01 March 2012

A single trip with transfers is counted as multiple boardings

Pssst, Channel 2: There's a difference between riders and boardings, although METRO is happy if you make the mistake.

Oh, and The Danger Train did not have six million of either last month.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 03/01/12 07:35 PM |

26 February 2012

A poo poo update: City reverses "file a claim" stance

So, apparently the city figured out this wasn't the best response when a city worker caused serious damage inside several Houston homes:

A supervisor with Houston Public Works visited his home late Thursday night and informed him he would have to arrange clean up himself and file a claim with the city attorney’s office. The city will then decide if he will be compensated for the damage to his home and for the cost of the hotel room he will have to live in until his house is habitable again.

It's still hard to believe that someone in a supervisory position, representing the city of Houston, came to their homes and told them to file a claim.

Now KHOU-11 is reporting that, although it took two days, the city is finally paying for repairs:

On Saturday, the city paid for workers to go out to the home and start repairs. They worked for more than 16 hours and now the walls are partially gutted and the floors look cleaner. While there’s still a lot of work to be done, Alfredo Nuno’s wife said she was appreciative the city stepped up to help.
“I’m happy with the people that are doing this job, I’m happy with the people that allowed them to do this job and like I said, I’m happy with Channel 11 for doing the report and helping us,” said homeowner Marie Nuno.

She's probably right. Without a little local media attention, it's unlikely the city would have stepped up to do the right thing.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 02/26/12 01:53 PM |

24 February 2012

"Downtown in general is a struggle"

This is confusing. On the one hand we have METRO CEO George Greanias suggesting that the Danger Train has helped increase property values along the Main Street Line; on the other hand, the Chron's Nancy Sarnoff points to a restaurant, Convey, that lasted one year before closing down:

“Downtown in general is a struggle,” she said.

A number of restaurants have closed over the past year, including Les Givral’s neighbor ERA and Cabo, a couple blocks away.

Les Givral’s has operated downtown for almost nine years and business continues to be challenging, Le said. The Vietnamese eatery tried opening at night but there just wasn’t enough business.

“We couldn’t sustain the cost,” she said.

The city has been trying to help downtown retail businesses through grants and other marketing efforts, but Le said the downtown population shrinks at night and parking can be a hassle.

Billions of dollars spent, a parking authority created, surveillance cameras installed, another sports stadium constructed, and yet, it's still not enough.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 02/24/12 06:12 PM |

There's poo poo all over the house!

Speaking of remodeling...a city of Houston worker accidentally caused bathrooms in two Houston houses to become "fecal fountains," and left the residents with houses that need extensive cleanup:

Alfredo Nuno’s home at Greendowns Street and the Gulf Freeway was the hardest hit. The sewage exploded through his toilet and bathtub, showering the bathroom with fecal matter and spreading sewer water of various consistencies down the hallway, into his bedroom, and through the bathroom wall flooding his kitchen.

“They ruined my house,” he said while leading us to the rental unit in his backyard where his brother’s apartment suffered the same fate.

Behind that, a neighbor’s house on Southern Street received the same treatment. Ana Zamorano stood outside her rental home refusing to go back inside. The stench was unbearable.

Unbelievably, the city's response is that the homeowners will have to fund the repairs and cleanup themselves, then file a claim for reimbursement:

A supervisor with Houston Public Works visited his home late Thursday night and informed him he would have to arrange clean up himself and file a claim with the city attorney’s office. The city will then decide if he will be compensated for the damage to his home and for the cost of the hotel room he will have to live in until his house is habitable again.

Time to call ServPro: "Like it never even happened." The city's motto would be more along the lines of, "We cause it, you fix it."

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 02/24/12 10:33 AM |

21 February 2012

Checking in on Houston's remodel

Here's how METRO CEO George Greanias characterizes light rail construction in a KUHF piece:

"Anybody who has remodeled their kitchen knows that it's a great idea to remodel your kitchen but it is a terrible process to go through. I think everybody admits that building these three rail lines and extending the reach of public transit in Houston is a great thing to do, but it's a difficult challenge while you're in the middle of the construction process."

Don't worry, though. Greanias says METRO has handed out $2 million to businesses affected by the kitchen remodeling. And, he adds, property values have gone up along the Main Street line, so those affected by current light rail construction have that to look forward to when the remodel is complete.

On a related note, the Houston Business Journal has this:

Only 2.57 percent of Houston workers use public transportation, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the Business Journals’ On Numbers. That means only 68,129 people use public transportation to get to work out of the 2.7 million workers in Houston.

Once the new rail lines are operating, that number should skyrocket, fully justifying the billions METRO is spending.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 02/21/12 05:57 PM |

18 February 2012

Next time, say it's for the children

Last week, City Council was to consider a new ordinance to impose more regulations on Houston auto repair shops. Pages and pages of new regulations. Instead, the measure was sent back to the mayor's office.

Marc Campos says the votes weren't there in spite of Mayor Parker's insistence that it should be thought of as a consumer protection ordinance. On the plus side, Campos noted:

For many of the speakers, this was obviously the first time they had ever attended a City Council meeting. I don’t know if this how City Hall should go about engaging folks into the political process. This is one that has the potential to come and bite folks on the arse.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 02/18/12 07:12 AM |

17 February 2012

Keep it between $10-$20 million and Houston's in

If the past is any indicator, odds are good the city of Houston will cough up millions to a Dallas developer who wants to turn the old Texaco building into a mixed-use development:

A Dallas developer has asked the city for $14 million to turn the derelict Texaco building into hundreds of high-end apartments.

Provident Realty Advisors Inc. is pitching the idea, which would be an $82 million restoration of the historic property at 1111 Rusk Ave.

See Magnolia Hotel, Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites, Pavilions, and Dynamo Stadium as a few examples.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 02/17/12 02:52 PM |

13 February 2012

Mayor ends Occupy Houston squatting; Cost to taxpayers exceeds $300k

Occupy Houston Effort Ends to Allow Work on Downtown Park - Office of Mayor Annise Parker

Providing a police presence at the park for the last four months has cost the Houston Police Department a total of $54,917.68 and $287,268.00 in overtime and regular salaries, respectively. The end to the encampment will free those officers for assignment elsewhere.

The Houston Parks Department estimates it will cost more than $13,000 to clean up and lay new sod in the park.

A more accurate headline would have been something like "Mayor orders HPD to end Occupy Houston squatting in Downtown Park."

In any case, that sure was a waste of a lot of money. About the best thing that can be said about the Houston squatting is that far less violent crime seems to have been reported here than in other Occupy encampments.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 02/13/12 09:47 PM |

09 February 2012

City's Inspector General quits, suggests strengthening the office

Authority 'not there' for city of Houston investigative arm, Inspector General Bob Doguim says as he quits job - Steve Miller, Texas Watchdog

In Chicago, the office of the inspector general issues a quarterly report running dozens of pages describing the findings and results of its office. In Houston, the quarterly report amounts to simple tallies of cases closed. It took a public information request and a state Attorney General’s ruling to obtain all of the complaints fielded by its inspector general office. Even then the city attorney’s office violated the state’s open records law by failing to provide the records in a timely fashion.

And the office that was once said to be revamped via an executive order from Mayor Annise Parker has yet to issue a report on its findings over the past year.

The former FBI agent, Robert Doguim, hired to lead the office, stepped down. His last day was Friday. He lasted 14 months in the job and left on what he said were good terms. He also provided some candid advice to City Attorney David Feldman on how the office might operate in the future.

Be sure to read the entire Texas Watchdog piece.

We don't have a big problem with Mayor Parker moving the Office of Inspector General under the Mayor's Office in an effort to raise its prominence and authority, but as with many mayoral initiatives, the follow-through seemed lacking, and the Texas Watchdog story strongly implies that Dogium is departing because of lack of authority to do the job as he thinks it should be done.

Unfortunately, that's not entirely surprising. Houston pols (and Texas pols generally, for that matter) like some oversight on ethics and transparency, but not too much oversight -- hence the toothless nature of so many of these entities and their lack of independence (ultimately, Dogium is right that the office probably needs to be more autonomous, certainly not under the authority of the city attorney, who is usually a political ally of the mayor).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 02/09/12 07:57 AM |

07 February 2012

Chron nails quasi-governmental agency behaving badly

Salaries soar at Harris County Housing Authority - Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle (11/20/2011)

Harris County Housing Authority leaders have received steep salary increases and staggering bonuses in recent years, nearly tripling some executives' pay since 2004.

As CEO, Guy Rankin's salary has gone from $99,507 when he took over in July 2004 to $263,965 three years ago. That included a $60,000 bonus, dubbed "equalization pay" in authority records. This year, while not scheduled to receive a bonus, he stands to make $242,008.

The authority's second-in-command, David Gunter, was making $74,256 as a senior accountant when Rankin became CEO. He since has been promoted three times, to chief administrative officer, and will receive $220,001 this year. That includes a $55,000 bonus. His pay exceeds that of all housing authority CEOs in Texas, as well as those of some of the nation's largest housing authorities.


The agency is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and collects fees from housing it develops with private builders. It receives no local tax dollars.

Rankin and authority board members defended the agency's pay scale. They pointed to two salary surveys, including one last year, that used "extensive private sector data" to show authority employees were paid 8 percent to 40 percent below "market rates." The 2010 survey also polled other housing authorities to create a pay scale "slightly above the median of the relevant labor market."

County housing agency criticized over costly Patriots project - Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle (01/31/2012)

The project, called Patriots by the Lake, was envisioned as a $400 million "living monument to America's veterans" on the shore of Lake Houston. It was to include hundreds of homes, armed-forces memorials, restaurants, shops, a marina, a hotel and a town hall containing a replica of the Oval Office.

Critics accuse authority CEO Guy Rankin and the agency's board of commissioners of pouring money into the project after it was clear it would not be built. County officials say the largely market-rate development went against the authority's mission of providing affordable housing, and question some of the project spending, such as $18,000 on letters said to be penned by Abraham Lincoln, bought from a shop in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Rankin and board chairman Casey Wallace say the idea was an inspired concept that was derailed by many factors....

[Read More]

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 02/07/12 08:54 PM |

04 February 2012

Ready-fire-aim: Houston ready to regulate auto repair shops

Houston is poised to enact a new revenue stream which will regulate automotive repair shops:

The Houston City Council is scheduled to consider a proposed ordinance to regulate the automotive repair and collision industry at an upcoming city council meeting. The Automotive Service Association (ASA) contacted the mayor and council members asking that they address a number of concerns with the proposed ordinance.

Although the proposed ordinance has gone through multiple revisions, ASA is concerned that there are still significant issues with the ordinance.

No! Significant issues with a Houston ordinance? Unheard of!

A December op-ed by the past president of the Houston Automotive Service Association has more specifics, and includes this gem:

The ordinance includes pages and pages that regulate how records will be kept, how repair shops may gain approvals from customers and establishes fines for sometimes honest mistakes that must be paid to the city.

Wouldn't want that fine to go to the customer who was actually involved in the transaction, now would we?

PREVIOUSLY: Is this necessary? - Camposcommunications's Blog.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 02/04/12 06:26 AM |

02 February 2012

KTRK: DA's not-investigation "could now pose problems"

DA Pat Lykos launched examination of grand jury after ABC13 report - Ted Oberg, KTRK-13 News

This all started the day after we broke the news a grand jury was investigating DA Pat Lykos' office. According to people involved in the search, Lykos wanted details on the grand jurors because she thought they had become hostile to her. She wanted her chief investigator to find evidence of their political bias and plug the leaks to the news media -- especially Eyewitness News.


Using the confidential list of grand jurors' names, the DA's chief investigator looked at Facebook, Google, the state bar and then accessed a county paid for, password-protected database called Accurint -- which gave him a list of grand jurors' addresses, jobs, relatives, bankruptcies, all sorts of information and connections.

"It's more than just collecting information on people," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

Our legal analyst says using those confidential names for a political purpose could now pose problems.

The fact that KTRK's headline uses the term "examination" rather than "investigation" is a nice touch!

But it doesn't really matter if DA Lykos insists we all call what happened a "cursory review," "internet search," or even a lullaby! The facts, at least as reported by Oberg, suggest that DA Lykos deployed resources of the District Attorney's Office (taxpayer resources) to snoop on perceived political opponents. Quite a Nixonian lullaby, hmm?

In my view, that's an abuse of power. It's not clear that it rises to the level of an illegal abuse of power, although the DA's political opponents will probably make that case (yes, she has political opponents, in her own party and outside her party -- that's sometimes how elected offices work). But it certainly doesn't reflect well on the DA.

BLOGVERSATION: From Frying Pan to Fire? - Defending People, A Petty DA - Camposcommunications’s Blog.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 02/02/12 09:41 PM |

01 February 2012

KTRK: DA Lykos uses investigative resources to not-investigate Grand Jury, perceived political opponents

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos: What investigator did is not an 'investigation' - Ted Oberg, KTRK-13 News

Only after we told [DA Pat] Lykos what we learned today, she told us she didn't order an investigation, but did order in her words "a cursory internet search... to learn if there was a political motivation behind the attacks" on her office.

No matter what she calls it, here's what we know about what was ordered.

According to sources, on Saturday, October 22, 2011 the DA's chief investigator was called while off duty. He was told by the DA's first assistant, Jim Leitner, to collect information on members of the grand jury themselves -- specifically the foreperson, Trisha Pollard, and another member who shared a last name, but no relation with DWI defense attorney Mark Theissen.


A week later, on Saturday, October 29, sources confirmed the chief investigator was called again and told to expand the scope of his examination to include the special prosecutors, the judge in the case Susan Brown, and her husband, and a potential Lykos political opponent Mike Anderson and his wife.

Sources tell us the investigator was told the orders were coming from the boss -- meaning Lykos....

So, after all that posturing in front of media yesterday about being the victim of political shenanigans, it turns out that Lykos was actively engaged in word-parsing games in an effort to obfuscate the fact that she herself had deployed DA resources in what appear to be politically motivated shenanigans. Surely there are better (even ethical!) uses of DA investigative resources than engaging in not-investigations of people the temperamental DA thinks are out to "get" her politically!

NOTHING about this affair reflects well on the Harris County District Attorney's Office led by Pat Lykos. Not one thing.

BLOGVERSATION: Investigating the Investigation Investigating the Other Investigation - Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 02/01/12 09:32 PM |

Sheriff Garcia's media flack tries to intimidate law firm, fails

Why Does the Sheriff's Department Want to Censor Our Law Firm Website? - Steph Stradley Blog

Ultimately, I am certain that running one of the busiest jails in the country isn't easy. And at least, [Alan] Bernstein agrees with our law firm site that Harris County Jail is not a fun experience that leaves some people feeling fatigued and humiliated. But doesn't the Sheriff's Department have better things to spend their money on than scouring the web to find unhappy words about them and send long, whiney letters? And what's with a former journalist using his position to try to censor other people's points of view?

Be sure to read the whole thing.

This isn't the first time Bernstein's heavy-handed approach has been questioned. The bullying tactics aren't that surprising given the source, but they don't make the department look all that great.

BLOGVERSATION: Sadistic Harris County Jailers. And the Streisand Effect - Defending People.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 02/01/12 09:03 PM |

31 January 2012

A tale of two porn-craving Houston public "servants"

Tale of two porn-viewing Houston public servants

An attentive reader called our attention to the page above from Friday's Houston Chronicle (sometimes, there really is no substitute for the print edition).

On the right side of the page, we have a story about a disgraced HFD captain who was investigated after engaging in online chatting with an underage girl and was found to be in possession of child porn:

Houston police confiscated Fiszer's laptop and media storage devices that held pornographic images and a video of children, investigators said. Officials said they found at least 450 images of child pornography.

On the left side of the page, we have a photo of disgraced METRO CEO George Greanias posing for some METRO promotion or another. Unlike the HFD captain, Greanias has friends at the highest levels of city government, the most important being Mayor Annise Parker. Unlike the HFD captain, Greanias didn't have to deal with HPD searching his computer after he was caught visiting apparent gay child porn sites using METRO resources. Rather, the disgraced CEO's insistence that no laws were broken interestingly resulted in... no police investigation at all!

It helps to have friends in high places.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 01/31/12 09:30 PM |

30 January 2012

Not that he's covered this topic objectively for years...

Are Houston’s TV forecasters climate change skeptics? - Eric Berger, SciGuy/Chron.com

This weekend the Chronicle ran a story I wrote on the Forecast the Facts campaign, a controversial initiative which essentially seeks to out TV meteorologists who hold contrarian views on climate change science.

Contrarian, eh?

Well, at least the Chronicle's in-house global warmist is no longer pretending to be merely an objective reporter without an opinion on the matter.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 01/30/12 09:03 PM |

24 January 2012

Bitter former mayor offers "advice" to Rick Perry

Last week Bill White pictured Rick Perry . . . - Unca Darrell

[Former Mayor Bill] White ... proposes "three simple actions" by which [Gov. Rick] Perry could restore his credibility with Texans. You can read them for yourself, but the three simple actions boil down to one simple principle: Be more like me, the good brother, and less like your perfectly awful self.

Think Bill White is still just a little bitter over those stupid voters re-electing that stupid Aggie when they could have chosen a smart, successful Democratic mayor instead?

Again, click over to read the whole righteous takedown.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 01/24/12 09:57 PM |

Chron's Holley gets the BattleSwarm treatment

An Example Of What’s Wrong With Journalism These Days - Lawrence Person's Battleswarm Blog

This Houston Chronicle piece by Joe Holley is an example of why so many people are dissatisfied with the job the legacy media is doing of reporting events.

No argument from us. Be sure to click over and read the whole thing, and check out the BattleSwarm Blog regularly. It's one of the good ones.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 01/24/12 09:33 PM |

Harris County assistant attorney pleads for leniency for Eversole

Harris County asst. attorney - 'ethics watchdog for the county' - urged judge to exercise leniency in Jerry Eversole case - Steve Miller, Texas Watchdog

A letter to a federal judge from Harris County’s legal counsel supporting ousted Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole was “inappropriate” and demands a revisiting of the county’s ethics policy, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said in an interview.

The letter from First Assistant Harris County Attorney Terry O’Rourke to U.S. District Judge David Hittner asked for leniency – a sentence of probation in a case where the penalty allows up to five years in prison - for Eversole, who was indicted in 2010 for accepting bribes to steer millions of dollars in contracts to a developer, Michael Surface.


“In my professional review of the Murworth properties … I found that the county procedures had been followed and that there was no evidence of undue or improper outside influence on the decision makers," O'Rourke wrote, contradicting the federal indictment.

“As a civil litigator with only the burden of preponderance of the evidence, I would not, and did not, recommend the filing charges of either bribery or unlawful gift to a public servant to the appropriate officials. Based on this, I recommend that you grant probation in the case.”

In other words, one of the branches of Harris County government we count on to keep an eye on OTHER public officials isn't really all that interested in doing so. That would be handy to keep in mind around election time.

This was a nice catch by Texas Watchdog yesterday morning. The Chronicle ran a similar story in today's edition.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 01/24/12 07:42 AM |

23 January 2012

Hiking and biking past one of METRO's greatest hits

Swamplot notes that construction of a bikeway north of downtown continues, and there'll be a "highlight" for hikers and bikers once it opens:

One highlight of the journey: a close-up view of the 17.3 acres of swampland Hakeem Olajuwon flipped to Metro back in 2005 for a cool $15 million.

He made a $13 million profit. Quite a fine example of Frank "Procurement Disaster" Wilson's outstanding leadership, wouldn't you agree?

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 01/23/12 06:50 PM |

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