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Letters

Yikes! Shike!
I read your analysis of John Shike's abuse of the legal system ["One-Man Mob," by Steve McVicker, May 8] with admiration for your reporting skills, sympathy with his victims and applause for Judge John Montgomery and Stewart Gagnon. As a lawyer who on two occasions has been sued by my client's opponents in an effort to separate me from my clients, I was particularly impressed with your ability to summarize that portion of Mr. Shike's complicated litigation abuse. Although everyone knows Judge Montgo-mery's sanctions will never be collected, hooray to him for levying them, because it sends a message to others.

I was also impressed with Lieutenant V.H. Schultea's good police work. When financially successful legal terrorists ply their trade, monetary sanctions of the type imposed by Judge Montgomery can stop them. When indigent legal terrorists like Mr. Shike go to work, the combination of Lieutenant Schultea, Johnny Holmes and 12 jurors willing to convict people who commit crimes are the only defense society has to behavior of the type engaged in by Mr. Shike.

Harry Herzog
Houston

Tamarie Cooper Will Serve Refreshments Afterward
I used to do a lot of local theater, but it never got reviewed -- probably because it was outside the Loop, where no Houston theater critic dares to venture.

After much study of what works [Theater, "Down the Road," by Megan Halverson, May 8], I've decided to mount my own show. It will be called "Lutherlalia." Basically, what happens is that up to three people at a time can join me in my 1985 Subaru. We will drive around the Loop, get drunk, see some of my favorite places and throw beer bottles out on the freeway. One highlight is the motel where I first got laid.

After smoking pot in a field near the Ship Channel, we will do the "drunken idiot dance" and get back in the car. Later, we'll dig through grocery store Dumpsters in hopes of finding lunch. Patrons must bring their own booze and pay for any public intoxication citation themselves. Whiteface makeup and jerky movements are optional.

Luther Poach
Houston

Youth Must Be Heard
Whose idea was it to let some goofy kid who doesn't like blues music write a review of the Chess Records 50th anniversary sets? [Music, "Nails in the Coffin," by Michael Batty, May 15]

Lisa King
via Internet

Some Tribute
On May 10, my wife and I attended the "tribute to Townes Van Zandt" presented by Writers in the Round [Picks, May 8]. We didn't know many of the man's songs and saw a sendoff by his contemporaries as a good chance to learn more about this recently deceased songwriter.

So what did we get for our $20 ticket price? A rambling, disorganized show that started a half-hour late and performers who in some cases were simply pathetic.

Only two unifying themes ran through the night. One was the playing of buzzing, poorly tuned instruments and the other was mumbling, chuckling, stupid, adolescent references to past and present drug use. This was incredibly depressing due to the presence of Van Zandt's family at this fundraiser.

Eric Taylor and Bobby Bridges showed some class by performing short and clean sets and leaving the stage. Taylor made the needed comment, "I hope we forget the stories and remember the songs."

One long-winded, self-important performer refused to play any Van Zandt songs, and most of the others didn't bother to indicate whether songs were Van Zandt's or not. The program contained no listing of his songs. We didn't leave with any clear idea of the writer's legacy. We did leave, though. And we weren't the only ones bailing out early.

I know that this was a charity and it may seem mean to complain, but Writers in the Round needs to learn to price their tickets more rationally. This was a $2 show with a $20 admission.

Mark Commins
via Internet

If You Would Have Just Listened to Me ...
It was with great disappointment that I reviewed your April 24 article, "A Flaky Deal" [by Brian Wallstin]. It is discouraging for program personnel who work very hard to initiate new services in the city to receive such a biased review in the local media.

Allow me to respond to some of the specific factual errors in your article.
The house referred to in the opening paragraphs of your story is still in negotiation for lead hazard removal. Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Program staff have yet to completely identify the source of lead dust in and on the home due to three factors: 1) the extensive exterior paint stripping in the neighborhood; 2) the lack of air conditioning in the home necessitating the opening of numerous windows; and 3) what is reported to be marginal housekeeping practices in the home. The parents have expressed an unwillingness to replace the 30-plus large wooden windows with aluminum and want identical replacement of the custom-built doors. In this situation, as in others encountered by the program, the LBPHCP has no authority to force a homeowner to participate in lead hazard reduction.  

The LBPHCP provided lead hazard reduction services to 24 homes, as of the writing of your article. There were 33 poisoned children residing in the homes. No homes have received lead hazard reduction without a poisoned child in residence.

You used an apples and oranges comparison of lead removal by the Housing and Community Development Department and the LBPHCP. HCDD "rehabilitated" three homes referred by the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in a 12-month period in 1993-94, at an approximate cost of $150,000. Two of the houses were razed and rebuilt and the third was gutted and rehabilitated.

The LBPHCP has completed "lead hazard reduction" in 24 homes since the fall of 1996 at an approximate cost of $130,000. Rehabilitation and lead hazard reduction are not comparable in scope or expense.

As stated by Mike McDaniel in our April 14 meeting, the option of using out-of-state certified contractors was only available if the Legislature failed to pass certification requirements.

Your own interview with Matt Ammon from HUD confirms the latitude in which local grantees are allowed to manage their LBPHCP grants. This department has not been penalized for delays, nor are we in danger of forfeiting grant funds caused by delays.

The "management-in-place" is a successful method of reducing blood lead levels and has been used around the country for years. As you may have noted while conducting interviews for this story, there still exists great debate on the best methods of lead hazard reduction at affordable costs.

As we discussed, there was no attempt to overstate the level of childhood lead poisoning in order to secure the HUD grant. The 39.5 percent childhood poisoning figure was the only data available at the time of application. Its source, the Environmental Defense Fund, and date, 1990, were properly noted on the application. Downward revisions in the poisoning estimates are available because of the work conducted by the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program grant.

I will concede that communication between the two programs, the CLPPP and the LBPHCP, should be improved. Procedures have been put in place to ensure appropriate communication between the two programs. However, relatively few of the CLPPP-identified children live in situations which will be appropriate for participation in the LBPHCP. In spite of our efforts, you chose to use as your primary source the uncorroborated and unattributed comments of a disgruntled former employee who had limited exposure to this program three years ago. This lack of journalistic integrity is a disservice to your readers and our community.

Kathy Barton
Chief, Office of Public Affairs
Houston Department of Health and
Human Services

Brian Wallstin replies: Now it can be told: The LBPHCP is a failure because the city won't remove lead-based paint from homes that have no air conditioning. Nor, apparently, will they bother if the house doesn't pass the white-glove test. Since many poor, inner-city families live in homes without maid service or air conditioning -- which, by the way, are prime candidates for contamination because lead dust is scattered about each time the windows are opened and closed -- Ms. Barton seems to have lost sight of who the program is designed to help.

She also seems confused on whether the family referred to in the story has refused lead-hazard reduction services or, as is the case, has been denied the opportunity because the city prefers not to spend more than $6,000 per home. Perhaps if the LBPHCP had stuck by its original promise to spend roughly $13,500 per home, the family could have a lead-safe house while keeping the types of windows and doors it prefers. It should also be added that the opportunity for so-called management-in-place, which is supposed to address those "marginal housekeeping practices," has not been extended to the aforementioned family, either.

As for her contention that "no homes have received lead-hazard reduction without a poisoned child in residence," Barton needs to review the information her department provided the Press. Just one example is a house on Dorbrandt Street with three children. According to LBPHCP documentation, the city spent more than $6,000 on lead reduction, though none of the children had blood-lead levels above ten micrograms per deciliter.

And why are we not comforted by the fact that the LBPHCP has not been penalized by the federal government? There may be no greater "disservice" to taxpayers than a program that is allowed to fail in its mission simply because it's been given the "latitude" to do so.  

Overexposed?
Lisa Gray's "The Boom Boom Method" [April 24] lost its point. The well-being of the young man who was paddled at the private school seems to have taken a back seat to the motives of everyone involved. Otherwise, pictures of the young man's exposed buttocks wouldn't be being broadcast throughout the available media sources in Houston.

Susan Modihoane
Houston


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