Twilight, Cleavage & Drugs

Banned books across Texas

Political Animals

Taping BARC
Employee warned by boss about criticism

By Craig Malisow

When Chatauqua Allen, a supervisor at the city's Bureau of Animal Regulations and Care, was shut out of certain meetings, she got the nagging notion that it might have to do with her race.

The feeling was compounded when Allen, who is black, was later demoted from her post as Community Involvement Coordinator and her pay was cut by about $10,000.

But when she voiced this concern to Mayor Annise Parker's office, she found herself in a meeting with Alfred Moran, head of the Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees BARC.

And in an April meeting, Moran let Allen know in no uncertain terms that, with Parker behind him, Moran would make sure her complaint went nowhere.

The meeting was recorded, and the result allows a glimpse into the machinations of BARC, and how those who rock the boat can find themselves in an uncomfortable position.

If they are employees, they can be fired or demoted; if they are volunteers who see something they don't like and share that with the public, they can find themselves on Moran's list of people who pose a "threat" to the system. And, according to Moran, Parker fully backs this enemies list.

Moran kicks off the meeting by telling Allen, "You've escalated this whole thing to the Mayor. I got that call," following up a short while later with, "You and I don't need to get into some sort of a conflict. Because you won't win that."

But Moran plays both bad cop and good cop: He tells Allen he wants to hear her side of things, and he wants her to know that she can always come to him with her concerns.

"Everybody loves, and I do too, the work you do," Moran says.

Allen explains that, while she works long hours and is more than qualified for her position, she believes that BARC General Manager David Atencio is "basically alienating us all...and really, it's racial to me."

Moran says that the problem is that Atencio "just feels under threat from within...He may have decided who's for him and who's against him."

After telling her he will talk to Atencio, and after saying he can restore some of her cut in pay, Moran reminds Allen that it wasn't "smart" to write to Mayor Parker.

"She's got my back. You don't need to take me on," Moran says. To illustrate his bond with Parker, Moran explains at one point, "I was with her last night at dinner..."

Moran also speaks generally of people like Allen — who have to deal with volunteers — appearing too "friendly" with BARC volunteers. Such a move may make it appear that the BARC employee is trying to "betray us."

Moran specifically mentions Patricia Cooper, a veterinarian and BARC volunteer who publicly questioned BARC's decision to do in-house surgery on a severely injured dog last March. The dog subsequently died. Moran says that Cooper questioned Chief Veterinarian M'risa Mendelsohn's background in public. While Moran says he welcomes "constructive" criticism, questioning of his medical staff "worries me. It's a threat."

"The Mayor's totally behind me on that," Moran says.

Cooper, who regularly pulls dogs from BARC, wound up on a list of people whose access has been limited. He says that, at one point, Cooper could have been "rehabilitated," but she did so much "damage."

"I want to have a formal list of people that are trying to destroy us," Moran says.

Janice Evans, Mayor Parker's director of communications, would not comment on Moran's statements, citing the pending OIG investigation into Allen's complaint. BARC officials could not comment either.

Allen's attorney, Martin Shellist, stated in an e-mail that "I am offended that any city supervisor or manager would attempt to squelch complaints of illegality at the City through thinly veiled threats or intimidation."


Twilight, Cleavage and Drugs: Banned Books

By Richard Connelly

Things are generally looking up in the banned-book department, especially in the Houston area. The ACLU of Texas's annual report shows that HISD has gone, in a few short years, from having the most challenges to books in the state to having none this year.

Other districts continued to have battles, of course, and the report makes for good reading.

Five highlights:

5. Among the books that were restricted: Idiot's Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft, by the Corpus Christi ISD, which reclassified it as "religious." We have to say we agree with this. You don't want young Corpus kids growing up to be masturbation-hating Tea Party Senate candidates, after all.

4. Banned for Canutillo ISD middle schoolers: Eight Seconds by Jean Farris. We're guessing it describes a successful ending to a junior-prom date.

3. Banned for "nudity or sexual content" by Cuero ISD: Time-Life Magazine. We didn't know there was a magazine called Time-Life, but apparently we need to get out to more adult bookstores.

2. Retained by Cy-Fair despite protests: Crystal Meth & Other Amphetamines by Karla Fitz­hugh. The publisher apparently read How to Get Parents to Try to Ban Your Book.

1. Retained for middle schoolers in Hays ISD: The True Meaning of Cleavage by Mariah Fredericks. Because if there's one thing middle school boys are interested in, it's the true meaning of cleavage. Not that false "as long as it's cleavage, who cares?" school of thought.

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