By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Lee Brown's travails in hiring people to fill his administration continued last week when Rice University flack Mike Cinelli turned down an offer to become Brown's communications director, leaving the new mayor to implore several consultants to find him somebody -- anybody -- to fill the job. Brown is not making hiring easy for the heads of city departments, either, judging by an internal administrative memo circulated at City Hall last week and obtained by The Insider.
The memo alerted Brown's department directors that their recommendations to fill all municipal jobs above "pay grade 29" -- that is, positions that pay approximately $45,000 a year or more -- must be approved by the mayor's office. There are more than 500 such jobs in the approximately 23,000-person city workforce. Attached to the memo is a form that department heads must complete when they want to fill one of those jobs, telling the mayor why the position is open, giving a description of its duties and requesting permission before prospective hires are interviewed.
Reflecting Brown's bureaucratic mindset, the form includes four boxes directors must check to post a job opening and refer, interview or recommend someone to fill it. The memo's cover letter admonishes the administrators to "check as many blocks as necessary. REMEMBER, you are not supposed to start any of the listed actions until it is approved."
In case they hadn't gotten the message, the last line of the form, right above the space for a department head's signature, makes it clear who's in charge: "I understand that before a job offer is made ... I must obtain explicit, written approval from the mayor's office before proceeding." Brown himself must sign off on the request before the department head can proceed.
Veterans of the Bob Lanier and Kathy Whitmire administrations can't recall any specific requirement for the written approval of the mayor for such low pay-grade hiring. "I can't believe," says one current administrator, "how deep he's going in screening hires."
Joe Weikerth, who was one of Lanier's top aides, is in charge of the screening for Brown and has already had to call several department heads on the carpet for making new hires above pay-grade level without Brown's approval, says one source. Weikerth says several hirings that were in process when Brown took over have been frozen until they can be evaluated. The mayoral aide minimizes the significance of the action, claiming only a handful of such administrative positions are open at any given time. But others disagree.
"This is a police mentality thing," one City Hall veteran says of the memo, suggesting that former police chief Brown has retained some old habits. "At HPD, they've got a form for everything down to when you go take a piss." As chief, Brown had a reputation for playing it close to the vest administratively and micromanaging hiring, says this former mayoral staffer, and the recently circulated memo is just an expression of that tendency.
A Lanier veteran believes Brown doesn't want any new administrators brought on until he has thorough control over the city bureaucracy. The move will prevent lame-duck department heads from rewarding friends with last-minute jobs, says this observer. On the other hand, the same source notes, "It absolutely will slow down things. I don't expect very many people to get hired if he wants to look at each one individually."
On the bright side, so far the mayor hasn't issued a memo demanding his personal approval for reservations on the city's tennis courts, as famed micromanager Jimmy Carter once did for White House recreational facilities.
At least not yet.
Soft, Lucrative Landing
Here's one job Mayor Brown won't have to approve.
Jimmie Schindewolf, who was Bob Lanier's Public Works and Engineering Department director, is on his way out of City Hall at the end of next month, but it appears he won't be completely removed from the public teat. Several downtown players say Schindewolf has been offered an assignment as "construction coordinator" for the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, which is building the downtown baseball stadium.
"It's a done deal," one source says of the arrangement, which has yet to be formally approved by the Authority's board. Schindewolf reportedly would be paid in the range of $7,500 a month. A public works source tells The Insider that Schindewolf's impending move to the Sports Authority is a matter of common knowledge within the department.
Sports Authority chairman Jack Rains did not return an Insider call on the matter, and neither did Schindewolf, so we couldn't ask them why the Sports Authority would need a highly paid construction coordinator. No doubt it will all be explained in due time.
How many Aggies does it take to turn a private law school into a public institution? For Houston-area law educators, it's no joking matter.
Officials of the former South Texas College of Law turned Texas A&M Law Center insist that last week's announcement of the affiliation agreement between the private law school and the state-supported A&M system doesn't mean the private law school will one day become a public institution. But across town, doubting University of Houston officials claim the affiliation is actually the first shot in an Aggie invasion of the Houston legal-education market. They've launched a counteroffensive to stymie approval of the South Texas-A&M agreement by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.