Getting the Spin from BARC: Things are just rosy at the pound, according to the Chronicle

Political Animals, Spaced City

Getting Spun by BARC
Things are rosy, according to the Chron

By Craig Malisow


Houston's BARC

A recent column by the Houston Chronicle's Lisa Falkenberg, headlined "Finally, a bit of good news out of BARC," might have been more accurately titled "When Public Relations Attacks!"

What the column lacks in actual news value and insight, it makes up for by highlighting what might be one of BARC's thorniest, yet largely unacknowledged, problems: God-awful public relations.

That's because the article refers to an "estimate" by Bureau Chief Ray Sim that, "as of Wednesday," the percentage of dogs vaccinated was "95 percent or greater."

The very next sentence is Falkenberg's conclusion that "It's definitely progress, even if it's a basic reform that could have been implemented long ago."

However, we wonder if Falkenberg asked over what time period this magical 95 percent occurred.

A few days before the column ran, Hair Balls referred to a draft for additional BARC funds that estimated an 8 percent vaccination rate between July 2008 and January 2009. In conversations with city Health and Human Services spokesperson Kathy Barton and HHS Director Stephen Williams, Hair Balls was told that the 8 percent was accurate, but it was strictly for January — that the prior months, in fact, had lower vaccination rates.

Upon receiving the supplemental budget request (which is now being called a "draft"), Hair Balls e-mailed Barton, Williams and HHS Assistant Director Michael Terraso, asking to confirm the 8 percent figure.

Barton subsequently explained in an e-mail that "Immunization before intake was not consistently conducted until January of 2009. The statistic may be technically correct, but does not reflect that intake immunization is a new policy initiated by the interim management."

That might have been a good time to include any information that the vaccination rate somehow jumped 87 percentage points since January. So we asked Barton what time period Sim was referring to in the Chron column, and she said, "I believe what he said was, 'At this time.'"

¿Qué pasa?

So naturally, our next question was: Could Sim have meant that, on Wednesday, June 24, 95 percent of animals were vaccinated?

Barton said: "It could be."

She then explained that vaccination rates have increased since animal control officers started vaccinating animals in the field. This policy was implemented, Barton believed, on June 10. So at worst, the 95 percent Falkenberg trumpeted as "good news" was actually a one-day statistic; at best, it was a 14-day snapshot (minus weekends, of course).

When we asked Barton why this 95 percent estimate was only reported the day Falkenberg wrote her column, Barton said it was because that was the day she (Barton) asked Sim.

This dovetails into our thesis, that BARC's PR involves a sort of supernatural suckage, whereby stonewalling, fuzzy math, obfuscation, miscues and lack of knowledge collide to create something that, if it appeared on a restaurant menu, might be called Clusterfuck Casserole.

As far as we can tell, this is in no way the fault of Barton, who has an extremely difficult job. And that job is to extract information from an upper tier of civil servants who appear unwilling to facilitate the free flow of information and who would rather the media be stenographers than fact-finders.

Since the Houston Press's January feature on BARC's problems, Hair Balls has written about a series of blunders brought to our attention by animal-welfare activists who are sickened by what they see as more of the same, followed by more of the same, ad infinitum. Although these reports usually detail events that happened days or weeks earlier, BARC's responses — if they ever come — are more often than not extremely delayed.

For example, we recently posted a photograph of a Solid Waste Department truck hauling a load of exposed dog cadavers from BARC — an incident that occurred, and was brought to BARC management's attention, in February. But when Hair Balls asked for an explanation, we had to wait two days. For something that happened months earlier.

These continued delays simply make BARC look bad. If Hair Balls were in charge of BARC's PR, we'd probably start every morning by calling Sim or Williams and asking, "Did anything extremely backward and unconscionable happen yesterday? Because, if so, it'd be nice to get out in front of this, so at least we appear competent, concerned and committed."

However, such a thing could only work if these people cared enough to give Barton the information she needs.

Spaced City

The Heat, in Verse
Only poetry can ease the pain

By Richard Connelly

Good Christ, it's fucking hot.

It's only barely July, and already we're in the triple digits. There's been more wind than normal, at least according to our untrained analysis, so things might not be as bad as they could.

But still, it's hot.

The Chronicle is offering a haiku contest where people are urged to go all 5-7-5 about the heat wave, but that's way too sophisticated for our bog-Irish ass. Instead we offer limericks on the situation:

1. Limerick the First: On the Struggles of the Not-So-Working Class

River Oaks ladies get Botox

Much more often than they ever go blow cocks

But head out the door

When it's hundred-and-four

And the stuff melts much faster than snow blocks

2. Limerick the Second: Of a Certain Neighborhood

In Montrose it's so freaking hot

That some fellas are in quite a spot

They want to be safe

But the heat makes them chafe

"Go 'no rubber'?" Hell, give it a shot

3. Limerick the Third: Tow-Truck Blues

In traffic you will overheat

As you're stuck on some jammed Houston street

The temperature gauge

Will reach a bad stage

And your paycheck will now be dead meat

4. Limerick the Fourth: Life in a Dying Medium

Reporters would all like to strangle

A boss who's in search of an angle

That hasn't been done

On the terrible sun

But instead they take English and mangle

As to the last one, in the immortal words of Sideshow Bob, " charged."


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