Rhapsody in Red: NEW METRO touts safety, boosts PR staff, plans expansion

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Amidst last week’s launch of METRO’s latest and greatest effort to insist, contrary to accumulated evidence, that at-grade rail down somewhat busy Houston streets really IS safe (or Rhapsody in Red, for the Houtopian types) came news that Jerome Gray, formerly of KPRC-2 and KHOU-11, would be taking a post as Vice President and Senior Press Officer at the transit agency. He will make a cool $170,000 per year (we’re still unclear how many times he or any other employee will have to actually use transit per month).

It’s good to know that NEW METRO is awash in cash and their liquidity ratio has climbed above its previous precarious low. Err, wait, those things aren’t really true (or at least nobody has reported them if they are — and we have our doubts, since the new U.S. House leadership has already targeted New Starts Transit funding in a quest to curb the Obama Administration’s spending binge — not that we’ve seen this reported locally or Rep. Culberson consulted for that matter). Well, at least it’s good that METRO is behaving confidently, anyway. Right?

Gray will join a media/communications staff that was described by previous VP George Smalley as a “90-person department.” Perhaps the NEW agency has pared back on this bloated department, as a business with such a precarious liquidity ratio probably would. Then again, there’s no bloat like taxpayer-funded bloat — especially when it comes to this agency (which continues to pick up legal bills for some members of the BAD, OLD METRO team) — so who really knows?

Interestingly, METRO itself seems to be making plans to proceed with some aspects of light-rail expansion even if FTA funding is not received. That scenario is laid out in a presentation made at the December 2010 Finance/Audit committee meeting (pdf posted here). Incidentally, some would argue that scenario is inconsistent with the 2003 referendum, a contract with voters that laid out certain requirements for the light-rail expansion. Aside from the Rhapsody in Red Danger SAFETY Train and other NEW METRO PR gimmicks, this behavior seems a lot like OLD METRO’s!

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX