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May 12th, 2018:

HISD gets some public feedback

Needed more opportunities for this from the beginning.

Emotions continued to run high Thursday as residents offered both condemnation and support of Houston ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, whose leadership has been questioned following a raucous board meeting last month that ended with two arrests.

With about 300 people in attendance, dozens of residents demanded trustees take steps to restore trust with the community – with many calling for the removal of Skillern-Jones from her presidency – while a smaller contingent rose to back Skillern-Jones’ leadership. Unlike the board’s meeting on April 24, there was no skirmish between members of the public and HISD police during Thursday’s six-hour meeting.

HISD’s meeting in April drew national attention after police made the arrests and temporarily removed all members of the public, with some resisting officers. The scuffle came after Skillern-Jones ordered the room cleared when attendees continued to make noise during public comment after she warned them to remain quiet. The two arrested were released the next day and not charged.

Community members were given more latitude Thursday to respond as about 100 speakers began addressing trustees, with Skillern-Jones issuing no warnings about noise. One speaker pointed at trustees, calling each a “coward.” Another wore a shirt declaring “Not Afraid of Rhonda.” Several speakers told trustees that members of the public have been unfairly targeted for their activism, demanding better treatment from the board and police.

“I’m not dangerous. I’m not the enemy,” said speaker Karina Quesada-León, whom Skillern-Jones ordered to leave the podium at last month’s meeting. “I show up because I want a well-rounded education for every child in HISD.”

At the risk of setting the bar low, no skirmishes seems like a good place to start. Whether this will cause more trustees to get on the “the board needs a new President” train remains to be seen. It may be that if HISD does get an accountability waiver from the TEA that the pressure is reduced, but if that’s the case then surely there will be no way to avoid a shakeup if there is no waiver. In the meantime, I’d suggest the Board have more meetings where the people who attend can feel like they’ve been listened to. The Press has more.

Judge sides with city in term limits lawsuit

The city wins for now, but we all know it’s not over yet.

Politicians at City Hall can continue serving four-year terms — at least for now — after a state district judge sided with the city of Houston Friday in a lawsuit seeking to void the November 2015 election in which voters lengthened elected officials’ terms from two to four years.

The plaintiffs, who plan to appeal, allege former mayor Annise Parker and the City Council misled voters in setting the ballot language for the proposition, which changed the city’s term limits to a maximum of two four-year terms, ending the system of three two-year terms that had been in place since 1991.

Local lawyer and Harris County Department of Education trustee Eric Dick sued, arguing the ballot language obscured the nature of the vote by asking whether voters wanted to “limit the length for all terms,” when, in fact, the change lengthened the maximum term of office from six to eight years. For council members first elected in 2013, the limit is 10 years — one two-year term followed by up to two four-year terms.

Judge Randy Clapp, a Wharton County jurist appointed to hear the case, granted summary judgment for the city on Friday, repeating phrasing he had used at a procedural hearing in the case two years ago, saying the city’s chosen language was “inartful” but not “invalid.”

See here, here, and here for some background. You know how I feel about Eric Dick and Andy Taylor and the bullshit they peddle – and remember, I say that as someone who voted against this referendum – so let’s just slide past that. I suppose I’m encouraged that the Supreme Court refused to intervene last year, but they will still have the last say and we know they don’t have any particular compunctions about overriding the will of Houston’s voters. I will also note that the original lawsuit was filed in November of 2015, a couple of weeks after the referendum was passed, and we just now have a ruling from the district court. We are still some unknowable number of years away from a final decision, and as with the Renew Houston case that final decision may just send the whole thing back to the lower court for a do-over. You see why I find the concept of a pay parity referendum for the firefighters to be so laughable? The lawsuit that will result from that, regardless of the verdict, may not be fully resolved until all of the firefighters who’d be affected by it are retired. The lawyers are warming up in the bullpen for it as we speak.

Endorsement watch: Runoff time

The Chron goes for Lizzie Fletcher in CD07.

Lizzie Fletcher

United States Representative, District 7: Lizzie Pannill Fletcher

Democrats have a serious chance of knocking Republican Congressman John Culberson out of the seat he has occupied since 2001. The 7th Congressional District encompasses some of the Houston area’s wealthiest neighborhoods, from West University Place and Bellaire to flood ravaged subdivisions in west and northwest Harris County. What was once the safely Republican district represented by George H.W. Bush was won by Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election. That caught the attention of seven Democrats who ran in a spirited primary. Now attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and freelance writer Laura Moser face each other in a hotly contested runoff.

Fletcher is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate who edited the William and Mary Law Review, a former Vinson & Elkins attorney who later became the first woman partner at another 50-person litigation firm. Her professional credentials and connections present the Houston model of business-friendly cosmopolitanism that used to be the hallmark of local Republicans. That George H.W. Bush-James Baker model has been abandoned by the Trump crowd and now Democrats like Fletcher are starting to claim the political territory as their own.

Her longtime history of involvement in both the corporate world and local nonprofits offers an appeal to crossover voters yearning to hear the voice of a real Houstonian up in Washington.

The Chron dual-endorsed Fletcher and Jason Westin in the primary, so this is not a surprise. As a reminder, my interview with Fletcher is here and with Laura Moser is here. I haven’t seen many announcements of runoff endorsements by other groups – many of them stayed out of the March race, and some went with other candidates – but Erik Manning’s runoff spreadsheet has you covered there.

The Chron also made a recommendation in the runoff for JP in Precinct 7.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

Audrie Lawton came in third in this race for the Democratic nomination for this front-line judicial position, so instead we lend our endorsement to Cheryl Elliott Thornton.

Of the two remaining candidates, Thornton, 60, has the most legal experience. She currently serves as an assistant county attorney but has held a variety of legal roles in her over 30 years of practice. Past positions include general counsel for Texas Southern University and administrative law judge for the Texas Workforce Commission. Thorton, a graduate of Thurgood Marshall School of Law, has an impressive record of community involvement in this southeast Houston district as well as in the greater Houston community. That diverse experience that makes for a fine justice of the peace, which often has to deal with pro-se litigants in Class C misdemeanor criminal cases and minor civil matters. This specific bench covers a slice of Harris County that stretches from Midtown and the Third Ward south to the Sam Houston Tollway.

The other candidate, Sharon M. Burney, the daughter of long-time sitting justice Zinetta Burney, is a practicing lawyer as well but can’t match Thorton’s legal experience.

Here’s the Q&A I got from Thornton. I did not receive one from Burney. For the other runoffs, the candidate the Chron endorsed originally is still in the race:

CD10 – Mike Siegel
CD22 – Sri Kulkarni
HD133 – Marty Schexnayder
District Clerk – Marilyn Burgess
County Clerk – Diane Trautman
Treasurer – Dylan Osborne
HCDE Position 3, At Large – Josh Wallenstein
HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 – Danny Norris

Early voting starts Monday and only runs through Friday – five says of EV is standard for runoffs. Get out there and vote.