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Hot Mess in HTX

posted on Sunday, January 01, 2012, 8:13:01 PM | fractalbob

From the Lake Ponchartrain Expressway years before Hurricane Katrina, I glimpsed pastel water lilies, their fluted pads resting on the still surface of tobacco-colored water. My buddy, a guy from a small town in Indiana, and I had just been talking about the dangerous company with whom we shared that stretch of Interstate 10 from Houston to New Orleans — pimps, gamblers, con men, drug traffickers, anti-Communists, November assassins. And college boys like us. The scene was Southern, seedy, languorous and corrupt. And the water lilies, concealing whatever was submerged beneath them, so evocative of our women, our Southern Belles.

Down here, we breed them to be underestimated. Huntsville’s Southern Belle network comprises the competent housewives of the leisure class. They rise in the ranks using a tried and true antebellum protocol.

Watch one such novitiate, Patsyann Reed, wife of Dennis Reed, over the coming months. Count the staged photos in the Huntsville Item documenting her “service to the community.” She ain’t doing that for her health. She’s coming up through the ranks, gathering the points that will entitle her to civic leadership. My guess is she’ll make a run for school board. And she’ll win.

But if Miss Patsyann really wants to be a playah, she better be taking lessons from a battle-tested pro. Because, as every belle knows, it’s not enough to be able to organize the elegant City Hall smorgasbord and school rustics in proper etiquette. Sometimes the going gets tough and when that happens, the belle better know how to get going.

Yankees, Go Home

Dee Everett’s near miss with a criminal trial for misappropriation of tax funds made the Item’s list of top ten stories for 2011. The first paragraph assumes the end of this hot mess will finally come in 2012. Which means Dee and the Chamber can expect this unbelievable story to make the local ragster’s annual list at least one more time.

The next few paragraphs offer the basic facts of the dispute to set up Dee’s talking points, taken straight from the Southern Belle’s PR bible: Being the victim of a brutal Yankee machine has brought me and my family closer to Jesus and the values we ALL hold so dear.

In the South, applying the rule of law to the indigent, black and the brown is an act of Christian righteousness. Applying the rule of law to the Southern ruling classes is an act of Union aggression.

Before the two-election-cycle Great Redemption, municipal government was in the hands of Unionists, who can be defined in modern times by their actions — they went after the nice folks at the Chamber of Commerce who only wanted to tell the world how wonderful it is to visit Huntsville, Texas. Why, if they can’t do that, we might as well succumb to the image we’ve been tagged with in print and film, the prison ghetto with the busiest death chamber in the First World.

If you think there’s more to the story than that, you’re a Unionist, and you’ll never be more than a carpetbagger in HTX.

But, as carpetbagger or visiting anthropologist, you might be surprised by what the Southern Belles did not, or could not, hide beneath their hoop skirts.

George Miles vs. Dee Everett

George was right — nobody knows more about how hotel occupancy taxes should be spent than former Chamber President Dee Everett. She said so herself in her videotaped deposition, available at huntsvilleobserver.com thanks to former mayor Karl Davidson.

If a district judge hadn’t forced Dee into taking the Fifth at her depositions and the civil trial in October 2010, she could have explained to everyone’s satisfaction why the Chamber’s records might look shady to a group of Unionist party bosses and their henchmen and women. In view of this, the only strategy left to Dee was to throw somebody — or bodies — under the bus.

There must have been a lot of scurrying around with that prospect hanging over the heads of Chamber tourism board members and anyone else who felt their reputations threatened. The Unionists attempted to leverage any breach between the Chamber’s elite and its resigning president. Cooperate in making a case against Dee, and we’ll let the Chamber save face, they offered.

I don’t know what Dee might have had on Chamber board members. Maybe she warned them — after one of the many Texas Municipal League’s presentations she attended — that spending HOT funds on Fair on the Square could be a problem. And they said don’t worry about it — we’ve always spent HOT money on the October fair. The two-step criteria for determining the appropriate use of HOT funds seemed to back that up.

Step one: Funds must be used “to put heads in beds,” overnight visitors in Huntsville’s hotels and motels. Step two: The attraction must fit into one of six categories, which include arts festivals just like Fair on the Square.

Shit, even the city’s forensic auditor and expert witness may not have known that expenses associated with Fair on the Square could not be paid out of HOT funds. Not until Dee told her, according to trial testimony.

The reason Fair on the Square doesn’t qualify for HOT funds is because it’s a Chamber fundraiser, and you can’t spend HOT funds to run the Chamber, the third party under contract to administer the funds. Teri Wylie, whose credentials have been challenged by the Chamber at trial and on appeal, testified she would have determined that on her own. She just didn’t have to.

So why would Dee make things easier on the city’s outside auditor? Why would Dee hand the Unionists a smoking gun?

Papa Smurf Finds a Way

With the queenpin out of commission, Papa Smurf took matters into his own crusty blue hands. Enter Karon Murff, CPA and professor at SHSU, who did an audit of the Chamber’s books in preparation for the civil trial. Murff found zero inconsistencies. Zip, zed, nada. According to court records, even Chamber attorneys questioned the validity of her finding. “You can’t find zero,” Dallas attorney Levi McCathern said in closing arguments at the trial. “It doesn’t sound believable.”

No shit. Want to know what is also unbelievable? Either Murff the Smurf had no fucking idea what the law says on the use of HOT funds — amusing since the Chamber accuses her counterpart of the same thing — or she was dutifully reciting Papa Smurf’s talking points on the subject, which must have come to him in a pharmaceutical haze.

Murff’s audit and testimony smelled just like George Miles’s argument to any challenge, one that is blind to all shades of gray between lies and the truth. In the Book of George, there was no problem with the Chamber’s records. Nobody did anything wrong. The felony charge against Dee was dismissed and the case against her is over.

Backlash

The day the City-Chamber civil trial opened in Leon County, the local ragster published a letter by then mayor pro tem Mac Woodward. In it, he explains to the citizens of HTX, who would elect him mayor in another year, the steps he took to resolve the animosity between two entities that should be friends. He said — or warned — that a verdict would not calm the shit-storm the rift had caused, the easy implication being that neither side was willing to let this die until one or the other had been destroyed. A zero sum game.

The Unionists won the court battle. But the Chamber has won the war for hearts and minds — by simply using the Unionists’ rash indignation against them.

Only traitors would slap away the hand of reconciliation to cancel the Chamber’s eighteen-year contract with the City, raid Chamber offices for documents, attempt to force a political mea culpa, and accuse, while on the stand in someone else’s county, the Chamber of gangland felonies like money laundering?

The stain these traitors left on HTX is permanent in the annals of municipal law. But only there, rest assured.

Dee Everett had the last word months before her article appeared last week in the Item. During her deposition Dee was asked what motivation the City might have in pursuing its suspicions that the Chamber had illegally spent HOT funds. “Hatred,” she said with a calculated mix of injury and righteous indignation.

The suit settlement, coming soon, will undermine the verdict, the City will sign a new contract with the Chamber, and the HOT board will be disbanded or totally occupied by Chamber loyalists. The flies will be flicked from the ointment.

The Unionists appear to have retreated with surprising meekness, but their rage lives on. It is the stuff of cautionary tales told over mint juleps on porches in the best neighborhoods in town.

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