2009 Turkey Awards

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Posted November 18, 2009 by Fort Worth Weekly Staff in News

We at Fort Worth Weekly are nothing if not topical. We have noticed that Times Are Tough. And so, like every other retailer on this planet, we have figured out how to sell the sizzle when the bird itself is tougher than a driller’s heart and money is harder to find than an agenda for the city’s Ethics Committee. But, hey, even families on a budget can afford a potluck feast now and again, and, pilgrims, that’s what we’ve got for you.

CoverTrue, it’s a menu full of losers. That’s our job, to put a little humbug in the holiday, just in case you mistakenly thought things were cheery and bright. This year the shopping list bordered on the surreal, as though every public official, sports team owner, and gas company executive in the county had drunk the same Kool-Aid and become convinced that no one would notice they were serving up cardboard soup and calling it caviar. (The Weekleteers know from cardboard soup, especially if it’s on sale at Wal-Mart. Caviar, not so much.)

As far as we can tell, this year’s selection of birds is politically correct – our turkey kebab chefs skewer without regard to race, creed, religion, title, bank account, or whether you can afford the steak at Eddie V’s. In general, these dishes are best enjoyed away from the table, so that the bad judgment, venality, hypocrisy, greed, and other sins they embody won’t make you turn pea-green over your Pop Tarts or seven-grain granola.

The turkey nuggets are also, as a rule, spicy. Think about it: How could this annual celebration of faux pas and foolishness lose in a year when we had the Rainbow Lounge raid, the opening of Cowboys Stadium, Tea Parties, Party Passes, and the mood swings and gajillion-dollar flings of a certain county college board? The list of birds who seem to be tying down the Fort hand and foot, like Gulliver in Lilliput, also included Tom Hicks, longtime favorite Mike Moncrief, and, needless to say, the Bird That Ate Fort Worth – that’s right, the Barnett Shale, a gift that, like Montezuma’s revenge, keeps on giving. Global warming may have played havoc with our seasons, and compressor stations may have fouled our air, but, sports fans, it’s been raining bad birds all year long.

Our traditional dishes and one-time specials are listed below. The management is not responsible for either hilarity or indigestion. – Gayle Reaves

That boot was made for Walker.

The big turkey enchilada this year goes to Jerome Walker who, in 12 years as the seemingly untouchable head of the city’s housing department, managed to screw up just about everything he touched. In his last year, before he was finally and unceremoniously booted out, he drew a salary of more than $153,000 and was charged with overseeing tens of millions of federal dollars meant to provide affordable and decent housing for the city’s poor. Instead, much of the money went to … well, no one’s quite sure where it went except that it didn’t go to the least of those among us.

How did he sin? Let us – or rather the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – count the ways: Money for housing loans to low-income residents languished in the bank unspent. Few houses were built or repaired, and the work on many of those was substandard. He authorized subcontractors to work without getting construction permits – then paid the contractors thousands of (federal) dollars for those phantom permits. And he even set up his own nonprofit city-owned construction company to do some of the shoddy work. His misdeeds finally caught up with him in May after his new boss found a stack of HUD audits going back several years showing that millions of federal dollars were being misused, wasted, or outright lost and that government regulations were being systematically ignored. Now the city has to pay back millions in misused funds, and HUD is threatening to withhold $6 million more in housing funds for 2009-2010. Walker got fired, along with four others high in the department.

The worst part of Walker’s sad tale may be that folks above him had also been getting copies of those HUD audits and warning letters over the years and had failed to act.

Plenty of room inside that tortilla for some other dirty birds.

If they rapped, they could be BattShak.

The electronics retailer tried to reverse its hopelessly uncool image this past summer with a $200 million marketing campaign rebranding itself as “The Shack.” The move went over like a suburban dad suddenly telling his kids how much he digs Lady Gaga. The derision was immediate and widespread: Conan O’Brien said the new name’s appeal was “for people who are scared off by high-tech buzzwords like ‘radio.’ ” Look past the comedy value, and the campaign still makes no sense. Eliminating the space between the words “radio” and “shack” in the 1990s didn’t appreciably raise business (despite costing a ton of money), and the new campaign bore an all-too-uncomfortable similarity to competitor Circuit City, which changed its name to The City shortly before going belly-up. This time around, a company that has gotten a free ride from Fort Worth for years is talking about moving out of town. Ungrateful as well as uncool. A battery-operated bird to The Shack.

 

Outshone.

A little leftover turkey hash to the dim bulb at city hall who decided to locate artist Cliff Garten’s 36-foot high, stainless-steel sculptures along the median of the restored East Lancaster Avenue. In that location, the poor dears, entwined in pale violet LED lights, have to compete with so much brightness, from headlights to traffic signals to street lights, that their subtle effect is lost. The six soaring pieces, which in the daytime look like giant egg-beaters, are supposed to reflect the art deco architecture of the old T&P railroad terminal, now morphed into high-dollar condos. But sadly for the artist and the citizens who paid for it, this is still a “what were they thinking” moment, another misstep in the city’s campaign to bring art to the public.


Speaking in (turkey) tongues.

What was Hub Baker thinking? OK, so the longtime Stockyards leader didn’t like the idea of a gay “kiss-in” being held in the historic district. The old guard there jealously promotes its idea of what the Code of the West (Tourist Version) requires. As a result, bikers, hip-hop music fans, and others whose fashion ideals stray from Stetsons, Tony Lamas, and Clint Black have often felt discriminated against by police and property owners in the area.feat_1

But Baker wasn’t satisfied with just expressing his opposition to the October event sponsored by Queer Liberaction, a Dallas-based group that hasn’t always been welcomed with open arms (or lips) by local gays. Instead, he stepped right over the line and into an embarrassing pile of cow(boy) manure. “Manners are manners,” he reportedly told KXAS/Channel 5. “If they don’t act right among cowboys, maybe they need to get a good whipping.”

Well, that’s just great. In a city still in turmoil over a jackboot-style raid by local police and state liquor agents at the Rainbow Lounge, which ended with one bar patron in the hospital, three state liquor control agents fired, several Fort Worth police officers disciplined, and Fort Worth with mud on its face around the country – yeah boy, that’s just the kind of talk we need.

There are worse things to do with your lips than kissing in public, and Baker just proved it. His Thanksgiving gift: a little leftover turkey-trussing twine, to be applied to his own beak.

 

Pass on the party.

No doubt to rebut the pervading notion that Cowboys Stadium was built by the rich for the rich, Cowboys owner and perennial Turkey recipient Jerry Jones introduced Party Passes: $29 tickets to the standing-room-only sections scattered throughout The Death Star. For the first regular-season game of the year, nearly 30,000 silver-and-blue fans forked over their hard-earned dough only to discover that the “party” consisted of waiting in unconscionably long lines for restrooms and concession stands and not being able to actually see the field, just the backs of other Party Passers’ heads and the planet-sized TV hanging from the ceiling. As if that weren’t enough fun, some unlucky Party Passers learned the hard way that their tickets didn’t even guarantee access to the palace — just standing room in front of the big screens outside the stadium. Now that’s adding insult to your turkey nachos.

 

Sigh. Mayoral turkey again?

Let’s see, what kind of bird to award to our mayor this time? He’s gotten so many Turkeys from the Weekly over the years, he should buy stock in Butterball.

OK, how about this: A teeny turkey bone to choke on – just briefly. (Heimlich please!) He earned it for his recent comment expressing deep concern for how the good people in the Fort might be affected by dangerous emissions pouring out of all those gas wells he’s embraced. “Identifying the impacts of gas drilling on our neighborhoods and on the health and safety of our citizens remains a top priority,” he intoned. The statement followed the disclosure that the state environmental agency had found elevated levels of the carcinogen benzene in the air around gas wells and compressor sites.

This is a guy whose family has made a lot of money off gas and oil wells for decades. Hfeat_2e had to have known what was coming when the first landmen showed up bearing promises of mailbox money – knew or should have known that neighborhoods would be disrupted and streets torn apart by well-support truck traffic. He should have known that the “salt water” those trucks were supposedly carrying was in fact dangerous chemical waste. He had to have known that wells would need gathering lines and compressor stations and delivery lines and that those lines could be taken by eminent domain. He had to have known that gas would be flared off into the air we breathe and that the monthly royalty checks paid to most mineral-rights-owning residents would be in the $5 to $10 a month range. He had to have known that gas wells produce dangerous hydrocarbons, that wells and pipes explode occasionally,  and that compressor stations produce a constant low-frequency hum that drives some people absolutely crazy.

But he didn’t say a word about those things. And then he stacked the drilling ordinance task forces of 2006 and 2008 with industry supporters and took away the panel’s power to deal with things like environmental impacts.

Now, when even the state can no longer pretend there aren’t poisons aplenty in the air all over the Barnett Shale, he sends out a memo saying he’s all for protecting us. Residents will be forgiven for looking for a stronger wing to shelter under.

 

Sauce for the goose.

And speaking of the stadium … say you lived in New York City and decided to open an apple stand on East 144th Street. But city officials said, “Look youse, we don’t allow no apple stands on this corner, see pally?” You’d probably shelve your apple idea. But what if city officials then announced they were opening their own apple stand, right next to the spot where you’d planned to sell apples? You’d be angry, right? Arlington officials did essentially the same thing, except they’re selling parking spots for Dallas Cowboys games. A developer offered a group of Roosevelt Street homeowners $200,000 each for their homes, most of which weren’t worth half that amount. The developer planned to create a parking lot – Roosevelt is just across the street from the new Cowboys stadium. But Arlington officials killed the deal by refusing to grant a zoning change to allow a parking lot on Roosevelt – and then leased city-owned property to be used as a parking lot just around the corner.


An imaginary bird for the chief.

Talk about a surreal moment. Earlier this month, Fort Worth police chief Jeff Halstead held a press conference in front of the Rainbow Lounge to offer effusive apologies to the city’s lesbian, gay, and transgender community. In the same breath, he essentially declared that witnesses only imagined the use of excessive force by officers during the now-infamous June 28 raid of that gay bar. As the whole country knows, this “routine inspection” coincided disastrously with the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, a watershed moment in the U.S. gay rights movement.

feat_5After dragging its feet for more than four months, the department’s internal affairs division finally released a report. The findings resulted in three officers getting one- to three-day suspensions for minor infractions, including failure to complete police reports and a couple of instances of “bad judgment.”

“Bad judgment” is a grand understatement about the FWPD’s handling of this shameful affair, from beginning to end. More than 30 witnesses (by Halstead’s own count) reported aggressive, intimidating, and physically coercive tactics by police that resulted in one patron suffering a concussion and another a torn rotator cuff. Halstead declared he was sorry that Rainbow Lounge customers had “perceived” the use of excessive force when, in fact, that did not occur. Injury, meet insult.

Both injured patrons have hired the same lawyer, so taxpayers can expect to pony up in civil courts for the justice that was denied in the Fort Worth police’s internal investigation. Let’s hope some tangible good – like domestic partnership benefits for city employees and other changes recommended by a post-raid panel – emerges from this sorry saga. But healing the national reputation of a city that is already paranoid about “redneck” stereotypes is going to be a tougher assignment.

 

… and a second helping.

Another burned bird to Halstead for his decision not to discipline the officer responsible for tasering 24-year-old Michael Jacobs Jr. to death in his parents’ front yard. Cpl. Stephanie A. Phillips shocked Taylor, who had psychological problems, for a continuous 49 seconds and then followed that with another five-second jolt. Taylor died shortly thereafter. Even if Phillips held down the Taser trigger accidentally, as she has said, that is no excuse for such a deadly discharge of a weapon. Any officer anywhere in the world who carries a Taser should know by now about the almost universal uproar over the electric-current weapons – about how the company that makes the weapons has gone from calling them “nonlethal” to less lethal and adding all kinds of warnings about how to avoid killing or seriously injuring people with them. Every officer should know about how hundreds of people have died – including several at the hands of Fort Worth police – shortly after being tasered. About how some groups consider the weapons to be instruments of torture, since they have repeatedly been abused by vindictive law enforcement officers across this country.

If an officer had repeatedly fired a pistol for 49 seconds at someone, wouldn’t she have been disciplined, perhaps even cashiered? Would “Oops, it was an accident” have sufficed as an explanation? Would Halstead have been so forgiving if a private citizen had killed a police officer in similar circumstances? Can you imagine how long 49 seconds is when you’re holding down the trigger of a weapon while pointing it at someone?

Phillips’ case was referred to a grand jury, which this week no-billed her. Halstead had said earlier that he would consider disciplining her if she were indicted.

What kind of logic was that? Indictment or no-bill, grand jury action won’t change what actually happened that day, and there is little dispute as to the facts. Perhaps the chief would like to use the “phone a friend” or “ask the audience” options to get other opinions. A sad and sorry bird indeed.

 

File in card catalog under “bought off.”

Chesapeake Energy has been buying advertising on every available space in town – billboards, buses, and benches -

and giving money to schools, parks, nonprofits, and whatever. Sure, it’s nice that the company is spreading some of its wealth. But environmental activists say Chesapeake is merely buying off people while the company regularly pollutes our skies, ruins our roads, uses eminent domain to take our yards, and generally turns a once-gorgeous part of North Texas into an industrial oil and gas site. But, hey, monkeys are born to climb trees, and weasels are born to be, well, weasely. This turkey goes to the Fort Worth Library system for taking Chesapeake’s dirty money in exchange for putting a big corporate pro-drilling display in its main library, complete with business cards and fliers.

 

feat_6No crow eaten here.

All Robert McKee wanted to do was run a fun little scavenger-hunt contest this past June out of his blog at Downtownfortworth.com. After he started the contest, he made a decision to go to Scotland to scatter his deceased father’s ashes. Because of that, and because of the scarcity of internet connections in that corner of the U.K., he failed to post the winners of his contest in a timely fashion. Up popped Star-Telegram columnist (and chili cookbook author) Barry Shlachter, who saw an opportunity to publicly ring up one of those whippersnappers on the web, or at least make some lame jokes about the shirt McKee was wearing while saying farewell to his dad. The Weekly certainly isn’t above making lame jokes about other people’s clothes, but we tend to stop short at the funeral attire of the recently bereaved. Shlachter got a well-deserved roasting in cyberspace but refused to apologize. He should add a turkey chili recipe to his next cookbook.

 

No lions, just a bunch of chickens.

When U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy died, the nation lost one of its last links to the days of Camelot, not to mention a dedicated public servant with 46 years experience in the Senate. As the nation mourned, most government bodies across the country, including most North Texas counties, lowered their flags to half-mast to honor the Lion of the Senate. However, a few counties – including Parker, Collin, and Wise – decided not to lower their flags, leading many observers to suspect political motivations. Parker County Judge Mark Riley vehemently denied the allegation, noting that the county didn’t lower its flags when Republican Strom Thurmond – the Fossil of the Senate – passed away in 2003. “The federal government does not control Parker County buildings,” Riley told Static, doing his best Glenn Beck teabagger-pandering voice.

Kennedy helped pass some of the most important legislative changes in our country’s history, changes that will still be felt long after the petty gobbling of local turkeys fades away, like a bad L-tryptophan-induced dream.


Vultures gather.

Last June when Tom Hicks had to borrow $15 million from Major League Baseball to make payroll, Rangers fans saw the writing on the outfield wall. Not only did it mean that Hicks’ financial woes would forestall improvements to their first legitimate playoff-contending team in several years, it also confirmed something many observers have thought for several years: Hicks is sacrificing his local sports teams on the altar of English Premier League soccer.

The Rangers are up for sale during what could be a make-or-break off-season. The team has already failed to sign its most recent first-round draft pick, Matt Purke, who chose to go to TCU rather than put on a Rangers uniform. The team’s front office is also likely to be further hamstrung by Hicks’ skinnier wallet in trying to put together a roster for next season. Hicks, who also owns the Dallas Stars (his money problems should affect the Stars less, because of the National Hockey League’s salary cap), is trying to pay off a crippling $400 million debt on his Liverpool team. Sale of the Rangers would go a long way toward paying that debt down. Until Hicks sells the baseball team, he can’t add to the payroll, so the Rangers can’t sign any high-salaried hitters or a stud starting pitcher. Like a dish of giblet gravy, the Rangers will have to make do with spare turkey parts.

 

feat_3Light a fire under them.

Gov. Rick Perry deserves a bird for many reasons, but let’s go with his most recent debacle – his decision to replace four members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission just two days before they were due to begin considering new findings related to the deaths of three children in a fiery inferno in Corsicana in 1991. The children’s father, Cameron Todd Willingham, was convicted of arson and executed in 2004, despite a report that had been delivered to Perry before the execution, suggesting that the finding of arson in the case was mistaken.

When the commissioners were replaced, Perry said it was simply a case of their terms being up. The replaced commissioners disagreed, calling it a political move to keep the commission from investigating whether the state, with Perry’s help, had executed an innocent man. With a tough primary coming up, the guv didn’t need that kind of publicity.

Now it looks like the new chairman of the commission is following Perry’s script closely. In a letter released earlier this month, John Bradley wrote that the job of the commission was to “determine only whether there was negligence or misconduct by an accredited laboratory” while conducting forensic analysis. “The commission does not decide whether persons are guilty or innocent of criminal offenses,” he said.

Bradley also wants to keep the commission’s investigations secret until final decisions are made, which would insulate Perry at least through the primaries. Good pick, Rick.

 

JFK would understand.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy spent the night at a downtown Fort Worth hotel. The next day he was assassinated in Dallas. The current Fort Worth leadership is commemorating JFK’s last night on Earth by erecting an 8-foot statue of the president in General Worth Square park downtown.

A nice gesture, true But not in these times. The statue will cost $250,000, and the Fort Worth City Council has approved using gas drilling money to pay for it. This is the same council that laid off workers, cut pay raises, shut down swimming pools, closed the day labor center, and much more, all in the name of dealing with a budget shortfall. We think $250,000 might have been appropriated to more pressing needs. After all, it’s been 46 years – couldn’t it wait for a year when the city’s a little more flush?

 

Feasting at the taxpayers’ table.

Former Tarrant County College Chancellor Leonardo de la Garza and TCC board president Louise Appleman deserve a picked-clean turkey carcass as a reward for their mindless waste of taxpayer dollars while pursuing a monument to themselves along the banks of the Trinity River, a.k.a. the TCC downtown campus. These two lovelies managed to spend around a half-billion in taxpayer dollars as they lurched merrily along, callously destroying a large chunk of the city’s historical bluff, pouring mega-millions into a campus construction project that spanned five years and produced only two still-incomplete and ugly buildings that look like wartime bunkers, then chucking that plan in order to buy the RadioShack headquarters for the “new revised edition” of the downtown campus. Did de la Garza get fired for his gross mismanagement of tax dollars? Nooooo. The chancellor, with the full support of Appleman and three of her allies on the board, was allowed to resign and walk away from this mess with a sweet retirement package and a $700,000 bonus. And he’s not done with us yet. Those buildings are still under construction, at a cost to taxpayers of – hold onto your drumstick – $1,500 per square foot. And Appleman, ever the optimist when she’s spending someone else’s hard-earned money, still thinks they’re worth finishing.

 

Different feathers, stuck together.

Ever stand on a high roof or balcony and think, “I’d really like to jump off — I’d totally make it”? If so, don’t get a room at the Omni-Fort Worth. The new luxury hotel adjacent to the expanded convention center has balconies that are shaped like friendly diving boards and are just begging to launch you off and into the Great Hereafter. What’s truly Turkey-worthy about the Omni, however, is the building itself. What the hell is it? Is it a sleek, elegant, gleaming 34-story glass skyscraper or two small, flat, blond-stone cubes like bookends? Looking at it, you might think that two construction companies had tried to build two different buildings on the same spot. The tower part isn’t bad contemporary conservative architecture. The whole thing, though, is alarmingly schizophrenic.


You can lead a bird to water, but …

A few years ago, Fort Worth Parks and Recreation Director Richard Zavala proposed closing all the city’s swimming pools. He said they were too old and too costly to maintain. He didn’t get his wish then, but during the budget shortfall this year, he hauled it out again. And this time, he persuaded the city council to close all of the pools except the one at Forest Park.

Zavala seems to dislike water. The parks department let Heritage Park deteriorate to such an extent that it was eventually (and still is) closed. Again, the reasoning was that Heritage Park’s water features were too costly to maintain. A lack of proper maintenance at the Botanic Gardens koi ponds earlier this year led to a big fish kill.

When Zavala briefed the council on the pool-closing plan, he said the kids in town had “other options.” When asked what those options were, Zavala replied “Hurricane Harbor.” So, according to Zavala, traveling to Arlington and spending $30 is about the same as going to a public pool in your neighborhood for a few bucks.

We’ll leave the turkey in the oven for a few extra hours for Zavala. He wouldn’t like it if the meat was moist.

 

feat_4They’re so … normal.

A classic strategy for moving copies of your newspaper or magazine off the rack is to run photos of local folks – people, as we all know, love looking at pics of themselves and showing them to other people. More readers translates, theoretically, into more advertisers. So it’s not surprising that part of DFW.com Ink Edition‘s Nightlife section includes snaps of folks taken at local bars and restaurants. The intended effect is similar to what you might get from, say, looking at D Magazine‘s nightlife pics: “Wow, those people are hot! I wanna hang out at that club!” The Ink photos’ actual effect, though, based on the sheer numbers of normal- or scary-looking folks who regularly appear in the pages is probably more the reverse. “Wow,” the average Ink reader says. “I’ve always wanted to go to that bar, but now that I’ve seen how ordinary/frightening its clientele is, I’ll keep on driving.” Another doubtlessly unintended negative effect is that some potentially cool bars might get pegged as havens for ass-hats because the photographer just happened to drop by on a bad night. DFW.com Ink gets a big fat bird then, for hurting rather than helping local clubs, even though unintentionally.

 

Backpedaling.

President Barack Obama gave a televised speech to school children across the nation in September. Nothing controversial in his message: Study hard, work hard, education is very important.

Children in the Arlington schools didn’t get to hear the message, however. Arlington schools Superintendent Jerry McCullough, bowing to pressure from local right-wingers, didn’t allow Obama’s speech to be carried in school classrooms. Then it was learned that McCullough was going to bus hundreds of Arlington fifth-graders to the new Cowboys Stadium to hear former President George W. Bush make a speech about new charitable programs that will coincide with the 2011 Super Bowl. Bowing to pressure from the left, McCullough cancelled that student event as well.

The Arlington students should have been able to see Obama’s televised speech and Dubya’s appearance at the stadium. We’ll give McCullough the left wing of the bird – a scrawny reminder of the value of staying away from politics, when students are involved. We’d give him the right wing, too, but the State Board of Education is sitting on it.


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