Confidence Man

Is the BBB's Dan Parsons the most honest man in Houston?

A public figure who speaks his honest mind is certain to sooner or later find himself occupying one of two narrow niches in the human sociosystem: wise man or fool.

(Within the human ecosystem, on the other hand, he will more often find himself simply unemployed.)

A few months back, a call to Better Business Bureau spokesman Dan Parsons for the dirt, or at least a comment, on telemarket fund-raising for fraternal police organizations, elicited this response:

Jazzman Dan, laying down the groove at St. Vincent de Paul.
Deron Neblett
Jazzman Dan, laying down the groove at St. Vincent de Paul.

"They're scams," he said. "They're badge jobs. They're all bad."

Note the remarkable dearth of ifs, ands or buts.

The Texas Department of State, which "regulates" badge jobs, couldn't or wouldn't say that. The state troopers couldn't say it. The Houston Police Department couldn't say it. The Texas attorney general's office wouldn't say it, though it at least surely must know.

It is an age, public discourse-wise, of PR-speak, death by qualification, diplomatic double-talk, conditional capitulation, legal ass-covering and vagueness as platform.

William Jefferson Clinton could never muster such a plain statement of unambiguous conviction, not on the record, and neither can George W. Bush. Lee P. Brown probably never even realized it was something he could try. Certainly no mere spokesperson for a small nonprofit company can afford to get caught spouting at the mouth without the filter on.

Trying to get a straight quote from an informed source these days -- if you can even locate one behind the scrim of paid handlers -- is an endless repetition of the schoolhouse game wherein a sentence is repeated from one child to the next until it comes out the other end of the chain bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the sentence that started the rounds, the only difference being that the final rendering now spills from the mouth of a flack and all the kids in the middle are lawyers with speech impediments.

Dan Parsons, though, he'll tell you what he knows. He says so right up front. He says so so often it's almost a joke. He says what you see is what you get… He says open book… He says I'm gonna be real honest with you… He says I'm gonna tell you up front

He says he wants to run Anthony & Sylvan Pools, a BBB member, out of the bureau.

He says Houston's take on representative government -- he waves out the window of his fifth-floor office toward downtown -- makes him want to puke.

He says he wants his boss's job, and if, when she leaves, he doesn't get it, he's gone too.

He refers to Greenspoint Dodge -- not a BBB member -- as Gunpoint Dodge.

It comes down, at root, to fiduciary trust, he says. Consumer trust in business. A citizenry's trust in its leadership.

And even though Dan Parsons isn't a government employee of any sort, and even though we didn't elect him, and even though he doesn't really peddle a product in any traditional sense (and even though his views on integrity-challenged guardians of the local political trust fall outside his purview as an official BBB spokesman), Dan Parsons acts like he's got a responsibility, as a private citizen and public commentator -- he pens a weekly column in the Houston Chronicle and is a regular presence on some scam-busting local newscast or another -- to present himself as totally transparent.

"Here, you want to see this? This is my life. It's all in there."

He hands over his day planner. Little green Xs mark every seven days or so.

These are the days, Dan Parsons explains, when he can drink as much as he wants. Manhattans, red wine, cold beer. Between Xs, he has to rest his pancreas. It's a compromise. He is Irish Catholic and fancies himself a jazz musician, traditional hard-drinking categories both, but: "It's my favorite vice. It means a lot to me."

He started worrying about his health two years ago when he had surgery to excise prostate cancer, the main surgical risks of which, he volunteers, are incontinence and impotence, but without getting too graphic, he volunteers, everything seems to be working in the aftermath (though he does feel "emasculated" as a taxpayer).

Open-book enough for you?

"I'm gonna let you in on a secret," he says. "I'm gonna give you my dirt. At the end of the day, I truly believe I've made a difference." As dirt goes, this revelation falls somewhere between Lysol and bleach.

He says, "Do you know where the term con man comes from? I ask a lot of people, and a lot of them don't know. They think it has something to do with convict."

It's short for confidence man.

"That's how they scam you: They get your confidence. And in a way that's what I'm doing with you right now."

What is this guy selling?

It is a Tuesday morning, and Dan Parsons is meeting with the management of Pool Town, a company that has never been a BBB member, but which has nonetheless requested this meeting to question the accuracy of the 52- complaint Pool Town report that the BBB offers to curious customers.

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