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March 3rd, 2017:

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 35

March already. We need more months to go by this quickly.

1. Feel So Different – Sinead O’Connor
2. Spellbound – Siouxsie And The Banshees (Susan Ballion, a/k/a Siouxsie Sioux)
3. Papa Dean – Sister Nancy (Ophlin Russell)
4. He’s The Greatest Dancer – Sister Sledge (Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy Sledge)
5. Under Fiery Skies – SixMileBridge (Maggie Drennon, Frances Cunningham)
6. Everything Is Embarrassing – Sky Ferreira
7. Stand! – Sly & The Family Stone (Rose Stone, Cynthia Robinson)
8. Drinkee – Sofi Tukker (Sophie Hawley-Weld)
9. 16 Come Next Sunday – Solas (Winifred Horan, Moira Smiley)
10. Like Someone In Love – Sophie Milman

There are a few songs about What Everything Is – Everything Is Awesome, Everything Is Borrowed, Everything Is Embarrassing. I guess singing that Most Things are something isn’t very poetic. Siouxsie and the Banshees is one of those bands from the 80s that I’d heard of but wasn’t cool enough to have listened to anything they did. I’m making up for that now, because better late than never.

Abby Whitmire: Why I’m running for Humble ISD Board of Trustees

(Note: As you know, I solicit guest posts from time to time. I am also working to follow the May 2017 elections more closely, to do my part for the renewed sense of purpose and desire to make a difference at the local level. I was delighted to learn that a friend of mine had taken that to the next level, so in that spirit I asked her to write about her candidacy.)

Abby Whitmire

Humble ISD covers over 90 square miles of northeast Harris County, including the communities of Humble, Atascocita, Kingwood, Fall Creek, and Eagle Springs. The population in the district is expected to rise from 40,500 to approximately 52,000 by 2025 – necessitating the construction of six new schools by 2022, including one high school, the seventh for the district. The district is 19.1% African American, 34.1% Latino, 40.9% White, and 5.9% Other. Almost nine percent of Humble ISD are Limited English Proficient and almost 34% are considered economically disadvantaged.

In the summer of 2016, the school board hired a controversial superintendent who had helped implement a private school voucher program in her previous job. The hiring of Dr. Liz Fagen as Superintendent was done over the very vocal objections of a large segment of the district. Many people in the district are still upset about that, and upset about how the board handled her hiring and how they tried to explain it to the public. A group of parents organized against this hire, and while we were ultimately unsuccessful in that objective, we have continued to serve in the role of watchdog for board and general district matters.

Part of this organizing includes supporting challengers to the six trustees who voted in the current superintendent (the seventh member was absent). Four positions are open in this election (one board member is not running for reelection so there is not an incumbent in that race). The day before the filing deadline, the incumbent in Position 4 was unopposed. I decided to run for Position 4 that day, because I believe the voters in Humble ISD deserve a real choice in who represents them.

I was blessed with amazing teachers who were committed and creative, and who cared so deeply about me and my classmates. I believe all children in Texas deserve a great, well-resourced school with respected and empowered teachers, regardless of where they live or how much money their family makes. I'm hoping to earn the votes of concerned parents in the district who want to protect public education.

I am the only candidate who has lived in a town – New Orleans – that is a living laboratory for charter schools. 93% of New Orleans students attend charter schools currently, and the number could soon approach 100%, as the Orleans Parish School Board intends to convert its five remaining direct-run schools into charters. This the highest percentage of any U.S. city (Source: Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives). The results are mixed at best. Living in that environment and hearing the concerns of parents and teachers made me extremely skeptical of charter schools and so-called "school choice" – the choice was often one of bad options.

My family moved to Kingwood for the schools. I want to make sure that the caliber of education in Humble ISD remains and even exceeds the level that has made it so attractive to families like mine. We know what works in education: Small class sizes, rich curriculums, experienced and accomplished teachers, and a system of support that helps to manage problems when students lose focus or fall behind. It's simple, but it's not easy. If I am elected to the school board, these will be my priorities.

Abby Whitmire is stay at home mom with a career background in non-profit fundraising, most recently in New Orleans for The Posse Foundation. Her campaign Facebook page is here.

(Ed. note: Kingwood State Rep. Dan Huberty, who is the Chair of the House Public Education Committee and an opponent of vouchers, had previously served on the Humble ISD Board. Just wanted to put that out there.)

Mike Collier will run for Lt Gov

Good.

Mike Collier

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is getting a Democratic challenger for re-election in 2018.

The Texas Democratic Party said Thursday that Mike Collier is stepping down as finance chairman to start a campaign for lieutenant governor.

“Dan Patrick has proven he is unworthy of leading this great state,” party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement Thursday. “I am proud to see a courageous Texan like Mike Collier put his name forward to serve.”

In his own statement, Collier said he is “assembling a campaign team to run against Dan Patrick for Texas Lt. Governor.” He added that he will make a formal announcement after touring the state and gauging support for his run.

“We need a Lt. Governor that brings Texans together, not an ideologue that chases headlines and drives us apart,” Collier said.

[…]

In a brief interview with The Texas Tribune after the announcement, Collier said he filed Thursday morning with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for lieutenant governor. He promised to run a “very policy-oriented, substantive campaign” involving many of the same issues he raised in his 2014 run.

While Texas Democrats are hopeful President Donald Trump’s unpopularity will help them in 2018, Collier said he does not see Trump factoring into his race.

“I’m going to run against my opponent,” Collier said. “My focus has been on the state of Texas.

Collier ran for Comptroller in 2014. He raised some money, ran a decent campaign, won a few endorsements, and generally made a good impression in a lousy year. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor in that story about planning for 2018, but as I noted at the time, he makes more sense as a Lite Guv candidate, because he can go to the business lobby and present himself as a fine and credible alternative to Dan Patrick. Which doesn’t mean they’ll go along, of course – he’ll need to raise a crap-ton of money and have a really good plan for turning out Democratic votes to not get politely shown the door – but there’s a chance. Having him get started this early says a lot. You want to get in on it, go here and get on his contacts list. If we’re serious about making some noise in 2018, here’s our first chance to show it.

No one ever said pension reform was going to be easy

The firefighters’ pension fund isn’t happy with the way things are going.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The plan to reform the City of Houston’s pension system is running into opposition from the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF).

In a recent letter sent to its members, the HFRRF criticized Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner for ending the negotiations on the final version of the pension reform bill, which is being drafted in the Texas Legislature.

Turner has told the staff working on the bill’s final version to roughly match the terms for the firefighters to those that the Police pension fund has agreed to.

The HFRRF says it will oppose that option.

David Keller, the HFRRF’s chairman, notes that some of the adjustments firefighters wanted to see in the bill included “changes to the cost of living adjustments.”

“It would include changes to the deferred retirement option funding, it would change age of retirement for new hires,” Keller adds.

The Mayor said last week the unwillingness of the firefighters to fully abide by the terms he is proposing, for instance, increasing employee payroll contributions, would result in bigger benefit cuts than they tentatively agreed to last fall.

The Chron adds on.

Turner had said at last Wednesday’s City Council meeting that he was making good on earlier hints that the fire pension trustees’ failure to agree to reform terms would see the fund receive deeper benefit cuts than it had tentatively agreed to last fall. Turner said he had instructed legislative attorneys drafting the bill to roughly match the firefighters’ terms to those agreed to by the police pension.

“Our mayor, the former state legislator, has decided to use the insider’s game of the legislative process to pursue his own one-sided plan,” Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund chairman David Keller wrote in a letter to members released late Friday. “If the mayor’s plan for us is the version we last saw or worse, we will absolutely oppose it.”

In explaining his reason for breaking off negotiations this week, Turner had said that Keller’s board had not provided comprehensive data on plan participants to enable the city to accurately predict future costs under the reform plan. As a result, Turner said, the city was forced to propose deeper cuts to ensure the originally projected cost savings are achieved.

“Even in this message, there is no indication they are going to provide the data we have asked for repeatedly,” Turner said Friday evening, responding to Keller’s letter. “Without those numbers, we are unable to verify the cost of the reforms they have offered. I have been very patient throughout this entire process, but the time has come to move forward, and I am doing so in the best interest of the city.”

The do-nothing option has always been fine for the HFRRF, because the city has no control over how much it pays in, which includes cost of living adjustments. That’s always been the main sticking point, and was the focus of reform efforts by Mayors Parker and White, as well as the reason why their relationship with the firefighters was rocky. I don’t blame the firefighters for defending their position, but from the city’s perspective there’s no path to reining in costs that doesn’t include some control over COLAs. This has always been the fight, and it will continue to be the fight, probably even after a reform bill is passed, whenever that may be.

Restricting restrictions on AirBnB

I have issues with this.

A legislative proposal that would limit local government control of short-term home rentals in Texas has reawakened a fight over regulations that has already played out in cities across the state.

Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R- North Richland Hills, would prevent Texas cities from banning or restricting short-term rentals. Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions.

Critics of the bill said it would lower property values and allow Texans to rent houses to people who might host disruptive parties and increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

One of those critics, David King, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, said houses with no live-in residents are sometimes rented to rowdy visitors. Neighborhood disapproval of these houses led cities like Austin to enact local ordinances that limit their presence.

However, bill proponents say SB 451 would protect homeowners from strict local laws that infringe on property rights while still allowing local regulations that limit or prohibit short-term rentals. Under the bill, local governments could still prohibit short-term renters from housing sex offenders or selling alcohol or illegal drugs to guests.

Through an aide, Hancock declined to comment on his bill. State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, the bill’s co-author, said it shields Texas property owners from governmental overreach.

“Private property rights in Texas are sacred,” she said.

Here’s SB451. I can understand the logic behind wanting to have a statewide framework for short-term rentals, in the same way I can understand it for transportation network companies. There’s a legitimate interest in providing something like a uniform regulatory environment for them. That said, hotels and traditional bed and breakfast places are generally subject to local zoning laws, land use requirements, and deed restrictions. Allowing the AirBnBs of the world to skirt those rules sounds more like an unfair advantage than a level playing field to me. In some cities, the proliferation of AirBnB properties has led to concerns about housing shortages in some neighborhoods. Neighborhood issues and quality of life are the province of local government, and as with many things this session I have concerns about the state stepping in to override their authority.

One more point, which I suppose was outside the scope of this story: Lots of cities levy hotel taxes, for a variety of purposes. AirBnB puts the responsibility for following local codes and collecting such taxes on the hosts. Here’s their advice for Houston hosts – you’re gonna have to do some reading to know what you’re supposed to do. The long and short of it is that the growth of AirBnB means that cities and states have been missing out on potential tax revenue, which in some cases is a substantial amount. To their credit, AirBnB is beginning to work with cities on this. The text of SB451 doesn’t address this at all. If the state wants to mandate a uniform regulatory code for short-term rentals, then the least the state can do is provide a uniform mechanism for collecting hotel occupancy taxes as well.