Paige Boy Returns

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A deftly executed coup ended this month with the return to the Houston school district of Terry Abbott, the public relations man who paved the way for Rod Paige to become U.S. secretary of education.

Abbott spent four years at HISD touting the so-called "Houston Miracle" and went to Washington with Paige in 2001. When the school district's image began to fall on hard times after he left -- highlighted by a bruising sweeps month in May when every TV station in town had an HISD "exposé" -- Abbott flew back to Houston to talk to administrators about how to help.

Apparently the best way to help was to get himself hired to replace spokesperson Heather Browne. Abbott had not lasted long at the Department of Education, and in February of this year he listed his résumé on an online service for PR jobs.

In this era of severe budget cuts at HISD, he'll be paid $155,000 a year, almost 50 percent more than the $104,000 Browne made.

In his first go-round at the district, Abbott developed a reputation for taking hair-splitting and parsing to new heights when it came to responding to reporters. (Particularly us: "I gave up a long time ago on ever getting a fair shake out of the Houston Press," he says.)

He won't change: "I will be very aggressive in telling the good news about the district and responding to the bad news," he says.

While he was greeted this time around with a Houston Chronicle editorial lavishing praise on the district's new budget, he also was met with a front-page New York Times story questioning the data behind the "Houston Miracle" claims.

"I'd rather not say anything about The New York Times," he says. "They have their own agenda." -- Richard Connelly

Shooting Ducks

They've been putting people away at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center ever since it opened in 2000. Now, though, the phrase has taken on a whole new meaning.

The district attorney's office is installing a shooting range in the basement, for use by its investigators, sheriff's deputies and other peace officers who need to keep up their certification (including prosecutors who are certified). There won't be bullets flying around, though: This range uses laser guns for firing away at different "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios.

However, the point is still the same: Aim and blast away. D.A. Chuck Rosenthal estimates the total price of the project at more than $100,000. "It'll be open 24/7," he says. Currently prosecutors and others have to travel to the FBI range in Conroe when it's available.

The courthouse basement famously flooded in Tropical Storm Allison, but D.A. investigator Steve Stewart has confidence -- sort of -- in the architects and designers of the 20-story facility.

He's not taking chances, though: "If it appears like there's going to be a problem down there, I'm grabbing the computers and getting them out."

If that happens in the next flood, maybe the range can use a stray duck or two for targets. -- R.C.

Taking On the Giant

Cleveland, the town an hour northeast of Houston, may not be rivaling the Texas Medical Center just yet. But eight feisty physicians are embarking on a breakaway bid to build a small surgical hospital that could offer an alternative to the heavyweight of that semirural area, the Cleveland Regional Medical Center.

The doctors had quit the regional center last May after accusing its administration of violating medical ethics. CRMC is owned by Community Health Systems, one of the nation's largest hospital groups.

The medical giant is also being sued by some former patients who say they nearly died from an allegedly incompetent physician. CHS had paired them up with that doc through its Web site (see "A Figure to Die For," January 2).

When the new plans were revealed, CRMC launched an ad campaign accusing the proposed "boutique hospital" of trying to "cherry-pick healthier patients" and "high-profit procedures." The breakaway doctors say their facility will provide high-quality medical care, more jobs and an economic boost to the region.

Thus far, score a first-round win for the physicians -- Cleveland City Council this month approved the first step in building the facility. -- Craig Malisow

La Vida Logo

The Houston Rockets unveiled a new logo earlier this month, a kind of allegedly futuristic-looking silver R on a deep red background.

We're not graphic-arts critics. Neither are the folks at sportsjournalists.com, a site where a lot of sportswriters and editors -- or wannabe sportswriters and editors -- shoot the breeze. But while Hair Balls will hold our tongue, they didn't.

Among the comments after someone posted the logo:

"I feel an odd overwhelming need to scream, 'HAIL SATAN!' "

"The logo for Richie Rich 4: Richie Goes to Hell."

"Holy mother of God, that's horrible looking. Somebody please tell me that thing's a fucking joke. It looks like it should be on the cover of a Metallica album or something."

"On second glance, I am imagining a rocket shooting out of a toilet."

And, neatly summarizing the reviews: "This is just fuckin' putrid. Has there ever been a franchise which has changed its logo so many times and STILL never gotten it right?" -- R.C.

Free the Cantina Cop Quintet!

The Cantina Quintet Defense Fund has been formed to fight for the five HPD officers facing first-degree felonies on absolutely absurd allegations: shaking down cantina owners for protection payoffs, tipping them to pending raids and looking the other way while underage drinking and prostitution took place. One is even accused of stealing an undercover officer's firearm. So step up when it counts most for Houston's Finest: Come to the CQDF fund-raiser this Saturday at El Toro Loco Cantina on Lockwood. Highlights:

8 p.m.: Tequila shooters' contests for all age groups, beginning with competition in the 12- to 16-year-old bracket.

9 p.m.: Soloist Art Contreras will sing medleys dedicated to Betti Maldonado.

9:30 p.m.: Door prize: An all-expense-paid (condom included) round trip -- to the upstairs.

10 p.m.: Julio Lugo will challenge the ladies to a "Battle of the Sexes" (three rounds, standing eight-count).

Midnight: Raffle drawing for the Smith & Wesson snub-nosed .38 Special (HPD standard issue for undercover operatives).

Admission: Small denomination, unmarked U.S. currency inside a sealed envelope. -- George Flynn

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