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Carroll Robinson

Selecting a successor for El Franco Lee: Process and questions

From the inbox, sent by Carroll Robinson.

El Franco Lee

The Issue

During the past few days, there has been a great deal of speculation about the legal process for selecting someone to replace the late Commissioner El Franco Lee on the November 2016 General Election ballot. (Texas Election Code, Subchapter C. Sections 172.057, 172.058 and 172.054 (1).)

The Primary Ballot – No Options

Under the state election code, Commissioner Lee’s name cannot be removed from the March Democratic Party Primary Election ballot, and the deadline for extending the filing deadline to allow other people to add their name to the primary ballot has passed. (Texas Election Code, Subchapter C, Section 172.058(b) and Subchapter B, Sections 145.035 and 145.036.)

General Election Ballot

Under the Texas Election Code, once the March Primary Election and Run-Off has concluded, the Democratic Precinct Judges in Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will meet to select a replacement candidate to appear on the November ballot for a full four-year term.

Under the law, there is no option of a Special Election for selecting a replacement candidate for the November General Election ballot.

Sitting Elected Officials

Under the law, a person’s name cannot appear on the ballot for two positions.  This means that currently elected officials up for re-election this year cannot be listed on the ballot for both Commissioner and re-election to their current office.

If A State Legislator Is Selected As The Replacement

In the event a state legislator is selected as the ballot replacement for the Precinct 1 position, his/her legislative office position on the November ballot would become available. To fill that position, a separate appointment process would occur, with the precinct judges of that specific jurisdiction selecting a replacement in the event no other candidate is on the primary ballot for that position. There is some confusion over the eligibility of current officeholders whose existing term would overlap in part or totally. Specifically, the eligibility of a municipal elected official to be appointed to a state legislative position.  Under current law, any potential replacement would have to resign from office prior to selection to be considered because of the State holdover provision based on an existing Texas Supreme Court decision to possibly be eligible to succeed the legislator. (Wentworth v. Meyer, 839 S.W. 2nd 766 (Tex. 1992) and Texas Attorney General Letter Opinion No. 95-069 (November 7, 1995).)

The Court’s decision raises a number of questions and does not give full clarity on a state constitutional provision that had historically prohibited sitting elected officials from being elected to the legislature if their term of office would overlap with the term of office of the legislative seat they were planning to seek.  (Texas Attorney General Letter Opinion No.95-069 (November 7, 1995).)

Questions Still To Be Answered
We are still researching answers to the following questions.

  • How will the meeting of the Precinct Judges to select the replacement be conducted?
  • Who will Chair the meeting and how will the Chair be selected?
  • What will be the process for individuals to be considered to be the replacement?
  • Can the Precinct Judges retain counsel to advise them on the questions involved in selecting the replacement?

 
Summary

1. Commissioner Lee’s name will be the only one on the Democratic Party Primary Ballot.

2. In June, the Democratic Party Precinct Judges, residing in Commissioner Precinct 1, elected in the March primary, will select a replacement candidate to appear on the November General Election ballot. The replacement candidate cannot be selected by Special Election.

We’ve covered some of this before, but it’s nice to have it in a concise summary like this. I would add the question of which precinct judges get to select a replacement if we wind up naming a sitting legislator to be the November nominee. My guess is that it would be simply the precinct judges from that legislative district, but it would be nice for that to be clarified. Note as well that there could be a third step involved if the legislator in question is 1) a Senator or Congressperson, and 2) the nominee chosen for that office is also a legislator, presumably a State Rep. I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole here, so let’s just say that this could get involved, and could wind up being a long meeting.

If the new nominee is someone who currently holds office but is not on the ballot this November – a Houston City Council member or HISD/HCC Trustee, for instance – that person would clearly have to resign once sworn in as Commissioner, but not necessarily before then, unless they held an office that required them to resign to run for something else. I would prefer such a person to resign anyway, as there would be enough time for a special election, to be held in November along with everything else, to fill that person’s unexpired term. Which leads to another question I can’t answer: How many full terms in office would a Council member who won a November 2016 special election get to serve? Under the old system, they’d still get three full two-year terms, as folks like Ed Gonzalez and Melissa Noriega did; Dave Martin will get the full two-year term he won in 2013 plus the two four-year terms (if he runs and wins again in 2019) that others elected in 2013 can get. My guess is such a person could run twice more, in 2019 and 2023, giving them up to 11 years in total. Maybe we ought to have the City Attorney standing by, just in case.

Anyway. This is the process, and these are the questions that occur to me. I’m sure there will be more. I plan to lay out my criteria for what I am looking for in a new Commissioner in a separate post, as this one is long enough. What questions do you have about the process that I haven’t addressed here?

Precinct analysis: Controller

Moving on to the office that is both second in prominence and last in ballot placement, the City Controller:


Dist  Khan   Brown  Frazer   Boney Jefferson Robinson
=====================================================
A    2,749   3,406   6,588     798       602    1,573
B    1,836   4,042   1,047   4,275     1,057    5,154
C    6,143  12,574  12,181   1,194       838    2,387
D    2,338   5,139   2,180   6,242     1,547    5,358
E    4,595   4,121  13,436     659       653    1,895
F    2,485   2,118   2,493     670       497    1,246
G    5,105   6,416  17,965     596       666    1,615
H    2,514   4,304   2,094   1,047       525    2,220
I    2,082   3,452   1,685   1,098       573    2,087
J    1,885   1,478   1,925     483       273      782
K    2,941   4,508   3,276   3,028       855    3,309
						
A   17.49%  21.67%  41.92%   5.08%     3.83%   10.01%
B   10.55%  23.22%   6.01%  24.55%     6.07%   29.60%
C   17.39%  35.60%  34.49%   3.38%     2.37%    6.76%
D   10.25%  22.54%   9.56%  27.37%     6.78%   23.50%
E   18.12%  16.25%  52.98%   2.60%     2.58%    7.47%
F   26.13%  22.27%  26.22%   7.05%     5.23%   13.10%
G   15.77%  19.83%  55.51%   1.84%     2.06%    4.99%
H   19.79%  33.88%  16.48%   8.24%     4.13%   17.47%
I   18.97%  31.45%  15.35%  10.00%     5.22%   19.01%
J   27.62%  21.65%  28.20%   7.08%     4.00%   11.46%
K   16.41%  25.61%  18.28%  16.90%     4.77%   18.47%
Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

Remember how I said earlier that if you combined Lane Lewis, Tom McCasland, and Jenifer Pool in the At Large #1 race you’d have a leading candidate going into the runoff? The same can be said here for Jew Don Boney, Carroll Robinson, and Dwight Jefferson; just the first two together would be enough. Robinson was in the race first and had a more visible campaign, but Boney received some late-breaking endorsements from groups that likely moved a few votes. However you want to look at it, they basically canceled each other out.

MJ Khan got something for his party-like-it’s-2009 campaign strategy, just not nearly enough. He nudges ahead of Frazer in his old Council district once you add in Fort Bend, but then falls behind Chris Brown there. (Insert sad trombone sound effect.) The good news is that his timelessly generic TV ad that blanketed the airwaves over the past few weeks could easily be hauled out and reused in 2019 and/or 2023 as needed. He could be the model for campaigning in the Andrew Burks/Griff Griffin style with an actual budget to spend.

Here’s my three-point plan for Chris Brown to win next month:

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

1. Make sure Democrats know who he is and that he’s the only Dem in the race. Bill Frazer did about eight points better in District C than Bill King did. Putting it another, and more alarming way, Frazer plus Khan was almost 52% of the vote in C, while King plus Costello was 37%; even counting Ben Hall as a Republican only gets you to 43%. I can’t see a path to victory for Brown that doesn’t include a strong showing in C. The HCDP sent out an email on Monday saying that they would make recommendations now in races that have a single Dem in them, which will help a little, but I’d plan a blitz of mail targeting Democratic likely voters making sure they know which team each candidate in this race is playing for.

2. Deploy surrogates. First and foremost, do whatever is needed to get Brown’s soon-to-be-former boss Ronald Green to cut a radio ad or two for heavy rotation on KCOH and Majic 102 and so forth. Get Peter Brown to star in a mailer or two to voters who were known to like him from 2009 and his days on Council, and also from his days now advocating for sustainable urbanism. Chris Brown’s wife Divya is Indian-American; she and their baby daughter were in a standard family photo in Brown’s November mailings. I’d consider sending some mail to voters in F and J (where there is a high proportion of Asian voters as well as two district Council runoffs) that featured her more prominently. If a few voters there wind up thinking she’s the one they’d be voting for in this race, that would not be a bad outcome.

3. Make sure the police and firefighters are invested in this runoff. Frazer’s campaign is in large part based on the need for drastic action on pensions; there’s not much space between him and King on this issue. The police and firefighters’ unions backed Sylvester Turner for Mayor, but (as far as I know) did not take a position in the Controller’s race. Brown seems like a much better fit for them in the runoff. They may be gearing up to act anyway, but I’d be sure to talk to them and try to get them involved.

As for Frazer, he’s the frontrunner and thus only needs two bullet points: Make sure Republicans know who he is, and otherwise keep on doing what he’s been doing, which is to focus on the issues as he defines them and his qualifications as a CPA. The bad news for Frazer is that the runoff electorate is likely to be more favorable for Democratic candidates. The good news is that there’s no guarantee that voters who supported Robinson or Boney will necessarily transfer for Brown – one possibility is that they vote for Turner and one or more of the African-American Council runoff candidates and then stop there; Robinson recently sent an email urging support for Georgia Provost, Amanda Edwards, and Sharon Moses, but didn’t mention the Controller’s race at all – but Khan voters ought to have a home with him. What he’s done so far, in 2013 and this year, has worked pretty well for him. Don’t overthink it, and don’t do anything stupid, that’s my advice.

8 day finance reports: Controller candidates

How about a look at the 8 day finance reports for Controller candidates? I figure if you’re reading this blog you won’t look at me funny when I say things like that, so here we go:


Candidate    Raised      Spent      Loans   On Hand
===================================================
Brown        46,375    151,848     30,000    12,067
Frazer       58,953    146,767     32,500    38,072
Khan         44,965    351,902    215,000    32,986
Robinson      6,375          0          0     1,151

Candidate    Advertising     Print/Mail
=======================================
Brown             99,600         34,600
Frazer            76,500         53,000
Khan             307,500         24,000

BagOfMoney

A few comments:

– Neither Dwight Jefferson nor Jew Don Boney have 8 day reports, or for that matter 30 day reports. I have no idea why this is the case. Carroll Robinson’s 8 day report does not list a total for expenses, and it has no itemization of contributions or expenses; there’s basically nothing after the initial cover page.

– Bill Frazer had $16,450 in in-kind contributions listed as “pro-rata share of mailer”, from the C Club and Houston Realty Business Coalition. $69,215 of his expenses were from personal funds, including $50,250 for advertising, $7,490 for “GOTV mailout printing”, and $9,747 for postage.

– 22 off MJ Khan’s 44 contributors gave non-Houston addresses. I think I’ve seen his circa-2009 ad and Chris Brown’s “high school swim team” ad more than any Mayoral candidate’s ads except for maybe Costello. Khan also spent $825 on Facebook ads, because why not?

I have not had the time or energy to do the same scrutiny on Council reports, but this Chron story provides a few highlights.

1. At-large 1: Candidates competing to replace term-limited Stephen Costello, who is running for mayor, dropped nearly $299,00 during the past month. The biggest spender was Tom McCasland, former CEO of the Harris County Housing Authority, whose political action committee dropped nearly $155,000. Mike Knox, who has positioned himself as the conservative candidate, spent $57,000 and Lane Lewis, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, spent $44,000.

2. At-large 4: In another competitive at-large race, seven candidates combined spent $252,000. Amanda Edwards, a municipal finance lawyer, has significantly outpaced competitors in spending, dropping $208,000.

4. At-large 2: Incumbent David Robinson and four contenders spent a combined $147,000. Challenger Eric Dick, a lawyer and former mayoral candidate, shelled out the most, spending almost $75,000. Robinson spent more than $47,000.

Since they didn’t go into it, I will note that in At Large #3, CM Kubosh spent about $28K, while Doug Peterson and John LaRue combined to spend about $12K; in At Large #5, CM Christie spent $60K, while Philippe Nassif spent $13K. I know I’ve received some mail from Amanda Edwards (and also received a mailer yesterday from Chris Brown), as well as two robocalls from Eric Dick and – this is the strangest thing I’ve experienced this campaign – a robocall from “former Houston Rocket Robert Reid on behalf of [his] good friend Griff Griffin”. Who knew Griff even did campaigning? Not that this appeared anywhere on his finance report, as either an expense or an in-kind donation, of course. Let’s not go overboard, you know. Anyway, if you look at the 2015 Election page, you will see that as with the Controllers, several At Large candidates have not filed 8 day reports. James Partsch-Galvan and Joe McElligott have filed no reports; Moe Rivera and Jonathan Hansen have not filed 30 Day or 8 Day reports; Jenifer Pool filed an 8 day but not a 30 day; and Larry Blackmon and Brad Batteau filed 30 day reports but not 8 day reports. It’s possible some of these may turn up later, so I’ll keep looking for them. I’m working on the district reports as well and will list them as I can.

Chron overview of HCC Trustee races

As always, HCC Trustee races don’t get as much attention as they deserve.

Adriana Tamez

Adriana Tamez

Since the 2013 election put four new trustees – Zeph Capo, Robert Glaser, Dave Wilson and Adriana Tamez – on the board, one trustee, Carroll Robinson, has stepped down to campaign for city controller and two others – Chris Oliver and Sandie Mullins Moger – have launched bids for City Council seats.

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, a real estate professional who attended HCC, took over Robinson’s seat in May and faces no challengers. John P. Hansen, a longtime Alief school board member, is uncontested in his bid for Moger’s seat on the board. If Oliver loses his council bid, he’ll remain on the HCC board; if he wins, the board will appoint a replacement.

Tamez and Eva Loredo, who has been on the board since 2009, each face challengers for their seats. This means that if Oliver wins his council race, longtime trustee Neeta Sane may be the only board member to have served longer than two years.

Eva Loredo

Eva Loredo

[…]

Tamez faces Florida “Flo” Cooper, a retired telecommunications consultant who ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in 2007. Cooper did not respond to multiple calls for an interview.

[…]

Loredo faces Art Aguilar, a Harris County sheriff’s deputy who ran unsuccessfully for constable in 2008. Aguilar, who did not respond to requests for an interview, is part of a slate of candidates that includes his sister, Diana Dávila, who is running for the Houston school board, and his brother-in-law Abel Dávila, a former HCC trustee now running for the City Council.

Cooper also ran for District D in 1997 against then incumbent CM Jew Don Boney, and in a special election for At Large #4 (eventually won by Chris Bell) in January of 1997. Aguilar is of course who Abel Davila tried to gift this Trustee seat to in 2009 via some last-minute filing shenanigans; Loredo won as a write-in candidate after Aguilar was forced to withdraw by the backlash. Neither is a serious candidate, which is why I highlighted their mentions in this article. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and John Hansen are serious candidates, but both are unopposed – Moger won the position she is now departing as an unopposed candidate back in 2009 – and I just don’t like it when that happens for open seats. Be that as it may, my interview with Tamez is here and with Loredo is here. Both were endorsed by the Chron (and by most endorsing organizations), and both are worth your vote if you live in either district. Let’s please not elect any more accidental Trustees.

30 day finance reports, citywide races

Here’s a brief summary of the 30 Day campaign finance reports that I’ve been able to find, some of which are on this page and some of which are findable via the normal campaign finance report website, and all of which are collected on my Election 2015 page. First up, the Mayoral candidates:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Bell 126,563 240,035 0 91,901 Costello 266,845 871,109 90,000 696,539 Garcia 584,916 1,060,457 0 831,284 Hall 57,859 111,417 850,000 758,618 King 284,031 626,621 650,000 322,474 McVey Turner 526,516 1,265,239 0 507,099 Ferreira Lane 11,105 14,467 9,000 5,457 Munoz Nguyen 150 0 5,000 150 Smith Steffes

I’ve separated the “real” candidates from the “minor” candidates. Marty McVey did file a 30-day report but the totals on cover sheet page 2 are wrong; the Chron’s Rebecca Elliott did the pencil work to tot things up if you’re interested. Neither Sylvester Turner nor Adrian Garcia slowed down after their torrid initial pace, thought both Steve Costello and Bill King weren’t as prolific. On the spending side, I’ve seen plenty of Costello ads on my TV lately, as well as a handful of Turner ads; Turner has been all over my Internet, but all of the “real” candidates minus Hall have had multiple sponsored Facebook posts on my feed. I keep wondering when I’m going to see an Adrian Garcia ad on the tube.

The Controllers:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Boney Brown 42,820 181,923 0 106,165 Frazer 58,375 80,377 32,500 58,293 Jefferson Khan 84,950 5,495 5,100 81,290 Robinson 14,050 17,556 0 1,527

No report as yet from Jew Don Boney or Dwight Jefferson. That’s a pretty decent haul for MJ Khan given how late he entered the race. He also had an ad running during the fourth quarter of the Monday Night Football game between the Steelers and Chargers. I’m about 99% certain it was a rerun of one of his Controller ads from 2009. I’ve seen several Chris Brown ads on TV, but nothing from anyone else. Brown, Bill Frazer, and Carroll Robinson have been in my Facebook feeds.

At Large races:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Griffin 1,000 1,600 0 895 Knox 22,940 11,370 0 9,349 Lewis 40,164 64,479 100 48,803 McCasland 60,978 33,222 0 112,443 Oliver 9,400 7,840 0 25,230 PartschGalvan Pool Provost 1,956 6,841 0 543 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Burks 2,525 1,906 0 618 Davis 7,000 662 0 7,000 Dick 0 103,772 0 0 Rivera Robinson 27,596 40,188 0 121,348 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Kubosh 39,025 46,255 25,000 41,306 LaRue 13,250 4,524 0 8,725 McElligott Peterson 10,225 9,886 0 2,271 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Blackmon 27,285 34,500 0 0 Edwards 131,417 61,327 0 191,445 Hansen Morales 17,495 30,042 2,200 3,786 Murphy 670 5,125 14,045 167 Robinson 29,050 25,923 15,040 35,886 Thompson 0 1,850 0 0 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Batteau 0 0 0 0 Christie 33,202 50,153 0 84,899 Moses 550 1,418 0 0 Nassif 29,690 27,558 0 14,368 Tahir

Candidates with blanks next to their names had no reports I could find. I’ve given some details in the posts about the At Large #4 and At Large #1 races, and Greg covered some of this ground last week. I like to think of campaign finance reports as being one part about who people want to see win, and one part about who (some other) people think actually will win. To whatever extent that holds true, you can see who the betting favorites are. It’s not destiny, of course – as I said, it’s more like Vegas – but it does tell you something. What are your guesses for these races? Leave a comment and let us know.

Interview with Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

We are coming into the home stretch for interview season. This week will be interviews with candidates for Houston City Controller, currently held by term-limited incumbent Ronald Green. First up is Carroll Robinson, who served three terms as At Large City Council member and three years on the HCC Board of Trustees, stepping down this year to mount his Controller campaign. Robinson is an Associate Professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and has served as Associate Dean of External Affairs there. He has a long list of board memberships, committees, and associations that’s hard to excerpt but can be seen on his HCC Board biography page, and there’s a long list of policy objectives, some of which we discussed in the interview, on his campaign webpage. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Endorsement watch: Our first twofer

My first clear misses, too.

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

For our next controller, voters should look for a candidate who can refocus the distracted office on the straight and narrow of Houston’s financial picture. In our current straits, we don’t have the luxury of electing a politician who wants to play public accountant. Controller has a specific job description and voters should limit their choices to the candidates who can boast an appropriate resume. This narrows the field of six candidates to two: Chris Brown and Bill Frazer.

We endorsed Frazer, 64, two years ago as a solid technician with impeccable qualifications. A retired accountant with 40-years experience as a certified public accountant, Frazer has worked as an auditor and as CFO for a series of oil industry companies. During his career he sat on the board of directors of the Texas Society of CPAs and served as president of the Houston CPA Society.

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

“The controller’s office should be one of credentials and one that has the ability to give the mayor and City Council clear and concise, understandable financial advice so they can make well-informed decisions and good decisions,” Frazer told the editorial board.

There’s little doubt that Frazer could do the job – he’s already done it for decades in the private sector.

Chris Brown, 40, currently serves as chief deputy controller under Green. He also served as chief of staff when Green was on council. While we’re wary of continuing Green’s tenure through his subordinates, Brown boasts a background in finance and experience in the controller’s office that would make him a fine fit for the job. Before he joined the ranks at City Hall, Brown worked as a trader for an investment bank and co-founded an equity trading firm, where he served as head of operations.

[…]

However, voters should avoid Carroll Robinson, a former city councilman and former Houston Community College trustee. When he served on the HCC board, Robinson was accused of redirecting a contract to an unqualified friend. In his current campaign, Robinson advocates for casino gambling – a policy far outside the purview of the controller’s office. And when he met with the editorial board, Robinson hinted at Ted Cruz-style obstructionism if elected by refusing to sign city checks.

I thought the Chron would go with Dwight Jefferson, so I whiffed on this one. In my defense, I did give Frazer and Brown some chances of being endorsed, and I predicted the diss on Carroll Robinson, so I do get partial credit. Judge me as you see fit. I will have interviews with all four candidates mentioned in this paragraph this week, so you can decide for yourself. As for the dual endorsement, this isn’t the first time the Chron has done this – remember the Parker/Locke twofer from 2009? – and to be fair, the Chron cites the certainty of a runoff (as they did in 2009) and the need to have the best choices in that race. Seeing this makes me wonder if they won’t do the same thing in this Mayor’s race as well. We’ll know soon enough. What do you think – is this feckless or a reasonable approach?

Time to guess the Chronicle’s endorsements

vote-button

We are a bit more than a month out from the start of early voting, and as such we are getting close to the start of Chronicle endorsement season. I know from doing candidate interviews that the Chron has been holding screenings in recent days, so it shouldn’t be long now. So while we wait for that, why not take a crack at guessing what their endorsements will be?

I want to stress up front that these are not my endorsements. I’m not making any endorsements, here or elsewhere. Nor are these necessarily the candidates I think the Chronicle should endorse. I’m not making any value judgments. These are my best guesses at who the Chron will endorse, based on past history and my read on what they are looking for this year.

What are they looking for this year? I don’t think that’s any mystery. They’re looking for candidates who support HERO and who are sufficiently “serious” about pension reform. That doesn’t mean these are their only criteria, nor does it mean that they can’t or won’t endorse a candidate who doesn’t agree with them on one or both of them. I’m not there in the screenings, I don’t know what else might be on their minds. I’m just making what I hope are reasonable guesses. None of this should be taken seriously. Consider this the political nerd’s equivalent of Sean Pendergast predicting the Texans’ season, with fewer references to the WWE and Game of Thrones.

So with all of that said, let’s begin.

Mayor

At first glance, you’d think this would be a tough one to guess, but looking back at what I wrote above, it jumps right out at you: I believe the Chron will endorse Steve Costello. He checks all their boxes, and he has the most experience in city government to boot. King and Hall are both anti-HERO. McVey is an extreme longshot. I think they will be too critical of the recent issues with the jail to go with Garcia. Bell and Turner are possible, I guess, but I don’t think the Chron would consider them “serious” enough on pensions; the Chron did not care for the agreement that Turner helped broker with the firefighters earlier this year. The more I think about it, the clearer it seems. I’ll be surprised if it’s not Costello.

Controller

This one is murkier. Chris Brown is possible, but I think they will ding him for being Ronald Green’s second in command, and it’s not like they were ever big fans of his father. They endorsed Bill Frazer in 2013 and could endorse him again, but I think that was at least partly about Green’s baggage. I also think that if I’m right about Costello, they may be reluctant to endorse two Anglo Republicans for the top offices of a city that is not particularly Anglo nor Republican. I believe they will view Carroll Robinson’s tenure with the HCC Board as a negative. Honestly, I think the favorite at this point is Dwight Jefferson, who was part of the best Metro board in recent memory and who has no obvious negatives about him. I’ll say Jefferson 60%, Frazer 25%, Brown 15%.

At Large incumbents

With incumbents there’s an extra factor to consider, namely whether the incumbent in question has done anything to disqualify himself or herself. There are no Helena Browns this year, so the main question is how big a strike against someone is a vote against HERO? I’ll get to that in a minute. In At Large #2, I think David Robinson is an easy call. He checks the boxes, and none of his opponents are anyone I’d expect the Chron to consider seriously. Kubosh and Christie are the tougher ones to guess. How much will their opposition to HERO be held against them? My guess is “some”, but unless the screening goes badly for them or I’ve underestimated the commitment the Chron has to HERO, I figure they’re both favorites. I’ll make it 80% for Kubosh and 65% for Christie, with the difference being that Christie made some goofy statements about vaccines in his first term, and Philippe Nassif is compelling enough that the Chron might take a flyer on him as a “breath of fresh air” candidate.

At Large open seats

I’m going to go with Tom McCasland in AL1 and Amanda Edwards in AL4. Edwards feels like the safer choice. It would have been a harder call if Laurie Robinson hadn’t flipflopped on HERO, but if my conviction about this means anything, it means it in this race. In AL1, I could see the Chron supporting Lane Lewis or Jenifer Pool – as with Carroll Robinson, I think the Chron will not consider Chris Oliver’s time with HCC to be a positive – but I think McCasland’s resume will carry the day. Let’s say 60% McCasland, 30% Lewis, 10% Pool.

District seats

All district incumbents will be endorsed. This is easy, as there are no disqualifiers and outside of F and J no challengers that are likely to be considered. The cases worth examining are the open seats in G and H. G is a two-candidate race, and you can make an argument for or against either – both candidates are sufficiently qualified, and both are against HERO in a district where that would be expected. The main negative for Sandie Mullins Moger is being on the HCC board – yeah, there’s a theme here – and the main negative for Greg Travis is that he recently announced an endorsement by Helena Brown. I make it 55-45 for Travis. As for H, I can see any of Jason Cisneroz, Roland Chavez, and Karla Cisneros getting the nod. For no reason I can easily explain, I think Karla Cisneros is a slight favorite – let’s say 40-30-30. Have I mentioned that I’m guessing?

HISD and HCC

For HISD, they’ll stick with incumbents Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche, and they’ll reverse themselves from 2011 and go with Ramiro Fonseca over Manuel Rodriguez. In the open District 4 seat, I don’t seem the picking Jolanda Jones, so I’ll say they’ll endorse Ann McCoy. The only contested races in HCC involve the two incumbents running for re-election, Adriana Tamez and Eva Loredo. I’ll be surprised if they don’t endorse those two.

Referenda

Obviously, they’ll endorse HERO. I think they’ll be as “meh” on the term limits item as I am, and will either give it a lukewarm thumbs up or they’ll advocate a No. Same for the Harris County bond issue, with a slightly better chance of a Yes. I have no idea on the state constitutional amendments, if they bother with them. There were none that excited me one way or the other, though there are a few I’m likely to vote against.

So that’s how I see it. Go ahead and tell me where I’m wrong in the comments. I’ll check back in a few weeks and see how good a job I did trying to read their mind.

A closer look at Controller finance reports

Last week I took a closer look at the campaign finance reports for Mayoral candidates. Let’s do the same for the Controller candidates.

Candidate Raised In Kind Spent Loans On Hand ========================================================== Robinson 46,170 3,908 33,908 0 5,033 Brown 267,750 3,547 20,818 0 222,858 Frazer 128,097 1,009 120,956 32,500 53,973 Jefferson 8,653 2,943 9,255 1,860 5,521 Boney 8,390 0 5,487 0 2,902 Candidate PAC Max Non-Hou PAC % Max % Non-Hou % ================================================================== Robinson 8,500 10,000 17,000 18.4% 21.7% 36.8% Brown 2,500 140,000 42,450 0.9% 52.3% 15.6% Frazer 10,350 15,000 7,400 8.1% 11.7% 5.8% Jefferson 1,000 0 2,100 11.6% 0.0% 24.3% Boney 1,500 0 3,795 17.9% 0.0% 45.2% Candidate Overhead Outreach =============================== Robinson 1,750 28,889 Brown 10,535 1,923 Frazer 86,040 7,028 Jefferson 5,910 1,682 Boney 1,200 254

BagOfMoney

As always, all reports can be seen here. To review, PAC money is anything given by a PAC or business – basically, donations not from individuals – “Max” is the sum of donations from people who gave $5K and PACs who gave $10K (I didn’t see any of the latter on these reports), and “Non-Hou” sums up the contributions given from people who don’t have a “Houston TX” address. That was a bit more challenging in the case of Carroll Robinson, since he annoyingly only listed the state and ZIP code for his donors, but I managed. On the spending side, “Overhead” was initially intended to be the sum of money paid for items listed as “Consulting”, “Salaries/Wages/Contract labor” and payroll taxes, but as is often the case with these reports things got a little messy. Frazer had a bunch of payments to Mammoth Marketing Group that including things like Consulting Expense, Solicitation/Fundraising Expense, and Office Overhead/Rental Expense, which was for website design and maintenance. I included all of that, but listed expenses for Printing under Outreach, which is intended for advertising, mailers, yard signs, and the like. Frazer was also the only candidate to list rent for office space as an expense, so I included that under Overhead as well. Like I said, it got a bit messy.

The topline dollar figures speak for themselves. The spending is of more interest to me. Here’s a look at some of the items that caught my eye for each candidate.

Carroll Robinson – $29,200 of the money he spent went to Patriot Strategies Group, for the following items:

$1,000 for consulting fees
$8,500 for Auto Calls
$2,200 for Internet or Online Ads
$4,500 for Mailing
$9,500 for Auto Calls & Mail
$2,000 for Video Production & E-Blast
$1,000 for Social Media & Video Production
$500 for Social Media

Everything above is listed as Outreach except for the first charge. I don’t know why Auto Calls and Mail are lumped together on one item when they are separate on others, but like I said, this can get messy. $8,500 plus sounds a lot to me for robocalls, especially this early in a campaign.

Chris Brown didn’t actually spent that much – I expect that will come later – but one of his larger expenditures was $4,489 to Piryx for “online donation fees”. Piryx handles a lot of this sort of transaction = you’ll see their name on a lot of finance reports – but usually you see charges in the one to two dollar range. I have no explanation for this, unless maybe they take a cut of each donation and a bunch of those max contributions were made online.

Bill Frazer spent $22,825 from personal funds, with $6,077 in “unpaid incurred obligations”. As with Bill King, I think that burn rate could come back to haunt him.

Dwight Jefferson – All $2,963 in kind was from Coats Rose PAC for an Event Expense. On a somewhat odd note, the Andrews & Kurth PAC gave $1,500 to every candidate in this race except Jefferson, who got $1,000. I think if I were Dwight Jefferson, I’d ask them to make it up to me.

Jew Don Boney had a lot of food-related expenses listed as Solicitation/Fundraising Expense. There’s not much more of interest than that.

So that’s the Controller reports. I’ll try to see about doing the same with the Council reports.

Controller philosophies

Here’s a Chron story from a candidate forum for Controller candidates at which the main subject was the relationship that Controllers have with Mayors.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

“It’s the second-highest elected official in city government, and it needs to be independent to provide a check and balance on the office in power,” said former City Councilman Jew Don Boney, who went on to say the controller must not be an ally or lapdog to the mayor.

The city’s chief financial officer is tasked with performing audits, preparing financial statements and managing Houston’s investments and debt, though the office holder has no vote on City Council.

Still, Boney stressed the controller ought not approach the role bureaucratically.

“This is not an election for the chief bookkeeper of Houston,” Boney said. “We hire CPAs.”

Bill Frazer, 2013 controller runner-up, who touts himself as the only certified public accountant in the race, was not in attendance. Former Houston Community College board member Carroll Robinson also missed the bulk of the forum, walking in during closing remarks.

Meanwhile, deputy controller Chris Brown edged closer to the idea of a controller at odds with the mayor, albeit more gingerly.

Brown said the relationship between mayor and controller should depend on the state of the city’s fiscal affairs.

“In times of great surplus, where there’s a lot of money, I think the mayor and the controller should be adversaries, because that’s the time when the mayor’s gonna say, ‘Hey, we’ve got tons of money. Let’s just go spend it,’ ” Brown said.

“But,” he added, “I think in the times when we have difficult financial problems, there needs to be more of a concerted effort to work together to solve the financial problems in the city.”

Controller is kind of a strange office, as it has no authority to set agenda items or vote on Council. One can certainly argue that it should have more authority, as a counterbalance to the Mayor – this is a question I have asked before in interviews with Controller candidates, and will ask again – but as the story suggests, the Controller can always be a semi-official pain in the rear to the Mayor as needed. I personally think the Controller should focus more energy on audits and thinking up creative ways to save money. Beyond that, we’ll see what they have to say for themselves when I talk to them. For what is the second-most important office in the city, it sure doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Finance reports come trickling in

As always, the Mayoral reports lead the story.

BagOfMoney

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia closed out the first half of the year with more than $1.3 million in the bank, eclipsing City Councilman Stephen Costello by a mere $7,423.

According to their campaign finance reports, Garcia raised $1.5 million and spent just over $122,000, while Costello raised about $30,000 less in contributions, was loaned $90,000 and spent $496,000.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner and former mayor of Kemah Bill King trailed in cash on hand, reporting $1.1 million and $544,000, respectively.

[…]

Costello’s campaign previously said his funds include a $250,000 personal contribution and a $262,000 transfer from his council account.

Among those with reports already in, King spent the most in the first half of the year, coughing up more than $680,000. He raised more than $755,000 and lent himself an additional $500,000.

Turner’s expenditures came in just under King’s, at $601,000, according to his report. However, his campaign noted that $125,000 of those expenditures were related to his state office, not his mayoral campaign.

After starting the race with about $900,000 in the bank from his legislative account, Turner raised an additional $763,000 in the nine days between when his state fundraising blackout period ended and the close of the reporting period.

See here for more. As previously noted, the reports are not in their usual place due to changes in state law and the reporting system. For now, you can see the reports that the city has posted here. I’ve linked to them on my Election 2015 page and will keep updating that as more of them appear. I’ll do a more in depth look at the reports once they’re all there, starting with the Mayorals, which were added to that page as of last night. Expect that for next week.

The Chron story has a spreadsheet embedded in it with totals for candidates who had turned in reports by publication time. Among the other Mayorals, Chris Bell had raised $381K and had $190K on hand; Ben Hall raised $94K and loaned himself $850K to have $812K on hand; and Mary McVey had raised $60K and loaned himself $1.075M to have $1.071M on hand. Forget the price of oil, this Mayoral campaign will be stimulating the local economy over the next few months.

So far, mayoral fundraising has far overshadowed that for Houston’s second-highest political post, city controller.

Deputy controller Chris Brown reported raising $270,000 and spending $22,000, leaving him with more than $222,000 in cash on hand.

Meanwhile, Bill Frazer, runner-up in the 2013 controller’s race, raised $129,000, received $32,000 in loans, spent $120,000 and closed out the first half of the year with more than $53,000 in the bank.

Former Metro board member Dwight Jefferson lagged behind with $11,000 raised $1,800 loaned and $9,000 spent. It was unclear how much cash he had on hand.

Carroll Robinson had raised $50K and had $5K on hand; Jew Don Boney did not have totals posted. Other hauls of note: Amanda Edwards dominated At Large #4 with $165K raised and $118K on hand. Laurie Robinson was the runnerup with $43K and $26K, respectively. In At Large #1, Tom McCasland ($141K raised, $98K on hand) and Lane Lewis ($104K raised, $62K on hand) were far out in front; Chris Oliver raised $37K and had $23K on hand, while Jenifer Pool had not yet reported. CM Michael Kubosh was the only one with any money in At Large #3, raising $63K and banking $44K. Philippe Nassif had a very respectable $73K raised in At Large #5, but only $12K of it remained, far less than CM Jack Christie’s $100K cash on $124K raised; Durrel Douglas had not yet reported.

For district races, CM Mike Laster had a big haul and an equally big financial lead in J, while CM Richard Nguyen had a decent total in F. His opponent, Steven Le, did not have a report up as of last night. There was surprisingly little money raised in the two-person District G race; Greg Travis led in cash on hand over Sandie Moger thanks to a $41K loan to himself. Roland Chavez had the most raised and the most on hand in H, with Karla Cisneros and Jason Cisneroz a notch back. Abel Davila raised a small amount but loaned himself $20K to be even in cash on hand with the other two.

That’s it for now. For the other races, HISD and HCC reports lag behind the city’s – HISD by a little, HCC by a lot – so I’ll keep an eye on those and update as needed. As always, fundraising is just one aspect of one’s candidacy, and is in no way predictive in many races. We only get a few chances a year to see who’s funding whom, and this is one of them. I’ll have more when I can.

Early look at the Controller’s race

We have our first race overview story of the season, with a focus on the Comptroller and whether the successor to Ronald Green will be more visible and possibly antagonistic towards the new Mayor, or more of the same lower-key style as the incumbent.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

And the five candidates – Chris Brown, Jew Don Boney, Bill Frazer, Dwight Jefferson and Carroll Robinson – sound more inclined to follow Green’s example than try to use it as a springboard for higher office.

They all said they have no mayoral aspirations, not yet anyway, and most said they hope to depart from the archetype of the controller as an outspoken mayoral critic.

“Historically, people have had the view that the controller and mayor are supposed to be antagonists,” said Robinson, a former Houston city councilman and former Houston Community College board member, who said he would prioritize making discussions of city finances more public. “But in my view, I think that’s the wrong approach.”

Bill Frazer, runner-up in the 2013 controller’s race, agreed.

“I will not be an activist controller,” Frazer said, emphasizing his financial management experience as a certified public accountant. However, he added, “I do believe the controller can have a large bully pulpit to help keep the mayor and city council from making some of the terrible financial decisions that we’ve made in the past, and steer us in a better direction.”

Boney, a former city councilman, spoke at length about the need for political leadership in Houston, particularly on pension reform, calling the controller’s office one of the most important from which policy discussions can emerge.

“The city is facing some real fiscal choices and challenges,” he said.

Jefferson, a former METRO board member, discussed the need for transparency and fiscal conservatism, describing the controller’s job as primarily ministerial, with the officeholder presenting the mayor and city council facts on which to act.

Meanwhile, Brown, a deputy controller under Green, underscored his experience as the incumbent’s number two.

“We need someone, given the economic challenges, that can come into the office Day One and lead and start implementing some of these changes and working with the stakeholders,” said Brown, who noted that the city likely will have to tighten its fiscal belt again given the decline in oil prices.

I personally would like to see the next Controller spend some time on audits, and also promoting Bank on Houston. I don’t think there’s much to be done in refinancing debt, though if there are any opportunities they should be taken, and I think we have enough people yelling about pension funds. I don’t think it’s necessary for a Controller to be deliberately confrontational with a Mayor, but I do think it’s fine for them to call BS if they think the Mayor is trying to get away with something. As far as this crop of Controller candidates goes, I have no favorite at this time. I’ll see what I think after I do some interviews. Who are you leaning towards, if you have a preference in this race?

Robinson resigns from HCC Board

Yeah, it’s campaign season.

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson, who has served as a Houston Community College trustee since 2012, will leave the college board to focus on his run for city controller, he announced Friday.

In a letter announcing his resignation, Robinson counted among his accomplishments helping with the creation of a sixth-grade pre-admission program, pushing to increase funding for scholarships and his involvement in establishing the Texas Academic Scholarship Day.

“All these things have helped bring a greater focus to improving the graduation rate and job placement rates for HCC students,” Robinson said. “The policies I implemented at HCC are a part of my broader commitment to ensuring that all Houstonians — our families, children, entrepreneurs and businesses — have An Opportunity To Do Better.”

There’s a full field for Controller, including Bill Frazer, Jew Don Boney, Dwight Jefferson, and Chris Brown, so one can understand the reason behind the resignation. As the story notes, Robinson’s brief tenure on the HCC Board has not been without some controversy. Robinson;s departure means that the Board will appoint a replacement Trustee, who (I believe) will be on the November ballot. That makes four Trustee elections on tap; as noted in January, fellow Trustees Adriana Tamez (who won a special election in 2013 to complete the unfinished term of now-former State Rep. Mary Ann Perez), Eva Loredo, and Sandie Mullins Moger (formerly Meyers), are up for re-election. Moger, however, is now confirmed to be running for City Council District G, so someone else will run for that position. Chris Oliver, who is not up for re-election, is as we know running for Council At Large #1, so there may be another vacancy to fill next year. And finally, as long as I’m mentioning At Large #1, this seems like as good a place as any to note that candidate Tom McCasland, who had announced his intention to run without specifying an office, has now officially declared AL1 to be his target. So there you have it.

Two challengers emerge in At Large #5

After Jan Clark bowed out in At Large #5, incumbent CM Jack Christie was left with no opponents after he announced his intent to run for re-election. That lasted until yesterday. Early in the morning, this email hit my inbox.

Philippe Nassif

Philippe Nassif

Philippe Nassif is proud to announce his candidacy for Houston City Council At-Large Position 5. This seat is currently held by a council member whose out of touch policies and outdated ideas do not reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of Houston.

“Houstonians deserves an elected official that will represent the changing demographics of the city, and who can accurately represent their needs and vision for Houston’s success.” Philippe said.

Philippe is a proud Houstonian, non-profit leader, and community organizer. As the son of two successful immigrant parents—a Mexican mother and a Lebanese father—he believes strongly in the power of this city’s economy. His story is Houston’s story. This city has provided unparalleled opportunity for both newcomers and Houstonians that go back generations. He is running for City Council to tap into the potential of all of Houston’s communities and help lead the city into the future.

Philippe is the first of his family to be born in America–his parents moved to Houston because of the opportunities the energy industry offered them. The opportunities Houston has afforded Philippe drove him to give back through public service– which includes a career working for Mayor Annise Parker’s administration, The White House, President Barack Obama’s campaign, and now at a women’s empowerment organization where he lead advocacy efforts across 14 states to improve women’s rights around the world.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas and a Masters degree from St. Mary’s University, and currently lives in The Heights neighborhood. He is building his campaign the grassroots way — from the ground up.

“My campaign will focus on addressing our traffic crisis, pushing our city further to welcome startups and new businesses, fairness in policing, and ensuring equality for all Houstonians.” For more information visit www.NassifForHouston.com.

Nassif had previously been a candidate for At Large #1. He had previously criticized Lane Lewis for remaining on as HCDP Chair while running for that position. My guess is that Lewis has sucked some of the oxygen out of that race for other Democrats, as many people thought might happen, and Nassif decided to take his chances elsewhere.

And for a brief while, Nassif was the only Democrat and the only challenger in the AL5 race against CM Christie. Then later in the day, this email arrived.

Durrel Douglas

Durrel Douglas

I’m running for Houston City Council, At-Large Position 5. Visit www.douglasforhouston.com and save the date for our campaign kick-off:

Sunday, April 12th
5:30-7:30 PM
The Ensemble Theater
3535 Main
Houston, Texas 77002

I’m running because I’ve seen the amazing strides we make as a city when we work together, and, what happens when our elected officials ignore the voices of the people they serve. As your city councilman, I’ll continue to fight for hard-working families and together we’ll build a better Houston.

I grew up in Houston’s South Park on Selinsky street. After High School I went to college online majoring in Social Science at Western Governors University and worked full time for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as a correctional officer–eventually moving up the ranks to sergeant and lieutenant. After five years, I decided to leave the prison system and instead work to improve the communities that led so many people from neighborhoods like mine to prison. After resigning, I worked for the Harris County Democratic Party before moving to Austin to work for a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives. After the 2011 legislative session, I eventually moved back to Houston with the goal of empowering communities here. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting amazing Houstonians while working to make our city a better place.

For the past five years, I’ve worked as a community organizer standing shoulder to shoulder with Houstonians. From the fight for the HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) to recent wins with justice reform through the grass-roots organization I co-founded, I’ve seen great things happen.

In 2011, I met Debra Walker and Betty Gregory who were among those leading fighting for IKE repair funding.

In 2012, when our city considered expanding Hobby Airport, I worked with community leaders like Pat Gonzalez to include community members in the decision making process.

CLICK HERE FOR HOBBY AIRPORT NEWSCLIP

In 2013, we came together at city hall to pass the #DownWithWageTheft Ordinance which ensures an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. That same year we challenged HCAD to make wealthy downtown commercial building owners to pay their fair share of property taxes into the revenue stream. CLICK HERE FOR HCAD ARTICLE. We can address our city’s looming budget problems if we work with other government entities to close loopholes like this one.

In 2014, I met Houstonians like Fran Watson and Kristopher Sharp who worked together to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) protecting every Houstonian from discrimination. That same year we fought school closures and launched a grass-roots organization to address local criminal justice reform CLICK HERE FOR LINK.

In 2015, we’re running for city council. Together.

I ask not only for your support during our campaign and vote in November, but for your ideas for our campaign and our great city. I’m inviting Houstonians to add their thoughts and ideas to our campaign platform titled “#OneHouston.” Sending suggestions via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, our platform will be of the people, by the people, for the people. With our fresh, bold ideas we’ll build a better Houston. Feel free to email info@douglasforhouston.com or give me a call/text at 832.857.5737.

Not too long ago, my opponent Jack Christie voted to give Valero a projected $17 Million tax break. CLICK HERE FOR LINK. With our crumbling roads, infrastructure and pension gaps, we don’t need elected officials who make decisions like this one. The men and women who work for the city (like my father who’s worked 29 years for the City of Houston) shouldn’t have to take a furlow day or cut in benefits at the expense of elected officials like my opponent who’d prefer to balance our budget on the backs of hard working families.

We have two choices. We can either sit back and allow others to continue making decisions on our behalf, or, we can seize this opportunity to change the way Houston does business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, transgendered or cisgendered, all of us deserve an equal seat at the table.

Let’s build a better Houston.

To say the least, the race for At Large #5 just got a lot more interesting. I know both Phillippe and Durrel – I noted that Chron story he linked above about the new generation of black leaders in Houston – and they’re both exciting candidates. Between them and Atlas Kerr in AL3, they are also among the youngest candidates we’ve seen for city office recently. If they can succeed in boosting the participation rate among younger voters this November – it wouldn’t take much to do that – they could have a big effect on the composition of the electorate, and maybe on the issues that get discussed. I look forward to seeing how they campaign.

Finally, on a tangential note, Metro Board member Dwight Jefferson announced his intention to resign from the Board and run for City Controller. Jefferson had been considering a run for some time, so this will make it official. He joins a crowded field that includes HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson, 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer, former Council member Jew Don Boney, and Deputy Controller Chris Brown.

Two city race updates

Item one: We have another candidate for Comptroller.

Jew Don Boney

Jew Don Boney

Jew Don Boney, who sat on City Council for three terms in the 1990′s, will run for City Controller, he told the Chronicle Wednesday.

Boney joins Houston Community College trustee Carroll Robinson and 2013 candidate Bill Frazer in the race for the city’s top financial officer. Two other candidates, current Deputy Controller Chris Brown and METRO board member Dwight Jefferson, are seriously considering joining the race, but have not yet done so.

Currently an administrator at Texas Southern University, Boney served as mayor pro-tem under Mayor Lee Brown and represented District D, a predominantly African-American district. Boney lost to Robinson in a testy election for the seat on HCC’s board in 2011.

Here’s the interview I did with Boney for that 2011 HCC Trustee race. He was my Council member for about two years when I lived in Montrose. I liked him them and am glad to see him get in this race. This is the first time I’ve seen the name Chris Brown listed as a possible candidate. I’d heard his name mentioned before but had confused him with former Council Member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown. Let there be a big field for this race. It would be nice to have a spirited debate about the Controller’s office and duties.

Item two: Chris Bell fires another shot in his campaign finance battle.

Mayoral candidate Chris Bell filed a formal complaint to the Houston Ethics Commission on Wednesday charging that former City Attorney David Feldman overstepped his authority when he granted permission to Rep. Sylvester Turner to raise money for his mayoral bid when other candidates couldn’t.

In a six-page complaint, Bell’s attorney, Geoffrey Berg, argued that the City Attorney is only allowed to advise city officeholders, which Turner is not. That was a key point of contention in court last month: Feldman replied that since he advised the Houston Ethics Commission — a board that Berg said should interpret campaign finance law for mayoral candidates — he effectively could advise Turner directly.

“I received a simple email from Sylvester Turner,” Feldman said as he defended himself in court last month. “I responded with an answer. We do serve our citizens, whether they happen to be state representatives or not.”

[…]

In Wednesday’s complaint, Berg reiterates much of the case he has made in court for months, arguing that the legislative history of the city’s campaign finance law makes clear that Turner’s strategy violates it. Berg also responds to the City’s argument, central to its case, that a January federal court decision that declared Houston’s blackout period unconstitutional renders Bell’s grievance obsolete.

“Mr. Feldman is wrong. The contribution cap reflected in the Ordinance is in no way dependent on the constitutionality of the blackout period,” Berg wrote.

See here, here, and here for the background. Another lawsuit from Bell on this issue remains a possibility. I don’t have anything else to add to this.

January campaign finance reports – Controller wannabes

CarrollRobinson

Like the Mayoral race, the 2015 race for City Controller is wide open, as incumbent Ronald Green is term-limited. There are three candidates of which I am aware so far – HCC Trustee and former At Large city Council member Carroll Robinson, who formally announced his entry last November; 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer, who hasn’t made a formal announcement of which I am aware, but whose campaign website is still live; and Metro Board member Dwight Jefferson, who was kind enough to publicly acknowledge his interest in the office yesterday. I have heard other names bandied about for this office as well – former Council member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown has come up in conversation, and I have heard rumors that Some People are trying to get Council Member Stephen Costello to switch races to this one – and I’m sure there are other possibilities.

As far as finance reports go, the only ones to reference are for Robinson and Frazer. Robinson has to file biannual reports as an HCC Trustee. They don’t have their January reports posted yet on the HCC Trustees website, so the best I can do for now is his July 2014 report. Frazer still has a city account from 2013, so he has a report on the city’s website.

Carroll Robinson
Bill Frazer

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Robinson 1,820 3,700 25,000 21,637 Frazer 0 3,503 0 160 Green 0 14,402 0 28,563

Incumbent Ronald Green’s totals are included as well for comparison. Not a whole lot to see here. Robinson was first out of the gate with a fundraising email on January 13, right after the injunction against the city’s blackout ordinance was handed down, but that wouldn’t have affected his January report anyway. Frazer ran a solid campaign in 2013 and gained a fair amount of traction against incumbent Green, who had some baggage to carry, but it’s not clear how much of that will stick in an open seat race. Controller races are often low-key, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the many Mayoral hopefuls makes the strategic decision to shift into this race, which if nothing else might provide a nice head start on the 2021 Mayoral campaign. And yes, my soul just died a little by the act of me typing that sentence. Anyway, this is what we have for now.

Laurie Robinson to run in At Large #4

From Texpatriate:

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson, a local businesswoman, will run for the Houston City Council next year. Specifically, as Houston Chronicle reported Theodore Schleifer reported on Twitter, she will seek out At-Large Position #4. The seat is currently held by Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4), who is term limited. The seat, which was previously held by now-Controller Ronald Green, has historically been held by an African-American officeholder, and this recent history has been noted repeatedly in recent weeks as a plethora of Caucasian candidates have stampeded into At-Large Position #1 and only that position, the other open seat.

A number of other names have popped up for this seat in conversations taking place behind closed doors, but none with enough certainty to be written in ink. Thus far, as noted above, most activity has taken place around Position #1, currently held by the term limited Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), a likely mayoral candidate. As I noted in the article I linked above, Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis will run for the post, as will Jenifer Pool, Philippe Nassif, Trebor Gordon and Griff Griffin. All except Nassif have run for office a few times (Griffin in particular about a dozen times).

Just a nitpicky note here, but it was At Large #5 that was held by African Americans for a long time; in particular, by Judson Robinson from 1971 to 1990, then by his son Judson Robinson III through 1997, then Carroll Robinson through 2001. It was in 2003, when Michael Berry, who had previously served one term in At Large #4 before making an aborted run for Mayor in 2003, won to break the streak, after which we had Jolanda Jones and then Jack Christie. AL4 was held by Anthony Hall and Sheila Jackson Lee before John Peavy won a special election in 1995 to succeed SJL after she ousted Craig Washington in the primary for CD18; Peavy was re-elected in November of 1995, then Chris Bell (’97 and ’99) and Berry (’01) represented AL4. Had Berry not chosen to make a run for Mayor in 2003, thus paving the way for Ronald Green with an assist from Bert Keller’s bumbling campaign, he might have won two more terms there, and then who knows what might have happened. (All data on city elections courtesy of the City Secretary webpage.) Berry himself was the beneficiary of some infighting over whom to support to continue the tradition of African American representation in AL5. Point being, the history is more interesting than what we have been saying, and for a few terms back in the day there were consistently two African American Council members serving at large; there were three following the 1991 election, when little-known Beverly Clark ousted Jim Westmoreland after he was caught making racist remarks relating to the late Mickey Leland and an effort to rename IAH in his honor. Clark served one term and was succeeded by Gracie Saenz. Thus endeth the history lecture.

Aaaaaaaaanyway. Robinson made a decent showing in AL5 in 2011 (my interview with her for that race is here, and though she was rumored to be a candidate for AL3 in 2013, she declined to run, saying she might try again another time. Which appears to be now. As for Griff Griffin, all I can say is that we can’t miss you if you won’t go away.

On game rooms and gambling

Looks like Fort Bend County wants to follow in the footsteps of Harris County when it comes to dealing with game rooms.

Last weekend, Fort Bend County sheriff’s deputies raided the H-90 Game Room on U.S. 90A east of Richmond, hauling away 97 slot machines, interviewing and releasing about 30 customers and charging one employee with a misdemeanor.

Unlike many places that get shut down, though, the business that opened in July had not been the subject of any police calls for service.

The raid has prompted a discussion about how much of a threat game rooms actually pose to community safety.

Some Fort Bend residents had been pressing authorities to crack down on game rooms that sprouted up in the wake of Harris County’s enforcement of new rules targeting the establishments, often the scenes of shootings and other criminal activity. They didn’t want a proliferation of game rooms bringing the same problems to Fort Bend.

Sheriff Troy Nehls acknowledged that residents’ concerns prompted his department’s recent action, which involved four divisions of his office.

“We’ve received calls from the community, so we did what we could to address the issue,” the sheriff said. “This one was right off Highway 90, so it was more visible. Thus, we had more people calling concerned about the operation.”

Nehls said he takes game rooms seriously, but he played down their impact so far. He noted that he has seen no evidence of an uptick in violence, nor had there been any calls for police service at either the H-90 Game Room or another gambling parlor, on FM 359. It was open just a few months before voluntarily closing under pressure from nearby homeowners.

[…]

Other residents say authorities are wasting time cracking down on an activity they think should be legalized, even if it is only to discourage the gang activity that was often attracted to the cash-based operations in Harris County.

Larry Karson, a criminology professor at the University of Houston, said it’s the responsibility of police leaders not only to crack down on illegal activity, but to educate communities about the actual level of crime, particularly when an issue becomes a public debate.

“One generally expects any law enforcement official to recognize the concerns of the community,” Karson said. “If, based on that officer’s experience, it’s not quite as dangerous as might be assumed, he obviously needs to communicate that.”

The Texas Constitution bans most forms of gambling, but the poker-based eight-liners common to game rooms are legal to own as long as the prizes do not exceed $5 per play. Police, prosecutors and other Houston-area officials argue that most game rooms do not operate within those narrow rules, awarding larger cash sums illegally and drawing other criminal activity. To thwart enforcement of the state’s ban, officials say, many game rooms require paid memberships designed to keep out undercover officers.

Karson differentiated between the risk of crime at game rooms and at casinos, both of which attract robberies because of their cash payouts.

“You run into that security nightmare that legitimate casinos deal with by coordinating with police,” Karson said. “Any business that’s illegal doesn’t have that option. That leads to a potentially nasty cycle.”

As we know, Harris County has tightened its enforcement on game rooms thanks to some legislative help, and after surviving a lawsuit, enforcement is on in full swing. It’s not a surprise that some of this activity might cross the border into Fort Bend, or that Fort Bend might be a bit proactive about trying to stop it. I figure Fort Bend will get the legislative help it now seeks in expanding its authority against game rooms, much as Harris did in 2013, and I won’t be surprised if other counties follow suit.

What did surprise me in that story was the almost casual mention of the “other residents” who think game rooms should be legalized. I’m not sure if there are actual people making that case, or if that’s just sort of a clumsy shorthand for support for expanded gambling in Texas, as there wasn’t any further exploration of it. I wouldn’t have given it much more thought had I not also received this email from Houston Controller candidate Carroll Robinson, which discusses the very subject of game rooms and legalized gambling:

The Houston Chronicle has recently reported that “local investigations have revealed how lucrative the illegal gaming trade can be, providing operators with as much as $20,000 per day. With such establishments spread across some 700 strip centers in the county, their total proceeds could be larger than the [$1.55 billion] budget for all Harris County government.…”

Not only are illegal gaming rooms generating hundreds of millions of dollars per year in untaxed revenue, they are also magnets for crime. Wouldn’t it be better to legalize slot machines (at existing legal horse and dog racing tracks) and Casinos in Houston and allow the city to regulate them and collect extra revenues to pay for city services?

Legalizing slot machines at existing race tracks and legalizing casinos would also help eliminate illegal gaming rooms and the crime associated with them.
Even Metro would receive revenue from the increased sales tax revenue generated from legalized gaming.

The City of Houston should investigate and evaluate all its options for legalizing and regulating slot machines and casino gaming under its Home Rule Authority.

I can’t say I’ve seen many city candidates take a position on expanded gambling in Texas, as that’s a matter for the Legislature and not likely to directly intersect with Houston. Sam Houston Race Park is outside city limits, and I can’t imagine a casino being built here. I’m sure there would be some effect on the city if one or both of these things were to be legalized, but I doubt it would be much. I don’t know how much effect it would have on the game rooms, but my guess is that we’d still have them regardless. You can like the idea of expanded gambling or not – as you know, I’m very ambivalent – I just don’t think it has much to do with the game room issue.

DA’s office to help buy body cams

Very good news.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson plans to purchase hundreds of body-worn cameras for Houston police officers and sheriff’s deputies, weeks after widespread protests erupted when a white Missouri police officer was not charged for fatally shooting an unarmed black teen.

In the aftermath of the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., on Nov. 24, civil rights groups have called for increased accountability during police encounters, including the use of small cameras worn on officers’ uniforms. This month the Chicago police department, the nation’s second-biggest force, announced a pilot program for body cameras to begin in January. The Obama administration also recently asked Congress for approval to spend $263 million to help states acquire 50,000 body cameras.

A sheriff’s spokesman and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, confirmed the purchase of the body cameras locally.

[…]

Local officials with the NAACP called the camera initiative “good news.”

“That’s a very positive step,” said Carroll Robinson, treasurer-elect with the Houston Branch of the NAACP. “The body camera won’t solve every problem but the more we can see the less we have to rely on he-said, she-said.

“They will help improve community trust in the law enforcement system and bring confidence to those who want to make sure the criminal justice system is hearing their voice and their concerns.”

Carmen Roe, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said body cameras are “essential to provide transparency out on the streets, for the protection of law enforcement as well as citizens in the community.”

Roe and others said policies and guidelines for the cameras’ use are critical.

“I hope there will be some written policies in place to ensure the cameras are not used at the discretion of officers,” Roe said. “Any time there are officers out on the street, their cameras should be activated to record any interaction with citizens in the community.”

Agreed on all counts, and major kudos to DA Devon Anderson for taking this initiative. This also addresses something I’ve been thinking of since the push for body cameras for HPD began, which is what about Sheriff’s deputies? There’s a lot more cops than just HPD, after all. Of course, there’s more than HPD and the HCSO, too, but you have to start somewhere.

You also have to keep in mind that body cameras are a tool and one piece of a much larger puzzle. They’re not a solution in and of themselves.

Justin Ready, an assistant professor of criminology at Arizona State University who has conducted research on the use of body cameras in the Mesa, Ariz., and Phoenix police departments, said the technology may not be enough to prevent another Ferguson.

“Any interaction is complex. The cameras might show you five pieces of a 10-piece puzzle, and we tend to fill in those blind spots with our own biases,” he said.

Though body cameras can raise transparency and accountability on both sides of the lens, experts also urge caution about unrealistic expectations for the devices.

One study released in September, “Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program” – a joint report from the Police Executive Research Forum and the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – examined how agencies were using the devices and offered recommendations for those considering outfitting officers with cameras.

“There’s a lot of public support for it right now and agencies are really wanting to jump on board, but what we say is: Do this cautiously and think about what your policies are going to be and how this is going to impact your community and how officers are going to do their jobs,” said Lindsay Miller, the report’s co-author and a senior research associate at the Police Executive Research Forum.

Most cameras cost $1,000 to $1,500 each, but deploying the units also requires a more expensive component: video storage and management.

“Every video, no matter how you store it, has to be uploaded, characterized, properly tagged and sometimes linked to a document system,” Miller said. “This program requires a considerable amount of money and manpower.”

Absolutely, and it also requires a lot of thought, and ideally a lot of engagement with the public, to do this effectively and appropriately. That we are going to start thinking about these things, and again getting the public involved in the process, is a positive step. I commend DA Devon Anderson, whose action will enable all Sheriff’s deputies to get body cameras, for doing her part to make this happen. Grits, who notes pushes for body cameras all over Texas, and Hair Balls have more.

Carroll Robinson announces for City Controller

Not a surprise.

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

City Controller Race – I Am In – Carroll Robinson

Dear Friends,

As we begin to prepare for another holiday season, I wanted to personally let you know that, after much deliberation and prayer, I will run for City Controller in 2015.

I will officially launch my campaign in March 2015 at my annual Women for Robinson (WFR 2015) Meet, Greet and Network Reception.

Next year, the WFR Reception will be open to all who want to join me in my commitment to: 1) empowering the women of our community; 2) ensuring that all the young people in our city have “An Opportunity To Do Better”, and 3) Making Houston Greater.

[…]

I helped pass the city’s spending “Rev Cap” City Charter Amendment and I still support it. It forces fiscal discipline on City Hall and it is why the City Council Fiscal Affairs Committee is now engaged in the process of defining what “core” city services are and how they should be fully funded.

I support asking city voters to allow the city to keep excess revenue above the “Rev Cap” to speed up paying down the General Fund Debts and fully funding Public Safety Services.

I opposed establishing a city garbage fee when I was a City Council Member and I am still opposed.

I support Early Matters – the Greater Houston Partnership’s Early Childhood Education/Pre-K Initiative; creating the South Main Innovation Zone and putting all existing public infrastructure plans and city building permits into one common 3D GIS Database so that city, neighborhood and business leaders can all see the cumulative impact of what the city, Metro, TxDOT, H-GAC, Gulf Coast Rail District, TIRZs, MUDs and Water Districts are planning to build over the next five (5) to fifty (50) years so we can mitigate traffic congestion, storm water run-off, air pollution and avoid duplication, conflicts and wasting taxpayers money.

The Controller’s office doesn’t really get involved with most of these policy issues, but that’s neither here nor there. What I know and have said before and will keep saying is that I do not plan to support anyone who supports the revenue cap. Carroll Robinson is a smart guy with some good ideas, and I appreciate that he sees some things differently than I do, but the rev cap is a deal breaker for me. I’m sure we’ll have a spirited discussion about it when I do an interview with Carroll down the line. You can hear the interview I did with him for HCC here if you’re interested. Texpatriate, from who I got that Forward Times link, lists Metro board member Dwight Jefferson and 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer (candidate interview here) as other possibilities. I for one would like to see CM Ed Gonzalez give this race a try. It’s still very early, so don’t chisel anything into stone just yet. Houston Politics has more.

HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson being investigated

Great.

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

Houston Community College has hired a law firm to investigate an accusation that trustee Carroll Robinson tried to steer part of a multimillion dollar construction contract to a company owned by a close friend, according to HCC records and interviews.

HCC, one of the largest community colleges in the nation, has been plagued in recent years by concerns that board members improperly meddled in contracts. The latest issue comes after the board tightened its ethics rules and voters entrusted the college last year with a $425 million bond issue for construction projects.

The company that HCC hired to oversee its bond program, Jacobs Project Management, proposed paying a little-known firm called Five Woods as a subcontractor to handle public outreach. Five Woods – owned by Robinson’s friend, Laolu Davies-Yemitan – could have earned up to $1.4 million over several years, according to Davies-Yemitan and HCC records.

But the plan drew concerns from Michelle Morris, an attorney the college had retained to monitor procurement.

“When I pressed Jacobs about how they came to select Five Woods,” Morris emailed the college, “the Jacobs representatives became very nervous, finally revealed that the Five Woods representative was ‘sent’ to them by Trustee Robinson.”

Morris also questioned why Jacobs was not using its usual public relations consultants.

“Again, the response from Jacobs to me is a nervous one, and they outright told me that they are in a ‘precarious position’ (their words, not mine),” Morris wrote in the October email.

Robinson, a former Houston city councilman serving his first term on the college board, denied pressuring Jacobs to hire his friend’s firm.

“I don’t appreciate anybody dragging my good name through the mud,” he said.

After the concerns surfaced, a Jacobs executive, Whit Robinson, who is not related to Carroll Robinson, wrote the college that no board members tried to influence the contract decision.

“We want to reconfirm with you that our choice of subconsultant was based on merit and our desire to support minority-owned small businesses here in Houston,” Whit Robinson wrote. “At no time was there any coercion or pressure from any person or entity outside of Jacobs to utilize this company.”

Davies-Yemitan said he had a four-person team that would have helped the college’s public relations staff – updating the community about the bond projects, coordinating groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and assisting small businesses interested in bidding on work.

But HCC and Jacobs ultimately did not agree on a deal to use Five Woods. A spokesman for HCC, Dan Arguijo, said this month that Five Woods was not part of the college’s final $7.3 million contract with Jacobs.

The bylaws for the HCC board ban trustees from suggesting subcontractors to vendors.

“If the behavior that was suggested occurred, it is improper behavior for a board member,” said Bruce Austin, the board’s chairman.

Regardless of whether or not there was inappropriate behavior, it’s just as well that nothing came of this. That’s the sort of thing that would have generated stories for years, whereas this one has a chance of being settled in the near future. Assuming that nothing questionable happened, of course. Investigate it thoroughly and let the chips fall where they may. If Robinson is correct, he deserves the chance to have his name cleared. If not, well, we’ll deal with that when we get to it.

Lisa Falkenberg profiles Dave Wilson

I’m very glad to see some coverage of Dave Wilson that includes relevant information about who he is.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Narrow-minded bigot. Homophobic hate-meister. Political mischief-maker.

Given all the unkind labels Dave Wilson has incurred over the years, I wasn’t sure what kind of ghoul I’d encounter when I called Friday to talk about Wilson’s latest stunt: tricking voters in a predominantly black district into electing an old, bald, white guy to represent them on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees.

To my surprise, Wilson, the businessman, conservative activist and frequent candidate, was cordial, down-to-earth and, well, nice. Misguided, maybe. Obsessive, maybe. Prone to bomb-throwing, name-calling, and other fifth-grade pastimes, maybe. At times he seems kind of like a kid in a political control room, pushing all the buttons to see what works.

His goals are noble, though, for the troubled HCC board in desperate need of watchdog. Wilson wants to root out corruption and seek an independent audit of finances.

I want to believe he’d do what he says. Trickery aside, there’s something honest about him.

“My wife kind of refers to me a lot of times as Forrest Gump,” he told me. “And I am pretty simple, pretty straightforward. I’m not full of hate but I am passionate about my beliefs.”

[…]

Here’s where Wilson goes off the rails: Ultimately, he believes that [Mayor Annise] Parker and others who promote the “homosexual agenda” are “trying to convert and take people over.”

“I think they’re not satisfied until they completely have everybody indoctrinated and everybody’s homosexual,” he said.

You’d think someone with such farfetched ideals lived in a vacuum. But I was surprised when Wilson told me his wife, Connie, whose brother is gay, didn’t agree with his views: “We’ve had some issues at the family dinner table sometimes.”

Wilson also isn’t opposed to hiring gays or lesbians. Just ask 28-year-old truck driver Katherine Giadrosich who has nothing but good things to say about her new boss.

“If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew who he was, I would have never suspected it,” she told me when I visited the sign supply warehouse. “I’ve met homophobic people. And he doesn’t act that way, like I’m contagious, or they’re going to catch it or something. It’s not like that at all. They welcomed me with open arms when I started working here.”

Then there’s this – Wilson, the notorious warrior against “the homosexual agenda,” casually mentioned in our phone interview he’s considering proposing an anti-discrimination ordinance at HCC that would include protections for gays. It was a suggestion by his campaign adviser.

“That doesn’t mean that I agree with homosexual behavior. That means I agree that no one should be discriminated against,” he told me. “And I’m not including transgender.”

I was speechless. This is a guy who led the charge in 2001 to amend the City Charter to prohibit employees’ unmarried domestic partners – gay and straight – from receiving employment benefits.

Wilson seemed genuinely befuddled by my befuddlement: “Why is that so … You don’t know me, do you?”

No, actually. Not at all. And neither do most voters.

Kudos to Falkenberg for such an interesting and provocative piece. I have quite a few things to say about it.

1. It’s nice that Wilson behaves more tolerantly to people he’s connected to than to everybody else. It doesn’t change my basic impression of him, however.

2. Even if one could separate Wilson’s abhorrent views on LGBT folks from his other public policy beliefs, I’d have problems with him as HCC Trustee. From the Texas Observer:

Besides being non-representative of his district politically and racially, Wilson also joins the ranks of conservative neophytes elected to political bodies they openly despise. At a tea party event in October of last year, Wilson delivered a 76-slide presentation on why voters should reject the $425 million bond proposal to fund HCC, the gist of which was that enrollment was down and money is expensive. Despite his heroic PowerPoint, that bond passed. In 2011, Wilson sued the HCC trustees to prevent the purchase of land Wilson claimed was overpriced. The suit was summarily dismissed with prejudice and Wilson had to pay court costs.

That’s the first I’d heard of that particular lawsuit; clearly, there are still plenty of aspects of Wilson’s past actions to uncover. But if that paragraph where all I knew about Dave Wilson, I would know that I would not want him on the Board of Trustees.

3. Wilson’s claims about wanting to be a “watchdog” that roots out corruption on the HCC Board are completely undermined by his support of Yolanda Navarro Flores, the least ethical member of the current Board. If one truly wanted to clean up the HCC Board, one would have opposed Yolanda Navarro Flores in November, and one would now be supporting Zeph Capo in the runoff. But Wilson is incapable of doing that because he is so blinkered by his homophobia. This is a clear demonstration of how Wilson’s personal opinions can and will lead him astray on other matters as well.

4. Wilson may come across as honest in person, but that’s questionable as well. On this website run by Wilson – note that the mailing address given is the same one he uses on his voter registration card – Wilson’s campaign manager wrote this article with the following statement:

The first thing the campaign did was a radio spot, Carroll Robinson, sent his friend over to consult with Dave Wilson. Together they developed the radio spot that is immediately below.

I emailed Carroll Robinson about this claim. This was his response:

Lol. Why am I the person running everybody’s campaign? I have known Dave Wilson since my City Hall days like all of us who are politically active do. I did not “send” anyone to run his campaign.

I then responded to ask if he helped Wilson’s campaign in any way or if this claim was a lie. This was his response to that question:

Let me be clear I did not tell Dave Wilson to do any such thing. More importantly, how could a 24 year incumbent be so out of contact with his district that Dave Wilson of all people could beat him? I enjoy politics and talk to a lot of people like you do but I don’t control what they do with their campaign. I did not develop the radio spot and I did not develop any mail. I find it interesting that I am now advising everybody’s campaign. If I was advising Dave he would have won by more than 26 votes.

There’s a certain amount of wiggle room in Robinson’s statement, but at the least it suggests that Wilson’s unnamed campaign manager’s claim is overblown.

5. It also raises a question: Why is Wilson’s “consultant and strategist” unnamed in the article he wrote? If whoever he is did work for the Wilson campaign, it should be a matter of public record because Wilson would have to disclose it in his campaign finance reports, either as a payment to him or as an in-kind donation. The same would be true for any “friend of Carroll Robinson” that worked with him to develop a radio spot. Wilson’s finance reports do nothing to clarify this. His 30 Day report lists an expenditure to a “First Tuesday Campaign Group” in Jackson, MS, with the description “Radio”, but the only First Tuesday Campaign Group I can find in Google is based in Chicago and only lists Chicago-area clients. Googling the street address in Jackson suggests it is an apartment complex. He also listed an expenditure for Smart Consulting Firm in Houston, but the only relevant result I could find was for an engineering consulting firm. His eight day report yields no further clues. Again, for a guy who claims to be a champion of ethics and transparency, his finance reports are a mystery and he has an anonymous campaign consultant making claims about assistance from another HCC Trustee that that Trustee denies. All due respect here, but tell me again why I should put aside my animus towards him for his repellent views and give him a chance now that he’s finally managed to get himself elected to something?

(As far as I can tell, Wilson filed no finance reports for his 2012 campaign for Commissioners Court. His 30 Day report from 2011 lists several payments of about $400 each to various people for “Salaries/Wages/Contract Labor”, though I doubt any of them were doing campaign consultant work; his 8 day report from 2011 has two of the same names, but again no expenditures that say to me “campaign consultant”. Like I said, he’s a man of mystery on his reports.)

6. Let’s put aside all of the questions about Wilson’s honesty and ethics for a second. The bottom line is simply this: Can one overlook his history of homophobia and anti-gay activism and simply evaluate him on the policy merits as a candidate for HCC Trustee? Can one separate the public hater from the public official who might have some worthwhile policy positions for the job? Maybe you can, but I can’t, at least not without him acknowledging the harm that his longtime advocacy has caused and the wrongness of his beliefs about LGBT people. To do so, in my view, normalizes his hateful and retrogressive beliefs in the same way that formerly radical beliefs have become increasingly normalized in the Republican Party. Even if there were evidence to suggest he might be a competent Trustee, I would not accept him as legitimate in the absence of any renunciation of past beliefs. He hasn’t earned that and he doesn’t deserve it.

Response from Carroll Robinson

A few days ago, I noted that notorious gay-hater Dave Wilson was up to his usual tricks in the HCC 1 race, even though he himself was running in HCC 2. Wilson sent out an attack mailer against Zeph Capo and Kevin Hoffman, and then incumbent Yolanda Navarro Flores sent out some of her own mail that emphasized her “traditional” marriage, and a second mailer listing her prominent supporters. I wanted to know if those supporters knew what else was going on in that campaign and if they had anything to say about it. Last night, I got this letter from HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson, addressing the questions I asked in my post. I appreciate the response, and I hope the others on that list follow suit.

Dave Wilson is up to his usual tricks

Yolanda Navarro Flores

As you know, Dave Wilson is running against incumbent HCC Trustee Bruce Austin in HCC District 2. I wasn’t sure at first if it was that Dave Wilson or not, but it unquestionably is. The fact that he’s running in HCC 2 isn’t stopping him from meddling in his usual slimy way in the HCC 1 race, where Zeph Capo and Kevin Hoffman are challenging scandal-prone incumbent Yolanda Navarro Flores. Here are front and back scans of a mailer Wilson has sent to voters in HCC 1:

Wilson mailer 1

Wilson mailer 2

Like fleas on a rat, Dave Wilson continues to cling to the body politic. Yolanda Navarro Flores then followed the path Wilson blazed:

Flores mailer 1

Flores mailer 2

She has also sent out a mailer touting the endorsement of some current and former elected officials:

Flored endorsement mailer

I wonder if these folks have any idea what else is being said on behalf of Yolanda Navarro Flores. Since she herself has (as far as I know) not asked Dave Wilson to stop saying hateful things about her opponents, perhaps her supporters might. So let me ask the following people:

HCC Trustees Carroll Robinson and Eva Loredo, whom I might add is my Trustee
Constables May Walker and Ruben Davis
CM Andrew Burks
Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel
Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez

Do you have anything to say about what Dave Wilson is doing in support of Yolanda Navarro Flores? Leave a comment, send me an email, post it on Facebook, just let me know one way or another and I’ll be happy to echo your sentiments. To be clear, I’m not calling on anyone to rescind their endorsement of Navarro Flores. I have no problem with anyone supporting her for whatever the reason. I am saying that I hope these folks would want to distance themselves from the Dave Wilson campaign playbook from which Navarro Flores is drawing. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to say that this kind of campaign rhetoric, like what HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez employed two years ago against Ramiro Fonseca, has no place in decent society. I especially don’t think it’s too much for Navarro Flores’ Democratic supporters, most especially those that will be on my ballot at some point in the future, to denounce such tactics. (Democratic voters in HCC 2 that have not cast their ballots yet might also note Navarro Flores’ support from the Texas Conservative Review. I’m just saying.) I look forward to hearing from you.

Can we get a charter review?

Council Member C.O. Bradford and HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson would like one.

HoustonSeal

Houston needs a Charter Review Commission to review, update and propose recommendations to the voters to modernize our charter, the structure and operations of city government, with specific attention paid to the budget process.

It might seem counterintuitive to call for appointment of a Charter Review Commission now, with municipal elections set for Nov. 5 and some faces likely to change on the City Council. We don’t think so. By appointing a Charter Review Commission in the next few weeks, the City Council can lift the process of improving and modernizing the operations of city government above politics.

A Charter Review Commission appointed now to make recommendations for the November 2014 ballot could not reasonably be perceived as an attack on any candidate currently seeking to serve as our city’s next mayor. The commission’s membership should be former city elected officials, academic and legal experts on Texas municipal governance, finance and infrastructure issues as well as local business leaders and entrepreneurs. No current elected city official or employee should be allowed to serve on the commission. The work of the commission should not be a political exercise.

As I’ve noted before, I’m pretty sure the next charter referendum cannot be until May of 2015, because two full years will not have passed between Election Day 2012 and Election Day 2014, but that’s a minor point. I’m happy to have the discussion – really, we should be having this same discussion at a national level, not that that will ever happen – though I don’t know how many of the suggested changes Bradford and Robinson include that I’d vote for. But sure, let’s talk about it, and if there’s enough support for this change or that, let’s vote on it. It’s our city, and just because we’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean we have to continue doing it that way.

The “Crazy College of Qatar”

As you may know, Houston Community College opened a satellite campus in Doha, Qatar, a couple of years ago. Apparently there have been a few bumps in the road along the way.

HCC Qatar West Bay Campus

The dean chosen by the Qatari government was replaced in November by a veteran HCC employee, Butch Herrod, as part of an administrative overhaul. Enrollment has reached 750 students, less than two years after HCC signed an agreement with the Qatari government to create that nation’s first community college.

But students have not received HCC credits for their classes there – a cornerstone of the promises made when the partnership was announced – and for now it appears unlikely their coursework will transfer to the six U.S. universities with operations in Qatar. After months of student protests, a deal signed last month will allow graduates of the new community college to enroll in Qatar University.

Things were so bad last spring an HCC administrator in Qatar wrote HCC Chancellor Mary Spangler that Community College of Qatar, or CCQ, had become known as “the Crazy College of Qatar.”

From the beginning, Spangler said the Qatar contract was a way to earn money as state funding dropped and property tax revenues remained flat. HCC records indicate the college has collected $640,034 from the deal; it projects a profit of $4.6 million by 2015, slightly more than expected.

Deputy Chancellor Art Tyler said in a recent interview that things now are running smoothly, and that misunderstandings are unavoidable in any international operation.

“The world is not exactly flat,” he said. “It may have gotten smaller over the years, thanks to technology, but when you’re dealing with people, with communities, you can’t know everything.”

There’s more here. I included that bit about the profit HCC expects to make from this deal because I’m sure you’re wondering why they would open a campus overseas like that. I know I discussed it in my interview with new Trustee Carroll Robinson. Anyway, my take on this is that part of the problem was the usual growing pains with any new operation, part was the dean that has since been replaced, and part was attributable to cultural differences. If they can get the issue of being able to transfer credits resolved, then this venture can be judged a success. If not, it’s a failure and there will be some embarrassing questions to answer.

More thinking about growth

Jobs and job growth for the region (Source: Greater Houston Parnership)

Since I’ve been carping about not enough talk about growth as a long-term financial management strategy for the city, I am compelled to note this op-ed in the Chron by newly elected HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson and Todd Clark, who are singing from my hymnal.

We have to support and grow more local small businesses and entrepreneurs while also working to attract more corporations (of all sizes), international visitors and skilled immigrants to our city.

Not only do we have to rebuild and maintain our physical infrastructure, we must also build and grow intellectual infrastructure and capital of our community. We must use our universities, the Texas Medical Center, Houston Technology Center, our venture capitalists and the intellectual talent and resources moving out of the Johnson Space Center as the foundation upon which to build.

We need to more actively promote Houston as a technology hub city. The city needs a high profile, High Tech Advisory Council to help recruit more technology start-ups and established enterprises to Houston. The city should help coordinate and host an annual High Tech Start Up Summit at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

[…]

We can fix the city’s long-range finances if we stay calm, work together and take full advantage of all of our competitive advantages. Houston is a city of colleges, the energy capital of the world, the home of the world’s largest medical center, a major international port and the best gateway to South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. Houston is an international city and we should take maximum advantage of that fact and the connections our residents have to the rest of the world.

These positive efforts should be our focus for fixing Houston’s long-range finances, not taking away pension benefits that were earned.

We already have too many people living in poverty in our city. Let’s not make cuts that will increase poverty in Houston. Let’s focus on creating the conditions – great schools, safe neighborhoods, art and cultural amenities, a strong private sector and organized workers – that will grow and sustain a broad middle class in Houston.

Clark is a member of the Long Term Financial Management Task Force, so seeing his name in the byline is encouraging. You may or may not agree with what they say here – I confess, any mention of buzzwords like “six sigma” makes my eyes glaze over – but the point is they’re talking about growth and not cuts, and that’s the way I want this conversation to go.

2011 Houston results

Let’s go through the races…

– Mayor Parker won with a shade under 51%, with none of her opponents cracking 15% on their own. Obviously, this is not a position a Mayor with no serious opposition wants to be in, and it won’t surprise anyone if one or more potential opponents for 2013 are on the phone already calling potential financial backers. It’s certainly possible, perhaps likely, that she will face a much tougher challenge in two years. It’s also possible, given a better economy, a less dire budget, and fewer externally-driven issues like a red light camera referendum, that she could be in a stronger position for re-election in two years and that the time to have beaten her was now. Many people thought Rick Perry looked vulnerable after winning with 39% of the vote in 2006, but things don’t always go as you think they will. Often uncertain the future is, that’s all I’m saying.

– Brenda Stardig trailed Helena Brown in District A by 479 votes. She and Jolanda Jones, who led Jack Christie by about 6700 votes, will be headed to a runoff. All other incumbents won majorities, with CM Stephen Costello having the closest race but winning with 51.2%. So much for the anti-Renew Houston slate.

– Only two of the five open seats will feature runoffs. Ellen Cohen in C (53.62%), Mike Laster in J (67.27%), and Larry Green in District K (67.23%) all won. Alvin Byrd (25.11%) and Jerry Davis (24.38%) head to overtime in District B, while the perennially perennial Andrew Burks led the field in At Large #2, garnering 17.33%. Kristi Thibaut came in second, with 15.65%, followed by Elizabeth Perez and David Robinson. This is at least the third time Burks has made it to a city election runoff – he lost to Sue Lovell in overtime in 2009 – and I wonder if he will get any official support. Being in a runoff with Jolanda Jones and a District B race also on the ballot will help him, but beyond that it’s hard to see him doing much of anything. You have to wonder what Michael P. Williams is thinking this morning. Oh, and Eric Dick finished seventh out of ten. Apparently, it takes more than spreading campaign signs like grass seed and putting out puerile press releases to win public office. Good to know.

– Paula Harris and Juliet Stipeche easily won re-election in HISD, as did Chris Oliver in HCC. Carroll Robinson defeated Jew Don Boney by a 55-45 margin to succeed Williams as the District IV Trustee. The closest race of the election, one that will have people gnashing their teeth all winter, was in HISD III, where Manuel Rodriguez barely held on. I’m a staunch advocate of early voting, but you have to wonder how many early-goers to the ballot box may have regretted pushing the button for Rodriguez before his shameful gay-baiting mailer came out.

– There were 123,047 city of Houston votes cast in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, making this election a near exact duplicate of 2007 turnout-wise. There were 164,283 votes cast in Harris County, of which 120,931 were Houston votes, for a Houston share of 73.6%. The final early vote total for Harris County was 60,122, almost exactly what I hypothesized it would be, and the early vote total was 36.6% of the overall tally in Harris. There were 920,172 registered voters in Houston, about 15,000 fewer than in 2009 but 7000 more than in 2007. City turnout was 13.14% in Harris County.

I have my second tour of jury duty today, this time in the municipal courts, so that’s all from me for now. I may have some deeper thoughts later. What do you think of how the election went? PDiddie has more.

UPDATE: Robert Miller offers his perspective.

UPDATE: Nancy Sims weighs in.

Endorsement watch: Robinson for HCC

The last two contested races awaiting Chron endorsements are the two HCC Trustee elections. They deal with the open seat race in District IV by recommending Carroll Robinson.

The contest to replace outgoing Houston Community College District IV trustee Michael Williams pits two well known former Houston City Council members against each other.

The similarities don’t end there. Both Jew Don Boney and Carroll Robinson work at Texas Southern University. Boney is associate director of the school’s Mickey Leland Center, while attorney Carroll Robinson is an associate professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs.

After hearing both candidates present their goals and ideas for making HCC more effective, the Chronicle believes Robinson is the better choice to serve as trustee.

No question there’s two strong candidates running in this race. My interview with Carroll Robinson is here, and with Jew Don Boney is here. If you live in this district, who is your preferred choice?

Interview with Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

The other contested race for HCC Trustee is in District IV, which is the open seat being vacated by Michael Williams. It features two former City Council members, the first of which is Carroll Robinson, who served in At Large #5 from 1997 to 2003. Robinson is a professor at Texas Southern, Chairman of the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce, a member of the HISD Bond Oversight Committee, and a number of other things past and present. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

Same old story: City wins, Hotze loses

Yes, they’re still litigating 2004 ballot propositions around here.

The Texas Supreme Court has dismissed a six-year-old case against the City of Houston seeking to limit the city government’s annual income.

Carroll Robinson, Bruce Hotze and Jeffrey Daily sought to make Proposition 2, passed by voters in 2004, the law of the city. It capped revenue from all sources. The city never implemented it because on the same ballot a city-sponsored revenue cap, Proposition 1, passed with more votes than Proposition 2 received.

Proposition 1 only limits revenues raised for the general fund, which pays police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors, and the like. Proposition 2 includes a cap on so-called “enterprise” revenues — money made at the airport, convention center and through water bills, for example.

If Proposition 2 ruled the day, the city could be forced to shrink the general fund to stay under the cap if, for example, a lot more people used the airport and the city collected resulting fees. Or, if people used a lot more water during, say, a long drought, and a lot more water bill money poured into city coffers.

No, I didn’t realize there were still any active cases relating to this. Looking in my archives, the last rulings I see were from over three years ago. You might think this would be the end of it, but if you did you would be wrong, as the losers are saying that the Supremes didn’t rule on the merits of the case. So maybe by the year 2018 we’ll have some finality on this.

Boney to run for HCC Trustee

We have our first contested race for a non-city of Houston office as former Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Jew Don Boney has announced his candidacy for the HCC Trustee District IV seat. You can see his press release here. This is the seat currently held by Michael P. Williams, who is as far as we know still running for At Large #2, for which Carroll Robinson had previously announced his candidacy. Interestingly, a day before this press release was sent out to Carl Whitmarsh’s mailing list, a parody version of it that was nearly identical in wording was sent out announcing that Boney would not run for HCC Trustee. I don’t know if that was someone’s idea of a joke or something else, but it was weird to see. Anyway, we now have a contested race for an open seat, which is how it should be. This Chron story has more on what ought to be an interesting race.

One item to add to this: Last week, I took another crack at getting my hands on campaign finance reports for HCC Trustee candidates. I had originally been advised to send an email to the HCCS General Counsel requesting them, but she was on vacation when I did that, and she never responded. This time, after a couple of calls to the General Counsel’s office, I was directed to the HCCS webpage and told to do a search for “Public information”, which yielded this link, and from there this public information request form. Which, being a scanned document, I could not edit. As I did not want to print it and mail or fax it into the General Counsel’s office, I just borrowed the language and sent an email to recordsrequest@hccs.edu, asking for all of the July finance reports. I subsequently received a reply saying I “will receive notice regarding the status of the document(s) you’ve requested within 10 business days after the date you filed your request”. All this for documents that are easily findable for other government entities on their websites. I will update you when I hear back from them. The good news is that I also had some correspondence with HCC Trustee Richard Schechter, who told me that he has asked the appropriate board committee to approve putting these reports on the Trustees’ webpage. He hopes to have this done for the next reporting deadline. That would be great if it can happen. My thanks to Schechter for taking up this long overdue issue.

The other races

In addition to the city of Houston races, I am trying to follow the HISD and HCC Trustee elections as well. I say “trying” because there’s just no information out there that I can find. For one thing, though there are seven such races this year – four in HISD, three in HCC, including one open seat – I am unaware of a second candidate in any race. HISD Trustees Paula Harris, Carol Mims Galloway, Manuel Rodriguez, and Juliet Stipeche are up for election. None have opponents that I know of, though there’s a group calling itself “Educators For A Better District IV” that has been attacking Harris and claimed to have a candidate for that race at one point, though that fell through. As for HCC, it’s not at all easy to figure out who’s doing what. You just can’t easily tell from the biographies or from the past election results on Harris Votes whose terms are up. I know Richard Schechter will be on the ballot, and I know that Carroll Robinson is running to fill the slot that Michael P. Williams is leaving behind in his run for City Council, and somewhere along the line I managed to determine that Christopher Oliver was the third one in. At least, I think so – I was unable to duplicate whatever method I used back then to draw that conclusion. There’s got to be a better way than this.

And campaign finance reports, forget it. Google “HISD Trustee Campaign Finance Reports” and you’ll find this page, which contains exactly two reports, Juliet Stipeche’s from January and July. Google “HCCS Trustee Campaign Finance Reports” and you get a Carroll Robinson press release from January and a few links about Jay Aiyer. In other words, a whole lot of nothing.

So I’ll ask you. What do you know about any of these elections? Are there candidates out there, even rumors of candidates, that I’m not hearing about? Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.

TDP to get KSP’s financial records

Good.

Houston tea party spinoff King Street Patriots will grant the Texas Democratic Party access to its financial records, forestalling an injunction hearing that had been set for Monday afternoon in Austin, according to TDP.

According to a TDP news release, review of the records will occur Tuesday at noon, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday in case TDP General Counsel Chad Dunn still has questions about what KSP has or has not disclosed.

TDP’s original information request was sent last Wednesday and demanded that KSP — as a registered Texas nonprofit corporation — turn over required records last Friday or today. On Friday, TDP announced it had scheduled the injunction hearing due to a lack of response from KSP, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

The Lone Star Project has started digging in, and this is what they’ve found so far:

King Street hiding source of $80,000

Though acknowledging the receipt of over $80,000, the King Street extremists refuse to disclose who contributed the money. Incredibly, the group contends that the funds were raised by “passing the hat” at their meetings. To put this outrageous claim into perspective, it would take 1,600 people contributing $50 each to raise $80,000 while a group of 400 people would have to contribute an average of $200 each. According to activist participants, the King Street extremists’ meeting space could barely hold 200 people, yet they claim to have raised as much as $15,000 at a single meeting simply by “passing the hat.”

Given their reluctance to come clean on their contributors, depositions taken under oath will likely be necessary to expose the actual sources and amounts of funds raised and spent by the King Street extremists.

Multiple Ties to Republican Party Activists and Party Officers
As expected, the documents show that the King Street activists operate more like an arm of the Republican Party than any non-profit organization:

  • Office space provided by close supporters of Texas Republican Party Chair
  • Online and communication services provided by key Swift Boat player
  • Cash payments to a right-wing extremist website

There’s more, so check it out. I can’t wait to see what the depositions turn up. And kudos to the Independent, which has owned this story. I still haven’t seen any reporting on it in the Chron. On a related note, former City Council member Carroll Robinson has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for election monitors to be sent to Harris County to “ensure that the voting rights of all the residents of the county are protected”. We’ll see what happens with that.