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Mayor Turner delivers State of the City 2016

Here’s the press release.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Flooding, pensions, City finances and public safety were front and center as Mayor Sylvester Turner delivered his first State of the City before the Greater Houston Partnership. In a major move designed to produce tangible results and instill confidence among residents, the mayor announced the selection of Stephen Costello to fill the new position of Chief Resilience Officer, or Flood Czar. Costello, who is a civil engineer who has worked on numerous drainage projects, will report directly to the mayor and will have the sole responsibility of developing and implementing strategies that will improve drainage and reduce the risk of flooding.

“The April 18 floods had a dramatic impact on our entire region,” said Mayor Turner. “Hundreds of people sought rescue in hastily opened shelters, hundreds more elected to stay in their flooded apartments and homes. Nearly 2,000 homes in Houston flooded and some flooded for the second, third or fourth times. Property owners throughout our area have become weary of flooding in the Bayou City, impatient with elected officials who offer explanations with no practical solutions, and some have and others are close to packing up and leaving our city unless we can convince them that we are going to do exponentially more than what they currently see.”

The mayor also announced that he will soon unveil a plan to put 175 more police officers on the street, called for repeal of the revenue cap self-imposed on the City by voters in 2004 and detailed his plan to address the City’s unfunded employee pension liabilities, a growing obligation that is stressing the City’s overall financial stability.

“There are certain realities that cannot be ignored: the increasing costs to the City simply cannot be sustained,” said Turner. “As we look to 2018, City services will be adversely affected, hundreds of employees will be laid off, and our credit rating will most likely be damaged. But this is a course we need not travel. My mom said, ‘Tomorrow will be better than today,’ and as mayor of this City, I still believe what she said.”

The mayor is already in productive discussions with the employee pension groups about reigning in costs in a way that is least burdensome to employees, reduces the City’s escalating costs and avoids unintended consequences. He has laid out three objectives for those discussions:

  • Lower unfunded pension obligations now and in the future;
  • Lower annual costs for the city now and in the future; and
  • An agreement by the end of the year to present to the legislature for consideration in the 2017 session.

The mayor noted that the revenue cap, which was cited as one of the reasons for a downgrade of the City’s credit rating, puts Houston at an unfair advantage and hinders the City’s ability to meet the needs of its growing population. No other governmental entity in Texas is under similar constraints.

“The revenue cap works against creating one Houston with opportunity for all and the ability to address pressing needs like flooding, transportation and mobility, parks and added green space, affordable/workforce housing and homelessness,” said Turner. “We are competing not just against Dallas, San Antonio and Austin; not just against New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, but against Vancouver, Berlin and Singapore. We are an international city speaking 142 languages, with 92 consulates and two international airports within our city boundaries.”

The mayor concluded his speech with a commitment to leading the nation in addressing homelessness and a personal appeal for Houston businesses to join his Hire Houston Youth summer jobs program. Information on the program is available at www.hirehoustonyouth.org.

The full text of the speech is here, and a Chron story about the additional patrol officers is here. It’s a concise reiteration of things Mayor Turner has spoken about often, with no new directions or surprises. You know what he wants to do, it’s a matter of doing it. If you’re wondering how Mayor Turner might be successful at getting the Lege to pass a pension-related bill – as you may recall, I was deeply skeptical of some other candidates’ approaches last year – the answer is that he intends to have an agreement on what changes should be made with all the relevant stakeholders. The Lege may not be interested in solving Houston’s problems, but they will ratify a solution that Houston itself comes up with. That’s the plan, anyway. As I said, the important part is doing it. If nothing else, we’ll have a pretty good idea of how it’s gone by the time of the 2017 State of the City address. The Chron and the Press have more.

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8 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    “The Lege may not be interested in solving Houston’s problems, but they will ratify a solution that Houston itself comes up with.”

    We don’t always agree but I couldn’t agree with you more on this statement. Turner will bring everyone to the table, everyone will have a say, everyone will sacrifice, no one will be 100% happy with the deal, but I believe the deal will save the City from a Detroit style outcome. This is why Turner was the right man for the job.

  2. Steve Houston says:

    PK & Charles, I concur and have stated as much for a very long time. The article makes it sound as though Turner and his representatives have not yet engaged in such discussions with the pension boards but that is far from the truth, the need to iron out specific employee concessions will take more time though. But Turner garnered the support of city employees by being open and honest with them, nobody believing King’s willingness to plunge the city into three decades of debt to cover the bills already incurred.

    As far as the movement of police officers into patrol, every time this has taken place in the past, it led to major problems. Those from the IFR will continue to perform detailed investigations to the point their immediate supervisors will allow, often depending on how busy it is, and those pulled from administrative duties will muddle through or promote. Turner’s future budgets will not allow for an extra 500+ officers as attrition depletes their ranks, as several have pointed out, the first few years are fairly cheap for rookies but they become expensive rather fast.

  3. Paul Kubosh says:

    Citations Issued by HPD 4/1/2006 to present
    Year Citations Cases
    2016 (1/1 through 2/28) 46,270 75,423
    2015 301,793 490,576
    2014 340,437 560,876
    2013 368,984 608,658
    2012 432,057 715,903
    2011 451,566 755,980
    2010 520,142 885,599
    2009 531,522 920,631
    2008 571,498 1,027,735
    2007 511,662 905,080
    2006 (4/1 through 12/31) 446,016 784,281

    Maybe the move to patrol has something to do with these numbers?

  4. Steve Houston says:

    PK, according to former police chief Bradford, a very small percentage of employees were/are responsible for writing the bulk of tickets, many of them dedicated units assigned to traffic enforcement or radar squads, or assigned to specific stations with the express purpose of addressing traffic related offenses. Every time a particular police chief is told to find more officers without actually hiring more, those groups are hit first, individual supervisors often directing their patrol officers to answer calls before writing tickets.

    More recently, people near the top of the food chain convinced those who make decisions to stop applying for state and federal grants used to facilitate this activity as well, then the draconian witch hunts for those who made “too much” in overtime being scrutinized in a manner nobody could withstand for long, largely because a few of higher rank did not like making less than some lowly street cop who was willing to spend every waking hour either writing tickets or attending the resulting amounts of court.

    As a large part of your practice involves interacting with those types of officers, you would certainly be aware of all sorts of borderline criminal demands placed on officers from demanding they be ready for every case regardless of their memories, to refusing to allow defense attorneys access to them, to all sorts of shenanigans interfering with a citizen’s right to a fair hearing or his representative (you) having access to needed information. The more the book smart idiots meddle or treat the courts like cash cows, the less willing the officers are to participate but there are a variety of directives at play, most designed to cut costs and increase revenue but failing miserably at both.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    @Steve

    Never fear, the other policing agencies in Houston have certainly taken up the slack in harassing speeders. The various constables about town have rapidly evolved from serving subpoenas to laying in wait behind highway overpasses to catch speeders, as has Metro’s police department and the HCSO. Of course, the speed traps are ineffectual at catching aggressive drivers who actually endanger the motoring public, but then, that’s not really what these speed traps are about anyway.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    As a general, overall observation, I haven’t been displeased with Turner’s job so far as mayor. That’s fairly high praise, coming from me.

  7. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, I freely admit that I drive in a manner calculated to keep me alive so while I have policy concerns regarding the use of constables in that manner, it is unlikely to impact me directly. The same holds true for the ever increasing war on hookers that the HCSO, HPD, and various constables have engaged in; it doesn’t impact me but given the oft repeated pleas for more manpower to address every other crime under the sun, it seems logical they would prioritize where they devoted the amounts of manpower first.

    As far as Turner is concerned, I join you and most others here to suggest he has done well so far, especially given the cards he’s been dealt. I predict by the end of his first year, many more will openly join us in this regard too, he has shown a propensity to listen to a wider variety of impacted people, to actively override heavily flawed contracts as needed, and to offer compromise solutions alien to those who ran against him in the election. I might not agree with every specific deal or arrangement but I’m in his corner for the time being, fairly high praise from me too. 🙂

  8. […] not a whole lot in the story that will come as a surprise. As I said when writing about Mayor Turner’s State of the City address, he has stuck very closely to the […]

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