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The Insider

Hands On!
Lee Brown's travails in hiring people to fill his administration continued last week when Rice University flack Mike Cinelli turned down an offer to become Brown's communications director, leaving the new mayor to implore several consultants to find him somebody -- anybody -- to fill the job. Brown is not making hiring easy for the heads of city departments, either, judging by an internal administrative memo circulated at City Hall last week and obtained by The Insider.

The memo alerted Brown's department directors that their recommendations to fill all municipal jobs above "pay grade 29" -- that is, positions that pay approximately $45,000 a year or more -- must be approved by the mayor's office. There are more than 500 such jobs in the approximately 23,000-person city workforce. Attached to the memo is a form that department heads must complete when they want to fill one of those jobs, telling the mayor why the position is open, giving a description of its duties and requesting permission before prospective hires are interviewed.

Reflecting Brown's bureaucratic mindset, the form includes four boxes directors must check to post a job opening and refer, interview or recommend someone to fill it. The memo's cover letter admonishes the administrators to "check as many blocks as necessary. REMEMBER, you are not supposed to start any of the listed actions until it is approved."

In case they hadn't gotten the message, the last line of the form, right above the space for a department head's signature, makes it clear who's in charge: "I understand that before a job offer is made ... I must obtain explicit, written approval from the mayor's office before proceeding." Brown himself must sign off on the request before the department head can proceed.

Veterans of the Bob Lanier and Kathy Whitmire administrations can't recall any specific requirement for the written approval of the mayor for such low pay-grade hiring. "I can't believe," says one current administrator, "how deep he's going in screening hires."

Joe Weikerth, who was one of Lanier's top aides, is in charge of the screening for Brown and has already had to call several department heads on the carpet for making new hires above pay-grade level without Brown's approval, says one source. Weikerth says several hirings that were in process when Brown took over have been frozen until they can be evaluated. The mayoral aide minimizes the significance of the action, claiming only a handful of such administrative positions are open at any given time. But others disagree.

"This is a police mentality thing," one City Hall veteran says of the memo, suggesting that former police chief Brown has retained some old habits. "At HPD, they've got a form for everything down to when you go take a piss." As chief, Brown had a reputation for playing it close to the vest administratively and micromanaging hiring, says this former mayoral staffer, and the recently circulated memo is just an expression of that tendency.

A Lanier veteran believes Brown doesn't want any new administrators brought on until he has thorough control over the city bureaucracy. The move will prevent lame-duck department heads from rewarding friends with last-minute jobs, says this observer. On the other hand, the same source notes, "It absolutely will slow down things. I don't expect very many people to get hired if he wants to look at each one individually."

On the bright side, so far the mayor hasn't issued a memo demanding his personal approval for reservations on the city's tennis courts, as famed micromanager Jimmy Carter once did for White House recreational facilities.

At least not yet.

Soft, Lucrative Landing
Here's one job Mayor Brown won't have to approve.
Jimmie Schindewolf, who was Bob Lanier's Public Works and Engineering Department director, is on his way out of City Hall at the end of next month, but it appears he won't be completely removed from the public teat. Several downtown players say Schindewolf has been offered an assignment as "construction coordinator" for the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, which is building the downtown baseball stadium.

"It's a done deal," one source says of the arrangement, which has yet to be formally approved by the Authority's board. Schindewolf reportedly would be paid in the range of $7,500 a month. A public works source tells The Insider that Schindewolf's impending move to the Sports Authority is a matter of common knowledge within the department.

Sports Authority chairman Jack Rains did not return an Insider call on the matter, and neither did Schindewolf, so we couldn't ask them why the Sports Authority would need a highly paid construction coordinator. No doubt it will all be explained in due time.

Creeping Aggieism
How many Aggies does it take to turn a private law school into a public institution? For Houston-area law educators, it's no joking matter.  

Officials of the former South Texas College of Law turned Texas A&M Law Center insist that last week's announcement of the affiliation agreement between the private law school and the state-supported A&M system doesn't mean the private law school will one day become a public institution. But across town, doubting University of Houston officials claim the affiliation is actually the first shot in an Aggie invasion of the Houston legal-education market. They've launched a counteroffensive to stymie approval of the South Texas-A&M agreement by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Under the agreement, South Texas will remain private but is now named the South Texas College of Law of Texas A&M University. The school's building on San Jacinto Street downtown has been renamed the Texas A&M University Law Center, and A&M regents will appoint six members to an expanded 25-member law center board. According to Law Center president and dean Frank Read, the deal gives A&M the prestige of a law school, while the private school gets a boost in recruiting students from its association with A&M.

But UH Chancellor-President Arthur Smith and UH Law Center dean Steven Zamora don't see the development so benignly. They accuse A&M of using a backdoor affiliation to realize a long-held ambition to have an Aggie law school. Read denies the charge and professes to be "shocked by the attack."

In a "talking points" memo compiled for distribution to state legislators, UH officials contend that the South Texas-A&M pact interlocks the two institutions and brings to bear resources from a state agency to benefit a private institution: "It does by all appearances create a new public law school," UH maintains.

UH argues that Houston already has a surplus of legal-training capacity via the former South Texas School of Law, the UH Law Center and Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Since the demand for legal education is declining because of a glut of lawyers, goes the UH argument, "further dilution of scarce public resources would endanger the quality of existing programs."

South Texas has already been transformed from an institution that offered part-time working students a chance to train as lawyers to a more academically oriented school; roughly 69 percent of its current students are full-time. As a result, says the UH memo, South Texas was becoming "more duplicative of the UH Law Center in outlook and approach." By this reasoning, the affiliation with A&M will further duplicate and compete with existing facilities in Houston. While Houston has three law schools, the memo points out, the South Texas area has none.

Read rejects the UH claim that public status for the law school is inevitable if the affiliation stands. "Arguing what might happen someday in the far-flung future is just very weak," he says. "You have to look at what the agreement is now and argue what is on the table."

Maybe so, but the history of A&M's acquisition of a medical school suggests that "affiliation" agreements can grow legs and evolve into publicly supported programs. In 1971, Aggie supporters in the Legislature got the Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve a federally funded, preclinical medical education program in conjunction with the private Baylor College of Medicine.

A&M then operated the program out of a Veteran's Administration facility in College Station. The university initially could only offer a bachelor of science degree, but three years later, the coordinating board gave the school the right to offer M.D. sheepskins. Shortly thereafter, A&M won permission to create a publicly supported college of medicine. In July of 1992, the program that had started by awarding undergraduate degrees won state approval to become the Texas A&M University Health Science Center.

If history repeats itself, time will award Aggie B.S. degrees to all those who swallowed the assurances that the Texas A&M Law Center would remain private.

Poor Lil' Rich Guy
When we caught up with him last week, Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy was preparing for a staff soiree following the magazine's 25th anniversary bash the previous evening in Austin. That event also informally celebrated the publication's sale to an Indiana media conglomerate for $37 million, 60 percent of which goes into Levy's large pockets.

Given that payday and the fact that he'll continue at the magazine's helm, you'd expect Levy to be on top of the world. Instead, the notoriously thin-skinned executive continued to vent his displeasure over an acidly humorous description of him by former TM and current GQ writer Robert Draper in a recent Dallas Morning News story.

The piece actually was a profile of TM editor Greg Curtis, and Draper's comments to Morning News writer Joyce Saenz Harris divulged the real service the editor performs for the TM staff: "Mike Levy is a hands-on, maybe even thumbs-on manager," Draper was quoted as saying. "You feel his breath on your back every moment of every day.  

"I have a lot of admiration and exasperated affection for Mike Levy," Draper continued, "but he can be a very unpleasant person. The writers are not made to feel that unpleasantness because Greg deals with it. Most people who had to do that would, in a week, be out of there like a kerosened cat."

Austin-based writer Larry Wright later caught some of the heat for Draper's remarks when he visited Levy to solicit funds to support Texas Writers Month, an annual series of readings, film screenings and presentations that Levy and TM have enthusiastically backed since its inception. Wright says the funked-out publisher first asked him if he had read Draper's comments, then temporarily passed on the funding request with the peevish line, "Fuck Texas Writers, right now."

Levy denies he uttered those exact words, but he admits he was hurt by Draper's description. And he claims he's been comforted by other writers who dissed Draper to him as a backbiter "who's going to die a lone, mean, nasty old man."

The writer professes amazement that a publisher who is as rough on people as Levy couldn't take some mild criticism from an otherwise admiring former employee. Draper says that in addition to canceling his social and office privileges at Texas Monthly, Levy left five angry phone messages for Draper on his home recorder, the last of which declared, "I will get you for this."

Nice to know that even though Texas Monthly has gone to editorial seed in recent years, with its wildflower, fashion and cowgirl covers, money and success haven't mellowed its publisher's nasty ol' bad self.

The Insider is on the scene like a sex machine, so bring it to the bridge by dialing (713) 624-1483 or (713) 624-1496 (fax), or contact him by e-mail at Insider@houstonpress.com.


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