How to Profit from Special Relationships
The Insider dearly loves documents stamped "confidential," and a proposal from Austin lawyer Pike Powers of Fulbright & Jaworski literally shouts "print me." A former top aide to Governor Mark White, Powers heads the team coordinating strategy for a number of energy companies that are trying to prevent municipalities from charging them for pipelines crossing the cities' rights of way. Former Houston city attorney Ben Hall, now with John O'Quinn's law firm, is signing up clients to sue the pipeline companies.
After a cover page marked "do not copy," Powers follows with a detailed confidentiality agreement on page two. Then comes a "request for proposal," also stamped "confidential," soliciting firms to work with government officials and media to nip Hall's lawsuits in the bud. "If you have any special relationships, professional or otherwise, with any city council member or staff person in the indicated cities," advises the document, "it would be appropriate to so note in your response." Firms that "work for and represent both Republican and Democrat officeholders at the local and state level" will also merit important additional consideration, according to the RFP.
And of course, there is the matter of secrecy. "Please do not duplicate or reproduce this document for any use other than internal use by your firm or team," recipients are warned. "The ability of you and your firm or team to keep confidential matters confidential will be an important factor in evaluating our selection decision." Obviously, somebody flunked that part of the test ....
Significant Events Must Be Reported to
the Front Office (Or Else)
You'd figure Bill Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorney Gaynelle Griffin Jones would be more media savvy and open than, say, predecessors appointed by Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. After all, her sister, Rhea Griffin, is a former KPRC radio reporter, and one of her leading brain trusters is Paul Hobby, a former federal prosecutor and grandson of the late Post publisher Oveta Culp Hobby. But judging by a recent directive from Jones to her troops, free and easy relations between the assistant U.S. attorneys (AUSAs) she supervises and the media are about as welcome as contacts with drug lords or organized crime figures.
"In the event a representative from the media -- print, broadcast or television -- contacts you regarding any matter, please notify me," Jones instructed her AUSAs in a memo last week. "Such contacts are considered 'significant events,' which require reporting to the front office." Jones went on to remind her minions that they are only allowed to talk with reporters about information that is in the public record and only after Jones has approved whatever they might say. "I do not want to read your statement, hear you on the radio, etc., without first being apprised that the communication occurred," Jones concluded. "Remember, I have a pager and it is always 'on.'"
Those who have experienced Jones' management style say that is precisely her problem: She's too "on." According to several sources in and out of her office, Jones tends to be a suspicious micro-manager who spends way too much energy trying to stifle "bad news" while letting opportunities for good publicity go untapped. Jones apparently hasn't learned that overfeeding the watchdogs of the press is a much sounder strategy than trying to starve 'em out.
The Non-Transit Authority
The shtick that helped elect Mayor Bob Lanier mayor was his pledge to use Metro money to fill potholes and pave streets, freeing up city revenues for non-transit purposes like hiring more cops. Now The Insider has discovered that Bob's boys are taking the next illogical step in the process -- using Metro funds to actually impede transit by closing off streets. The transit agency and the city are splitting the cost of constructing cul-de-sacs on streets that now intersect Chimney Rock between Richmond Avenue and Highway 59. The city closed the streets with barricades late last year at the request of the Larchmont subdivision and City Councilwoman Martha Wong. Metro counsel Dennis Gardner explains that the closings were a spin-off of the planned widening of Chimney Rock from Woodway to 59. But that project has been deferred -- at least beyond the year 2005 -- because the city was having trouble purchasing a portion of the right of way along Chimney Rock, he says. In the meantime, the permanent street closures will proceed. "At this point, it's a first and an only," says Gardner. "I'm told we have not closed off any streets in any of our other projects."
Not yet, anyway. If the trend continues, though, perhaps Metro funds could be used to rip up concrete, lay down those vintage red brick roadways, and buy horses and buggies for the general populace. Who needs buses or rail, anyway?
In Other Words, Kiss My Assets
Another bulletin in our continuing coverage of Houston Post killer Dean Singleton's takeover of that pristine little newspaper chain in New England:
You may recall that when Chronicle owner the Hearst Corporation bought the Post, Chronicle execs tried to keep their hands unsoiled by editorializing that Hearst had simply purchased the assets of a shuttered business and had nothing to do with the plight of the thousand or so unemployed Post workers. Singleton, apparently, has learned something at the feet of those Hearst masters of doublespeak. Just as the Chron published a Stalin-esque question-and-answer column summarizing the Hearst party line on the Post, Singleton took advantage of the same format on the front page of his newly acquired Berkshire Eagle to tell Pittsfield, Massachusetts readers why those unemployed newsfolk roaming their streets weren't really fired.
"Q: Explain about any layoffs at Eagle Publishing Group?," asked the Singleton info sheet, which then promptly informed the citizenry of the answer in DeanoSpeak: "There were no layoffs. New England Newspaper Inc. purchased the assets of Eagle Publishing Group. As a new employer it interviewed and hired employees to operate the acquired assets." Likewise, Singleton's new paper posed the question, "Were there pay cuts?" and soothingly replied, "There were no 'pay cuts.' New England Newspapers Inc., as a new employer, established its own job descriptions, working conditions and pay scales." Concluded Boston Globe writer Alex Beam of Singleton's exercise in Orwellian journalism: "As for the men and women who were sacked, or had their salaries slashed; well, they have the comfort of knowing they weren't laid off."
The Insider was compiled by Tim Fleck with a song in his heart. He can be reached at 624-1483, 624-1496 (fax) or firstname.lastname@example.org. (e-mail).
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.