On Second Thought

HISD isn't laughing now about a breakfast program

Does anyone know a good whiplash doctor?

They're going to need one at the Houston school district, where soft-tissue injuries are rampant -- especially in the public relations department -- over the Breakfast in the Classroom fiasco.

When the Houston Press first broke the story about how the district and its food contractor, Aramark, were said to be wildly inflating the numbers of free breakfasts served through the program (see "Eating It Up," by Sarah Fenske, November 4), the district could not have pushed back any harder.

"If you listen closely, you can almost hear it: parents all around Houston laughing at the Houston Press," HISD spokesman Terry Abbott wrote in a letter published in the Press. "This article is inaccurate and unfair and, most of all, downright silly."

A few months later, when the state announced it would be investigating the program, the district went out of its way to emphasize the audit was strictly routine, nothing to see here folks, keep moving, show's over.

And then on February 4 -- late in the afternoon on a Friday, the classic time for bureaucracies to disclose bad news -- HISD announced that Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra had indefinitely suspended the Breakfast in the Classroom program.

"This is a very well-intentioned program that needs stricter controls and better management," said Saavedra, who failed to include a decibel count of how loudly Houstonians were laughing.

Auditors visited six of the 40 HISD schools with the program; in five of them they found inaccurate accounting. Meals delivered to the classroom were being counted as eaten even if they were untouched -- which puts federal money in the pockets of the district and Aramark. The company received $4.75 million from HISD last year.

As first reported in the Press, Aramark developed the classroom-breakfast plan because kids eligible for free breakfasts wouldn't go to the cafeteria to eat them, and that didn't help Aramark sell food. So instead they load up coolers with juice and breakfast food and deliver them to the classroom -- where they still go uneaten.

Orell Fitzsimmons, field director for Service Employees International Union Local 100, also had come in for district criticism when he complained about the program.

He says he's pleased with the decision of the newly installed Saavedra, which mirrored an earlier tough call on test scores. "What I think we're seeing here is the superintendent, if he defends a problem then he owns it," Fitzsimmons says. "But if he investigates it and fixes it, it's not seen as his problem."

Making News

Let's face it: The life of a television news photographer can be a pain. There's a lot of lugging of equipment, a lot of dealing with reporters' egos, a lot of hurry-up-and-wait shuffling about.

So if one of them wants to move things along a bit -- and be a good citizen in the process -- should we complain?

Well, yeah -- when it involves calling the cops to hassle a homeless guy just so you can get some video. That's what witnesses say a Channel 13 cameraman did February 2 under the Pierce Elevated.

Homeless people who live there say they've been getting increased pressure lately from the police; they claim it's because of the opening of the new Metro building nearby. Activists decided to do something about it, so they contacted media outlets around town and told them to come to a spot under the highway the morning of February 2, where they would stand in solidarity with their less affluent brethren as they all faced down the Man.

Except the Man didn't cooperate. Or even show up. About two dozen activists, along with a handful of media reps, stood around watching some homeless people sleep.

A cop car cruised by; one of the media people, in an unmarked white van, tried in vain to flag him down. Minutes later the cop car returned and went up to the van where the same guy -- a Kenny Rogers look-alike -- pointed to one of the homeless folks. The cops then arrested the guy for urinating in public, while Kenny's clone filmed it with a Channel 13 camera.

All this annoyed the activists greatly, so they started badgering Kenny, who drove off. They then moved on to badgering the cops, who told them, essentially, "Hey, we were responding to a call about public urination from that Kenny Rogers-looking guy."

Reporters there were also taken aback by the vigilante justice. "We were all pretty appalled that this guy would call in for an arrest just to get a shot," says one of the media reps who was present.

Much mystery remains about Kenny's twin, who apparently is named Marshall. An HPD spokesman directed questions toward a special-ops officer who didn't return phone calls. Channel 13 news director David Strickland referred questions to a spokesman who refused to comment or make Kenny/Marshall available.

But know this, all ye full-bladdered bums fouling our fair city's streets: Justice is on the prowl. With a camera and an impatient attitude.

Rest Not in Peace

A true Texas tale will play out in a courtroom beginning February 9. The cast includes the widow and descendants of former Houston oilman and philanthropist Floyd Cailloux, the legendary local law firm Baker Botts and Wells Fargo bank.

Astonishingly for a lawsuit, there are two completely different versions of events.

The plaintiffs, Cailloux's widow and his descendants, say Baker Botts and Wells Fargo conspired to divert $65 million from the oilman's estate into a charity controlled by the bank. Highlight of their claim: A Baker Botts attorney met with the widow, Kathleen Cailloux, shortly after her husband's 1997 death; in 45 minutes the attorney "claims to have discussed 17 topics with the grief-stricken widow…only 2.64 minutes per topic." Less than two months later Kathleen Cailloux "was diagnosed with senile dementia."

The defendants say they merely fulfilled the wishes expressed in Cailloux's will and that the plaintiffs are pissed off that only $20 million of the $100 million estate is going to them. Highlight of their claim: One descendant received a power of attorney from Kathleen Cailloux allegedly by using his hand to guide her signature on the form while she was at a nursing home.

Relevant plaintiff quote, from attorney Rick Harrison: "What everyone's angry about is that an 82-year-old widow has been deprived of the income of her husband's estate for seven years and the right to give the money to anyone she wanted to. The family trusted the bank and the lawyers…and were deceived."

Relevant defendant quote, from Baker Botts attorney Joe Cheavens: "We effectively and ethically carried out [the Caillouxs'] wishes -- their children are unhappy with what the parents decided to do with the estate."

You could head to state district court in Kerrville to watch. Or you could just wait for the miniseries.

Book of Love

Taking bold action to ensure Houston's children never think about sex, Mayor Bill White has ordered the Jenna Jameson autobiography How to Make Love Like a Porn Star removed from the main shelves of the city's libraries. Patrons now must approach a librarian and ask permission to read the book.

The cover of the book isn't offensive; it's a glamour shot of Jameson. So what does White have against the book? Maybe it hits too close to home.

Jameson writes of getting her breast implants: "I'll never forget it, because for years afterward we continued to celebrate my boob day every July 28."

July 28 is Boob Day? What was White doing last July 28? As it turns out, he was getting the City Council to pass his mobility plan, which includes the now-infamous freeway towing policy.

Jameson and White share one other trait: formally and officially declaring policies that should be blindingly obvious.

White, on air pollution: "Nobody has the right to put this chemical butadiene and benzene into the air at levels that cause cancer." (Good to know, sir.)

Jameson, listing the Sixth Commandment of having sex with her: "Thou shalt not be able to take a bigger dildo than I can." (Also duly noted, ma'am.)

Finally there's this, from page 315, where Jameson's having trouble at a photo shoot: "You're shining a backlight through my head," she tells an assistant, "and it's making me look bald."

No wonder White wanted to hide the book.

Speak Ill of the Dead

Houston doctor Marc Jacobson was upset with the Houston Chronicle's obituary of architect Philip Johnson. Where other papers had noted Johnson's 45-year relationship with David Whitney, the Chron had a different take: Johnson "repeatedly flouted convention, acknowledging his homosexuality -- he called a series of male lovers 'the four Mrs. Johnsons.' "

"One can hardly imagine a more disrespectful reference to a surviving partner of 45 years than to be lumped into 'a series of lovers,' " Jacobson says.

Good point. But we were struck by another passing reference in the Chron's lengthy front-page bio of the man who shaped Houston's skyline. Part of his convention-flouting, the story said, included "a brief infatuation with fascism," although Johnson "vehemently denied" ever being a Nazi.

Papers in Boston, L.A., New York and London went a little more deeply into Johnson's youthful politics. The architect "attended a Nazi rally…[and] became a Nazi fellow traveler, published racist articles and in September 1939 followed Hitler's armies into Poland as a correspondent for Social Justice, a magazine published by the American radio extremist Father Charles Coughlin," The Boston Globe wrote.

"The sight of Warsaw in flames after a German bombing in 1939 was, [Johnson] reported, 'a stirring spectacle,' " England's Independent noted.

But he designed our skyline! He can't be all bad! Even if he was a promiscuous gay guy.

The Gift that Keeps Giving

Last year's Super Bowl was a publicity bonanza for Houston, as reporters went to great lengths talking about such tourist attractions as our pollution, corporate criminals and traffic. But who knew the breathless adoration would continue a year later? Hey, when you compare us to Jacksonville, we come out smelling like a rose:

“Although Houston…is sprawling, it seems like a small town, area-wise, compared to Jacksonville.” — Scripps Howard News Service

“When the NFL insists on putting [the Super Bowl] in outposts like Detroit, Houston or Minneapolis, people ask ‘Are you guys nuts?’ But when you pick Jacksonville, people are agape and say, ‘Who in Jacksonville has a picture of Tagliabue with a goat?’ ” — The Washington Post

Jacksonville “makes sprawling Houston feel like a one-hour photo booth.” — The Boston Globe

“We are in the midst of what might be called the ‘Trailer Park Rotation’ of Super Bowl sites. Last year, Houston. This year, Jacksonville. Next year, Detroit. Would anyone choose to take vacation in any of those places, outside of family visits? Ever?” — San Jose Mercury News

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