By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Metro has chosen Frank Wilson, former head of transit in New Jersey and San Francisco, to replace the retiring Shirley DeLibero and oversee the $7.5 billion expansion of the light rail and bus systems.
Metro chair David Wolff echoes widespread praise when he calls Wilson a "visionary," adding, "We are very fortunate to have him joining us."
"Visionary" isn't exactly the wording used by Jim Marketti, a union head from New Jersey, when describing Wilson. Marketti -- speaking in an idiom that we guess is called Garden State Modern -- says Wilson "is an arrogant fucking prick."
Aaah, get oudda here, Marketti -- are you fuckin' shittin' me or what? (Hey, this New Jersey stuff is great!)
"At one point," he says, "I had a bunch of professional engineers storming his office and I had to stop them from personally beating the shit out of the guy."
The enthusiastic discussion centered on a reorganization plan that slighted the unions in favor of privatization, which Marketti says is an obsession with Wilson. "You're in Houston, right?" he chuckles. "You're gonna have Halliburton running your rail line."
(Surely they wouldn't overcharge us, right?)
Wolff told the Houston Chronicle Wilson's résumé is "the envy of any transit authority in the country." While officials (and the Chron) noted that Wilson famously paid a $1,200 fine for ethics violations in Jersey -- he was angling to get a job with two companies vying for big-bucks contracts with his department -- other résumé highlights were missing:
" Three years after a grand jury criticized excessive travel spending by BART, the rapid transit agency headed by Wilson, he and the board racked up $250,000 in luxury travel in 1992, the San Francisco Examiner reported. In two years Wilson alone "cost BART more than $70,000 in travel expenses, including trips to Paris [and] Stockholm," the paper said.
" New Jersey is still reeling financially from Wilson's $500 million debacle of implementing an E-Z Pass system on the state's toll roads. Wilson claimed the system would pay for itself by fining violators and leasing space on its fiber-optic system; that "pay for itself" claim is now being blamed on press releases "that set expectations too high."
" Less than a year ago, Wilson was one of three finalists to head the Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority, a tiny California system with an annual budget of $10 million, about what Metro spends on pencils and Snapple. What's up with that?
Wilson didn't return calls, so we don't know. He apparently owns a home in Livermore.
But hey, a high-flying bureaucrat with a history of overpromising and a fetish for the magic of the private sector. How is this guy ever going to fit in Houston?
Just fine, we reckon.
Fire in the Hole
If you're looking for tips on how to piss away a million bucks, look no further than the City of Houston. And as a bonus, it involves yet another sweetheart deal for the Donald Trump of the local restaurant scene, Tilman Fertitta.
Step 1 -- Offer up the strategically located old Downtown Fire Station to Fertitta.
Step 2 -- Move firefighters across downtown to temporary digs that look like they were purchased from Sheds-While-U-Wait.
Step 3 -- Pay more in rent than you're getting from Fertitta: $270,000 a year to his $120,000. Make sure your lease increases your rent by $2K a month after three years, even though Fertitta is locked into a fixed 40-year lease.
Step 4 (Very Important) -- Do nothing.
Step 5 -- After two years and eight months, have HFD finally bring its recommendation for a new fire station site. Make sure the proposed site has toxic contamination that neither the owner nor city wants to pay to clean up.
Step 6 -- Start looking for another site.
Step 7 -- Repeat the Very Important Step 4, as often as necessary.
Meanwhile, firefighters in the temporary building would "prefer to be in a better situation," District Fire Chief Jack Williams says. Not in the least because their cars keep getting broken into.
They shouldn't worry -- a new building is no more than two or three years away. Probably.
"Bottom line, they need to keep moving forward quickly," says union chief Steve Williams. Who we sincerely hope is not holding his breath.
A Scourge Is Vanquished
Houston city officials have a new, politically risk-free target in their sights: after-hours nightclubs. Ever since the tragic recent death of a firefighter at such a club, HPD has set up a "Hot Spot Task Force."
If it's a "task force," you know it's important. And HPD pulled out all the stops April 17 when it made arrests at La Gaviota Club on Harrisburg. According to the HPD report on the operation: "Twenty-four patrons were intoxicated and...two others were arrested for outstanding city warrants." Another patron had some cocaine on him.
But the task force wasn't through tasking yet. "City inspectors issued a total of six citations...ranging from faulty plumbing and stagnant water to inadequate lighting." You mean it's against the law to be forced to slosh through a half-inch puddle of mysterious origin in order to take a leak at a dimly lit club? All these years, and we never knew.