Best Of 2011
Readers’ choice: Karen Borta, CBS/Channel 11
Critic’s choice: Brett Shipp, WFAA/Channel 8
This Dallas native is the son of newsman Bert Shipp, and the apple didn’t fall far from the muckraking tree. Brett Shipp digs into difficult stories and makes them easy to understand. Last year he linked fatal explosions in homes to faulty natural gas couplings and showed the Texas Railroad Commission to be the disgraceful faux regulators that they are. As for Shipp’s recent dustup with Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price — well, Price may have met his match this time.
Sportscaster or Sportswriter
Readers’ choice: Dale Hansen, WFAA/Channel 8
Critic’s choice: The bloggers at spitbloodtcu.com
Spitblood, a reference to what horned frogs do when angered, is home to the most comprehensive TCU football coverage on the internet. The nine bloggers are young alumni who write with irreverence, but don’t let them fool you. They know almost as much about their school’s Rose Bowl-winning program as the coaching staff does and communicate that knowledge with skill and attitude. Though readers would likely pay for the top-notch information, the Spitblood fellas give away their words out of pure love for the game.
Hottest Local Celebrity (Male)
Readers’ choice: Chris Meachum
Critic’s choice: Joel Burns
If courage is sexy (and it is), then this Westside city council member is hitting on all cylinders. Last fall, moved by the suicides of several gay teens who had been victims of bullying, Burns made a moving personal privilege speech during a city council meeting. He talked about being bullied himself in high school because of his sexual orientation. “It does get better,” he told young people, and he challenged adults to find a way to address the problem. The video of his speech went viral, and he made appearances on network news shows. We may not agree with everything Burns does on the council, but this was a shining moment — for a cutie.
Hottest Local Celebrity (Female)
Readers’ choice: Fiona Gorostiza, Fox 4 News
Critic’s choice: Sarah Jaffe
We’re an alternative weekly, so it’s natural that our favorite gal exudes an “alt” kind of heat. Nobody confuses Denton chanteuse Sara Jaffe with a runway model (although she’s got the glum expression down). She wears little makeup, favors jeans over dresses, isn’t rail-thin, and doesn’t seem to go out of her way to look pretty. But watch her perform sometime. Her musicianship, lyricism, vocals, and sweetly sardonic personality come together to make her one hot, sexy mama.
Readers’ choice: Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Critic’s choice: Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, Denton Record-Chronicle
This award-winning Denton journalist and author can do it all. Her environmental reporting on (you guessed it) the Barnett Shale has won national and statewide awards for her paper, the Denton Record-Chronicle, and she’s also been recognized for her investigative reporting on other topics. Her personal writings have won awards from the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference — her first book, See Sam Run: a Mother’s Story of Autism, was published in May 2008. According to her blog, she’s working on another book proposal and training for her first half-marathon. Wow. See Peggy run.
Readers’ choice: Kidd Kraddick, KISS/106.1-FM
Critic’s choice: Bo & Jim Morning Show, KZPS/92.5-FM
It’s the classic rock station for North Texas. Bo Roberts and “Long” Jim White have been making people laugh out loud during their morning commute for decades. The pair, along with sidekick and producer Randy James, run a mix of classic tunes and irreverent patter daily, Monday through Friday from 6 to 10am. If you don’t like one bit, wait a minute. You’ll love the next one. Nobody touches these guys for outright hilarity, whether they’re interviewing musicians and athletes or just asking listeners to call in and share their weirdest sexcapade ever.
Servant of the People
Readers’ choice: Joel Burns
Critic’s choice: Cathy Hirt
Talk about taking one for the team. Hirt, arguably the smartest candidate to stand for election to the Fort Worth mayor’s job this year, didn’t make the runoff. But she thought it was so important that Jim Lane win over Betsy Price that she not only endorsed Lane (heck, anybody can mumble a few sentences on election night), but she agreed to appear on his campaign literature during the run-up to the run-off.
Candidate for Alien Abduction
Reader’s choice: Rick Perry
Critic’s choice: Kim Feil, Barnett Shale rapper
Actually, Feil likes to go by the moniker “White Lady Environmental Rapper.” She shows up at Arlington City Council meeting with “Ben Zene,” her respirator-wearing dummy, and spouts lines like “I am here to say in a different kind of way that we are desperate for leadership and pollution is not OK.” Nothing wrong with being concerned about environmental problems caused by gas drilling or trying to draw attention to those issues in fresh ways. But even though Feil clearly is dedicated and knowledgeable, her showboating costs her some credibility.
Politician Likely to Sell Grandma to the Highest Bidder
Readers’ choice: Rick Perry
Critic’s choice: U.S. Rep. Kay Granger
Granger has voted — figuratively — so many times to sell Grandma that we’ve lost count. But the biggie this year was her “yea” vote for the Paul Ryan budget bill, when she tried to do it literally. You remember that one: It takes Grandma’s and Grandpa’s Medicare checks and burns them in front of their eyes. Ryan, with Granger’s support, would trade the Medicare safety net that has helped keep seniors healthy for more than 40 years for a “voluntary” voucher system that would give them a limited subsidy to pay private health insurance companies. When the subsidy runs out, the seniors would have to pick up the tab, which the Congressional Budget Office said would cause “most elderly people to pay more for their healthcare than they now pay under Medicare.” Who would benefit? Why, the private insurance companies, of course — a.k.a. the highest bidders.
Readers’ choice: Nolan Ryan
Critic’s choice: Clyde Picht
The former Fort Worth City Council member comes by his fearless tendencies honestly: One of his first jobs after college was fighting fires for the U.S. Forest Service. Not finding enough excitement there, he joined the Air Force, where he served for 22 distinguished years, including a combat tour in Vietnam. After that he worked as a flight instructor for 18 years for American Airlines and served on the Fort Worth City Council for eight years. Since then, he has run unsuccessfully for his old office, for mayor, and also for a seat on the Tarrant Regional Water District board. But those setbacks haven’t stopped Clyde from continuing to work for what he sees as the good of Fort Worth, whether it’s promoting an aviation museum or opposing the excesses of the Trinity River Vision project. Sic ’em, Clyde.
Readers’ choice: Brenda Howell, The Fairmount Neighborhood Association
Critic’s choice: Fort Worth Schools Trustee Ann Sutherland
Sutherland is one damn tough female who has endured gracefully a year of ugly personal attacks from some of her board colleagues and the editorial writers at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. This 70-year-old retired educator, who rides a bike daily with her husband David, has brought a refreshing intellectual component to local public life. She regularly challenges the status quo and raises red flags about the management and educational failures of the Fort Worth schools. Long before the 2011 state and federal accountability ratings showed that Fort Worth has the highest percentage of failed schools in the state, Sutherland presented documented evidence in public meetings — and via her web page — that showed what was happening. Now, with the statistics showing that Fort Worth has arguably the worst schools in the state, much breast-beating is going on as certain trustees — who hired former Superintendent Melody Johnson and defended her to the end — are shocked! shocked! at the discovery. Sutherland has been making good on her promise to do her best to make government work for the people. Too bad most of her fellow board members were trying to shut her up rather than listening.
Readers’ choice: Drago Reid
Critic’s choice: Layla Caraway
Back in the summer of 2007, Caraway watched as 45 feet of her backyard fell into Big Fossil Creek in Haltom City after heavy rains. A 4-year-old girl drowned in the floodwaters. Caraway started asking questions — and she hasn’t stopped. She found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been studying Haltom City’s flood problems for decades, but couldn’t come up with about $4 million for flood-control projects. Then she found that the Corps was committing more than $400 million for the Trinity River Vision, a project touted as flood control but that is really an economic development tool. So Caraway and her collaborators made a documentary that debuted last year. Up a Creek details her experiences, from the floodwater to the lack of fundamental answers as to why Fort Worth gets so much money and Haltom City so little. There is some talk that Caraway might run for Haltom City Council. Don’t look for her to shut up and sit down anytime soon.
Underrated Pro Athlete
Readers’ choice: Michael Young, Texas Rangers
Critic’s choice: Brad Richards, (formerly)Dallas Stars
Richards is a Stanley Cup-winning native of Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island, Canada, who, during his three-season stint with the Stars, averaged a goal or an assist per game and led the team in scoring last year. Sadly, you won’t see the productive centerman this year. With the Stars failing to make the playoffs the last two seasons, he’s taken his services to the New York Rangers. We salute him for his play in a frequently losing cause.
Athlete Almost Worth His/Her Salary
Readers’ choice: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Critic’s choice: Dirk Nowitzki
There are lots of candidates for this award, with the Rangers seizing the American League pennant and TCU winning the Rose Bowl. Still, we can’t ignore the achievements of this native of Wurzburg, Germany, who finally carried the Mavericks to the NBA championship and cemented his reputation as one of basketball’s all-time great players. Thanks to Number 41, Dallas is Dirk-land über alles.
Use of Taxpayer Money
Critic’s choice: City of Fort Worth Equipment Services Department
Wayne Corum runs a tight ship in this little-heralded city department. For about $25.5 million, he and his 88 full-time certified mechanics and 10 crew heads buy, maintain, and fuel the city’s fleet of more than 3,000 vehicles, from golf carts to fire trucks. The department maintains five service centers that operate around the clock to make certain that emergency vehicles can get to where they’re going safely. And the department does it with style, coming in under budget year in and year out while repeatedly being named one of the 100 top fleets in the country (they came in 17th this year, out of more than 38,000 fleets). Now that’s a good use of tax dollars.
Readers’ choice: The Fairmount Neighborhood Association
Critic’s choice: West Meadowbrook Neighborhood Association
Formed in 1977, this is the oldest continuously operational neighborhood association on the East Side. Hundreds of businesses and properties in the area are owned by absentee landlords, leaving much of the neighborhood open to various kinds of crime and nuisances on poorly maintained properties. But the association is fighting back. They’ve finally got the ear of the Building Standards Commission with regard to a former charter school that has become a locus for crime. The mover for the association is Mike Phipps, a one-man hurricane who has rallied residents to form neighborhood watches to cut back on such problems. “It’s not an easy fight, but our association is making progress,” he said recently.
Example of Gumption or Grit
Critic’s choice: Sharon Herrera
Herrera, a diversity-training expert for Fort Worth schools, was doing such a good job teaching district employees the finer points of just what constitutes workplace bullying, a hostile work environment, and sexual harassment that the district rewarded her by eliminating her job. In less than a year, this fortysomething fireball with a disarming smile uncovered what she calls a culture of fear permeating the district. When employees, encouraged by her training programs, began filing grievances or even lawsuits against those who had made their work-life hell, former superintendent Melody Johnson shut the program down, and Herrera was moved to a non-threatening job. But instead of shutting up and slinking off, she did what she had encouraged others to do and went public with her story. Now, with a new interim superintendent on the job, she may even get her old job back.
Readers’ choice: Kevin Buchanan
Critic’s choice: North Central Texas Communities Alliance
We can’t pick just one of the activists involved in this invaluable group to confer the Top Watchdog title on, so we’re giving it to the whole crew. As does any individual or organization that takes on the 800-pound gorilla of the drilling industry, the NCTCA folks must surely feel sometimes as though they are simply crying into the wind. They go to city council meetings, protest and testify in Austin, do all the myriad other things to try to keep North Texans informed (and, let’s face it, enraged) about the many truly scary aspects of urban gas drilling in these parts — and for what? But the underdogs win one once in a while, and along the way, they are laying the basis for responsible, informed, dogged opposition to an industry that is threatening lives, health, and, frankly, the long-term future of this city. These days, what form of public service could be more valuable?
Critic’s choice: Frugal in Fort Worth, frugalinfortworth.wordpress.com
This blog may not be the most entertaining on the internet, but it does point you toward where you can go locally for entertainment and promotions that are either free or priced at a deep discount. The updates arrive on a constant basis, and in a depressed economy, it’s great to find value for money.
Preserver of History
Readers’ choice: Sue McClean, The Fairmount Neighborhood Associaton
Critic’s choice: Jerry Shults, Ridglea Theater
The battle was epic. On one side were developers (and one particular city council member) intent on transforming the 1940s Westside gem into –– what else? –– a bank. (Doesn’t there seem to be a bank on every freaking corner?) On the other were preservationists, particularly Jerry Shults, owner of the Gas Pipe chain of smoke shops. Well, guess who won? Since buying the building, Shults has made several dramatic changes, all in the spirit of returning the legendary theater to its former glory. The building will receive historic designation this month.
Unused P.R. Slogan
Critic’s choice: “Fort Worth: The Southwest’s Newest Industrial Slum”
The Star-Telegram and city hall have been writing and talking lately about how all this ruckus over gas drilling will settle down once people get used to the idea that they are living in an industrial area. When did they hold that election? Doesn’t that pretty much translate to “we give up our rights to clean air and water and freedom from industrial dangers”? If that’s the case, then let’s brag about it. Let’s start trying to attract industry with pitches like, “Look, they won’t even notice that little extra stink you’re putting in the air — the drillers are already in everybody’s backyards.” Where’s the campaign that says, “Move to Fort Worth and do your part for America’s energy independence by swallowing benzene without complaint”?
Critic’s choice: Last season’s lofty prediction for the Dallas Cowboys
The team, fans, sportswriters, and owner Jerry Jones were talking Super Bowl when the 2010 season began. The ’boys were sure to be the first hometown team to play in a Super Bowl. Except. They. Sucked. The team lost seven of their first eight games, quarterback Tony Romo fell to injury, and the snowstorm during Super Bowl week just served as a reminder of the local fans’ frostbitten hearts.
Critic’s choice: Tarrant County Archives, 200 Taylor St, FW
Fort Worth is a bustling modern city with everything a major city should have: theater, fine dining, museums, a terrific skyline. But we’ve also got something most cities and counties can’t boast: a past that includes cowboys and cattle, railroads and gunfights. You can get a taste of those things at the Stockyards, but if you really want to know about old Fort Worth and Tarrant County, from early aviation to the hanging tree outside the old courthouse, get on down to the Tarrant County Archives, a little-known public facility run by the Tarrant County Historical Commission, where you can browse thousands of historical photographs, research, or just get away from it all for a couple of hours to bask in local lore.
Sign of the Apocalypse
Readers’ choice: Zumba craze
Critic’s choice: July, maybe August
What, you need an explanation? It was like watching a horror movie unfold on your front lawn in slow motion and knowing there wasn’t a damned thing you could do about it.
Critic’s choice: Walter Dansby’s appointment as interim superintendent, Fort Worth schools
Whatever else a majority of this district’s school board has done over the past year to bring disgrace upon themselves, a few members made a partial recovery when they voted to name Dansby to replace Melody Johnson, whose six-year reign, with mixed reviews, ended when she resigned abruptly in May. Dansby, the first African-American to head the district that is now 85 percent minority, is a well-respected educator with 37 years experience who was raised in Fort Worth’s low-income Stop Six neighborhood and moved up and out with help from supportive parents. He taught and coached here 16 years, then went on to campus leadership and district administrative positions. That experience, his backers say, will help him clear the minefield left behind by Johnson: 22 low-performing schools, a high drop-out rate, low morale among often-bullied employees, three expensive whistleblower lawsuits, a $6.3 million super-computer system that doesn’t work, and a looming budget shortfall of $40 million. Whew. The supporters who fought mightily to get him appointed say he has the skills and temperament to do the job. Good luck, Mr. Obama, er, sorry, Mr. Dansby.