Category Archives: Mayor Parker

Helena Is Doing What? And With Whom?

It just hasn’t been a good two days for CM Helena Brown from District A, huh? First, it seems she has changed some of her employees’ timecards to keep with her little notion of only having part-time workers. A much lengthier expose’ is one from the Houston Press in which they talk about some mysterious guy who is calling her shots.

Whatever the expose’, the bottom line is that she is just not a good representative for District A, regardless of whomever is texting her what to say at Council meetings. But from all the activity in social media sites, it seems like folks will attempt to crucify her. Bottom line:  Unless we educate folks in District A–beyond the Teapers who enjoy some of Brown’s bigoted ideas (and those of her shot-caller)–not much will happen. I mean, c’mon, who could replace Brown if it isn’t some other right-wing candidate who is just a kinder, gentler Helena Brown?

2013 presents itself as an opportunity to find a candidate to challenge the incumbent and who can capture hearts and minds of those who aren’t represented by the incumbent. But that just takes a lot of work. Rather than play “wait and see” on any coming indictment or any other expose’ on the mysterious Dale Gribble-looking guy, it is a time for action. And District A is there for the taking if folks are willing to do the work.

Anyway, I’m not very hopeful of any indictment since just about anyone can play dumb in something like this. As far as Brown’s shot-caller, I’m thinking that will continue. So, let’s think ahead and create something that is action-oriented.

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Budget Amendment Time at COH

Well, while we continue to enjoy all of the post-Convention excitement (or complaints), there’s still a City that is being run–and it’s budget time! And it’s time to look at some of the budget amendments proposed by our members of Council.

Helena Brown:  Yes, let’s start here. Seems the right-winger wants to destroy the City by having it default on contributions to the city’s pension funds. She wants to let the Texas Supreme Court decide. Yeah, that’s the right-wing way; send all of their bad ideas to a right-wing Supreme Court who will rubber stamp it.

What may have been one of Brown’s more lucid ideas was that of proposing the city go to a city manager-run government.  Then she basically uses it to attack the employee unions and out goes the lucidity. There’s a better way to argue for a manager-run city hall. Kuff has more.

Jack Christie:  His fill-it or kill-it idea has some good qualities; however, taking away the freedom from department heads to fill a position as they see fit, and forcing them into a justification phase that could take weeks, doesn’t do the city a service. Better to have a little bit of freedom than simply pretend Council is cutting jobs.  Christie also proposes that revenues exceeding what the city expects to take in should go directly to the pension investment. Seems like a good idea, but after undergoing so many cuts, the City should have some freedom on how to spend that money. With a looming hot summer that may bring another drought, we need to be ready for anything.

Ellen Cohen:  The former State Rep. is offering her “pole tax” to the City for the purpose of clearing the rape kit backlog. The $5 fee to “adult entertainment establishment” operators based on the number of customers could bring in $3 million per year. I think it’s a good idea.

Ed Gonzalez:  The Mayor pro-tem’s amendments were pretty solid this year. Complete streets and pocket parks are great ideas; however, the one that really caught my attention was the creation of an Office of Efficiency and Effectiveness which would “use data-driven decision-making to ensure that departments are meeting their goals and objectives in order to best serve our citizens.” Some questions that will be asked:  Another bureaucracy? Can this be folded into the Controller’s office? Etc. Frankly, I like the idea of an independent office that would work well with employees and management to determine goals and objectives and a path on how best to be effective.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll seek out other budget amendments today, or just send them in.

City and Southwest Agree on Hobby Expansion

Well, congrats to all those involved, especially Council Member James Rodriguez, for leading on this particular issue. Although the vast majority of Houstonians agree that a 2nd international airport would be good for Houston, there is still some strong opposition in the form of United lobbyists and future PAC money. Although the Council still has to approve the deal, this is a huge step forward, for sure.

So, what was agreed upon? It was agreed that Southwest Airlines would be paying for the international expansion.

Mayor Annise Parker today announced her support for international service at Hobby Airport and released details of a proposed agreement under which Southwest Airlines (SWA) will cover all costs related to the $100 million expansion. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) requires SWA to design and build the five new gates and customs facility to the City’s specifications.  When finished, the City will own the improvements debt free.  In return for its investment, SWA will have preferential scheduling rights and pay no rent for its use of four of the five new international gates, and will also pay no rent for its use of the customs facility.  The fifth additional gate and the customs facility will be available for use by all other airlines at Hobby, but unlike SWA, the other airlines will pay rent.

“This will be financed with no City debt and no Passenger Facility Charges (PFC),” said Mayor Parker.  “SWA will bear all the risk.  “They will also have to abide by our minority and small business contracting requirements and Hire Houston First policy.  That helps guarantee our local workers get a chance at the construction jobs.  From the beginning, I have said that my decision would be based not on what is best for one or another airline, but rather on what is best for the City, the local business community and the traveling public.  There is no question we have done that.”

But like I said, there is still more to come–more lobbying and more debate. If you support the expansion, then call your Council Member.

The proposed MOA is subject to approval by Houston City Council and SWA management.  City Council consideration is expected May 30, 2012.  Construction is planned for the spring of 2013.  In the interim, the City will work closely with SWA and Washington to obtain the necessary federal approvals as well as a commitment for an adequate number of customs and border patrol agents at both of our airports.

“Again, this is not about one airline over another,” said Mayor Parker.  “My goal is to ensure the millions of international travelers who pass through Houston receive adequate customs services no matter which airport they use.”

Sounds like a good deal to me. Let’s move forward.

DC-Inbox: Public Service Career Expo on Tuesday

From the Mayor’s Office:

Who: City of Houston
Metropolitan Transit Authority
Houston Independent School District
15 colleges and universities
More than a dozen agencies and private-sector companies
Houston-Galveston Area Council
Workforce Solutions
Greater Houston Partnership
Project Grad
Big Brothers and Big Sisters
What: 2012 Career Day Expo
When: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Where: George R. Brown Convention Center Exhibit Hall B, 1001 Avenida de las Americas
Notes: This career expo will expose high school students to hundreds of career paths in the public sector and in local major industries.Scores of organizations and companies will showcase the careers they offer – many little known – with exhibits, demonstrations and discussions.  The event is expected to draw 1,000 youngsters.

Initially planned by the City to inform students of municipal government career choices, the event has since expanded to include the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Houston Independent School District, 15 colleges and universities and more than a dozen agencies and private-sector companies. Partners also include the Houston-Galveston Area Council, Workforce Solutions, Greater Houston Partnership, Project Grad and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Part of the city’s community sustainability initiative to grow its own workforce, the event will also feature real-life examples of employees who will talk about their distinct jobs and paths to success.

City Approves Sobering Center Investment

Trying to find ways to ensure the city’s budget is leaner, yet effective, Houston City Council voted to approve spending $4.3 million on a sobering center–an 84-bed detox facility for folks arrested for public intoxication.

Police officers who detain people whose only crime is being drunk in public will have the option of dropping them off at the so-called sobering center for at least a four-hour stay without an arrest on their record. Because the drop-offs are much quicker than jail bookings, police would return to patrol sooner.

Although this is a big victory for Mayor Parker, CM Ed Gonzalez was the lead member of Council on driving home the need for this center.

“We do not guarantee outcomes here. There’s nothing to say that we’re going to rehabilitate anyone,” said Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a former Houston police officer and the chief council champion for the center, “but the chances of removing them from the criminal justice system into a different model is more likely to be much, much more effective and likely to save taxpayers millions and millions of dollars over the course of the next few years.”

Gonzalez’s press release gives us a bigger picture regarding the savings.

Roughly 20% of Houston’s $25 million a year jail operation cost is attributed to public intoxication cases. The sobering center will not only provide citizens with the treatment they need and provide law enforcement officers more time to patrol against more violent crimes, it will save our city money.

Meanwhile, Helena Brown thinks private industry should fund such a facility and, apparently, feels that more cops on the street and more money in city coffers is bad.

“This will be like a slow cancer that will contribute to the death of a city.”

Are you listening (or reading), District A?

Kudos to the rest of the City Council, anyway.

Side-Note:  Now that we will have a sobering center, I would like to remind you that some of our early voting centers have earned the name “So Boring Centers,” because you all aren’t voting. Get out there and vote today in the Democratic Primary!

Mayor Parker Proposes Budget

All these Democratic Primary controversies, direct mail wars, and other juicy stuff need to take a backseat–at least for this post. Mayor Annise Parker has just proposed a $2 billion general fund budget with no tax increase or layoffs.

Mayor Annise Parker has just unveiled a proposed $2 billion general fund budget that includes plans to increase curbside recycling, restore night and weekend hours to the city’s 311 assistance line and start operation of a sobering center as an alternative to jail time for people whose only crime is being drunk.

What Parker emphasized in a news conference, however, was what is not in the budget. No tax increase. No fee hikes. No layoffs. No furloughs. No service cuts. No borrowing to pay pension costs. Not many new initiatives.

“This budget does not include a tax increase. It maintains my focus on five priorities: Jobs and sustainable development, infrastructure, public safety, quality of life and strong fiscal responsibility,” Parker said.

Sounds pretty good, but once the council starts having their budget hearings and debates, we’ll get down into the nitty gritty, for sure.

And I really can’t wait until Helena Brown proposes cutting $2 billion from the $2 billion budget.

Houston, We Have A Wage Theft Problem!

The good folks with the Down With Wage Theft campaign released a report on the impact wage theft has on the community (PDF), and let me tell you, it’s worse than one would generally think. Wage theft has affected the worker and workers’ families in the millions of dollars, but it has also affected the entire Houston economy. As strong as one might feel the local economy has remained despite the recession (or as strong as Forbes thinks the job outlook is), it seems to me it could have been a lot better. Especially for ordinary working people if  they had been protected from those who prey on them.

Here are some of the highlights:

Wage Theft is a Community Problem:

  • Wage theft becomes a problem to the community as a whole because of: (1) the sheer prevalence and pervasiveness of wage theft; and (2) the individuals’ connection to the broader community undoubtedly has collateral effects on their families, the public, the taxpayer, the local economy and even other businesses.
  • An estimated $753.2 million dollars are lost every year due to wage theft among low-wage workers. The consequences of this loss further depress working family incomes, resulting in decreased community investment and spending and limited economic growth.
  • Over 100 wage and hour violations occur in Houston every single week, a conservative figure that still demonstrates the pervasiveness of wage theft in the city. Although it is prevalent in the Houston construction and restaurant industries, it affects all types of industries, especially low-wage work.

The System Charged with Wage Enforcement is Failing:

  • Across the board, agencies and institutions – including the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, the Texas Workforce Commission, the Courts, and community organizations – face many limitations, including understaffing, financial barriers (for both institutions and workers), and lack of enforcement and jurisdiction.
  • As a result, many workers are left unprotected, either through exclusions from the law or financial barriers to reporting and pursuing wage theft cases.
  • Weak employer enforcement and near non-existent consequences for violations make wage theft recovery increasingly difficult and also fail to deter future wage theft occurrences.

Houston has Many Opportunities to Bring Down Wage Theft through Community & Policy Action

  • Throughout the nation, communities have been resisting wage theft by implementing creative community actions and successfully pushing comprehensive policy solutions at the local and state levels.
  • Houston can capitalize on successful models nationwide, as well as on its own local innovation, to create better wage theft prevention and recovery mechanisms based on the needs of the region’s industries and workers.
  • The city can take action by facilitating wage claims and resolutions through an administrative hearing process, increase employer consequences to improve wage theft recovery and prevention, and strengthen worker protections against retaliation for reporting wage claims within the city.

That last one is very important and is something our City Council should take action on ASAP. The City has an opportunity to set a high standard and show its commitment to working people by taking such an action.

The Chron Visits Sharpstown

Chris Moran at the Chron took some time out of his busy City Hall schedule to do this write-up on my new neighborhood–Sharpstown. While Moran reminds us of the various negative things in the area, such as crime and some blight, I cannot but agree with my Council Member Mike Laster.

District J Councilman Mike Laster, a longtime Sharpstown activist and resident, compares his community today to the Heights of 15 years ago and Midtown a decade ago.

There are many components to revitalization, Laster explained. “The first and most important one is changing people’s attitudes about your area.”

Laster and Acquaro point to bricks and blueprints as evidence that Sharpstown is poised for a revival.

I think Sharpstown does suffer from a PR problem, as much as any of the cosmetic problems. And the perceptions, as they come from different people even within the community, are quite different, too. It seems when there is a discussion about Sharpstown, people either skirt the issue or come close to blaming the diversity of the area for the problems, while also trying to appreciate it.

I attended an HD-137 candidate forum this weekend and one of the candidates brought up “the old Sharpstown mall,” now known as PlazAmericas, and how all of the anchor stores are long-gone. The problem is, most shopping centers in the area don’t have anchor stores either; such as those huge shopping centers in what is known as Chinatown. It may be for obvious reasons:  It’s a challenge for anchor stores to locate and market in shopping centers which market to specific groups.

Perhaps a major reconstruction of the area will open a door, as is being done to Chinatown. Some cosmetic improvements have also been done to the PlazaAmericas area. To simply point to the problem is not enough; if you want to improve an area, then you have to work on bringing in investors and businesses, as well as push government to provide the necessary resources–law enforcement, city services, etc.–to help a business community thrive and a community revitalize. I see that commitment from CM Laster and from various leaders who have resided in Sharpstown and have chosen to stay.

Moran points to KIPP and other private schools in the area, including HBU, which will be working on expanding some of their offerings. And those institutions reach a few people; however, the vast majority of students are in public schools and there must be a commitment to improve those–whether in Gulfton, Sharpstown or any of these areas. Good, safe school do not only provide an educational foundation, but they also provide a base for community relations–organizations, cultural events, and community activism. Without investment in the public infrastructure, changing people’s perception will be an even bigger challenge.

Nonetheless, there are various issues in Sharpstown, and these are the same issues that affect most other neighborhoods in Houston–crime, blight, slow progress on economic development, etc. And as various entities partner up to improve the area, there needs to be some sort of cheer squad to pump up the positive aspects of the area:  its diversity–ethnic, cultural, and economic–and even small business opportunities. And it will take the most important part of Sharpstown to get this done–its people.

My neighborhood has a little bit of everything and nothing made me feel more hopeful than driving by a low-income apartment complex which has been improved and seeing its residents hold a community garage sale and car wash to raise money to keep improving their little community. And that’s just one instance of many that can make any Sharpstown resident feel hopeful.

I’m looking forward to Sharpstown’s process of revitalization–the process, not just the end product.

What Was Calderon Doing Here?

Well, we know exactly why he was here. To make sure our 1% and his 1% stay the 1%.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón, in Houston on Wednesday as part of his U.S. visit, emphasized the importance of the trade relationship between Mexico and Texas, saying 35 percent of Texas exports, representing more than $86 billion, went to Mexico in 2011.

Meeting with more than 160 business leaders from the Greater Houston Partnership, Calderón stressed the significance of that relationship to Mexico’s growing economy. Mexico is Houston’s largest trading partner, with the two exchanging $31.4 billion in imports and exports annually. Mexico is the largest U.S. export market after Canada, and in 2011, U.S. exports to Mexico grew by $34 billion.

I would hope that these business leaders, or at the very least, our key-to-the-city wielding Mayor Parker questioned the economic impact of all of the trade agreements on Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Mexico is still fraught with poverty and 600,000 jobs, as mentioned by Calderon, is hardly a drop in the bucket to improve Mexico. According to the CIA Factbook, 18.2% of Mexican citizens live in poverty if we go by the food-based definition. But if we go by the asset-based definition (in other words, wealth), we’re talking about almost half of Mexican citizens. Other studies are comparable, with the number of those in poverty being at around 50,000,000–which shows how “drop in the bucket” those 600,000 jobs Calderon mentioned really are. So, someone is getting rich and the people of Mexico aren’t seeing much improvement.

Since it wasn’t reported, I would like to know if the Mayor, council members present, or the so-called business leaders who charge $100+ to see the guy speak ever questioned Calderon about this. Otherwise, this all about our 1% helping their 1% continue their shopping excursions to our Galleria with dinner at the Palm or Morton’s afterward.

And the rest of the people? Well, either they’ll stay and suffer, or they will come on over to be exploited by the 1%. And that’s a whole other discussion.

DC Inbox: Mayor Announces “Love Your Block” Grants

This sounds like something fun to do, while helping our neighborhoods.

MAYOR PARKER ANNOUNCES “LOVE YOUR BLOCK” GRANTS
New Grants Support Volunteer-Led Street Block Revitalization

Who: Houston Mayor Annise Parker
What:
Mayor Parker will announce the launch of Love Your Block, a new City of Houston grant program designed to encourage volunteers to conduct residential street block improvement and beautification projects in their neighborhoods.  The grant program is part of Houston SERVICE, administered under the Mayor’s Volunteer Initiatives Program in the Department of Neighborhoods.  The City’s community partners Keep Houston Beautiful and Trees for Houston will provide tools, supplies and other resources for the funded projects.  A grant review committee will provide guidance in aligning the funded projects with existing City priorities. The program will fund 20 projects in 2012.
When: Wednesday, April 18 – Following 9:00 a.m. Houston City Council Meeting
Where: Houston City Council Chamber, 901 Bagby, 2nd Floor, Houston, TX 77002
Notes: The deadline for grant applications is May 11, 2012.  Grantee organizations will receive a $500 gift card from Home Depot for the purchase of supplies and equipment necessary to implement the projects.  Funded projects must be implemented between June and December, 2012.  To apply for a grant, visit www.HoustonSERVICE.org.