The Insider

... And Another Ends
In another Stockman-related development, The Insider has dropped a libel suit filed against the then-congressman after we visited his campaign office-cum-residence outside Friendswood last June in pursuit of the elusive boys of Political Won Stop, the consultancy raking in bucketfuls of Stockman campaign cash. Our pro bono attorney David Berg worked out a settlement statement with Stockman's lawyers, but after they agreed to it, Stockman never signed the papers.

Here's an excerpt anyway: "Congressman Stockman withdraws his claim that Mr. Fleck assaulted campaign workers and caused his wife Pattie to be fearful for her safety. Mr. Fleck wishes to assure Congressman Stockman that he does not claim a right to enter the Stockman residence and will not attempt to do so uninvited."

Hey, it was too much of a dump to rate a return visit.

Proving Again That Oil and Politics Mix
Texas Democratic Chairman Bill White -- an ace fundraiser for Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and former undersecretary of the Energy Department -- is joining the black-gold rush in the Caucasus. White and other prominent Texas Democrats hope to be among the first Westerners to begin transporting crude out of the oil-rich coast of Azerbaijan, a task made difficult by the near-stranglehold that neighboring Russia maintains on most exit routes.

In 1995, while White was at the Energy Department, Clinton contacted the Azerbaijani leader directly to ask for help in breaching the Russian roadblock. After White left his energy post, he and Lan Bentsen, son of former Treasury secretary Lloyd Bentsen, immediately founded Frontera Resources and went into Azerbaijan and the neighboring state of Georgia. Lloyd Bentsen is also an investor in the venture, as are some of White's old associates at law firm Susman Godfrey.

White naturally worries that some might view the undertaking as exploiting his service in the Clinton administration. "After leaving the administration I've been careful, or leaning over backward, to avoid mixing personal business interests and my civic involvement," he says. Still, he acknowledges, he is indirectly working on access to the same market that Clinton attempted to open.

In any case, surely the Texas Democratic Party, last chaired by chain-smoking country lawyer Bob Slagle, has never boasted a chairman with White's global business connections and Washington influence. It's just one more sign that the Democratic romance with big money is still in hothouse bloom.

Stinking Up the Clubhouse
If you thought the Parks and Recreation Department was having trouble running its Hermann Park rock garden, ["Rocks in Their Heads," The Insider, April 25], check out the Memorial Park Tennis Center. For most of the last five months, an array of empty food refrigerators and a yogurt machine full of foul poop at the center's "Loopers" snack bar have sat unused but sucking up city-paid electricity while thirsty hackers and joggers have to settle for water fountains.

The concessionaire at the tennis center is Trendsidea Inc., owned by Burke McConn, a nephew of recently deceased former mayor Jim McConn. More than a year ago the parks department took the food and drink bar management from club pro Jim Schmidt and handed it over to Trendsidea without taking competitive bids. The contract signed with McConn did not include penalties for nonperformance or even specify a minimum amount of revenue to be paid to the city, only a percentage of whatever sales occurred.

Trendsidea began marketing expensive yogurt and fruit "power drinks" to a clientele that seemed more inclined to Gatorade and trail mix. Business dwindled, and McConn seemed to lose interest in the concession, which began closing early and failing to stock the bar.

Last November, Sara Culbreth, the park department's deputy director of administration, began fielding complaints about Trendsidea's nonperformance. She finally tracked down McConn, who seemed loath to return phone calls. He told her he was unhappy with his contract and wanted a long-term deal in order to continue at Memorial Park. Yet at the same time that McConn was talking to Culbreth, he also signed another six-month pact for the concession with parks golf operations supervisor Roy Witham.

"Roy apparently knew about the problems, but he didn't know I had gotten the calls," says Culbreth. "I didn't know he was working with Burke to get a new agreement in place."

By late February, Culbreth says she was receiving new complaints that McConn had all but abandoned the food and drink bar. When she got him on the phone, she pressed McConn about whether he intended to honor the recently signed pact, and he finally said he did not. They agreed to mutually terminate the contract, but after the city legal department drafted a termination letter, McConn never surfaced to sign it.

Culbreth now says that she can do nothing about the concession until the pact expires May 11. After that date, she hopes to find someone to run the concession until parks officials decide how it will be handled long-term.

So why not simply unplug the equipment abandoned by Trendsidea and dramatically cut the tennis center's monthly electricity bill, which currently tops $600?

Culbreth pauses to consider. "Yes, it's still plugged in," she admits. "Some of the equipment has got some supplies in it that are not mine that I guess I could throw away, or put all in one and unplug the others and clean them out. Or else they would begin to smell."

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