Category Archives: HoustonVotes ’11

“Anti-Charity” Ordinance Passes

Well, that ordinance passed. The same ordinance states that the City’s public lands can only be used for charitable meals with permission. And that cops can ask for proof of permission, whether the owner complains or not. (At least that’s how I read it.)

For the record:

Mayor Annise Parker and council members Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Wanda Adams, Ed Gonzalez, James Rodriguez, Mike Laster, Larry Green, Stephen Costello, Andrew Burks and Melissa Noriega voted in favor of the ordinance. Council members Helena Brown, Mike Sullivan, Al Hoang, Oliver Pennington, C.O. Bradford and Jack Christie voted against it.

I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I can’t say I was against it for the same reasons as most of those who voted against it, I just thought it was a bad policy that could have been greatly improved. We went from talking about dignity and safety to beefing up private property rights (and park policing), it seems to me. And I haven’t really heard a good explanation of it from those who support it, although I’m probably one of the few who would have been willing to listen (or debate it).

Is it a political career-ender for any of these folks? Probably not. But voters like me do keep count.

What this whole episode did do is engage a lot of people who may not have been active voters. Unfortunately, when they see people they thought of as “progressive” voting for an ordinance like this, it clouds people’s perceptions of those officials. And when you lump in people who haven’t been involved because of any mistrust of what they perceive as “the system,” well, the whole combination has the possibility of becoming something. I’ll leave it to them to define it.

But I’ll be frank. I’m not interested in a referendum on getting rid of any passed ordinance in 2012. I’m probably in Democratic 2012 mode, but I think pairing up with right-wingers–the same right-wingers who are passing around an anti-immigrant, anti-Latino petition to get a racist ordinance proposed on the ballot–is not a good idea. Like I said, I had my reasons for being against this ordinance and they didn’t match up to the right-wing rhetoric on the issue. I could care less about what they call “religious freedom,” I just want people who need something to have access to what they need, papers be damned!

I’ll chalk this up to a debate lost, and make my voting decisions in 2013. Needless to say, some of those Council members I’ve voted for in the past, but who disagreed with me, would still have my vote.

Kuff has his take on “take three,” of this saga.

A Better Explanation of a Bad Idea

After reading this article on the “scaled-back” version of the Mayor’s notion of permission-based charitable meals, I must say that I continue to be against it. What I stated in my previous post about the scaled-back plan was true.

But if this is all about private property rights, then I would think that the property owner has every right to drive anyone off of their property utilizing what is on the books, no?

And how does the Chron describe it?

Although the administration previously had pitched the initiative as a way to protect homeless people from unsafe food and to coordinate the efforts of charities to avoid duplication and wasted food, the stripped-down proposal amounts to a property rights ordinance.

Only, this time around, it seems the cops get to be the ones to proclaim who’s trespassing, rather than (like the rest of us) the property owner reporting any infraction.

The proposed rules would allow police officers to ask servers for proof of written permission from the property owner any time they observe meals being served. If proof is not produced, police can cite the servers on the spot with a fine of as much as $500. The charge can be prosecuted in municipal court.

In other words, cops can question a charity to see if they can be on a property without need of a formal complaint from a property owner. So, guilty until one produces proof?

No, Mayor, I’m not for that. And I implore my new member of Council Mike Laster to vote NO on this ordinance.

We started with protecting the homeless from bad food and ended up with good people required to provide proof that they can be at any given location. I don’t like it when they do this to immigrants (and profiled Latinos), and I sure as heck won’t like it when they do it to people lending a hand.

Criminalizing Charity? Who Else is Targeted?

That’s what I get from this whole thing about regulating charitable meals for the homeless. Or else, why the misdemeanor?

But the rules on the way to council tomorrow (see item 10) have been characterized by opponents as criminalizing charity because of the fines of up to $2,000 for violations of the new rules.

I can understand, and even appreciate, the public spin of the intent to have safe food and cleaner facilities; however, we’re talking about nonprofit organizations attempting to help people.  As the regs go:

The rules would:

  • Limit feeding of the homeless on public property to Tranquillity Park, Peggy’s Point Plaza Park and a park on Chartres Street just north of Minute Maid Park. Written authorization of the property owner would be required for feedings on private property.
  • Require feeding organizations to register with the city and to take a food safety training class.
  • Require that the food be served within four hours of preparation (or removal from temperature control).
  • Mandate that the feeding site be left “in a clean, waste-free, litter-free condition.”
  • Make violations a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 to $2,000.

Don’t get me started on “feedings,” but giving HPD (or an inspector) a license to arrest or ticket helping organizations seems a bit, no, it is too much. As far as the other rules go, there couldn’t be just a simple agreement between the City and the organizations? A criminal penalty is required? Let’s not even talk about the cost of enforcement when we have real crimes to address, especially if HPD only “assists” an inspector.

And how far does this law go? Let’s define “demonstrable need,” because there are other groups who provide charitable meals (see how easy it is to not to say “feedings”?) to day laborers, some who are immigrants, beyond downtown. How would they be affected? And would 287(g) and S-COMM come into play if an overzealous cop were to assist any inspectors? Because we know those overzealous ones exist.

I think the ordinance leaves too much open to interpretation. Maybe the Mayor and some council members might say it is not the intent, but what about when they’re gone? The homeless, or anyone else in need, should never fear some sort of raid when all they want is a little sustenance. And neither should those who give from the heart.

Mayor and Council, please reconsider and come up with a better way of addressing this issue.

UPDATE:  The ordinance was delayed for a couple of weeks.

Council members Oliver Pennington and Jack Christie said they would like to hold off on mandatory rules until after a campaign that promotes voluntary compliance with some of the proposed rules, such as clean-up of the sites where food is served.

I would say get rid of the excessive fine and criminal penalty, too.

Wishing for Addie?

What did I say about Helena Brown soon after the elections?

Given Brown’s right-wing experiences, well, perhaps she’ll blow away the memory of Addie Wiseman from City Hall. We shall see.

I think she has.

That was just last week. In almost every case, she was the lone dissenter. Between tags – which delay consideration of items for a week – and no votes, Brown opposed or delayed more than a third of Wednesday’s council business.

And how does she respond to press questions?

The rookie council member declined to be interviewed, but she did respond to written questions in an email.

So…has anyone been recruited for a 2013 run?

Now, That’s How One Announces for 2015

With all the talk about who is going to challenge Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, Controller Ronald Green seems to have stated how he really feels.

I think Annise Parker’s going to be (re-elected) mayor in 2013. I don’t have any problem saying that. I have no desire that she not be the mayor. I think she will rebound from what showing she had last year. I think that at the end of the day I’m keeping my options open. I think that as long as the two of us can work together, she’ll be the mayor for the next four years, I’ll be the controller.

And then…

“When the time comes,” he repeated with a laugh. “I will be formidable. I have shown that I can be formidable in anything I run for.” Green was unopposed in November for a second two-year term.

I’ve been a fan of the Controller since his first race for Council. And he seems to know how to play it, rather than be a bully or a naysayer. But I know there’s at least one member of the City Council that I wouldn’t mind seeing announce for Mayor in 2015, too.

And now, back to our regular 2012 programming…

Good Jobs Great Houston, HOPE Make Some Good Suggestions

HOPE, the city of Houston’s employee union, has been at the forefront  when it comes to the City’s budget battles. Beyond any city committee’s politically expedient budget proposals, HOPE makes suggestions that would actually strengthen the city’s position, rather than just punt the ball to the next budget cycle.

So, it was not a surprise to see Good Jobs Great Houston and HOPE make a strong statement after a city committee made their budget proposals. Here is the organized group’s list:

Good Jobs Great Houston, of which the Houston Organization of Public Employees is a member, held a news conference outside Wednesday’s City Council meeting to get their own ideas out. They claim that some of the ideas they had submitted to the Task Force did not make it onto the draft list. Among the union’s ideas distributed Wednesday:

  • Raise the city’s tax rate;
  • Establish a higher property tax bracket on homes with a value exceeding $500,000;
  • Establish a 1 percent income tax on city residents who make more than $30,000 a year;
  • A “blight tax” on foreclosed homes that banks would pay on vacant properties they let deteriorate;
  • End the practice of double dipping — remaining on the city payroll while collecting a pension;
  • Put a cap of $100,000 a year on annual pensions for new hires;
  • Review all outsourced services to see if they can be done more efficiently in house.

There are a lot more, but the Good Job Great Houston and HOPE officials said they want the conversation to include more than what’s already on the Task Force’s 229-item draft list.

The union leaders also pointed out things they don’t like on the draft list: eliminating the property tax homestead exemption for the elderly and providing tax abatements and other incentives to lure biotech companies to Houston. The latter, a Good Jobs Great Houston release states, equates to “tax giveaways for big corporations.”

The responsible thing is to put everything on the table, including our city employees’ ideas.

Heck, I would add a commuter income tax (for those who reside outside of the city limits and use our roads and infrastructure while providing little return to our coffers), too.

Catching Up on the Week’s Chisme

A Lecture at City Hall?

That’s what one of the new guys on the horseshoe called it, apparently. Frankly, I think Helena Brown’s talk-down by CM James Rodriguez was well-earned. As far as “magnificent,” well, I don’t know about that. I said during my end of the election post that the newbies were going to have to work and play well with others, especially those reppin’ districts. City Council is about relationships and if done right, you can accomplish much. I also said Brown would make us all wish Addie Wiseman was still at City Hall. Well…maybe.

It’s Not Even a Story Anymore!

That’s right, 2012 will be another NoTejano event at HoustonRodeo.

¿Si o No?

Looks like the Chron already wants to start something for 2013. I mentioned it in my post-election thoughts, too. Now, I’m wondering if one of the “magnificent” 7 might be getting interested, too.

The Mintz Kick-Off

I was proud to be one of the hosts of the Silvia Mintz for Education Kick-Off Fundraiser at Julia’s Bistro on Wednesday.  Along with it being a success, the event also provided a burst of energy that many of us needed, now that the Republicans and the Supremes are messing with our elections. It’s the kind of energy we need to sustain starting now–no matter how long the Republicans force us to wait. I’m sure glad she and other energetic candidates will be anchoring the ballot.

More posts later. Just felt like catching up during this busy week!

The Campaign Against Wage Theft in Houston

There’s a story in today’s Chron about several workers walking out of Ruggles in Montrose for what is described as lack of pay. Specifically, it is about workers who work for tips getting shortchanged. The owner of Ruggles says he’s working on it, but is also embroiled in other legal issues. Still, legal issues aren’t much of an excuse to not pay some folks.

Again, this is just one example of an ongoing crisis called wage theft. Here in Houston, there is now a movement asking Mayor Annise Parker and Houston City Council to take a stand against the practice:

It is time to take action now considering that: Wage theft disproportionately impacts those who already live in poverty ; Workers who aren’t paid are forced to fall back on public safety nets and government assistance in order to keep their families economically afloat; Wage theft is unfair competition since employers paying prevailing wages cannot successfully compete with businesses that reduce their costs by committing wage theft. We believe that you can take action to level the playing field for responsible businesses and bring economic justice to thousands of hard-working Houstonians. We urge you to work together to make Houston a Zero Tolerance city for wage theft.

While the Mayor and other politicians present a positive picture for corporations and small business, I think it would be a good idea to combine that with a pro-worker environment by taking a stand against wage theft.

The campaign is a coalition of organizations which represents the interests of ordinary folks–people who work for a living, provide for their families, and keep the economy running. Unfortunately, it is this very group of people that is easily targeted for wage theft by those companies who are more interested in profit than a good product.

The Coalition is asking the Mayor and City Council to draft a Wage Theft Ordinance that “expedites the process to resolve wage theft claims, includes a viable enforcement mechanism, and aims to prevent future wage theft cases.” And through a strong process, a message is sent that Houston will not tolerate such practices.

If you are part of an organization that represents community interests, become a part of the coalition. If you’re a concerned member of the community, sign the petition and even give a little.

Run-Offs on the Radio, Part II

This morning, This Week With Sylvia Garcia featured the At-Large 2 and At-Large 5 candidates. If you missed it, it will re-air on Friday at 8AM on, but I’ll try to get a copy of it to post here to aid voters in their decision, if one has not yet been made.

The At-Large 2 forum went pretty much as planned, with Kristi Thibaut and Andrew Burks giving their priorities, their plans to expand outreach to aid turnout, their thoughts on the budget, etc. I’ll let you listen to those when I get the copy, but when given the opportunity to ask each other questions, Burks took a turn for the negative.

Burks took out a copy of a recent Thibaut mailer and attempted to call-out Thibaut on an endorsement (one of many on the mailer, including many African-American elected officials) she listed that Burks states was actually given to him. I believe it was from a church group. Anyway, Thibaut stated she had not heard from the organization and would have no problem stating something about any retraction.

But if that wasn’t enough, in a moment of weirdness, Burks threw one from left field asking why Thibaut was calling herself “the only black candidate.”  Thibaut stated she had never described herself in that way.

Thibaut’s question was more issues oriented; in fact, she asked Burks why he had campaigned against Renew Houston, but now speaks in favor of it. Burks responded by stating he saw “my members” of Council speak against it and took the same approach, but that he now supports it, but made sure to point out that “it is not a fee, but a tax.”

With AL2 completed, we were hoping for a good debate between Jolanda Jones and Jack Christie. Unfortunately, Council Member Jones was working at the courthouse and arrived at the show’s end. Still, Dr. Christie enjoyed the full time answering the usual questions, but given the tone of his campaign, I wanted to bring him back to issues.

So, I pointed to his most recent mailer–the pink one with all of the Chronicle quotes about CM Jones–and stated that it seemed like he had made the campaign all about personalities and not about issues. I didn’t mention what had occurred at a Meyerland Democrats meeting–a bad reaction from folks who didn’t much enjoy his comments about CM Jones’ fashion choices. In order to make it issues oriented, I asked: “Can you tell me one vote taken by CM Jones with which you disagreed and why?”

Dr. Christie didn’t take too kindly to the question stating he had made the campaign about himself. Still, I repeated the question. One Vote? Here was his shot at making a policy statement of sorts. He chose to state he didn’t like a budget item CM Jones had requested–he stated it was a personal bathroom in her office. Obviously, this was a budget amendment and not an actual council vote, which is what I was looking for.

Christie was given an opportunity to ask a question of CM Jones, too, as if she was in the studio. Christie asked what CM Jones’ relationship was with Constable Ruben Davis in Missouri City, stating that his “friends had told him” that money is exchanged and that the Constable ensures a certain number of votes. Make what you will of that response.

I haven’t made it a secret that I endorsed Thibaut in her race, but I had remained quiet in the AL5 race. So, in asking Christie the question today I think I was fishing for an answer that would bring him toward the issues, rather than the personalities (what has been central in his direct mail pieces)–something that would make the distinction for voters when it comes to the issues. I guess that was a #fail on my part, but I think this interview has given some clarity to voters in one way or another.

I’ll get a copy on here soon, otherwise, listen in on Friday at 8AM.

Early voting begins on Wednesday 11/30. Find your polling location at this link (PDF).

Run-Off Candidate Series on Tuesday

Tune in to on Tuesday, 11/29 at 10AM, for This Week With Sylvia Garcia. This week features the City of Houston Run-Off Candidate Series featuring At-Large 2 and At-Large 5.

Of course, facing off in At-Large 2 are former State Representative Kristi Thibaut and businessman Andrew Burks; while At-Large 5 features 2-term incumbent Jolanda Jones and former SBOE member Jack Christie.

Hosting, as always, is The Commish, Sylvia Garcia, and I’m proud to be co-hosting as we ask candidates the questions to which voters need answers.

Tune in at 10AM on You may also download the Live365 app for your phone and search for UCTCRadio.