The 2006 Turkey Awards
Cowtown coins a new military term: Situation Normal — All Flocked Up.
By FORT WORTH WEEKLY STAFF
They thought it couldn’t happen to them.
Nah, we’re not talking about the Repubs, although it applies to them, too. In this case, it’s the wattled-and-winged folks at 1000 Throckmorton St. in Fort Worth who seem to have developed a rather tragic (for us all) belief in their own invincibility and untouchability. On tv, this plays out in a show called Heroes. Among public workers, this is called arrogance. In elected officials, it is treading on shaky ground. In both cases, there is a Door that some of these non-heroes could shortly be Shown, and we’re not talking Let’s Make a Deal, either.
What are we talking about? Well, check out this year’s Turkey Awards in the pages that follow. Do you see a trend? The folks in municipal government here, despite strong competition from Gov. Rick Perry, TXU, gas drillers, and Joe Barton, are way ahead in the sweepstakes competition for foolishness, bad judgment, greed, and the handing out of tax dollars willy-nilly to rich corporations. You gotta work hard to knock George W. and his band of robber barons out of the competition in those categories.
So that’s the top question for this year’s Turkey judges: What the heck is going on at city hall? Missing millions, out-of-control pension shortfalls, decisions on gas drilling that may be putting thousands of citizens in danger and are certainly creating havoc for thousands more — city hall seems like one big turkey-bowling alley these days.
But wait. The Turkey Awards are supposed to be light-hearted, and that seems more possible this week than it has in years, what with the recent elections and all. So what the heck — forget all those people dying in Fort Worth after police taserings. Forget about that gas pipeline they want to lay through what used to be your vegetable garden. Have some cranberry sauce, another slice of pie. Think about the fact that Donald Rumsfeld and Tom DeLay are history.
And hey, let’s start a new Thanksgiving tradition here, like a fall version of an Easter egg hunt. Everybody go out to the street and start looking for all those millions of city dollars the professionals on Throckmorton Street have misplaced.
If you find any, put it in a shoebox and bury it in the backyard. It will be safer that way — unless a pipeline comes through. — Gayle Reaves
David Williams Memorial Bird — to Cowtown’s Top Turkey
Our special award, named after Tarrant County’s flaky former sheriff, goes to a guy who was once labeled by this flaky newspaper as a “rich kid with a conscience.” Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief is an older rich kid these days, but the conscience apparently has been thrown to the weasels. It’s not that Moncrief has gone and done one or two 800-pound dumb and heinous political acts, it’s just that the medium-size things are adding up.
To wit: Longtime councilman Chuck Silcox served as largely ceremonial mayor pro tem, but Mayor Mike didn’t like that Silcox routinely voted against tax breaks for rich corporations, so Silcox got thrown under the bus. Moncrief saw nothing wrong in voting for a city investment in the Sierra Vista housing development, even though his son, Troy, was president of the title company getting profits from the deal. When Fort Worth Brahmas hockey fans came to council to ask why the city was kicking the team out of the convention center, Moncrief lectured them about how, if they had shown up for more games, the team might still be here (all this before anyone had even spoken). City council members are getting tired of almost every issue being discussed in private “executive session” meetings, with straw votes to let dissenting council members know that if they continue a fight in the open, they’ll face reprisals — and less experienced folks keep having to remind him that he can’t legally do some of those things in closed session.
And you’d better not cross him. The Fort Worth Police Officers Association wanted their labor negotiations handled under the “meet-and-confer” rules, and Moncrief had supported them. So the FWPOA put his picture and words on a flier before this month’s election, where that issue was on the ballot, but Mike got mad because they hadn’t asked his permission. The FWPOA pissed Moncrief off even more when the officers supported a senior tax freeze, also on the ballot. So four days before the election, Mikey changed his mind and issued a statement saying he opposed meet-and-confer.
It is this haughty “I’m taking the ball home if you don’t play the way I like it” attitude that is wearing thin. He certainly doesn’t play with us anymore. Never returns calls or does interviews with this paper because we have had the audacity to question some of his calls. We figured if we phoned to ask what size bird he wants, he wouldn’t return that call either, so he gets the big one, reserved for David Williams-size turkeys.
Maybe He Meant a Coal-Fired Hell in Texas
The Weekly’s Turkey Awards have occasionally served as oracles—it’s a little-known fact that we predicted the recent Fort Worth bus strike as well as the great downtown tornado of 2000. So in that soothsaying spirit, we predict that Gov. Perry’s declaration that all non-Christians are condemned to hell will come back to bite him in the ass a whole six years from now, when the 2012 presidential campaign is in full swing. In the first place, the majority of Christian denominations don’t teach this anymore — even the grumpy ol’ Catholic Church recognized the legitimacy of other faiths with Vatican II in the ’60s. Only conservative evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Southern Baptists insist on such litmus tests for the hereafter. And it was to this crowd that Perry aimed his rancid pre-election pandering. The good-haired guv is shortsighted in the extreme: The bloom has already fallen off the rose of “values voters” with recent Republican sex scandals, and independent and moderate voters have re-asserted themselves. And that kind of “hellfire and damnation” drivel really turns them off.
Of course, there’s an embarrassment of riches for which we could award the good-haired guv a cardboard bird: His ability to make believe that he got a $2,000 property tax break for all of us poor working slobs, his happy-face take on his near shutdown of the state’s educational system, his inability to get anything done during several special sessions that cost millions, and on and on. But Perry’s very public backing of TXU Energy’s insane pitch that 17 more coal-fired electric plants — all to be built upwind of Cowtown — will actually clean up the air we breathe, would get him this bird, even if he had shown the best state house leadership since Ann Richards. Makes one wonder what pile of coal dust the old 39-percenter’s head has been buried in.
Served on Thin Ice
Fort Worth hockey fans got pucked this year when the city set up a deal for the minor-league Brahmas that pretty much forced the team to suspend operations. The city council, on staff recommendation, made the team split prime dates at the convention center with the new minor-league basketball team, the Fort Worth Flyers (even though the Flyers were drawing about a third of the audience the Brahmas did). And then the city played money games with the Brahmas, moving the numbers on the rental agreement so the balance was always sliding to the city’s side. What it came down to was a difference of just $22,000, but money wasn’t the only problem. It seems that Fort Worth Public Events Director Kirk Slaughter thought making ice was a pain in the ass, and the easiest way to stop making ice was to put the Brahmas out with a slapshot. Who cares about the die-hard hockey fans and all the money they dumped downtown after games? So toss a rubber chicken on the ice for Slaughter, but save a wing for the city council, for not even questioning the staff about this smelly deal.
Support on the Homefront
On the other hand, where are all the Fort Worth sports fans? Cowtonians love to diss Dallas, but not when it comes to sports. They gladly travel east to watch the pros argue about money and sleep on the football in the end zone. OK, but why does that mean they have to ignore the good teams at home? TCU football has had great seasons under coach Gary Patterson during his six-year run, but 20,000 seats are empty at just about every game. The Fort Worth Cats have won two straight championships, but only a couple thousand die-hards show up for baseball at beautiful LaGrave Field. The Fort Worth Flyers minor league basketball team won their championship in the inaugural season this year but couldn’t break the (very low) thousand-fan-per-game barrier. We know Fort Worth loves sports, we know this city loves having an anti-Dallas identity, yet we always run east to get our sports fix. So to the so-called local sports fans, a wingless emu burger from the concession stand to keep ’em home more often.
Purple People Creepers
Backtrack to February, when Texas Christian University forced 21-year-old junior Adam Main out of his on-campus housing, on the grounds that his disabilities had suddenly become a safety issue after five semesters. Kicking him off campus effectively prevented the wheelchair-bound math major from getting to class and prompted him to drop out. The school’s despicable actions were aided immeasurably by Main’s roommates, who offered him assistance at every turn, yet secretly ratted him out, keeping a log of incidents so the university could make the case that Main’s presence was an inconvenience to the other students. The roomies declined to be interviewed when the Weekly reported this story, but they sound like total sweethearts. College is evidently preparing them for careers with the White House’s illegal wiretapping program. Help yourselves to some turkey, guys. Just stay away from our wallets and federal employment.
Where’s That T.O. Pudding Recipe?
Some things, like bananas, are expected to go bad. It’s no surprise that a fresh, yellow, delicious piece of fruit will transform into a black, bruised, mushy mess by week’s end. If you’re lucky, you have a good pudding recipe. Otherwise you just throw out the rotted mess. Humans are supposed to be different. You expect them to stay fresh and moist for a long, long time, so to speak. But in America this year, celebrities who seemed so sweet and delectable on Monday regularly turned into mush by Friday. (Yes, this damn banana analogy will stop as of now.) Who woulda thunk that cute-as-a-button Southern gal Britney Spears would so quickly become a chain-smokin’, baby-totin’, second coming of Roseanne Barr? Tom Cruise once seemed like a cool, independent badass, but overnight he became the annoying guy on the high school bus who won’t ever shut up. Mel Gibson, for chrissakes. How does a guy go from being every woman’s dreamboat for three decades to a drunken, lecherous, chauvinist, racist buffoon in the blink of an eye?
On the local level, Becky Haskin burst onto the local political scene in the 1990s and captivated many grassroots voters with her fresh-faced, common-folk approach. By the time she resigned from the Fort Worth City Council earlier this year to run for justice of the peace, many of her supporters said she’d let the power go to her head. She lost the election and hasn’t been heard from since. (Request permission for one more banana comparison:) And in a strange slippery-peel move, Jerry Jones spent $25 million on a spoiled banana and expects it to get delectable and ripe again.
This bird gets an in-house delivery: The Weekly has a new device for promoting itself: a vehicle done up in the paper’s trademark red and yellow colors and “You Should Be Getting It Weekly” slogan. So far, so good. But the paint job is on a jacked-up, big-tired Ford Bronco that we bet gets, what, 15 miles to the gallon? Big environmental points off, folks. On the other hand, members of the editorial staff have been known (repeatedly) to get in their cars and drive to the local coffee shop instead of walking the block and a half. Bad, bad gas gobblers.
A French Hen for Wet-Kissing the Gas Drillers
Go outside the city limits and you’ll find tons of people who built dream houses on little patches of land, expecting to waltz into their golden years with some peace, quiet, and blessed elbow room. Then, lumbering trucks, loud drilling, dust clouds, bright lights, and potholes the size of Volkswagens overtook them, and they realized that living in the country doesn’t provide much protection from the natural gas drillers who have swarmed on the Metroplex like African killer bees in hardhats. OK, so you still figure living inside a city with ordinances, zoning restrictions, and municipal oversight provides protection from the onslaught. And, in some cities, it does. Leaders of many towns across the state have fought to make drillers respect residents and their peace of mind. Drillers have rights, too, but they need to be kept on a leash or they run wild and crap all over everybody’s front lawns.
In Fort Worth, elected officials are placing greed and the rights of drillers over the quality of life that makes the city great. Mayor Mike Moncrief comes from a family rich with energy profits, and so naturally he’s gung-ho. But it seems that almost every city official is blinded by the big bucks that gas companies are offering in exchange for drilling under parks and other city-owned properties. The energy business is dirty, in every sense of the word. Inviting them into your living room means you’re going to get stains all over the proverbial new carpet. Of course, a few people will make so much money they can buy new carpet, or a new house for that matter. But most people won’t. They’ll just have to live amid the smoke, dust, and traffic jams, wondering whatever happened to the Fort Worth they once knew and loved.
And speaking of dailies and Dallas, a turkey is particularly appropriate this season for the feloniously dim ninnies who run The Dallas Morning News. For years, Belo Corp.’s financial leaders have stood around like turkeys looking skyward in a downpour, drowning in their own stupidity. Multi-million-dollar chunk after multi-million-dollar chunk was wasted on electronic doo-dads, a part-ownership in the Dallas Mavericks, opening the Arlington Morning News, closing the Arlington Morning News, opening bureaus all over North Texas, closing bureaus all over North Texas, investing in cable tv only to find they couldn’t bully the companies that actually owned the transmission system, the aftermath of a scandal over inflating the paper’s circulation figures, and then millions for consultants to tell them the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground. And of course, it was Morning News workers and readers who finally got stuck with the tab. Layoffs two years ago were followed by buyouts this fall — and now, appropriately, by lawsuits from former DMN journalists alleging they were forced out due to age discrimination. The bosses’ portions this year, therefore, should be a large portion of tough old bird — hard to swallow, and the gravy’s all gone.
Beak Taped Shut
You’d be surprised how difficult it can be to get information via the Texas Public Information Act when the city thinks it might be embarrassing. Or maybe you wouldn’t.
In early April 2005, Eric Hammock died in Fort Worth after being stunned by Taser guns 25 times for a total of over two minutes of shock in a nine-minute period. The only crime Hammock had committed was momentarily driving onto private property. He left when told to. Seemed pretty arrogant for the city to require citizens to file an open-records request in order to get information about the case, but the Weekly filed. And when the documents were turned over, they included the computer-generated records from each Taser used in the incident, showing how often and how long they had been discharged. But reporter Peter Gorman also noticed something else: The two officers who had blasted Hammock for so many excruciating seconds had also used the weapons at rather amazing rates on other days. One had used the weapon 10 times in a half-hour on one day in February and 14 other times in a two-and-a-half month period. The second officer had discharged her Taser 30 times one day and on 12 other occasions in the two months leading up to the day of Hammock’s death.
We checked with the police department’s public information officer: Are Tasers routinely discharged for training class or to check their power? No. So what was the explanation for that many firings of potentially lethal weapons? Were all of those instances in which the Tasers were used on people? To blast tin cans in the backyard? The Weekly submitted another records request, for what are called the “use of force” records for the two officers during the period in question.
And what did we get? Stonewalled. The city appealed to the state attorney general for permission to keep the records secret, and the AG agreed. Among the long list of reasons the city gave: that the records included instances of Taser use on kids between the ages of 10 and 17, which meant they could be kept confidential under juvenile codes, and that the release would be embarrassing to the officers “as they included information on mental disorders.”
It was all couched in legalese, of course, but the gist was that if the records were released, the citizens of the city might get upset with the officers’ rampant Taser use. Which is why we wanted the records in the first place, of course.
So, that protects kids and cops from being embarrassed. But how does the ruling protect kids from being injured by (possibly) Taser-happy cops (police, by the way, now can carry the weapons in Fort Worth schools). And how does it protect the public?
Way to work toward an open government, boys. Instead of a turkey, you get a serving of electrocuted Secret Squirrel. Enjoy it in private. In the dark. With your Taser strapped on.
Blowing Smoke up Their Skirts/Shirts
Our favorite daily paper — that would be the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — gets a two-headed crow, smoked over a cement kiln stack, for its bipolar political endorsement this month of U.S. Rep. “Smokey Joe” Barton of Ellis County, the man the same paper has been blasting for years for his blatant protection of the region’s worst industrial air polluters — TXU Electric, with its coal-fired generating plants, and the cement plants of Midlothian, fueled by hazardous waste and old tires, companies that just happen to be some of old Smokey’s biggest campaign contributors. But somehow the Star-Telegram’s editorial board put on its collective blinders and ignored Barton’s huge role in making the Metromess one of the top 10 worst air-polluted regions in the country. For years, Barton fought off efforts by environmentalists and, more recently, top elected officials in Fort Worth and Dallas to make the cement and electric plants clean up their smokestacks before the EPA lowers the economic boom and cuts off just about every federal dollar the region now gets.
Hey, forget about that — and all the health problems here. Barton, the S-T editors wrote, with his powerful role as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, brings home the pork for the region. ’Course these editorial geniuses didn’t pick up on the rage that was turning the rest of the country against all things Republican this year. Now, thanks to the wisdom of voters everywhere but here, Barton will no longer hold that vaunted post. Come January it will be in the hands of a Democrat with no ties to the region. Enjoy your meal, S-T — but you may wish to scrape off the charred bits.
They Got the Wishbone, We Got
A picked-clean taxpayer-turkey carcass to RadioShack for, well, let us count the ways:
The company was allowed to displace the last of Fort Worth’s downtown poor a few years ago in order to build a shiny new corporate campus. In return, it got the sweetest of sweetheart deals from the city moms and dads: its very own tax increment financing district to divert millions in property tax dollars from the city’s general fund into RadioShack’s coffers over the next 30 years; $69 million in economic development grants; $29 million for infrastructure; and a curiously fishy deal in which the city held the title to the land upon which RS built its $200 million corporate headquarters until the construction was done. But this homegrown giant fell into the bottomless pit of its own hubris almost before the paint dried on “Store One.” It’s now hemorrhaging red faster than a barnyard turkey that just got its head cut off.
The company posted losses of $16 million for the third quarter of 2006, its stock is tanking on Wall Street, and its former and once-vaunted CEO has been exposed as a resumé fraud and a drunk driver to boot. But not to worry. RS is trying to save itself the new-fashioned way, by firing 450 of its downtown workers via e-mail and shuttering 500 stores (throwing a few thousand more out of work.) What a delightful Thanksgiving these former employees will have. Wonder how a roasted pink slip tastes.
Give ’Em the Bird in Dallas
For the past few years, we’ve dropped doo on the Star-Telegram for the meager bird seed it throws to local artists — a 20-word blurb here, a 6-inch review there. Why profile a new hot-shit band, painter, or cool event in our own backyard, Star-T bosses say, when there are DVD’s to “review”? Maybe Star-T editors don’t realize that their writers can have a major impact on the local grassroots arts community, a serious, dedicated bunch who could certainly use the ink, good or bad. Does the world really need another story about Modest Mouse? Is there anything left to say about Chuck Close’s art that hasn’t been said a zillion times already? Does anyone really care that some staffer thinks Sawyer from Lost is hot? Who. Gives. A. Rat’s. Ass.
The Star-T’s most egregious affront to local artists this year appeared in July, on the front page of the paper’s “award-winning” Life section. The story on a rock camp wasn’t about Rock Camp USA-Fort Worth, Tarrant County’s only officially sanctioned rock camp, run by two of Cowtown’s most awesome musicians and nicest guys, Lee Allen and Dave Karnes. No, Ward wrote about the rock camp ... in Dallas.
Maybe the writer didn’t want to follow the Weekly’s lead. (We’d written about Fort Worth’s rock camp months earlier.) Or maybe the Star-T is trying to sell more papers in the Mid-Cities. ’Cause Lord knows that to North Texas suburbanites, Big D is where the action is. And hey — maybe that’s what S-T editors think, too.
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