Run for the border

— The county's data-processing program has gotten a new chief executive who is just as controversial as the trouble-plagued operation he's been named to run. Denny Piper abruptly resigned his position as Houston's chief information officer to come west to San Diego last week, only days after he had convinced Houston's city council to narrowly approve a $9.5 million computer contract. Piper's surprise move -- and the fact that his resignation had been tendered May 28 but not announced until last week, two days after the 8-7 vote -- angered even council supporters of the deal. "To make sure that everything was aboveboard, I think there should be an [Office of the Inspector General] investigation to just make sure that there wasn't anything improper involved in his recommendation of this deal," Annise Parker, the last councilmember to decide to vote for the contract, told the Houston Chronicle. "The fact the guy who is recommending these multimillion-dollar purchases already was leaving town was good information that we should have known. If the administration knew this and didn't tell us, I feel betrayed. The argument that kept being made was, 'He's the person we hired to run it. He's our expert; we need to listen to our expert.' Our expert, who already was halfway out the door and didn't bother to tell anybody. It infuriates me." Fueling the controversy was the fact that Piper had told the council that it should fire him if the contract didn't save the city money. "I think that the council was duped," Councilman Michael Berry was quoted as saying last week. "He offered his job as collateral for his credibility on this project, obviously knowing he was leaving." Both Piper and Houston mayor Lee Brown denied any impropriety. "I guess there's never a good time to leave," Piper told the paper. "It's not my role to talk to the legislative branch on what I'm doing every single day." But that didn't satisfy the council backers of the contract, dubbed "SimHouston." Councilwoman Ada Edwards told the paper, "I understand that his reputation, his professional reputation, was sullied through this whole controversy." The contract with Houston-based Internet Access Technologies will convert at least half of city computer terminals to Internet terminals, and Piper had said it would save the city $7 million a year, but in an editorial, the Chronicle complained that the city "appeared to have chosen IAT months before seeking proposals from other companies." Meanwhile, in San Diego, officials were closemouthed last week about Piper's arrival, issuing a brief news release only after repeated telephone inquiries. According to the release, Piper will oversee the county's $644 million contract -- attacked by critics for favoritism and inefficiency -- with a group of contractors led by Computer Sciences Corporation.

Cartoonist redux Ex-Union-Tribune political cartoonist Steve Kelley, fired in May of last year after a run-in with editorial page editor Robert A. Kittle, has been named editorial cartoonist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. As Kelley later described it, the dust-up began after Kittle objected to a proposed cartoon showing the "butt cracks" of two teenagers. The next day, according to Kelley, senior editor Bill Osborne got into the act, accusing Kelley of trying to sneak the cartoon into the paper and lying about it. After TV stations picked up the story, the U-T finally reported that Kelley had been dumped. The cartoonist attributed his firing to the paper's leftward editorial drift, but others speculated that it had something to do with Kelley's tryst with Shelia Lawrence, widow of hotel magnate and Clinton crony M. Larry Lawrence. The relationship resulted in an embarrassing custody dispute over an out-of-wedlock child.

Best cellar The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that "Aqil," a juvenile delinquent from San Diego who converted to Islam while in custody and ended up in an Afghanistan training camp with one of the alleged killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, is coming out with a book entitled My Jihad ... Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, concerned that Congress might take away the sport's anti-trust exemption over contraction and stadium controversies, has started up a political action committee, which has taken in $117,000 through April. Among contributors: Padres owner John Moores and wife Becky, each down for the maximum $5000.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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