I’ve been wondering how new Council Member Helena Brown’s style will play at Council meetings. I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Councilwoman Helena Brown and Councilman James Rodriguez squared off publicly Wednesday in the kind of bare-knuckled politics usually deployed in a back room.
The outer layer of the onion had them disagreeing on whether the city should spend $2.3 million on a bike path along Sims Bayou in Rodriguez’s District I. Brown called it a “luxury” the city cannot afford in tough economic times.
Underneath that layer, though, Brown had violated an unspoken commandment of the council horseshoe: Thou shalt not question a project in another council member’s district.
Rodriguez told Brown in no uncertain terms that his constituents support it. And, in so many words, to mind her own business.
“I think you’re going to find out real quick there’s a 16-1 answer to your question,” Rodriguez said. He was prophetic. Brown was the lone vote against the project.
Peeling further, Rodriguez may have a personal motive. After Rodriguez championed historic designation status for Glenbrook Valley, a neighborhood in his southeast Houston district, Leticia Ablaza, a resident of that district, ran against him in November. Rodriguez won handily. Brown, who represents northwest Houston’s District A, hired Ablaza as her chief of staff.
Here’s video of the exchange:
Note the exchange between CM Gonzalez and Mayor Parker about the flood mitigation aspect of the project, and the fact that the Parks Board is paying for the amenities. Which didn’t deter CM Brown, but I suspect she achieved her intended goals. I have to say, it’s just a wee bit disingenuous of Brown to talk about how Houston is paying for frivolities while its infrastructure crumbles, given that her entire campaign was built around opposition to Renew Houston; judging from the crowd that backed her, I’m sure she also opposed the water rate hike that ensured the city is adequately covering its costs of delivering that service. That’s the thing about infrastructure, you have to actually pay for it.
As for the territorial squabble, on a philosophical level I don’t actually have a problem with a Council member – or any other member of a legislative body – questioning a project in someone else’s district. If something is questionable, then it needs to be questioned. Obviously, I don’t agree with the substance of Brown’s remarks – I support building bike paths along the bayous, and again on a philosophical level, I disagree with Brown’s “we can’t afford that!” mindset – but I don’t consider her speaking out in this fashion to be a sin in and of itself. It was a violation of Council’s norms, however, and I’m certain it won’t be an isolated incident. If I were Sean Pendergast, I’d discuss the hypothetical Vegas odds of who Brown’s next mostly likely sparring partners will be, but I don’t quite have that in me. Feel free to speculate in the comments. Campos has more.