Too Late, Baby

The zoo waited too long to feed at the trough

For all of its 80-odd years of existence, the Houston Zoo pretty much operated on its own -- using city funds, ticket revenue and private donations to operate and build new facilities.

A little over a year ago, though, they decided to finally hit up Uncle Sam in a big-time way in order to build a covered outdoor theater that could seat up to 4,000 people.

Getting the initial cash was a breeze: Congressmen John Culberson and Gene Green worked to get approval for $200,000 for preliminary studies for the project.

The trouble was, those funds were considered "earmarks." And these days in Washington, voting for earmarks has all the popularity of voting for child porn.

The proposed funds are on hold, part of a general move by the new Democratic majority to show how unlike the old Republican majority they allegedly are. While there's a chance they might sneak through by a method that somehow avoids looking like a dreaded "earmark," right now it looks like the zoo waited just a bit too long to get in the federal-funding game.

Zoo spokesman Brian Hill says not all earmarks are bad. "Earmarks have gotten a bad reputation," he says. "We think this was a project that helps the zoo fulfill its education mission and especially its education mission for children, so in that regard we thought that that would be a good thing."

And if you'd done it just two years ago, when Congress was handing out earmarks like Christmas cookies, you'd have been golden, right?

"I don't know what to say about that timing, but that was the timing we chose," he says. "If we don't get that money, that doesn't mean the project is finished. We'll have to seek the funds somewhere else."

Although the zoo funds show up on the pork list of the D.C. group Citizens Against Government Waste, CAGW vice-president Dave Williams says Houston is not a particular hotbed of earmarks. Far worse are cities in Alaska and West Virginia, he says.

So, zoo people, you know who to blame. And next time, for crissake, hop on the gravy train before it leaves the station.

Vice Ain't Nice

Houston police busted the gentlemen's club Treasures recently, saying they were acting on tips. We thought that sounded like nearby Westheimer businesses were trying to shut the place up -- why raid that tourist-area club, as opposed to others more discreetly located? -- but HPD says that's not the case.

The tips came not from nearby businesses but former Treasures dancers who'd become "disgusted" by colleagues prostituting themselves, says HPD Captain Steven Jett, who heads the vice squad.

HPD investigators went to the club and experienced, Jett says, "touching...where [dancers] put their breasts in the officers' faces."

Zut alors! So, do a lot of guys sign up for this duty?

"A lot of officers think it's very glamorous until they get here," Jett says. "Officers get stuck with some less-than-tasteful jobs, like picking up girls on the streets who have tuberculosis, AIDS, venereal diseases...the officers have to arrest, sometimes even fight them...It's not Miami Vice. There are not beautiful girls strutting around. Some officers think that's what it's gonna be, until I send them into a bookstore at three in the morning."

Can You Get a Teacher Bonus From HISD?

The Houston school district recently handed out $14 million in teacher bonuses, using an extremely complicated formula that somehow determined that winners of Teacher of the Year awards, or teachers who consistently led their students to high achievement, shouldn’t qualify for a bonus. Needless to say, the results didn’t exactly thrill the folks who didn’t get the checks. Especially when the list of winners became public, making it easy to identify those teachers marching around with a great big “Loser” sign on their foreheads.

HISD says it will tweak the formula next year, but in order to help teachers as much as we can we’ve converted all that math into an easy-to-understand pictorial representation of how to find that bonus jackpot. Click Here to play.

 
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