By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"Radack thought that was one of the most ridiculous thing he's seen, bringing a kid to Commissioners Court," says one associate. Some of the old county hands found it disconcerting, both professionally and aromatically, when Eckels would pause during meetings to change Kirby's diaper. "That kid has pooped in four different meetings I know about," laughs the same source. "When she gets toilet-trained, a huge sigh of relief will go up around the courthouse."
Radack downplays this aspect of his and Eckels's differences, possibly because even he realizes the issue reeks of pettiness. "The point of the matter is there's a time and place for everything, and it's not good to have a kid at the table crying during a meeting. She cries for several minutes. It's not fair to the kid."
Still, Radack admits that the diaper-changing "bugs" him. "Anybody that's been a parent [knows] what happens to functions and what aromas can be like when the child's going through a teething process," he says.
Nonetheless, Eckels will continue to keep his daughter close at hand during work hours. "I think I'm real fortunate to have a job with the flexibility to occasionally bring her up here with me. I really like having her spend time with me and will continue to do so. I had her up here with Drayton [Astros owner McLane, who wants the county to help pay for a new stadium] .... I don't know what he thought of having a kid here. But I'll sacrifice a little professional decorum to have my baby with me. I just love having her around."
Since the tax-increase vote, Robert Eckels would seem to have a lot of crow on his Court's menu.oooooooo "Next time I face the voters, I'll have to live with the things he said," grimaces Jerry Eversole, stretching out behind his desk and putting a pinch of tobacco in his cheek.
The Clint Eastwood look-alike had just announced that he would break the yearlong logjam over Metro chairman Billy Burge. Burge had far outlasted his state-mandated eight years as a county appointee, but Radack, joined by Lee and Eversole, wanted to keep him around, since Burge had proven more than willing to shunt Metro dollars into long-delayed projects in their precincts. To keep him in place, the three commissioners simply blocked action on a replacement for Burge. And thus, to Eckels's annoyance, Burge remained. Providing an additional strain was the fact that Jet Eckels -- Robert's wife -- was working as Metro's legislative director, and thus a subordinate to Billy Burge. Jet left Metro last spring. She says Kirby's birth was the primary reason, but Metro sources say the growing tension between her husband and Burge also played a role.
Now, in the wake of the tax-increase fiasco, Eversole had agreed to provide the crucial swing vote that would replace Burge with Lynda Burke, a resident of an unincorporated part of the county (but not Eckels's original candidate, George Strake). The action also will not become effective until after the last Metro meeting in December, allowing Burge to wrap up loose ends.
Oddly, the public pressure created by Eckels's remarks on the tax increase may have forced Eversole to break the Burge impasse. Constituents, already ired by the tax-increase vote, were now demanding that Burge go. Though he voted to resolve the logjam, it was not a vote of confidence in Eckels.
Likewise, the other commissioners still nurse a grudge. Eckels says he's apologized to commissioners for some of his post-tax increase comments, but Precinct 2 Commissioner Jim Fonteno claims not to have heard it.
And Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee, who had previously defended Eckels as a well-intentioned official making "rookie mistakes," indicates that he's given up on the judge. Before that change of heart, Lee could be counted as a Radack opponent. (For instance, Radack irked Lee by supporting Jim Edmonds for Port Commissioner over 18-year veteran Howard Middleton, one of two African-Americans on the commission and one of the few blacks to hold a major county appointment.)
But in Eckels, Lee and Radack have found a common enemy. When the judge blasted some Hospital District board members and blocked the district's budget, Radack joined forces with Lee and Hospital director Lois Jean Moore to push the budget through. Around the commissioners' table, the joke was that only Eckels could put Radack, Lee and Moore on the same page. "It's really wild," says one commissioner's aide. "Now you've got Lee and Radack talking and voting together, something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime."
Lee, still visibly angered more than a month after the tax-increase brouhaha, says Eckels's outburst went a long way to undermine the camaraderie he felt for the judge as a fellow former state legislator.
"That was ludicrous," says Lee of Eckels's public venting. "That's what cuts deeper than anything. I mean, 'line your pockets?' Anytime you talk to Joe Willie or Johnny Longneck about 'lining your pockets,' that's stealing. I took that real serious."
Lee figures the tax-increase imbroglio can be traced back to Radack's continual provocations against the county judge. In Lee's reasoning, through repeated jabs, Radack finally provoked Eckels into the broad-brushed comments that drove away his potential allies on Court.