Renaissance Man

Renaissance Man

Laura LeBlanc has seen it all at the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, where peace-officer careers go to die. She has dealt with hundreds of cases of bad cops, seeing their licenses suspended or permanently taken away for such misdeeds as official oppression, perjury and drug use.

It was only last month, though, that she had to suspend someone for piercing a nipple or clit.

Ray Grisham had been an officer with the Lake Jackson police department for two years before resigning in July 2003. Late last month the TCLE suspended his law-enforcement license for ten years because he had been convicted of "illegal piercing."

LeBlanc didn't have more details, but the Brazosport Facts has reported that Grisham ran a body-piercing business without a license and may have pierced girls under 18 without permission from their parents.

Grisham, who fought the suspension all the way at the TCLE, was unavailable for comment; his lawyer didn't return phone calls.

But Grisham seems like a busy guy -- he also ran a beauty college with his wife (one at which he was accused of making "inappropriate comments" to students, according to the Facts); and he ran twice for the Oyster Creek City Council. Sadly, he lost both races.

A beauty-college administrator who battles evildoers and pierces kids while running against the Establishment (of Oyster Creek, such as it is)? We smell mini-series!

I'm Crazy for Trying

State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, an Austin Democrat, has big plans for the new $1.5 billion Texas 130 turnpike east of Austin. He wants to name it after Willie Nelson.

Alas, Republicans in the state Senate have not been so farsighted, complaining that a road should never be named after a living person. Unless it's a former GOP president, like George H.W. Bush, or a famous Republican sports star, like Nolan Ryan, or a Democrat who's so conservative he might as well be a Republican, like Lloyd Bentsen.

At the very least, Republicans have already managed to reduce the honor. State Senators Steve Ogden and Jeff Wentworth said they didn't want the Redheaded Stranger's name on the part of the road in their respective districts, making at least 17 of the road's 49 miles Willie-free.

Nelson, however, does have some support. After all, he is on the advisory board of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre calls Nelson "the most famous Texan in the last 50 years" and wonders about hypocrisy.

"I bet it wouldn't take you very long to go find some of the other highways and bridges that have been named after some famous Texans and find some of the most racist, sexist and, in some cases, people who were some of the biggest drunks west of the Mississippi," he says. "That would be okay, but because Willie gets caught with a joint in the car, that would somehow demean him."

Well, that and the whole advisory-board thing, we're guessing.

Your Call Will Be Answered

When you think of great customer service, you naturally think of airlines. What consumer experience is more hassle-free than traveling by air?

So it's only natural that the city of Houston proposes paying $85,000 to Continental Airlines to "provide customer service training" to employees of the Public Works Department.

How bad does the customer service have to be at a place before you call in an airline to help?

We don't know. We wanted to ask public works spokesman Wes Johnson about it. But we called him three times about an unrelated subject a month ago and still haven't heard back. As soon as he clears his backlog and gets to us, we'll run it by him.

In the Line of Fire

The April 12 meeting of the Houston City Council was droning on as usual until George Hammerlein got up to speak. He works for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, and he was there on behalf of his boss to tell councilmembers they were ripping off taxpayers.

Tax critics say increases in property appraisals are a backdoor way of boosting tax revenue; Hammerlein said the city should impose a 5 percent annual cap on such increases.

Mayor Bill White and others were deeply gratified at the county's coming in and telling them how to do business, as might be expected. Actually -- no doubt feeling they were mere props for the political grandstanding -- White and Councilwoman Ada Edwards did everything but rip Hammerlein a new one. Al Franken would've gotten a better hearing at the Tom DeLay Defense Fund dinner.

So, Mr. Bettencourt -- do you always send underlings into the lion's den to do your dirty work?

Bettencourt says he would have gone to council himself if he hadn't been "invited to be the numbers guy" for a planned legislative debate that day in Austin.

He says he's often heard criticism from elected officials as he nobly tries to protect the poor taxpayer.

"Whenever you go and say, 'The taxes are too high, I want you to take a strong stand for taxpayers,' you're going to get 'incoming,' " he says.

Sounds dangerous. We guess, though, you can't make political hay without breaking a few eggs, as Lenin almost said.

When Egos Collide

Unless you're the type of person who believes that Rush Limbaugh makes a lot of sense, chances are you don't listen to KSEV-AM 700. Which means you missed out on one of the greatest political debates since Lincoln-Douglas.

In one corner on April 8 was Battlin' Billy Burge, the diminutive head of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. In the other corner was Jabbin' Jack Rains, the rotund former head of that organization. Refereeing the bout was radio host Dan Patrick, temporarily taking time off from full-spittle Clinton-bashing.

The authority, of course, is the agency that shepherded through the creation of a billion dollars' worth of new sports facilities in town. Now that they've been built, Rains and others say the organization -- which has a $3 million annual budget -- should disband.

Naturally, Rains took his arguments to KSEV, which hates any government bureaucracy not involved in bombing or maiming people. They soon took a call from listener "Billy," who turned out to be Burge calling from San Francisco.

If you ever wondered whether Rains and Burge have two of the biggest egos in town, the next 20 minutes -- a blur of name-calling, outright derision and great radio -- erased any doubts.

The highlights -- keep in mind, Rains is a former Texas secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate and Burge has long been a behind-the-scenes political power:

Opening jabs: Burge asked why Rains "enjoyed the shortest reign ever as chairman of the sports authority." Rains eventually came back with "If you've heard me trashing the sports authority, you've been listening with your bad ear, pal."

But the jokes about physical imperfections didn't stop there. "Other than you being vertically challenged, I can't think of a lot about you I don't like," said Rains, temporarily trying to smooth the waters.

It didn't take. "I'll take the circumference, then, if you've got [to talk about] the vertical," Burge said.

[Advantage: Rains]

Middle rounds: Rains asked Burge who cut the deal that has the sports authority paying $100,000 to maintain the ice for the Aeros hockey team. "About five board members with more real estate experience than you've got," Burge shot back, adding that Rains and Patrick "are so small in your outlook."

That roused Patrick, who called the remark "typical political BS" and told listeners, "Folks, this is Billy Burge making an ass of himself." To which Burge replied, "Well, you do it every day when you get on the tube," referring to Patrick's TV gig.

[Advantage: Burge, for aggressiveness]

Final round: Amazingly, by this point no one had yet mentioned whether anyone's mother wore army boots or invoked the time-honored "I'm rubber, you're glue" rule. On the other hand, the discussion veered into the subject of Burge not having a computer.

"Stop making fun of someone who doesn't have a computer," Burge whined. He then mentioned how he did have a cell phone, and was using it to check on his dinner reservations.

[Advantage: radio listener, sitting slack-jawed at the pettiness]

The whole thing can be downloaded at Give it a whirl to listen to public officials at their finest.

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