If some in the hierarchy of the Greater Houston Partnership had their way, HISD would be forced to obtain voters' approval for future tax increases, and any increases would have to be tied to student attendance levels. That was the modest proposal made by Partnership president Jim Kollaer in recent negotiations with Superintendent Rod Paige and board president Paula Arnold that led to the business group's backing of HISD's scaled-down $390 million bond proposal for school construction and repairs. His initiative got a chilly reception from district officials, who were street-smart enough to realize that voters might be willing to okay a bond issue but not a proposal to simply raise taxes. "The Partnership wants to control the purse strings of the district and set the amount and timing of bond elections," scoffs one player on the HISD side. "Well, they are not going to control our schools."
Kollaer contradicts that account and says the Partnership has not yet had a serious conversation with the district about the tax election pledge. Nonetheless, he contends that HISD trustees are "just not being smart about their business" if they don't seek voters' approval to raise taxes -- especially in the current political climate.
Prior to the Partnership's endorsement of the attenuated bond package, there was some muted speculation that its aversion to HISD's original $597 million proposal was attributable to the Partnership's longing for a bond package to fund sports stadium construction. Kollaer briskly dismisses such talk. "Linking those two is a discredit to both parties," he says. "The education system here is one of the most critical issues for us, and I think [HISD and stadium funding] both have two separate lives, which may be occurring at the same time in terms of the decade. The business community would not shade one for the other." Stay tuned.
In 1994 voters tossed three of four incumbents off Harris County civil court at-law benches. Although their dismissal was due primarily to that year's Republican election sweep, the judges' defeats followed revelations that they had bestowed lucrative appointments as condemnation commissioners on political friends and, in one case, a judge's hairdresser. The appointments required the commissioners, most of whom had little or no experience with real estate, to spend only a few hours at hearings to determine the reimbursement value of property being taken by government agencies. For their work, the commissioners were rewarded with fees of a grand and higher in taxpayer funds. A review of the appointments by the current judges indicates that while the fees have come down in the last year and a half, there are still many familiar political snouts at the trough.
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For instance, Eugene Chambers, the judge of County Civil Court At-Law No. 1, included among his condemnation commissioners Sherry Radack, the wife of Commissioner Steve; Christopher Bradshaw-Hull, the spouse and campaign manager for Judge Lynn Bradshaw-Hull of Court At-Law No. 3; former County Judge Jon Lindsay; outgoing GOP state Senator Don Henderson; and state Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown. Chambers also thoughtfully provided appointments for former Democratic judge Ruben Guerrero, former Democratic state senator Jack Ogg and former Democratic judge Charles Coussons, who was ousted two years ago by Republican Cynthia Crowe.
The only court at-law judge to survive the 1994 flushing, Republican Tom Sullivan, was kind enough to grant a commission to defeated judge Carolyn Hobson, who had been ridiculed for appointing her hairdresser as a commissioner. Sullivan also remembered such GOP luminaries as Lindsay, former county party chairman Russ Mather and former city councilman Louis Macey. Judge Bradshaw-Hull also favored Lindsay with several appointments, as well as hospital district director of human resources Al James, who was recently indicted for allegedly accepting a bribe.
Crowe, meanwhile, had mercy on David Jennings Willis, an unsuccessful GOP judicial candidate who ran afoul of religious conservatives in 1994 for accepting the endorsement of the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. Most recently, Willis failed to place in the GOP primary for the party's county attorney nomination, but he can salve his wounds with at least $2,100 earned for condemnation appointments over the past 16 months. Crowe did try to spread the wealth beyond its usual reaches, appointing the unlikely pair of Jim Westmoreland, the former city councilman who lost his office over a racial joke, and local civil rights icon William Lawson of Wheeler Avenue Baptist as commissioners for a yet-to-be-scheduled condemnation hearing.
NOT Telling It to the Judge
Next time you're feeling sorry for yourself, think of Maxxam CEO Charles Hurwitz. Not only has Hurwitz seen Maxxam's Sam Houston Race Park slide in and out of bankruptcy, he's still on the griddle with two federal agencies over the collapse of University Savings in the late 1980s. And the downtown casino in which Maxxam was to be a partner seems to have vanished into the deep mists. Now Hurwitz has made a change of address as well, leaving his high-rise nest at the Houstonian half-empty and moving into a downtown apartment. "What you're saying is news to me," replied MAXXAM flack Bob Irelan when queried about his boss' new residence. But according to one PR type who deals with the glitzerati, Hurwitz and wife Barbara, a city parks board member and close friend of municipal first lady Elyse Lanier, are "giving each other some space, but they'll still be dating."
Barbara Hurwitz reluctantly confirmed for us that she and her husband had separated. "We are trying very hard to work through things, and I really feel very positive that we will," she says. "It's a very private and stressful time for us right now, and we're not telling it to the judge or anything like that."
Her husband's choice for temporary housing, the apartments at the Four Seasons Hotel, has a reputation in high- society circles as a "Heartbreak Hotel" for wealthy Houston spouses going solo. A current tenant relates that Four Seasons apartment dwellers enjoy excellent room service, their own concierge and a private entrance.
Meanwhile, there's no word on what's to become of the Hurwitzs' undeveloped half of the Huntingdon penthouse space they split with Elyse and Mayor Bob Lanier. Up to now, the Hurwitz half has served mainly as storage space for the leftovers of the Laniers' build-out effort on their own high-in-the-sky domicile.
The Insider can be reached at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax).
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