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November 9th, 2012:

Friday random ten: For the ladies, part 5

Pretty good week for the ladies, wouldn’t you say? Winning elections is the best revenge. Congrats to Claire, Elizabeth, Heidi, Mazie, and Tammy for reminding us that a lady’s place is in the Senate.

1. Josie – The Darcys
2. Kathleen – The Mollys
3. Layla – Eric Clapton
4. Lilly The Pink – Ceili’s Muse
5. Lolita – Throw Me The Statue
6. Lorraine – Southside Johnny and The Jukes
7. Luanne – Tufts Beelzebubs
8. Lucretia Mac Evil – Blood, Sweat, and Tears
9. Lucy Cassidy – Clandestine
10. Margarita – Traveling Wilburys

That’s the acoustic “Layla” from the “Unplugged” CD, in case you were wondering.

Not a surprise that the bonds passed

All of the bond issues on the ballot this year had favorable conditions working for them, so their ultimate passage should not be a surprise.

The dire warnings of crippling debt, the long presidential campaign conversation about the limits of government and the potential for sticker shock over local governments’ asking to borrow $2.7 billion all failed to make much of an impact Tuesday. Houstonians said yes to everything, in most cases by a margin of 2-to-1, even when it meant a tax increase.

Observers and participants offering a postmortem on Election 2012 in some cases ascribed the across-the-board sweep to the Houston character: optimistic, pragmatic, cognizant of the need for the right tools to get the job done, satisfied that the Bayou City is faring better economically than its fellow metropolises across the nation.

Others, though, said it is basic politics. Bond promoters used an astute strategy of placing the measures on a presidential election ballot that promised to inspire an urban, Democratic turnout in jurisdictions that already skew blue.

That combination contributed to victory after victory for local government at the ballot box: $1.9 billion to rebuild and repair Houston Independent School District campuses, $425 million for the Houston Community College system to build and upgrade its classrooms and job training centers, $410 million for city parks, libraries, public safety and public health facilities, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s plan to continue to use a chunk of its sales tax money on roads.

[…]

“Other bonds have had loud opposition,” said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, which took no position on the propositions. “This one had a lot of whining, but no real organized opposition. It wasn’t a huge tax increase, and I think people who voted for it looked at it is as they were doing something for the kids.”

Other than the usual cranks and some robocalls from the Harris County GOP, there really wasn’t any opposition to these issues. Especially for the school bond, where no one who usually supports public education spoke out against it, this was very helpful. A Presidential year turnout and a mostly Democratic electorate in the city of Houston and the HISD and HCC juristictions didn’t hurt, either. I’ll be sure to take a close look at where the support was highest and lowest for all these issues once I get my hands on the precinct data.

Ben Hall is a definite maybe for Mayor in 2013

I know, I’m as excited as you are.

Ben Hall

Former City Attorney Ben Hall, long rumored to be considering a run for mayor, said Tuesday that “It’s more likely than not” that he will run for mayor next year.

Hall has been most prominent recently as the attorney for Chad Holley. The black teenager was fleeing the scene of a burglary before falling over the hood of a police car, rolling onto his stomach and placing his hands behind his head in an incident captured on surveillance video. Then the video appears to show several Houston police officers stomping, kicking and punching the prostrate teenager. He is also the attorney for ousted county Housing Authority chief Guy Rankin.

Hall bought a home in the Memorial area in February. Hall insisted that his previous home had a Houston address that qualified him to run for mayor, but that address had apparently been a source of some controversy. Hall said part of his thinking for the home purchase was he “did not want anybody complaining about that (residency) issue even though we formerly complied with the law.”

Whatever. I’m so not ready to start thinking about 2013. Why Hall thought Election Day was a good time to float this bit of news is a mystery to me. At least the SD06 hopefuls know their election is coming up quickly. I really know nothing about Hall and have no idea how compelling a candidate he might be. I do think that 2011 may have been the better time for someone to challenge Mayor Parker, since this time around at least she has a balanced budget and no red light camera/Renew Houston distractions, but we’ll see how it goes. What do you think?

Why the HISD Board of Trustees needed stricter ethics rules

Ladies and gentlemen, Trustee Larry Marshall.

HISD trustee Larry Marshall voted repeatedly to award taxpayer-funded contracts to companies that hired his longtime business associate – who gave him a cut of her earnings, according to court records, deposition testimony and interviews.

Marshall, the Houston Independent School District’s most senior trustee, has received tens of thousands of dollars through the arrangement with consultant Joyce Moss-Clay, who also is his political campaign treasurer, records show. The partnership dates back several years, and in 2009 alone netted the elected official more than $59,000.

The payments to Marshall are at the center of an ongoing civil lawsuit that alleges a bribery and kickback scheme tainted the bidding process in the nation’s seventh-largest school district. (Excerpts from a deposition the the case appear at the bottom of this story.)

“I think any taxpaying citizen would agree that it’s totally inappropriate for an HISD board member to receive thousands of dollars a month in income from contractors with business before the district,” said attorney Chad Dunn, representing the Gil Ramirez Group. The local construction company is suing Marshall, Moss-Clay, HISD and two competing firms after losing a bid for a contract.

Moss-Clay, who is a retired HISD facilities manager, testified in a recent deposition that she paid Marshall up to 75 percent of the fees she collected from clients because he helped with the consulting work and acted as a mentor and “familial brother.”

Marshall, first elected to the school board in 1997, has maintained in court filings that he provided legitimate consulting services. The retired HISD administrator denied that he tried to steer school district business to certain vendors.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Marshall has improperly influenced government contracts,” his attorney, Jarvis Hollingsworth, wrote in a late October filing. “From the outset of this lawsuit, it has been clear that Defendant Joyce Moss-Clay was doing nothing more than paying Marshall for the valuable consulting services that he was providing her.”

The story kind of makes my eyes glaze over due to all of the convoluted transactions. Marshall has always been surrounded by stories and allegations like these, but he’s always managed to survive them, possibly because other people’s eyes glaze over reading about them as well. As I said before, ethics and ethics reform would be easier if everyone involved would just take care not to do things that look and smell suspicious. As long as there are Larry Marshalls in office, it will never be easy.

More bike racks

The Chron notes that Houston is on the verge of becoming an actual bike-friendly city, and that we ought to recognize that and do something to help facilitate it.

Public House on White Oak

Notably, many downtown buildings lack accessible and visible bike racks. For those who live close enough, biking to downtown destinations, whether work or the Theater District, is a tempting alternative to the cost and hassle of downtown parking – especially with the new Buffalo Bayou path. Signposts and benches may have once sufficed, but Houston is steadily approaching the tipping point of actually being a bicycle-friendly city, and we’re going to need enough places to park all those bikes. And for huge buildings like those downtown, sometimes one rack is not enough.

But rather than an infrastructure burden, this is an opportunity to invest in functional public art. Cities from New York City to Louisville, Ky., have turned to local artists to create racks that reflect the spirit and creativity of their towns.

As we know, there’s a restaurant-driven effort to supply bike racks to restaurants in some parts of the city. It makes all kinds of sense to me, because you can add a lot of parking capacity in a small amount of space. Some folks in my neck of the woods are working on this:

When Mitch Cohen was planning White Linen Nights in the Heights last summer, he and the other organizers spent much time on their bikes, cycling from business to business to talk to owners.

“We could get most anywhere in 10 to 20 minutes,” said Cohen, who also manages the Heights’ First Saturday Arts Market. “But there weren’t as many bike racks as we expected.”

Now Cohen is working with other community members to raise money for more racks, which they’re hoping to place in front of businesses along 19th Street, White Oak and other Heights streets.

Cohen said their efforts will complement the work of the Houston Heights Association, which has placed a number of bike racks in the community.

“There are racks here and there, but there’s been no strategic effort to place them where people go shopping,” Cohen said.

“We’re going to tackle that.”

Awesome. More like this, please.