The Insider

It's Just a Flush Away...
The "managed competition" for operation of one of the city's wastewater treatment plants has brought out the usual cast of City Hall characters -- and then some -- to do battle, and that skirmish may be just a prelude to the competition for an even more lucrative prize.
Professional Services Group, the U.S. subsidiary of a French corporate giant, has managed the Southeast Water Purification Plant for the last five years and is campaigning to win Council approval to manage not only that plant but the city's entire water and sewer systems. In a recent memo to the Council's competitive services committee, PSG president Mike Stump offered this gimmicky gambit: PSG would conduct a free evaluation of the water and wastewater divisions, provide a cost-savings estimate and then write a cashier's check to the city for that amount if it is allowed to operate the systems. Since PSG estimates the savings at $100 million to $300 million over ten years, the offer gives some indication of just how much money is potentially at stake here.

In addition to the flashy proposal, PSG has assembled a heavyweight support team, including former county judge and future state senator Jon Lindsay as a lobbyist. Also onboard with PSG is consultant Denis Calabrese, who toiled during the last election campaign for Joe Roach, the at-large councilman who sits on the competitive services committee and is spearheading the drive to turn all the city's water and wastewater operations over to one company. Then there's Willard Jackson, the husband of tennis star and city contractor Zina Garrison. Jackson's Envirosolution was established with PSG's help and would serve as a minority subcontractor for the company. PSG had all its minority bases covered until Port Commissioner Betti Maldonado made a quick exit after finding the team lineup not to her liking.

PSG hasn't cornered the market on high-priced City Hall lobbyists. One rival, ST Environmental Services (which also wants to run the water and wastewater systems), is represented by Vinson & Elkins' Joe B. Allen, while another, OMI, has retained the services of Bracewell & Patterson lawyer Sherry Radack, the wife of county commissioner Steve Radack. On the municipal side, Bob Lanier chief of staff Jimmie Schindewolf, who also doubles as head of the Public Works and Engineering Department, is a combatant as well, fighting to preserve his turf against the proposed private-sector encroachment.

Exclusive to River Oaks
When they named it River Oaks Elementary, they meant it. Now that parents from the neighborhood of the same name have won the right to send their kids to the previously all-Vanguard school, HISD is looking to strictly define the residential boundaries for attendance as the high-income warrens of River Oaks -- even though some doubt remains whether enough neighborhood parents will let their young ones forego the status of a St. John's or Kinkaid education to provide enough bodies for non-Vanguard classes.

A proposal before the HISD board would limit the non-Vanguard attendees to those who hail from an area bounded by Westheimer on the south, Buffalo Bayou on the north, the railroad tracks paralleling the old Sin Alley on the west and Shepherd on the east. Lisa Fisher, an east Montrose parent, says she and other Montrose residents petitioned to have the River Oaks Elementary boundary extended east to Woodhead, but were told by HISD that no changes would be made. "The whole idea was that River Oaks is supposed to be a neighborhood school for neighboring children," complains Fisher, "and we really feel as though that's our neighborhood school."

My Colleague, the Jerk
After the Rockets' victory over the Lakers in game three of the first-round playoffs, Chronicle scribe Dale Robertson devoted his column to picking apart Magic Johnson's diminished talents. "He does not have anything extra to give in these playoffs," wrote Robertson. "It is 1996, and he is 36 years old with a killer virus inside him." The following day, fellow columnist Fran Blinebury, who once was the paper's Rockets beat writer, rose to Magic's defense and took a rather pointed slap at his curly-haired colleague: "The undereducated point to 2-for-9 shooting ... and missed opportunities in the fourth quarter as evidence the game has passed Magic by. But these are the people who only come out of the woodwork at playoff time and are so curiously preoccupied with the virus he contracted." C'mon, Dale -- don't take that lying down ... Ladd Herzeg wouldn't.

Elsewhere on the Chronicle sports page, we find baseball writer Alan Truex demonstrating an uncommon sensitivity in the lead paragraph of his story on the Astros' May 5 loss to the Expos: "After playing dramatic, artistic baseball for the first four games of a five-game homestand, the Astros spent Cinco de Mayo taking a big siesta." And they were probably stretched out under a large shade tree, wearing a big sombrero, eh, Alan?

It's playoff time and The Insider is out of the woodwork. Call now at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax).

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