quick, deploy all reporters to stand out in the water!) means there's not much hard news to start the work week, but here's a little lunchtime reading:
- When can you get into the Houston Zoo for free? (KTRK-13 News)
The zoo is changing its designated free-days policy, to help with parking (as they put it; and if it generates a little revenue, well....)
- TSU paints over murals created by retired prof (Sarah Raslan, Houston Chronicle)
It would be easier to figure out if something truly valuable was needlessly lost if Chron.com had posted images larger than thumbnails.
- Continental to recall pilots, union says (Houston Business Journal)
- The Chronicle, which always and ostentatiously ignores . . . (Unca Darrell)
. . . our most profound national civic holiday, July 4, found time today to celebrate -- in a manner of speaking -- Labor Day. The first sentence signals that this will be another . . . anti-editorial -- pointless (August was really, really hot, but now it's not August anymore), snarky (we aren't declaring mission accomplished), elitist (white shoes?) -- an editorial with nothing to say, saying it.
- No media in Houston (Case # 1743928) (Harris County Almanac)
- Selling the public on light rail (Live Oaks)
The Chronicle tells us that new Metro chairman George Greanias faces the challenge of selling a "sometimes skeptical public" on the alleged merits of light rail. The article makes it appear that Greanias is more concerned with the troubled agency's public image than correcting its financial problems. And that isn't surprising.
Unlike a private business, Metro has an endless source of funds--taxpayers--which it can tap into.
Here's one of our problems with the Chron's tireless cheerleading for METRO (with Mike Snyder taking the cheerleading to new levels): METRO has a bloated PR department to spin a positive message for the public. Citizens and taxpayers have a handful of local journalists supplemented by a few citizen-activists and bloggers to look out for their interests. When the beat reporter at the area's newspaper of record seems to head the 801 Texas Avenue METRO PR desk, that's not particularly helpful to citizens and taxpayers.
06 September 2010
News roundup (Labor Day Weekend 2010 edition)
Here's hoping everyone had a GREAT Labor Day weekend. Here are some news items that caught our eye over the last few days (and a link/commentary format that we may continue to use, depending on mood).
- Troubles belie Houston hand doc's family image (Todd Ackerman, Houston Chronicle)
Troubles indeed. The Houston Press has done fairly regular updates of the creepy hand doctor's issues over the years.
- Selling city on METRO a challenge for top pick for CEO job (Mike Snyder, Houston Chronicle)
Mike Snyder makes up for the Chronicle's belated coverage of METRO's deteriorating finances (no doubt characterized as "negative" coverage by METRO's media monitoring service) with this sugary profile of George Greanias (a "Renaissance man!"). Rah rah!
- TABC underage drinking sting snares West U councilman Boehme (Steve Mark, West U Examiner)
A recent run of bad publicity continues for West U councilmember George Boehme.
- Vote for safety (Houston Chronicle)
The Chron editorial board says vote for the establishment's red-light-camera cash cow. IF you get to vote at all....
- Lawsuit filed over red-light-camera vote (Mary Benton, KPRC-2 News)
03 September 2010
KHOU: METRO navigates bond/funding roadblock with TX AG
KHOU-11'S MARK GREENBLATT checks in with the "New METRO" leadership on the Old METRO's questionable approach to financing its expensive light-rail buildout.
That story follows the New METRO's self-congratulatory press conference that was called earlier this week, apparently so that George Greanias could audition as the preferred candidate for the permanent job (with the reorganizational caveat that an Executive Vice President/Chief Administrative Officer who actually knows something about transit operations will be designated to.... babysit actual operations; see the slide deck, page 26. We saw no discussion of this position in local media).
Mayor Annise Parker must be pleased at the former politician's efforts to clean up METRO's terrible image so far, but the question remains whether those political skills will translate into a more effective transit agency.
02 September 2010
Update on the dueling vote fraud press conferences
THE CHRON'S CHRIS MORAN reports on the dueling press conferences held last week by Houston Votes, a Democratic-dominated get-out-the-vote nonprofit*, and True the Vote, a voting integrity project of a local Tea Party organization. Bottom line: Nothing all that newsworthy emerged from either press conference.
Indeed, the most damning data points in the story emerged on the day the story originally broke: The documents posted by voter registrar Leo Vasquez in support of his criticism of the Houston Votes registration efforts, and the admission by Sean Caddle (the lead "organizer" of the registration effort) when presented with some of the documents in question that yes, it does look like voter fraud (about 1:20 or so into this video).
The predictable hyperventilating about racism, voter suppression, and partisanship (!) from various Dem partybloggers in town has been more entertaining than the subsequent press conferences. By far!
BLOGVERSATION: Harris County Almanac.
* Readers of John Thornton's Texas Tribune would surely be shocked at that description, given that publication's previous cheerleading for the group and subsequent silence (UPDATE: Moran's story actually made their "brief" today. Still no update of their own on Houston Votes, however).