Logos, Lies and Layoffs

A walk in the city parks department

Okan-Vick "comes from Friends of Hermann Park," Bustamante says, "and I think there has always been a political-cultural segment of our community that wants to privatize Miller Theatre, wants to charge money and wants to do certain things that are not ethnic cultural shows."

Joe was more explicit in a statement sent to the mayor and City Council.

"Okan-Vick and her wealthy cohorts… have made no secret of their distaste for the 'riff-raff' that use the park, especially those nasty little minority arts festivals that bring all those pesky colored people onto their pristine parks grounds."

The Miller board recently sought to hire a consultant for $15,000 to survey the theater's needs and recommend courses of action. However, Okan-Vick quickly stepped in to say her department would hire the consultant and fund the study. Cisneros says he was surprised that a department so short of cash would volunteer to take on the expense. Several parks sources say it was a move by the director to maintain control of the consultant selection and recommendations. She responds that the department can save money by bundling the study with other assignments for consultants.

Late last week, after a number of media outlets had requested interviews, Okan-Vick called a press conference on short notice. There, she insisted it was Councilman Goldberg who had said the Friends of Hermann paid for the logo.

"He made the statement," said the director. When asked why she didn't correct Goldberg, parks public information officer Marene Gustin broke in to deflect the query, claiming that Goldberg simply misunderstood a previous conversation.

Contacted later, the councilman stood by his assertion that the director had told him that the logo work was being paid for by Friends of Hermann Park.

Okan-Vick also told reporters she was not trying to evade council by keeping the Minor Design contract just under the amount required for their approval. "City Council would know about it regardless. There's nothing we're trying to hide here."

The Insider noted to her that council didn't know about the logo contract. "If they ask," the director quickly replied. "There are many contracts like this we enter into, and we don't share each and every one of them unless a question comes up, like this one."

By then it was becoming very apparent that with Okan-Vick you have to ask the right question to get a straight answer.

The day after the press conference, a parks source informed The Insider that he "didn't ask the right question" -- Okan-Vick had hired Minor Design for yet another contract that she had failed to mention to reporters.

Spokeswoman Gustin confirms that there is indeed another $10,300 pact with Minor Design for development of prototypes for parks signage, but the money is coming through the nonprofit Houston Parks Board Inc.

For those dealing with the parks director in the future, best keep in mind that when it comes to the truth, Okan-Vick's de facto policy is "if you don't ask, we sure don't tell."

Burn, Baby, Burn!

The flames are getting hotter under another city department head, Houston Fire Chief Chris Connealy. Mayoral contender Orlando Sanchez had already called for the chief's balding scalp, and now he's been joined by fellow candidate Bill White.

White initially declined to single out department heads that he would replace. But for Connealy, who has been taking heat from the firefighters union for cutting the number of personnel assigned to each truck, the candidate now says he's making an exception.

"It looks to me like the fire chief has lost the confidence of employees, and those are the first folks I would talk to in determining who we would have run a department," says White. "When that happens, you know you have a management problem that needs to be corrected."

When Connealy got tagged "worst department head" in the Houston Press ["Parting Shots," May 15], he responded with an e-mail noting that he had been nominated by the International Association of Fire Chiefs for their Metropolitan Section Fire Chief of the Year.

"This is fire departments in the U.S. that have at least 400 firefighters," wrote Connealy. "Obviously, that is the larger [sic] cities in the U.S. This nomination by Chief Grammer came before the release of your article."

The Insider suggests that the chief better start sending those e-mails to the mayoral candidates pronto if he wants to keep his job past next January. But please, get a copy reader to work over the messages first.

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