No Raises, More BBQ

Highlights from Hair Balls

SPACED CITY

No Raises, More BBQ
Hard times hit theChron

Richard Connelly

The Houston Chronicle, like many if not all print-journalism outlets, is still trying to adjust to the ever-changing conditions that have been thrust on it.

Fear not: The paper has undertaken a campaign designed to make it one of the "Top 50 Places to Work in Texas."

How it's reportedly getting there, well, that's another matter.

Memos have gone out and meetings — many, many meetings — have been held between management and staffers.

The memo, which we published online, speaks for itself, in the standard corporate-speak that always seems to be used in these things. The meetings, though, have resulted in some bruised feelings, possible misunderstandings, and a growing sense of frustration, disbelief and paranoia at 801 Texas (the kind of paranoia that leads to staffers airing complaints only through third parties, for instance, for fear of losing a job.)

The takeaway some employees have gotten from the meetings:

• No more raises. As in "ever." Instead, staffers will be eligible for merit bonuses from a pool.

• Execs reportedly told employees they didn't want future budgets saddled with raises, so the bonus-payment system is preferable. Apparently the first round of bonuses will come in January.

• But all is not lost; the perks just got better! As in — and this is what we're told; we swear we are not making this up — occasional barbecue catering for the newsroom! And an enhanced chance to get that team spirit by running with fellow Chronsters in 5K runs and playing with them on softball teams.

• Also coming out of the meetings: Some employees are being reclassified as salaried, which means no overtime. Unfortunately for some, we're told that change took effect just as the Chronicle was making the transition to its highly hyped (and kinda meh) redesigned Web page, and when the inevitable glitches occurred, some (possibly just one) newly designated employee had to come in on the weekend to fix things, without getting overtime.

• There's also been some grumbling that the most noticeable aspect of the redesign is to hide reporters' bylines while highlighting columnists' bylines, but such a star system wouldn't be all that unusual. Even if it would be, again, frustrating for the grunts pumping out the reams of copy needed to feed the Web beast.

To be sure, some of the message between management and staff might have been garbled or misunderstood in the delivery — we're thinking that if you hear "no raises" and "barbecue" strung close together, you tend to lose focus and concentrate on the negative from that point on.

We asked Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen for clarification. He didn't want to get bogged down in details (at all), but did acknowledge a somewhat mixed reception to the ideas set out:

More than 1,200 people work at the Chronicle. As you might expect, we heard a wide range of comments after company-wide meetings. Many people came away excited by the plans; others had ideas that we could build on. The goal here is to be transparent and to involve all of our associates in the process.

Regarding your chron.com question, we're excited about the new design and will continue to work to improve it.
_____________________

COURTS

Belt-Whipping Judge Gets Slapped
Hit with "public warning."

Richard Connelly

The South Texas judge secretly taped beating his daughter with a belt has been disciplined by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams, who hears family-law cases, was issued a public warning by the commission, dated September 4.

The 2004 video was made by the judge's then-teen daughter, whose ongoing dispute with her father over various matters has been the subject of national-news interviews since it hit YouTube in November. The tape shows Adams whipping her with his belt, saying such stuff as "Bend over the fucking bed!!" and threatening to hit her "in your fucking face."

He has been suspended from hearing cases since the controversy flared and the commission further investigated.

The warning means Adams will be allowed to stay on the bench, although he likely will face a lot of recusal motions.

Court documents show mixed reactions to Adams among the more than a dozen or so attorneys and staff interviewed by the commission:

• All of the attorneys praised Judge Adams for his fairness and impartiality, as well as his knowledge of the law. All were of the opinion that Judge Adams was a good judge, who made reasoned decisions based on the law and what was in the best interests of the children

• However, six attorneys believed that Judge Adams could no longer be effective in court because the conduct portrayed in the videotape created the public perception that the judge could not be fair and impartial in cases involving allegations of family violence, child abuse, or assault.

• At least eight of the attorneys who practiced regularly in Judge Adams' court...described a pattern of incidents in which Judge Adams displayed anger and poor judicial demeanor toward certain attorneys appearing in his courtroom.

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