New police chief Harold Hurtt didn't waste much time putting his stamp on the department, implementing sweeping staff changes announced April 27.
The changes have been largely applauded -- HPD's top spots are now filled with a younger, more diverse crew than before. (Which means any grumbling is coming from old white guys, and Lord knows no one grumbles more than old white guys.)
What was even more of a pleasant surprise, though, is the way Hurtt went about the process. He met with all the 5,400 HPD officers in large groups, met with supervisors in smaller groups and everyone from captain on up by themselves.
The captains, assistant chiefs and executive assistant chiefs were all asked to rank the top ten people among themselves. And then Hurtt took it one step further: He asked everyone to list who they thought were the five officers doing the worst job.
"This was very refreshing," says Hans Marticiuc, president of the Houston Police Officers Union.
Marticiuc is effusive in his praise for Hurtt (he doesn't add "so far," although police-union history all but demands the caveat). "He has a very strong labor-management philosophy When his name was first mentioned as a possible chief, I contacted my opposite number in the Phoenix union, who I know, and the guy had nothing but praise," Marticiuc says. "And everything I've seen bears that out."
In fact, for the first time the union has a place at the table during the weekly command meetings, he says.
One of the bright spots for many officers in the shake-up was the promotion of Vicki King, who only recently became a captain but now is moving up even further, to assistant chief in charge of criminal investigations.
She's racked up a rep as a gung ho, fearless cop -- they're still talking about the 1992 GOP Convention. A report came in at the Dome about suspicious activity, which led to a conclave about what to do. While the discussion was going on, someone looked up to see King in Spider-Man mode, clambering up the catwalks and girders to get a better view.
She also led HPD's investigation of the Kmart fiasco, so luckily, she also knows that "gung ho" can sometimes go too far.
What'd I Say?
When is joining LULAC a bad thing? When it's thought to be nothing more than damage control.
Michael Harris is chairman of the Gulf Coast Community Services Association, a Head Start contractor. Teresa Saldierna, a former Gulf Coast teacher, says she overheard Harris (an African-American) say after a board meeting, "I don't like wetbacks talking in Spanish when it's convenient for them." Diane Briagas, a parent of a Gulf Coast student, has taken out a sworn statement backing Saldierna's account. A group of parents is considering suing, this being America and all.
Harris vehemently denies the claim. "That is absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt, not true. That statement was never made," he says.
Still, Harris joined LULAC recently, which doesn't sit well with LULAC Gulf Coast board member Dorothy Olmos. "He is trying to cover his tracks, is what he's trying to do," she says. "Does he think we are stupid, or what?"
Harris says yes, he does think Hispanics are stupid. Actually, he doesn't say that. Not even close.
He says he was invited to join LULAC by the board's president. "It was for no purpose other than that," he says.
Do they speak any Spanish at LULAC meetings?
Standing Up for Their Rights
Houston's own Halliburton is having its annual shareholders meeting at the Four Seasons the morning of May 19, and the usual bunch of smelly, long-haired, tree-hugging whiners is expected to show up and shout tired slogans.
Also on the street will be the elegantly dressed crew of Billionaires for Bush, a New York-based group that's fast becoming the hit of the campaign trail, and which has only recently added a Houston chapter.
Bob Bazillionaire, who may or may not be UH prof Bob Buzzanco, heads the local group as they spread the word of "No Billionaire Left Behind."
Q. What have you done so far?
A. We were down at the main post office on tax day, April 15. About 15 of us were there to thank all the little people for paying our taxes. We were just saying, "Hey, thanks for the tax cuts. We appreciate it."
Q. Very thoughtful. And now the Halliburton meeting.
A. Yeah, you know there'll be some scruffy protesters and all, and we just want to say, "Hands off Dick Cheney." It's time to give Dick Cheney a break.
Q. Ummm. Why, exactly?
A. A lot of people will be complaining about "war profiteering." War profiteering is a good American tradition, and Halliburton's gotten billions and there's nothing wrong with that. One of our mottoes is "Four More Wars." We want small government and big wars. So just leave us alone, all right?
Potential Billionaires can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. Financial vetting is not too strict, we're told.
A Real Crapfest
Dog parks have become all the rage in Houston -- the city's first official one, near Dunlavy and the Southwest Freeway, is scheduled to open soon, to continuing fanfare in the Houston Chronicle.
And County Commissioner Steve Radack has been garnering kudos for the park he's opened on the far west side, which includes doggy showers. "He's been getting letters from people writing as their dogs, saying, 'I love the new park!' and signing it with their paw prints," a Radack staffer says.
Awww. But all is not sweetness, cuteness and puppy love. South Montrose may be getting its dog park, but in North Montrose things are turning ugly.
Ann Otto has been leading the fight to turn the long-standing "informal" dog park at Buffalo Bayou and Montrose Boulevard into an officially sanctioned facility.
To which the city has said Tough Shit. Or, to be more precise, Too Much Shit.
Buffalo Bayou already exceeds state standards for fecal bacteria, says Luci Correa of Parks & Recreation, and she assumes that's because of dog poop swept by rain into the bayou. (One certainly hopes she's right, in terms of it being dog poop as opposed to some other kind.)
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Recently cops have begun cracking down on dog owners at the site, enforcing the city's new leash and pooper-scooper laws.
Otto and 200 other petitioners are asking the city to create Buffalo Bayou Dog Park. They say they are conscientious about cleaning up after their animals, but the dogs need to be able to run free, unleashed; like the wind, or the climax to many a Disney movie.
Correa ain't buying it, at least the part about all the crap being picked up: "One hundred percent compliance is completely unrealistic," she says. "Some people don't believe it is necessary, believe it or not."
The city says a park might be okay when Buffalo Bayou gets clean and back within state limits. So expect action relatively soon. In dog years.