The Insider

Some Days Chicken, Some Days ...
All the newspaper and television coverage of Tom DeLay's "shoving match" with Wisconsin Democrat David Obey last week omitted some crucial information -- exactly what it was that the two congressmen said to each other.

Their hands-on exchange occurred during an acrimonious House debate over campaign finance reform, after California Democrat George Miller cited a March 1995 Washington Post story revealing how DeLay had invited business lobbyists to draft deregulation legislation following the GOP's capture of a House majority in 1994. A clearly irritated DeLay denounced the article as erroneous and claimed it didn't even mention the names of the lobbyists who had supposedly camped out in his office to write bills.

Obey, according to his office, then approached DeLay, handed him a copy of the Post piece, and said, "Here's the article, read it yourself." But DeLay apparently was in no mood for reading and instead put his hand on Obey's chest and pronounced him a "gutless chickenshit."

Obey, in turn, put his hand on DeLay's chest and said, "Tom, please don't do that." DeLay then "categorically" denied that the article was true and deemed it a "lousy piece of reporting" before repeating his assertion that Obey was "chickenshit."

Since Obey did not respond in kind, The Insider is soliciting reader suggestions for appropriate comebacks to the battlin' bug man from Sugar Land. The best we could come up with was, "Unhand me, you roach-killing, helmet-haired, golf-addled, knickers-wearing water boy for corporate polluters."

Surely you can do better.

An IFHE Proposition
Given the number of administrative corpses the University of Houston's board of regents has embalmed and dressed in the past few years, you'd think the trustees/undertakers would have learned a lesson or two about sending the dearly departed on their way with excessive taxpayer-funded severance packages.

We're sorry to report that they haven't.
Following a sweeping purge of the hierarchies of the UH System and several of its campuses two years ago, the regents were roundly criticized for stitching together golden parachutes totaling $812,000 for former System chancellor Alex Schilt, former main campus president James Pickering and other high-ranking administrators.

Judging by the proposed arrangement for UH's latest administrative casualties, recently departed main campus president Glenn Goerke and his top assistant, former executive associate vice president Glenn Freedman, it would appear that the current regents and new chancellor-president Arthur K. Smith are in dire need of some remedial executive management training.

The interim assignments of the two Glenns officially ended when Smith took over on April Fool's Day, but by then Smith had already approved salary extensions for Goerke and Freedman at annual rates of $192,028 and $112,640, respectively, until the official end of their two-year pacts on August 1.

Smith also okayed a yearlong leave with pay sought by Goerke, who temporarily took over as president after Pickering was ousted in 1995 and has made no secret of his unhappiness at UH after it became clear last year that he would not be considered for the new, combined chancellor-president position Smith eventually won. Smith balked at approving a similar request by Freedman but says he'll consider some sort of leave arrangement for Goerke's underling in the future.

While a year's paid leave was written into Goerke's contract and is customary for involuntarily departing campus chiefs, it is the rather unusual creation of a long-term institutional life raft for Goerke and Freedman that is raising eyebrows among campus faculty. Board chairman Eduardo Aguirre informed Smith last month that the regents wanted to create and fund for three years the Institute for the Future of Higher Education, with Goerke and Freedman as the institute's sole research executives.

A one page prospectus for the new institute, appropriately acronymed IFHE, outlines grand if rather ambiguous goals: "The IFHE's vision is to be the world's leading research center for issues that affect the future of higher education ... the IFHE's goals are to provide direct, measurable assistance to the higher education [sector], government agencies and the private sector." But the most immediate impact of IFHE, and perhaps its raison d'etre, will be to anchor the economic prospects of the two Glenns.

"It's clearly a sinecure for the two of them," says one UH insider familiar with regents' politics.

Aguirre begs to disagree. "This is definitely not a 'golden parachute' arrangement," he insists. "This is the start-up of a research facility led by two very talented faculty and administrators that will attract new grant money into the university."

As per Aguirre's instructions, Smith approved a $25,000 operating budget for the IFHE, which is housed in the University Business Park at the old Schlumberger facility off the Gulf Freeway. Smith also okayed an annual salary allocation of $28,000 for an executive secretary to run the office. In a March 5 letter to since-departed provost Jack Ivancevich, Smith did not specify the arrangements for salaries for Glenn Squared over that three-year period, or who will run the institute while Goerke takes off on his already approved year of paid leave.

Smith didn't return our calls for comment, so we'll leave the last word on the financial coddling of departed campus administrators to the Daily Cougar. "Whatever happened to thank-you cards?" asked the campus newspaper.

Let's Get Really Wrecked
Given the FBI's continuing probes of the city's downtown hotel deal and its massive wastewater program, it's difficult to believe anyone remotely connected to City Hall would so feeble-minded as to engage in any possibly illegal activity. Yet several sources indicate the feds are investigating the circumstances of the city's recent elimination of the restricted system of "e-tag" permits for wrecker drivers.

While no details are available, one source claims the FBI has opened an "embryonic" probe of the handling of the wrecker regulations. City Attorney Gene Locke acknowledges he's heard rumors to that effect, but says he knows of no grounds for such an investigation. Given the internecine warfare between factions in the wrecker industry, one city source suggests the possibility that some previous holders of e-tag permits are trying to poison the well for everyone in retaliation for losing their inside track.

Polland Calling
Does Gary Polland's non-paid position as county Republican chairman give him an entree not available to other plaintiffs and criminal defense lawyers? You be the judge.

Polland is lobbying Harris County officials to agree to a $1.7 million settlement for client Mark Cepiel, who lost his job as a sheriff's deputy in 1995 when he was accused of billing the county for hours when he was actually working private jobs. After a jury acquitted Cepiel of a theft charge, he retained Polland to pursue damage claims against the sheriff's department. Cepiel had earlier hired Democrat and former assistant district attorney Jim Lindeman, who unsuccessfully challenged Commissioner Jerry Eversole in 1994 and could hardly expect to get favorable consideration from the GOP-dominated Commissioners Court, which must approve any settlement for Cepiel.

Polland wrote to Harris County Judge Robert Eckels last November demanding the settlement and claiming his client and family "suffered great emotional hardship" as a result of "the oppressive conduct of the Harris County Sheriff's Department." According to Polland, the sheriff's supervisors conducted a biased and inept investigation of Cepiel and suppressed evidence that would have exonerated the deputy. Sheriff Tommy Thomas, who was the department's chief deputy at the time of Cepiel's termination, denies those claims.

Polland's demand was forwarded to the five commissioners by County Attorney Mike Fleming after the GOP chairman requested a meeting with him. Republican Commissioner Steve Radack, for one, questions whether the GOP chairman should be representing "a client against Harris County, particularly against Republican elected officials." Radack says that since Cepiel received back pay from the county for the period during which he was out of work, "for [Polland] to pop into the county attorney's office wanting that ridiculous sum of money is outrageous."

Fleming says it's not unusual for the county attorney to meet with lawyers pushing settlements "if I know them." A source close to Fleming says, however, that the county attorney circulated Polland's demand simply to warn other county officials about what the party chairman was up to.

Polland sees nothing inappropriate in his actions. "I did not receive special treatment," he says, "and I think my client has a meritorious case." He's set an April 30 deadline for the county to settle Cepiel's claim and avoid a damage suit.

How About an Overnighter in Surfside?
It looks as if stressed-out state District Judges Jim and Jeannine Barr will never get that taxpayer-funded vacation getaway they so desperately need. Although the Barrs' request for the county to send them to a weeklong legal seminar on the West Indies island of Saint Kitts appeared on last week's Commissioners Court agenda, Doug Shaver, the chief administrative judge for the county's district courts, had the item pulled before commissioners had a chance to reject it. A similar request by the Barrs to attend a weeklong conference in England last year was killed by David West, Shaver's predecessor as administrative judge, on the grounds that tax-paid overseas trips were inappropriate.

E-mail Execution
It turns out that a printed copy of the e-mail state District Judge Mark Davidson sent to colleagues describing an appeals court judge as "Maurice 'Alzeimer's' [sic] Amidei" was faxed to Amidei by none other than a court employee for District Judge John Devine. A courthouse source says Devine fired the employee after the fax was traced to his court.

Neither Devine nor the firing victim responded to queries from The Insider. Devine may have been preoccupied with the public admonition he received last month from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for a political meeting he held in his private chambers to announce his ill-fated bid for Congress. After taking a statement from Devine, the commission found that he had willfully violated the provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct that prohibits judges from using their offices to advance their private interests.

Of course, in this case, the meeting didn't advance Devine's interests very far.

Call The Insider at 624-1483, fax him at 624-1496 or e-mail him at Insider@houston-press.com.

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