Pimpin' Ain't Easy

Before the shoot-out
Al Cameron

This month marks the one-year anniversary for Houston Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen, but a lot of folks at 801 Texas are not so much jumping for joy as they are jittery with nerves.

There's been a recent spate of departures announced: Managing editor Tommy Miller is leaving to teach in California; looooooongtime TV critic Ann Hodges is retiring; feature writer Marty Racine is gone; and Smiley Pool, perhaps the paper's best photographer, is headed to The Dallas Morning News. Other notable changes are rumored.

That's not all that's got people on eggshells, though. Every reporter is busy dicking around with the Performance Management Program, a self-evaluation form whose PMP acronym is pronounced in the newsroom as "pimp."

PMP asks reporters how aware they are of the Chronicle's goals and its "Readership Behavior Score Imperatives" such as "Content Grows Readership." (The multiple-choice answers do not include "What the fuck are you talking about?")

Big Pimpin' also involves such navel-gazing exercises as describing your top accomplishments of the past 12 months and how they helped your department. There had been talk of having reporters evaluate their supervisors, but the idea ultimately was rejected.

Eventually the program will have supervisors going over the evaluations with reporters, leading naturally to anxiety among the troops.

"People aren't happy about [it]. It's an opportunity for management to tell you where you're not meeting job requirements," one newsroom staffer says. "Everybody with half a brain is applying elsewhere."

Another calls the current atmosphere "leadership through fear."

At least Hollywood can rest easy, even if Chronicle reporters can't. With the retirement of Hodges, who probably scolded Perry Como for not being tasteful enough, the TV studios won't have to worry anymore about endless lectures on the decline of civilization. -- Richard Connelly

Watered Down

Last week, the Downtown Management District held ceremonies for the $40 million Cotswold Project and its dozen fountains. Also last week, the district unveiled its new $5,000 "futuristic" Segway scooter, which will usher the district's white-coated "ambassadors" around to help visitors.

Timing wasn't exactly everything in either instance. The two-wheeled scooter was virtually landlocked by the road construction around Lamar and Milam; until there's an off-road Segway built, there aren't many blocks of downtown to be navigated.

And the salute to flowing fountains came just as Pearland and some other area cities were exercising voluntary water rationing because of the drought.

No matter. It was worth it just to see Hizzoner Lee Brown loosen up a little in a brief squirt-gun shoot-out with Boy Scouts. And it's good to know the beleaguered district can display the kind of daffy spirit that makes real downtowns so unique. -- G.F.

Moving Violations

On June 9, 56-year-old San Antonian Rosario Montoya was in a hurry to see her friend, when she encountered the traffic jam caused by an earlier accident. She finally got past the snarl and whizzed ahead, where she promptly struck San Antonio police officer Joe Zavala with her car. Zavala bounced off her windshield and tumbled to the ground. Montoya got out of her car and went into hysterics.

Lucky for her, a reassuring presence was nearby -- her son Robert Garza walked over to comfort her. Garza was there because only 20 minutes previously he had caused the traffic jam by running into Bexar County Sheriff's Deputy Paul Rodriguez. (Both Rodriguez and Zavala were treated for minor injuries.)

Garza told the San Antonio Express-News that the ordeals created a new bond between mother and son: "I think this was a springboard. It brought us extremely closer now." Maybe even Eminem and his mom can learn to set aside their petty differences by running down a cop or two.

The Alamo City, however, couldn't compete with Houston in recent accidents, at least not in the bladder splatter category.

Houston police reported that William Thayer of New Mexico tumbled to his death from the passenger side of a Dodge pickup -- as the truck did the speed limit down the 6000 block of the Southwest Freeway at 10:07 p.m. on June 13.

The cause of the casualty: He'd opened his fly as well as the passenger door. Thayer was trying to pee out of the moving vehicle. -- John Nova Lomax

Escapist Literature

Houston journalist Steve McVicker, who now covers the police lab brouhaha as a contract worker for the Houston Chronicle, has taken to the stage.

Although he's a David Crosby double, McVicker didn't play guitar. Instead he hosted a party June 23 on the Hobby Center's main stage to celebrate his first book.

I Love You Phillip Morris grew out of a series of stories McVicker wrote for the Press (beginning with "King Con," February 6, 1997) about Steven Russell, who escaped twice from prison and twice from jail, each time on Friday the 13th. (Note to suspicious Chronicle management: We haven't communicated with McVicker in any way in months.)

There's been talk of a movie, but nothing greenlighted.

Even if a film doesn't pan out, McVicker will still be getting a taste of show business through his party. He can now say he has trodden the same boards as Tony Curtis. -- R.C.

Fab Lab

While agencies continue conducting independent reviews of the Houston police crime lab, officials hailed the outcome of other retesting into the contract DNA work performed by moonlighting lab techs there.

Mayor Lee Brown, Police Chief C.O. Bradford and District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal say they believe the credibility of the lab will be restored because, with few exceptions, earlier lab findings have been endorsed. Independent examiners have requested additional DNA testing in only the following matters:

" The paternity of a ten-month-old boy involved in a custody battle last year. Retesting has challenged the earlier findings that he was fathered by long-missing teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.

" Lengthy strands of scalp hair positively linked by lab techs to the late actors Yul Brynner and Telly Savalas.

" The tablecloth from Booth 12 at Josefina's Italian Restaurant. Independent examiners are now skeptical of HPD lab results identifying it as the Shroud of Turin. -- George Flynn

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