Tax Break for the Rich; Roger Clemens at the Capitol; Green Sex

Mayor White gets help from the appraisal district

Houston accountant Tim Hebert is pissed about his property taxes. So he decided to do a little research at the Harris County Appraisal District Web site.

And there he learned that in 2007, while his taxes were going up, Mayor Bill White's Memorial-area home had gotten a huge tax break, with the assessment falling from about $2.8 million to about $1.8 million.

White's neighbors hadn't gotten the same break, just the mayor.

HCAD told Hebert the change came because new maps placed White's home in a floodplain, but that didn't make much sense — only his house was in the new floodplain? Hebert showed that other houses should have been affected by the new map as well.

"I don't have any personal beef with the Mayor," Hebert says, "but I hate the fact that the rest of us are getting slammed with ever-higher property taxes while His Honor gets a reduction of damn near $1,000,000."

Jason Cunningham, HCAD's residential property director, says, essentially, mistakes were made. Both in telling Hebert the reduction was because of a floodplain map, and in assessing White's house so high in the first place.

White, he says, has simply been the victim of "extreme overvaluing for years."

"These are very difficult areas to appraise," he says. "What we are really doing is correcting an error. It was just wrong."

Cunningham says an appraiser noted the value of White's home was too high during an overall look at the neighborhood. The homes of White's neighbors, he says, were more accurate and didn't need to be changed significantly.

Even Hebert's figures show that none of the other homes on White's street were valued at more than $2 million.

Cunningham says White had nothing to do with the change. Mayoral spokesman Frank Michel says the same.

"It's not like he requested it," Michel says. "He didn't know it happened until someone asked us about it."

White has someone who handles all his financial stuff, Michel says. (Someone who apparently didn't notice his client's house was extremely overvalued.) White doesn't involve himself in the details.

So maybe it's a watched-pot-never-boils thing. Maybe if Hebert paid no attention to his appraisal, HCAD will secretly come in and lower it.

Or maybe that plan also might have to involve first getting elected mayor.

Do You Know Where You're Going To?

The Brilliant Lecture Series is the brainchild of Scott Brogan, a political consultant who loves to hear great people speak.

Such lectures can be pricey, but Brogan has brought in a slew of big names for cheap prices. Ticket-buyers who want more can buy a VIP package, which features a grip-and-grin photo and book signing by the speaker, whether it's Julie Andrews, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan or Queen Noor of Jordan.

It all went swimmingly. Until Diana Ross came to town.

Ross spoke at the Hobby Center February 12, but, as buyers of the $200 VIP package learned, Miss Ross sets her own rules.

One said fans had come from across the country for the rare event, only to be told no photos, no receiving line — only a copy of her book, which most already had. The only perk was "we got to be 'in her presence' [at a pre-talk reception]. I cannot tell you how deceived we all feel," he wrote to the Houston Press.

Brogan seems like a nice guy, one who manages to talk of the incident without once using the word "diva."

"Unfortunately," he says, "it was out of our control, the adjustments that Miss Ross made."

He won't go into details about the unraveling of what he thought Ross had agreed to do, but he said after speaking to both the star and her representatives, a hurried e-mail went out days before the event saying the VIP package wouldn't include as many perks as promised.

He's talked with a half-dozen passionate fans who were upset and "after me sharing with them that this was not of our making, that we were dealing with a certain extraordinary personality and we did — I personally did everything possible — they have all been understanding and very gracious."

Hmmm. We guess if you're a big Diana Ross fan, you're probably aware that she can be a bit difficult, right?

Brogan paused, judiciously. "It seems to be the case, yes," he says.

Green Sex

You're an ardent environmentalist who hugs every tree possible. But when it comes to having sex, are you the ExxonMobil of the bedroom?

Maybe you've given up the plastic vibrators that use batteries full of all kinds of nasty stuff. We're sure some Web site somewhere sells a bicycle-powered marital aid made out of recycled paper.

But even if you go that route, you haven't gone far enough, says Mauri Barefoot of Houston. You have to embrace the whole "green sex" aura, or karma, or something like that.

Her new Web site, gogreensex.com, features practical stuff like a three-pack of bamboo panties for $30. Oddly, they don't look like something from Gilligan's Island.

But more important, she says, is...well, she offers books about it, full of "returning to the Garden of Eden," but we can't say we understand completely. At least partly because the book includes info from Ed Group, a Houstonian who promises to cure cancer in 30 to 90 days.

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