Fish Stories

Will a whistle-blower suit snare John Whitmire?

May's attorney says she never pulled campaign reports of elected officials. Instead, funeral commission chair Charles McNeil ordered her to review Ethics Commission filings by several board members who worked for an SCI affiliate, Herring says. Those records are also public and open for review by anyone who requests them.

Whitmire's involvement extends beyond the meetings. He forwarded a request for a legal opinion to Attorney General John Cornyn's office that he admits was drafted by SCI lobbyist Rogers.

"I was acting on behalf of me," insists the senator. "Johnny B. suggested the language. There's no question. We were trying to clear up the disputes....I was asked to do an AG opinion, and I said, "Sure, I'll do that.' "

Whitmire says he files dozens of such requests, and would do one for The Insider if asked.

He's not a defendant in the suit, which May filed against SCI,

Bush, her former commission and Waltrip. According to Whitmire, everything he did was simply a legitimate effort to represent constituents.

"This is a funeral home regulatory deal, and all of it has been cleared up now," says the senator soothingly. "SCI was not at fault....That was just a vendetta by one of their competitors." State officials have "completely cleaned house."

After the dust settled, Whitmire went on a fishing trip to Florida with SCI and Locke Liddell officials. He can't remember who paid for the outing, but is sure he never talked about the funeral home investigation with his fellow fishermen.

Movers and shakers take note: The next time you have problems with an out-of-control state commission, just call the Whitmire Dustbusters at (713)864-8701. Watch 'em clean house for you. Of course, before your appointment you might want to make large campaign contributions to the senator, hire his law firm and use a lobbyist who's on a first-name basis with John.

Rest assured he won't be aware of any of it.

The Gang That Couldn't Talk Straight

Last week The Insider complimented Mayor Lee P. Brown's new communications team for making the mayor more accessible to the media. This week the new crew is dodging brickbats from within its own ranks for issuing a press release that made it appear Brown's financial officers are asleep at the municipal wheel.

"Unanticipated Expenditures Plus Tax Rollback Will Further Reduce General Fund Budget," screamed the headline on the release crafted by communications director Monette Goodrich. The text explained that some $27 million in "unexpected expenses," combined with the recent tax rollback vote by City Council, could lead to a cut in city services and operations.

The Houston Chronicle took former reporter Goodrich's wording and splattered it across the front page as "Mayor cites "unexpected' city expense."

The problem with that is that most of the so-called unanticipated expenses had been discussed in council budget meetings and anticipated before the city budget was passed in June. While the expenses were not budgeted, planners projected that increases in city income would cover them.

A councilmember who voted with the mayor against the rollback is frustrated by the blunder. "They handed the other side a spin victory by putting out this stupid press release. It makes them look like they don't know what they're doing."

Asked why she used the term "unexpected" in the press release, Goodrich points to a backup chart in which city Chief Administrative Officer Al Haines labeled the increases as "unanticipated" and "unexpected." Asked whether Goodrich's press release was accurate, Haines responds, "it's mostly incorrect."

Of the increased costs, Haines says, "We knew it; we talked about probably 80 to 90 percent of those issues during the course of the budget discussions and the tax rollback debate." Haines points out that a memo he wrote on the subject did not use the dreaded words "unexpected" or "unanticipated."

So is Haines going to be screening Goodrich's press releases before they go out in the future? Answers the CAO: "Well, I hope so."

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