What a year it was for Houston. What fantastic events, what great people and wonderful victories. I am referring, obviously, to 1836. As for 2009, it ranks right down there with 1348, which gave Europe the black plague. Still, we must look back with joy — joy that 2009 is over. Remember the swine flu, the Astros’ World Series championship and the precedent-breaking mayoral election (Bob Lanier’s choice didn’t win). Hey, we’ll elect a lesbian mayor when it snows in Houston. So let’s look at the winners, starting with:
Quickest Death: Mayor Bill White proposed that the city pay Realtors a $5,000 bonus for each client who bought a home in a subsidized, depressed area. City Council was so impressed that White yanked the idea from the next Council meeting.
Our (Laughing) Stock is Up: City Council faced a proposal to approve $3,000 in taxpayer funds for each first-time homeowners to pay off debts so they could qualify for home loans. The measure died for lack of a first.
A nine-paragraph letter gushingly praising a downtown apartment tower (“One Park Place will be THE residence of choice…”) was sent to hundreds of potential renters. No, it was not from a PR firm. The letter was written by Mayor Bill White on official city stationery. The tower’s builder is a campaign donor.
The Great White Hope: In the same week, Mayor White ran an ad in the Defender, a primarily African-American Houston newspaper, putting his face, Mount Rushmore-like, between that of Martin Luther King, Jr. (“The Dream”) and President Barack Obama (“The Change”). The Mayor was “The Hope.”
The city turned over one block of well-traveled Bolsover Street aside the Rice Village to a private developer who fenced it off for a big complex — which was never built.
There’s a New Sheriff in Town — Unfortunately: After agreeing to be co-grand marshal of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo parade, new Sheriff Adrian Garcia cratered to minority protests over the rodeo’s treatment of Hispanics and African-Americans, and backed out. Sheriff Garcia, facing departmental budget and deputy shortages, still managed to find deputies to act as chauffeurs for County Judge Ed Emmett and himself.
Reading, Riting and Riches: HISD superintendent Abelardo Saavedra accepted a $77,500 performance bonus on top of his $327,000 salary, then announced he was leaving. What with another bonus, vacation and sick days not used and car allowance, his total exit package was about $1 million.
Don’t Let Your Educators be Cowboys: Some HISD principals, teachers and administrators spent $100,000 from school vending machine receipts for tickets to the annual Black Heritage Western Gala at the rodeo, including booze and food.
We Can’t Stand Pat: State Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston told Fox News and several radio talk shows — and was quickly spread across the nation via e-mails — that Texas state officials and the National Guard were on alert “for the first time, to my knowledge, in modern history” because of drug-related violence in Mexico. Patrick apparently wasn’t around for Hurricane Ike most recently, and Rita prior to that, to see the National Guard all over the place, plus being called out for various grass fires, floods and other disasters. The governor’s office issued a denial of Patrick’s claim.
Oder in the Court: A new variant of a computer virus shut down Houston’s Municipal Court courtroom operations for a week.
Baker’s Dozen: The verdict in a slam-dunk murder case (there was a confession) was about to be announced in Judge Mark Ellis’s courtroom. All 13 jurors had debated and….wait. There are only supposed to be 12 jurors. No one had noticed that an alternate had participated in the decision. A re-trial was ordered.
Pictures Worth a Thousand Bucks: A Salvation Army Family Thrift Shop was given several works by an anonymous donor that may have been the works of Salvador Dali and worth $76,000.
The Fat Lady Sings: The story of late Houstonian Anna Nicole Smith was made into an opera.
No Sir: Jailed alleged scam artist Allen Stanford was stripped of his knighthood.
The Casons Go Rolling Along: Socialite Becca Cason Thrash got mentioned at least 41 times (not counting photo cutlines) in the Houston Chronicle.
A Defective in the Police Farce: Sloppy work in HPD’s crime lab cost the taxpayers millions of dollars to correct, and sent innocent people to jail. Now an audit of the department’s fingerprinting comparison unit found the unit’s work was so bad that all violent crime cases over the past six years must be reviewed.
Convicted rapist Arcade Joseph Comeauxe was shackled to his wheelchair during a van trip with two Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice guards. He somehow: Pulled a gun on the two guards, got out of his wheelchair, took the guards’ shotgun and two semi-automatic pistols, made them drive to Baytown, handcuffed the guards, put on one of their uniforms, and disappeared. After his capture days later, Comeauxe said he had inside help, and several jailers were canned.
Take a Truncheon to Luncheon: Conroe Police Sergeant Michael Edward Tindall allegedly robbed $28,672 from a Montgomery County bank. His disguise of a motorcycle helmet and dark glasses didn’t work, because — get this — he worked there as an off-duty security guard.
Are you HOV Positive? When Metro Police Officer Miguel Rodriguez spotted a lifeless body in a car wreck on the U.S. 290 HOV lane, he feared the worst, until Rodriguez saw that it was actually a dummy dressed in business attire. Michael Hooper was ticketed for excessive speed and unauthorized use of a high-occupancy (two passenger minimum) vehicle lane.
Fine &Dandy: County Commissioner Jerry Eversole was fined $75,000 for violation of campaign laws and agreed to reimburse his campaign for $41,357. Meanwhile, State Rep. Garnet Coleman was fined $9,500 by the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to report $107,577 in political expenses including $60,176 in credit card charges. Coleman said he had filed a corrected report but that report contained errors so he filed a report to correct the first report but not the second so he needs to file a….you get the picture.
Arson and Old Lace: Mattress Mack’s warehouse was gutted by a huge fire that, investigators say, was deliberately set by a former employee.
Now we look at the Houston sports scene. Quit crying. When superstar Astro Carlos Lee showed up a day late for spring training, we knew it was going to be yet another bad season for the Boys of Slumber. Miguel Tejada, who was signed by the Astros one day before he was listed in the Mitchell Report for possibly using steroids and human growth hormone, admitted lying to Congress. Fortunately the team didn’t have to worry anymore about Houstonians Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and drugs.
The underachieving Astros finished 17 games out of their division’s first place, minus Astros catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who went back to the Rangers, and manager Cecil Cooper, who was canned with 13 games left. Oh, and attendance was down by 258,411.
The Houston Texans were their usual pitiful self. Early on, illegal drills left three players disabled for the season, and it went down hill from there. But at least Texan fans scored. Forbes Traveler named Houston the best tailgating site in the NFL. Forbes said Reliant Stadium’s spacious parking lots and the wide rating of steaks, barbeque and other items that created a “Texas-style culinary nirvana.”
Let Your Fingers Do the Talking: Tennessee Titans’ owner Bud Adams — who as owner of the Houston Oilers managed to alienate almost every one — shot the bird at opposing Buffalo Bills fans and got hit with a $250,000, which he probably paid out of his wallet.
In the 2008-09 season, the Rockets were in first place — for two days: March 22 to 24. Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo were MIA much if not most of that season. Still, the Rockets got all the way to the second round of the playoffs, when they reverted to form and were ousted. Speaking of bad shooting, while driving home at 2 a.m. after an out-of-town game, Carl Landry was shot in the leg by another motorist after a sideswipe.
Channel l1’s long-time sports director/anchor Giff Nielsen quit after two sports staff were cut during massive layoffs.
Marvin Zindler Strikes Again! — Channel 13’s Wayne Dolcefino received a nine month probation-like supervision and $850 in fines and court costs for trespassing on the Austin County ranch of Houston architect Leroy Hermes as part of the reporter’s investigative piece on the connection between Harris County officials and construction projects.
“It was the worst time in my broadcasting career, and I wish people would stop bringing it up. It’s the most embarrassing thing I ever did on radio. If I could make everybody forget about my time in Houston, it would be good.” — Conservative radio talk show host Glenn Beck about his years at KRBE.
In the good news department, the American Planning Association named Montrose one of the 10 “great neighborhoods” in America.
Congrats to Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee (aka Stump). The Houston Sussex spaniel won best of show at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Show in New York City.
Embarrassing-Lee: At a town hall meeting on health care, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee began by insisting she was there to listen to people’s concerns, then started talking on her cell phone while a constituent was trying to speak. Jackson Lee explained later that she wasn’t being rude. In Congress, she said, you had to be able to “multi-task” in order to be effective.
At the same (or another) such meeting, a University of Houston graduate student and Texas Obama delegate, Roxana Mayer, falsely identified herself as a pediatric physician. Later, when the fraud was uncovered, Jackson Lee said, “I’ve never met her,” even though Mayer warmly embraced Jackson Lee at the close of the session. Back in Congress, Jackson Lee introduced a resolution, already framed, praising the late Michael Jackson (no kin). It failed, but the grandstanding got her in front of the cameras, again.
Moving on, Julie Parker allegedly went into the offices of the Texas Components Corp. and shot Armando Silva with a bow and arrow, whereupon two other employees with concealed handgun permits opened fire on Parker until police arrived, who then shot her several times. She survived and wins our Several Hits, One Run, One Arrow Award.
The top two executives of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department were canned after a 16-year-old youth was able to carry a loaded .25-caliber semi-automatic into the county juvenile detention center through a metal detector that hadn’t been functional since the new juvenile detention center opened three years ago.
But our grand prize goes to George Vera, age 25, weight nearly 600 pounds. Vera was arrested Aug. 2 and taken to the Houston City jail. A day later he was transferred to the Harris County Jail where, after 14 hours and going through intake procedures, he was taken to the showers before going to his cell. It was only then that Vera told police he had a 9mm handgun on him, along with 2 clips. The gun was allegedly hidden between his layers of fat. He wins our Smith &Wesson Oil Trophy. Ashby awards at email@example.com