Dad and I sat in front of the TV upstairs on Sept. 16, Budget-Passing Day, to watch the Huntsville City Council take up a surprise agenda item on the council’s travel budget by none other than Keith Olson.
“This should be good,” my father said. “I can’t wait to see how this moron justifies flying his private plane to aviation conventions on the taxpayer’s dime.”
I sipped my single malt Scotch. Wait for it.
“What did you say about Keith?” my mother yelled from downstairs.
“That he can’t wait to see what a fool he makes of himself tonight,” I yelled back.
“Well, you’re in for a surprise then,” she yelled back. “They have proof that Dalene Zender was all wrong.”
“Whatever,” my father muttered, but I was nervous because no matter how well researched Zender’s Sept. 9 guest column was, these assholes are not above manufacturing and spinning the “evidence.”
“Don’t worry, Bob,” Dad said. “It’s Olson. He’ll fuck it up like he always does. Remember the last meeting?”
“Yeah, he proved he wasn’t smarter than a fifth grader,” I said.
My mother was at the foot of the stairs again. “If I’d asked you last week what 16.67 percent of 12 was, could you tell me off the top of your head?”
“I’m not the council finance committee chairman running for re-election,” I yelled back. “Plus you don’t play J. Edgar Hoover with a citizen unless you have your facts straight.”
“Well, Karl Davidson deserved it,” my mother yelled. “He was using a public hearing to campaign against Don Johnson.”
“Why don’t you stop yelling and come up here,” my father yelled. “You’re killing our buzz.”
“Keith Olson is about to do that,” she yelled back. “You don’t need me.”
Then Olson opened his can of whup ass on Dalene Zender and all the citizens and fellow council members who called into question his taxpayer-funded trips to luxury hotels in the pursuit of an education. The big reveal was a chart showing council travel budgets vs. actual travel spending from 2005 to 2014.
“Mom,” I yelled, “Olson’s chart showing that Dalene was wrong is jacked up. It shows her council reduced spending like she said and that Olson’s travel put them over budget for three out of the past four years.”
“It does not,” my mother yelled. “Olson would have noticed that before the meeting.”
“He must have missed it. But luckily some nice citizen spectators shouted it out to him.”
“Shit,” I heard my mom say.
Then Olson, Mayor Mac and Tish Humphrey argued passionately about the need for Olson to go to conventions to get fresh ideas and to make him more like Don Johnson. In return, he said, he’d come back with $30 million in TxDOT funding.
“Don’t you wish Olson knew how state funding works?” said my dad. “Take it from me. It doesn’t come from some circle jerk with state officials in a hotel hospitality suite.”
Then Joe Rodriquez very politely but not without urgency suggested that Olson stop using the council dais as a campaign bully pulpit in violation of the city’s charter and council’s own rules.
“When has Olson ever cared about what the charter and the rules say?” I said. “Yep, here he goes again.”
The camera pulled back to show a miserable Joe Emmett who never said a word.
“Look at poor Joe. I want to buy him a Teddy bear,” my dad said.
Then the Honey Badger went to work on Keith Olson until he was gaveled down by Mayor Mac.
“What’s so funny?” my mother yelled.
“Ronnie Allen just compared himself to a character in ‘Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.’ Olson is playing the Governor,” I yelled.
“As well as one of the whores,” Dad yelled.
We could hear Mom’s tsk-tsk all the way upstairs.
“Face it, Mom, our hillbilly councilman is funnier than yours,” I yelled.
Then Olson passed the political football to gal pal Tish, who made the fuck-you play of the year—a motion to increase council’s budget to cover Olson’s overspending and to show all the citizens who’d questioned it who’s boss.
“Did Tish’s motion pass?” Mom yelled.
“Six to three,” I said.
“Good for her!” Mom yelled.
“Bad for us,” Dad said. Because in raising the council’s travel, the city now had a deficit budget in violation of the city’s charter. To fix that, the city used Monopoly money to raise the sales tax estimate to cover the difference.
“That’s OK,” my mom yelled. “A budget is all just theoretical anyway.”
“But a tax rate isn’t and neither are Olson’s travel receipts,” Dad yelled.
“Dad, pour yourself another Scotch,” I said.
We came downstairs after it was over.
“The meeting ended in tears,” I said. “Tish.”
“You’re not going to be a jerk about that, are you?” my mother said.
“Of course not,” I said. “Poor Tish. She’s in so far over her head.”
“The good news is, Andy Brauninger and Joe Rodriquez got us a 1 cent tax rollback,” Dad said, “working with Matt Benoit.”
“And everyone voted for it, right?” Mom said, eyes ablaze with triumph. “See, this council is perfectly willing to work together. There’s no need to make a change in November.”
Then Mom rushed off to answer the phone and when she came back, she was glum, her face ashen. “[Mrs. Mover and Shaker] is going to vote for Kendall Scudder.”
“Wow, you’re kidding,” my father said. “This might be just like the HISD bond election of 2012. People are gonna smile and lie their way to the ballot box and vote against Keith ‘Bird Brain’ Olson and Don ‘the Smirk’ Johnson? Yee haw!”
Mom glared at me. “Why do you always come back here during election season? Just like a bad penny.”
I pulled out a kitchen chair for her and Dad poured her a drink.
“But voting for Kendall Scudder is the smart choice, the pragmatic one, the one Olson is too dumb to see and Johnson much too arrogant,” I said. “It’s the choice that gets you exactly what you want if what you want is to move on from the petty feuds and into the land of high cotton while singing ‘Kumbaya.’ It’s the choice that puts me and people like me virtually out of business.”
“You have lost your damn mind, Bob,” my mother said. “How do you figure that?”
“Three simple reasons,” I said.
One: Olson does and says a lot of incredibly stupid things and his supporters can no longer get by with trying to offset Olson’s dumb-assery with specious demagoguery about Kendall’s age and political ambitions.
In fact, Olson is so dumb that he tipped off his opposition to a damaging little piece of information that they had no fucking clue about.
In the article in the Item on August 19 reporting that Scudder had switched from the race against Johnson to Olson’s race, Scudder called Olson “expensive.” Scudder may have been talking about his votes on previous tax increases and give-aways. But, as per usual, Olson couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
“When (Scudder) says most expensive, he may have been griping about going to convention, the difference between expensive and education.”
No, apparently Scudder and his supporters hadn’t thought to pull your public travel records, but thanks for the tip.
Olson has been making a fool of himself for the past four years and in the process bringing even national shame to Huntsville’s City Council.
“Remember Twittergate when Olson tried to fight some fake political Twitter accounts with a grand jury and a Texas Rangers’ investigation? It made national news!” I said.
Two: Olson will continue to be a lightning rod because he won’t stop talking or doing stupid things, some of them undoubtedly beyond the cameras on Tuesday meeting nights.
“Ask yourself why Lydia Montgomery, Mac Woodward and Joe Emmett can vote the same way Olson and Johnson do, sometimes even passionately echoing their arguments, but are all rarely if ever the targets that Olson and Johnson are?” I said, and my mother cast her eyes to the floor. “Mom, I think you know.”
Olson’s on his way up, too, enabled by people like you, I told my mother.
“He’s proud of how far he’s gotten and he wants to keep climbing the political ladder. He needs to be stopped now unless you want eight more years of shenanigans and in fighting.”
Three: “The Movers and Shakers will not lose anything but factional in fighting with Olson and Johnson gone,” I said.
Brauninger and Rodriquez, the architects of the 1 cent tax rollback, have begun to build a partnership with City Manager Matt Benoit whose responsible management is what these two credit for most of the city’s $20 million surplus. Kendall has shown he also can build bridges and work with others, too.
“What about Academy and Kroger,” my mother said. “I’ve got you now, Bob. Kendall Scudder is a shill for George Russell and all those clowns who’d rather drive to Conroe than bring in more sales tax.”
“Bullshit,” I said. “You won’t forfeit any legitimate new retail. Plus, the TIRZ is in place, and not only can Olson and Johnson not take credit for it, a council that includes Kendall and Karl will be forced at this point to help fill it up.”
“You might have more people voting against 380 tax incentives, but those are unfair to taxpayers and existing local businesses,” Dad said.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Because Olson and Johnson have become lightning rods for the opposition, people are going to fight any tax giveaway scheme they’re for and scare off developers.”
My mother still had a little fight left in her. “If they’re lightning rods, it’s because you made them that way,” she said bitterly. “You and your friends in the tinfoil hat crowd.”
“I think they did it to themselves. But if you think Olson and Johnson were outsmarted by a ragtag bunch of outsiders, awesome!” I said. “Then there’s still hope for democracy in Huntsville, Texas.”