In Line for Arena Pie

When Houston minority organizations banded together to sue the Rockets for a promised share of lucrative food and beverage concessions at the downtown arena, their proclaimed purpose was to guarantee that 30 percent of the goodies went to their constituents. If the five investor nominees submitted to the Rockets by the Houston chapter of the NAACP are any indication, officials and board members of the groups are likely to be big winners.

One of the nominees is C.A.T.C.H., a new nonprofit foundation incorporated by family practices physician Luckett Johnson, who just happens to be the president of the local NAACP. The acronym stands for Cultivating Aspiring, Talented Children of Houston. Johnson's wife, Marcia, a law professor at Texas Southern University and the acting general counsel for the NAACP, is one of the five board members of C.A.T.C.H. Others include three more TSU professors, including former TSU president James Douglas.

Johnson says the foundation's purpose is to fund educational services to minority students and that none of the board members will profit from the venture. Another NAACP source scoffs at that, reasoning that once the revenues from the arena start flowing, there will be plenty of consulting contracts and staff positions to go around.

"We may, if we grow large enough, need to hire a staff," allows the doctor, who is providing the bulk of the $300,000 in start-up capital. "Initially, none of the board members, I, or anyone associated with the organization will be paid."

Under the terms of a legal settlement, the Rockets will select one investor from each of the five groups of nominees submitted by Houston minority organizations. In addition, team owner Les Alexander will select an additional five minority investors. The team has not said when it will announce the winners.

Two other NAACP applicants for investment positions, Dr. Matthew Plummer Jr. and attorney Darryl Carter, are also members of the local chapter executive committee. The group's other nominees are former federal judge Gabrielle McDonald and Effie Worrell, a Wells Fargo bank vice president for community development.

One of the other applicants claimed that Johnson used his position with the NAACP to bend the rules, applying after the deadline had passed. Unlike the other candidates, he did not have to pay a nonrefundable review fee of $3,000 to Ben Hall's law firm.

Asked whether the organization had given favorable treatment to its president, NAACP executive director Yolanda Norman-Smith replied, "I suppose one would view it as preferential treatment. I don't know what the special committee that was formed to make the recommendation on behalf of the NAACP would say about that."

The chairman of that special review committee was none other than C.A.T.C.H. board member Douglas, who raised no objections to Johnson's -- and his own -- application. -- Tim Fleck


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