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Anne Clutterbuck

July 2017 campaign finance reports – City of Houston

Let’s continue our survey of campaign finance reports with reports from the city of Houston.


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Turner     520,430  138,068         0  1,643,519

Stardig     59,470   36,402         0    102,289
Davis        5,500   13,231         0    147,050
Cohen        5,000    8,382         0     63,120
Boykins     93,839   40,547         0     57,358
Martin      20,092    8,221         0    106,427
Le          12,250    1,788    31,823      1,951
Travis      51,751   25,051    76,000     51,109
Cisneros    24,043    5,203         0     25,336
Gallegos    30,600    7,048         0     50,366
Laster      31,650    8,104         0    170,714
Green       17,150   39,770         0     84,627

Knox        21,185   13,373         0     23,149
Robinson    63,850   14,932         0     92,520
Kubosh      26,725   17,388   276,000     30,557
Edwards     73,843   31,295         0    144,198
Christie    33,090   20,323         0     31,458

Brown       59,220   19,494         0     79,101


HHRC        55,000   47,500         0     23,250
HTPR         3,625    1,652         0      3,624

As we now know, there will be no city elections of the non-referendum kind on the ballot this November. That would be one reason why there are no reports from anyone who has not already been a candidate. Only a couple of the reports belong to people who are not current or term-limited officeholders. These are folks like Bill Frazer, and none of them have any cash on hand worth mentioning. Actually, there is one person who may be of interest here, and that’s Helena Brown, who could run again in District A to succeed Brenda Stardig. Brown has $18,911.19 on hand, which would not be a bad start if she were so inclined.

I don’t want to dwell too much on this, but had the State Supreme Court dropped an election on us out of the blue, there was basically nobody outside of the current incumbents who have any resources for it. Usually, at this time of an odd numbered year, there are a lot of non-incumbent candidates, mostly circling around the offices that will be vacant. Whether people didn’t think the Supreme Court would take action, or if we were all just in denial about it, there were no candidates out there raising money. In a world where the Supremes had intervened, incumbents and people who can provide at least startup capital for themselves would have had a sizable advantage.

Now for those incumbents. We all knew Mayor Turner could raise money, right? All Houston Mayors can, it kind of comes with the office. Don’t underestimate the resources he could bring to a campaign over the firefighters’ pay parity proposal.

Despite the advantages for incumbents I talked about, four of the seven biggest cash on hand balances belong to those who can’t run – term-limited CMs Starding, Davis, Laster, and Green. Starding in particular makes me wonder what she was up to, raising all that cash this year. Usually, that makes one think maybe she’s looking at her next opportunity to run for something. I have no idea what that might be, but feel free to speculate wildly in the comments. Mike Laster has been mentioned as a county candidate once his time on Council ends. Maybe County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2020? I can speculate wildly too, you know.

I have a couple of PAC reports in there. HHRC is the Houston Heights Restaurant Coalition, gearing up for the next Heights alcohol referendum. HTPR is the Houston Taxpayers for Pension Reform, with Bill King as its Treasurer. Maybe that was for a vote on forcing a switch to defined-contribution system that is not in the works? They didn’t have much activity, and most of their expenditures went to an outfit called PinkCilantro for advertising. Other PACs of note with reports are Campaign for Houston, which I believe was an anti-HERO group from 2015 and have a $50,000 outstanding loan, and Citizens to Keep Houston Strong, which belongs to Bill White and which has $56,734.11 on hand.

Finally, two reports from former officeholders. Anne Clutterbuck, who was last a candidate in 2009, filed a final report, to dispose of the remaining funds in her account. She donated the balance – $5,094.55 – to the Hermann Park Conservancy. Last but not least is former Mayor Annise Parker, whose account still has $126,013.31 on hand. She may or may not run for County Judge next year – she has talked about it but so far has taken no action – and if she does that’s her starter’s kit. I’ll have more reports in the coming days.

HERO repeal petitions announcement today

Today’s the day we find out what happens.

The city’s controversial HERO ordinance prohibits discrimination based on federally recognized groups such as race and age, but also extends those rights to sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance led a petition drive to bring the issue to a public vote. It now appears the city attorney will announce whether that petition drive is valid this Friday.

Rice University Political Science Professor Bob Stein is a longtime city hall observer. He says there are a few possibilities at Friday’s announcement.

“One, of course, is they have enough signatures that have been validated, I think about 17,000. Second option is they don’t have enough and if that’s in contention you might see those who petitioned the city go to court and have them checked,” Stein said.

A third option, Stein says, is that the city attorney could rule the petition inappropriate or ill-timed under ballot initiative law. The city previously used that rationale on the petition to overturn red light cameras but lost that battle in court. Stein says the most likely outcome is that the opponents do have enough signatures to put the ordinance on the November ballot.

Actually, that was the opposite of what happened in the red light camera lawsuit. That referendum was presented as a charter amendment, with the petitions presented well after the 30 day window for repeal. Council voted to put it on the ballot at the urging of Mayor Parker and over the objections of CM Anne Clutterbuck, who argued that it really was a repeal effort and thus invalid. That’s exactly what Judge Lynn Hughes ruled. Here there’s no question this is a repeal effort, and the petitions were submitted within the required time frame. This is not to say that there couldn’t be an issue with timing, or other issues we don’t yet know about. I have no idea what Feldman might pull out of his hat. But we’ll find out soon enough.

Having said that, I do agree that the single most likely outcome is that the number of valid signatures is found to be sufficient, at which point it goes to the ballot. (I’m assuming there’s no Council vote for that.) From there it’s a matter of campaigning and turning out voters. You can see the petitions and their signatures for yourself here, by the way. Note that there are claims about how the signatures were collected that may lead to legal action of some kind, so whatever Feldman has to say, it likely won’t be the final word.

Kroger gets its 380

Despite neighborhood opposition, City Council has approved a 380 agreement for the proposed Kroger on Studemont at I-10.

District H Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who represents the area around the proposed store and who championed the 380 agreement, insisted the deal was less an incentive to Kroger than it was a way for the city to extract benefits from a market-driven project. The deal gives the city two blocks of road, sidewalks and traffic lights more than a decade early, and also hands over to the city a third of an acre that it would someday need to extend Summer Street from Studemont to Sawyer.

Mayor Annise Parker said Houston’s strategy differs from that of cities that build infrastructure first and then try to recruit businesses to move in.

“We have not chosen to use that sort of what I would call ‘corporate welfare.’ We have said, ‘Business, if you want to open and you need the street, you pay for the street. We’ll pay you back, but if you really want to be there, you use your dollars upfront,'” Parker said.

The city will pay a premium on that upfront money. The deal calls for the city to pay Kroger back with 5.17 percent interest. The city’s rate on bonds through which it finances public works projects ranges from 2.55 percent to 4.06 percent, according to information that Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck got from the city’s Finance Department.

“What do you make on your IRA? I would love to make a 5.17 percent return,” Clutterbuck said. “The taxpayer, in my opinion, should not be on the hook for that.”

The rationale given by Mayor Parker for the use of 380 agreements is sensible. It’s certainly a less risky approach than “build it and hope they come”. Aside from the premium interest rate, whether it’s good policy to use a 380 in this particular location is another matter. The outline of the deal here sounds better than what was struck for Ainbinder on Yale Street, but I’m dubious about the wisdom of a supermarket there. I’ve seen traffic at the light back up all the way to Center Street during the afternoon rush hour, thanks in large part to the many people wanting to enter I-10 West from Studemont. The thought of adding in grocery store traffic, not to mention another traffic light, makes my head hurt. Having said that, I’m not sure what kind of development could have been built there that would be both low impact on traffic and profitable to the developer. Long term, I may have to think about using Sawyer/Watson as an alternate route, though if the rumored plans of an Alamo Drafthouse come to fruition, it may not be much better.

Red light cameras to be turned back on

For now, at least.

The city of Houston will turn its red-light cameras back on today, Mayor Annise Parker announced after this morning’s City Council meeting.

According to a statement from the mayor’s office, tickets will be issued after a “short period of equipment testing.”

Houston voters approved a referendum to turn off the cameras in November, but a federal judge ruled last month that it had been improperly placed on the ballot, rendering the results invalid. As a result, the city faced a choice to turn the cameras back on or canceling its contract with American Traffic Solutions, which could cost the city $16 million.

At the same time, Parker said, the city seek permission for an appeal of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes in attempt to honor the will of the voters. Hughes ruled that the city charter requires that efforts to overturn an ordinance by referendum must occur within 30 days of an ordinance’s passage.

Red-light camera vendor ATS responded with a statement: “In accordance with Mayor Parker’s announcement, ATS is working to immediately reactivate and fully functionalize Houston’s red light safety cameras. We look forward to resuming work with the City on this important public safety initiative. As we have seen over the course of the last several years, Houston’s red light safety camera program has been successful in changing driver behavior, reducing collisions and ultimately saving lives.”

Here’s the full statement from Mayor Parker, courtesy of Mary Benton:

Mayor Annise Parker today announced that the City will attempt to appeal a recent court ruling invalidating last fall’s vote on red-light cameras. In the meantime, the red-light cameras will be turned back on today. Ticket issuance will resume after a short period of equipment testing.“This is a difficult decision,” said Mayor Parker. “I have a responsibility to represent the interests of the voters, but I also have a responsibility to abide by the judge’s ruling. The City just went through a very painful budget process in which nearly 750 employees were laid off and park, library and health services were cut back. We simply don’t have the millions they claim we would owe for violating the court decision and our contractual obligation to American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Therefore, I have decided the fiscally-prudent path to take is to turn the cameras back on while also seeking a second chance for the voters in the courts.”

Mayor Parker emphasized the safety measures provided by the red-light camera program. ATS and the City are initiating a study to make sure the cameras are placed at the city’s most dangerous intersections. As a result of this review, some cameras may be moved from their current locations to intersections with higher accident rates upon completion of this review.In June, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled last November’s red-light camera referendum violated the City Charter and should not have been placed on the ballot. The ruling was based on a charter provision that mandates any challenge of a city ordinance by referendum must occur within 30 days of passage of the ordinance. City Council adopted an ordinance initiating the use of red-light cameras in 2004. Opponents did not mount their ballot challenge until 2010.

The district court decision is an interlocutory ruling. As such, the City must first ask Judge Hughes for permission to appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Permission is also required from the appellate court.

“It is not the prerogative of City Council to decide which laws it wants to follow,” Parker said. “We had no choice in putting the referendum on the ballot last fall. However, we do have the ability to settle this question for future City Councils and the public.”

See here for the discussion of “interlocutory”. I will simply note that the judge’s ruling essentially contradicts the Mayor’s assertion that Council was compelled to put the referendum on the ballot. To do what the opponents wanted to do would have required a referendum, which was not done in the allotted time specified by the city’s charter. This was CM Clutterbuck’s argument at the time Council voted, but she did not carry the day.

Anyway. You can see the brief that the city filed in this Houston Politics post. Among other things, it notes that there were contractual questions that were not addressed in the original ruling, and that “Allowing the appellate courts to affirm or reverse the decision at this juncture is critical to determining the remaining contractual issues.” In other words, to seeing how much on the hook to ATS the city might be.

UPDATE: Changed “initiative” to “referendum” in the penultimate paragraph per JJ’s comment.

Response from the city on the red light camera ruling

Previously, I wrote that I had asked the city about the possibility of appealing the ruling in the red light camera lawsuit. I received the following response from the Mayor’s office yesterday:

This was what’s known as an interlocutory order from the judge. As such, we are required to seek permission from the district court and the 5th circuit to appeal. We have 30 days to do that. It is still under review.

So there you have it. Here’s a definition of interlocutory order for those of you, like me, who lack a law degree. And in case you’re wondering, I still have not received an email from George Hittner.

Meanwhile, this Chron editorial urges the city to turn the cameras back on.

The city and the contractor are currently facing off in court over the terms for severing their contract, which runs through 2014. Although 53 percent of voters rejected the camera system in November and the cameras were turned off soon after, Judge Lynn Hughes issued an opinion that the election violated the city charter requirement that such challenges be mounted within 30 days of the passage of an ordinance. Although the petitioners had claimed their initiative was a city charter amendment, the judge found that in fact it was an illegal repeal of an ordinance six years after the deadline had passed.

He had critical words for Mayor Parker and City Council members who voted to schedule the election. “Presented with this mislabeling,” wrote Hughes in his opinion, “the council supinely ignored — over the voices of some of its members – their responsibility and put the proposition to the voters as an amendment to the charter.”

Even though she is a strong supporter of red-light cameras, Mayor Parker, backed by City Attorney David Feldman, had insisted that the council had an “absolute sworn duty” to put the camera ban on the ballot. If Judge Hughes is right, they were wrong.

District C Councilmember Anne Clutterbuck was the only official to vote against scheduling the election. At the time, she declared, “Items like this don’t belong in the city charter. Otherwise, we would be like California …anything we vote on at this table could be overturned by petition.” Clutterbuck says she still supports the cameras, but to turn them back on now would “be a violation of the will of the people.”

We disagree. The election violated the will of the people as expressed in the city charter. If this result stands, it will set a precedent that would allow activist groups to attempt to overturn any long-standing city ordinance they choose, in the process potentially violating contracts that could cost the city millions of dollars.

This is the crux of the matter. You have a decisive election that never should have been allowed to take place. I can’t dismiss what the voters said, but I have a hard time accepting it. CM Clutterbuck was right – this is not how we run our city. Yet I disagree with the Chron and agree with Campos that none of the people who voted on this, who thought they were deciding the cameras’ fate, gave any thought to the legal niceties. Whether we accept the result of the election or not we’re setting a precedent that I don’t like. I hate to say it, because I’d rather keep the cameras, but the best solution is likely to be a negotiated settlement with ATS. I don’t envy the Mayor and Council the decisions they have to make.

More on the red light camera ruling

I said before that what happens next with the red light camera ruling is a political decision. Here’s how that’s shaping up.

City Attorney Dave Feldman said Friday’s ruling will force the city to choose from canceling the contract with American Traffic Solutions — which might cost the city $16 million — or keeping the contract in force and turning the cameras back on. A third choice would be to hold another referendum and ask voters which of the two options to choose, he said.

“We lost on the issue of the validity of the charter amendment, so what the court is saying (is), ‘OK city, now decide what you’re going to do with the contract,’ ” Feldman said. “We need to decide how we’re going to move forward and what position we’re going to take with the contract in light of the fact he’s declared the charter amendment invalid.”

Mayor Annise Parker said Friday afternoon that although she supports the use of red-light cameras and has the authority to turn them back on, she will not do so before conferring with the City Council and possibly the voters.

“The cameras are going to stay off until council is fully briefed, and we have an opportunity to discuss all of our legal options and choose one of those legal options,” the mayor said.

Complicating matters for Parker is that the city is still in a contract dispute with ATS over damages the company suffered when the city turned off the cameras.

The mayor said she and the City Council received sound legal advice last year from the city attorney, who advised that they were mandated to put the question on the November ballot.

Which is the exact opposite of what the judge said, as observed by JJ in the comments. Be that as it may, it will be very interesting to see how Council members react to this. As we know from the precinct data, the strongest opposition to red light cameras by far came from African-American neighborhoods. Republican and Anglo Democratic neighborhoods were the strongest proponents, with Latino and multicultural neighborhoods being modestly opposed. I think it’s reasonable though not certain to assume that the four African-American Council members would oppose turning the cameras back on, though the prospect of paying $16 million to ATS might mitigate against that. CM Sullivan is a known opponent of the cameras. On the flipside, CMs Lovell and Clutterbuck are known to favor the cameras, and I’d expect Pennington and Stardig to go along with their voters. That’s five probably against, four probably in favor, and four that are up for grabs. Should make for a lively debate, that’s for sure.

Putting the question of reinstating the cameras or paying off ATS up for another vote strikes me as the least messy way forward at this point. The questions then become how big a factor is the potential hit to the budget in affecting voter behavior, and how does the change in participation levels from an even-numbered year to an odd-numbered year move the numbers? The two groups with the loudest opinions are also the ones that tend to vote the most in city election years, but there’s still dropoff for each. As for the first question, the irony is that the city might argue that the voters didn’t really know what they were voting for when they supported removing the cameras, which would no doubt make Paul Bettencourt’s head explode. Nobody ever said consistency was a virtue in politics. This is going to be fun to watch, I’ll say that much.

Judge rules red light camera referendum was invalid

Boom.

A Houston federal judge today invalidated last November’s referendum that ended the red-light camera program, a ruling that has sent city leaders back to square one.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled the city can not reverse an ordinance except by a referendum of voters held within 30 days of the passage of the ordinance. Opponents to the red light camera ordinance, which passed in 2004, mounted the last year challenge as an amendment to the city charter but Hughes said it was essentially the same thing.

“Presented with this mislabeling, the council supinely ignored — over voices of some of its members — their responsibility and put the proposition to the voters,’’ Hughes ruled.

City Attorney David Feldman said he would discuss the city’s options with Mayor Annise Parker and the city council, but acknowledged one possibility was to restore the camera system.

“We lost on the issue of the validity of the charter amendment, so what the court is saying, okay city, now decide what you’re going to do with the contract,” Feldman said. “We need to decide how we’re going to move forward, and what position we’re going to take with the contract in light of the fact he’s declared the charter amendment invalid.’’

Mayor Annise Parker said the federal ruling will be discussed.

You can see the Mayor’s statement here, a copy of Judge Hughes’ summary judgment is here, and a copy of the order here. I’m not a fan of overturning elections by lawsuit, so despite my preference in that election I’m not a fan of this ruling. I know it’s Not The Way Things Are Done, but I still believe we’d all be better off today if this issue had been settled before anyone had voted. As we saw in previous discussions of the referendum, there were legitimate questions about its legality. There was also an alternate path for the opponents to follow, one that would have required more signatures but not a huge amount more. Judge Hughes clearly agreed with CM Anne Clutterbuck, who argued forcefully but unsuccessfully that Council should have voted against putting this on the ballot. Too late for that now.

What this is now is a political question. In the aftermath of the referendum, city officials said they would cease collecting camera revenues even if a judge eventually ruled that the election was invalid. It’s too early to say whether they will stick to that or seek out some wiggle room now that the ruling is a reality. Given the budget situation, and the fact that a significant number of Council members agreed with CM Clutterbuck at the time, it’s easy to envision the cameras getting re-enabled, at which point the remedy for any angry opponents would be to take Judge’s Hughes’ advice and vote them out. Stay tuned.

Does it count if it’s a TIRZ?

Well, this is interesting.

As the city of Houston seeks to close a $21 million budget gap in the next eight weeks, it is counting on selling a public building to one of its own redevelopment agencies.

And while the proposed $5 million deal with the Midtown Redevelopment Authority would offer the city deadline budget relief, it also could delay planned public improvements to the neighborhoods the authority serves along Main Street between downtown and the Texas Medical Center.

“Shifting it from one government entity to another is, to me, an accounting device that I’m uncomfortable with,” Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck said Tuesday. Part of the tax increment reinvestment district the authority manages is in her District C. “To me, it’s not a real sale.”

While I understand CM Clutterbuck’s concerns, all I can say is that if that’s how she feels she should avert her eyes to what the Legislature is about to do. They use accounting gimmicks that would make a Hollywood executive blush.

Neither the authority nor the city’s chief redevelopment officer would explain the transfer of the property or what the plans are for what is now a city permitting building, though last week a city economic development official said he believes the authority will resell the property to a private developer.

A mayoral spokeswoman said plans would be outlined on Friday with the release of next week’s council agenda.

[…]

The redevelopment authority has its own budget, separate from that of City Hall, and its own board of directors that approves projects. That board unanimously approved the purchase of the city building last week.

This is clearly not what TIRZes normally do. If they’ve got a plan or a buyer, then I suppose it’s all right. But it does look funny and CMs Clutterbuck and Wanda Adams, who also has a piece of this TIRZ in her district, are right to ask questions about it. We’ll see what the Mayor and the TIRZ have in mind.

More on the drainage fee exemptions

Here’s the Chron story about the Mayor’s change in direction to exempt churches and schools from the new drainage fee.

Under previous numbers published by the administration, exempting those institutions would raise the monthly fee on other property owners by about 7.6 percent. But on Friday, Parker said city officials had “refined our estimates” and found that they could include the exemptions without raising the rates on home and business owners.

“The average homeowner in the city of Houston will still pay that $5 on a curb-and-gutter street and $4.06 per month on an open-ditch street, and still accommodate what I heard over and over again — particularly for the school districts – that they needed relief considering what was going on in Austin,” Parker said.

[…]

Parker campaigned in the fall in favor of an ordinance with no exemptions and continued that stance in the months since city voters passed Proposition 1 last November, which calls for a monthly surcharge on property owners to raise $125 million a year for drainage and street improvements, starting in July.

Her rhetoric softened in recent weeks as she faced a divided council, a coalition of church and school leaders clamoring for relief from the fee and a push in Austin to impose exemptions through state legislation. Her council allies on the issue also are using the language of compromise.

“I will vote for exemptions if this is the kind of thing that’s necessary to move it forward. A principled no-exemptions position is not something I’m going to go to the mat on,” said Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck, whose District C voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 1.

We’ll get the specifics on Monday, and I’ll get to those revised estimates in a minute. It must be noted that while this is a big victory for the churches, they’re still not satisfied.

“We are thankful that due to massive public pressure and outcry the mayor has finally reversed her position and is supporting exemptions for churches and schools. If she is sincere, she will instruct the city’s lobbyists to support SB 714 in the state Senate,” the Houston Area Pastor Council said in a release. “Moreover, our basic position is that due to the election results being challenged in court and major ethical issues unresolved, the City Council should not act on any ordinance at this time with or without exemptions.”

Councilman C.O. Bradford said he agrees with the group, adding, “Today, I would be a no vote, pending discussion.”

You may recall that the Houston Area Pastor’s Council was the first group to bring the anti-gay hate during the 2009 election. I can’t tell you how sick it makes me to give these jerks anything. Shame on you for abetting them, CM Bradford.

As for the refined estimates, a few weeks ago Don Sumners, the county’s crazy uncle in the Tax Assessor’s office, alleged that the city’s planned fee structure would bring in more revenue than they claimed it would. He made his charges in this presentation, which was based on the city’s presentation of the way the fee was calculated. I sent an inquiry to the Mayor’s office about this, and they responded with this document. There were two critical adjustments the city made, which account for the lower revenue figure they project:

1. The estimate of total impervious acreage was based on aerial images. The city validated its estimates by taking actual measurements of a sample of properties. Based on that, they concluded that the real total acreage was somewhat less, so the amount billed would be less than what Sumners’ calculations showed. They also assumed that a few people would successfully protest their acreage assessment, and would thus reduce the total amount billed further.

2. Sumners’ revenue figure is based on everyone paying in full. In real life, that doesn’t happen. The city’s revenue figure takes into account the fact that some bills, for water service and for sewer service (most people get billed for both in Houston, but some only get billed for sewer) go uncollected. Guess this never occurred to Sumners.

Put the two together, and you get the lower revenue numbers the city cited. I’m not exactly sure how this relates to the revelation about not needing to charge more if churches and schools are exempted, and the matter of county buildings is still up in the air as far as I can tell, but I’d still prefer they got included. Not gonna happen, unfortunately. We’ll see how the rest goes on Monday.

A very early look at 2011 fundraising

A couple of weeks ago I took an early look at the 2011 city elections, but there was a key ingredient missing in that analysis: Money. The fundraising season for city candidates, which has been closed since last January, will open again on February 1. Let’s take a look at where various cast members stand now, before all the fun gets underway again.

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Annise Parker Mayor 1,050,253 Ronald Green Controller 15,677

One of the nice things about being elected Mayor is that you can hold a late-train fundraiser or two before the year-long moratorium sets in, and people with checks will attend them. Keep that number above in mind when discussing other potential Mayoral candidates. Sure, some of them would be able to raise big bucks as well, but 1) that takes time; 2) a lot of people who might otherwise like them will already be on the Mayor’s team; and 3) you can be sure she’ll have a couple of events lined up for as soon as the curtain is lifted, making the hole they start out in that much deeper. It’s a big factor, and when you hear someone say they’re “exploring” a race, what they mean is they’re calling around to see if there are enough people out there willing to write them enough big checks to make it worth their time. Waiting for term limits to do their thing is almost always the wiser course.

As for Controller Green, he defeated two better-funded opponents in 2009, so his lack of scratch is no big deal. Better yet, as you will see there’s no one out there with the kind of moolah MJ Khan and Pam Holm had to begin with. I’ll say again, it’s my opinion that Green is a lock for re-election.

The returning City Council members:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Stephen Costello CCAL#1 28,938 Melissa Noriega CCAL#3 1,681 C.O. Bradford CCAL#4 4,238 Jolanda Jones CCAL#5 22,304 Brenda Stardig Dist A 21,892 Wanda Adams Dist D 342 Mike Sullivan Dist E 162 Al Hoang Dist F Oliver Pennington Dist G 64,223 Ed Gonzalez Dist H 19,975 James Rodriguez Dist I 45,923

CM Hoang’s report was not available as of this posting. There were numerous issues with his finance reports in 2009. So far, 2011 isn’t starting off so well for him on that front.

You can see why I’ve been skeptical of the rumors about CM Bradford’s potential candidacy for Mayor. He has not demonstrated big fundraising abilities in two different campaigns, and he starts out with very little. Again, I’m not saying he (or anyone else) couldn’t do it, but the track record isn’t there, and the piggy bank isn’t overflowing.

After winning a squeaker of a runoff in 2009, it’s good to see CM Jones with a few bucks on hand. While I believe she won’t be any easier to beat this time around, she will undoubtedly continue to be in the news, so she may as well be forearmed.

CM Pennington raised a boatload of money in 2009 and won without a runoff, so I’m not surprised he starts out with a decent pile. CMs Rodriguez and Gonzalez were unopposed in 2009, and given that they may have very different diatricts this year, I’m sure they’re happy to have the head start. I’d guess CMs Adams and Sullivan will be hitting the fundraising circuit sooner rather than later.

The departing incumbents:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Sue Lovell CCAL #2 98,935 Jarvis Johnson Dist B 0 Anne Clutterbuck Dist C 89,534

Hard to know what the future holds for CM Johnson, but another candidacy doesn’t appear to be in the cards right now. The same can probably be said about CM Lovell, who had once wanted to run for County Clerk. That ship has sailed, and I don’t see there being much of a Lovell bandwagon these days. I won’t be surprised to see her disburse some of her funds to other candidates in the future, however.

I do feel that we’ll see CM Clutterbuck run for something again. No, not Mayor – at least, not this year. There was a time when I thought she’d be a big threat to win HD134, but unless Sarah Davis (whom Clutterbuck supported last year) stumbles badly, that seems unlikely now. She could possibly be groomed to take over for her former boss Rep. John Culberson. I’d hate to see that if it meant she’d morph into a Washington Republican – she’s far too sensible for that, I hope. Actually, what I wouldn’t mind seeing is for the redistricting fairy to move her into Jerry Eversole’s precinct (this map doesn’t quite do that, but it’s close), because she’d be an excellent choice for Ed Emmett to make in the event Eversole does get forced out before 2012. Just a thought.

Finally, a few others of note:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Gene Locke Mayor 20,645 Roy Morales Mayor 5 MJ Khan Controller 1,657 Michael Berry CCAL #5 88,122 Jack Christie CCAL #5 0 Eric Dick CCAL #2 4,036 Mark Lee Dist C 1,287 Robert Glaser Dist C 301

If it’s an election year, you can be sure ol’ Roy will be running for something. Doesn’t really matter what – this is Roy we’re talking about. I’m sure he’ll let us know what soon.

Who knew Most Influential Houstonian of 2010 Michael Berry had so much cash left in his account? I seriously doubt he’d run for anything – he’s got a much cushier, not to mention higher-paying, gig now – but I suppose he could decide to throw a few bucks at someone. Hey, Roy, you got Berry’s phone number?

I have no idea if Jack Christie will take another crack at At Large #5. As I said above, I don’t think CM Jones will be any more vulnerable this time around, but who knows? It does seem likely she’ll draw a fringe opponent or two – Griff Griffin needs a race now that Lovell is termed out – so hoping for a runoff and better luck in same isn’t unreasonable. My advice, for what it’s worth, would be to start fundraising early, and not shoot your wad all in the last few days.

Mark Lee ran for District C in 2005, and for Controller in 2003. He’s reportedly looking at C again, but like Ellen Cohen will have to wait to see what the mapmakers produce. Robert Glaser ran against Clutterbuck in 2007 and 2009. Eric Dick, who as far as I know has not been a candidate before, will be running for the open At Large #2 seat; the cash on hand listed for him is the result of a loan.

There were a handful of other names listed among the reports, but none that are likely to be candidates this cycle. We’ll have a much better idea where things stand after the June 15 reporting date.

Council shakeup

Things are getting mighty interesting down at City Hall.

Mayor Annise Parker has parted ways with two major conservatives on the Houston City Council, removing Councilman Mike Sullivan from his role overseeing redistricting and accepting the resignation of Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck as mayor pro tem.

The development, which stems, in part, from a recent spat over who would be appointed to serve as a Port of Houston Authority commission member, comes at a critical time for Parker, who is about to confront three issues that are expected to greatly test her ability to rally the council’s support.

Passing an extremely tight 2012 budget, a drainage fee mandated by popular vote and redrawing the lines of City Council boundaries could become far more difficult as her allies dwindle at City Hall.

The issue also apparently is tied to concern among Parker’s senior staff that Clutterbuck is gearing up to oppose her in 2011, the councilwoman said. She denied any interest in challenging the mayor.

[…]

Clutterbuck denied interest in Parker’s job.

“I find it unfortunate that questions like that are asked in her own office because they are a distraction from the real work that needs to get done,” she said.

Not the strongest denial I’ve ever heard, but never mind. A few people have told me in recent days that they’ve heard CM Clutterbuck is planning a challenge to Mayor Parker. What I know is that there are always more potential candidates for Mayor than there are actual candidates, and until someone designates a treasurer or takes some other formal step it’s all just rumor. Doesn’t mean there’s nothing to it, but it doesn’t mean much more until there’s something other than just talk to point to.

I should also note, by the way, that Clutterbuck isn’t the only current member of Council who is rumored to be running for Mayor next year. I know many people who believe that CM Bradford also has his eyes on the office. Again, it’s all just talk now, but in this case that talk has been around for awhile.

The port commission vote, in which the mayor’s preferred candidate was rejected by a majority of council, was “indicative of her inability to strongarm this council into doing what she wants done,” Sullivan said.

“It’s a precursor of more to come. We have very strong council members who have worked with another administration that was much more diplomatic and much more concerned about council issues than this mayor is. I think that is showing in the vote.”

Sullivan said the mayor told him Friday about her plans to run the redistricting process and was removing the issue from his committee out of retaliation for his vote to reappoint Janiece Longoria as port commissioner.

The councilman had given her repeated assurances he would vote for Parker candidate Dean Corgey last month but changed his mind after hearing from several influential Houston conservatives, he said.

Sullivan has been pretty openly critical of the Mayor recently, so the Longoria thing may just be the tipping point. His implicit comparison to Mayor Bill White is at least somewhat unfair, since Mayor White had the good fortune to take over during much better economic times; it’s a lot easier for everyone to get along when you’re not having to talk about furloughs and tax increases and so forth. One hopes Mayor Parker will get to experience some of that in her subsequent terms. Greg has more.

On a side note, I have an observation to make about the Port of Houston Commission, since that was apparently the catalyst for the falling out between Parker and Sullivan. The Port of Houston has seven appointed Commissioners:

The city of Houston and the Harris County Commissioners Court each appoint two commissioners. These two governmental entities jointly appoint the chairman of the Port Commission. The Harris County Mayors & Councils Association and the city of Pasadena each appoint one commissioner.

Ms. Longoria, who was re-appointed by Council against the Mayor’s preferences, is the sole Hispanic on the Commission. The other City of Houston appointee, Kase Lawal, is the sole African-American, and is the other City of Houston appointee. The other four, plus the Chair – four white guys and Elyse Lanier – were appointed by Commissioners Court, the Harris County Mayors & Councils Association, and the city of Pasadena. In other words, the City of Houston is 100% responsible for the diversity on this governing body. Call me crazy, but I don’t see why this should be the case. Perhaps the next time that Commissioners Court, the Harris County Mayors & Councils Association, or the city of Pasadena has to appoint or reappoint someone they might be persuaded to pick someone other than another white guy. Perhaps some of the people who expressed such a strong preference for Ms. Longoria could express that wish to Commissioners Court, the Harris County Mayors & Councils Association, and the city of Pasadena as well. Just a thought.

The city’s financial picture looks grim

It’s ugly.

A draft of the fiscal 2012 budget, which begins in July, shows a projected shortfall of at least $118 million. For fiscal 2012 through fiscal 2015, the shortfall is an estimated $542 million.

[…]

Several City Council members sharply criticized the administration in an acrimonious budget meeting last week in which many of the stark details were revealed, particularly the amount of time Parker spent on updating the city’s historic preservation ordinance in the wake of the financial challenges.

Mayor Pro Tem Anne Clutterbuck, who chairs council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, said council members are prepared to make tough decisions, but they need time to weigh the various austerity measures Parker is planning.

“It is the sincere desire of council to see the administration bring something forward so we can act on it,” she said.

Much of the frustration was over a $9 million increase in expenses and the fact that efforts to cut the budget through departmental consolidations or better management of the city’s fleet have not yet been realized.

“The feeling is, we’re going in the wrong direction,” Clutterbuck said.

The city has reeled for several years as revenues from sales and property taxes have declined, even exceeding worst case scenarios.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that sales tax revenues are finally bouncing back. Just not fast enough to really help much.

Last month’s collections of $1.6 billion, which come from sales in September, were up 6.6 percent compared with October 2009, Comptroller Susan Combs said Wednesday.

But September 2009 was near the bottom of the 14-month descent in sales tax revenue, so the strong uptick doesn’t necessarily indicate a robust turnaround is afoot.

[…]

Sales taxes this year have been higher than year-ago numbers for seven months in a row, Combs said.

But while collections for the current fiscal year might be tracking Combs’ original projection, they haven’t made up any ground for last year.

There’s clearly a lot of work to be done here. As the story notes, various cost-saving and revenue-generating measures built into this year’s city budget have not been fulfilled yet; doing them needs to be a high priority. I know this is going to go over like the proverbial skunk at the garden party, but I really believe the property tax rate cuts of recent years need to be revisited. But to a large degree, the problems are the result of the economy. When that gets going again, the forecast will be a lot less gloomy. The question is what we have to do to hang on until then, and for how long.

The preservation ordinance fight

The revised preservation ordinance came before Council last week. It got a lot of feedback in addition to being tagged.

Mayor Pro Tem Anne Clutterbuck also opposed the changes to the ordinance, which include a provision that would prevent property owners from demolishing historic buildings in historic districts if a city commission has denied their request. Previously, owners could proceed with demolition after 90 days even if the commission denied their request.

Clutterbuck was one of seven council members who offered amendments to key points of the revised ordinance. Council members Wanda Adams, Jolanda Jones, Al Hoang, Oliver Pennington, Ed Gonzalez and Sue Lovell also offered amendments that would make technical changes in various aspects of the ordinance.

Clutterbuck’s most significant revision would be to upend the “transition” ordinance, which as currently written would apply the newer, stricter rules to existing historic districts unless property owners there petition for “reconsideration.” Parker’s revised ordinance allows them to do so in 15 days, although several council members and some industry groups are pushing to extend that time to as long as 60 days.

Clutterbuck proposed that existing districts be allowed to continue under the old rules. If they wish for the tighter restrictions to apply, they can petition under the new process, which requires 60 percent of property owners in the proposed area to return ballots mailed to them by the city showing they want the designation.

This earlier story from before the Council meeting has more. I’ve already said that I prefer the approach Clutterbuck is proposing in her amendment. Beyond that, my line in the sand on this is the 90-day waiver, which has always meant that we don’t actually have a preservation ordinance on the books, merely a preservation suggestion. As long as there’s a way to actually preserve historic buildings that need protection, the rest is mostly details to me. We’ll see what happens when it comes up this week.

More on the red light camera Council vote

The fuller version of the Chron story addresses the question about whether the petition drive was lawful or not according to the city’s charter.

“It is your absolute sworn duty to place this on the ballot,” [Mayor Annise] Parker told council.

Several camera supporters on council disagreed, saying the proposal was “illegal” because it circumvented rules in the city charter that dictate that efforts to overturn city ordinances through referendum must be concluded within 30 days of a law taking effect. Since the red light camera ordinance was passed in 2004, some council members said, the petition was too late.

“Items like this don’t belong in the city charter,” said Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck, who led the fight against the amendment. “Otherwise, we would be like California. … Anything we vote on at this table could be overturned by petition.”

[City Attorney David] Feldman, who forcefully argued that it was council members’ “mandatory ministerial duty” to put the amendment on the November ballot, acknowledged that the city charter does hold referendum proponents to the 30-day time limit. State law, however, has no such provision. He argued that state law would trump the charter in this case.

Clearly, that will be one of the issues for a judge to rule on, if and when someone files suit to stop the referendum. I want to also call your attention to this comment by JJMB from my previous entry that clarifies things further:

The City Charter itself has both a “referendum” section and an “initiative” section. The Kuboshes have avoided both of those procedures. “Initiative and referendum” are the way that voters have reacted to specific laws for hundreds of years. The hurdles are higher — react within 30 days and get 10% the highest Mayor election turnout in the last 3 years for referendum, or no time limit but 15% for an initiative. Notwithstanding the news reports, I believe that the initiative route has also been suggested as the way this should go — maybe not by KHS, but by some council members and lawyers.

I believe one could be a stickler and say that the 30 day process is the only way to go to rescind an ordinance that the representative body already put in place. But I read Kuffner’s prior post, and I’m willing to let the Kuboshes proceed with the initiative process, even though literally — and for 200 years — that is used to put a new ordinance in place without the representative body.

But it seems that the Kuboshes don’t want to go either of the way that the City voters — who put the City Charter in place — have established as the correct path.

Instead, the Kuboshes use state law to amend the charter itself. So along with “governance” type sections about whether the Mayor is strong or weak, how many councilmembers, term limits, voting procedures, etc., they want to add a specific red light camera rule. This is not the historical use of “referendum.”

But the 15% path is what … 40,000 signatures? So the Kuboshes took the easier 20,000 signature route.

Actually, by my calculation based on 181,000 votes cast in the last Mayoral election, it’s a bit more than 27,000 signatures. I’m unsure as a result of checking that figure where the 21,000-and-change figure for getting on the ballot this year came from, but if that was the standard, then a 15% threshold would be 31,500. Either one is more than the total that the Kuboshes submitted.

Anyway, JJMB’s comment clears up my confusion from that earlier post. I only quoted from section 3 of the city charter, entitled “Referendum”. I had skipped over section 2, entitled “Initiative”, because of this language:

The initiative shall be exercised in the following manner:

(a) Petition. A petition signed and verified in the manner and form required for recall petition in Article VI-a by qualified electors equal to fifteen per cent. of the total vote cast at the Democratic Primary for the nomination of Mayor and Commissioners, next preceding the filing of said petition, accompanied by the proposed legislation or measure in the form of a proposed ordinance or resolution, and requesting that such ordinance or resolution be submitted to a vote of the people, if not passed by the Council, shall be filed with the Secretary.

I saw the word “recall” and assumed it was specifically about recall elections, so I didn’t read this all the way through. Given that this mechanism exists, I take back my comments about the 30-day window being too restrictive. If this is the requirement for an effort outside of that time frame, then it’s clear that the Kuboshes have fallen short of the signature total needed, and it would seem that a state judge would be likely to toss this off the ballot. But again, until someone actually sues and a judge actually rules, it’s on.

One more thing:

Councilwoman Jolanda Jones questioned why council members did not put up a similar fight against another charter amendment proposal backed by powerful engineers that asks voters to tax themselves for an $8 billion program to shore up the city’s infrastructure and fix flooding problems.

“I just want us to be consistent,” Jones said.

The difference here is that the Kubosh effort is aiming at overturning an existing Council-enacted law, while the Renew Houston effort is not. At least, that’s how I perceive it. But I take CM Jones’ point.

Red light camera petitions certified

They made it just under the wire.

A petition to ban red light cameras in Houston has been certified by the city secretary, making it all but certain that voters will decide in November whether the 70 devices at intersections across the city will be taken down.

“This is a great day for Houston,” said Michael Kubosh, one of three brothers that collected more than 20,000 signatures required to get the proposed charter amendment on the ballot in this election cycle. “People just need a right to vote, that’s all we’re saying. Now the citizens will have a chance to decide.”

Jim McGrath, a spokesman for Keep Houston Safe, a political action committee advocating the cameras, said the petition is illegal and represents an abuse of the city charter amendment process. He noted that Paul Kubosh, another brother behind the petition, is a lawyer who specializes in defending traffic ticket recipients and has a business interest in the outcome of the election.

As you know, I’m not terribly impressed by the anti-camera arguments, certainly not by the “it’s all about the money!” arguments. Nobody ever has to get a red light camera ticket, and I say that as someone who has received an old-fashioned police-issued ticket for running a red light. Having said that, I’m also not terribly impressed by the argument that killing the cameras is in Paul Kubosh’s financial interest. I mean, let’s be real here – the camera company is going to spend a bunch of money to win this election because it’s in their financial interest to do so. Nobody is pure on that score, so let’s acknowledge it and move on. If you want to question the Kubosh brothers’ motives, I prefer noting that neither one is registered to vote in the city of Houston, and therefore neither one can actually cast a ballot on this referendum.

Assuming there is a referendum. As CultureMap notes, expect legal action by Keep Houston Safe to follow.

“We’ve got two key legal issues here and if the city was to bow to political pressure to go against that, we would take action,” Keep Houston Safe spokesman Jim McGrath told CultureMap.

KHS claims that the ban qualifies as a referendum election to ban or repeal a city ordinance, which according to law must have petitions completed within 30 days of enacting that law. Since the red light cameras have been in operation since 2006, McGrath says that to bring it forward now would constitute an illegal referendum.

That argument was echoed on Council.

“To me, this is an illegal election petition,” Council Member Anne Clutterbuck said. “This is not a referendum. This is a charter amendment which is, in my opinion, not the proper way to go forward.”

I’ve said before that I’m not convinced by that argument, either, but that’s why God gave us lawyers, to sort out this sort of thing. We’ll see what happens.

Assuming we do have a referendum on the ballot, I will be very interested to see who takes what side. This isn’t an R/D issue, and I expect there will be supporters and opponents on both sides. (Mary Benton lists ten supporters on Council.) The question will be who takes some kind of action one way or the other, and who sits it out. Also of interest will be who raises and spends how much. I don’t know about you, but I’m already prepared to be sick of the commercials that are sure to run. Maybe this won’t be that expensive a campaign, but I wouldn’t count on that.

Mayor Parker’s first budget passes

The deed is done. We know the basic shape of the budget from earlier stories, so I just want to highlight a couple of things. First, an amendment to trim Council members’ budgets that ultimately was defeated:

City Councilman Al Hoang and others backed an effort to apply the same 2 percent budget cuts required of many city departments for fiscal 2011 to council members, who have been allocated $392,222 in the coming year to pay staff and take care of other expenses.

The proposal, which would have required a cut of nearly $8,000 per council office, was rejected by 11 council members. Only Hoang, Councilman Stephen Costello and Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck voted for the measure. The cut would have saved an estimated $110,000.

“I think it’s disingenuous to ask departments to cut their budgets, and not cut our own,” Hoang said in a statement. “We were elected to lead by example, not by decree.”

Councilwoman Jolanda Jones opposed the cuts, saying that council member budgets are used almost exclusively to pay the salaries and health care costs of staffers and should not be compared to departments that can cut spending on equipment or freeze hiring to reach budget targets.

She called the proposal an example of “form over substance.”

“If someone calls my office and I don’t have staff or resources to help them solve their problem, they’re going to be mad at me. … They’re going to be mad at the city,” she said.

I tend to agree with CM Jones that there are better avenues for finding savings. I don’t object to the attempt by CM Hoang, and I do agree that elected officials should lead by example; some, as we know, are better than others at that. But it’s not the Council members themselves who are directly affected by such cuts, it’s their staffers. For the small amount of money in the context of the budget that’s involved, I don’t think the return is worth it.

The other matter of interest was the bilingual budget amendment:

The most controversial item council considered — a proposal to end the practice of paying a $70 monthly stipend to bilingual employees – was withdrawn by Clutterbuck after Parker promised to review the program.

Parker said she will ensure that those receiving the money are proficient in the second language and that the use of it is necessary for their daily jobs. Parker also vowed to ensure that employees only receive tuition reimbursement if the education they seek will help them do their jobs.

My guess is these things will be quietly studied for awhile, then some relatively innocuous recommendations will be made. We’ll see what happens from there.

Bilingual budget amendment controversy

Given the budget situation we’re in, there’s been a surprising lack of overt controversy about how to deal with it. Council members submitted their budget amendments last week, and one of them has generated a stir. KUHF reported on the amendment in question, which would eliminate a stipend given to bilingual city employees, proposed by CM Anne Clutterbuck.

Clutterbuck says the city absolutely needs bilingual employees, but paying a stipend is unnecessary.

“The City of Houston, of course, is amazingly diverse and we need people available to be able to speak and communicate. But I don’t think that we should be paying extra for it. It should be part of the original job description.”

There’s no aptitude test required to get the stipend. Clutterbuck says it’s given to anyone who fills out the bilingual pay form, even if their job duties don’t require a second language.

“It’s kind of an honor system. There’s a one-page form that every individual fills out. In my office, I’ve had two employees that have completed the form and asked me to sign it and I did so, but in the District C office there’s not necessarily the need to speak more than one language.”

About 1,400 non-classified civilian employees get bilingual pay, costing the city an extra $1 million a year. Clutterbuck’s amendment would eliminate the stipend. She says if other councilmembers aren’t willing to eliminate it altogether, the city should at least require a proficiency test and only give bilingual pay to those whose job duties require it.

The Harris County Tejano Democrats have put out a press release criticizing this amendment, with a press conference set for today to protest it.

Harris County Tejano Democrats (HCTD) advises Council Member Clutterbuck to rescind her amendment. “In an attempt to score political points in an anti-immigrant climate, Council Member Clutterbuck’s misguided amendment will lead to a reduction of basic city services to taxpayers with limited English proficiency,” said Frumencio Reyes, Jr., HCTD Legal Advisor. “We ask Mayor Parker to join us in opposing this amendment. It’s a bad idea and Council Member Clutterbuck should pull it immediately.”

WHO: Harris County Tejano Democrats, community and labor leaders

WHEN: Monday, June 21, 2010

WHERE: Houston City Hall, South Steps (in front of the Reflection Pool)

TIME: 12:00 pm

The amount of money is fairly small in context of the full budget, but the politics of this are clearly large. I have not seen any responses from anyone yet, so I can’t say how this may play out. My guess is that the amendment will not go through as is, but something like the proficiency test could happen. We’ll see. Mary Benton has more.

UPDATE: Here’s a report from the press conference.

Whether it was in Spanish or in English, the message at City Hall was clear.

State Representative Ana Hernandez said, “This is an international city, an international city that prides itself on the businesses we’re able to attract. Well, this sends the wrong message. It sends the message that we only do business in English.”

[…]

Frumencio Reyes of the Harris County Tejano Democrats said, “I see this as an affront to us as a community and certainly based on the Republican platform, she’s falling right into it.”

As the story notes, CM Clutterbuck has amended her amendment.

After hearing concerns from the public and administration, Clutterbuck has offered substitute language to her amendment that reads: Eliminate bilingual pay for all non-classified employees unless the employee is in direct contact with the public, demonstrates proficiency and there is a reasonable expectation that the language will be used in the normal course of their job duties.

Clutterbuck says she was simply trying to save taxpayers more than $1 Million annually when she proposed making the change.

Meanwhile Mayor Parker has also issued a statement:

“We met with the council member. She clarified her intent and that intent is accurately reflected in the substitute language. It addresses her budgetary concerns without hindering our ability to adequately meet the needs of our diverse population, and it reflects what has been long-standing city policy. I anticipate the council member will offer the substitute at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Stace is not impressed.

I mean, c’mon, how many of us bilingual folks get called in to translate on a moment’s notice–even if it’s not in our job description just because we’re the Mexican in the room?

Perhaps a Human Resource audit is needed to determine exactly who are these employees that would be targeted before a vote is taken by council. In addition, perhaps they can also determine what is meant by proficiency because whether someone can pass a standardized test or not, an attempt at Spanish is still better than the usual way that non-Spanish speakers would communicate with those constituents: IN LOUDER ENGLISH.

The argument is that this could save over $1,000,000; however, during a time in which the economy continues to hit all employees, taking away pay is that last thing that should be on Council’s agenda, much like furloughs and lay-offs. And there would definitely be questions of fairness if one “type” of employee is targeted over another.

Those are good points. I’d just add, are there any other types of “special skills” pay that the city offers, and if so are they being reviewed in the same fashion? Or is this something that is unique?

Jolanda versus the world

If you’re on Carl Whitmarsh’s mailing list, you’ve probably seen this, which is one of several mailers being sent out by the Jack Christie campaign. That one is going to the Heights, Montrose, and District C. The others are this one, being sent to voters in Council Districts A and G; this one, being sent to voters in District E; and this one, also being sent to voters in District C.

Looking at all of these, I think it’s safe to say that Council Member Jones has alienated a number of her colleagues. I can’t recall anything like this in recent years, where sitting members have openly support a challenger to a colleague. (Did anyone do this to Shelley Sekula Gibbs in 2003 when Peter Brown ran against her?) What’s damning about it is that much like the earlier mailer Christie sent out, it uses Jones’ own words and actions against her. I like CM Jones. I think she has a lot of talent, I think she represents a constituency that otherwise doesn’t have much of a voice, and I think she has the potential to do a lot of good. But she has definitely provided her critics with a lot of ammunition, and it’s stunning to see so many of her fellow Council members try to oust her like this. If she does survive, it’ll be very interesting to see what her relationship with these members will be like going forward. I’m thinking it’ll be awkward for awhile.

With all that said, I don’t think anyone has too much trouble with CMs Lawrence, Clutterbuck, Sullivan, and Holm, all of whom are on the opposite side of the political fence as Jones and none of whom are currently involved in an election of their own, supporting a fellow member of their party. The mailer by CM Lovell is the explosive one. It’s a little bizarre to think that at this time in 2007, Lovell was working to help Jones get elected. The relationship fell apart pretty quickly after the election, and the two have been feuding ever since. I happen to think that Sue Lovell is also a pretty good Council member, but it’s no secret that she is not the forgiving type. She has reportedly been telling donors not to contribute to Jones. I’m not going to defend what Jones said about HPFFA President Jeff Caynon, which is the basis of Lovell’s attack on her, though I will note that Jones did get a $1000 contribution from the Houston chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters. But I believe Lovell crossed a line here, and judging from what I’ve seen elsewhere, that may be one of the more restrained reactions to this. If Lovell was still thinking about running for County Clerk next year, something that already seemed unlikely with the entrance of Sue Schechter and her show of strength early on, I’d say her odds of getting nominated just got a lot longer. Not to mention the fact that she still has an election of her own to win. She’s certainly stuck her neck out, I’ll say that much.

I guess what really bothers me about this is precisely that both Jones and Lovell are talented Council members. All of this is just a needless distraction and a waste of energy. I wish Jones had not put herself in this position but had instead channeled her energy and passion on Council in more productive ways. I hope that should she survive this election, it will spur her to do exactly that. I wish Lovell would learn to put things behind her and focus on what’s ahead. I hope whatever happens in their respective races, the next City Council finds a way to work together and help the new Mayor deal with the challenges that we face. Surely we all deserve that.

UPDATE: The Lovell mailer was sent out by her campaign, not by Christie’s. My apologies for the confusion.

Oh, and avoid Blakemore, too

We already know why you should stay away from Steven Hotze. But Allen Blakemore is the Horace and Jasper to Hotze’s Cruella de Vil, and the same warning applies to him as well. But don’t take my word for it, listen to a dissatisfied customer of Blakemore’s.

In 2005 Hotze endorsed George Hittner in a race against Anne Clutterbuck for City Council District C. Although it is a nonpartisan race, both candidates had impeccable Republican credentials for that generally Republican district. Hittner is the son of a federal judge and general counsel and vice president for governmental relations for American Traffic Solutions in Scottsdale, Ariz. Clutterbuck had long served as district manager for then-U.S. Rep. Bill Archer.

But Hittner hired Blakemore as his consultant and was endorsed by Hotze. The result was a bitter campaign that, among other things, tried to tar Clutterbuck for being endorsed by the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgendered Caucus.

Clutterbuck and Hittner were separated by only 42 votes in the first round, but Clutterbuck won the runoff with 58 percent of the vote.

The campaign left not only Clutterbuck’s supporters angry, but Hittner as well. Now a Washington lobbyist, he says he came out of the campaign wrongly portrayed as a right-wing Republican when he is, in fact, moderate.

He pointedly says he recommends to friends who are running for office that they hire political consultant Jessica Colon, who last year faced off against Blakemore and Hotze in a special election for the state Senate.

In addition to Colon, I’d also suggest Jennifer Naedler, who is Clutterbuck’s campaign manager and who is working with Jack Christie in his race, as a better alternative for Republican candidates who don’t want to be saddled with Blakemore’s baggage. Unless Blakemore’s antics are the kind of thing you want associated with your name forever, of course. In which case, knock yourself out.

Kirby storm drain construction update

Times are tough all over for retailers. They’re especially tough when the street you’re on is all torn up.

The four-phase project to install new storm drainage along Kirby Drive started in 2004. The latest round peeled back the asphalt at the intersection with Tangley in April and is inching its way toward Bissonnet. City officials expect the phase to be complete by next August.

Shops and strip malls along Kirby have become temporary islands until asphalt isthmuses appear wherever the road is peeled up and put back in place.

On a recent Wednesday, a neon sign glowed “Open” in the window of a Subway franchise, its empty parking lot surrounded by a moat of torn pavement. Farther south, Shipley’s is accessible, but the Starbucks across the street isn’t. To get there, you’d have to make a left turn three blocks later and then double back on the side road where, earlier that day, a truck got tangled in electrical lines and knocked out power to an office building.

At Cova, a high-end wine shop, owner Monsterville Horton IV watched the confluence of three Cats gouging out the intersection of Kirby and Quenby, where traffic alternately stopped and lurched forward.

I just want to interrupt here to say that “Monsterville Horton IV” is easily the best name I’ve ever heard in my life. No wonder he’s Monsterville IV – I’d want to pass that name onto my son as well. Oh, I think “Monsterville Horton” would make a great band name, too.

Still, business owners who remember Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 don’t take issue with the reason for the construction.

“It’s going to save us a lot of hassle and headache,” said Aubrey Mendonca, who owns the Perimeter Gallery, an arts and framing store on Rice Boulevard. “I’m one of the highest-elevated stores in the Village, and I had a foot of water from Allison.”

Mendonca doesn’t fault city engineers for the pace of construction: They’re going as fast as they can, he says.

Public works spokesman Alvin Wright says the city has done what it could to accommodate commerce, including promising to halt construction between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“That’s one of the biggest seasons for the Village,” Mendonca said. “They’ve kept us in mind.”

And he doesn’t think construction alone will be fatal to any Rice Village businesses.

“We did see a few businesses fold because of the economy, but I don’t think it’s a danger of the construction.”

I have to say, I agree that the pace of the construction has been as quick as you could reasonably expect. You can literally see the progress if you drive through the area with any regularity. And in an odd way, I think the traffic on Kirby isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. At least, that’s the case headed southbound; the line of traffic to get through the light at Sunset headed northbound is much longer. I think there’s a Yogi Berra-ish “nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded” effect at play here – I try to take Shepherd/Greenbriar (where there’s now construction blocking a lane of traffic just south of Sunset) or Buffalo Speedway when I can – which surely contributes to the merchants’ lack of business. But it is moving along, and perhaps these businesses’ experience can provide a little hope for those whose shops are along the coming light rail routes. If this is survivable, in this economy, anything is.

Anyway. The status of Kirby Drive, both here and north of the Southwest Freeway, was a subject of discussion in my interview with Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, as all of this is in District C. Give it a listen if you haven’t already.

Interview with Council Member Anne Clutterbuck

Anne Clutterbuck

Anne Clutterbuck

Today’s interview subject is Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, who is serving her second term in District C. There’s been a lot of action in her district of late – the Ashby highrise, the rebuild of Kirby Drive, the Universities rail line – so we had quite a bit to talk about. Clutterbuck has one opponent on the ballot, and another who will run as a write-in.

Download the MP3 file.

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D

Interview with Herman Litt

Herman LittMy next interview subject is Herman Litt, who is running for At Large #1. Litt is a rehabilitation counselor and hospital administrator who was elected to the HCC Board of Trustees in 1999 and served for awhile as its Chair. He ran for the District C seat in 2005 and finished fourth in the field of seven, but less than four points behind eventual winner and first-place finisher Anne Clutterbuck. Litt is a resident of Meyerland.

Download the MP3 file.

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A

City campaign finance reports followup

A few things to add to last night’s post.

– Ronald Green’s numbers for City Controller are now in – my spreadsheet has been updated to reflect that. He took in $48,515 and has $32,700 on hand. Which is to say, about 10% of what each of his opponents has. You can do the math from there.

– Here’s the Chron story about the fundraising totals, which is all about the Mayor’s race. I agree with Professor Murray that the city’s Republican voters are largely up for grabs. I think even with his non-existent fundraising, Roy Morales will get his share of them – he’s basically the “none of the above” choice for these voters. I also agree with Greg that a lot of these folks may simply not turn out, though with interesting races in Districts A and G, plus a challenge to incumbent Mike Sullivan in E, I don’t think their turnout will be too dampened. It’ll be interesting to see if the Mayor’s race gets fewer votes than the Council races in those districts, however. And who knows what the effect of runoffs in A and G might have on the eventual Mayoral runoff. That may be an even bigger factor down the line.

– I’ve added in all Council incumbents to the spreadsheet, which I didn’t have time to do last night. No real surprises among the reports that were present. Anne Clutterbuck has the most cash on hand so far, while Ed Gonzalez, who was only elected a month ago, has the least. He did report over $50K raised, which I presume is since his previous report on June 5, and I am unaware of anyone currently planning to run against him, so he’s in good shape.

– Clutterbuck, who has Green Party candidate Alfred Molison (no report yet) running against her, and Sullivan are the only district Council incumbents to have opponents so far. Sullivan raised $75,550 and has $83,900 in the bank. His opponent, Phillip Garrison, raised $24,190 and has $21,085 on hand. That would make him a contender in some other races, but he trails the money race by a decent margin here.

– The At Large races are still up in the air. I’m a bit surprised at how little has been raised in At Large #4. Like Greg, I think there may be an opening in that race. I’ve said before that it was awfully late for someone to jump into a race by now, but as neither candidate has piled up a lot of cash, a late entrant would not start out as far behind. A potentially more likely scenario is for one of the #1 candidates to switch over. Neither Karen Derr nor Herman Litt, who clearly has some high profile supporters behind him, have reported yet. Given Steve Costello’s impressive haul, it would not be ridiculous for one of them to think this race has gotten a little crowded, and to contemplate other options.

– Likewise, I’m surprised at the relative lack of cash in District A. I have to assume that will pick up in the next few months. I’ll reserve judgment on F and G until I see some more reports.

– Finally, I think I’ve identified all the candidates in my spreadsheet, though of course we won’t know for sure till the filing deadline. I actually found another candidate in A while searching through the reports, a fellow named Darrell Rodriguez. If I’m missing anyone you know of, please leave a comment and tell me who it is. Thanks!

UPDATE: I’ve made a correction to the earlier post to note tha MJ Khan’s cash on hand is $353K, not $312K.

Chron makes the case for beautification

The Chron editorializes in favor of the new sign ordinance passed by Council this week. The tone is off-putting, and as has been the case all along is long on assertion and short on empirical evidence, but it’s a pretty good capsule version of the pro-beautification side. Here’s the key bit:

There’s no virtue in looking awful, and when Houston competes with other cities, our tackiness puts us at a disadvantage. Nobody dreams of living in the Ugly Betty of cities.

Yes, of course every business wants the biggest, tallest, most attention-grabbing sign that it can possibly have. But that kind of competition is like an arms race: When every business has an enormous gaudy sign, no one gains a competitive advantage. Nobody wins, and the street looks wretched.

Real estate magnate Ed Wulfe — a deal-loving, free-enterprise kind of guy — has worked for years with Scenic Houston on quality-of-life issues like sign ordinances. He notes that his own shopping centers — successful places like Meyerland Plaza and Highland Village — already impose stricter rules on signage than the city does. Controlling all the signs’ size and materials makes the mall as a whole classier and more attractive to customers. Each tenant, of course, would prefer that its own sign be bigger and more attention-grabbing. But smaller, more coordinated signs for everyone lead to higher profits for all the stores.

As I’ve said, I hear people say Houston is ugly all the time, and I have to believe that has an effect on our fortunes in the greater marketplace. Who wants to live someplace ugly? A city that can’t draw people in isn’t going to be successful in the long run. Against that are questions of fairness to new businesses, and whether or not a new set of regulations would discourage businesses from locating here. I still don’t feel like I have enough information to evaluate the competing claims.

As far as the unfair-to-new-businesses business goes, the Chron has a plan for that:

That’s why, next time we update our sign ordinance (which is very much on the agenda of Scenic Houston), we need to provide a reasonable way to address signs that already exist. Right now, the new rules apply only to new signs, and even if every tenant of a shopping center changes, the entirely revised sign won’t count as “new” as long it stands on the same old pole. Small properties, anxious to preserve an individual competitive advantage even at a cost to the larger area, are likely to cling to those too-big, too-ugly poles for decades.

Well, that addresses one point while making the other a bigger deal. Which has to make me wonder about the possibility of a lawsuit over whatever might come next. Just another factor to consider.

Finally, on a related note, I have been informed that Council Member Anne Clutterbuck was out of town this week, so there’s no mystery as to why she did not vote against the new sign ordinance. I had expressed some curiosity about that in my earlier post.

Council passes new sign ordinance

Still not sure about the wisdom of this, but it’s a done deal now.

With one dissenting vote, City Council on Wednesday passed a major revision to the city’s decades-old sign ordinance that supporters hope will improve what they see as Houston’s reputation as an unsightly destination.

The ordinance, which applies only to signs on the premises of area businesses that go up after Sept. 1, diminishes the maximum allowable height and square footage of signs by nearly half in certain cases, eliminates roof signs and regulates electronic displays, among other more specific rules that will apply to shopping centers or other multi-tenant locations.

Council members offered little in the way of debate about the ordinance, which was the result of more than a year of work by a 14-member task force that included city officials, commercial real estate agents and representatives from the sign-making, restaurant and apartment industries. Task force members said the proposals represented a compromise between business interests and consumers, and many stressed that the new requirements will not be imposed on businesses with existing signs.

Councilman M.J. Khan cast the lone dissenting vote after noting the new rules will give operating businesses an advantage over those that open after Sept. 1.

“When we have grandfathering of certain signs, if there is a new business who wants to be in the same vicinity … the new business will be handicapped,” he said. “So we are really, in some ways, discouraging new businesses to come in and open up their shops … Houston is the first choice for people who want to relocate or bring their business.”

Interesting that it was Khan who was the lone No vote. Usually, when something passes with all but one voting Yes, the one is Michael Sullivan. I’d have expected him, or maybe Anne Clutterbuck, who has expressed some reservations about this sort of thing before, to be opposed. I guess that speaks to the efforts of the task force, so kudos to them for that. I’d still like to see a study or some other objective evaluation of the competing claims about our business climate and our perceived ugliness.

Turner not running for Mayor

The Mayoral field for this November should now be set.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner announced today he would not attempt a run for mayor of Houston.

The 11-term Democrat representative’s announcement comes a little more than three weeks after he publicly acknowledged he was weighing a third run for mayor. Turner said he was considering a campaign after being asked by community supporters to get in the race.

“Although I believe the race is eminently winnable, a late entry into the campaign would have required that I drop every other project in which I am involved, community endeavors such as the Houston Astros Urban Youth Baseball Academy in Acres Homes and continuing my work in the Texas Legislature, to which I am deeply committed and thoroughly enjoy,” Turner said in a statement issued this morning.

Had he opted to run, Turner would have joined an already crowded field. Announced candidates include former city attorney Gene Locke, Councilman Peter Brown, City Controller Annise Parker, Harris County Department of Education Trustee Roy Morales and businessman T.J. Huntley. The filing deadline is in late September.

Earlier this month, Turner said he promised potential supporters he would consider a run after the legislative session concluded earlier this month.

I’ve got Turner’s full statement beneath the fold. I’d heard a couple of weeks ago that he was making calls to potential campaign contributors, as nobody serious gets into a race like this without some assurance that the resources needed to run a campaign will be there. Maybe he wasn’t getting the response he thought he’d need, or maybe he really just didn’t think he could commit to the race. I was somewhat skeptical that he’d jump in, so I can’t say that this surprises me. Greg has more, including some possible candidates in other races:

African Americans Rozy Shorter and Andrew Burks are considering contesting Sue Lovell for at large 2.

Green Party gay activist Alfred Molison has filed his treasurer designation to oppose District C City Council Member Anne Clutterbuck.

African American former assistant Texas Attorney General Lewis Cook has designated his treasurer to run for the District F seat MJ Khan is leaving and Richard Sedita has designated his treasurer for District G, the seat Pam Holm is leaving.

Shorter has been out there for awhile. Burks is a perennial candidate; his last race was for HCDE Trustee against Roy Morales in 2006. Molison ran twice in 2007, once in the May special election for At Large #3, where he finished tenth, and again in November where he was one of two candidates who ran against Clutterbuck, getting a shade under 6% of the vote. Cook has been in the race for awhile, but I don’t know much about him. Sedita makes five in District G, joining Mills Worsham, Oliver Pennington, Dexter Handy, and George Foulard.

(more…)

Precinct analysis: The City Council districts

I’d been wondering for a long time how the 2008 vote broke down by City Council districts, as well as for the city of Houston versus non-Houston Harris County. I finally did something about it awhile ago and made a call to Hector de Leon at the Harris County Clerk’s office to ask him if precinct data was available from the 2007 election that could help me answer these questions. He very kindly provided me with a spreadsheet that gave all the 2007 results by precinct, and I was off to the races. Here’s what I found out.

There’s one key point that needs to be understood before I get into this: Precinct boundaries do not conform to City of Houston boundaries. In other words, a given precinct may have voters who live inside the City of Houston, and voters who do not. The effect of this on my analysis, since my data is only granular to the precinct level, is that about half again as many votes were counted as “City of Houston” than they were as “Harris County”. That’s because if a precinct had votes in it for the 2007 election in a city race, it was counted in its entirity towards the City of Houston total in 2008. Had this not been the case, I would have expected a roughly equal amount of votes inside and out of Houston in Harris County. I just don’t have any way to make a distinction within a precinct, so we have to live with that.

That raises the interesting question of whether or not this skews the numbers I generated, and if so by how much? Precincts are geographically small, so these Houston/not Houston voters in the same precinct are basically neighbors for the most part. What’s the bigger factor in determining their voting behavior: proximity or city limits? There’s probably a master’s thesis in that. In any event, my rough guess is that the results I’ve generated probably underestimate the Democratic-ness of the city of Houston and overstate it for its complement, but not by very much.

I note here I’m still using draft canvass numbers from 2008, which is basically all of the non-provisional votes. I don’t think this makes much difference, either, but I wanted to mention it just to be clear. And so, without further ado…

District Obama Noriega Garcia Judicials ============================================ Houston 58.5 59.3 63.5 58.4 Harris 39.0 40.1 45.3 39.3 A 39.5 40.2 46.3 39.0 B 86.8 87.7 89.4 87.8 C 60.6 59.9 64.5 58.5 D 87.7 87.1 88.7 87.0 E 41.3 43.2 48.1 41.8 F 63.6 65.1 68.7 65.0 G 42.3 40.7 45.6 39.2 H 68.8 72.4 77.6 70.9 I 72.7 79.0 81.6 76.5

The numbers given are percentages of the vote, for Barack Obama, Rick Noriega, Adrian Garcia, and the county Democratic judicial candidates. A few thoughts:

– I had previously thought that District A would be amenable to electing a Democrat this year to replace the term-limited Toni Lawrence. That doesn’t appear to be the case here. I was surprised to see that A was the most GOP of the districts – I’d have guessed it would have been E or G. It may be that the precincts that encompass District A also happen to include some strongly Republican non-Houston turf, more so than E or G, I can’t say. But it does put a bit of a damper on my hopes for Jeff Downing and Lane Lewis.

– I expected Districts C and F to skew Democratic, but I was surprised by how much they did. Given that C’s precincts likely include some pieces of West U and Bellaire, that’s even more impressive. Democrats – and as that stands right now, that means Mike Laster – ought to win F this year, and I’d give good odds on winning C in 2011 when Anne Clutterbuck terms out.

– In the meantime, despite their inability to compete citywide, Republicans have overperformed a bit in winning district Council races, as they have five seats but are only a majority in three. As noted, I think that’s a temporary situation, and given Adrian Garcia’s showing in those three red districts, they shouldn’t be taken for granted by anyone, either.

– Of course, the electorate for a historic Presidential race and the electorate for city races, even one with a wide-open Mayoral campaign, are two very different things. All things considered, that probably gives a more Republican tilt overall, one which is more pronounced in the years that don’t have a Mayoral melee at the top of the ticket. How big an effect that is, and how much it’s being counteracted by demographic trends, I couldn’t say.

– Finally, I thought I’d add one more table, showing how many votes were cast in each Council district in the Presidential race, again bearing in mind all the caveats from above:

District Votes ================== A 118,019 B 72,743 C 73,627 D 81,009 E 113,438 F 43,704 G 99,061 H 47,409 I 35,492

Even if you assume some districts are more bolstered by precincts with non-Houston voters than others, there are still some pretty huge differences there. Let’s just say I foresee large challenges for those who are tasked with redrawing City Council districts, whenever that may be.

Here we go again with City Council redistricting

Or at least, here we go again with arguing about when we should be redrawing City Council lines.

Mayor Bill White’s decision to delay redrawing the boundaries of City Council districts has angered numerous community activists, who say his stance is defying Houston’s charter.

Under a 30-year-old legal settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, the number of council members “shall increase” from 14 to 16 when Houston’s population hits 2.1 million. That settlement later was incorporated into the city’s charter.

The mayor, City Council members and officials all acknowledge that the triggering population threshold has been crossed.

But White and several council members have resisted the push for redistricting, asserting that the city lacks population data needed to redraw district lines accurately. That data will come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s decennial survey in 2010. Pressing on without it, they say, could lead to a court challenge under federal voting rights laws.

[…]

Houston has had more than 2.1 million people since 2006, according to population estimates the city has been using in official documents. To create new districts and change boundaries, however, the city would have to use detailed population estimates for specific tracts of land, city officials said. Though demographers are assumed to estimate the overall city population accurately, the only accurate tract-level data would have to come from the 2000 Census.

Redrawing district lines now would, in effect, be based on almost 10-year-old data, said Jerry Wood, a former city planner and redistricting expert. He noted that the city went through redistricting in 1982 and 1985, based on dated census figures. The estimates used those years were shown to be wrong in the 1990 Census, Wood said.

That possibility, and any lawsuit that could stem from it, led City Attorney Arturo Michel and Chief Administrative Officer Anthony Hall to advise the mayor against redistricting now.

“I have no doubt that our actual population exceeds the threshold number, but there are substantial legal issues about whether federal law allows us to draw districts based on guesses about where people live,” White said.

I appreciate that perspective, and as far as it goes, I agree we’ll have much more accurate data real soon now. But we’ve been talking about this for over three years, and the city could have taken action in 2006 in time for the 2007 elections, but demurred on the grounds that we weren’t really sure we were past the 2.1 million mark. That seems to have been an erroneous belief. Anyway, the last time this came up, the word was wait till 2010. Which makes sense in a vacuum, but it didn’t have to be this way. I have a lot of sympathy for the people who are complaining about it again now.

Presently, in a city made up of 41.7 percent Hispanics, 24.3 percent African-Americans and 5.3 percent Asian-Americans, there is one Latino council member, four African-Americans and one Asian-American.

“We’re the fourth-largest city in America. Let’s act like it,” said Vidal Martinez, an attorney and former Port of Houston commissioner who urged council members recently to take up redistricting now.

But council members noted that much of the city’s growth that would be addressed in redistricting has happened in west Houston.

“We’re going to have to peel away (new districts) from existing western, white districts,” Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck said. The problem with drawing out districts to address a certain population, like a Hispanic population, is Hispanics are scattered across the city.”

We’re likely, though certainly not guaranteed, to have another Latino member after the special election for District H. That would make Council exactly half Anglo, half non-Anglo, and while that’s not really aligned with the overall population, I’ll bet it’s a pretty fair representation of the population that actually votes. Some Latino leaders have a summit coming up in three weeks to talk about issues like that – see Marc Campos for details. More voter participation, and more Latinos running At Large would make a big difference even with the current lines.

If you’ve read any of my precinct analysis posts from the 2008 election, you know I agree with Council Member Clutterbuck about the electoral map out west. Another question that will need to be dealt with for the eventual map-drawers is what to do with District E. It really doesn’t make sense to glue Kingwood and Clear Lake together, but splitting them apart is likely to create two districts that will tend to elect Anglos, instead of just one. If the goal is to increase minority representation, that will come into conflict. Whenever we do get around to this, it’s going to be a tricky and contentious task.