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Law? What Law?

No Sweat
Daniel Kramer

You'd think that when the Houston City Council passes a law ordering bureaucrats to do something, it would happen. You'd be wrong.

A year ago council passed a law, proposed by Councilmember Carol Alvarado, telling the city to hike golf-course greens fees for out-of-towners. The law didn't specify the amount of the increase, it just ordered non-Houstonians to pay more than the $10 to $40 in fees residents pay at various courses. Staffers should determine the size of the surcharge, the law said.

And those staffers diligently set to work and…did nothing.

Councilmembers discovered the inaction as they wrestled recently with the upcoming budget. Mark Ellis angrily asked then-parks director Roksan Okan-Vick about it, and Okan-Vick "admitted that she'd taken it upon herself not to do it," Alvarado says. "She wanted to do a complete study of the city golf courses first."

Yeah, but the law that was passed did kind of specify that the fees had to be hiked, right? Does this mean if council hikes sewage fees, we can all feel free to study the matter for a year instead of paying the increase?

Okan-Vick was unavailable, but a city staffer who wants anonymity suggests she may be taking the heat for former mayor Lee Brown's apparent decision against the increase. That "Blame Brown" reasoning has become pretty much the fallback position for any bureaucratic crisis that sparks up nowadays.

Mayor Bill White has now assigned someone to inventory past council initiatives and find out how many have been ignored. Spokesman Frank Michel suspects there will be some, and the mayor now plans quarterly updates to council on such matters.

"One of the hopes is that we don't find little surprises of things that weren't followed up on," he says.

"Little surprises" -- just another bit of fun from the City Hall bureaucracy.

Holy Crap, Batman

Jennifer Scott mines gold from under the bridges of Houston. Not quite "gold," actually -- more like bat shit. In fact, exactly like bat shit. For three years Scott, 40, has headed out every two months with shovel and pail to gather bat guano, a desirable fertilizer, which she sells at a nursery for $7 a pound. Taking time out from battling unpleasant smells, stifling heat and the risk of contracting the lung disease histoplasmosis from mites on the bats, Scott shovels the shit with Hair Balls:

Q. How did you discover the bat guano?

A. Well, actually, a friend of mine noticed it just from the odor. And that's how he found out about it, just by looking for it after he smelled it.

Q. When do you harvest the guano?

A. I only do it at night…There have been some times I have been down there right about sunset. Because it's kind of not fun [in the heat]. Well, it's not bad at night, but it is better when you can see.

Q. That makes sense.

A. Well, there's sometimes dead bats. You want to see them and not sweep them up into your bucket, 'cause you don't want to be throwing it into somebody's yard and you throw out a dead bat…Because there's cigarette butts and rocks and whatever somebody throws off the bridge ends up there, or whatever floods down the bayou.

Q. What's it like harvesting under the bridge?

A. When I'm harvesting, I feel stuff fall on me -- I know it's bat poop, you know. I'm going to start wearing one of those big jumpsuit kind of things, I think, you know, like the toxic-waste guys wear. I mean, usually I'm in shorts and a T-shirt, and I just go home and shower immediately. But the more I'm thinking, I probably won't [wear the jumpsuit], though. Because it's hot, and it's Houston, and you boil.

Q. It seems like the city should pay you for cleaning this stuff up.

A. That's right. If it was allowed to collect, it could actually harbor that histoplasmosis. Plus it smells, there's just no doubt about it.

Offer Not Valid in Montrose

The Houston Film Commission recently posted a link on its Web page to a TBS network blurb seeking contestants from Houston for a new series called All-American Man, which apparently is "The Ultimate Guy Challenge."

"A diverse group of men" will live together for about three weeks and undergo challenges testing their physical skill and daring, the network item said. The Houston tryout was scheduled for June 19.

Apparently the group won't be too diverse -- the application notes that participants must be 21, residents of the United States, and "have either a girlfriend or a wife."

Wouldn't want any romances to spring up among the isolated all-American males, or anything.

No word on whether applicants' porn stashes will be examined to ensure they aren't, you know, that way.

See No Evil

Former KSEV-AM radio host Jon Matthews was one of the city's top Clinton-bashers, and in Houston that's saying something. Frothing rants at the despicable, craven, disgusting Satan-spawn that was the 42nd president were a nonstop topic for Matthews. So it was a little surprising when he pleaded guilty June 21 to indecency with a child. (Matthews, not Clinton.)

A KSEV message board was subsequently filled with posts, almost all of which expressed shock, dismay and prayers for the family of the young girl involved. But not all:

From Nanci B: "Jon was and IS still a friend of mine. I believe after talking to Jon and [his wife] several times AFTER this incident, that Jon did nothing more inappropriate than opening a door to a neighbor's child after dark in his underwear."

From Anon: "I am one to be a little suspicious of the claims of life-changing harm that this little girl has experienced. Certainly she is a victim to some extent but life-long harm because someone dropped his drawers? I think not…Now [Matthews's] entire life and his family's entire life is ruined for relatively minor but still perverted behavior that 30 years ago people just shrugged off or laughed at."

From Russell: "Again, guilty until proven innocent…I saw my aunt naked once on a trip from the bathroom to the bedroom, because she'd forgot to take her clothes with her and [the rooms] weren't joined. She wasn't used to other people being in the house, and I know she was COMPLETELY embarrassed by the episode. Should she be a sex offender for an accident? I think not."

From Anonymous: "It is no more offensive than Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' but she is getting off while Mr. Matthews is ruined."

Man, that Kool-Aid must taste great.

We're All Rich!

The mayor's joke of a property-tax cut provided some of the most depressing debate City Council has seen in a while at the June 23 meeting.

Mayor White wanted to cut the property-tax rate by one-half of a percent -- an absolute boon to the owner of a $140,000 home (Houston's average home value), who would see a stunning $6 in savings. With that windfall -- and some moderation -- homeowners could stretch the one six-pack they could now afford to buy so that it would provide almost a week's worth of tax-cut partying.

What was so depressing about the debate? It wasn't the criticism from some members, who pointed out, as Councilmember Ada Edwards did, that saving six or so bucks was silly when "I still have people who won't come out of their houses because they're worried about drugs and prostitutes, and we're taking cops off the streets!"

Instead it was the talk -- which took up far more time than the criticism -- about increasing the cut to a full 1 percent. Make it a 12-pack, boys!

Councilmember Addie Wiseman, who's trying to stake out the far-right flank of council (which ain't easy), undertook a mind-numbing series of procedural tricks to increase the nominal cut. The desultory discussion went on and on.

"I feel that this is due to the taxpayers of the city," Wiseman said. We assume she meant the bigger cut, and not the pointless grandstanding, but you never know.

The half-percent tax cut passed, by the way. Let the party begin.

No Sweat

Houston may perennially be one of the front-runners for America's Fattest City, according to Men's Fitness magazine, but hey -- for fat people, we don't sweat much.

That's according to Procter & Gamble, which released its highly scientific survey of America's sweatiest cities recently. Houston has dropped from second to sixth place, P&G found.

Mayoral spokesman Frank Michel actually credited Hizzoner's "quality of life" initiatives, such as coordinating the downtown traffic lights.

Okay, maybe. And maybe it's just that, as P&G found, other cities had hotter summers last year. But we prefer to think that Houstonians simply buckled down and faced the Sweat Challenge as only residents of one of America's fattest cities could: by staying indoors with the a/c blasting, anchored to the couch with a cold beer.


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