By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
In 2007, Houston — as always, it seems — proved to be what the Army calls "a target-rich environment" for potential Houston Press Turkeys of the Year.
We had two candidates running for city council who didn't really bother to live in the city they wished to lead; one of them was busted because the swimming pool in his alleged Memorial-area home was so algae-filled it looked more like a pool table than a pool to swim in. (And there, but for the price of some chlorine, went the political career of Jack Christie.)
We had the folks who run the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. They managed to get the year's single hottest performer — Hannah Montana — to appear at Reliant Stadium. From Baytown to Katy, thousands of hyper tweener girls anxiously counted the moments until their heroine hit the stage.
And when she did, half the people there couldn't hear her. The sound system worked about as well as a Burger King drive-thru speaker. The wonderful, stunning artistry of Hannah Montana (such as it is) was turned into a mushy roar that sounded like a construction site.
Refunds were given, but the tweener tears — and the livid anger of oh-so-patient parents who actually sat through the thing, only to have absolutely no brownie points earned — will never go away.
The Rodeo folks redeemed themselves, however, by opposing the plans of another potential Turkey of the Year: the consortium that — somehow, some way, using a method where all logic is banished — has decided that the decrepit old Astrodome should be turned into a wacky indoor hotel/amusement park. Because if there's one thing Houston needs, it's more empty hotel rooms begging for conventioneers. (On the other hand, what would say "Houston" better to out-of-towners than staying for an entire convention in an anti-septic, air-conditioned-within-an-inch-of-its-life shopping mall?)
We had two government bureaucracies force-feeding billion-dollar plans on the public: Metro, which continues to insist that when voters approved the Westpark light-rail line, they fully understood that "Westpark" meant "Richmond"; and HISD, which came out with what it called the perfect bond package, a bond package they later said was "improved" after they were forced to actually gather public input about it.
In sports, two coaches got shown the door. Astros manager Phil Garner rode his often-unfathomable in-game decisions to a mediocre record while continuing, under front-office pressure, to play Craig Biggio well past his expiration date. Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy tried to play coy with management about whether he wanted to return; management made the decision for him.
There was also this, which can only be conveyed by an utterly bare-bones sentence: The Rockets brought back Steve Francis. If you don't follow pro basketball, you have no idea how ridiculous that sentence is.
When it comes to the esteemed judiciary of our area, you had a federal judge who — allegedly, allegedly — liked to get tanked at lunch and then lift up the blouse and bra of a female underling while talking dirty. Oh, and he liked to push her head towards his crotch, too, just in the interest of equal opportunity.
Turkey of the Year: Priscilla Slade
Texas Southern University usually stays under the radar of most of white Houston, unless there's some crisis over funding. Which means, since we're talking about the perpetually strapped TSU, white Houston hears about it every few months.
But never as spectacularly as this year, when TSU President Priscilla Slade took to a whole new level the concept of having screwed-up priorities.
Overseeing a school with buildings that are falling down, with bureaucracies that can't get financial aid to students in time for them to pay rent, with an already rock-bottom reputation in the Texas Legislature (from which school officials must regularly beg for money), Slade decided to live it up. On the school's dime.
Harris County prosecutors accused Slade of misusing about $500,000 in university funds on luxury items. But the criminal case ended in a hung jury (a retrial is likely), so to be clear, Slade has been convicted of nothing. Also, to be equally clear, she looooves to spend university money, even if her methods of doing so ultimately turn out to be perfectly legal.
Slade's trial, and the months and months of investigations, leaks and ass-covering interviews leading up to it, has been an entertaining eye-opener for Houston. And so Priscilla Slade is, emphatically, our Turkey of the Year. And to honor her, we present this quiz. See how well you know our gal!
1) According to audits, which of these places did Slade not stay in?
a) The Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.
b) The Four Seasons in Austin
c) The Four Seasons in Rome, Italy
d) The Motel 6 in Dallas
2) Slade spent about $2,000 of TSU's money on a statue of an African huntress. The woman advising her on her purchases, Ann Noel of Noel Furniture and Design, told jurors: