Fort Worth, as many local columnists love to say, is so much better than Dallas. We’ve got bike lanes, great museums, and none of that hip-hop “flavor,” as Mayor Betsy Price put it.
And as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Bob Ray Sanders said in a July 21 column, Tarrant County has had far fewer DNA exonerations of innocent convicts because “Tarrant has made fewer mistakes than the larger county to the east.” Apparently that’s what an assistant district attorney told him.
After the barest amount of work by other reporters, it soon became clear that Tarrant may not be saving all the evidence from its closed cases, meaning there’s sometimes no way to test for DNA and therefore a much slimmer chance of proving that someone convicted of a crime 20 years ago is actually innocent.
Despite this, Sanders begins a follow-up column by repeating his previous statement, but this time with a “seems,” as in: “It seems Tarrant County had fewer exonerations because it made fewer mistakes in convicting innocent people.”
A few weeks after the columns ran, another Tarrant convict was exonerated after 24 years behind bars. That’s still just two exonerations for Tarrant compared to 30 for Dallas –– a wide gap. But those two exonerees probably don’t think that’s anything to brag about.
Turkey in the (Tarry) Straw
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison did a two-step dance last January: She took a (questionable) figure out of context, blew it out of proportion, then stood up on the floor of the U.S. Senate to wave it around in support of a dirty, dirty deal for Texans and many other Americans.
In retrospect, perhaps that’s the kind of dance that Canadian giant energy firm TransCanada had in mind when it hired economic consultants the Perryman Group from Waco to estimate the number of jobs that the company’s Keystone pipeline will produce in this country, as it carries heavy, dirty, corrosive tar sands oil down the middle of the United States to the Texas Gulf Coast (where most of it will probably be exported to, say, China).
The Perryman report estimated that the pipeline project would create about 118,000 “man years” of work over the two years of construction, which included about 10,000 pipeline jobs and 100,000 or so spin-off jobs for the hairdressers, bakers, barbers, and dancers (!?) serving the pipeline workers’, um, needs during those two years. Here’s the real deal: The southern leg of the pipeline is under way, and the company, unofficially, acknowledges that only about 600 people are involved — almost all of whom were already working in the industry. So — few to no new jobs.
Fort Worth Weekly asked Hutchison whether she understood that the jobs she’d trumpeted were questionable. She wrote back upping the claim to 250,000 permanent jobs. When the Weekly relayed TransCanada’s actual numbers, her staff’s e-mail response was that her position remained unchanged.
So for the senator this holiday season, how about a nice helping of turkey grease, to remind her of the choking, poisonous sludge she’s pushing on Texans.
The 800-lb. Bird
Betsy Price on her worst day seems to be a better mayor than Mike Moncrief. We like her push for recycling, her rolling town hall meetings. Even though she personally was OK with lifting the moratorium on gas waste injection wells within the city limits, she listened to the public, changed her mind, and on her watch injection wells were banned from Fort Worth.
All that said, however, there’s a big ol’ turkey gobbling around in her closet: the gas well ordinance. When she was running for mayor, Price said she approved of gas drilling within the city but that the health and safety of residents had to come before gas company profits. Here was her promise at a candidate forum: “As Mayor, my first and foremost priority will be the health and safety of our citizens in Fort Worth. That means we need up-to-date, independent testing when it comes to gas drilling. We need to study our current zoning and ordinances in relation to gas drilling … .”
Well, that has turned out to be just a lot of gassing. The city council did take a peek at the ordinance in the last year, when changes were proposed. But then drilling opponents charged that the proposed changes benefited only the drillers. And the drillers said that if the regulations got any “tougher,” they’d take their rigs and go home. And in April, Price and the council decided to do absolutely nothing about the holes in the ordinance that you could drive a drilling rig through.
What happened to caring about the health and safety of your constituents, Mayor? Bike rides and fitness campaigns won’t do much good when all those deep breaths are full of foul pollutants.
One Board, Two Birds
Two helpings of turkey to the Fort Worth school board, the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. In two instances in the last year, the board had moments of clarity, followed almost immediately by moves to undercut any momentary appearance of honest and equitable dealing.
First, in an extremely confusing bit of political theater, the board in February apparently voted to fire former assistant principal Joe Palazzolo again — despite the fact that the whistleblower has beaten the district at almost every turn in its attempts to get rid of him for actually reporting wrongdoing at Arlington Heights High School. His allegations, including intentional falsification of attendance records, were proved correct in almost all instances.
The state’s education commissioner had earlier ordered the district to reinstate Palazzolo. Commissioner Robert Scott had ruled that the district either had to reinstate him and order a new hearing or pay him a year’s salary. The board tried to do both — reinstate him (but never call a new hearing on his case), then pay him for a year’s work, then fire him again. Palazzolo and his attorney responded by filing another lawsuit against the district in this two-year-old case. And the legal bills for taxpayers continue to mount.
Also in February, the board named trustee Juan Rangel as the city’s first Hispanic school board president, with the support of a multi-ethnic citizens’ coalition. But they took it back in May. Fellow trustee Carlos Vasquez called the 5-4 vote to oust Rangel a “coup.” Rangel and his supporters saw the action as yet another indication of an Anglo power structure in this town that fears it’s losing its grip.
Another Year of Smoked Turkey
So the air pollution that blows over Fort Worth from the cement plants at Midlothian gives children asthma and kills people every year (by the Environmental Protection Administration’s own reports). Who cares? Earlier this year, the EPA proposed a delay until 2015 in implementing tougher new standards on the cement industry nationwide — and also proposed to weaken those new rules, which local environmental groups have fought for over the last two decades. This one really sticks in our craw, so to speak.
Look, Ma — No Visible Ethics
If you are an ethically challenged member of the city council or a city board or commission in Fort Worth, don’t worry about it — the city has you covered. First, the EthicsLite revisions to the ethics code that Fort Worth city staffers have developed say that advisory boards no longer have to follow open-government rules: They don’t have to post notices of meetings, allow the public to take part, or even keep minutes. So how will anyone even know what sleazy stuff you’re doing? Brilliant! Then, if some pesky citizen does discover where you are meeting and sneaks into the room and takes notes, you still have a stay-out-of-jail free card: If the city attorney says what you are doing is OK, then you are OK. And who hires and fires the city attorney and sets the salary for the office? The city council! This is not open government. This is a blueprint for disaster.
One Flew Over the Council Chambers
In September, the Fort Worth City Council voted to slash funding for the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, a nearly 50-year-old nonprofit that distributes money to more than 40 local cultural organizations, including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Opera, and Texas Ballet Theater. The 25 percent cut was the latest in a series of reductions over the last five years that have shrunk the arts council’s budget by nearly 50 percent.
With the exception of Joel Burns, the only council member to vote against the $1.4 billion budget, the council gets a Turkey for thinking short-term. There’s no doubt that the arts are big in the Fort — big in popularity and in their financial impact. Not only are our major cultural institutions doing well, but the underground arts scene is as vibrant as it’s ever been. Relatively new galleries (Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, Brand 10 Art Space) and kick-ass indie-rock bands (Burning Hotels, Quaker City Night Hawks, Fungi Girls) have brought a lot of attention to our dusty little hamlet and are a sign that our city is growing up. A recent national study shows that the arts generated about $84 million in this town in 2010 — and the actual figure may be several times that, since some heavy hitters, including two major museums and Bass Hall, did not participate.
Yes, infrastructure repairs are important. But at such a critical moment in Fort Worth’s history –– are we going to be a world-class city or a wasteland of gas wells? –– a council vote to support the arts would have been the right move. More than that, it would have made a statement: that, yes, all of you young professionals the world over, you can come to Fort Worth and live and work here and not want to flee every weekend for home or — gulp — Dallas.
Sex, Turkeys, and Videotape
We’d need a poultry farm to award all the gobblers that folks involved in the Brittni Colleps scandal deserve. Colleps was the Kennedale High School teacher at the center of a lurid, nationally prominent criminal trial for having sex with several of her male students. She was convicted under a state law that forbids sexual relationships between educators and students –– including adult students. All of Colleps’ partners were 18 or over at the time of the encounters and, by their own testimony, quite willing to participate.
One turkey goes to the jury that handed the teacher a whopping five-year prison sentence –– a ridiculously steep penalty for consensual adult sex. Perhaps they were swayed by the prosecutor’s in-court screening of sex tapes of Colleps and her students and his speculations about the “staggering and completely disgusting amounts of semen” (a quote from one of the D.A.s) spilled during the trysts. Another turkey to them for their, um, strange enthusiasm in prosecuting the case.
Finally, we have to hand a fowl to Colleps herself. Whatever she enjoys in her private life is her affair, but this young woman has no business in a classroom. She didn’t exactly help her case by declaring during a 20/20 prison interview that she was the victim because the sex was taped without her knowledge. Privacy just ain’t what it used to be, especially when 18-year-old high school students with cell phones are involved.
What Was the News Media Smoking?
When Playboy released its annual list of top-10 party schools, plenty of Horned Frogs fans were amused and dismayed to find Texas Christian University on it. Our reaction was: Couldn’t we do better than No. 9?
Based on the horrified local media coverage that followed the drug arrests of TCU football players earlier this year, you’d think the university was North Texas’ answer to Haight-Ashbury in its Wavy Gravy prime. TV news broadcasts offered perp-walk footage of handcuffed Horned Frogs, the majority of whom were guilty of dealing relatively minor amounts of marijuana and ADD prescription medication. Last time we checked, both were fairly popular on college campuses that didn’t make the Playboy party list. We understand that TCU officials want to discourage illegal activity among students, but as far as the shocked local press coverage goes, a little perspective is in order: College kids like to get high, football players are frequently not role models, and the sky, on most days, is blue.