Got Your Health

How much more can you cut?

You're a city bureaucrat who's managed to lop off $1 million from your department's budget. You would think you're gonna get praised to the skies when you make your presentation at a city council budget hearing.

Instead, you get your head cut off. Is there no justice?

Of course, it's not like you -- assuming you're Steven Williams, head of Houston's Health and Human Services Department -- were exactly offering to cut deadwood and frivolous spending. You were announcing cuts in spending in a city department that has consistently slashed services for a decade until there's little left to slash.

And, to be blunt, it didn't go over too well.

"The services have been steadily declining in all areas: immunization, well-woman exams, prenatal/maternity exams and well-child, TB, everything," says Councilmember Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.

The number of people served at city clinics has dropped from 143,000 in 1994 to an estimated 50,000 this year, she says: "The situation is very serious. We're not in any position to be cutting our health department again."

Au contraire, says Williams. The proposed $50.7 million budget would cut things like part-time salaries and overtime costs in order to pay for increases in pensions and social security.

But Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado is less than impressed. "We've got a 62 percent immunization rate in our city, and yet we're going to reduce our trained staff by $1 million? I don't know how we're going to live with that," she says.

Williams's plans for living with it are still somewhat shrouded -- he didn't return calls from the Press. For that matter, Sekula-Gibbs is still waiting (after almost two weeks) for further info from the department.

If only they had enough people to answer questions…

Sweeney Slashed

Sondheim fans who were planning a trip to Odessa to see Sweeney Todd with a cast of Tony Award winners (see "Broadway Baby," May 19) can save their cash. The show's been canceled.

Things might have begun to go wrong June 9 at a press conference introducing co-star Betty Buckley. Sounding none too thrilled, she mentioned how she took the part without realizing the producer and director, Tony Georges, was only 20 years old.

Things didn't improve from there. Internet boards soon filled with rumors of Buckley's diva antics, which included demands that her drama students be cast in supporting roles and also, according to one Odessan, "tactless and rude behavior."

Georges pulled the plug on the show June 16. He went into verbal contortions not to mention Buckley by name but said, "Certain contractual things began to snowball and go downhill. It kept growing and growing."

He did mention the two other stars of the production. "I'm very sorry to lose Shuler Hensley and Jonathan Tunick. I'd like to work with them again." And how about working again with Buckley? No comment.

The other Sondheim shows scheduled -- a Bernadette Peters concert and a star-studded Gypsy -- are still on.

"I'm absolutely certain we will have a much better experience with Gypsy -- it's our light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Not Easy Being Green

Mayor Bill White basked in his pro-environment credentials June 13 when he appeared with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the Hobby Center. The Prius-driving mayor told the crowd that half of the municipal-car fleet will be converted to hybrid technology, air-monitoring activities will be expanded, and polluters will be hunted down, tortured and slowly killed.

Well, not that last part. But White played the green card for all it was worth.

"Nobody has a right to chemically alter in some risky fashion the air or water they do not own," he said.

White doesn't want to go overboard on this whole tree-hugging thing, though. His office is refusing to sign the mayoral equivalent of the Kyoto Protocol against global warming.

More than 130 mayors -- including those from Austin, Denton, Hurst and Laredo -- have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which was begun by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

"The overriding purpose of this is to encourage more action to reduce global-warming pollution in more cities," says Steve Nicholas, an environmental aide to Nickels.

Mayor White ain't signing. (Somehow he didn't mention that in his Hobby Center speech.)

Why not?

Spokesman Frank Michel says White "stands by his environmental record here in Houston, but he's not particularly interested in signing on to something the mayor of Seattle wants him to."

Take that, you goddamn hippies.

Let Them Ogle Cake

Being on the cutting edge of culture is never easy. Especially when you're in Sugar Land.

But for three months Charlotte Daingerfield and daughter Jackie Spears have been fearlessly bringing Art to that famished land, in the form of, among other things, penis-shaped cakes.

Nooky's Erotic Bakery offers about every racy thing you could imagine putting on a piece of dessert. And in Republican-dominated Sugar Land, the natives have gotten somewhat restless.

At least according to Susan DuQuesnay Bankston, Fort Bend County's answer to Molly Ivins. Her Web page, www.brazosriver.com, reported on a recent meeting of the county's Spirit of Freedom Republican Women, who were in a tizzy because of Nooky's. They demanded action of some sort.

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