Hippie Cops and Loan Sharks

We've reported before about how Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt was pissing officers off with his campaign banning tattoos and beards, but now matters have gone to a whole other level.

A $150,000 level. That's how much the city has voted to spend on lawyers to defend Hurtt's policy in a lawsuit filed against HPD.

Hurtt has said beards prevent officers from wearing gas masks; one officer appeared before City Council in a gas mask to prove the assertion wrong. (Although if you're really committed to your cause, you would have put on the gas mask, filled the air with cyanide and cackled at all the beardless, choking fools.)

The suing officers say they have a skin condition that makes it painful to shave, and that they have been banned from street patrols or lucrative overtime or outside jobs.

"It's just the treatment of these officers in terms of pulling them off the streets at a time when the Mayor and the Police Chief himself is saying we need more officers," says J.J. Berry of the Houston Police Officers Union.

HPD referred all questions to the city attorney's office, which didn't return our calls.

Why is Chief Hurtt so anti-beard? Maybe he should check out the accompanying graphic. It might change his mind.

Loan Shark Tank

We thought city officials had lost their minds when they announced an effort to provide lower-income people with banking services via Wachovia, a company that had to pay fines because telemarketers were harassing the elderly.

Now the Mayor's office, along with the group ACORN, has announced a "Foreclosure Prevention Fair" (Sounds fun!! Be sure to ride the Interest-Rate Roller Coaster!!). One of the participating financial institutions: Litton Loan.

That caused some raised eyebrows at the Houston chapter of the Better Business Bureau.

"We [moved to] revoke their membership some years ago, and they have maintained a high volume of complaints with a lot unanswered and unresolved," says Stacey Fletcher, BBB's senior director of dispute resolution.

When the agency notified Litton of the action it intended to take, the company quit the BBB. (Take that!)

Litton has maintained "a consistently unsatisfactory rating" at the BBB since June 2005, Fletcher says.

The problems aren't limited to Houston. Nationwide, Litton has faced an avalanche of complaints, with consumers saying they have been charged late fees for on-time payments or even when a consumer sent his mortgage check to his old bank just after the bank sold the loan to Litton. (There's supposed to be a 60-day grace period for such payments, but Litton tends to lack grace, apparently.)

Fletcher says the BBB is baffled as to why the Mayor's office chose to have Litton as a participant.

"The Bureau is not going to recommend a company to help people for the Mayor's program or otherwise if they choose not to meet our basic consumer complaint standard," she says.

Mayoral spokesman Frank Michel says Litton is exactly the kind of business that should be participating at the fair.

"The whole purpose of the foreclosure fair is to help fix the mess made by some of the lending industry's most-problem[atic] practitioners. That's why we have to have some of those companies at the fair," he says.

Homeowners will meet with mortgage experts and then meet with representatives of Litton or whatever financial institution owns their loan, he says.

"By no means does ACORN or the Mayor endorse the former lending practices of any of the banks that are participating at the fair," Michel says.

It's the Foreclosure Fair!! Home of the notorious Rogues' Gallery!! Come one, come all!!

Let Your Hair Down

HPD Chief Harold Hurtt is on a jihad against beards. Which seems kind of picky, seeing how he sports a jaunty mustache. Why is one type of face hair better than another? Maybe it’s because Hurtt hasn’t let his inner beard-man out.

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