Houston Heights Association Cans Board Member Who Built a Beloved Playground Train.

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Spaced City

If you've driven through the Heights recently and thought, "Gee whiz, I wish this historic, beautiful neighborhood could become really douchey," you're in luck: The nonprofit Houston Heights Association, whose volunteers once created a jogging trail, planted trees and built playgrounds, just dismissed a 74-year-old founding member and former president for installing a wood train in Donovan Park without asking their permission first.

Paul Carr, in overalls, says he spent about $5,000 of his own money to build the train.
Courtesy of Paul Carr
Paul Carr, in overalls, says he spent about $5,000 of his own money to build the train.

Paul Carr says he spent about $5,000 of his own money to build the four-car structure, which has been a big hit with kids and, at the time of its installation in December, received glowing media coverage. Certain people reading those articles may have thought, "Wow, the Heights seems like a really close-knit community where folks go out of their way to help others. As a complete and utter douchebag, I hate that. They need to fire that guy."

Fortunately, HHA president-elect Matt Bedingfield and Bill Baldwin, vice president of finance and operations, are here to make sure the voices of the Douche Contingent are heard.

The firing of Carr, a retired firefighter and former fire department chief, from his job as property manager was first reported by The Leader's Michael Sudhalter on January 23, and the blowback was immediate. After all, a lot of long-time Heights residents knew Carr and his wife, Mary, who bought their Heights home in 1961. Carr led the volunteers who planted 312 oak trees in the neighborhood, as well as the construction of the popular jogging path, which was named in Carr's honor.

According to the article, Baldwin said the HHA's board was first concerned about insurance issues but that ultimately the insurance company cleared the train (probably when they discovered it was made out of wood and was not an actual locomotive). The article also pointed out that Baldwin's brother John would replace Carr as property manager.

We would've thought that sentient beings with working brains could anticipate criticism for firing a guy who first served his city by becoming a firefighter and then served his community through volunteer work. We would've thought Bedingfield and Baldwin would've had a statement ready to go that very day and would have had no problem defending their decision — after all, maybe the Leader article was inaccurate or didn't tell the whole story. Because, really, what kind of people would behave that way?

Baldwin, who owns a "boutique real estate firm" specializing in "neighborhood-centric niche marketing," wouldn't talk to us, though. He cited HHA policy, which dictates that only the president may talk with the media. Which is, of course, a crucial building block in creating a douche-centric neighborhood association. You don't actually shoot straight with anyone, much less the media. You don't man up. You duck and cover. You defer.

But when we called Bedingfield, it turned out that he didn't actually want to talk to us, either. He stuck as close as he could to an official written non-statement mired in vagueness, obfuscation and pseudo-corporate palaver. (The non-statement also accused media coverage of being "one sided and derogatory to the Houston Heights Association," which is definitely a risk that an organization runs when it does stuff that looks like it might be really, really dumb but doesn't say why).

The key part of the non-statement was this: "Beginning in 2011, HHA contracted with Paul to maintain the Association's properties. However, it became evident that Paul's views on the management of the parks grew apart from the Board's, and he often disregarded the Board's wishes. Paul's increasing lack of respect of the Board's decisions in these matters include several attempts to restrict access to Donovan Park, and, most recently, the purposeful concealment of the construction and installation of the train."

It also noted, "Paul Carr has served as a valued member of this Association since its inception, including serving as President. As a long-time participant in the maintenance of our parks and past member of the Board, Paul is fully aware of the HHA's established policies and procedures with regard to its properties."

Getting Bedingfield to elaborate and clarify was like pulling teeth. From a duck. We told him we had no idea what "attempts to restrict access" meant. Did the dude build an alligator-filled moat? Did he ensconce Donovan Park in razor wire? Were robots somehow involved?

Bedingfield told us the statement speaks for itself. When we told him that, no, it really didn't, he alleged that Carr put up signs to keep people out. Which is completely in keeping with the character of a guy who spends $5,000 of his own money on building an awesome train for kids to play on. (Bed­ing­field also initially told us that the Leader article contained inaccurate quotes, but after we asked him to point out specific inaccuracies and whether he had contacted the newspaper to request a clarification or correction, he said that he'd taken another look at it and that it was, in fact, accurate.)

As for "purposeful concealment"? If that truly speaks for itself, what it's saying is this: "God, we really are a bunch of douche-nozzles."

But then we thought we were missing something. After all, we weren't familiar with the Houston Heights Association. What does it actually do? What are its goals? When we asked Bedingfield, he told us it's all on the website.

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