By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Houston city officials, apparently outraged at how they had fallen behind Galveston and Kemah in the heated race to service every little whim of restaurant-and-real-estate mogul Tilman Fertitta, took bold action a few years ago.
They gave Fertitta a sweetheart lease to the old downtown fire station and central waterworks plant -- even in the year 2040, he'll still be paying rent of only $12,500 a month for the prime location.
In its rush to bend over for Tilman, the city vacated the space even though it didn't have a replacement site lined up for the fire station. Houston is currently paying more than $24,500 a month to lease an admittedly inadequate building on Milam.
All this allowed Fertitta in February 2003 to open the Aquarium restaurant, which features outrageously overpriced train rides, Ferris wheels and -- he hopes -- tigers. (Because nothing says "aquarium" like tigers.) Food is also served, apparently.
In return for all this largesse, which was supposed to spark an unprecedented explosion of downtown development, Fertitta had to do only one thing: file an annual report with the city detailing how the restaurant is doing and what the city is getting for its investment.
And Fertitta can't be bothered to do it.
The first report was due June 1, says Pete Radowick, spokesman for the city's Convention and Entertainment Facilities. In the eight weeks since then, he says, the city has contacted Fertitta and asked if he would please file the thing. (For some reason, imagining this conversation brings to mind the Cowardly Lion approaching the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.)
Despite the nudging, the report hasn't been filed. The city's aggressiveness on the matter is best summed up by Radowick's response when told Hair Balls might be writing on the matter: "Well, maybe that'll get him moving," he said.
Glad to do our part.
Fertitta and his wife both gave $2,500 to Mayor Bill White this March; perhaps the paperwork involved in writing out those checks has delayed his filing the Aquarium report. Or maybe he's just too busy with his tiger project.
Fertitta's office, by the way, referred us to a PR agency that didn't return phone calls.
Money and Medals
The company's Web site says it's the leading manufacturer of medals and service ribbons for America's armed forces. It will be making up to 513,000 of the GWOT medals, says Cynthia Esposito, a contracting officer for the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.
Graco will be paid $713,000 for the job. But that's not all they'll get out of the war; Graco is also one of the leading manufacturers of Purple Hearts.
Company officials, who definitely are busy these days, did not return phone calls.
The peace caravan to Cuba that we wrote about two weeks ago has made its return trip across the Mexican border. And lived to tell the tale.
The Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan takes medical supplies and other aid to Cuba, in violation of all sorts of federal embargoes. In the past they've said they've been roughed up by border guards as they've crossed over to Mexico. This year the crossing was peaceful, but caravan members were anxious about getting back into the good old U.S. of A.
And again, those wily feds let them go by more or less unmolested. Scores of officers were waiting, and went over the group's vehicles very, very closely, organizers say. "The contrast between the reception [in Cuba] and the reception here really strengthened our resolve," says caravan spokeswoman Ellen Bernstein. (Bringing medical aid to a strapped country does tend to pep up the welcome, you know.)
And so they confiscated a book of Cuban poetry, a paper flag on a stick, a set of maracas and a bag made in China that had the name "Cuba" on it.
We feel safer already. When you even think of the incendiary combination of Cuban poetry and maracas, you simply tremble.
Since its beginning earlier this year, the conservative Web news service called TexasDigest.com has been scrupulously highlighting the shining gallantry epitomized by Governor Rick Perry and his GOP brethren, contrasting it -- more in sorrow than anger -- with the pitiful moral swamp that is the state Democratic Party.
So it's somewhat surprising that the ethical guardians at TexasDigest.com have run into a little behavior problem of their own. Despite promises that e-mail information on subscribers would be held as sacrosanct as as as heterosexual marriage, we guess, someone at the company has been rifling through the lists for private business purposes.