Helping Out a Roomie

City contracts for a pal turn into rent money for Mark Ellis

If you're looking for lessons on how to get lucrative city contracts even if you haven't been living up to the city contracts you already have, Art Lopez is the guy you want to talk to.

Thanks to persuasive lobbying by City Councilman Mark Ellis, Lopez's company recently got its contract to manage the municipal Glenbrook Golf Course extended for up to 12 years -- without having to face competing bids. That's despite the city inspector general having found Lopez had failed to meet the most basic terms of its first deal to manage the course, signed a dozen years ago.

The new deal was even sweetened: Lopez gets a bigger share of the profits and no longer has to pay for the water he uses (see "Double Bogey," by Sarah Fenske, January 8).

So if you're looking to get on the City Hall gravy train, Lopez is obviously a guy who could offer a few tips. Maybe you could ask him how he got Ellis to lobby so hard for him to get a piece of the airport-concessions contract a year ago, even though that effort failed.

So how do you get ahold of this whiz? Until very recently, you just had to dial...Mark Ellis's business office. The voice-mail system there helpfully directed you to the councilman, or his big campaign contributor who gets fat-cat contracts.

It turns out that Lopez has been subleasing office space from Ellis's financial management company for the past year. The arrangement isn't included on Ellis's financial-disclosure forms, which require listing all rent revenue over $250, but a city attorney says that's okay if the money went to Ellis's company and not directly to the councilman. (Can a loophole be so big it can no longer be called a loophole?)

Lopez moved out of the space near Greenbriar and the Southwest Freeway soon after the Press reported on the golf contract.

And stop that cynical thinking right now. "Just because we share executive suites, no, I don't think that was an issue at all," Ellis says. "It did not come into my decision making."

Skull and Bones

Kenneth Vernor has gotten a bit of publicity ever since the 38,000-year-old skull and tusks of some Columbian mammoths were discovered on his property out in Clute. What hasn't come out, though, is that Vernor doesn't believe any of this heathen garbage about living things possibly being that old.

"I don't buy any of that -- that's just the evolutionists," says Vernor, who owns the sand pit where the mammoth was discovered. "I think the earth's less than 10,000 years old."

He says he's officially named the second of the two mammoths discovered Asiel, which he says is Hebrew for "God is creator."

"No matter what the evolutionists do to me, I'll have the last word in the matter," he says.

Texas A&M archaeologists are really kinda sure the mammoth remains are older than what Vernor claims -- and they do this for a living -- but the Clute businessman analyzes that there's a flaw in the carbon-dating process. He will be bringing in four "creationist" scientists (apparently from the Oxymoron Society) to do their own study of what A&M finds.

After that, they'll move on to debunking that fraud Copernicus.

Pump It Up

The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center took advantage of Super Bowl fever by entering all donors into a lottery for tickets to the big game. It likely was the best chance for the average fan to get a ticket, although it's hard to shake the image of someone upping the ante by offering a kidney or liver for a superbox.

Blood, of course, isn't the only precious bodily fluid that can run short. So we asked a local fertility clinic whether it'd be making any ticket offers. The head of the clinic's sperm bank wanted anonymity, but this person does indeed exist and submitted to our interrogation:

Q. What's an appropriate prize to encourage people to come in?

A. Shoot, I can't even pay them and get them to come in at the moment...There's some men's sperm that won't freeze no matter what we do. I can interview 100 guys and get one sperm donor.

Q. I thought it was all good.

A. No, it just doesn't happen that way. It could be if we proposed and said we'd do this, I could get 100 guys that would be interested in coming through here and only one of them would be a donor -- and he'd win by default.

Q. But if you did, say, Super Bowl tickets or the All-Star Game or something like that, you'd get a lot more than 100, no?

A. It's tough to find sperm donors for one reason or another. Geographical location, or their sperm won't freeze at all, or sometimes their count's too low. You can't just pick Joe Blow off the street, if you'll pardon the name.

Q. I had no idea.

A. I've put flyers out [at] Baylor College of Medicine, getting ready to do some at the University of Texas, hoping to get in through the dental school...It's not easy finding sperm donors.

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