The Insider

Wilson, who owns a sign company, possesses a "versa-lift" van equipped with a motorized arm and bucket that rises from the center of the vehicle and allows an operator to hang signs on utility poles and other lofty perches at heights of up to 32 feet. Then there's the Godzilla of sign hangers: a Wilson truck outfitted with a 130-foot crane that can place signs into near earth-orbit.

Wilson admits responsibility -- or, more accurately, takes credit -- for the placement of those signs, mostly for conservative judicial candidates, you might have seen hanging at seemingly impossible heights around area thoroughfares before the November election. He's particularly proud of one touting Mike Fleming's bid for county attorney that he placed on a support beam high above the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 59 over Buffalo Bayou.

"You need to see that one," chuckles Wilson, "'cause there will probably be a 'Dave Wilson for City Council' sign up there soon."

Happy Holidays -- You're Fired!
Commissioners Court approved the hiring of incoming county attorney Mike Fleming for on-the-job training prior to his January swearing-in, but Fleming's already mastered one aspect of the position: political housecleaning.

Last week Fleming notified ten veterans of outgoing County Attorney Mike Driscoll's regime that they would not be rehired. Among those directed to the exit by Fleming are attorneys Terry O'Rourke, an unsuccessful candidate in the Democratic primary for county attorney, and Lana Shadwick, who supported Fleming's GOP primary opponent, Mickey Lawrence. Also eliminated were investigator Perry Wooten, a Democrat who ran for constable, and Rose Salas, an executive assistant to Driscoll.

Fleming says he consulted with Marsha Floyd, Driscoll's first assistant, in deciding who would be replaced, and that as county attorney he'll have the right to name his own assistants and staff members.

"They're not being terminated," says Fleming. "Technically, they're just not being hired. Getting into the particulars of each person wouldn't be fair."

Significantly, none of the assistant county attorneys who openly supported Fleming's bid -- including Floyd, Rose Garcia, Rock Owens and Kathy Sisk -- found their names on the to-go list.

Salas, contacted as she was cleaning out Driscoll's office, declined to address the terminations.

"I really haven't had much thought," says Salas, "other than trying to get 16 years worth of stuff packed up into boxes and over to his house."

Getting the Business
Rice University's Jesse H. Jones School of Administration was battered and bruised last spring by a blue-ribbon review committee, which dumped on the performance of dean Ben Bailar, questioned the quality of a degree from the institution and bluntly advised that the business school clean up its act or "close its doors."

In the wake of that confidential report, which was circulated on the Internet but never reported anywhere but in this space, Rice president Malcolm Gillis assembled a steering committee headed by provost David Auston to address the committee's conclusions and exercise some degree of damage control. Predictably, the steering committee's draft report doesn't pick up on the suggestion to padlock the school's doors.

"It's more or less responding to the story you wrote the first time," says Rice spokesman Mike Cinelli, the author of a very positive summary of the steering committee document that appeared recently in Rice News, a house organ of the university's administration. According to Cinelli, the latest report is not a final product and has been put on the Internet to generate comment from interested parties.

The draft does echo some of the criticisms in the blue-ribbon report, including a recommendation that the school "improve the overall quality of the student body, both by raising standards and recruiting more aggressively" -- a suggestion that certainly won't enhance the self-esteem of the current crop of Jones students.

Whereas the blue-ribbon panel found a high turnover of faculty and poor morale among professors, the steering committee's draft suggests that the teaching force be strengthened and expanded by "focusing on outstanding teaching, the capacity for scholarship of international distinction and the ability to develop fruitful partnerships with the business community."

Steering committee member Ben Love, ever the civic booster, is quoted in Cinelli's article spreading good cheer over the otherwise dour recommendations. The evaluations, Love said, give the school "the opportunity to become and be recognized as one of the truly premier business schools in the nation."

Love also chairs the Jones School's council of overseers, which the blue-ribbon committee claimed was largely ignored by dean Bailar, a former postmaster general in the Reagan administration.

Although the steering committee tactfully refrains from mentioning it, Bailar is on his way out. His ten-year contract ends in June, and Cinelli says a search is under way for a new dean to head a revitalized Jones School.

Confess to The Insider by dialing 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or e-mail him at Insider@houston-press.com.

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