The Highs and Lows of Life with Lee
Lee Patrick Brown's allotted three terms have come and almost gone, and the man has remained a mystery, even for many of those who served in his administration. Was he clueless in management or just stubbornly loyal in hanging on to subpar subordinates? He came across best when assuming his career role as a symbol of law and order, as in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Allison and the 9/11 terror attacks. And simply by taking office in 1998, he also sent a strong message of inclusion to blacks in Houston and the nation.
"The city's minority citizens really believe the city is on the right track," says former mayor Bob Lanier. "The idea that they would feel more a part of things if we elected the first African-American mayor has proved to be true."
As the end approaches, Brown now appears to be more relaxed, even taking some jovial swats at his council critics.
"His second term he was driving with his foot on the brakes," remembers District G Councilman Bert Keller. "Now, he's been looser. You've even seen him slap [District A Councilman Bruce] Tatro around a few times, which is entertaining to both sides of the table. He's spoken his mind more and decisions are being made more quickly, and he's asked questions of his advisers."
In other words, he's doing some of the things that might have made him successful earlier. Unfortunately, the book is almost written on his administration, and there's little the mayor can do now to change it. Here's an early draft of the best and worst the Lee Brown era had to offer:
Best Department Head
Jon Conrad Vanden Bosch, public works
If the mayor had started his reign with this former Army Corps of Engineers taskmaster and Kathy Whitmire public works director, more than a few critics believe, neither the downtown streets mess nor the water leaks fiasco would ever have happened. He's restored bureaucratic sanity and council confidence in his department.
Whether he can resuscitate the operation is questioned by one City Hall veteran. "You've put a DeBakey-type surgeon in an operating room where the patient is already dead and told him, 'Bring this fucker back to life.' It's going to be hard to do under the budget constraints they have."
Worst Department Head
Chris Connealy, fire department
A former Brown aide says one of the mayor's biggest mistakes was ousting former chief Lester Tyra and eventually naming veteran Houston firefighter Connealy as chief. "Chris doesn't know how to run a department, and missed budget the last couple of times," says a source. "He doesn't seem to know where he's going. [Police Chief] Bradford comes up with solutions -- Connealy comes up with excuses."
Biggest Fifth Wheel
Recently resigned building services director Monique McGilbra
Several mayor's aides can't figure why Brown even created her department. Public works handled its functions before, and the new directorship seemed a sop to McGilbra, a Brown favorite. She bailed last month after the city's inspector general launched an investigation into unspecified allegations against her. It hasn't helped that her boyfriend, Garland Hardeman -- a former councilman in Inglewood, California -- pleaded guilty to bribery in his home state.
Most Likely to Survive
Jordy Tollett, convention and visitors bureau president and mayoral adviser
A city veteran since the hoary old days of the late mayor Jim McConn, Tollett dropped out as Brown's chief of staff after clashes with City Attorney Anthony Hall and chief administrative officer Al Haines. After Brown suffered a series of embarrassing defeats at council, he brought Tollett back as an unpaid liaison to work the members. The City Hall cockroaches will retire long before Tollett takes his leave.
Keller even awards Tollett the administration's Most Valuable Player Award. "Really, the guy who ends up making it happen behind the scenes [at council] is Jordy," says Keller. "It hurts me more than it helps me, but I really respect a great pitcher, even if he's on the other team. Jordy's worth two votes."
Cinch to Be Toast
Police Chief C.O. Bradford
District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal's perjury prosecution of the chief for cussing turned out to be a bad legal joke, but nobody's laughing about the implosion of the police department's crime lab under Bradford's watch. "We all know the buck stops at the top," says an administration veteran. "I thought it was just a matter of a leak in the roof, but what we had was misanalysis, inappropriate procedure, underutilization of database references, all of the kinds of things that should never have happened."
Voice of Sanity
Brown agenda director Marty Stein
Through all the weirdness and the communications breakdowns between council and the mayor, the long-suffering wife of Rice University social sciences dean Bob Stein has furiously bailed water from the foundering mayoral ship.
City technology chief Dennie Piper's exit
Piper wired a lucrative deal for SimDesk Technologies to provide Internet access software for the city, then bailed for a California job immediately after council approved the pact. He didn't stay away long, though. He had to return to plead guilty to stealing $300,000 from his previous employer, Reliant Energy.
Best Brown Administrative Moment
Coping with Tropical Storm Allison
The gods smiled on the mayor when the rain began to fall. He was not out of town traveling, and he seized the moment to project a presence and leadership so often lacking during his tenure. Lending an assist was solid waste director Thomas "Buck" Buchanan, who had the planning foresight that got the debris off the curbs before it festered into a political issue.
Chaos downtown at the turn of the century
The uncoordinated construction of rail and assorted street and drainage projects killed a generation of small businesses and left a lasting blight on Brown's legacy.
Worst Brown Council Moment
Tie: Botching the tax rollback vote and losing the airport Food Fight II when Four Families beat the administration's CA One for concession contracts
By insisting on a vote on a proposal by conservatives to cut the property tax rate when he didn't have a majority, Brown walked straight into an embarrassing defeat. He duplicated the blunder by pushing food vendor CA One and then watching his own mayor pro tem, Gordon Quan, side with the winning Four Families proposal.
Biggest Waste of Talent
The city's parks director was widely regarded as the best department head in the administration, but decided he wanted to try his hand at politics as Brown's chief of staff. Not only did he not have a knack for winning over councilmembers, he failed a random drug test and was forced to quit his city job. Curiously, he became the second person in the former national drug czar's office, after executive assistant Darcy Mackey, to leave under a substance abuse cloud.
Roksan (pronounced "rocks-on!") Okon-Vick
This architect with minimal parks experience had big shoes to fill when Spellman left the parks helm. She draws barbs for her garden-party approach to the city parks system. "She's more a chichi Friends of Hermann Park type," snipes one non-admirer on City Council. "She has no feel for neighborhood relations." In the "too small for the two of 'em" category, Okon-Vick and another parks diva from the Lanier era, Susan Christian, have been trying to scratch each other's eyes out since Roksan took control. -- Tim Fleck
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