The Year in Review Lynn Ashby looks back at the headlining stories of 2006
Although 2006 was an even year, for Houston it was odd. It was the year of company executives doing the perp walk, the Katrina Kriminals, hot elections and a sports front so dismal that only one major Houston team got into the playoffs (and managed to win the MLS Championship). We saw fire – no-smoking laws – and we saw rain – 12 inches during two days in October. So let us look back in anger, or at least in frustration, at the way it was in ’06.
First, we had an Enron around the law. Andy Fastow was so much help to the feds he got four years shaved off the 10-year prison time he had agreed to serve. Give Fastow our Cell Phony Award. His accomplice in crime, Jeff Skilling, receives our Make a Skilling Trophy (along with 24 years). Finally, our famed Who Says You Can’t Take it with You? Medal goes to Ken Lay.
But the biggest honor – Man of the Year – doesn’t go to Tom Delay. He’s dead meat. We have new red meat, Dan Patrick. To run for District 7 in the Texas Senate, he rented a condo in the district and loaned his campaign $250,000. He vowed not to take more than $1,000 in individual donations, but after he won the primary, he raised the donation limit to $5,000. He ran as an opponent to the power of the lobbyists. Within days of his nomination, an Austin lobbyist held a fundraiser for Patrick.
He promised not to accept funds from trial lawyers and gambling interests. The lobbyist sponsor of the fundraiser represented trial lawyers and gambling interests. So, our coveted Man of the Year Award (Way Down Deep He’s Shallow Dept.) goes to Dannie Scott Goeb (yes, he changed his name, too).
If a debate is held in the forest…
The Boss Tweed Good Government Award goes to Houston Congressman John Culberson who agreed to debate his Democratic opponent, Jim Henley, only if the debate was closed both to the media and to the public.
In a move to strengthen his power in the U.S. House, Sugar Land Rep. Tom DeLay lost all his power, his House seat and still faces expensive legal battles.
And the beat goes on dept.
Even after DeLay announced he would no longer run for Congress, DeLay’s campaign manager, Chris Homan, organized the disruption of an opponent’s campaign rally with signs, shouts and air horns.
Who’s on 22nd?
Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Republican, won the race for the 22nd Congressional District to replace DeLay. Well, sort of. Sekula-Gibbs will serve the remaining two months of the Hammer’s term, then will be replaced by former Congressman Nick Lampson who won the next two-year term.
Ma’am, you’re no Tom DeLay
After working for Sekula-Gibbs for less than 48 hours, seven congressional staffers who previously worked for DeLay resigned because they felt they were treated terribly.
Once again Hubert Vo defeated Talmadge Heflin for state rep. in the 149th District. Are we going to be seeing this every two years forever?
Take that, John Deere
AARP’s 50 Best U.S. Employers for Older Workers contains only one in Texas: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, squeaking in at Number 48. Moline, Ill.-based John Deere finished at Number 50.
With loyal workers like these, who needs detractors?
Billboards posted at major entrances to Houston welcomed new arrivals with: “A rising crime rate, an undermanned police force, a dysfunctional dispatch center and a no-chase, no-catch policy. Nowhere else but Houston.” The billboards were financed by the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union.
A 24-year veteran of the Houston Police Department and father of five, Sgt. Jack Oliver, is now female officer Julian Christine Oliver.
Don’t pry for me, Argentina
After airport security in Buenos Aires cleared college student Howard MacFarland Fish, customs officials in Houston found in his baggage a small stick of dynamite, a fuse, electrical blasting caps, white granular explosives and, in his carry-on, two black powder-based fuses.
Lushes who lunch
Jordy Tollett, executive director of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau took a leave of absence after a TV news spot showed him at a two-hour lunch with several drinks.
During the past 12 months the Houston Chronicle mentioned party animal Becca Cason Thrash 87 times.
In deep I doo-doo
Eric Eugene Cooper, married seven times but not with that many divorces, was convicted of altering one ex-wife’s car title.
Red light district
In the first two weeks of operation, Houston’s red-light-cameras recorded 1,729 violators. Of these, 1,040 violations were approved and 695 citations were issued.
The sound of one mouth flapping
After comparing his liberal debating opponent to Josef Goebbels and calling him a clown, over-bearing conservative radio host Chris Baker of KPRC stormed off the set of MSNBC, saying, “I’m through with this jackass.”
Hey, we’re over here
“Houston is invisible. People don’t know about Houston. They don’t think of Houston.” So said Rice sociology professor and surveyor Stephen Klineberg, responding to a nationwide poll of young, college-educated workers on where they would like to live. Houston failed to finish in the top or bottom 20.
MapQuest rated Houston the nation’s most difficult city for visitors to navigate.
Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado’s staff was charged with ripping off the city with unauthorized raises and bonuses to the tune of $200,000. Alvarado said she knew nothing about it.
Remember the Alamo, forget San Jacinto
More than 1,000 Hispanic high school students – who have the highest dropout rate in Texas – left their classrooms and paraded through Houston streets waving Mexican flags, chanting in Spanish to protest proposed immigration laws and demanding U.S. citizenship for illegal aliens.
José can you see
Reagan High School Principal Robert Pambello was ordered to remove a Mexican flag that he had hoisted below the U.S. and Texas flags to show support for his demonstrating Hispanic students.
Soccer to me
UH Prof. Raul A. Ramos wanted to erase the picture of Sam Houston from the logo of the city’s new soccer team, Houston 1836, calling the name and logo “retribution” and “sinister towards Hispanics.” So, now we have the Houston Dynamos (which is Spanish for “cratered”).
No good deed goes unpunished
Jennifer McLaughlin from Mississippi, wrote to the Memorial Sun objecting to a Houston rodeo announcement, “welcoming our friends from Louisiana,” and not including her state. “I am requesting an apology…” she concluded.
Gun shop owner and talk-show host Jim Pruett ran radio ads warning: “When the ‘Katricians’ themselves are quoted as saying the crime rate is going to go up if they don’t get more free rent, then it’s time to get your concealed-handgun license.”
No more taxes
George and Barbara Bush made a tax-deductible donation to a Katrina relief fund with the stipulation that part of the money go toward buying educational tools from a firm owned by their son, Neil. HISD then purchased the software project for $200,000.
“I had observed that the colorful characters and the artists and the musicians have gone back to New Orleans finally, and that the thugs and the crackheads have decided they like Houston and want to stay.” – Kinky Friedman
A profit in his own land
Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church who dropped his annual $200,000 salary after making $10 million on his first book, signed a second book deal that, experts say, should bring him another $10 million.
Coffee, tea or a fat lip?
Osteen’s wife, Victoria, who shares billing with him on the church’s sign, was fined $3,000 by the FAA after determining she had assaulted a female flight attendant.
The Houston Symphony Orchestra played in Carnegie Hall! Of course, it was not paid to do so. Actually, our musicians had to rent the place for $12,000 and pay another $30,000 to stagehands.
The torch is passed
Former Aldine chemistry teacher Tramesha Lashon Fox pled guilty to charges of arson and insurance fraud after arranging for her car to be stolen and burned by two students in exchange for giving them passing grades.
A Bible was put in a case in front of the Harris County Court House years ago. No one cared. In 1995, arch-conservative Judge John Devine sought to bring more attention to the Good Book by refurbishing the monument and adding neon lights. This year an appeals court ruled that, by making the changes, Judge Devine “essentially had commandeered the monument for religious purposes…” Out it went.
She meant to say “Macaca music”
Port Commissioner Cheryl Thompson-Draper resigned after a fellow commissioner said that, during a business trip to Shanghai, Thompson-Draper referred to music performed by a Houston band with black musicians as “jungle bunny music.”
The war of fog
In Hitchcock, an apartment complex maintenance worker and a resident set off foggers for pests. The instructions called for one fogger per room, but police said there were 18 foggers in the two-bedroom apartment. The fumes hit the pilot light in the hot water heater, causing an explosion. The maintenance worker and resident were treated for minor burns. Eight other apartment units sustained damage and were condemned.
But I’m the president!
Texas Southern University’s regents fired President Priscilla Slade, who made more than $340,000 a year in cash compensation, after discovering she had charged the university roughly $87,000 to furnish her new, sprawling house – plus $138,159 for the cost of landscaping; $56,010 in security equipment, furniture and traveling; and $146,000 for maid service. Over seven years, Slade, who holds a doctorate in accounting, spent nearly $650,000 of the school’s money on purchases that personally benefited her. Slade was later re-hired by TSU as an accounting instructor.
Was 50th that much better?
UH Law Center Dean Nancy Rapoport resigned after the school dropped 20 spots in the US News &World Report rankings of law schools, from 50th to 70th.
Houston has been reduced, so to speak, from No. 1 to No. 5 on Men’s Fitness magazine’s annual list of the fattest U.S. cities.
Houston ranked seventh on a list of 20 of the nation’s “meanest cities,” because of laws that criminalize sleeping in public, begging or other behavior associated with homeless people and rules that prohibit people with “offensive bodily hygiene” from using public libraries.
Budget item #1: Quit holding these ridiculous meetings
Spring Branch ISD Superintendent Duncan Klussmann hosted a community meeting to explain the district’s budget and Five Year Educational Plan. Outside of the press and district employees, three citizens showed up.