The Insider

After taking in a jazz festival in Havana and meeting a number of Cuban musicians last year, Hargrove decided to incorporate some of them into a new band under the name Crisol. The group played European cities this winter, and is launching its first U.S. tour this month along with the release of a CD entitled Habana. The band members who reside in Cuba are pianist "Chucho" Valdez and Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana, renowned as one of the world's best timbal players.

Jim Austin, the director of the Houston International Festival, refused to cancel Cubanismo's performance after criticism from Sanchez. Austin says if the U.S. has approved the right of Cuban artists to perform here, Sanchez and friends should take up their complaint with federal authorities rather than local arts groups.

"Where do we stop?" asks Austin. "What if another faction doesn't like the fact we're bringing Jamaicans next year, because of something that happened in its history?"

While Sanchez denies he threatened groups who support the visits of Cuban artists, he recently told the Press that "some questions will be asked" when Austin goes before Council next year to secure funding for the International Festival. But Austin, unlike Da Camera, thus far has not been intimidated. "I just do not see how a city councilman or an arts organization can start determining foreign policy for this country," he says. "It baffles me."

Even more baffled is Crisol manager Clothier, who says there have been no complaints about the band's other scheduled U.S. performances. While Sanchez says Cuban expatriates suspect that the Castro regime is using musicians to make money, Clothier counters that the opportunity to play with the best in the world is what drives the Cuban musicians of Crisol. "It's something they dream of," says Clothier, "and they all dream of the time when all this bullshit is hopefully behind us and they are able to go and play where they want."

Clothier vows that Crisol will be in Houston on June 19 -- with or without Da Camera's support and despite Councilman Sanchez and his pals.

"We're set to come," he says, "and I can't imagine any eventuality that's going to keep us away from Houston -- even if we have to play in the street."

Clubhouse Stink, Part 2
A few weeks back we told you all about the botched concession at the Memorial Park Tennis Center that resulted in the Loopers snack bar being abandoned months ago, with expensive refrigerating equipment still plugged in at the center and soaking up city-paid electricity [The Insider, "Stinking up the Clubhouse," May 1]. Now, documents we obtained from the city's Parks and Recreation Department reveal that the concessionaire, Trensidea System's Burke McConn, was 14 months behind in paying the city its 10 percent share of the concession income when he was signed to a new six-month contract late last year.

Is that any way to run a city? Not according to Mayor Bob Lanier. He concedes the handling of the concession was a "poor process, poorly administered .... I don't think we did this one well."

McConn, the nephew of the late former mayor Jim McConn, had been paying the city roughly $1,200 a month before he stopped sending the checks. Using that figure as a baseline estimate, Trensidea owed the city some $16,800 at the time McConn inked a new contract with Roy Witham, the parks department's director of golf, tennis and fitness. The contract was signed on December 11 -- when Sarah Culbreth, the department's deputy director of administration, was already investigating complaints of shoddy performance by McConn's outfit.

Culbreth, who is now reviewing all of the parks department's vendor contracts, says she did not know that McConn and Witham had renewed the deal until after the fact. McConn abandoned the concession after signing the pact, but Culbreth says he never showed up to sign a termination agreement with the city.

McConn disputes Culbreth's scenario, but would not clarify for us what he contends actually took place. Witham did not return a call from The Insider.

Culbreth says she felt bound to leave the Trensidea equipment plugged in at the center until May 11, when the agreement expired. Although there's been no effort by the city to collect on McConn's delinquent account, Culbreth promises one will be forthcoming now that she's on the case. Meanwhile, Nick Bibas, the operator of One's A Meal, is under consideration to take over the tennis center concession.

McConn admits owing back payments to the city, but claims he put approximately $85,000 into upgrading the tennis center building and making outdoor improvements. He's angry that while he was trying to make a go of it with Loopers on short-term contracts, the parks board awarded a multiyear deal to Becks Prime to run the food concession for the Memorial Park Golf Course.

"There's no way a guy can operate on a short-term con-tract in there," fumes McConn, who contends the city actually owes him money.

However, the city isn't the only government body billing McConn for revenue from the park concession: HISD is dunning Trensidea for two years of back taxes on the operation totaling $227.

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