By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
There's one thing we do know: Mayor Bill White got a million-dollar reduction on his Memorial-area home's tax assessment.
Why he got it seems to be more problematic.
Here's the scenario so far: Houstonian Tim Hebert first noticed the reduction late last year; when he asked the Harris County Appraisal District the reason for the drop, he was told new flood plain maps had lessened the value of White's home.
When we looked into it (see Hair Balls, February 21) HCAD told us the new floodplain map had nothing to do with it, and the agency had simply discovered that White's home had been overvalued.
Then the Houston Chronicle followed up, and HCAD said...it was a matter of the new floodplain map. And White was just one of thousands of Houstonians who would eventually see such beneficial reductions.
Sounds perfectly clear.
We called HCAD again, just to see what the Answer of the Day would be. We can't say we were too surprised to find out it's back to "the new floodplain map had nothing to do with it."
The current explanation, which still stands as we go to press (we make no guarantees beyond that): White's home value was reduced because it was in a floodplain, but it's in the floodplain under both the old and new maps. It is only a coincidence that the assessment was reduced at the same time the new map was issued, says HCAD's Jason Cunningham.
"The floodplain is an issue that has always existed [on White's property]," he said.
The new flood maps, he said, will affect other homeowners whose houses are all suddenly within the 100-year floodplain, and those assessments will be reduced. Eventually.
As we noted in the previous column, there's no evidence that White himself did anything to get the favorable adjustment.
If you think HCAD handled the account any differently, or quicker, than it would for any other resident who might be living in a seriously overvalued home, then you're just a cynical sort and we feel sorry for you.
Especially if you live in a seriously overvalued house you're trying to get re-assessed.
Pepe Le Pew
Fred Cuellar, president of Diamond Cutters International, loves publicity.
His Houston company regularly seeks the media spotlight whenever it's chosen to do the rings of sports champions, like this year's Super Bowl winner the New York Giants.
He's had some bad publicity, too — he was convicted 10 years ago for felony theft for taking more than $1 million from investors.
That hasn't stopped him from making the social scene or seeking the limelight. Although he's not too happy with a press release now making the rounds, by a lawyer representing a woman accusing him of sexual harassment.
Attorney Melvin Houston's release (and accompanying lawsuit) is kind of entertaining, though: "The plaintiff states," the release says, "Cuellar addressed me as 'Hi Sexy' in the e-mail and asked me if I would like to meet 'Pepe.' When it became clear to me that 'Pepe' was a nickname for his penis, I made the request to him not to send me those types of e-mails."
Aw. Now Pepe sad.
Houston says his client wanted the press release put out after an out-of-court settlement appeared unlikely.
There is an odd feel to the whole case, scheduled for trial in April. The plaintiff is friends with a second woman who made very similar claims against Cuellar and settled for an undisclosed sum.
William Helfand, Cuellar's attorney, says the suit is frivolous. "The press release is a demonstration of how desperate the lawyer and his client feel," he says. "It's simply designed to put pressure on my client to pay money."
Well, that and generate laughs. Another alleged e-mail from Cuellar to the plaintiff: "Pepe is not greedy. Pepe just likes to make new friends."
We can only hope Eli Manning and Michael Strahan don't get introduced to Pepe.
Also making legal news is an offshoot of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, which is getting sued for...harassing an employee because she was a cancer patient. (Allegedly!! Allegedly!!)
Patsy Ross, a former executive secretary for the boss of the M.D. Anderson Physicians Network, is going to court.
(The Physicians Network, says an Anderson spokeswoman, is separate from the famous M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, but both are part of the overall M.D. Anderson umbrella.)
Ross says when her boss eventually found out she had cancer, he told her "I don't hire people who have had cancer or have kids." (We're guessing he snarled it, actually.)
The suit also claims the boss complained whenever she had to participate in a cancer study, which is kind of a unique attitude for an M.D. Anderson affiliate to take, you'd have to think.
"It's pretty self-apparent that you would expect someone who was affiliated with one of the nation's leading cancer centers to be sensitive to the issue of their own employees battling cancer," says plaintiff's attorney Linda King.
Anderson hasn't been served with the suit, but we tried — in vain — to contact the attorney representing them in a parallel EEOC case filed by the same plaintiff.