Image Scrimmage

Lanier bolted the booster group after an ill friend negotiated a buyout

The Image Group was launched on the premise that half its funding would come from private sources, although it never came close to fulfilling that goal. The $1 million budget shrank to $500,000 this year, with the cost split 50-50 between the city aviation department and the convention bureau.

The aviation department money mostly went in nearby markets to advertise Houston's airport system as a gateway to Texas. The proposed budget for next year is slightly expanded with an additional $100,000 from aviation.

Elyse says she initially raised private money, but "when I took a little sabbatical, nobody was raising money. I did the fund-raising, but Sonia and no one else went out and raised money after I left."

Lanier says the Image Group became ineffective.
Deron Neblett
Lanier says the Image Group became ineffective.

As for the Time debacle, Elyse admits she pushed the project, but "obviously, it didn't work out the way we wanted it to, but it really didn't get the proper promotion."

City Hall insiders believe the timing of her resignation had more to do with personalities than public-relations philosophy. It's a premise that she does not completely dismiss.

Turner, Elyse's former PR business partner and Lanier spokeswoman, transferred to a $90,000-a-year post at the convention bureau at the end of the Lanier mayorship in 1997. In the new administration of Lee Brown, the bureau was widely viewed as a safe harbor arranged by the Laniers for Turner and another mayoral staffer, Barbara Mendel.

Mendel left the bureau last October. Turner has been seriously ill with hepatitis C since last year and is sometimes unable to come into the office more than once or twice a week. She went on extended medical leave, and the situation finally came to a head with Turner's resignation last month. A lawyer and former mayor Lanier helped her negotiate a sizable -- and confidential -- severance package with the bureau board that, according to a friend, will "give her the time she needs to get well."

Once Turner's deal was secure, Elyse then announced her own resignation. She notified Brown and City Council but pointedly didn't bother to alert bureau president Tollett.

Several City Hall sources put the onus for the confrontation with Elyse on Tollett. Those sources claim that when Tollett took on the role of chief of staff for Mayor Brown and was holding down four different jobs in the administration, his personality changed. Work conditions became "very difficult" at the bureau for Turner and others. Tollett declined comment on Turner's departure, citing a confidentiality agreement on her negotiated severance package.

"I stayed on and stayed involved because Sarah was there," says Elyse, praising Turner's job performance. "With Sarah gone, I had no reason to stay with a group that I feel is not doing the job that I'm interested in. Now I would rather work with another group."

During an interview, Elyse repeated a possible future slogan for her next booster rocket: Houston: Bring the Perception Up to the Fact.

With the first anniversary of the Tropical Storm Allison deluge coming up, some of us would be more than happy if the Fact just stays above the water level this summer.

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