The 2016 Turkeys of the Year

The 2016 Turkeys of the YearEXPAND
Houston Press

‘But soft, what wind through yonder window breaks,” William Shakespeare wrote in his first draft of Romeo & Juliet, originally titled Tango & Cash. “It is the east/and this flatulent turkey/is the sun.”

Although that turkey didn’t make it into the final draft, we’ve paid tribute to its memory every Thanksgiving, taking time to reflect on the past year’s most memorable moments, especially the ones when someone did something really, really stupid.

It’s widely accepted that 2016 has been a bummer — ten days in David Bowie died, followed just days later by Alan Rickman and the dude who played Grizzly Adams. In April and June, record rainfall caused horrible flooding that destroyed lives (both human and horse) and property throughout Houston.

Add to that an extended summer of scorchers and an especially polarizing election season, and you’ve got a sure-fire contender for one of the most unpleasant years on record. What better way to say good-bye to such abject crappiness than with a run-down of the year’s most fatuous fowls?

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There was, for example, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman, overseeing a woefully overcrowded jail, who sought criminal charges against a 59-year-old man and a 67-year-old woman who removed some Trump campaign signs.

Then there was the unfortunate social media commentary from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who tweets a Bible verse every Sunday morning. Unfortunately, his June 12 tweet, “God cannot be mocked; a man reaps what he sows,” appeared only hours after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

Patrick’s adviser, Houston political puppet master Allen Blakemore, who is also Satan’s notary public, explained the unfortunate tweet as a coincidence, saying “this morning’s scripture posting” had been scheduled before the shooting. (And, in case you’re wondering: Yes, “scripture posting” is part of the job description for the office of lieutenant governor, just above “faith healing” and below “packing for the Rapture.”)

Then, acting as if he had been challenged to out-stupid Patrick’s tweet, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, an elected official known for offering amnesty to cupcakes (really) while posting Facebook memes comparing Syrian refugees to venomous rattlesnakes (no, really), called Hillary Clinton a “cunt” on Twitter. Miller’s PR team — a crack cadre of state-funded spin doctors with a very particular set of skills — first pulled a Weiner (heh), claiming the commissioner’s Twitter was hacked.

Not long afterward, it appears, a senior PIO — we’re guessing the one who doesn’t drink out of a sippy cup — alleged that it was an accidental retweet, when it was actually not a retweet, but a copy-and-paste job. (According to unconfirmed reports, Miller subsequently chased his staff around his desk to the strains of “Yakety Sax.”)

In what might be the most insincere tweet of the year, Governor and Staunch Defender of Women’s Rights Greg Abbott struck an outraged pose, tweeting, “No true Texas gentleman would ever talk this way.”

We’re not sure exactly how a Texas gentleman would speak, but if there’s one thing we know, it’s how Texas turkeys warble.

Anderson went from D.A. to T.O.Y.EXPAND
Anderson went from D.A. to T.O.Y.
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TURKEY OF THE YEAR: DEVON ANDERSON

Rarely has there been a candidate more qualified for the position of Chief Gobbler than outgoing Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson. You kind of move to the head of the line after your office throws a mentally ill survivor of sexual assault in jail for 27 days.

Anderson defended the actions of prosecutor Nick Socias, who came up with this brilliant and compassionate plan to force the 25-year-old woman to resume her testimony against her rapist after she broke down on the stand during trial.

Ostensibly, Anderson was under the impression that the Harris County Jail is a tightly run ship. What a crushing blow it must have been for Anderson to learn, apparently for the very first time, that bad things can and often do happen in jail: The woman, known as Jenny, was thrown into general population and assaulted by another inmate, who, according to a subsequent lawsuit, “repeatedly slammed [Jenny’s] head into the concrete floor.”

To be fair, it’s not unheard of for prosecutors to mix up their witnesses and defendants, which is why the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure recommends that all parties to a criminal case have their foreheads Sharpied with a “W” or a “D.”

Anderson justified the prosecutor’s actions by saying Jenny’s testimony was necessary to convict a serial rapist, and there was fear that Jenny would not return to court. This is the kind of judgment on display in Anderson’s handling of 21,500 pieces of evidence held in a Precinct 4 Constable’s Office that were destroyed by Deputy Chris Hess, who is also this year’s Deputy Turkey.

The D.A. admitted to sitting on the knowledge of this missing evidence for months while her prosecutors worked out plea deals in cases tied to that evidence. Anderson didn’t take any action to dismiss those cases until KTRK broke a story about two defense attorneys who discovered the evidence against their client had been destroyed — just as he was set to take a 25-year plea deal for meth possession.

The defense attorneys learned of the lost evidence in August. Anderson learned about it in March.

In October Anderson continued her class-act streak by cynically pointing out in an interview that her Democratic challenger, Kim Ogg, is gay. In what was a transparent and embarrassing nod to shore up her conservative base, Anderson felt the need to remind them that Ogg was not only pro-choice, but a big ol’ lesbianic lesbo from Lesbo Island.

Anderson later explained to the Houston Chronicle that she was “making a point about how conservative, pro-life Republicans would feel about how Kim Ogg might address the approximately 116,000 cases this office handles on an annual basis.”

We’ve got our fingers crossed that Ogg won’t handle any of those cases by throwing victims in jail.

Proof that 911 can indeed be a joke.
Proof that 911 can indeed be a joke.
Courtesy of HPD

EMERGENCY TURKEY OF THE YEAR: CRENSHANDA WILLIAMS

When 911 operator Crenshanda Williams’s supervisors at the Houston Emergency Center grew curious about the number of Williams’s unusually short calls, they decided to give the calls a listen. They got an earful, or rather a lack thereof.

It turned out that Williams had a habit of hanging up on callers, at one point saying, “Ain’t nobody got time for that. For real.”

At one point, she hung up twice on a caller trying to report a robbery. According to the charges filed against her in Harris County District Court, Williams told investigators that she “often hangs up…because she did not want to talk to anyone at that time.”

In Williams’s defense, the emergencies cited in the criminal complaint are fairly pedestrian — a convenience store robbery and two dudes racing on the freeway. Like Williams, we don’t really want to talk on the phone with a complete stranger about boring “crimes.” Which is why we’ve prepared a chart — the Crenshanda Credo — which delineates what acts are worthy of response, and those for which nobody ain’t got no time.

Ain’t Nobody Got Time
Witnessing someone driving erratically.

Got Time
Prison escape.

Ain’t Nobody Got Time
Breaking and entering.

Got Time
Unicorn assault.

Ain’t Nobody Got Time
Indecent exposure.

Got Time
Really indecent exposure.

You get the picture. We hope Houston Emergency Center officials get this vital chart to its dispatchers as soon as possible. For real.

TEXTBOOK TURKEY OF THE YEAR: MEXICAN-AMERICAN HERITAGE, a.k.a. EL LIBRO LOCO

When some Texas teachers advocated for system-wide Mexican-American studies, the State Board of Education called on publishers to submit proposals for a brand-new textbook. The one that rose to the top of the heap is a doozy.

Fortunately, the board unanimously rejected the book finally last week, but the fact that it was even under consideration raises a huge red flag.

Mexican-American Heritage, which for some reason features an Aztec shaman sporting a gigantic feathered headdress on its cover, is the stillborn brainchild of writers Jaime Riddle and Valarie Angle. Riddle’s previous work, per her LinkedIn profile, includes extensive Amazon reviews “focusing on exposing subtle anti-Western themes in popular children’s literature.” (It should be noted that the Amazon River, like befeathered indigenous jaguar warriors, is profoundly Mexican-American.)

Angle’s bona fides include shilling dubious nutritional supplements online, like an “electrolyte replacement energy gel,” which, for the record, is the preferred electrolyte delivery system of Mexican-Americans.

The book is published by Momentum Instruction, a company run out of the Virginia home of former State Board of Education Bible-beater and current Liberty University professor Cynthia Dunbar. Broad in caricature and narrow in mind, the book depicts early 20th-century Mexican laborers as “not reared to put in a full day’s work,” instead stewing in their “cultural attitude of ‘manana,’” and often “drinking on the job,” suggesting that the original cover of the book was scrapped after Momentum Instruction was unable to secure the rights for a picture of Speedy Gonzales’s slacker cousin, Slowpoke Rodriguez.

However, the book does not portray all Mexican-Americans as hostage to an endless cycle of alcohol-induced siestas and whacking piñatas with leaf blowers at their cousin’s quinceañera; a portion of them, called Chicanos, were a busy bunch, working hard to adopt “a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.” We’re having a little trouble figuring out what “adopting a revolutionary narrative” means, but that’s probably just because we’re kinda low on electrolytes.

“Hey, Hey, We’re the Trustees!”EXPAND
“Hey, Hey, We’re the Trustees!”
Margaret Downing

EDUCATION TURKEYS OF THE YEAR:
THE HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION AND BOARD OF TRUSTEES

You know you’ve got a solid school board when the first action of the new year is a vote on relaxing the board’s ethics policy.

For those of you keeping score, this vote occurred in the midst of the following educational endeavors: a $5 million federal judgment against ex-trustee Larry Marshall and various cronies over rigged contracts; another federal lawsuit (of the whistleblower variety), filed by HISD’s former chief auditor, who was suspended after issuing a critical report; the discovery that employees were playing games with their district-issued credit cards to circumvent a $1,000 limit by dividing up purchases; a new school building whose structural foundation was never approved by the city; a fight over whether to rebrand schools named after Confederate heroes; and the unexpected departures of three board members (wait, one took it back and said he’s staying).

A juror in the civil suit against Marshall, his “consultant” and an HISD vendor told KTRK’s Ted Oberg, “HISD’s behavior was reprehensible and Larry Marshall’s behavior and choices were reprehensible. The evidence showed that there is a long-standing culture of cronyism and pay-to-play schemes at HISD.”

The school district’s expert public relations wizards issued a remarkably tone-deaf and arrogant press release immediately after the verdict, stating that “HISD is not a party to the litigation involving job order contractors…HISD remains committed to effective and transparent stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

It was as convincing as Sergeant Schultz’s insistent “I know nothing!” For one thing, it failed to mention that HISD was originally a respondent in the lawsuit, but was dropped only after the Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that governmental entities have immunity from such suits — a far cry from actual vindication. The release also ignored the fact that HISD’s chief auditor, Richard Patton, had already warned the district about this kind of thing, only to be sacked.

Clearly, the seventh-largest school district in the country has made children’s education its top priority.
To give the trustees some credit, they didn’t roll back the ethics policy as far as originally expected. Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones originally wanted to scrap a provision barring board members from voting on a bid from vendors who have donated more than $500 to their campaigns. The trustees didn’t cut the requirement; they just raised the campaign contribution cutoff to $2,000.

With all the infighting and litigation, it’s a wonder the trustees can get anything done at all — especially with trustee Jolanda Jones’s frequent grandstanding, which this year has involved a lot of ragging on the Houston Chronicle. At a mid-November meeting, Board President Manuel Rodriguez nobly put his life on the line by pounding his gavel to end a Jones soliloquy.

Jones also caused a stir when some trustees flipped out over fear that a camera crew would invade meetings to get snippets of her for her WE tv reality show, Sisters in Law. Per the show’s website, SIL “follows a close-knit group of elite high-powered black female lawyers as they juggle their families, busy careers, and even more demanding social calendars.” The trustees breathed a sigh of relief upon learning that the film crew would in fact be skipping over trustee matters, probably because the meetings are considered too over-the-top and soap-operaish for a cable reality TV show. (We can only hope the show will be as successful as its predecessor, CSI:HISD.)

We understand this is an incredibly broad group of people to name as turkeys, and while there may be some collateral damage, for the most part, the feathers fit.

And the bands play on?EXPAND
And the bands play on?
Marco Torres

DEVELOPMENT TURKEY OF THE YEAR: WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL

For decades, a meek Presbyterian minister named Fred Rogers, who for reasons known only to him kept a traffic light in his living room, began each day by greeting those around him.

A modest but needy man, Rogers craved the company of others, repeatedly imploring absolute strangers to become neighbors. Haunted by this aching desire for external validation, he slowly descended into madness, becoming trapped in a perverse alternate reality populated by tiny monarchs and a talking owl.

While Rogers may have gone too far in his quest for communal bliss, he at least kept his neighbors in mind, which is something that the developers of White Oak Music Hall, W2 Development Partners, have been accused of neglecting to do.

Nestled in an otherwise quiet near-northside neighborhood, the venue has already attracted some awesome acts, thanks to concert booking mavens Pegstar, but the noise and extra traffic have rankled some nearby residents. It has also rankled city officials, who are not pleased by the fact that the outdoor music stage was not included in the original plans submitted to the city.

Instead, the outdoor programming launched in April with a “temporary” stage — set to expire in early October — for “special events.” Developer Will Garwood told the Houston Chronicle that he could circumvent the permit issue by just taking the stage down and putting it back up. This highly technical procedure is codified by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation as the “Total Dick Move Ordinance.”

White Oak Music Hall is a win for music lovers, but some of its neighbors bristle at the arrogance, whether real or perceived. Perhaps in the future, W2 Development and Pegstar will don a collective cardigan, slip into comfy sneakers and warmly invite their neighbors to the table for a discussion. And to stare vacantly at a traffic light.

INAUGURAL TURKEY HALL OF FAME: GREG ABBOTT, KEN PAXTON AND TED CRUZ

It is a distinct honor to enshrine three former fowls into the Turkey Hall of Fame, which is a bit of a misleading name, since it’s less of an actual hallowed hall, as in Cooperstown, and more of a cardboard shanty behind a Luby’s off the Gulf Freeway.

Together, these men have done their best to roll back the clock to a better, simpler time, when women kept their mouths shut and homosexuality hadn’t yet been invented. Abbott and Paxton have fought valiantly for the rights of fetuses, while, as attorneys general, they challenged a federal order to make the state’s foster care system a little less rapey.

Although his history is steeped in turkeydom, Ken “Boiler Room” Paxton’s most recent accomplishment was getting a judge to dismiss civil federal securities charges filed against him by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The judge ruled that Paxton was not legally required to disclose the fact that he was earning a commission from worthless stocks he shilled to vulnerable marks well-informed investors. (We’ve been unable to confirm reports that the judge was swayed by Paxton’s offer of an investment opportunity in rare doubloons.)

Cruz secured his place in the Hall by flip-flopping on his allegiance to Trump. After the dude who will actually be president suggested that Cruz’s dad was somehow involved in the assassination of JFK, Cruz shocked crowds at the Republican National Convention when he took the podium and, nearly drowned in a chorus of “boos,” refused to actually endorse Trump. In a subsequent press conference, Cruz revealed that he may in fact be a vertebrate, proclaiming, “I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father.”

What he actually meant to say was, “My soul is but a flickering phantasm, and if you press your ear against it, you can hear the ocean,” because it didn’t take him long to change his mind and become Trump’s BFF. The maverick who had once held the legislature hostage with a marathon reading of Green Eggs and Ham had shown his true colors, mooning over his The Art of the Deal Tumblr while compulsively twirling his heart-shaped locket.

Now, here are some tweets from the governor of the second-largest state in the country:

*#%>¥! @Cowboy defense. More porous than the Texas border.
JFK wanted to send a man to the moon. Obama wants to send a man to the women’s restroom.
Marriage was defined by God. No man can redefine it.
I’ve been married to a Latina for 35 Years...I unite Texas, not divide it.

We congratulate these towering turkeys, and we can’t wait to see who will be keeping them company next year.


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