Hi, doc. Thanks for seeing me this week — it’s that time of year, you know, when I start feeling so exposed, so vulnerable. Like I’m out there in the cold. Like someone’s drawing a bead on me, sizing me up with a carving knife.
What do I mean? Well, it feels like someone has been pulling my feathers out by the handful. My libraries, pools, money for my parks. Protection for my environment. Sometimes I look around and think, how did things get this bad?
And then I remember: We elected them. Again. No wonder things are so plucked up.
That’s right, folks. From mostly the same crew that’s been laying eggs in this town and around Texas for awhile now has come another year of greed, wrongheadedness, corporate butt-smooching, and just plain refusal to listen to the people. And next year, it seems, is going to be way too much like the last one, only more so. Maybe they ought to call this edition of the Weekly the Groundhog Awards instead of the Turkeys.
It’s true: Some important things have changed in these parts in the last year or so. Tarrant County College, the John Peter Smith hospital system, and the Fort Worth schools have gone through some new and much-needed leadership changes. And the people have risen up in major ways to demand accountability from the city and state on gas drilling, neighborhood protection, and other issues. But at city hall, it seems, it’s byzantine business as usual, with a valiant council minority routinely getting run over. And then there’s Austin. As long as Rick Perry is in the governor’s mansion (or whatever breathtakingly expensive temporary digs the taxpayers provide), we’ll have no shortage of turkey on our table.
A great Thanksgiving meal is always a combination of traditions and new touches, and by that standard, this year’s Turkey Awards should be a crowd-pleaser. There are the old favorites –– our annual smorgasbord of city hall screw-ups, as noted, is particularly rich this year, accompanied by side dishes from the school district, local sports teams, and law enforcement agencies. Truly, there ought to be more contributions from the gas drilling industry. But hey, ragging on Big Gas is everyday fare in Fort Worth these days, kind of like extra-greasy fast food –– why remind ourselves on a holiday how pervasive their influence is? (We did toss in a couple of drilling McNuggets, just to keep the kids happy.)
As usual, the Weekly’s staff and freelance writers cooked these up. This year we asked our readers to contribute as well, and we got a good response –– thanks, folks. Most of the reader suggestions were either items that the staff was already working on, retreads from last year, or otherwise didn’t quite fit the bill. However, local activist Don Young came up with two that made the list –– a turkey feather for your cap, Don.
Well, enjoy. And if you can’t enjoy these little tales of woe, then just pin this up on your bulletin board and do your best to make sure that, come next November, when you roll over and turn on your radio, it won’t still be playing “They’ve Got Us [By the Short Feathers], Babe.” — Gayle Reaves
The Big Bird
This year’s sweepstakes award, to Fort Worth schools superintendent Melody Johnson and her minions, should be cast in brass. What else do you call it when they send a guy out to accept complaints from the troops and then, when he discovers a laundry list of illegal and tawdry activities, fire him –– even though almost all of the charges that he brought forward proved to be true? The recent firing of that whistleblower, former Arlington Heights assistant principal Joe Palazzolo, is just part of the district’s campaign to cover up one of the most dishonorable and salacious scandals in the district’s history. What should be as embarrassing to district voters is the fact that Johnson got six board members to go along with the firing.
Johnson’s own internal investigation of Heights had confirmed almost all the allegations — falsification of attendance records, breaking the truancy laws, discriminatory treatment of minority students, blatant sexual harassment, a love affair between an assistant principal and a coach who described their torrid sex life in vivid detail to teachers and students alike, and a principal who was a willing participant (by her own admission) in many of the illegal activities. Even worse, the principal, assistant superintendent, another assistant principal, and a coach, all of whom were found to have committed fraud, were allowed to resign with “no further action” and will draw their full salaries until the end of their two-year contract periods.
Palazzolo, however, didn’t walk meekly to the chopping block. He has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the district that ought to provide details even juicier than what we know so far. The leftovers from this big bird will likely last a long time.
Buddy, Can You Spare a Parking Space?
Every year, local governments and businesses join forces to provide free school supplies and health screenings for low-income students. According to educators, that would be 48 percent of the public school students in Tarrant County. This year, 12,000 families signed up to get help.
The Tarrant County Back-to-School Roundup was held in August at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. But this year, when the qualified families showed up — those who couldn’t afford basic school supplies — they were met by parking guards with their hands out. The city had instituted a $5 parking fee at Will Rogers in the spring (to pay for a mostly unneeded parking garage), and the poor folks had to pay up.
The families had to pre-register, so a parking voucher could have been included in the process. Or the city could have just waived parking fees for a day. But no, the city wanted its pound of flesh — it probably made more than $50,000 off the poor folks.
To the city officials responsible for this travesty, we award a pot of turkey gruel and a copy of Oliver Twist. Delivered by children.
The Turkey Awards are going to miss Tom Hicks. He’s sold the Texas Rangers and Liverpool soccer club, and the Dallas Stars are on the block. Hopefully, the hockey club will be out of his control by next Thanksgiving. His retreat is good news for sports fans, but the shenanigans he pulled in the process were sickening.
Take the Rangers: Hicks’ initial agreement with Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan would have put more cash in his pocket through side deals. Creditors, to whom Hicks owned about $500 million, balked, forcing the team into bankruptcy court. Greenberg and Ryan eventually won the auction but not until they had upped their purchase price and spent a month of hand-wringing in court.
Across the pond, Hicks had a similar debt load but thought he should realize a big profit for the sale of the Liverpool team. Buyers weren’t impressed, so the club’s board of directors sold it out from under him. Hicks’ reaction? He attempted to block the sale in a British court, then again in a Tarrant County court. When those efforts failed, Hicks threatened to sue Liverpool for more than a billion dollars.
Tom’s teams might not have been big winners, but he’s certainly taken home his share of turkeys. Here’s hoping that he’ll take his bat, his ball, and his bird collection and say bye-bye to North Texas.
The Sound of One Hand Taking
Nothing says Thanksgiving like sharing. Native Americans shared their food with the pilgrims, and we know how that ended up. For many years now, local music venues have been asking musicians to share — sort of. And it looks like the musos are getting almost as raw a deal as the Native Americans did.
When you go to a club to hear music and get hit with a cover charge, you figure that money goes to the band, right? Unfortunately, at an alarming number of clubs, that’s not really the case. Many clubs –– prominent clubs –– pay the sound man, the door person, and sometimes even security out of that pool of money. So up-and-coming bands that may draw only a handful of people often don’t make enough cash to cover their own bar tabs. The venues typically don’t share their bar profits with the bands unless the band is savvy enough to have drawn up a contract that requires it.
Not all clubs skim off the top. But the ones that do perpetuate the attitude that the musicians are just lucky to have a place to play –– disregarding the fact that bars would be much emptier were it not for the efforts of the musicians. So for the local music venues that skim (you know who you are) — here are some scraps, still stuck to the turkey bones. After the meal. After the leftovers. After the turkey soup.
Freight Train/Streetcar — Can You Tell the Difference?
Fort Worth applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this year to help fund a planned modern streetcar system. The city got the largest grant under the USDOT program, $25 million.
But when the funding was announced, something very strange happened. Several council members, led by Jungus Jordan, wanted to reject the grant or move it to other transportation projects that didn’t meet USDOT grant criteria. Follow along: We ask the feds for money, they say here it is, and then we say no thanks. According to several sources, the feds were livid.
Jordan was obsessed with Tower 55, that freight train intersection near downtown that gets clogged with traffic at times. Jordan called Tower 55 the “number one transportation priority” for this city. Now people can argue about the need for streetcars, but freight trains coming through town are not the top priority for Cowtown citizens. Expanded roads and better mass transit? Perhaps.
Fort Worth eventually got some federal dollars to help smooth out the congestion at Tower 55, and the streetcar plan is still alive. So we suggest that some birds be delivered to Jordan at the freight yard, where he can share a meal with the CEOs of Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train companies.
Wattling Along in Traffic
Back in 2000, Jacksboro Highway between Lake Worth and Azle was a four-lane divided highway with few stop lights. Motorists could drive 60 mph and make good time heading northwest out of Fort Worth. But cars entering the flow of traffic from side streets or crossing the median were causing accidents, so the Texas Department of Transportation decided to expand the highway and build overpasses and service roads. Ten years later, they’re still working. Traffic is a mess. Mornings and evenings, the effective speed limit is a perpetual crawl — which matches the pace of the work. TxDOT says chill, dude, it’ll get done in stages as money becomes available, with completion targeted for summer 2012. We’re talking about five miles of highway here, people! Finish the damn thing and move on to Texas 360 or one of the other screwed-up stretches of blacktop that are crying for help.
Bile on Stage
There are so many potential Turkey Award winners in Tarleton State University’s “gay Jesus” debacle we could conduct the awards ceremony at a poultry farm. You might remember the national media uproar: Last March, a Tarleton drama professor ordered the last-minute cancellation of a student staging of Terrence McNally’s 1998 play Corpus Christi. The script depicts Jesus as a gay man who meets the apostles (also gay) as friends at a Texas high school in the 1960s. Publicity from the one-time class performance had generated telephone and e-mail threats to the university that were, according to one school official, “hateful and vicious.” And then Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst stepped into the fray.
So let’s start handing out the birds. Stephenville’s “community standards” malcontents who issued threats severe enough to warrant the involvement of the local police and fire departments get a collective turkey. Drama professor Mark Holtorf and Tarleton President F. Dominic Dottavio also deserve gobblers for caving in to pressure after initially saying the show would go on. (Holtorf takes official blame for canceling the show, but it’s still unclear what kind of internal university pressure he received.) The biggest bird goes to Dewhurst, for gratuitously inserting himself into the fracas and incorrectly stating that taxpayer money would be used to put on the performance, when in fact its scant budget was paid for out of the pocket of John Jordan Otte, the student director.
The biggest irony? While Corpus Christi does skewer organized religion, it unequivocally affirms the value of community, charity, and forgiveness. Maybe the protesters should’ve listened more closely to what McNally’s gay Jesus had to say.
Explain This Whirlybird Idea
The local city budget shortfall was well chronicled this year –– Fort Worth leaders had to trim about $50 million, which they did by closing community centers and pools, cutting city services, and laying off a bunch of workers. But amid all that financial angst, the city’s brain-trust managed to find between $5 million and $8 million to build a downtown heliport.
WTF? City staffers said the heliport would provide corporate ’copter service for Dallas business fat cats who wanted a landing site two minutes from downtown. They also cited the Super Bowl in Arlington next year, suggesting that bigwigs attending the game wouldn’t come to Sundance Square if they had to take a limousine from their Dallas hotels.
What the staff didn’t tell council is that the city already owns a heliport two minutes north of downtown. That pad is used mostly by law enforcement but could be expanded for private use at a far cheaper cost. Then there’s Meacham International Airport, just a 12-minute ride from downtown. So the city is spending millions to save 10 minutes of travel time for a very small number of potential visitors to our fair burg.
With the economy still in the tank, corporations aren’t flying around in expensive helicopters much anymore. So a big turkey to the city council and airport system director Kent Penney. They can put it on a lazy susan, spread its wings, spin, and see if that bird flies. We suspect that, just like the story about needing a downtown heliport, it won’t.
Spring training began with Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington admitting to having snorted cocaine. Facing a routine drug test, he narced on himself and told Rangers officials he had dabbled with nose candy the previous summer — his first and only time, he said, not convincingly. The morality police among Rangers fans screamed for blood. Fire the druggie, they demanded. Club president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels almost canned him but instead decided to give Washington a second chance. Players backed him. Washington was spared. Then he led the team to its first World Series. What a high.
Everything was set to make 2010 the greatest year in the history of North Texas professional sports. The Texas Rangers played their hearts out, won 90 games, and advanced to the World Series for the first time. Meanwhile, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was salivating over the top-level talent he’d put together, a team supposedly capable of reaching Super Bowl XLV, which will be held in Arlington in February. The biggest game of the year would be held at the shiniest stadium in the league — Jones’ taxpayer-subsidized $1.2 billion baby, Cowboys Stadium, a.k.a. Jerry World. Imagine the parties! Parades! Celebrations! Woo-hoo! But then reality intervened. The Cowboys weren’t top-level after all. In fact, they sucked — undisciplined, penalty prone, and devoid of any sense of urgency. The buck stops with general manager Jones, whose redemption will come only after he points a finger between his own eyes and says, “Jerry, you’re fired.”
Go Jump in a Lake
Take a good look at Fort Worth City Council members, city budgeters, City Manager Dale Fisseler, Mayor Mike Moncrief, and all of the other mostly middle-aged, middle-class, white bureaucrats who determine how the city spends its money. Now think back in time a few decades. Imagine them as children, ecstatic about enjoying a day at the local pool, paddling around with smiles on their little faces. It’s true — children’s favorite memories often involve swimming at a public pool on a hot summer day. (OK, Little Lord Moncrief probably had a heated pool in his bedroom.) And yet those same bureaucrats whose innocent pleasures were provided, way back when, by city taxes, are now ready, willing, and able to close down every swimming pool in town to save money. In honor of Thanksgiving, let’s fill one of those abandoned pools with boiling water, throw Moncrief, Fisseler, and all the other heartless budgeteers in it, add sliced carrots and celery, a dash of salt, and serve up some curmudgeon soup. Just be sure to wait 30 minutes after eating to go swimming –– if you can find a pool.
Good God, It’s Goodhair Again
Giving turkeys to Rick Perry is like shooting birds in a barrel, but what the hell –– in this case, a canned hunt is appropriate. Let’s just focus on the longest-serving guv’s overarching recent sin: his refusal, during election season, to answer reporters’ questions or even meet with newspaper editorial boards. As soon as it was over, of course, he hit the media trail to pimp his new book and, potentially, his presidential aspirations. Of course, as his handlers surely told him, he didn’t need to meet with the media –– he could bypass them, connect to voters directly, and still win the election. That doesn’t excuse his cowardice and arrogance or the facts of the smelly deals by which his supporters have reaped all sorts of benefits from the state. If Perry really is the best the Republican Party has to offer and is destined for national greatness, God help us all. In fact, help us anyway.
A boxcar of turkey Spam to the Eastside community groups who, when given the opportunity to have a model shipping-container home located in their neighborhood, turned away builder Mike Wallace. They complained that the containers, which could be repurposed as sturdy low-cost housing, were ugly (this in a neighborhood where some stretches look like a war zone). At least one community leader suggested that drug dealers would buy them to use as fortresses that couldn’t be penetrated by most bullets.
Wallace took his idea to Joshua, where he plunked three containers down on a concrete block foundation, welded them together, remodeled them with welding tools, and –– voila! — an 1,100-square-foot house that’s impervious to fire, tornados, and floods. Plus it’s got two porches, is finished with hardwood flooring, and has been so well insulated that air conditioning and heating needs will be minimal. The roof is going up now, and the exterior will be bricked in the next couple of months. As for East Fort Worth, another possible source of low-income housing has flown the coop.
A floating turkey carcass goes out to Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners for laying a natural gas pipeline along one side of Mary Kelleher’s 12-acre property line on Randol Mill Road that raised the ground level several inches and turned Kelleher’s property into a lake when the remnants of Hurricane Hermine flooded the Trinity River in September. Kelleher, who has a petting zoo on the property, lost an alpaca, two rams, a lamb, and several other animals in the flooding.
The problem is that the 30-inch pipeline is not buried deeply enough, so that it blocks the path by which water formerly drained from Kelleher’s property, in the Trinity flood plain. Worse, Enterprise denies there is a problem, even though the ground elevation difference is visible to even a casual passerby.
That’s not the only problem with that pipeline. It was never properly permitted until after news stories (including one in Fort Worth Weekly) appeared in September, and it still has not been registered, as required, with the Texas Railroad Commission.
As Sarah “Drill Baby, Drill” Palin might say, time to man up, Enterprise.
Zap This Idea
At a time when many other law enforcement agencies are reconsidering their use of Tasers, both the Arlington Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety went in the opposite direction, deciding to buy the high-voltage, higher-controversy electronic weapons for many of their officers.
In Arlington, the threat of a Super Bowl boycott by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference did not deter the police department from ordering 300 of the “less-lethal” weapons. But that’s just a zap in the bucket compared to the DPS, which ordered 2,748 of the weapons, according to a press release from the manufacturer, Taser International. Let’s hope that both agencies have learned from the tragic errors — read: needless citizen deaths — that have occurred after these weapons were misused by officers in Fort Worth and, indeed, by police agencies around the world. In Texas, Taser training courses should include a mandatory trip to the National Taser Memorial here in Fort Worth, where more than 470 white crosses represent the people who have died after being hit with the voltage from Tasers in the hands of U.S. law enforcement personnel.
Slice That Turkey, Don’t Hack It
The dawn of the internet jukebox was a sad time for music snobs. Not only could our much hipper and cooler selections be skipped, they could be skipped for some annoying nü-metal or shouting rap. Throw in a cranky bartender and some annoying regulars, and a night out at our favorite watering holes started to make staying home, renting a movie, and drinking tea seem like a splendid idea. Thankfully, the internet jukebox star has waned a bit, but now hipsters have a new hobgoblin: the Texas Music hack. Bar owners: Having a stage area does not mean you also have customers who want to be regaled by live music. In fact, we probably go to your bar to escape live music and actually have convos with our friends. Second, if you’re going to have some guy with a guitar up there, why can’t he also have talent and imagination? There are so many creative singer-songwriters in our backyard who play something else that deferring reflexively to Texas Music hackery seems downright dastardly. Kevin Aldridge, Tim Locke (Calhoun), Peter Black (The Orbans), Daniel Katsük, Chris Johnson (Telegraph Canyon), Sean Russell, Nathan Brown, Stephen Beatty (Stella Rose), Breaking Light, Stephen Pointer, Keegan McInroe, Sam Anderson (Quaker City Nighthawks, EPIC RUINS), Darrin Kobetich, Clint Niosi, Jason Worley, Christian L. Williams, Brad Hines, and Justin Spike can play for hours, and Russell and Beatty have been known to throw in choice covers –– often of other local artists’ songs. If you’re a bar owner who feels compelled to have live music, then hiring one of the aforementioned accomplishes two things: you get more butts in the seats, and the unwashed get enlightened.
When Scampi’s restaurant on West Magnolia Avenue closed after 15 years, the new owners of the place decided to change the concept. They intended to re-launch it as Jack Tanner’s Patio Grill and imagined a family-inspired menu, two outdoor patios, and a full-service bar. However, the husband and wife team of David Shaw and Ann Diakis-Shaw ran into problems when they applied for their mixed-drink permit, thanks to the Fort Worth Independent School District. The problem: the district’s decision to open an all-girls’ school across the street. Despite the school district’s opposition, the restaurateurs finally did get the permit, but only after an expensive months-long battle. And the district is still appealing that decision –– even though there are numerous other bars and restaurants within a few hundred feet of the school.
The liquor-versus-school concerns would be legitimate in other circumstances. But on this one, the district takes the hit –– and the bird. For opening up a girls’ school right in the middle of one of the city’s fastest-growing restaurant rows and then singling out one restaurant’s mixed-drink permit to fight on the taxpayers’ dime, the district takes home another turkey (though no comparison to the Big Bird described on page 10, of course).
Drivel in a Can
How is football the only major college sport in which opinion, not on-field results, continues to determine both the championship and the distribution of millions of dollars? But almost as bad as the sham of the Bowl Championship Series are the pundits at ESPN who try to influence football pollsters (and thus the BCS). Mark May, for instance, has complained all year long that teams like TCU, Boise State, and Utah have no business in the national championship conversation, in part, he said, because they play a bunch of “tomato cans” during the regular season. Apparently May isn’t bright enough to recognize that those three programs have a combined 4-1 record in BCS bowl game appearances, with the one loss coming at the hands of another member of the group. Did he notice that Baylor got demolished 45-10 by TCU then turned around and beat Texas? A can of turkey soup to ESPN for giving airtime to ignorant, narrow-minded folks.
Flying the Overpriced Skies
At a time when other airlines are advertising their lack of extra fees, American went in the opposite direction by advertising a new one. The locally based airline is offering Express Seats (meaning the coach seats immediately behind the first-class section) for $19 to $39 extra. Why would anyone buy these? In theory, the buyers would have dibs on overhead compartment space and get off the plane earlier after landing. These “privileges” are a pretty poor substitute for first-class amenities, not that those are really worth the extra cash on most flights. What’s really insidious is the way that this contributes to a needlessly complicated pricing structure that makes it impossible for budget-minded flyers to compare prices on competing airlines. For this, we send the honchos at American a supply of warmed-over turkey to serve to their first-class flyers. The ones in the Express Seats will have to live with just sniffing the scent.
Take Your Johnson and Go Home Already
Admittedly, it’s stretching the Texas-only criteria for the Turkey Awards to give one to Jimmy Johnson, but hey, he’s a former Dallas Cowboys head coach, so the referees have called it inbounds. This one falls under the “You Couldn’t Make This Stuff Up” category. Apparently, leading football teams to national titles and being a football commentator on national TV does not give you sound enough judgment to keep you from making a fool of yourself — in three different ways, all on national TV, not counting whatever he says on Fox NFL Sunday. First he got involved in sleazy get-rich-quick investment infomercials on late-night TV. Then he enlisted as a spokesman for ExtenZe. And to top it off, he signed up for Survivor Nicaragua, only to quickly get booted off, thank goodness. Really, who wants to look at his 67-year-old shirtless chest week in and week out, especially while thinking about male enhancement? As one columnist wrote in regard to Johnson: “Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.”
Ethics? Them’s Fighting Words
Fort Worth’s Ethics Review Committee — where to start? The committee was mostly dormant for years but roused itself when local activist Jim Ashford filed a complaint alleging that it was a violation of the city’s ethics ordinance to have gas drilling company employees serving on the city’s air-quality task force. The ethics panel, whose members had been serving de facto for years because the city council couldn’t be bothered to name any replacements, studied the ordinance and the problem and agreed. Oh. My. God. You’d think they had tried to outlaw rodeos in Cowtown. Essentially, what followed was that the mayor fired the ethics committee, then he and the council majority overruled the committee’s findings and set about naming a new committee to rewrite the ordinance. Wouldn’t want any more pesky questions like that to get a public hearing, now would we?
Feathers from the Weekly Nation
(Turkey ideas from our readers, in this case Don Young)
· A birdbrain to Fort Worth City Council member Carter Burdette for saying, in defense of severe cuts to public libraries, “We have no room in the budget for nostalgia.” Last we heard, libraries were about education, enrichment, and building this city’s future by instilling a love of learning in children and adults alike and providing access to a whole world of ideas. On the other hand, if the city council keeps it up, libraries will indeed be a thing of the past in this town.
· Another to former city environmental director Brian Boerner, who took a job with, you guessed it, Chesapeake Energy. Neighborhood leaders and those concerned about the impact of gas drilling on the city were outraged –– had Boerner truly been representing their interests while at the same time negotiating a job with one of the biggest players in the Barnett Shale? Of course, he left after his job was eliminated by those aforementioned budget cuts. Let’s see, why would Fort Worth need an environmental department?