A remade man, a paper player

Restorative justice

Is District Attorney candidate Nico LaHood crazy? At least two interested parties have suggested that the young Democrat, who kicked off his campaign with a Spur-studded fundraiser November 16 at the Tropicano, is nuts to run against 10-year incumbent Susan Reed. `See the QueQue, November 18.` That’s because his credentials — law school, stints as special prosecutor in Wilson, Karnes, Medina, and now Bexar counties — were preceded by a notable offense: a 1994 arrest for “aggravated delivery” of a controlled substance, which LaHood recalls as Ecstasy and the Texas arrest report recorded as methampetamine. LaHood, who was 21 at the time, received deferred adjudication, successfully completed the requirements, and obtained a petition for non-disclosure, which means that he can legally say that he has never been arrested. But he says he voluntarily disclosed the incident when he applied for the State Bar, and again when he was appointed a State District Court Magistrate*, and he has made no secret of it on the campaign trail. Wisely, as it turns out, since he wasn’t a candidate for a week before the Current heard of it.

“If you’re asking if I was Tony Montana, I wasn’t,” said LaHood, who was working in the bar scene at the time. “I learned from it, and I’ve moved on.” But he says, he owns it: “I wasn’t a victim; I was a volunteer back then.”

It’s only a matter of time, the naysayers argue, before Reed comes after him. But one long-time Republican political operative told the QueQue that Reed will likely pursue her usual campaign strategy: ignore LaHood. And if she doesn’t, it could be at her own peril. “It’s a success story,” he said of LaHood’s career trajectory.

Will voters elect a DA with a crime in his past?** Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, who last week unveiled a 10-point plan for helping the formerly incarcerated establish a new life on the outside, thinks that LaHood “will have a chance to make his case.” The whole point of the Re-Entry Council that Adkisson has pioneered in Bexar, and of the federal Second Chance legislation signed by George W. Bush, he says, “is to acknowledge that redemption is a fundamental facet of our Judeo-Christian ethics.”

“We find it very convenient to be judgmental,” Adkisson added, “and very hard to have the vision and guts to realize people should be given a second chance.”

Online Wednesday: More on LaHood’s positions on the death penalty, reentry programs, and what he’d do with the DA’s hot-check fund.

Tommy guns

Adkisson might very well be telegraphing that second-chances message to would-be supporters of Sheila McNeil, the former District 2 Council Member who is challenging Tommy for his Precinct 4 County seat. The QueQue reported last week that a poll conducted by Wilson Research Strategies put McNeil neck-and-neck with Adkisson for name recognition.

“I think she’d have been in the race no matter what the poll said,” Adkisson replied. The Commissioner says he’s done his own polling, “not very scientific,” that gives him a three-to-one lead and finds his anti-toll-road stance reflects a 60-percent sentiment among his precinct’s residents. Adkisson, like McNeil before him, chairs the Metropolitan Planning Organization, our federally mandated regional transportation czars, where he has made a firm stand on the contentious tolling issue: build and maintain roads by indexing the long-neglected gas tax — echoing Texas Senate Transportation Committee Chair John Carona, a Republican from Dallas, who two weeks ago called for a 10-cent-per-gallon increase to replenish TxDOT’s anemic road-building funds. McNeil told the QueQue that she thinks toll roads need to be an “option.”

“‘Option’ is a cover for tolling,” Adkisson retorts. “When my predecessor was chair, it was no holds barred for tolls.”

Journalism, American-style

Financial strain is one of the leading causes of relationship discord, especially during the holidays, and it’s often exacerbated by failure to communicate. Little surprise, then, that an “uncommunicated” $4-billion difference in the projected cost of building two new nuclear reactors has created a sudden chill between City Hall and CPS Energy.

But if the flap has sowed public discord in the once-placid City-utility relationship, it’s had an equally bumptious effect on the CPS-Express-News buddy system. Columnist Scott Stroud and Editor Bob Rivard have taken to scolding CPS management for their lack of transparency, and if you catch an aggrieved tone in their lectures, it’s because they, too, were jilted.

“What CPS once promised was a good deal for the city is now, clearly, a bad deal,” wrote Rivard in his November 22 column. “It’s a bad deal made worse by utility executives who deliberately withheld critical financial data, thus misleading elected city leaders, the Express-News, and the public.”

Read: All those editorial-board meetings we shared together, and you never told us the truth? It might seem strange, the inclusion of “the Express-News” in that list of wounded parties, except that Rivard has worked hard to position his paper not as a team of journalists independently covering the issue, but as players at the table, whose role was to reassure readers that nuclear power’s benefits outweigh its risks, and to telegraph the Mayor’s positions to the public, CPS, and council: 20-25 percent buy-in, and a unanimous vote, please. As reported in this paper and even in the Express-News, watchdog groups such as Public Citizen and SEED have been warning for months that the numbers touted by CPS were too good to be true. The daily focused tightly on the cost issue, giving only cursory attention to environmental and security concerns, but relied almost exclusively on its relationship with CPS to give the deal its stamp of approval. On November 20, the paper’s editorial board, which endorsed the nuclear-expansion plan October 4, filed a short opinion piece titled “CPS board shares blame in fiasco.” Seems someone might’ve been missing on that short list.

The Express-News’ reporters, meantime, have pursued a classic revenge: They’re now going steady with NRG, CPS’s partner in the South Texas Project, and NRG is using the new relationship to telegraph its own message: We’re back on the market.

From a November 20 E-N story: “‘We would expect ... the price estimate that Toshiba will come back with may be outside the affordability range for their ratepayers,’ Steve Winn, CEO of the NRG-owned Nuclear Innovation North America, said at a financial analysts’ meeting in Houston.”

This Sunday, Rivard recommended that “After investing several hundred million dollars in the planned expansion, it’s now time for the city to cut its losses and cash out by asking NRG to help find a private-sector buyer that doesn’t answer to ratepayers,” before calling for a change in leadership at CPS. That same day, two of the paper’s reporters wrote that “several sources close to the deal” revealed that the utility was aware of the higher cost estimate more than a year ago, although CPS GM Steve Bartley claims ignorance. Who are those sources? Put another way, perhaps: If the CPS-NRG nuclear deal falls apart, cui bono?

That’s the question burning hot in the business community, anyway, which avidly supported the deal when it believed CPS’s claim that an STP expansion was the only way to guarantee cheap, reliable energy for future economic growth. Sorry to switch metaphors on you, but the whole thing puts us in mind of that old saying: If you’re sitting at the poker table and you can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.

Online this week: Greg Harman’s take on the CPS board meeting, where some housecleaning was promised.

Bend and snap

A new study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and based on research supplied in part by hospitality and service-workers union Unite Here indicates that female Hispanic hotel housekeepers are 1.5 times more likely to be injured than their male counterparts, and almost twice as likely to be injured than their white female counterparts. Hispanic and Asian males were about 1.5 times more likely to be injured on the job than white males.

Although the report, presented two weeks ago at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Philadelphia, doesn’t mention the companies involved in the study, Unite Here claims that the Hyatt chain had the highest injury rate, at 10.4 percent, while the Hilton chain had the lowest, at 5.47 percent. The report was based on a three-year study of 2,865 injuries at 50 unionized hotels, and came weeks after the QueQue reported on the San Antonio Grand Hyatt’s successful hiring of a union buster to discourage service workers attempts to form a union with the help of Unite Here `see the QueQue, September 30`.

“Since we represent hotel workers, we have the rights to the demographic information and the rights to the injury information,” said Pamela Vossenas, health and safety expert for Unite Here. “So we were able to bring those two pieces together. That’s how we had access to the `Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s` logs with the employer’s records of workplace injury and illness.”

“The excess risk among women probably reflects the fact that so many of them work in the very demanding job of room cleaner,” said report co-author Dr. Laura Punnett, from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, in a Unite Here press release. “The excess risk among Hispanic housekeepers compared to other housekeepers is more difficult to explain and requires further study.”

The study concluded that workers in housekeeping had the highest rate of injuries, 50 percent higher than all other hotel positions. For María del Carmen Domínguez, a housekeeper at San Antonio’s Grand Hyatt, the report came in handy, but was no surprise.

“`The Grand Hyatt` gives us 30 rooms to clean in seven and a half hours,” said Domínguez. “We had to finish by 4:30 p.m., because we were told we would not get paid any extra hours.”

According to Vossenas, more than 15 rooms is an excessive daily quota for housekeepers.

In early September, Domínguez felt pain in her shoulder, back, arm, and neck. The Hyatt sent her to the company doctor and assigned her to “light duty.”

“They told me I couldn’t lift five pounds or push 10 pounds, but asked me to go to the 20th floor to help a coworker make the beds and clean the bathrooms,” Domínguez recalled. Despite her protests, Domínguez said the hotel insisted that they were following the doctor’s advice. “To me, that was no ‘light duty,’ because I only had one working hand. But somebody in Human Resources told me ‘if you can’t use one hand, use the other.’”

So she decided to go to a different doctor. “He immediately took me off work because he found a broken nerve and swelling in the shoulder and back, and a dislocated disk in the neck,” Domínguez said. “That’s where the pain comes from.” She hasn’t been paid in more than a month, she says — the hotel told her she didn’t qualify for benefits because the company’s doctor says she can return to work.

During a November 19 teleconference, the president of Unite Here speculated why the Hyatt had the highest rate of injuries. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they seem to make workers work faster and do more rooms,” John Wilhelm said. “We hope very much that the hotel industry will work with us in a cooperative way to address this. ... We’ve negotiated changes like smaller room quotas `with some hotels`, but there’s a lot more that should be done. This should not be a subject of adversarial fighting. There’s enormous potential to make improvements really quickly if we work in a cooperative way.”

The Grand Hyatt was unavailable for

*This column originally stated that LaHood said he disclosed his arrest and deferred adjudication before he became a special prosecutor rather than before he was appointed magistrate.

** This sentence originally read "criminal record," but as the article notes earlier, because LaHood completed deferred adjudication and a judge granted a petition for non-disclosure, he does not have a criminal record.