The Insider

Lonesome Cowpoke
Hand it to Paul Allen, that erstwhile promoter of the supposed rebirth of the Post on the Internet: whatever else he hasn't got -- like the legal rights to the Post name and logo -- the man has chutzpah. Even after the Press revealed him to be freshly released from federal prison, where he was ensconced on a bank fraud and money laundering rap, Allen and two companions had the gall to show up at the "still dead after all this year" party last week commemorating the demise of the real Post. The trio reportedly stood around Viva restaurant talking mostly to themselves while survivors of the departed newspaper rolled their eyes. Allen, who stood out in the crowd by virtue of his cowboy hat, boasted to Viva owner Roger Liebrum that everything was going as planned for his new venture: he claimed to have $10 million ready to launch an on-line paper and said he expected a federal court to clear the way this week for him to use the old Post type font in his new publication.

Liebrum's wife Martha, the former managing editor of the Post, says Allen and company were "incredibly nervy" to crash the party. "It was like, 'Who's going to throw them out of here?' but of course, none of us were." Allen called up Roger Liebrum the next day to inquire as to the availability of his wife to be editor-in-chief of his on-line publication. Here's a news flash for Allen's first edition: she's not jumping at the opportunity.

Troubleshooter in Chanel Shades
What's the best way to get something done at City Hall? The Insider found out after a recent lunch with mayoral spouse Elyse Lanier. We had casually dropped a couple of unconfirmed items concerning discord on the African advisory committee of the Houston International Festival and some tardy payments to city vendors from Controller Lloyd Kelley. Within two days, a frazzled International Festival insider bombarded our home phone with an explanation of the rumored discord. Then Kelley spokeswoman Leah Parker began leaving messages imploring us to call her to discuss those tardy vendor payments. And the vendor who had originally complained to us reports that within days of the lunch with Elyse, the controller's office produced a check it had not been able to find after months of begging and scraping by the vendor. Just coincidence, you ask, or a City Hall miracle? Next week: can wearing Elyse's sunglasses cure the blind and make the crippled walk?

The High Cost of Charity
Channel 13's annual "Caring Cradles" campaign with the March of Dimes has gotten high marks from health care experts for alerting pregnant mothers to the need for adequate prenatal care. But critics are grousing that for the past two years the station has solicited sponsors to buy airtime for the effort, in effect banking funds that otherwise could have gone to direct charitable services. They question why the station did not continue to donate time, as it had in the past.

This year's "Caring Cradles" sponsors include PanEnergy, Methodist Hospital and Cigna HealthCare, with one sponsorship remaining unfilled. A source privy to the details of the promotion claims the sponsors are paying for more than $250,000 of airtime. That figure could not be immediately confirmed, since "Caring Cradles" organizer Lisa Trapani and spokespersons for Methodist Hospital and PanEnergy declined to reveal the amounts of the contributions.

Trapani, the former Good Morning Houston co-host who originated the "Caring Cradles" campaign for the station in 1992, defends the use of sponsorship money to buy airtime on the host station. When Good Morning Houston was canceled, she explains, "We lost our hour of local programming to get viewers to come by." In an effort to expand the campaign, Channel 13 decided to seek out partners to share the costs of airtime. "Anyone who was involved from the beginning knew that's what was happening," Trapani says. And now, you do, too -- sort of.

Credentials? Who Needs 'Em!
With work moving ahead on the transformation of the old Houston Natural Gas building into new administrative quarters for the HPD, a sign near the site recently caught the attention of one of our correspondents. It listed mayoral agenda director Dan Jones as director of the renovation, along with project supervisor Jerry Dinkins and project manager Steve Harris. "Surprisingly for the Department of Public Works and Engineering, none of these three are registered professional engineers," our correspondent wrote. "Is this right? Is this legal? Are any of these three even engineering school graduates? Should HPD beware?"

In answer to the third query, neither Jones, Dinkins nor Harris has a college degree, much less engineering credentials. Jones is a former radio reporter who ascended to his current post after starting with the city 17 years ago issuing those wrap-your-pipes advisories as a Public Works spokesman. But there is no law requiring project managers to have engineering degrees, and Jones, who was also in charge of the renovation of City Hall, says he and Dinkins "have wound up being something of a team" on various city projects. His own duties, Jones says, are to ensure a project stays on time and on budget. "I make no attempt to make engineering judgments," he explains. "We hire engineers." Okay, but as to our correspondent's last question, we suggest HPD might want to be on its toes, anyway.

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