Lynn Ashby

June 1, 2004 by  
Filed under Edit

The stadiums are all built, but the good ol’ boys in charge keep hanging around for the free buffet

My proposal is not only brilliant but is good for Houston and especially for me. What we need is a Harris County-Houston Entertainment Authority. It would oversee all the various parties around town, tailgating, topless bars, wedding receptions, plays, movies. The HEA, as it shall soon be known by party animals all over town, will be empowered to crash every social event, with local taxpayers picking up all costs.

The idea is not original – I’ll explain in a minute. The point is, cafés, bars, theaters and restaurants are opening up all over town and are holding wonderful parties without any coordination. So it is clear that we need a city-county authority to keep a kindly, if bloodshot, eye on the situation. And I volunteer to be the chairman of the unpaid board. You are thinking right about now, “That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard. It’s wasteful. It’s yet another bloated bureaucracy; and once that agency is created, it will only grow; and we couldn’t kill it by driving a stake through its heart.”

True, and that’s the beauty of it. Once created, it will never, ever die but will only expand. We have a great example right before our eyes. Have you heard of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority? The authority was created, at the request of Houston, by the Texas Legislature to build – repeat, build – our three new pro sports facilities, Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center.

Those facilities were completed at a total cost of $1.038 billion; the Sports Authority’s task and reason for existence were done. Right? Wrong. This government agency is still with us. It has a nine-member staff, an executive director and an annual budget of $3 million. The reason for this temporary-to-permanent change is obvious. As members of the Sports Authority, a small and select group of insiders gets to attend all sporting events in the three new facilities, sitting in the largest suites while munching on shrimp and filet mignon washed down by a bottle of the best. And for free. I’ll bet they have good parking spots, too. (At least the members don’t get a police escort so they can run red lights on the way to the games like Texans’ owner Bob McNair did for a while.)

One more point: We must remember that their attendance is not limited to sporting contests including the rodeo. Any event in those facilities is fair game – ice shows, rock concerts or even the Gaither Homecoming. You name it, the authority members are there.

Yet when the Super Bowl was coming to town, did we turn to the Sports Authority? No, we created yet another committee. Baseball’s All-Star Game is coming to Houston, but the Sports Authority does not have a role. This brings us to yet another question: Is anyone of you not on a sports committee so you actually have to buy your own tickets? But wait. We also have, and pay for, something called the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. to supervise the development of Reliant Stadium. This latter agency has no website, and when anyone calls the Harris County switchboard seeking the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., the callers get a non-answering number. It is a stealth agency that received a $1.5 million loan from a vendor with which the corporation does business. Just why this happened, no one can explain.

After all our sports facilities were built, there was some movement to disband the temporary Sports Authority, but its members immediately came up with new reasons for the panel to stay on the job, including – I’m not kidding – overseeing construction of Little League fields. The Little League seems perfectly capable of managing its own operations, and there was no request for governmental oversight.

The situation gets worse. I quote from the Houston Chronicle: “The (economic) slump also has affected the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, which in October saw nearly half of its debt placed on credit watch by one of the three major rating agencies because of lower-than-expected hotel and car rental tax receipts.”

Guess who will step in if the debt hits the fans? So what we have are these really obscure agencies, apparently answering to no one while doing nothing for anyone but themselves, and having a merry old time all the while. If one such authority is good, two is better, which is why we should create the Party Authority (motto: Hook ’em Hats and Horns). With the Sports Authority as our example, it seems obvious that the taxpayers will put up with anything. Pass the shrimp!

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