Metro has chosen Frank Wilson, former head of transit in New Jersey and San Francisco, to replace the retiring Shirley DeLibero and oversee the $7.5 billion expansion of the light rail and bus systems.
Metro chair David Wolff echoes widespread praise when he calls Wilson a "visionary," adding, "We are very fortunate to have him joining us."
"Visionary" isn't exactly the wording used by Jim Marketti, a union head from New Jersey, when describing Wilson. Marketti -- speaking in an idiom that we guess is called Garden State Modern -- says Wilson "is an arrogant fucking prick."
Aaah, get oudda here, Marketti -- are you fuckin' shittin' me or what? (Hey, this New Jersey stuff is great!)
"At one point," he says, "I had a bunch of professional engineers storming his office and I had to stop them from personally beating the shit out of the guy."
The enthusiastic discussion centered on a reorganization plan that slighted the unions in favor of privatization, which Marketti says is an obsession with Wilson. "You're in Houston, right?" he chuckles. "You're gonna have Halliburton running your rail line."
(Surely they wouldn't overcharge us, right?)
Wolff told the Houston Chronicle Wilson's résumé is "the envy of any transit authority in the country." While officials (and the Chron) noted that Wilson famously paid a $1,200 fine for ethics violations in Jersey -- he was angling to get a job with two companies vying for big-bucks contracts with his department -- other résumé highlights were missing:
" Three years after a grand jury criticized excessive travel spending by BART, the rapid transit agency headed by Wilson, he and the board racked up $250,000 in luxury travel in 1992, the San Francisco Examiner reported. In two years Wilson alone "cost BART more than $70,000 in travel expenses, including trips to Paris [and] Stockholm," the paper said.
" New Jersey is still reeling financially from Wilson's $500 million debacle of implementing an E-Z Pass system on the state's toll roads. Wilson claimed the system would pay for itself by fining violators and leasing space on its fiber-optic system; that "pay for itself" claim is now being blamed on press releases "that set expectations too high."
" Less than a year ago, Wilson was one of three finalists to head the Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority, a tiny California system with an annual budget of $10 million, about what Metro spends on pencils and Snapple. What's up with that?
Wilson didn't return calls, so we don't know. He apparently owns a home in Livermore.
But hey, a high-flying bureaucrat with a history of overpromising and a fetish for the magic of the private sector. How is this guy ever going to fit in Houston?
Just fine, we reckon.
Fire in the Hole
If you're looking for tips on how to piss away a million bucks, look no further than the City of Houston. And as a bonus, it involves yet another sweetheart deal for the Donald Trump of the local restaurant scene, Tilman Fertitta.
Step 1 -- Offer up the strategically located old Downtown Fire Station to Fertitta.
Step 2 -- Move firefighters across downtown to temporary digs that look like they were purchased from Sheds-While-U-Wait.
Step 3 -- Pay more in rent than you're getting from Fertitta: $270,000 a year to his $120,000. Make sure your lease increases your rent by $2K a month after three years, even though Fertitta is locked into a fixed 40-year lease.
Step 4 (Very Important) -- Do nothing.
Step 5 -- After two years and eight months, have HFD finally bring its recommendation for a new fire station site. Make sure the proposed site has toxic contamination that neither the owner nor city wants to pay to clean up.
Step 6 -- Start looking for another site.
Step 7 -- Repeat the Very Important Step 4, as often as necessary.
Meanwhile, firefighters in the temporary building would "prefer to be in a better situation," District Fire Chief Jack Williams says. Not in the least because their cars keep getting broken into.
They shouldn't worry -- a new building is no more than two or three years away. Probably.
"Bottom line, they need to keep moving forward quickly," says union chief Steve Williams. Who we sincerely hope is not holding his breath.
A Scourge Is Vanquished
Houston city officials have a new, politically risk-free target in their sights: after-hours nightclubs. Ever since the tragic recent death of a firefighter at such a club, HPD has set up a "Hot Spot Task Force."
If it's a "task force," you know it's important. And HPD pulled out all the stops April 17 when it made arrests at La Gaviota Club on Harrisburg. According to the HPD report on the operation: "Twenty-four patrons were intoxicated and...two others were arrested for outstanding city warrants." Another patron had some cocaine on him.
But the task force wasn't through tasking yet. "City inspectors issued a total of six citations...ranging from faulty plumbing and stagnant water to inadequate lighting." You mean it's against the law to be forced to slosh through a half-inch puddle of mysterious origin in order to take a leak at a dimly lit club? All these years, and we never knew.
Members of the media were out in full force for the "operation," which HPD insists was not a raid. Told to show up at 61 Riesner at one in the morning, they waited a couple of hours before getting the chance to film new Police Chief Harold Hurtt in action.
"It was even more of a dog-and-pony show than usual," says one journalist who covered the evening's entertainment. "Just some low-income drinkers -- there's no political repercussions there, for sure."
Unlike in some of the classier after-hours clubs, where we suppose no one at all is drunk.
No, You're Paranoid
It's a little early to declare a winner in the Understatement of the Year contest, but we definitely have a leader in the clubhouse.
It comes from the April 21 memo filed by federal prosecutors against Enron indictee Jeff Skilling. Prosecutors claim Skilling violated his bond by getting drunk in New York, brawling with bystanders he claimed were with the FBI and lifting a woman's blouse to see if she was wearing a hidden microphone.
Noting that New York cops originally thought Skilling was mentally unbalanced, the prosecutors told the judge that such a snap judgment should not be criticized in hindsight: "The police found it peculiar," they wrote, "to come across a man alleging falsely that he was being followed throughout the night by undercover FBI agents and speaking to the sky in an apparent attempt to be picked up by unseen FBI surveillance cameras."
They found that unusual? Wow, Manhattan. You've changed, man.
But come on, NYPD -- Skilling wasn't wearing aluminum foil on his head or anything.
We do have to admit, his delusions are beginning to make us doubt that he left Enron (just before the collapse) to spend more time with his family. But our faith is strong.
For the past year or so, there's been grumbling about a high-profile effort to force an election on a charter amendment that would cap city revenue increases, requiring voter approval for additional hikes in property taxes, water and sewer charges, and other city fees. Now it looks more than ever like it will happen.
Hartman Management, the giant real estate company owned by charter proponent Al Hartman, has put out a help-wanted ad for someone "to organize, target and motivate voters" to support the proposal. "Familiarity with 'Let the People Vote' ideal!" is, complete with exclamation point, listed as a valuable asset.
That "Let the People Vote" crap means we'll have to endure yet another self-righteous campaign (by the people who brought you term limits) that will argue that voters should be allowed to vote on these things because they don't like the actions of people they elected to vote on them.
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We're sure the folks at KSEV-AM will take time out from disparaging John Kerry's war record in order to spend countless hours on this.
The job pays "high 40s -- low 50s," the ad says. Ability to keep a straight face required.
This Time, For the Ladies
Last week we offered our graphic-design services in our effort to pump up revenues for Governor Rick Perry's $5 "sin tax" on anyone who enters a gentlemen's club. But as every cliché writer knows, it takes two to tango, not to mention lap-dance. So we're not limiting our efforts to just the guys. We expect this poster to be up at every changing room at Treasures or Rick's or The Men's Club or wherever there's a dancer who appreciates that public education got her where she is today.