Name That Town

An image crisis in Fort Bend County

Reading one of the many zoned editions of the Houston Chronicle, we learned a few things about Missouri City September 6: 1) headline writers in zoned editions are no doubt very thankful they're allowed to abbreviate it as "Mo City"; and 2) they may not have to worry about it much longer, because the city may change its name.

Mayor Allen Owen says his town suffers from an image problem -- some people call it "Misery City," he says -- and is considering how to address it.

"I've already gotten e-mails from citizens who read it in the Chronicle today, applauding us for even looking at" a name change, Owen says.

Mo City -- hey, we can use it, too -- is one of that group of burgeoning Fort Bend County suburbs where new shopping centers go up every month. An Inner Looper driving through the area would be hard-pressed to tell where Missouri City ends and Sugar Land begins, but if you live out there, apparently it's obvious.

Both towns belong to the same school district, the well-respected Fort Bend ISD, so what's the problem? It couldn't be the fact that Missouri City is blacker than any other suburb out there, could it? (Almost 40 percent of its 53,000 residents are black, as opposed to 5 percent of Sugar Land's 63,000.)

The Black Entertainment Television network named Mo City as a model city for middle-class blacks in 2000, but maybe that's not the greatest publicity a Fort Bend suburb can get.

Owen says white flight is not the problem, it's that developers and businesses wrongly think the city is too restrictive with its planning ordinances.

The city is thinking of paying $60,000 to North Star Destination Strategies, a company that does "community branding," which is ad-agency speak for developing a theme and logo for a city to sell itself. (It's called "the BrandPrint Process," if you must know.)

In Missouri City's case, that might include changing the name, which stemmed from the fact that city founders were trying to sell plots of it to St. Louis residents.

"It's one of the pieces that this firm will be studying," Owen says. "You know, when I'm at meetings out of town, out of state, people don't even know where Missouri City is. I'm not sure a lot of people even in the Houston area know where Missouri City is."

Among the potential new names we're betting won't be considered: Mo' Bettah City. Or our personal favorite, Brown Sugar Land.

Another Thing We Left Out

We made mention a while back (see Hair Balls, August 17) of the Port of Houston's glossy and glowing report on itself and the fantabulous year it had in fiscal 2005, a report that somehow didn't mention that the semi-rival Port of New Orleans had been hit by Katrina during that time. The Port's $120,000 report (titled "Simply the Best") also didn't mention that one of its directors resigned over allegedly making racist remarks.

We've since found out another thing the report neglected to talk about: One of the Port's highest officials was robbing it blind.

Larry Miller, a longtime Port employee who was director of channel development, pleaded guilty in July 2005 to the second-degree felony of theft by a public servant.

Prosecutor Julian Ramirez says Miller got ten years' probation, including 120 days in jail, and has to reimburse the Port for what he took.

For almost a year beginning in February 2004, Miller redirected more than $20,000 of Port funds to his own bank account, Ramirez says. Miller's methods were pure genius: Pipeline companies regularly sent checks to his office made out to the "Port of Houston" for the right to cross Port channels; Miller would simply type his name above the words "Port of Houston" and he was good to go. Until he was caught.

"He just told us he was severely in debt and the opportunity presented itself," Ramirez says.

You'd think a Port employee showing such self-starting initiative and gumption would be lauded in an annual report. But the Port's not one to toot its own horn, apparently.

Written in the Stars

As you read this, it's quite likely that the Astros' playoff hopes, fading fast at press time, are all but dead. (With the Astros, of course, there's also the possibility that a miracle has occurred.)

We're going to assume the 'Stros miss the playoffs, which would be the perfect capper to what has been an utterly desultory slog of a season. Waiting around for an Astro to get a hit this year has been not only fruitless, it's been tedious. From playing (really badly) in a World Series to struggling to get above .500 is not a fun ride.

Where did things go wrong? It's easy to pinpoint. On October 17, at 10:44 p.m., closer Brad Lidge, a pitcher so unhittable he'd earned the name "Lights Out," gave up a ninth-inning go-ahead homer to the Cards' Albert Pujols. The Astros, and Lidge especially, have never been the same since.

The only way to scientifically explain all this is through astrology. Houston astrologist Figgy Jones used cutting-edge computer technology to analyze where the stars were at that point, and what they mean for the ugly, evil thing that was born at 10:44 that dismal October night.

Any idiot who knows astrology (umm...straining mightily not to make a "redundancy alert" here) could have predicted Pujols's blast at that moment, Jones says. The Card first baseman "had a sudden burst of masculine hunting-and-gathering energy, courtesy of Uranus hitting his Mars."

Lidge, on the other hand, was -- wait for it -- having doubts about whether he wanted his team to win. At that moment in time, Jones says, he might have felt it was better for the universe for the Cardinals to triumph. "Maybe deep down, he saw the Astros as not as deserving as whatever the other team Pujols was on," says Jones, obviously not a fantasy-baseball freak. "Instead of taking one for the team, he gave one up -- for the collective team of the 'greater good.' "

She goes on to explain that (something long and astrologically technical about Mars) happened, "meaning his actions were in the best interest of his deeply held beliefs...Lidge unconsciously saw that day, that moment -- based on the exact time, which we have -- in clear focus."

Well, that explains that. Although we kinda wish Lidge just would have begged off from pitching that night instead of serving one up.

So what does the future hold for Lidge? (Or, more important, Astros fans?) Nothing much good: "He may go into some type of humanitarian work, but it won't be for a few years," Jones says. "He's got to thoroughly get disillusioned with professional baseball first."

Hey -- sucking in 2006 was a pretty good start.

Logos to Go

Missouri City is considering turning to North Star Destination Strategies to upgrade its bland image and maybe even change its name. North Star specializes in, among other things, creating eye-catching, slogan-laden logos for its clients, like the cities above. But North Star's not the only one who can play this game: Click here to view three guaranteed winning logos for our loveliest suburbs — for free!

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