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December 24th, 2012:

Monday video break: Tonight’s the night

I’ve posted this video before, and here it is again:

I’m nowhere close to being tired of this, so look for it again next year. Happy Christmas Eve!

City wins access to firefighter pension information

From the Inbox, late Friday afternoon.

Mayor Annise Parker today announced Judge William Burke of the 189th District Court of Harris County has mandated the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF) Board to provide and disclose information requested by the independent actuary retained by the City of Houston. HFRRF has refused to provide data to allow the City to calculate the pension benefits that taxpayers will have to pay fire fighters covered by the HFFRRF over the next 30 years.

“As we expected, the judge has ruled this information must be given to the City of Houston,” said Mayor Parker. “It is routine information any other private employer would have and what the City needs to adequately budget for the future.”

Texas Government Code (Section 802.1012) places the responsibility on the City to retain an actuary to periodically audit the valuations, studies and reports of HFRRF’s own actuary and to provide the report of this independent actuary to the State Pension Review Board. The lawsuit, initially filed by the City in May earlier this year, was based on HFRRF’s failure to cooperate with the City and provide information necessary in the performance of the statutorily mandated actuarial audit.

The Court found that the Board has a legal duty to provide and disclose all information requested by the independent actuary retained by the City, that the City had requested this information from the Board and that the Board has failed to comply with this requirement and legal duty. The Court further found that the Board’s failure to comply has inhibited the independent actuary’s ability to accomplish its audit and that the City has been prejudiced by the Board’s lack of compliance.

See here for the background, and here for the case information from the District Clerk. I have not seen any reporting on this in the Chron as of yet, so this is all I know.

Houston’s BikeScore

Some parts of Houston are very bike friendly. Others, not so much.

Houston ranks in the middle of the road when it comes to overall bike friendliness, but some local neighborhoods are cycling nirvanas, according to BikeScore.com.

The company, which uses census and area commercial information to assess how bike-able communities are, recently updated its maps to include the ability to search a specific address. Click here and plug in your address and it’ll spit out a walk score, and if applicable a bike score, too.

The numbers might surprise you. I plugged in a downtown address, near Market Square Park, and got a score of 82 on a 100-point scale, which is not bad for Houston. I’ll also note it got that grade for being “flat as a pancake,” and for having established bike lanes.

Addresses in The Heights received scores in the high-60s. A Pleasantville address got a 52.

The Montrose and Rice Village neighborhoods scored the best. Many addresses close to Westheimer Road and Alabama Street scored in the upper-80s, in larger part because they have easy access to grocery stores, pharmacies and other amenities.

The city overall scored a 49 out of 100, but as you can see from the map it really depends on where you are. You can read about the methodology here. Personally, I think they ought to account for weather as well. Houston may not be quite as geared towards bikes as Chicago, for example, but I’ll bet we have bike-amenable weather for more of the year than they do. And yes, I consider the summertime to be bike-amenable. One of the nice things about bike riding is that there’s always a breeze. I don’t feel hot when biking in hot weather. Maybe it’s just me, but I think weather and climate ought to be a consideration. Anyway, note that Houston scored better than Austin – our lack of hills is an asset here – and other cities in Texas were not yet rated. Check it out.