This is a damn shame: Political writer Tim Fleck has apparently left the Houston Press.
Citing a severance agreement that stipulated he not discuss the circumstances of his departure, Fleck isn't saying much.
Press Editor Margaret Downing was equally tight-lipped.
"All I can say is, he's left the Press," she said last week.
Before signing the agreement, Fleck reportedly told friends he was pushed out because the alternative weekly wanted to "move in a different direction" and appeal to a younger readership.
Downing, who joined the Press after serving as managing editor at the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger and the Houston Post, said it hasn't yet been decided whether the Press will continue to offer the sort of hard-edged political commentary for which Fleck was known. "We're going to try to keep our balance," she said.
But at least some readers may look elsewhere.
"There's no reason for me to pick the Press up if his stories aren't in there," political consultant Dave Walden said.
Fleck, a Houston native who graduated from the University of Houston, has been around the local journalism scene for decades, specializing in political and investigative reporting.
He joined the Press when it was founded in 1989. He left in 1993, returning in August 1994, after it was purchased by New Times, a Phoenix-based chain of alternative weeklies.
In between, Fleck had published a political newsletter, the Houston Insider, and he began a weekly column, The Insider, in addition to handling other writing responsibilities at the Press.
The Insider was filled with acerbic wit, including this take on Anthony Hall, just named as Mayor Bill White's chief administrative officer. "After the Insider congratulated Hall for his survivability, Hall responded somewhat defensively that he could have gone into the private sector and made millions of dollars. There are those who might have been willing to pay him more than that to leave."
But Fleck has been known to overstay a welcome himself.
Walden recalls a fund-raiser for former Mayor Bob Lanier held in a hotel ballroom. The media wasn't invited, but Fleck walked in anyway.
Walden asked him to leave. Fleck said no. "I said, `OK, I'll just have you thrown out.' He said, `I'll do a Gandhi on you and lie on the floor, and you'll have to carry me out.'
"So I let him stay."
Walden laughs now, "But it wasn't so funny at the time."
As for Fleck, he said he is setting up a home office. "I'll wait and see what comes over the transom, and I'll act on it."