Turkeys of the Year

Just stuff 'em

Eventually, of course, Rita did little to Houston beyond some stray tree damage. And eventually, of course, the forecasters will be right and one day we'll get blasted.

But if there are any people more effective at raising terror and horror than Neil Frank, Tim Heller and Frank Billingsley, we'd like to know who they are.

In fact, we asked a horror expert. Houstonian Bob Willems is the director of such magnificent low-grade slasher films as S.I.C.K. Serial Insane Clown Killer, which concerns itself with, just to be clear, a clown who kills rather than a guy who kills clowns.

Someone's head is on Bob McNair's chopping block.
Chad Crowe
Someone's head is on Bob McNair's chopping block.
The siren call of Shreveport leads  to a desperate 
Chad Crowe
The siren call of Shreveport leads to a desperate escape.

"They scared people very much," Willems says of our weathermen, perhaps with an envious tone. "Look at the nightmare they caused on the roads…They were all just going for ratings."

We asked Willems how he'd cast some of the main players in Houston's Rita drama.

Mayor Bill White, he said, "should be in Lord of the Rings as a gnome…Dave Ward and the Channel 13 crew might star in a remake of Cocoon. Frank Billingsley could either play Norman Bates in Psycho or some other sweet character. Neil Frank could play Frankenstein -- the hair is close to Karloff's original."

My, my. Horror folks can be so cruel.

Willems's movie still shows up and scares folks on various cable channels, but he can only sit back in awe at the subtle ways Frank and the others manipulated viewers during Rita.

Those predicted tracks that took it right up the Ship Channel. The replays of Katrina carnage that somehow didn't mention Houston wasn't surrounded by fragile levees. Those lovingly made animations showing a storm surge taking out the Chase Tower like outtakes from Deep Impact.

How bad did it get? People were evacuating from Conroe. That's like buying snow boots because a blizzard's headed to Chicago.

What's the worst part of all? We're betting there's an encore next summer. You'll need boots, but it won't be for the rain.

(And please, God, if you're reading -- don't let that previous sentence fall under Famous Last Words. Or we'll have a definite Turkey of the Year front- runner for 2006.)

Judicial Turkey of the Year

It's tough being a judge. All that judging, and all. And you know what? You still don't get the best parking spaces.

Sure, you get prime real estate at courthouses, but what about the rest of the time? You'd think a grateful public would say, "Here, O Noble Civil Servant, take the spot right up front." But no -- they give those spaces to the handicapped.

And that chaps the judicial ass of Betty Brock Bell.

Bell is a longtime justice of the peace for the south side of town with a reputation for running things her way. That doesn't always please lawyers, some of whom accuse her of wasting their time while she goes about her seemingly whimsical way of tackling her docket.

Bell's always among the lowest- scoring judges in the annual Houston Bar Association polls; she's also always among the group of people who couldn't give a damn about the annual Houston Bar Association poll.

But being JP in south Houston is a pretty obscure position, so unless you were somehow in her courtroom you didn't give much thought to Bell.

Until this year, when she was indicted for trying to get a handicapped sticker in her mother's name. Her mother who, it turns out, had been dead for nine months -- which, you must admit, is certainly a handicap. Although it seems like a handicap where the problem of parking is pretty much well taken care of.

Bell was indicted not only for trying to get the sticker, which is a felony involving tampering with a government document, but also for lying to the grand jury about it.

You can't say that Bell or her lawyers are lacking in theories about how the judge ended up putting her mother's name on the application. At her trial this month, or in the lead-up to it, the "misunderstanding" has been explained away like this:

1. Bell was getting the handicapped sticker for her aunt, whom she drives to the doctor's office. (How this involves her mother's name isn't clear, unless Bell put it down there for a reference.)

2. Bell was undergoing a series of hip surgeries at the time. (Which apparently addled her so much she thought she was her mother.)

3. The clerk who took the application had been on the job for only a few weeks. (And, we guess, had yet to reach the section of the employee's training manual that says, "DO NOT tell applicants to use their dead mother's name.")

4. According to Bell's attorney, Jeff Gelb, the "misunderstanding" would normally have been cleared up with a phone call "saying the application was done incorrectly, but the office supervisor had a sister who worked for Betty Brock Bell and Betty Brock Bell had fired her sister that same day." (Traumatized from having to fire somebody, Bell…applied in her mother's name?)

5. Bell was conducting an undercover sting operation. (A very, very undercover sting operation.)

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