Feature: Wednesday, November 16, 2005
The 2005 Turkey Awards

We wish we could clear the air, but ...

Hi, neighbor. So nice to see you again ... that is you, isn’t it? Hard to see through the smog that seems to be turning Cowtown into Browntown more and more often these days. Gosh, we just can’t thank U. S. Rep. Joe Barton enough for his, um, contributions to our skies.

But, really, even we can’t blame all the smog of the past year on Smokey Joe and his friendly cement plants. Frankly, we believe a scientific analysis would show that a lot of that smelly air is made up of concentrated bullshit — or, in this case perhaps, turkey droppings. Our BS-o-meter overload alarm has gone off so often in the last 12 months that we’d begun to think it was just a new ringtone on someone’s cell phone. Naïve and sheltered as we are at Fort Worth Weekly, we are constantly amazed at the horse manure that gets served up around here disguised as public policy, good business, wise use of tax dollars or — in one memorable bit of mind-boggling evasion — prison health- care that matches “community standards.”

As might be expected in such an atmosphere, we had no shortage of candidates for this latest edition of the Turkey Awards — most, of course, though not all of them from the government sector. You couldn’t swing a FEMA press release over the past year without swatting two or three of those overstuffed, empty-headed birds out of the trees. In fact, it’s beginning to feel like a Thanksgiving version of an Alfred Hitchcock classic around here.

The only thing scarier than the tainted tidbits that have piled up on our platters this year is the continued, unfathomable willingness with which they’re swallowed whole by a vast majority of the population. We should probably award an honorary turkey baster to the public, apparently nodding off in L-tryptophan nap-land while various portions of the Constitution and the social contract have been ripped up, repaved, and painted over (usually by fat-cat no-bid contractors with great connections to the Dickie and Dubya team).

Maybe our awards this year will act, if ever so gently, as a wake-up gobble — I mean, call. It’s our own version of a scary ringtone. Citizens, you have messages waiting. — Gayle Reaves

For Serving (Up) the Poor ...

Our special David Williams Memorial Bird, named after Tarrant County’s flaky former sheriff, was in danger of being renamed for Becky Haskin, one of the more abrasive, elitist, and narrow-minded Fort Worth politicians to ramble down the pike in recent memory. Haskin has long been propelled by her district’s middle-class constituents, but her way of bulldozing people has had a certain flattening effect on her popularity — she lost 42 percent of the vote to little-known challenger Louis McBee in the May election.

Supporters admire her hardball tactics at enforcing codes, keeping neighborhoods spotless, and rejecting empathy for anyone who is non-Anglo, non-rich, doesn’t mow their grass just right, or has the audacity to allow a broken automobile to sit too long beside a curb. On the other hand, she’s quick to raid taxpayers’ hope chests when it suits her — hey, it’s just little people’s money, and who cares about them? Haskin encouraged the city housing department to buy 22 acres of land near White Lake for $285,000 and build an upscale retirement village, dubbed by critics as “public housing for the rich.” Neighborhood residents voted against the project at a public hearing attended by Haskin, who agreed to curtail the venture but then quietly encouraged the housing department to buy the land anyway and hold it until public opinion changed. Haskin lives in infamous millionaire T. Cullen Davis’ former house in Woodhaven, an East Fort Worth neighborhood where a country-club subdivision is surrounded by densely built apartments formerly occupied by single, white residents. Once minorities began moving there in the 1990s, she characterized the apartments as gang-ridden and crime-infested slums and vowed to thin them out using federal nuisance abatement laws. She also convinced the council to spend $236,000 to come up with a master race, er, master plan to tear down the complexes and make way for a lushly manicured gateway and more single-family homes.

Perhaps the best proof yet that only bird-sized giblets beat where Haskin’s heart should be was revealed after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans this summer and sent thousands fleeing to Texas. Several Woodhaven apartment managers offered evacuees free, furnished rooms with access to public transportation. Haskin, however, so convincingly characterized the apartments as rundown and dangerous — a huge exaggeration — that the city discouraged evacuees from moving there. Politics, power, and persuasion were more important to Haskin than providing assistance to people in their darkest hour. And now she wants to run for justice of the peace while retaining her council seat — must she have all the toys? Suddenly, David Williams doesn’t seem so bad.

If Inmates Were

Birds, PETA’d

Be Picketing

The Abu Ghraib Little Chamber of Horrors award goes to Ginny Van Buren, overseer of the Carswell federal prison hospital for women, for by-damn sticking to her story that the hospital’s medical care is “comparable to community standards.” What community? Stalin’s gulags? Mengele’s Germany? Van Buren, of course, passed along that bit of canned BS via her assistant, because the good warden’s too busy avoiding responsibility for sexual abuse and rampant, life-threatening medical neglect (and — oh, yeah — that little allegation of murder) going on under her nose to explain to the press just why so many women are dying at Carswell thanks to treatment that meets her “standards.”

Ground These Birds Permanently

A 747-sized turkey goes to the Federal Aviation Administration in Dallas, where for years air traffic controllers, according to federal investigators, routinely covered up operational errors that led to near-misses in the skies over North Texas and even “played chicken” with one another, using as their macho toys actual human being-filled airplanes, until controller Anne Whiteman, at considerable professional and personal risk, blew the whistle loudly and repeatedly on the practice. Even then, she told The Dallas Morning News, “nobody within the FAA cares.”

His Mouth Was Open — Was He Standing in

the Rain?

The recent escape and recapture of a Texas death row inmate raises the difficult question of just who is the biggest feather-brain in this comedic screw up — the inmate who bullshitted his way to freedom only to drink himself back into custody or the inept Harris County jail guards who turned him loose in the first place? Charles Victor Thompson, 35, somehow managed to shed his handcuffs and inmate jumpsuit, dress himself in smuggled street clothes, and use bogus identification to persuade guards that he really wasn’t a convicted double murderer. Sneakily skilled though Thompson may have been while sober and behind bars, three days of freedom and a good bender apparently sapped his coop-flying cunning. Police found him blabbering into a pay phone outside a Shreveport, La., liquor store. As the biblical dog returned to its vomit, this doofus returned to his folly. No word yet on just how lethal this particular hangover might turn out to be.

Boring and Bigoted — Yeah!

Instead of just coming out and saying, “OK, we don’t like poor people, and we don’t want them living in our towns,” several Metroplex cities have adopted “design guidelines” that determine what new single-family houses must look like and what they must be made of. Flat roofs? Hell, naw. Those bad boys must be sloped, village hut-style. Wood façades? No way, José. Gotta be brick. The design czars might as well require that every mailbox be bullet-proof and gold-plated.

By pretending to be concerned with a concept as high-minded as “design,” city planners from here to Dallas neatly avoid looking like low-life, snobby racists. To make matters worse, their guidelines are proving to have some unintended side effects that may end up screwing everyone. For one, while some of the houses may look fancy, they may actually be held together by nothing more than Elmer’s glue and cardboard. (Developers will always find ways to cut corners.) For another, the guidelines also unintentionally proscribe adventurously designed houses that not only look as if they’ve been created by honest-to-goodness professional architects but are also environmentally friendly.

The planners’ ostensible goal is to prevent cheap, quaint dwellings from eventually contributing to blight. But what about cheap, grandiose dwellings? They can make comfortable crack houses, too.

Call It a Turkey-

Soup Fog

How ’bout dem regulators! A big fat goose (as in “ours is cooked”) to the guys and gals of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency who wink and look the other way as the big-spending industrial polluters from hell (whose money goes to politicos, not for cleaner smokestacks) continue to make the air over North Texas so dirty that it gave Fort Worth a new record to tout: the most bad ozone days during the summer of ’05 of any year since records started being kept. This smarmy crew has given Newspeak meaning to the words “quality” and “protection.” Give these oaf-icials the bird, ’cause they sure gave it to us.

Don’t Insult Donkeys

That Way

The Texas Rangers baseball club has figured out how to go from mediocre to really bad. In 2004, they finished above .500 and were at least close to the top. So owner Tom Hicks cut payroll down to small-market level this year, got his young players mad, and made a team that seemed to have a future into one that finished 16 games behind first place. (And let’s not even mention pitcher Kenny Rogers’ attack on cameramen.)

Still, 2.5 million fans showed up this season to watch a team that has finished a combined 138 games behind the leaders over the last six seasons, a team that in its 35-year history has won only one playoff game. And what are the Rangers going to do for these fans who support a losing operation? Raise ticket prices about 10 percent across the board!

That’s right: Lower your payroll, raise ticket prices, finish way back in the standings — a triple play for fans. In announcing that tickets are going up at Ameriquest Field in Arlington, club president Jeff Cogen admitted the timing wasn’t the best. “It’s not easy to raise ticket prices,” Cogen said, “so I’m not going to try and turn that donkey into a horse.” Well, Jeff, maybe it is easy to gouge your loyal fans — the Arlington front office clowns have been doing it for years. And, Jeff, this isn’t about donkeys and horses. It’s about a big turkey for baseball executives who think about profits more than winning.

Not a Roasting Hen — a Roosting Chicken

The mega-corporation that owns the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and several dozen other media titles across the country is probably going to get bought soon. Knight Ridder has not been performing well financially, to its stockholders’ deep chagrin. If the company does go on the block, the ax will undoubtedly start swinging.

Based on the Star-T’s coverage of the local arts and entertainment scene, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the features department awash in pink slips. A vast majority of the paper’s “critics” write primarily about national stuff — tv shows, movies, and bands that all look and sound the same here as they do in Los Angeles as in Chicago. Why then would one of Knight Ridder’s new owners pay for “critics” in Fort Worth to write about CBS’ next drama series or the next Hillary Duff vehicle or Coldplay’s latest disc? Answer: He wouldn’t. He’ll just pay one person in New York City (or Timbuktu) to write about everything.

For years, Star-T’s “critics” have ignored or, worse, condescended to the local bands, films, books, ’zines, web sites, performances, stories, personalities, and other cultural artifacts that make North Texas uniquely great. Maybe the chickens are — finally — coming home to roost.

The Real Tuna, Texas, Is One Ugly Pecker

The boys-will-be-girls comedy Greater Tuna has been a theatrical fave around these parts for years. The show is so familiar that people tend to forget it offers some fairly barbed commentary on mean-spirited conservatism in small Texas towns. (Our favorite part is about concerned Tuna-tonians removing Alex Haley’s Roots from the library because it doesn’t present both sides of the slavery issue.)

Now, the tale of one rainbow sticker on a theater window has revealed that the town of Granbury may be the real Tuna, Texas, though the results aren’t so much knee-slapping as bizarre and embarrassing. Texas Star Theater artistic director Tom Morrissey was sent packing back to New York City in September after some Baptist and Methodist church members complained about the appearance of the “diversity” rainbow symbol, which has been popular for years in the gay and lesbian community, on the Granbury Opera House window. Hood County News gave Stickergate prominent coverage, right up there with Hurricane Katrina news. At around the same time, callers and letter-writers bitched about the “pornographic and obscene” content of TST’s productions, especially — and we’re not kidding — Grease and Gypsy. Citing financial issues that have since been disputed, the board of directors temporarily closed the theater and reopened (sans Morrissey and the sticker) with a revue called — the irony is choking us — Warm Country Heart.

Do Texans have a right to complain about being caricatured by East Coast elites when this kind of rank ignorance takes hold? Granbury’s family values crusaders didn’t even get their targets right: Grease is, like, the most hetero Broadway musical ever.

What’d He Do for

Veterans Day?

Retired real estate executive, Viet Nam vet, and McClennan County politico Larry Chad Northern may go down as the 2005 turkey who didn’t get plucked in time for Thanksgiving. Three months after his arrest for mowing down crosses at the Camp Casey roadside memorial near Crawford, Northern has avoided formal charges.

In August, as Cindy Sheehan’s Iraq war protest continued a few miles from Dubya’s self-styled Western White House, eyewitnesses reported that a pickup truck dragging chains and a pipe plowed through 500 of the 800 small wooden crosses bearing the names of soldiers killed in the Iraq war.

Northern was arrested as soon as he finished changing a tire on his vehicle. McClennan County Sheriff’s deputies reported that small white crosses were embedded in the truck’s undercarriage.

Based on the crosses’ estimated value, 59-year-old Northern was booked on an allegation of state felony mischief for allegedly doing damage worth more than $1,500. He was released on bond, and he’s never been indicted by a grand jury. But a couple of McClennan County’s top politicians know him well. Sheriff Larry Lynch confirmed for the Waco Tribune-Herald that he shares a Sunday school class with Northern at a local Baptist Church.

“At this point,” said Northern’s attorney, Russell Hunt, “what we’re doing is just trying to let the emotions die down, and then we’ll proceed with what’s right.”

Anybody holding their breath on that one?

If Bumblebees Can Fly, Why Not This Bird?

WKRP’s Les Nessman made it clear when he covered the Great Thanksgiving Turkey Drop of 1978: Turkeys can’t fly. Neither, apparently, can North Texas’ bid to build a regional transit system.

Various plans over the years have come to naught. Nonetheless, the need for North Texans to trade their pickups for a public alternative is all too real. In its 2005 community assessment, United Way of Tarrant County cited transportation as the county’s top problem and concluded that less than a third of county residents living outside Fort Worth have access to public transit. And the area’s ozone levels are something to sneeze at — repeatedly.

Lawmakers have given local leaders until next September to come up with a plan. Pressed by an unusual partnership of the Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News, North Texas politicos met in August 2004 and called for hiking the sales tax by a half-cent to build a $3.5 billion commuter rail system. But there’s still turbulence. One major stumbling block is Arlington, whose voters, so eager to help Jerry Jones build a new stadium, have repeatedly rejected spending public money on public transit.

North Texas lawmakers will meet with county judges, mayors, and the county commissioner in early December to hammer out a plan that must clear the legislature in 2007 and then be approved by voters in local elections. Pray for wings.

Speaking with Forked Beak

The City of Fort Worth describes what’s going on in Woodhaven as redevelopment, nuisance abatement, gentrification, and neighborhood empowerment. We call it bullying, sneaky, snobbish, and rude. The country club neighborhood in East Fort Worth was overbuilt with apartments in the 1970s and ’80s when only yuppie singles were likely to live there (back before fair housing laws were tightened). Once minority families began moving into the apartments in the 1990s, nearby homeowners were aghast. The city has exaggerated problems in the neighborhood, played fast and loose with crime statistics, and painted a picture of ghetto-like, gang-ridden blight that just doesn’t exist, all in an effort to tear down apartments and move out some lower-income folks who, frankly, had been glad to find Woodhaven as a big step up from their old neighborhoods — and who say part of the crime problem is slowww police response.

Do Turkeys Float?

When the Trinity River Vision plan was slowly being unveiled over the past few years, it seemed like a decent idea. Take 800 under-used acres on the north side of downtown and turn it into a playground with a lake, canals, 10,000 new housing units, and tons of new commercial and retail real estate. But there was a flaw in the plan (well, OK, several) that nature exposed: Half of the $435 million price tag was to come from federal funds, including $110 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a “floodway project.” It didn’t matter then that the Corps said it could do the flood control part of the project for about $10 million.

Now, it matters. When Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and broke that city’s levees, federal flood control spending was, um, diverted — as it should have been. Fort Worth’s plan to spend $110 million on what’s really not much more than a high-end real estate deal is under water right now.

What Fort Worth political leadership — Mayor Mike Moncrief, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, and the Tarrant County Regional Water District — need to do is re-examine the whole Trinity River Vision project. For now, a water-logged turkey to all those who keep pushing this pricey Venice in Cowtown — for not being able to tell the difference between “flood control” and making a lot of money for their big-time real estate developer friends.

Hate Makes Waste

Oh, this is gonna be fun. Let’s leave aside the fact that Texas voters approved Proposition 2 last week because they hate gay people. (Did I say that? Sorry, I meant “want to protect traditional values.”) What really earns them the bird this year is approving a measure that was so poorly worded that it actually undermined the very institution it was trying to save — the phrase outlawing recognition of any state “identical to marriage” can be interpreted to include marriage itself. As a result, the amendment has effectively given an annulment to every married couple in the state! The possibilities for chaos are endless! We see rich businessmen cutting their trophy wives loose without a penny, the wedding industry raking in cash by hitting up couples getting re-hitched, and the IRS busting thousands of Texans for checking the “married” box on their income tax forms. Congratulations to the 76 percent of you who wanted so badly to deny basic rights to homosexuals. You’ve now turned everybody’s kids into bastard children. Hear that sound, Texas? That’s the sound of the entire country laughing at you. And you deserve it, along with some turkey to serve to your suddenly nonexistent families this holiday.

Cliburn’d Bird

What a difference 45 minutes makes. As usual, the world’s biggest piano competition showed Fort Worth crowds this past summer some wondrous music-making in the early going. However, Cliburn brass bit off more than the musicians could chew when it decided to make the performers play an extra 45-minute recital in the final round. The move was made with only the best of intentions — to give audiences even more music. But adding the recital to an already grueling schedule wound up wrecking the young pianists who made it that far. The performances in the last days were mistake-filled and uncreative, as the mentally and physically fatigued contestants battled just to survive instead of dazzling the listeners. The gold medal went not to the most promising musician but the one who was least affected by the wear and tear. For turning this prestigious competition into a war of attrition, the Van Cliburn organizers get some bedraggled and burned-out turkey to munch on.

How About “No Grackle Left Behind”?

On Nov. 1, Fort Worth officially launched its latest assault against the pesky grackle, the annoying birds that suffocate greenery and citizens alike with pounds of poop. A staff memo to the city council said the Bird Relocation Program was successful around city hall and several other locations beginning in 1995. But the wily grackles swapped trees, and now the city has divvied downtown into two separate war zones for testing municipal- and merchant-group theories of grackle removal.

Last month, the council passed an exemption to its firearms ordinance to allow citizens with permits to fire blank cartridges at the birds during specified hours. Acting on a new state law passed for hunters, it also dropped prohibitions against the discharge of shotguns, pistols, air rifles, BB guns, bows and arrows — and rifles in some cases — on some large tracts of land annexed to Fort Worth since 1981.

Downtown Fort Worth Inc., meanwhile, has labeled Phase One of the assault, “Shock and Awe” — perhaps having missed the news accounts of how ultimately ineffective another operation of that name turned out to be. They’ll use propane cannons, lasers, spotlights, grape-extract fog, and, if they get a federal permit, a six-pack of peregrine falcons.

Peel Him a Grape

As the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina surged into New Orleans and a sea of desperate evacuees surged out, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown, whose bungling of the rescue effort justly cost him his job, dutifully answered his e-mail, later released to the public and reported throughout the land. When a grunt in the field reported that thousands of people were without food and water and that dying patients were being Medevac’d out, Brown thanked him for the “update” and inquired, “Anything specific I need to do or tweak?” To another, he fretted over a “dress code” and wondered whether he should wear a tie and a button-down blue shirt. “Are you proud of me?” he asked in yet another e-mail. “Can I quit now? Can I go home?” He complained about his “lovely FEMA attire” and wrote that he was “a fashion god.” He advised a colleague to order the No. 2 at Sonic, with “tater tots” and a “large diet limeade.”

Not since the nearly 2,000-year-old account of Nero fiddling while Rome burned has there been such a display of official indifference to human suffering. Let’s hope this “fashion god” finds the kind of mirror that will turn him, in his wattled and buttoned-down glory, to stone.

One Ego, Overstuffed

Rookie restaurateur Zolon Wilkins III’s eyes were way bigger than his stomach. Making quite an ambitious debut in Sundance Square with the openings of his Zolon and Zoë restaurants in 2003 and acquiring Angeluna in 2004, the Dallas native had all the necessary ammo for success: He’d received culinary training at Johnson and Wales’ prominent Rhode Island campus; his millionaire father/investor’s pocketbook was no further than a phone call away; and Angeluna, already a Bass Hall crowd favorite, could do no wrong.

Yet the silver-spoon sucker still managed to wash his “Planet Zolon” down the disposal in less than two years. Between staff compensation issues and overall lack of direction, Wilkins earned himself one of our juiciest turkeys as a centerpiece for his Thanksgiving meal — no, not the demi-Z, the full portion.

Copping a Reel

Movie critics groaned, but we loved when Jennifer Lopez uttered the infamous line in Gigli: “Turkey time — gobble, gobble.” The thought of Lopez getting oral sex from Ben Affleck is one thing; it’s quite another to envision a Fort Worth police captain getting his feathers fluffed with a married woman ... in a city car ... in a city park ... on city time. Taxpayers don’t mind providing cops with benefits, but we never promised that, for chrissakes. Unfortunately for Fort Worth Police Capt. Duane Paul, a Cheaters tv show private investigator was tailing the woman and took video footage that left little doubt that body searches were in progress. Police Chief Ralph Mendoza suspended Paul for 90 days and demoted him to lieutenant. To his credit, Paul apologized and took responsibility, but then he characterized the demotion as “extremely harsh.” Now, remind us again, when the Cops theme song plays, “Bad boys, bad boys ...” who are they talking about?

Quotes from Guajolotes

In June, as Gov. Rick Perry was being interviewed by a local Houston tv crew, he closed the conversation by telling them, “Adios, Mofo.” Good-hair Rick thought he was off the air, but the tape was rolling.

Inspired by the example of our well-plumed guber, the Weekly’s chefs present an appetizer course of quotations from the past year, a sort of Uh-Oh Turkey Nacho Platter:

“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this” [chuckle] “this is working very well for them.” — Former First Lady Barbara Bush, on the hurricane evacuees at the Astrodome in Houston

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay toured Houston’s Reliant Park hurricane shelter and stopped to chat with three young boys resting on cots. The congressman then likened the boys’ stay to being at camp and asked, “Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?”

In an interview on WFAA-TV Channel 8 with sports anchor Dale Hansen, Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks responded to a question about his spending habits with, “Well, we spent a lot on the Stars, and, unfortunately, we won the Stanley Cup. ... The owner needs to stop writing checks.”

“I think [Katrina] demonstrated what happens, or what may happen, when you don’t get the funding to protect an area like it needs to be protected. That storm was improbable, but it did happen. It’s similar to our situation here, where the storm that could overtop our levees is improbable, but historically they have happened.” — Jim Oliver, general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District, on why the Trinity River Vision project is needed to prevent a New Orleans-type hurricane flood in Fort Worth

Finally, one last mention for Gov. “Mofo” Perry. Appearing at a Fort Worth church to sign the legislation to put the anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot, Perry was asked if gay veterans deserved the same rights as heterosexual veterans. “Texans made a decision about marriage, and if there’s a state that has more lenient views than Texas,” he said, “then maybe that’s a better place for them to live.”

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