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Brown v Rodriguez

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.

In this corner...

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.

And in this corner...

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.

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13 Comments

  1. robert kane says:

    I wonder where Jolanda would’ve stood in this matter…

  2. joshua bullard says:

    What people need to realize is this long standing”code of silence”with in our past city council members over the years pertaining to other city council districts projects is in part why the city fell financially into ruin-let us not forget about the 747 city workers that had to be laid off-if this code of silence had not been inplace over the years,might this not have happened-in this case cm helena brown ask the tough questions and goes strong with a no vote-for the record-my vote would be no as well-it is long over due that a council member finally give rodriguez james a good kick in the rear to wake him up-”this guy spends millions”and quess what-he uses other districts money-shame on the council member james r-my notice to the other 16 council members is simple-new year- new plan-new direction.

    watch what you spend in 2012
    respectfully submitted
    joshua ben bullard

  3. Houstonian says:

    I don’t know that it’s a “code of silence”. A district CM’s job is to focus on their district and deal with the issues there, and they know more about their district than do the other CMs. What you’re calling code of silence is respect for the CM most knowledgeable about his/her district. City races are non-partisan. If a CM comes in, stating a slash and burn approach will be their style, I don’t think that’s productive. It’s arriving with your middle finger up. Defiance for the sake of defiance. Same thing that made CM Jones less effective than she might have been.

  4. Hobby says:

    I watched the tape, and with the exception of James Rodriguez, most of the other council members tried to gingerly explain to the newbie about matching funds, how they didn’t want to lose all that and so on and so forth, it was obvious Helena had no clue and was taking her first steps at alienating even more people on council. Mark my words, district A will be marginalized and Brown will become incredibly ineffective. Her odd babbling about an aging movie star was strange at best.

    If Helena wants to worry about running the whole city she needs to run for Mayor. In the mean time, she needs to keep her nose out of District I business. It is some sort of strategy for Brown, obviously administered by her puppet masters. I found it really odd that she was reading off her blackberry. Someone seemed to be texting her what to say. Maybe she could get them to just send it directly to the monitors so she doesn’t have to squint and we can all read along.

    As for Burks, he needs to remember as well that he wasn’t elected to go up there and start the fraternal order of the magnificent seven. It isn’t a social group, it is politics. His job is to represent the people, not his sorority sisters on council. He also needs to remember If the residents of Houston had wanted someone in the at large 2 position that would align themselves with Helena Brown, then they would have elected fellow tea party candidate Elizabeth Perez. He needs to stop and think about that. If we wanted Helena’s type of perspectives in District I, we would have elected Leticia Ablaza, but we didn’t. I also have to wonder what would make Burks think he is qualified, on his second meeting, to tell a senior council member how they are to act. Burks needed the lesson, and he got one on protocol from the Mayor.

  5. Erik V says:

    Someone should file an Open Records request to see who was texting or emailing those lines to CM Brown. Who is pulling her strings? Can she not think for herself?

  6. Mainstream says:

    I quite actively supported Stardig.

    I would not read too much into Brown’s reliance upon a text upon her Blackberry. Brown is no one’s puppet. She is a disciplined, studied, ideological political activist. For many voters, it is refreshing to have a champion on council who questions spending decisions.

  7. East Ender says:

    She will be no one’s champion. She will replace Jolanda as the sable rattler kook at council, but she won’t get anything actually done. I’m just glad District I has James Rodriguez to stand up for projects and needs on this side of town.

  8. Joseph Houston says:

    It’s a shame some of you are missing the forest for a couple of trees. Matching funds or not, the city cannot afford all these side projects that will also increase future maintenance costs. Every single one of those council members has a responsibility to to the entire city, not their petty little kingdoms. Suggesting one minds their own business is the refuge of a weak argument.

    What was more telling was the comments Parker made regarding city finances. But for the minor disagreement, quality reporters would have been all over her statement that the city finances are in such great shape (listen to her again, this is not a big mis-characterization). When a mayor has to kick the can down the road continuously to the tunes of tens of hundreds of millions of dollars, it shows the truth about city finances. When that mayor starts seriously considering reneging on contracts made over decades to employees for benefits, it is also an indicator that Nero is fiddling.

  9. Paul Kubosh says:

    Lets see I just got notice in the mail that I will be provided matching funds to buy one of those real expenisve sports cars. The ones that cost $200,000. Well that means someone will give me $100,000 if I spend $100,000. Of course I need that $100,000 to make payroll. Hmmmmm. If i don’t spend the $100,000 then I lose a $100,000. Let me see I spend the $100,000 to make a $100,000 and don’t make payroll and I have saved $100,000. Sounds like a win to me.

  10. Joseph Houston says:

    Paul, in the minds of some, this situation is much like those weekly sales advertisements in the paper, the kind where you will “save 25%” by buying a product. Regardless of whether the price was increased before sale day, the overlooked fact is that if you just walk away from the “sale”, you will save 100%, the credo to buy what you need instead of what you want lost in the consideration.

    On this particular purchase, it was sold by some as a great way to improve the district as though there was a desperate need for the bike trail. Only after Brown started publicly raising questions did they decide to let us all in that this was going to help with flood control, that it was a joint project, and all the usual key phrases to sell the project that were not brought in until it was made public. I truly wonder if the amount of real flood control the project incorporates amounts to much at all or if it would have been much cheaper to do something different and get more bang for the buck.

    The bottom line is that of all the concerns facing the city for the long haul, and not just the short vision of term limited politicians, should projects like these be given additional scrutiny or will the business as usual approach work much longer? Change course now or be prepared for a lot of problems.

  11. Jules says:

    Council Members DO need to question projects, whether in their district or another’s.

    Unfortunately, the Request for Council Action documents sometimes contain errors or are just plain misleading. (See the RCFA for the Ainbinder and Kroger 380′s for examples).

    And with Feldman going around whispering whatever he wants to each Council Member instead of discussing in a public meeting as the City Charter requires, there is no telling what “information” each CM gets.

    Here’s the article and the quotes follow:

    http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/City-Council-s-sensitive-talks-show-delicate-2435090.php

    “The questions typically come during meetings of the Houston City Council, prompting City Attorney David Feldman to stand up and walk around the table, quietly answering individual inquiries and hoping to keep his responses out of the public’s hearing.”

    “That requires him to schedule one-on-one meetings with each council member, since a group question-and-answer session would require Feldman to discuss sensitive legal information in public, he said.”

    This just seems wrong to me.

  12. joshua bullard says:

    jules-i have to hand it to you when you make solid points-feldman does come across as old school-at times i am sure he feels above the law-i hope he reads this and makes the correct adjustment’s.

    david feldman stop keeping secrets from the voters

    where is eric weismann on this issue-and whatever happen to noel freeman-i know you two are there-what gives????? ben joshua bullard

  13. [...] had some sympathy for Brown in her dustup with CM Rodriguez. I have some sympathy for her here. But this is why stuff like this needs to be discussed in [...]

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