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Clarence Bradford

Funding after school programs

This should be a no-brainer.

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

To combat youth crime, a former Houston police chief says the city must first solve another problem: unstable and inadequate funding for after-school programs.

City Councilman C.O. Bradford said it is more urgent than ever to make after-school programs a public-safety priority as federal grants continue to dwindle or expire, forcing dozens of area providers to shut their doors this year and leaving more children unattended during critical hours.

“Deadly house parties. Drive-by shootings. Killed kids,” he said. “We’re going to see more and more of that.”

Bradford, Houston’s police chief from 1997 to 2003, has failed on previous attempts to persuade Houston leaders to take city funds earmarked for new police officers and instead spend them to expand after-school programs, but he vows to continue the push.

Since 2011, Bradford has chaired a coalition of area after-school care providers called ENRICH, which is based out of the Harris County Department of Education’s Cooperative for After-School Enrichment. The group’s end-of-year report highlighted local studies it organized and funded that show that after-school programs are linked to reducing youth crime.

For more than a decade, numerous national and regional studies have concluded that about 20 percent of all crimes – and more than half of violent crimes – committed by kids and teens happen in the four hours after school on weekdays, combatting the perception that mischievous kids prefer to skulk the dark. Some hope a solution is as simple as providing positive alternatives during those hours.

Former Mayor Lee Brown touted after-school programs as an anti-crime measure when the city began funding some in the late 1990s. Although the city spends millions from federal grants each year, only about $225,000 comes from the general fund.

“Too many young boys and girls are being cited and being detained because they are simply being children, and we are not providing the proper guidance, coaching and counseling they need,” Bradford said.

ENRICH reported that 53 percent of funding for after-school programs in Harris, Waller and Fort Bend counties came from federal sources in the 2012-13 school year. Dozens of after-school programs focused on academic enrichment were forced to shut down after that school year as federal grants expired with no option to reapply for one or two years.

I completely agree with CM Bradford that this is a priority and a sound investment that needs to be funded. You know the old expression “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? That’s the idea here. Kids who are bored are more likely to get into trouble than kids who are busy. Doesn’t make them bad kids, it just makes them kids. I don’t know about you, but I certainly did a few stupid things when I was a kid and didn’t have anything better to do. The fact that federal grants are getting scarcer for this, presumably in the name of “austerity” or “smaller government”, is a scandal and a travesty, but this is the world we live in right now. We can pay now to help keep kids busy and engaged and productive, or we can pay later when they’re not. You tell me what makes more sense.

Time to talk term limits again

The subject keeps coming up, though it never seems to get anywhere.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

As the inauguration of Houston’s elected leaders begins Thursday morning, supporters and spectators gathered at the Wortham Center downtown will see six new City Council members walk across the stage.

Observers at the ceremony two years ago saw seven new members sworn in, and those present two years before that saw five new faces cross the stage. That’s 18 position turnovers in four years around a horseshoe that seats 17, including the mayor, as Councilman C.O. Bradford pointed out at the council’s final meeting of the year two weeks ago.

With this churn in mind, Mayor Annise Parker, Bradford and others are calling for changes to the city’s term limits structure, which allows three two-year terms for the mayor, city controller and council members.

“That’s simply too frequent. When I came to council, there were council members in the process of leaving … and they were just well-seasoned, they were just at the point where they were really ready to dig in and serve the city,” said Bradford, who is starting his third and final term. “As we go forward in efforts to move our city forward, look at 18 turnovers in a four-year period and look at the challenge that presents.”

Parker, herself term-limited out of office at the end of 2016, said she will ask council to present voters with a shift to two four-year terms, adding that any proposal will not apply to her.

We all know how I feel about term limits, right? OK, with that out of the way, let me say that I don’t care for four-year terms on Council. For those of you who think Council will be a better place minus Helena Brown and/or Andrew Burks, they would both be beginning the second half of their first term if we had four-year terms in place now. I think having two year terms helps keep Council members accountable, and better enables us to correct mistakes in a timely fashion as needed. I understand that many Council members dislike having to transition into campaign mode so soon after being elected, and I get that the grind of fundraising sucks. That’s why I believe a better solution to address these issues is changing the nature of our system of financing campaigns. To my mind, if we can level the playing field between incumbents and challengers, we can better address the problem that term limits was supposed to solve. I’m very open to the idea of publicly financing campaigns, at least at the municipal level to begin with. There are big problems to solve in such a system, how to finance it and how to regulate private contributions in a constitutional way being the two main ones, but I see it as a worthwhile goal that actually has a chance of solving the underlying problem. You could take the approach that no one should be allowed to run for re-election, but that still doesn’t address the question of how campaigns are financed, and I personally see value in giving good public servants a chance to keep doing what they’re good at doing. All I ask about the forthcoming debate over our current and highly sub-optimal term limits system is that we start by pledging to review the whole thing and to consider options that have been left out of previous discussions. We’ll see if this effort makes it any farther than the last one did.

More security cameras coming

You’re being recorded, like it or not.

Houston is adding 180 downtown surveillance cameras despite shrinking national security grants and research showing that video feeds only sometimes improve public safety.

By early next year, the Houston Police Department will have nearly 1,000 camera feeds available. Most record public areas around downtown, stadiums and event spaces like the George R. Brown Convention Center and the Theater District.

“With all the homeland security requirements that we have – we have more critical infrastructure to protect than New York City – we can’t do it without video,” said HPD Chief Charles McClelland.

Federal Homeland Security grants first issued in 2003 sparked a rush in many American cities to expand video surveillance networks in an attempt to deter or help apprehend terrorists. With cameras in place and police agencies collaborating at unprecedented levels, local departments also have used the video networks to combat local crime amid shrinking patrol budgets in many cities.

“We see the federal government handing out lots of money for anti-terrorism programs, but it actually ends up being used against parole violators and to issue traffic tickets,” said David Maass, spokesman for the civil rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

City Councilman C.O. Bradford, a former Houston police chief, said the technology is necessary for modern police work.

“It is almost professional malpractice not to have technology deployed in public areas where you know large groups of people are going to gather on a regular basis,” Bradford said earlier this month after the City Council approved grant funding for 180 new cameras downtown.

Nancy La Vigne, a justice policy researcher with the nonprofit Urban Institute, said cameras can help but never replace officers patrolling a beat.

“You need that human interaction,” La Vigne said.

She pointed to her 2011 study, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, analyzing local use of surveillance networks. Her findings showed the effects on crime and cost benefits varied widely.

The city of Houston has had downtown cameras since 2007, and cameras in other parts of the city more recently. (We also have a lot of traffic monitoring cameras, but they don’t appear to be part of this discussion.) It would be nice if we could get some objective data about their effectiveness in Houston, if only so we could know where they might be best deployed going forward. Unfortunately, all we’ve got is anecdotal information. How can we know if we’re using these things to their best advantage, or if we’re even using them effectively at all, without some kind of metrics in place? I’d feel better about this expenditure if someone could show me some numbers.

Bradford calls for review of HPD oversight

He’s right that something needs to be done to ensure that people feel confident in the system.

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

Houston City Councilman and former Police Chief C.O. “Brad” Bradford said citizens have lost faith in the city’s oversight of the use of force by police officers, and it’s time for a discussion on how to restore confidence in the system.

Bradford was responding to a series of Houston Chronicle stories about the shooting of more than 100 civilians by the Houston Police Department from 2008 to 2012. More than a quarter of those shot were unarmed. All of those cases were reviewed by Harris County grand juries, and none have resulted in charges against officers.

“If citizens don’t trust (the oversight) or have faith in it, you’ve got to go to Plan B – whatever Plan B should be,” said Bradford, who was HPD chief from 1997 to 2004. “I think some process has to be established which improves the trust that citizens have in our process which reviews use of force.

“It’s not the review process that I think citizens have a concern with, it’s the understanding and the transparency of that review process,” he said.

[…]

Mayor Annise Parker supported the process used by HPD to investigate shootings but said she wanted to see the number of shootings decline.

“We do an excellent job of investigating, and I think we do an excellent job of learning from those shootings every time one happens to try and prevent them in the future,” Parker said. “I wish we could bring the number down, and we’re constantly working to bring that number down.”

McClelland, in a news conference Thursday, stressed that state law allows officers to use deadly force on a suspect, even if it turns out the person was unarmed.

“That’s unfortunate and it’s a tragedy, but it doesn’t mean it falls outside of the law or outside policy and training,” said McClelland.

The three articles in question are these:

Civilians caught in the line of fire

Christmas Day turns deadly

Grand jury’s role in police shootings draws scrutiny

Grits has an excerpt from the first story. The genesis of all this is Emily dePrang’s two-part story in the Texas Observer from the summer about the disciplinary process at HPD, Crimes Unpunished and The Horror Every Day. Start with those two, then read the Chron stories.

The latter Chron story, about the use of a shooting simulator by grand juries that investigate HPD shootings, a practice that was not widely known even among Criminal District Court judges, is provocative and yet another issue that needs to be aired during the District Attorney race. That story also notes that state law grants a lot of latitude to anyone, not just cops, who use deadly force in situations where they feel their lives or safety are at risk – “stand your ground” laws, in other words. Putting aside those concerns, the disciplinary process at HPD is in serious need of reform, and the Chron stories also raise questions about the level of firearm training HPD officers receive. I don’t know what “Plan B” looks like, either, but I agree with CM Bradford that we need to find a better way.

Precinct analysis: At Large 1, 4, and 5

Last week, we looked at the competitive At Large Council races. Now let’s look at the three At Large races that weren’t competitive. First up is At Large #1, where CM Stephen Costello won a third term.

Dist Costello Griffin Costello% Griffin% ========================================= A 5,465 4,784 53.32% 46.68% B 5,535 4,291 56.33% 43.67% C 15,767 7,919 66.57% 33.43% D 7,852 6,098 56.29% 43.71% E 7,844 5,554 58.55% 41.45% F 3,241 2,247 59.06% 40.94% G 12,328 7,177 63.20% 36.80% H 5,024 2,492 66.84% 33.16% I 4,702 2,416 66.06% 33.94% J 2,549 1,749 59.31% 40.69% K 6,620 4,643 58.78% 41.22%

This is a solid, across-the-board victory, with no obvious weak spots though perhaps some softness here and there. Greg, who has one of his customary color-coded maps, summarizes as follows:

Costello’s win certainly qualifies as a win and I won’t take anything away from it. There are more than one ways to look at the map below and one of them goes something like “Gee, that certainly is a broad base of support throughout the city.” But it still looks a bit weak when you look at how broad the 35-40% of what I’ll chalk up to as “anti-incumbent” vote.

I don’t think that a bar owner most familiar for his displays of team loyalty in the Luv Ya Blue era of Oiler football qualifies as a candidate with massive amounts of name ID. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s always a given that Griff earns a solid 30-40% of the vote just by putting his name on the ballot.

Keeping the dream alive

It’s an interesting question: How much of the Griff Griffin vote is an actual vote for Griff Griffin, and how much is basically a vote for “not the incumbent”? To try to answer that, because I’m just that kind of sucker, I went back and looked at every previous election that featured Griff somewhere on the ballot:

2011 AL2 (open), 10 candidates, 8.22%

2009 AL2 (Lovell), 4 candidates, 19.97%

2007 AL2 (Lovell), 2 candidates, 47.12%

2005 AL1 (open), 3 candidates, 17.06%

2001 AL4 (open), 5 candidates, 13.73%

1999 District C (open), 7 candidates, 15.32%

January 1997 AL4 (open), 16 candidates, 6.40%

1997 AL5 (open), 9 candidates, 13.45%

1995 AL3 (open), 11 candidates, 11.31%

1993 AL3 (open), 14 candidates, 7.08%

What do we take away from this, other than Griff has a preference for open seat races? Given that he has run in many multi-candidate races where there was likely to be at least one acceptable choice to even the most curmudgeonly, there’s a core of maybe 10 to 15% of the electorate that will choose to vote for Griff. Note that in several of these races, Griff finished third or fourth in the large field of candidates, so by any reasonable accounting he’s at least one step up from a placeholder. Viewed in that light, Costello’s performance looks a little better. And for what it’s worth, the one other time Griff ran in a two-candidate race, he got 47% of the vote against then-CM Sue Lovell. CM Costello easily cleared that mark. Make of all that what you will.

Here’s At Large #4:

Dist Bradford Dadoush Bradford% Dadoush% ========================================= A 7,990 2,228 78.20% 21.80% B 10,861 835 92.86% 7.14% C 17,525 5,185 77.17% 22.83% D 14,861 1,551 90.55% 9.45% E 10,315 3,280 75.87% 24.13% F 4,133 1,388 74.86% 25.14% G 15,450 3,865 79.99% 20.01% H 5,909 1,685 77.81% 22.19% I 5,472 1,780 75.46% 24.54% J 3,422 964 78.02% 21.98% K 10,350 1,824 85.02% 14.98%

Now that’s a dominant victory. CM Bradford made a point of telling me, after I’d interviewed him, that he was not a candidate for Mayor in 2015. It wouldn’t make sense for him to support Ben Hall, he told me, if he wanted to be Mayor in 2015. All that may be true, but it’s hard to look at these numbers and not see a potentially formidable Mayoral candidate. He’d have some tough competition – besides Costello, Sheriff Adrian Garcia is said to be interested in running, and there’s still Ronald Green and a whole lot of others that are at least thinking about it – but after three easy electoral victories citywide, he has to be considered one of the top dogs.

Finally, At Large #5:

Dist Christie Shabazz Horwitz Christie% Shabazz% Horwitz% ========================================================== A 6,709 2,199 1,258 65.99% 21.63% 12.37% B 3,353 6,183 762 32.56% 60.04% 7.40% C 13,603 4,092 4,189 62.16% 18.70% 19.14% D 4,677 9,133 1,209 31.14% 60.81% 8.05% E 9,207 2,315 1,676 69.76% 17.54% 12.70% F 2,852 1,756 817 52.57% 32.37% 15.06% G 15,167 2,441 2,249 76.38% 12.29% 11.33% H 3,345 2,700 1,064 47.05% 37.98% 14.97% I 3,236 2,615 979 47.38% 38.29% 14.33% J 2,337 1,273 635 55.05% 29.99% 14.96% K 4,841 5,009 1,477 42.74% 44.22% 13.04%

Consider this: Ben Hall, who ran a year-long multi-million dollar campaign for Mayor, received 23,055 votes in Council districts B, D, and K, where he needed to run up the score in order to have a chance to make a runoff against Mayor Parker. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, a late filing, low-dollar candidate in At Large #5, received 20,325 votes in those districts, with a higher percentage of the vote in all three. Had the undervote rate been remotely comparable between the two races – 28.03% of all Harris County voters in AL5 simply skipped the race, ten times as many as the 2.76% undervote for Mayor – she would almost certainly have collected more total votes in these districts than he did. Have I made it clear yet how poor a performance Hall had?

As for Christie, he’s sort of the alternate universe in which Bill Frazer gets elected Controller. You can see what Frazer’s path forward might be based on Christie’s better numbers in Democratic districts, and you can also see where Christie could be in trouble against a stronger opponent or pair of opponents, in particular against opposition that gets an earlier start. There are going to be two open At Large seats in 2015, and I won’t be surprised if the winner of the Kubosh/Morales runoff faces a strong challenger. For that matter, the field for Controller is pretty open beyond Frazer if he’s into it. Christie might wind up getting a pass just because there are enough other opportunities available for the ambitious. Regardless, my point is that it’s better to start early than jump in at the last minute. Greg has more.

Endorsement watch: Brad and Graci

Another endorsement twofer from the Chron, this time an incumbent and an open seat. First up, the Chron endorses CM Brad Bradford for a third term.

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

The duties of an at-large council member are not as specific as those of a district council member and At-large Council Member C.O. “Brad” Bradford has some ideas about changing that, which we’ll return to a minute.

But first things first. Bradford, the former chief of the Houston Police Department, has continued to serve this city well in two terms in At-large Position 4. He deserves to be returned to City Hall for a third and final two years at the council table.

[…]

[T]he council member has presented an ambitious proposal to change the Houston City Charter.

Among the ideas? Giving the five at-large council members specific portfolios such as public safety, budget and finance, parks and recreation, etc.

Bradford has drawn a worthy opponent in Issa Dadoush, a former director of the city of Houston General Services Department who is a licensed professional engineer and an MBA.

We encourage Dadoush, now in the private sector, to remain interested in elective service at City Hall. But for the next two years, our clear recommendation for voters is C.O. “Brad” Bradford for City Council At-large Position 4.

I was beginning to wonder when the Chron would get around to the last four races. For this race at least I didn’t expect anything unusual. I don’t have much to add to the Chron’s endorsement. CM Bradford is a sharp guy, and while I don’t always agree with him, he does bring a lot to the table. My interview with CM Bradford is here.

The Chron also endorsed Graci Garces in District I.

Graci Garces

Graci Garces

Whoever represents District I should have no learning curve at City Hall, and be ready to serve families in the district’s Hispanic communities and also booming downtown businesses. An inexperienced city council member risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg. We believe that Graci Garces, with her years of service within local government, is the best candidate for District I.

Once represented by Hispanic political kingpin Ben Reyes, before he was busted in a federal bribery sting, District I has been held by a clean line of succession for the past 12 years. State Rep. Carol Alvarado was elected to that seat for three terms, followed by her chief of staff, James G. Rodriguez, who is completing his third and final term on council. Garces, Rodriguez’s chief of staff, would continue the Alvarado dynasty at City Hall.

That isn’t necessarily a good thing. Lifelong staffers like Garces, 33, lack important private sector experience, and may have a greater sense of loyalty to their mentors than their constituents.

But Garces hasn’t been some behind-the-scenes insider. For the past 10 years, she’s been the eyes and ears for City Hall in District I. Her specific, localized ideas go beyond the usual infrastructure and jobs agenda, with goals of reducing animal overpopulation in neighborhoods and tearing down blight. She’s walked the streets for a decade and knows the area well. After working in D.C. and Austin for a host of Hispanic representatives, Garces will be able to serve as a bridge between government and the community.

Here’s my interview with Graci Garces. The Chron also gave a shoutout to Ben Mendez in their endorsement. Garces is a strong candidate, but as I’ll mention in a subsequent post, I don’t see any of the four having a clearcut edge over the others. Perhaps this will give her a boost towards the runoff. If you live in District I, who is your preferred choice?

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.

Keep runoffs on Saturday

Put me on record as opposing this.

EarlyVoting

A Houston City Council committee [Tuesday] recommended keeping the city’s run-off election day on a Saturday. But committee members remained open for the possibility of changing it to a Tuesday in the future.

City Attorney David Feldman says the city first started discussing the topic in March. The reason: Holding elections during the week is cheaper.

“That expense arises from the fact that we use facilities, such as school buildings, where we are charged when those facilities are used on Saturdays but not charged when they are used during the week.”

Besides the question of cost, another important issue would be how moving the day would affect voter turnout. To learn more about that, the committee invited political science Prof. Bob Stein of Rice University.

[…]

Council member C.O. Bradford, who chaired the committee meeting, noted that moving the runoff election to Tuesday would save money and accommodate the majority of voters.

However, several council members expressed concern about recommending the change for this November’s election, because it would cut the early voting period short by two days, at least in this election cycle.

This is District J council member Mike Laster.

“My particular concern in this election cycle for 2013 is that we would be actually losing the Saturday and Sunday of early vote period, which has historically been a very high turnout two days of early vote.”

In the end, the committee decided not to recommend a change, and a spokeswoman for Annise Parker says the mayor won’t move the runoff election day this year.

C.O. Bradford says the city still needs to hear from actual voters, not just potential ones.

Prof. Stein’s polling showed majority support for the idea, but they didn’t ask me. I agree with CM Laster that moving runoffs to Tuesdays, which would mean moving early voting from Thursday through Wednesday to Monday through Friday, is the wrong thing to do. I get the desire to save money, but this is not a good way to do it. The cost of running elections in the city is a drop in the bucket, budget-wise. This change is not worth the pennies we’d pick up. Stace and Campos have more.

Interview with CM Bradford

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

This week we venture back to the At Large Council races, as there were a couple of late filers that brought opponents to previously unchallenged incumbents. One of those incumbents is Council Member C. O. “Brad” Bradford, now in his second term in At Large #4. Bradford is an attorney and served as Chief of Police under Mayor Lee Brown. He has been a strong proponent for an independent crime lab, as the full extent of the crime lab’s problems came to light during his time as Chief. The most prominent critic of Mayor Parker on Council, CM Bradford serves as the Chair of the Ethics, Elections, and Council Governance Committee, and as Vice Mayor Pro Tem. Here’s what we talked about:

CM Brad Bradford interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

The 2013 lineup

So many candidates.

He’s baaaaaaack…

More than 60 candidates have filed to run for city of Houston elective office this fall, many of them rushing in before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.

[…]

Atop the ballot, [Mayor Annise] Parker is challenged by wealthy attorney Ben Hall, conservative Eric Dick, repeat Green Party candidate Don Cook, and six others. City Controller Ron Green is opposed by accountant Bill Frazer.

The ballot’s most crowded council race, with 11 contenders, will be for District D, the south Houston seat held by term-limited Wanda Adams, who has filed to run for a seat on the Houston ISD board.

Looking to succeed Adams are several candidates who have sought the seat or other council posts before, including Dwight Boykins, Larry McKinzie, Lana Edwards and Keith Caldwell. First-time contenders include Anthony Robinson, a businessman and lawyer who was exonerated after serving 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and Houston Housing Authority vice-chair Assata-Nicole Richards, who briefly was homeless and went on to earn a doctorate in sociology.

[…]

Other notable filings include Issa Dadoush, who formerly ran the facilities department for the city, then HISD. He will challenge incumbent Councilman C.O. Bradford. Perennial candidate Michael “Griff” Griffin – who said his 10th failed bid for City Council in 2011 would be his last – also filed, against At-Large 1 incumbent Councilman Stephen Costello.

So we will have Griff to kick around again. Whoop-de-doo. No, I will not be interviewing him. My to-do list is a little longer now, but it doesn’t include Griff. Life is too short.

I’m still working on my 2013 Election page, since there are some names that remain unknown to me. I’ll wait and see what the final list of candidates on the City Secretary page looks like before I declare the page finalized. Some races are no different – At Large #2, Districts A, C, and I. Apparently, neither Chris Carmona nor Al Edwards filed in At Large #3, leaving that field a bit smaller than I’d have expected. The Bradford/Dadoush race in At Large #4 is potentially interesting. I know of at least one more candidate in At Large #5, James “father of Noah” Horwitz. And my God, could we possibly have more Mayoral candidates?

The big non-city-race news is the retirement of HISD Trustee Larry Marshall.

Marshall, who turned 81 in June, first was elected to the board of the Houston Independent School District in 1997. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The other four incumbents up for re-election are running, and two face opponents.

A civil lawsuit filed by a construction contractor in late 2010 put Marshall under intense scrutiny, accusing him of a bribery and kickback scheme with his political campaign treasurer to help certain construction firms land HISD contracts.

The Houston Chronicle also has reported that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office had launched a criminal investigation tied to the lawsuit.

[…]

The candidates running for Marshall’s seat are: W. Clyde Lemon, who served on the board in the mid-1990s; City Councilwoman Wanda Adams; Anthony Madry, a former HISD assistant principal; and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot.

I need to update the District IX race on the 2013 Election page, but I have the other races right – Anna Eastman versus Hugo Mojica in I, Harvin Moore versus Anne Sung in VII, and nobody versus Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VIII. At least these races are straightforward.

Not mentioned as far as I can tell are the HCC Trustee races. Five trustees are up for election, thanks to the two appointments. Two incumbents, Neeta Sane and Bruce Austin, have no opponents that I am aware of. Yolanda Navarro Flores, who in 2011 lost a defamation lawsuit against her colleagues, is opposed by educator Zeph Capo and civic activist Kevin Hoffman, who narrowly lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. Herlinda Garcia, a former trustee who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by State Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HCC 3, is opposed by Adriana Tamez and Dane Cook. Leila Feldman, appointed to replace Richard Schechter after he resigned, is opposed by Phil Kunetka. Among other things, this means that the tail end of my interviewing schedule will be fuller than I originally thought it would be. As I said, these are the races I’m aware of. If I’ve missed anything, let me know. Stace and Campos have more.

Council approves Costco tax rebate

I still don’t think this is a good idea.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday approved a $1 million economic development deal to help Costco build a store outside the city limits.

In a rambling discussion ending in a 12-3 vote, supporters argued that the sales tax rebate would drive further development in the area around the site of the proposed store, at Interstate 10 and the Grand Parkway, generating revenue the city would not collect otherwise.

Opponents said they had heard no argument for why the rebates were needed for the store to be built, or, in Councilman Andrew Burks’ case, said the deal did not ask enough of Costco.

Corporations should take a more active role in funding after-school and summer jobs programs in the city, Burks said, and should give preference to veterans in hiring.

[…]

The store would sit on 14 acres Costco has under contract in the Cimarron Municipal Utility District. The city since 2003 has had an agreement with the district under which the parties split the revenues of a 1-cent sales tax collected within the district’s boundaries. The city provides only animal control services there, and property owners pay no city property taxes.

Economic development experts have said the area is likely to develop without incentives, given that a new segment of the Grand Parkway connecting I-10 with U.S. 290 will open in December. Councilman C.O. Bradford, who joined Burks and Councilman Larry Green in opposing the deal, took a similar approach.

“Is the incentive necessary?” Bradford asked. “I haven’t heard anybody articulate the real need for the incentive.”

Councilman Ed Gonzalez said the proposal was necessary because Costco was considering a nearby site that would generate no revenue for the city.

“While technically, yes, it’s a very lucrative site, very high-profile and likely Costco would still come there, I think to some extent, by us having skin in the game, we guarantee they do come into this area,” Gonzalez said. “I would rather us control some of our own destiny here, make sure this investment is here and leverage our $1 million to bring a much greater return to the citizens of the city.”

See here for the background. I get why Council agreed to this, but the question I haven’t seen asked – let alone answered – is what the return for the city would be compared to what was likely to be built on that property if no rebate was offered. We all agree that something would be built, possibly this very Costco, but even if you accept that Costco would have gone elsewhere, something else would have been put there eventually. As such, it makes no sense to compare the revenue the city will get from making the deal to zero. Compare it to some scenarios where something else gets built, and compare it to that. Is it still worth the money the city is giving up? If it is, then I can live with this. If not, then we need to do a better job of making economic projections.

July finance reports for At Large candidates

Still plowing my way through all the July finance reports. July and January are very busy months, since everybody has finance reports to do. After I’m done with the city candidates, I’ll be looking at HISD and HCC candidates, then Harris County officeholders and area legislators. Thank $deity the special sessions are finally over.

I’m going to split the At Large candidates into three groups – the three (so far) unchallenged incumbents, the At Large #2 candidates, and the open At Large #3 candidates. Here’s a summary of everyone’s finance reports so far:

Race Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL1 Costello 155,590 42,389 161,646 15,000 AL2 Burks 40,910 17,867 18,042 0 AL2 Robinson 82,454 7,664 52,746 0 AL2 Gordon 1,540 100 1,078 0 AL2 Shabazz AL3 Kubosh 109,057 38,223 85,833 15,000 AL3 Calvert 83,906 18,587 75,318 10,000 AL3 Morales 37,625 2,413 35,211 0 AL3 Chavez 27,255 4,728 23,658 160 AL3 Pool 33,695 28,503 5,192 10,000 AL3 Carmona 0 0 0 0 AL3 Edwards AL4 Bradford 54,225 6,750 51,746 0 AL5 Christie 94,980 36,777 61,588 0

Unchallenged incumbents

Costello report
Bradford report
Christie report

All three are strong fundraisers, though clearly CM Costello is in a class by himself. If the rumblings I have heard about his future Mayoral ambitions are true, he’ll be very well placed in two years’ time. In addition to all of the usual PACs and big name players, with more donations of $1000+ than I’ve seen anywhere else save for perhaps Mayor Parker, the most interesting donation he got might have been the $40 he got from Stuart Rosenberg, who happens to be Mayor Parker’s campaign manager. I haven’t noticed Rosenberg’s name on any other report so far. Since I talked about consultant expenses in my post on Controller finance reports, I will note that Costello spent $36,500 on consultant fees, all of which were recurring expenses for his regular campaign operative. If you’re raising $150K+, that’s a sustainable amount.

CM Bradford, the other sitting Member with rumored Mayoral visions, raised about the same amount as he did in the same period in 2011. Thirty-six hundred of his total was in kind, for use of his personal vehicle and for office space. He had basically no expenses – that was the case for July 2011 as well – so I’m not sure why his cash on hand total isn’t higher. He didn’t file a January report as far as I can tell, and his January 2012 report showed a cash balance of $20K. I presume he had some expenses between then and January 2013, but I couldn’t tell you what they were. I can tell you that his July report showed no expenditures made on consultant services.

CM Christie also had a solid report, and like CM Bradford the last report I show for him is January 2012, when he had only $3K on hand after his bruising runoff win. He made numerous, mostly modest, contributions to various Republican groups, but I didn’t see any Republican officials among his donors. He spent $18K on consultant services, which represents six monthly payments to his primary person.

At Large #2

Burks report
Robinson report
Gordon report

There is a fourth candidate, Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, according to Campos‘ scouting of the filings with the City Secretary’s office. She did not have a report filed as of this publication. Note that Campos lists a Brent Gordon for At Large #2, and his political page has a Trebor Gordon in At Large #3. I think these are the same person, and he filed a second designation of treasurer to reflect that he switched races. But I’m just guessing.

CM Burks is in his first term after finally winning a race in 2011. This will be the first time he’s had to run as a serious candidate rather than as a gadfly. As you can see, compared to some others his report isn’t that impressive. He did get $17,500 in PAC donations ($5K each from HPD and HFD), which feels like it’s on the low end to me, but I didn’t do the math on the other candidates, so I could be wrong about that. I didn’t see any consultant fees, but he did list an expense of $1,250.65 for “placement of 4X8 signs around Houston”. You’ve probably seen a few of them adorning various hurricane fences around town.

David Robinson’s report is more like what you’d expect from an incumbent. You may recall that Robinson finished just out of the money in At Large #2 in 2011, and he made the calculation that I thought someone would that a rematch against now-CM Burks offered better odds than a multi-candidate pileup on AL3. He received contributions from numerous interesting people, including $3000 from Peter Brown, $500 from Anne Clutterbuck, $200 from Kristi Thibaut, and $100 from Sue Lovell, but none stood out to me more than the $1000 he got from chef/entrepreneur Bobby Heugel. I’m going to step out on a limb here and guess that Robinson will be a food truck supporter.

Gordon’s report omitted $8,610 worth of in kind donations, and $10K in pledged donations in its totals. There are always a few candidates who get confused about how to fill in these forms.

At Large #3

Kubosh report
Calvert report
Morales report
Chavez report
Pool report
Carmona report

Al Edwards and Trebor Gordon, if he is a distinct person from Brent Gordon, did not file reports as of publication.

At Large #3 is the one open At Large seat, and it has drawn a large crowd of candidates that can plausibly claim a path to victory. There’s quite a bit of variation in the finance reports, however.

Michael Kubosh

Michael Kubosh

Greg pointed out that Michael Kubosh’s report contained a $72,000 donation from “Felix M. Kubosh”, which would be illegal if it were a contribution from another person. (“Felix M. Kubosh” also made three more contributions, for another $24K, or $96K in total.) This drew a disdainful response from Big Jolly, because everybody knows that “Felix M. Kubosh” and “Michael Kubosh” are the same person. I mean, duh, right? So obvi.

Greg then fessed up to his sad lack of Kubosh family knowledge. I will simply note two things. One is that as far as I can tell, the name “Felix” is not to be found on the Kubosh for Council webpage. Similarly, a Google search for “Felix M Kubosh” does not display the name “Michael” on the first two result pages, though “Michael Felix” does appear on page 3. Suggestive, but hardly conclusive, since for all we know “Felix” is Michael Kubosh’s middle name, and the “M” in “Felix M Kubosh” could stand for Mark or Milton or Madagascar for all we know.

The other thing is that if you do a search on the name “Kubosh” at the Tax Assessor’s website, you will find not only a registration for Felix Michael Kubosh but also a registration for Christopher Michael Kubosh. Perhaps Big Jolly knows how to tell at a glance who is the One True Michael Kubosh, but I’m afraid that knowledge eludes a mere mortal such as myself. Thank goodness we have Big Jolly around to show us the way.

Be that as it may, the fact that Felix M. “Michael” Kubosh contributed $96K of his $109 total means he got $13K from everyone else, and if you subtract out the $5K he got from his brother Paul, he raised only $8K from people not named Kubosh. That casts his report in a rather different light. As to why he contributed to himself rather than loaning it to himself, or paying for things from personal funds with the intent to seek repayment later, since one can only repay a maximum of $15K on a loan to oneself for an At Large seat, I don’t know. I do know that Kubosh spent $19,500 on consultants, so perhaps they can explain the different options for self-funding to him. Kubosh also paid $3975 to one of those consultants for advertising and signage, and donated $5K to the Spring Branch Republicans.

That leaves Rogene Calvert with the strongest report among AL3 contenders. Like David Robinson, she had some interesting donors as well – $5K from Andrea White, $1K from Gordon Quan, and $100 from former County Clerk Beverly Kaufmann. Her expenses were fairly modest as well, so she should be in good position going forward. Remember, no one should ever overestimate their name ID in a race like this. Spend your money making sure the voters have at least heard of you.

One person that might be reasonably well known to the voters is former HCDE Trustee Roy Morales, who ran for At Large #3 twice in 2007, and for Mayor in 2011. He needed only 35 donors to generate that $37K in cash, for an average contribution by my calculation of $1077 per person.

Former Houston firefighter Roland Chavez received $10K from the HPFFA, which is the kind of support you’d expect them to show him, but it means they can’t give him any more unless he makes it to a runoff. He also got $200 from Sue Lovell and $100 from Bill White’s former chief of staff Michael Moore.

Jenifer Pool is one of two candidates in this race to have run for an At Large seat in 2011; Chris Carmona, who filed a report claiming no money raised or spent and who ran against AL3 incumbent Melissa Noriega last time, is the other. Pool’s contributions included $5K in kind. Though she spent a fair bit of money, she had no large single expenditures – I think I saw maybe one or two expenses that exceeded $1000. She had many small listings for consulting services that amounted to things like field work, social media, field supplies, and phone calls.

Al Edwards did not have a report filed as of this posting. I still don’t know what to make of his candidacy.

On a side note, PDiddie complains about the emphasis on finance reports as a proxy for candidate viability. He and I disagree on this point, which is fine and I don’t want to rehash any of that. I will simply note that finance reports are public information that candidates are required to disclose. I believe that information deserves to be reviewed and examined, so that anything questionable can be brought up. How else can we know if the candidates are doing what they’re supposed to do? You can assign any value you want to the contents of the report, I see this as an exercise in transparency.

That’s it for the citywide candidates. I’ll wrap up the Houston elections next with a look at the district races. Any questions or requests, let me know.

Eric Dick is just trolling us now

Like a three-year-old having a tantrum – and against our better judgment – he gets the attention he so desperately seeks.

The problem, one of many examples

Two City Council candidates facing thousands of dollars in fines for violating the city’s sign ordinance during their 2011 campaigns accused Mayor Annise Parker on Friday of targeting them for their conservative beliefs.

Eric Dick, a lawyer who fell short in his bid for an at-large seat two years ago and who is running for mayor this year, drew ample criticism during the 2011 race for blanketing the city with red signs bearing his last name in prominent white letters. He and Clyde Bryan, who challenged westside District G incumbent Oliver Pennington, used the backdrop of the July 4 weekend to, as Dick put it, “declare independence from Annise Parker and her tyranny.”

City and state laws ban signs from public rights of way, including roadsides, utility poles and overpasses.

Dick was cited for 90 sign violations, and Bryan for 41. The cases are being tried one at a time. So far, Dick’s have ended in a mistrial and a $100 fine; Bryan was found not guilty in one case and had several others dismissed.

Dick and Bryan cited Councilman C.O. Bradford’s example as proof of their persecution. Bradford was hit with 22 sign violations in 2011, all of which were dismissed.

“(Parker) selectively chose the people that were going to get violations,” Dick said. “(Bradford) received many violations, but he got a free pass. Why? Because he’s a Democrat. The Republicans got stuck with it. She’s using city money to attack people that oppose her views.”

Asked why Parker would dismiss Bradford’s cases for political reasons when the two are not allies and Bradford has, in fact, endorsed Ben Hall, Parker’s most prominent opponent, Dick said, “He’s a Democrat. She’s hoping she’ll get the support of the black community.”

Bradford couldn’t help chuckling at that. “The whole idea that this administration gave Bradford preferential treatment?” he said. “Let me just put a big question mark behind that.”

[…]

[City Attorney David] Feldman and [Chief Prosecutor Randy] Zamora said the sign ordinance was enforced aggressively in 2011 following complaints to public officials about political signs, particularly Dick’s.

“Dick, we all know his signs were all over the place. You couldn’t miss it,” Feldman said. “The ones that are prolific are the ones who are going to draw the attention, and Dick and Bryan were prolific.”

Let’s review the bidding here.

1. Most years, most candidates follow the city’s sign ordinance most of the time. Why bother putting signs on utility poles when there are so many empty lots one can plant them in instead?

2. Eric Dick signs were everywhere in 2011, including many signs on utility poles. People complained enough about this that the local news covered it.

3. Dick steadfastly denied any knowledge of how the signs got up on those utility poles or any responsibility for their placement. This despite the fact that his campaign finance reports show thousands of dollars in expenditures on signs, including over $3000 to “Ron the sign guy”. Dick insisted it was “overzealous volunteers”, over whom he apparently had no control, that were responsible.

4. In the aftermath of the election, in which Dick received 7% of the vote, he has leveraged his notoriety into business for his law firm. Like it or not, you know the name “Eric Dick” now. So do many other people. This is a good thing for a small business owner.

5. And now he’s back, with a “campaign” for Mayor, whining that he was treated oh so unfairly by that mean Mayor and her minions, who dared to enforce the law against him. Oh, the humanity!

Eric Dick is doing what he is doing to get people to pay attention to him. Sometimes he makes enough noise that we are forced to pay attention to him. That doesn’t make him worthy of the attention, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we get anything out of it. There’s nothing to see here, folks. Let’s all just move on down the road. Texpatriate, three of whose board members actually attended Dick’s silly press conference, has more.

UPDATE: More from PDiddie.

Seniors get a tax cut from Council

Good for them.

BagOfMoney

Houston City Council voted to provide property tax relief to seniors Wednesday, one of many votes at a marathon meeting at which council unanimously approved a $4.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The city’s exemption for homeowners 65 and older will rise from $70,862 to $80,000 thanks to the 14-2 vote, a move that should be codified with a second approval next week, City Attorney David Feldman said.

The roller-coaster 10-hour meeting – all but 45 minutes of which focused on Mayor Annise Parker’s budget and council members’ 60 proposed amendments to it – will require Parker to shuffle about $3.9 million in the $2.2 billion general fund budget. The rest of the city’s spending occurs in enterprise funds fed by fees and not taxes.

[…]

Among the successful amendments: A $2 million push to redeploy four ambulances shelved during the cutbacks; a $1.5 million summer jobs program for youth; $250,000 for cameras to monitor illegal dumping; and money to increase the Houston Center for Literacy’s budget from $400,000 to $500,000. Other big-ticket items, including a $3 million summer-jobs program and $1.5 million for after-school programs, were voted down.

Parker said she will cover the ambulance spending with funds that had been set aside to analyze the fire department’s operations and will fund the jobs program with money that had been slated for efficiency reviews of departments. Parker said she will shuffle $250,000 around in the police budget to cover the cameras and must find an offset for the literacy item.

The $3.8 million cost of raising property tax exemptions, which will save the average homeowner $39 to $58, depending on the estimate, won’t require a change to the budget, Parker said. City officials expect revenues to exceed the projected figures, with or without exemption changes.

“We can always say that we have to prepare for tomorrow, but there are senior citizens out there now who, $40, $50 dollars a year would help them pay the drainage fee, help them pay their water bill, maybe medication,” said the amendment’s author, Councilman C.O. Bradford. “Do all of them need it? Perhaps not, but, by God, I can take you to enough neighborhoods in Houston where they are on fixed incomes and to provide relief for them is the proper thing to do.”

I’m sure this will help some people who need it, and raising the exemption is more progressive than cutting the rate, but this is a fairly significant amount of money. It’s a lot less than it could have been, since some Council members proposed raising the exemption to $160,000 to match Harris County. That would have cost a boatload, on the order of $20 million a year. I note that one person who proposed that massive reduction in revenue was CM Helena Brown, who is convinced that the city is on the brink of bankruptcy. You tell me how that makes sense.

If you want to wonk out on the budget, go look at the Fiscal Year 2014 Proposed Budget webpage and the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee webpage, which together have enough PDFs to keep you busy for weeks. The Houston Politics blog had multiple posts over the past couple of weeks covering the individual departments’ budget presentations. Very useful stuff, too bad it wasn’t ever in the print edition or the houstonchronicle.com site.

One more thing:

With an $81 million deficit projected for the next budget cycle, Parker said the most important amendment of the day likely was the first, in which council voted 13-3 to accept Councilman Oliver Pennington’s plan to save any revenue collected over expected levels. That meant no such money could be spent during the fiscal year, including on projects such as those mentioned in the scores of subsequent budget amendments.

That’s not a lot to go on. An email from CM Costello at the start of the budget committee process gives a little bit of information on this:

Finance Director Kelly Dowe followed the Controller with the Administration’s FY 2014 budget overview and General Fund five-year forecast. The FY 2014 budget shows increases in property tax revenue of 4.33 percent and sales tax revenue of 5.8 percent. Total General Fund revenues are projected to grow $70.3 million and General Fund expenditures budgeted to increase $105 million. This will be the tenth year the city has spent more money than it has collected. The majority of expenditure increases ($53.7 million) are tied to personnel: contractual pay increases ($21.5 million); higher health benefit costs ($7.3 million); and increased pension costs ($23 million). Other specifics include $7.5 million for ongoing maintenance of the city’s facilities and fleet, $3.1 million to restore library hours and personnel, $2 million for an analysis aimed at optimizing the city’s fire and emergency services model and $2.7 million in debt service increases. The proposed budget also expands single stream recycling to another 100,000 households.

That’s based on the five year forecast that Finance Director Kelly Dowe makes. You can see the rest of Dowe’s materials here. I’ll simply note that while any projection of a deficit is concerning, the revenue projections for each of the past three years undershot the actual totals. Things could be better than we think, or if the economy goes to hell again they could be worse. We just don’t know. Predicting the future is hard, y’all. Stace has more.

Budget time in Houston

Houston City Council has begun the process of debating Mayor Parker’s budget for the next fiscal year by proposing 60 amendments to it.

BagOfMoney

Parker’s budget would spend $4.5 billion, including fee-supported enterprise funds such as the aviation department and utility systems, and is a 6.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The proposed general fund budget, supported chiefly by property and sales taxes, is $2.2 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent over the current budget, but just 2.4 percent over projected spending for the current year.

The council is expected to begin hashing out the budget next week.

The big-ticket proposals related to property tax relief for seniors, with council members Andrew Burks, C.O. Bradford and Helena Brown each offering at least one idea on the topic. Most of their amendments sought to raise Houston’s $70,862 residential property tax exemption to match Harris County’s $160,000. Affected homeowners would save $569 annually under Bradford’s most aggressive proposal, and up to $58 under his most modest.

Brown’s proposal, which would hike the city exemption in steps to match the county’s by 2019, would cost $5.7 million next year and $102 million cumulatively by 2019, City Finance Department director Kelly Dowe estimated. Those numbers likely are understated, he said, because they are based on 2012 tax data and assume no growth in appraised values.

CM Brown’s proposal would therefore cost the city an average of $16 million per year through 2019 under current appraisals. The single year total would be higher than that in 2019, probably $22 or $23 million, and would be at least that much going forward. That’s a lot of money, and though it isn’t “spending” in the way that a new program or an expansion of services is, it’s still millions of dollars being diverted from the budget. Maybe it’s a good idea, and maybe it’s something the city should do, but if you’re one of those people that likes to focus on the city’s financial situation, implementing this kind of tax cut would have a significant effect on the bottom line. I just want to make sure we’re all clear on that. By way of contrast, the most expensive new spending proposal was $3 million per year, for a summer jobs program for youth.

For a lot more detail on the budget, in particular the details of various city departments’ budgets, see the recent coverage in Houston Politics here, here, here, and here. Can anyone explain to me why none of this stuff made it into the print version of the paper, or even the houstonchronicle.com website, as far as I can tell? This is what you really need to know if you want to understand the budget.

Midyear 2013 election update

Back in January, I took an early look at the 2013 elections in Houston. At the request of the folks at the Burnt Orange Report, who also printed my initial overview, here’s an update on the races in the city of Houston in 2013.

Mayor

Back in January, Mayor Parker had no declared opponents, though everyone expected former City Attorney Ben Hall to jump in, and there were whispers of other potential entrants. Hall made his candidacy official about two weeks after my initial report, and formally launched his campaign in March, though things have been fairly low key so far. Mayor Parker, who just kicked off her own campaign a couple of weeks ago, has been busy touting her achievements, of which there have been many in recent months, and pointing out all the glowing praise Houston is getting in the national media for its food scene, arts, employment opportunities, and affordable housing. Hall has been introducing himself to voters – he was the featured speaker at a recent event at HCDP headquarters; Mayor Parker will get her turn for that later in June – though thus far he has stuck to general themes and not presented much in the way of specific policy initiatives. He suffered some bad press a month ago when news of his frequent delinquency when paying property taxes surfaced. That subject, and the fact that Hall lived outside Houston in the tony suburb of Piney Point until last year – he was ineligible to vote in the 2009 city election – will likely come up again as the campaigns begin to engage with each other.

Two other candidates have joined the race as well. One is Green Party perennial Don Cook, who ran for an At Large Council seat in 2009 and 2011, for County Clerk in 2010, and for CD22 in 2012. The other is 2011 At Large #2 candidate Eric Dick, and you can keep the jokes to yourself, he’s way ahead of you on that. Besides his name, Dick is best known for covering the city with bandit campaign signs two years ago; the signs and the controversy that accompanied them did wonders for his name recognition and no doubt his law firm’s bottom line. It’s not clear if he intends to run a more serious campaign this time or if it’s just going to be another round of nailing things to utility poles and denying all knowledge of how they got there, but Dick’s emphasizing that he’s the “Republican” candidate in this nominally non-partisan race suggests that at least one person is thinking about the old pincer strategy.

We’ll have a better idea of where things stand when the campaign finance reports come out in six weeks. Hall has made much noise about his willingness to self-finance his campaign, but nothing says “broad-based support”, or the lack of it, than one’s list of small-dollar donors. It will also be interesting to see where the establishment goes, and if there are any defections from Parker 09 to Hall or Gene Locke 09 to Parker. Finally, on the subject of Republicans, it’s well known among insiders but not at all outside that circle that Hall has a couple of Republican operatives on his campaign payroll. I feel confident saying that fact will gain prominence after the July 15 reports begin to emerge. Until then, there’s the parody Ben Hall Twitter feed to keep those of you who are into that sort of thing amused.

City Controller

Incumbent Ronald Green, who like Mayor Parker is running for a third term, also now has an opponent, a Republican accountant by the name of Bill Frazer. Frazer now has a Facebook page for his campaign, but still no webpage that I can find. As noted before, Green has had some bad press, and he has never been a dynamic fundraiser or campaigner. He didn’t have a lot of cash on hand in January, and I don’t recall much activity there since then. He could conceivably be vulnerable to the right candidate and some bad luck. I don’t think Frazer is that candidate, and as far as luck goes all Green really needs is no more dirt to come out about him before November. Outside of open seat years, we really don’t have a history of Controller races in Houston. The office tends to get a lot less attention than Council does.

City Council At Large

I took an early look at At Large #3, the one open At Large seat, back in April, and nothing much has changed since then. It’s an interesting field, to say the least, with three candidates that have run citywide in the past, and the three that haven’t can credibly claim to have a base of support. There is no clear frontrunner, though the lack of a prominent African American candidate in the race is a factor that could ultimately affect its trajectory. I continue to believe that’s a void that will eventually be filled. Again, the campaign finance reports will bring a bit of focus to the picture, but most likely there will be not that much to see just yet. Generally speaking, the usual powers that be steer clear of these multi-candidate pileups until the runoff.

I noted before that there might be more opportunity in a head-to-head matchup against one of the two freshmen At Large Council members than in the wide open At Large #3 scramble. David Robinson, who finished fourth in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, has apparently taken that to heart and is challenging CM Andrew Burks for that seat. Burks has not particularly distinguished himself in his first term, but he is generally well liked and remains well known due to his many previous candidacies. So far, no one has emerged to take on Burks’ fellow freshman, CM Jack Christie, and the two members running for their third terms, CMs Stephen Costello and Brad Bradford, are also unopposed. Both Costello and Bradford are known to have future Mayoral ambitions, so the tea leaf readers will have some material to work with after the election. Actually, they’ll have some before it as well, since Bradford is listed as a Hall supporter, while Costello, along with CMs Ed Gonzalez and Al Hoang, are Parker supporters.

District City Council

There are only two open district Council seats thanks to the resignation of now-Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who was succeeded by CM Dave Martin last November. Martin will likely draw a challenger or two as the newbie on Council, but so far all of the action is elsewhere. I am aware of four candidates for the District D seat now held by CM Wanda Adams: businessman and former ReBuild Houston oversight board member Dwight Boykins, who had previously run for At Large #5 in 2003, losing to Michael Berry; Houston Housing Authority board member Assata Richards; photojournalist and businesswoman Georgia Provost; and community advocate Keith Caldwell, who ran for D in 2007 and finished fifth in the field of seven. There had been some buzz about former At Large #5 CM Jolanda Jones throwing her hat in and forcing a legal decision to clarify Houston’s term limits ordinance, but I haven’t heard anything about that in months and have no idea if it is still a possibility.

District I has proven to be the liveliest race so far, as candidates Graci Garces and Ben Mendez have already gotten into the kind of spat that one only sees in election years. Garces is the Chief of Staff to current District I member James Rodriguez, who in turn was Chief of Staff to State Rep. Carol Alvarado when she held that seat; Garces was also on Alvarado’s staff. Mendez is a businessman. They are joined in the race by community activist and Sheriff’s Department employee Robert Gallegos, and Leticia Ablaza. Ablaza is the former Chief of Staff to District A CM Helena Brown, who resigned from that position along with Deputy Chief of Staff RW Bray after less than five months on the job, and she challenged CM Rodriguez in 2011, finishing with 35% of the vote. To say the least, her presence in this race makes it one to watch.

Speaking of CM Helena Brown, the field for District A is big enough to make you think it was an open seat as well. In addition to the incumbent, candidates include former CM Brenda Stardig, who assured me on the phone a few weeks ago that she’s going to run a much more organized and focused campaign than she did in 2011 when Brown ousted her; Amy Peck, the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick who finished third in District A in 2009; and Mike Knox, who has been an HPD officer, Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, and Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. All three have good establishment Republican credentials, and I suspect the strategy for all three is to get into a runoff with Brown and hope to consolidate enough support against her to win. As always, the July finance report will tell an interesting tale, and this is one time where I think the usual suspects will not be on the sidelines early but will already be backing one horse or another.

HISD and HCC

There is one update to report on HISD races. District I Board Member and current Board President Anna Eastman is now opposed by community activist Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for City Council District H in May 2009 to succeed Sheriff Adrian Garcia and finished eighth in the field of nine. District I is my district, and while I think Hugo is a perfectly nice person, I think Anna Eastman is an outstanding Trustee, and I’ll be voting for her in the fall. There are no other active races I’m aware of, but the impending takeover of North Forest ISD will necessitate a redraw of Trustee districts that could force a special election in Districts II and VIII, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche now serve. Neither would be on the ballot in 2013 otherwise. I don’t know what all of the ramifications of this will be, but that’s a possibility to watch out for. Finally, while no one has yet announced a campaign against him, District IX Trustee Larry Marshall continues to provide ammunition for whoever does take the plunge.

Lastly, there are two developments in HCC. There is now a second special election on the ballot, as former Board President Richard Schechter stepped down in January after successfully leading the push for HCC’s bond referendum in November. The board appointed attorney and former General Counsel for HCC Leila Feldman to succeed Schechter. Feldman is also the daughter-in-law of Houston City Attorney David Feldman and is married to Cris Feldman, whom aficionados of all things Tom DeLay will recognize as a key player in bringing about his demise. In any event, she will be on the ballot in November along with appointee Herlinda Garcia, who succeeded State Rep. Mary Perez, and incumbents Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. In the second development, Navarro has drawn two opponents, Zeph Capo, the vice-president and legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers, and community and Democratic activist Kevin Hoffman, who lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. HCC Trustee races never get much attention, but this one will be as high profile as these races get.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be taking a close look at the finance reports when they come out.

UPDATE: Whenever I write one of these posts, I’m going by what I’ve seen and heard. Until the July finance reports come out, there’s no easy way to compile a list of candidate names, unless you drop in on the City Secretary and ask to see the dead tree document of people who have filed designation of campaign treasurer forms. As such, I’m going to miss some people, and I inevitably hear about them after I publish.

Three such names have come to my attention since I posted this. One is former State Rep. Al Edwards, who apparently is actively campaigning for At Large #3. The second is Clyde Lemon, who according to Burt Levine is going to run against HISD Trustee Larry Marshall. Neither has a webpage or a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and Google told me nothing about their efforts, so make of that what you will.

The third candidate I’ve heard of since posting is Ron Hale, who is running in the increasingly large District A field. Hale left a bizarre comment on Levine’s Facebook page, saying that I’m “another blogger trying to keep [his] name out of the article as if it hurts my campaign” and “one person in the district A race is a contributor to off the cuff (sic)”. I have no idea what he’s talking about – I am of course the only “contributor” to Off the Kuff – but whatever. Ron Hale is also running for District A, and now you know.

Mayor Parker kicks off her campaign

It’s the time of the season for Mayor Parker, who has a serious challenger this time, but also a stronger hand to play.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

In her tenure, Parker has given teeth to the city’s historic preservation rules, broken a deadlock with Harris County to help build the Dynamo stadium, gave scandal-ridden Metro new leaders and revised key city codes governing parking and development, the latter of which had languished for six years.

She gave priority in city contracting to local firms, moved to make the troubled city crime lab independent from Houston Police Department, opened a facility to divert drunks from city jails and saw passage of a plan to erase a decades-long backlog of untested rape kits.

Parker oversaw a successful $410 million bond election last fall, and in 2010 welcomed voters’ approval of Rebuild Houston, an ambitious infrastructure renewal program.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said all signs favor Parker, whose only fear should be a low turnout that could see a small group swing the results. Jones said Parker lately has been able to focus on her own plans instead of inherited ills, such as replacing the Metro regime, scrambling to defer pension costs and dealing with legal wrangling over an inflexible red-light camera contract after voters banned the cameras in 2010.

“Bill White left her with a lot of messes to clean up. That, combined with a very tight budget as a result of the recession, led to a difficult first two years,” Jones said. “The second term has been much smoother sailing. The voter mood is going to be much more positive as people go to the polls this fall, and there’s going to be less of a tendency to want to cast a protest vote against the mayor than there was in 2011.”

Perhaps easing the incumbent’s road is the mood of the 16-member City Council, which lately has been more amenable than in recent years. A new convention center hotel, in which the city will invest $138 million, a rewrite of the city’s affirmative action policy and a law allowing motorists to be cited for failing to give cyclists and joggers a wide enough berth all passed without even a “tag,” the one-week delay typical on complex, controversial or high-profile topics.

The difference between the Mayor’s first term and the second is night and day. The first term was all about defense, which is to say all about things she had to deal with rather than things she wanted to deal with. That’s what her second term has been all about, and while she got a lot done in each term it’s much easier to build a campaign around offense. I’ve thought all along that she’d be in better shape this time around, and I still think that. A stronger opponent in 2011 and she’d have been in a runoff. She could still have a tough race this year, but at least the wind isn’t in her face.

The bit about Council is worth noting as well. Part of this is good luck on her part. Two of her biggest antagonists, Jolanda Jones and Mike Sullivan, are no longer on Council. The third, CO Bradford, was appointed Vice Mayor Pro Tem and has largely been a team player ever since. Her main thorn in the side is Helena Brown, and it’s hard to say that’s been a bad development for her since it’s a lot easier to look reasonable and accomplished opposite the likes of CM Brown. Basically, not only has the Mayor had the money to restore or enhance city services, the ability to move her own agenda forward, and a Council that has worked with her a lot more than it has worked against her. If she doesn’t feel better about this campaign than the last one, she ought to.

She entered the 2011 election with an approval rating of 47 percent, the lowest of any mayor in decades, narrowly avoiding a runoff despite spending $2.3 million and facing five poorly-funded unknowns. Political observers had said Parker needed a decisive win to prevent a challenge this year, and 50.8 percent of the vote was not it.

Enter Ben Hall, a wealthy lawyer capable of financing his own campaign who served as City Attorney from 1992 to 1994. Hall says city taxes and fees are driving residents to the suburbs. He says Parker lacks vision and wastes time tinkering with smartphone apps and food trucks while Houston misses opportunities for international business growth.

“A mayor must do more than simply balance a budget,” Hall has said. “We need more than just a manager, we need a leader.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said there may be some truth in Hall’s statements, but he said these are not significant enough to ignite anti-incumbent passions, adding that Hall’s message has lacked the specificity voters need to choose him over Parker.

“Motivations for mayoral elections are more about tremendous things that have gone wrong as opposed to more or less a tweak to what’s going right,” Rottinghaus said. “He’s got to make a really compelling case as to why things need to be changed, and as of yet, I’m not sure we’ve seen that.”

Hall has made criticism of Parker’s vision, or lack of it, a main point of his campaign. That’s certainly a valid line of attack, but as I’ve said before, Hall’s own vision isn’t apparent. Rottinghaus makes a good point as well, in that generally speaking when trying to knock off an incumbent, you have to give people a reason to fire that incumbent before you can convince them that you’re a viable alternative. The case to fire the Mayor is harder to make when times are good and things are getting done. Plus, I think people generally like the Mayor. She has her share of opponents to be sure, but it’s not like we’re inundated with anti-Parker chatter. Her biggest challenge is going to be making sure that the people who do like her get out to vote. If I were her, I’d want turnout to exceed 2011’s anemic levels. Complacency is her enemy. Work that ground game and don’t settle for a small voter universe. In the meantime, I’ll be very interested to see what the June campaign finance reports look like, not just for how much each candidate raises but also for who is giving to whom. Parker has always had a broad fundraising base, and she starts out with a fair amount of cash. Hall can write his own check, but having his own broad base and getting support from sources that have given to Parker before would be a strong statement on his part. We’ll see how that goes.

Endorsement watch: Planned Parenthood gets an early start

From the inbox on Friday:

Today the Board of Directors of the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast ACTION FUND Inc, (PPGCAF) voted to endorse the following candidates for the November City Election. Each of the endorsed candidates has demonstrated a strong commitment to the health and well being of Texas women and families. PPGCAF encourages all Houston registered voters to cast their ballot for candidates who support women’s health education, information and services. 

 

  • Annise Parker for Mayor
  • Ronald Green for Controller
  • Stephen Costello for Houston City Council At-Large Pos. 1
  • C.O. Brad Bradford for Houston City Council At-Large Position 4
  • Jerry Davis for Houston City Council District B
  • Ellen Cohen for Houston City Council District C
  • Ed Gonzalez for Houston City Council District H
  • Mike Laster for Houston City Council District J
  • Larry Green for Houston City Council District K
  • Anna Eastman for HISD Board of Trustees District I

A copy of the release is here. I’m still a little too focused on the legislative session to pay that much attention to the city elections, but I’m not going to let a slate like this pass by without notice. The only mild surprise on this list is CM Costello, who started out as a Republican in good standing but who has been a pragmatic moderate in office. He drew a challenge from the right in 2011 and will likely draw another this time around, but he was still viewed with considerable skepticism by left-leaning groups despite winning numerous endorsements from Democratic clubs. It’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out this time around.

The PPGCAF will likely have more endorsements to make as the open seat contests come into greater focus; it’s possible they’ll take a side against an incumbent or two, depending on who files for what. I’ll be curious to see if they take a position in At Large #2, where CM Andrew Burks is a Democrat but will almost surely face a strong challenge or two. The same is true for HIDS Trustee Larry Marshall. Speaking of HISD, Anna Eastman now has an opponent, Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for District H in 2009. As I noted before, there are currently no open seats in HISD. Campos had an update on who’s filed designations of treasurer so far. Needless to say, that list is a work in progress. This is as good a time as any to ask what rumors and rumblings you’ve heard lately. Leave a comment and let us know.

After school programs

I see a lot of merit in this.

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

After-school programs prevent crime, Councilman C.O. Bradford said, so some of them should be paid for by the police.

“This sounds strange to hear a gun-packing, badge-toting, 24-year cop talking about this,” said Bradford, Houston’s former police chief, but he proposes hiring 20 fewer police officers in the coming year and using the savings to put nearly 2,000 more children into homework clubs, sports, scholarship coaching and museum tours.

The Houston Police Department plans to conduct three 70-member cadet academies in the coming year to replace those who retire or resign from the 5,300-member force. Bradford said having 10 fewer cadets in two of the classes could save the city $1.6 million, enough to put an entire large middle school’s worth of children into activities each weekday afternoon.

“Nobody’s going to miss an additional 10 officers spread over 640-plus square miles,” he said Tuesday.

The area’s after-school advocates have turned to Bradford as the front man for their sociological strategy over an exclusively lock-’em-up approach to public safety.

The Harris County Department of Education, the Houston Endowment and others interested in expanding the offerings appointed Bradford chairman of their after-school enrichment consortium.

The group, which goes by the acronym ENRICH, is rounding up research that documents correlations between after-school programs and lower crime rates. It also is tallying available funding for county programs, which it reports is $63 million a year in mostly federal money. It is on Bradford’s own initiative that he is seeking police funding to serve more kids.

The story notes that HPD Chief Charles McClelland is not on board with this, Mayor Parker has expressed some support but is not backing it, and several Council members including CM Ellen Cohen ran on platforms that included support for increasing the size of the police academy classes. Certainly, in all the interviews I did in 2011, I can’t recall anyone expressing a contrary opinion about hiring more cops. In other words, CM Bradford has a tough row to hoe. But I think he’s onto something, and I hope people listen to him. As with many things, prevention is less costly and more effective than mitigation. Crime rates have been declining across the board for years, which should make us question what the “right” size of HPD should be. I’d like to know if there’s some research to back up this proposition. We should learn more about this, and we should be willing to consider it as another tool in the crimefighting box.

Council adopts strip club fee

Here it comes.

Seeking a solution to the bedeviling problem of untested rape evidence that is in some cases decades old, council imposed a $5-per-customer fee on strip clubs Wednesday so it can buy speedier lab work.

That simple solution, however, may come with complications of its own, starting with court costs.

“Houston has now bought itself the certainty of ongoing litigation,” said Los Angeles-based attorney John Weston, who represents the Association of Club Executives of Houston. Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said she believes the city is on solid ground because the Houston ordinance she championed is based on a $5-per-customer statewide fee she authored as a state representative. That fee was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court last year.

[…]

Cohen has said the Houston fee would raise $1 million to $3 million a year for rape evidence testing.

Collections in Houston will depend, in part, on who has to pay. Cohen estimated that about 30 clubs would be covered by her ordinance. The state has collected from 20 clubs in the city. A local attorney for the clubs said only a handful fit the city’s definition of a sexually-oriented business, while an additional 50 clubs’ entertainers wear just enough clothing to skirt the classification.

In the end, Cohen sold the ordinance to her colleagues as she declared, “We have waited long enough.” Council passed it by a vote of 14-1.

The need to clear the rape kit backlog was cited by CMs Oliver Pennington and CO Bradford as justification for their vote in favor. Given the certainty of litigation and the fact that the state-collected fee has not yet been appropriated because of that, it’s not clear to me that this will actually shorten the wait to get this done. I suspect the main question to be argued before the courts is which clubs are truly on the hook for this fee. It won’t surprise me if it’s a few years before we get an answer to that.

All the budget amendments

Here’s a Google doc upload of all of the budget amendments from Council members to Mayor Parker. All members except CMs Bradford and Hoang submitted at least one amendment, with some (Brown, Sullivan, Green) submitting more than others. I’ve given the whole thing a cursory look, and while much of what is in here has been reported on, there are a couple of things to catch your eye. The one that I spotted was from CM Ed Gonzalez, who proposes that the city create a process that only grants construction or occupancy permits to individuals who are up to date on all taxes, fees, and fines to the city. My main reaction to that is “why haven’t we always done it that way?” Be that as it may, have a look and see for yourself what your Council members want to do with the fiscal year 2013 budget.

Council is skeptical of Hobby International

Not so clear skies for expanding Hobby Airport into an international terminal.

A consultant’s study that forecasts an economic boon for Houston if Hobby is made into an international airport came under fire from city council members Monday as “biased” and “custom-made just to satisfy the demand of Southwest” Airlines, which is asking the city for permission to build a $100 million Customs facility and five-gate expansion at Hobby.

In a three-hour grilling of Houston Airports Director Mario Diaz, council members complained that the numbers in the study strained credulity, that they were kept in the dark about Southwest’s pitch for at least eight months, that airport officials have been condescending and that council and others should have been asked for input before Diaz recommended approval of the Hobby expansion.

According to the study, an international Hobby would lead to the creation of 10,000 jobs and inject $1.6 billion annually into the Houston area economy, as well as lower air fares. Comments from the general public have been overwhelmingly in support of Southwest’s plan to start flying to Mexico and the Caribbean.

The study is here; it and other supporting documents can be found here. I’ve skimmed the study but have not given it a full read yet.

“What may be the largest issue perhaps of the century, you all have blown it in my view,” Councilman C.O. Bradford told Diaz. “This rollout simply has been a complete disaster. I mean lack of transparency, arbitrary time lines, total disregard, disrespect for council. It’s just unconscionable.”

Councilman Al Hoang said, “I feel that this report is already biased, it’s already custom-made just to satisfy the demand of Southwest.”

[…]

Councilman Andrew Burks questioned the numbers in the report and singled out a projected fare of $133 to Bogota.

“You can’t even fly from Houston to Lubbock on Southwest for $133,” Burks said. “I really want to just throw this proposal out the window because, right now, when I see numbers that can’t match, it just don’t work for me.”

I can’t address Council members’ complaints that they have been disrespected, but from what I have seen of the study it seems pretty sensible to me. The case for international flights at Hobby is straightforward. There’s currently almost no competition for the market to Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Hobby is well suited to provide low cost carrier flights to that market, and Houston is about as ideal a population center for those flights as you could want. Several other cities have more than one international terminal, and recent history shows that not only can that work, the original carrier winds up increasing service as well. (See also page 18 of the study.) Unlike United, Southwest has other options for its international gateway if Houston passes; Orange County’s John Wayne Airport has a new Federal Inspection Service and would be a good alternative for Southwest.

Like I’ve said, I’m not the expert on this in the family – I’m working on getting her to contribute to this topic once more. I can’t speak to the specific objections Council members have raised. Perhaps the topline numbers – ten thousand jobs! $1.5 billion in economic activity! – are overstated. But honestly, does anyone believe that Houston fliers would not benefit from the increased competition? I don’t get it. I hope this was just Council doing its due diligence and not rejecting out of hand what looks like a good deal to me.

A bit of perspective on pensions

Mayor Parker and current members of Council will receive pensions from the city some day. They also will some day vote on what steps the city should take to deal with the pension system. Is that a problem?

“Whenever you’re an elected official, there’s not an easy way around it,” agreed Josh McGee, vice president for public accountability initiatives at the Houston-based Arnold Foundation, who has studied pensions nationwide.

[…]

Both McGee and University of Houston economics professor Steven Craig said they are less worried about council conflicts of interest than about pension boards’ makeup.

As a recent city bond prospectus describes it: “The majority of the trustees of each pension system have a personal interest in the pension plan administered by each board of trustees.” It also notes, “No legal challenges have arisen as a result of potential conflicts of interest.”

“There is no one representing future taxpayers” on the pension boards, Craig wrote in an email. “It is a terrible thing to ask taxpayers of the future to pay for wages of the past.”

Todd Clark, chairman of the board of trustees of the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund, said in an emailed statement: “It is absolutely suitable for those whom the plan is for to be on the board, particularly as opposed to parties that may want to use the plan money for other things.”

Seems to me we ask taxpayers of the future to pay for lots of things from the past. I don’t know what’s so terrible about asking them to honor good faith agreements made before their time. Clark is absolutely right to note that having pension boards made up entirely of people for whom it is other people’s money is problematic in other ways. I don’t see what the fuss is about. Find me a publicly traded company whose board of directors has no stockholders in that company on it, then we can talk.

Council Member Bradford, who as a 24-year HPD employee is one of those people eligible for a substantive pension, tries to bring some perspective.

Bradford said he does not support a change in the pension boards, though he is open to discussing it. He noted, as pension officials do, that pension obligations currently account for only 9 percent of the city’s general fund budget. Yet, much of the recent discussion of the city’s long-range finances has revolved around pensions.

“If we change the board of the pension, you’ve still got 91 percent of the problem elsewhere,” Bradford said.

You mean 91 percent of the budget elsewhere, which as we all know goes primarily to the police and fire departments. Pensions are going to account for a bigger share of the budget soon, but it’s still the case that HPD and HFD are the biggest items in there. I’m just glad I’m not the only one saying that we do have other things to look at and talk about than just pensions.

Lykos v Anderson

I obviously don’t have a dog in the Republican District Attorney primary fight, but I like a good high-profile political battle as much as the next junkie, so stories about it are interesting to me.

[DA Pat] Lykos argues she is a reformer with three years of improvements under her belt while Mike Anderson, a popular 30-year veteran of the courthouse, is trying to convince voters the machine used to be better run.

“A prosecutor needs to run that office,” said Anderson, who was an assistant Harris County district attorney for 16 years before spending 12 years as a felony criminal court judge.

“It’s an enormous undertaking for anybody,” Anderson said. “It would be very hard for anybody who has never been a prosecutor and never tried a case as a prosecutor to run that office.”

Lykos scoffs at the criticism. She insists that her experience as a former police officer and a former judge lets her put together the big pieces of the criminal justice puzzle.

“We cannot go backwards. Those days are gone,” Lykos said. “We have to work smart, we have to be tough and always fair.”

Like I said, I have no dog in this fight, but at the risk of making Murray Newman‘s head explode, I do think Lykos has been an improvement over Chuck Rosenthal. Might Kelly Siegler have been a similar improvement over Rosenthal? Maybe, though I felt strongly at the time that bringing about change necessarily required a genuine housecleaning. From a crassly political perspective, I preferred to have our candidate C.O. Bradford run against Rosenthal’s top lieutenant than against some outsider. Maybe Mike Anderson would be an improvement over Lykos – maybe the Rosenthal problem was the man himself more than anything else, so that any change would have been sufficient – I have no idea. What I know is that Rosenthal was a clown and an embarrassment, and Lykos, whatever else you may say about her, has not been.

“She is someone who Republican women, who are the heart and soul of the Republican party in Harris County, would die for,” said Harris County GOP chairman Jared Woodfill. “She has earned their respect.”

Woodfill heartily endorsed Lykos.

“She came in to that office at some challenging times and has done a great job,” Woodfill said. “Pat has a very successful record, and the last thing we need is a big primary fight at the top of the ticket.”

I marvel at this, because Democrats would openly revolt if our party chair picked a side in a primary between two candidates of good standing. I can see the merit of Woodfill’s position, though I disagree about the merits of a big primary fight, but we do our business differently, and I prefer it that way.

Republicans will have to decide between the two in April, but there won’t be any confusion about where either stands.

Anderson has attacked Lykos for DIVERT, a program she created that allows the equivalent of deferred adjudication for first offense DWIs, and her “trace case” policy, which lessened penalties for possession of trace amounts of crack cocaine or crack pipes.

Lykos says the trace case policy has lowered the jail population by 1,000 inmates and freed up resources for more severe crimes.

As you know, I agree with Lykos on this. That causes some conflict for me when I think about this politically. On the one hand, I’d rather see Anderson win because I like my opponents to be wrong about important things. On the other hand, I’d rather see Lykos win because we’re all better off when bad ideas get rejected. So yeah, I’ll be staying neutral.

Don’t draw broad conclusions from muddled evidence

I have a number of issues with the analysis presented in this Chron story about what happened in the runoffs and What It All Means.

The results illustrate a continuation of a national trend of anger and frustration toward government during the worst economic stretch since the Great Depression, political observers said.

In short: Voters want change.

“A lot of people are angry at virtually all institutions and the government is high on their list,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “And these are the people in a low-turnout election that are most likely to show up because they are angry. They’re agitated.”

[…]

The results show clear opposition to the status quo, particularly following a general election in which Mayor Annise Parker and several council members narrowly avoided runoff elections, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“It’s a strong repudiation of this administration – not just the mayor, but the council,” Stein said.

First of all, I believe that voters who are angry and agitated vote. I don’t see how that’s consistent with an election with six percent turnout. I refer you to the 2010 election, and the historically high Republican turnout, for a canonical example. Maybe it’s just me, but the words I use to describe an electorate that fails to show up like this are “disengaged” and “apathetic”. Your mileage may vary.

But maybe turnout was disproportionately high in District A, which is the one election out of the four where I will agree there were angry voters sending a message to someone. To see if that was the case, I checked the ratio of turnout in districts to the Harris County portion of the citywide turnout for runoffs in the past five elections. This is what I found:

Year Dist Turnout Overall Ratio =================================== 2011 A 8.28 6.08 1.36 2011 B 6.76 6.08 1.11 2009 A 18.82 16.48 1.14 2009 F 13.41 16.48 0.81 2007 D 6.29 2.70 2.33 2007 E 5.05 2.70 1.87 2005 B 4.92 4.02 1.22 2005 C 9.38 4.02 2.33 2003 F 18.98 22.71 0.84 2003 G 29.53 22.71 1.30 2003 H 20.57 22.71 0.91

I only went back as far as 2003 because that’s as far back as the County Clerk has runoff data. The ratio of District A turnout to overall is higher than average, but by no means historic. To be fair, the higher level of turnout overall compared to the 2007 and 2005 runoffs may be masking the effect. There’s just not enough data points for me to say, and we’re still talking about eight percent turnout in A. I have a hard time assigning any special meaning to that.

Further, I strongly disagree with taking the result in District A and extrapolating it to the rest of the city. With all due respect to Professor Stein, if the voters intended to repudiate the Mayor a month after re-electing her, Jolanda Jones is the last Council member they should be kicking to the curb. CM Jones was arguably the Mayor’s most vocal and visible critic on Council. I feel pretty confident that they’re not losing any sleep in the Mayor’s office over this result. We may not know exactly what we’ll get with CM-Elect Jack Christie, but we do know that he’s a supporter of Rebuild Houston and that he voted to keep the red light cameras.

Perhaps there was an anti-incumbent message in these results. For sure, CMs Jones and Stardig are the first sitting Council members to be unelected since Jean Kelly in 1999, and only the third and fourth incumbents of any kind to lose since term limits were established. I would argue that there are unique circumstances to each of their losses. To put it mildly, CM Jones had some baggage, and was very nearly ousted in 2009. I’ve been saying all along that a runoff would be a crapshoot for her, and indeed she rolled snake eyes. With the help of Gene Locke’s mayoral campaign she was able to win the turnout fight two years ago, but not this time. I suspect as well that her performance deteriorated in Anglo and Hispanic Democratic areas – I’m sure the Bill White endorsement of Christie had some effect on that – though that’s a question that will have to wait for the precinct data.

As for District A itself, those voters did mostly vote against incumbents last time around, so it’s probably not much of a surprise that they did it to their incumbent District member in the runoff. That said, CM Stardig clearly had her own set of baggage. If anyone can think of another situation offhand in which the three prior incumbents of a given Council district were supporting the opponent of the current incumbent, let me know about it, because I doubt it’s happened any time recently. Far as I can tell, she didn’t have much of a campaign going into the November election – her eight day report showed expenditures on signs, some ads in neighborhood newspapers, and a $6K ad in the Texas Conservative Review that I’m guessing wasn’t well-received; her 30 day report had practically nothing. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but let this be Exhibit A for future incumbents: Unless you’re unopposed, run hard. You never know. Hell, run hard even if you are unopposed. Never hurts to get people into the habit of voting for you – your name ID probably isn’t as good as you think it is.

Putting this another way, Stardig was primaried, and she was not prepared for it. Redistricting did her no favors on that score, either. It will be interesting to see how CM-Elect Helena Brown reconciles her professed political beliefs with the sort of things that constituents tend to expect to get done. Maybe there is such a thing as a Republican pothole.

There’s still two other races to consider. The result in District B could be considered an anti-incumbent vote, but when you consider that the outgoing incumbent is CM Jarvis Johnson, is it really that surprising? As for Prof. Stein’s thesis, here’s what CM-Elect Jerry Davis had to say for himself:

Davis, 38, said he hoped to begin working with the administration as quickly as possible to cut down his learning curve as he gets set to start his first job as a public representative. He said his main goal as a council member would be to represent the priorities of District B constituents.

“My job is to represent the people and do what the people want me to do and that’s going to be the number one step,” Davis said.

I mentioned before that of the five candidates I interviewed, only Davis said he supported Renew Houston prior to the referendum passing. If you listen to the interview I did with him, you will also note that Davis supported the red light cameras, again being the only candidate in the district to do so. Way to repudiate the Parker Administration, District B voters!

As for Burks v Thibaut, good luck making sense out of that one. Again, I’ll wait till I see precinct data, but it seems to me that the vaunted “pincer strategy” of African-Americans plus Republicans finally worked. Why Republican voters fell into line behind an Obama delegate at the 2008 DNC convention who once ran for HCDP Chair is a bit puzzling to me, but I suppose stranger things have happened. It’s not like Burks is well-known for policy positions, so he’s a pretty blank slate onto which one can project whatever one wants, and then there is that Hotze embrace to whet the appetite. I don’t think this result would have happened in an election where the votes were distributed more proportionally. Perhaps someone will test that hypothesis in two years’ time. Like I said, we’ll see what the precinct data tells us. Oh, and for what it’s worth, the one elected official who endorsed CM-Elect Andrew Burks was CM Brad Bradford. If you want a guide for how Burks is likely to vote, I’d say to start there. Greg and Stace have more.

Precinct analysis: 2011 At Large races, part 1

Here’s a look at the election returns in each Council district for the three “normal” At Large races, in At Large #1, #3, and #4. First up is #1, where first term incumbent CM Stephen Costello won a narrow majority for a second term.

Dist Costello Galvan Boates Cook ====================================== A 46.25% 7.44% 28.98% 17.34% B 42.41% 9.19% 18.17% 30.24% C 63.58% 5.07% 19.66% 11.68% D 46.48% 8.23% 20.82% 24.47% E 42.68% 6.21% 33.25% 17.86% F 45.46% 9.03% 22.44% 23.07% G 53.55% 3.44% 30.58% 12.43% H 53.68% 18.22% 12.30% 15.80% I 48.36% 22.10% 12.91% 16.62% J 50.64% 9.05% 21.56% 18.74% K 52.14% 7.15% 19.85% 20.87%

Costello’s numbers roughly match those of Mayor Parker – he did a little better in some districts, a little worse in others, and finished about a percentage point higher than the Mayor. A couple of things stand out to me. One, for all of the anti-Renew Houston backlash in District A, Costello didn’t do too badly there; he received as many votes as Brenda Stardig but had a higher percentage of the vote, as there was a greater undervote in his race. The total among his three opponents was about the same as Helena Brown’s total, so who knows, maybe all of the Bob Schoellkopf voters skipped this race. Two, the fact that James Partsch-Galvan was able to score in double digits in Districts H and I is a clear indicator to me that little to no voter outreach was done in those districts, at least for this race. No rational voter, given even minimal information about the candidates, would ever choose Partsch-Galvan. Greg suggests that CM Costello needs to work on increasing his name recognition, and I’m inclined to agree. When people don’t know anything about the candidates they’re voting for beyond the names they see in front of them, strange things happen.

Moving on to At Large #3:

Dist Noriega Carmona Batteau ============================== A 48.35% 34.81% 16.84% B 53.76% 15.36% 30.88% C 66.58% 23.62% 9.80% D 51.89% 14.82% 33.28% E 43.06% 41.43% 15.51% F 49.26% 32.34% 18.39% G 46.92% 40.23% 12.85% H 68.16% 19.62% 12.23% I 70.08% 18.12% 11.80% J 55.64% 26.48% 17.88% K 56.49% 20.80% 22.71%

CM Noriega had over 55% of the vote, which is right in line with her performance in the 2007 special election runoff. She won majorities outside of the Republican districts, though her totals in B, D, and K were likely diminished by the presence of Brad Batteau, even if some people thought he was in another race. Carmona did decently in E and G but was mostly background noise in the rest of the districts. He had less money than Scott Boates did, but as Carmona did not try to have it both ways with his party ID, it probably worked better for him. One more thing to note is how well Noriega did in Districts H and I. Having a Latino name surely didn’t hurt, but let’s not forget that Noriega lives in District I and is pretty well known in and around there. She did better in I than its district Council Member, James Rodriguez: Noriega received 4,282 votes to Rodriguez’s 4,045. Point being, once again, that being known to the voters is a necessary condition for performing to expectations.

Finally, At Large #4:

Dist Bradford Molnar Price ============================== A 59.66% 14.08% 26.26% B 84.79% 4.63% 10.58% C 65.64% 10.81% 23.55% D 83.70% 4.51% 11.79% E 60.52% 12.40% 27.08% F 55.85% 15.19% 28.96% G 67.61% 10.75% 21.64% H 57.52% 17.58% 24.90% I 52.43% 21.77% 25.81% J 57.19% 14.69% 28.12% K 73.82% 7.76% 18.42%

CM Bradford had easily the best showing among contested citywide candidates, and one of the best showings overall. He also did not have something that Costello, Noriega, and Jolanda Jones had: A Republican opponent. My guess is that if you’d thrown a token R into his race – imagine Jack O’Connor moving into At Large #4 instead of the Mayor’s race after leaving At Large #5 – you’d likely move Bradford’s numbers down into the Costello-Noriega range. It’s impossible to say with any certainty, of course. There are so many factors to consider. Unlike Costello and Noriega, Bradford did get the CCLUB endorsement, which surely helped him in the Republican areas, but who knows if he’d have gotten it over a real Republican. I don’t want to understate Bradford’s strength as a candidate – he’s now won two multi-candidate races in a row with large majorities, which is no small feat – but I don’t want to overstate it, either. He was in a different race than his colleagues, and that makes it hard to compare them.

I’m working on analyses of the At Large #2 cattle call, and of course the At Large #5 race as well. Look for them shortly. Let me know what you think of this.

Endorsement watch: Noriega and Bradford

Another twofer, and another easy and obvious choice in At Large #3.

For the past four years Houston has been well served in At-Large City Council Position 3 by Melissa Noriega. We recommend Noriega for a third and final term at City Hall. In her service on council, Noriega has demonstrated a welcome ability to be a team player and consensus builder in city government. The Scarborough High School graduate, hailing from a family with deep roots in education, is herself a career educator, having served 27 years in several key administrative and staff positions at the Houston Independent School District.

[…]

Noriega and the other four at-large council members have a unique role in working with district representatives and, in particular, identifying those areas where quality of life is suffering because of inequities in the placement of capital improvement projects. She is committed to pressing for fairness in this process to help close gaps in the quality of life for residents in different parts of the city.

Melissa Noriega will give all Houstonians informed, energetic representation in a third term as an at-large councilmember. We urge city voters to cast a ballot for Noriega.

You can listen to my interview with CM Noriega here. I think she does excellent work, and I agree with the Chron’s assessment.

The Chron stayed with the incumbent in At Large #4 as well.

In the race for Houston City Council At-Large Position 4, voters have a choice among two attractive political newcomers and a well-regarded incumbent, former Chief of Police C.O. “Brad” Bradford.

With a nod of encouragement to the newcomers to continue with their political efforts in the future, we heartily recommend Bradford for a new term. He brings to council judgment, maturity and wide experience in handling budgets, personnel and management issues.

[…]

C.O. “Brad” Bradford is a significant leadership resource on Houston City Council. We commend him to voters for another term.

My interview with CM Bradford is here, with Louis Molnar is here, and with Amy Price is here. As I’ve noted, the Chron doesn’t usually mention anyone but the endorsed candidate – this is only the third time out of fifteen, and one of those was to castigate the incumbent as they recommended his opponent – so good for them for that.

The Chron seems to have set itself up for an eventful weekend, with At Large #5 presumably coming tomorrow, and Mayor on Sunday. My prediction is that the Chron will decline to endorse CM Jolanda Jones for a third term. They did endorse her in 2009 and in 2007, so I could very well be wrong about this. What do you think?

Jones saga comes to a close

At long last.

A three-member panel led by Mayor Annise Parker has found insufficient cause to believe Councilwoman Jolanda Jones breached council ethics violations documented in a city investigation.

In a four-page report, the panel also criticized the Office of Inspector General investigation for its “lack of thoroughness” and for finding in some cases that Jones broke rules that do not even apply to her as an elected official.

Though the report notes some concerns about Jones’ behavior, it largely clears her of any violations of city rules and ends all inquiries into whether Jones used her city resources to support her private law practice.

[…]

The panel, on which Councilwoman Sue Lovell and Councilman C.O. Bradford also sit, came to an agreement with Jones that requires her to remove her council phone number from the card. The agreement also calls for her to conduct ethics training for her staff, to take steps to separate her council business from her law practice and to create records that show any employee who drives her to court is not doing so on city time.

The panel could have sent the matter to the entire council for possible sanction that could have included removing Jones from office. But the panel declined to forward the matter, and its action today concludes an eight-month saga that produced little physical evidence of violations of law beyond a single business-related fax sent from her council office fax machine.

You can see the panel report at the link above. Last week, the DA declined to bring charges against CM Jones in the matter, so this was the last item on the to do list. At the time, Mayor Parker said she wanted to defer till after the election, but CM Jones wanted to get it done, so I presume the Mayor acceded to her wishes. May we not see any reason for another ethics panel for a long time.

Interview with CM Brad Bradford

CM C.O. Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford is in his first term of service in At Large #4. A former Chief of Police with HPD and the Democratic nominee for District Attorney in 2008, CM Bradford has been one of the more high profile Council members recently, frequently as a critic of Mayor Parker. I can’t say I’ve always understood his perspective in these matters, but I can say that I came away from our conversation with a fuller understanding of where he’s coming from, and I appreciate that. Give it a listen and see what you think:

Download the MP3 file

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

The long-term recycling deal

I noticed this when it was posted last week but didn’t give it much thought at the time.

There’s a 20-year no-bid contract on today’s City Council agenda.

That’s legal because it’s an amendment to an existing contract, not a new contract.

But it’s still got Councilman Ed Gonzalez‘s attention. He tagged it last week so that it could not be voted on until today. And today, City Hall sources say, Gonzalez will propose sending it back to the administration to have the recycling contract bid competitively.

“The markets are emerging and the value of the commodity is emerging,” Councilman C.O. Bradford said Tuesday, and that emerging value is increasing. “So why would we lock ourselves into a 20-year deal?”

Environmentalists are also questioning the wisdom of the contract.

“We think it makes common sense that it should be bid because you’re going to get a better deal for Houston taxpayers if you have an open, competitive process,” said Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

The effort by CM Gonzalez to send this back was successful. Trahan emailed me later with some background on all that happened. From his email:

Houston had a short-term contract (through 2012) with Abitibi when they owned the facility, then WMI bought the recycling center, and then city officials begun working on a long-term recycling contract extension with WMI. We found out about this contract about two weeks ago, and together with allies at the SEIU Texas State Council, the Apollo Alliance and the Houston Sierra Club, we’ve been working to delay its adoption and make sure it goes through a competitive “request for proposal” process instead. At today’s City Council meeting it seems we were successful.

Of course, our organizations have spent the past couple weeks communicating with the Solid Waste Management Department, Mayor Parker and all City Council Members about this contract. We spoke at length with Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian. We sent email alerts to our members urging them to contact Houston officials. Our phone-banking staff asked our members to participate by calling Mayor Parker and other Council Members directly.

However, we also reached out to other waste and recycling companies to gauge their level of interest in submitting a formal proposal. Two companies – Texas Disposal Systems, out of Austin, and Greenstar, here in Houston – have expressed interest so far. These companies both sent letters to Mayor Parker and the Council Members communicating that they would indeed bid and compete for the contract if given the opportunity. A representative from Greenstar even attended today’s city council meeting to testify to this effect. During the meeting Council Member Gonzalez made a motion to send the contract back to the administration to go through the RFP process, and that motion prevailed. We see this as a victory for recycling and a victory for Houston taxpayers, because an open, competitive bidding process will certainly result in the best recycling contract and the best deal for Houston residents.

Of course this issue is far from settled. We’re only beginning our work. Next we must ensure the RFP itself is designed with the right criteria in mind – not just that Houston officials should go with the “lowest bidder,” but that we should identify the best overall recycling program for our money. Then we must work to see that the best proposal really is selected, and to defeat efforts by any company or companies attempting to use their connections at city hall to influence the process. We’ll keep you posted as this process moves forward.

Here’s a copy of a letter that was sent to Mayor Parker by Trahan and folks from the Apollo Alliance, the Sierra Club, and the SEIU Texas State Council. I’m glad to see that this deal will now be competitively bid, and I think Trahan and his colleagues are correct to think in terms of the deal in more than just lowest-cost terms. For example, according to that blog post the deal that had been in the works with WMI called for them to give the city 15,000 big green recycling carts this year and 1,500 carts a year thereafter. That sounds like a lot until you realize that as of February there were 270,000 households serviced by Houston’s Solid Waste department that do not have the big bins. I’d like to see the speed at which the companies would get these wheely-bins to the public be part of the bid evaluation. For that matter, I’d like to see what ideas these guys have for expanding the recycling program beyond the 375,000 households that Solid Waste serves. Do they have any thoughts about getting apartments, office buildings, restaurants, or other commercial establishments involved? This is a 20-year deal, we should be thinking big. Think about what you’d like to see and let your Council members know.

More on the red light camera ruling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jones and Sullivan name their delegates

As we know, CM Jolanda Jones gets to pick a fellow Council member to represent her in the meeting on Monday to determine if any formal action will be taken against her. Yesterday, she picked CM Brad Bradford to be her advocate in the process. Originally, the city said that the other two people on the panel would be Mayor Parker and CM Mike Sullivan as the person who filed the complaint, but later revised that to say that Sullivan needed to designate someone else, too. Though Sullivan was given an extended deadline till today to make a choice (a step-out to the process that generated some grumbling from Team Jones), he made his choice yesterday as well, naming CM Sue Lovell to represent him. The subtext to that is so deep you’ll need scuba equipment to begin to comprehend it. Anyway, Monday is the big day. I for one am looking forward to whatever emerges from this.

Inspector General cites CM Jones

Ouch.

Houston City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones used city employees to help run her personal law practice and instructed her staff not to meet with investigators looking into her alleged misconduct, the city’s inspector general has determined.

For three of the six findings, Jones could face misdemeanor criminal charges.

In a June 2 memorandum to Mayor Annise Parker, Inspector General Robert A. Doguim reported that Jones — who is seeking a third term for her at-large seat – violated a city ethics ordinance and the mayor’s executive order on internal investigations three times each. The activities involve the improper use of city resources and personnel as well as Jones’ lack of cooperation and truthfulness with the Office of Inspector General, the probe revealed.

[…]

The investigation stemmed from a complaint about Jones, a criminal defense lawyer, distributing “Know Your Rights With The Police” cards that advise residents never to speak with law enforcement. The handouts included phone numbers to her council office and law office. She has explained that she has distributed a version of the card since before her election in 2007.

But in interviews with Jones’ staff, the inspector general’s investigators found violations beyond the handout and determined that the councilwoman has used employees on city time to notarize documents for her law practice, fax legal papers and drive her to court hearings.

You can see a copy of the report here. While Mayor Parker thinks that the charges don’t rise to a “criminal level”, she does think that Council should consider taking action against her.

“I think it’s going to fall somewhere in the range of — depending on how the council member responds – some form of censure,” Parker said.

When asked if censure in the case of Jones was sufficient to deter other public officials from committing misdeeds, Parker said:

Just the fact that we’re having this public discussion is enough to impact any public official. It always causes us to pause and think about what we’re doing and examine our own behavior.

Whether or not Jones faces censure is up to her fellow Council members.

Several steps must be taken before the council can discipline a member.

First, a member must file a letter of complaint outlining alleged misconduct by another member. The mayor then would convene a three-person committee consisting of herself, the complaining member and a member appointed by the target of the complaint. That committee must vote to forward the complaint to the full city council.

So far, no one on the council has publicly indicated an intention to file a complaint that would start the process.

Councilman Mike Sullivan, chairman of the council’s Ethics and Governance Committee, said, “As disappointed as I am in how this has gone — and I think it’s a poor reflection on council – I am much more focused on issues at hand, such as the drainage fee problem that we’re dealing with, and will leave it up to another council member if they choose to move forward with a request.”

When asked if she thought Jones deserved to be disciplined, Councilwoman Wanda Adams said, “I don’t know because I’m not in that situation, so I’m really not commenting on the case right now.”

Councilman C.O. Bradford, a former Houston police chief, said he intends to review the Jones probe before commenting on possible action.

“I want to know the facts supporting the conclusions that were drawn in the summary,” Bradford said.

Jack Christie, who narrowly lost to Jones two years ago in an election in which he had the endorsement of four sitting council members, called on Jones to resign Thursday, and said he will run against her again if she does not.

Christie’s campaign manager told me he was indeed running and that a formal announcement was coming soon. You can read his press release here. I think it’s premature to talk about resignation – she is entitled to defend herself – but if Council censures her, she ought to give it serious consideration. Even if she survives that, she needs to think long and hard about whether she should run for that third term or not.

For her part, CM Jones released this statement, which you can see on her Facebook page:

“I have just received this report and will comment further once I have reviewed it. I hold myself and my staff to the highest ethical standards. I look forward to clearing up any misunderstandings with respect to this report as expeditiously as the process permits.”

None of this is good. I like CM Jones, but I don’t see how she can be an effective advocate for any of the things she’s passionate about now. I really hate to see it come to this, because I think CM Jones has a lot of talent and pays attention to things that too often get overlooked. If these charges are proven to be true, she will have no one to blame but herself. It’s just a shame.

Eight, not five

Mayor Parker says that initial estimates of how much the average homeowner would pay for the new drainage fee were understated.

Mayor Annise Parker acknowledged Tuesday that her administration erred in telling voters that the average homeowner’s monthly Proposition 1 drainage fee would be $5. It is actually closer to $8.25, she said.

Parker said that among the options she will send to the Houston City Council to make up for the error is to lower homeowners’ bills to the $5 average.

The disclosure comes weeks before the city sends out the first bills to help pay for the $8 billion, 20-year plan to shore up its drainage infrastructure that voters narrowly approved last November. And it follows weeks of complaints from home­owners who got sample bills for a monthly charge two, three or more times as high as the one frequently used in the Proposition 1 campaign.

“The typical example we used may have given the wrong impression to the voters and to Council,” Parker said. “I’m going to lay out to Council ways to bring (the rate) it down. I think we probably ought to do that, but Council will need to do this with me.”

[…]

The average fee was based on what was touted as a typical Houston residential property – a 5,000-square-foot lot with 1,875 square feet of impervious surface.

The city’s revised estimate – again using satellite imagery and appraisal district data – is that the typical Houston home sits on a 7,500-square-foot lot with 2,850 square feet of impervious surface. That yields a monthly bill of approximately $8.25, Parker said.

Ugh. This is just a screwup. I don’t know whose fault it is exactly, and to some extent I don’t care, but it is the Mayor’s responsibility. She owns this, and she deserves the criticism she’s going to get for it. This should not have happened.

Having said that, let me say this. Had the initial word been that the average bill would be about $8 instead of about $5, I don’t believe that would have altered the politics of any of this. Eight bucks is still a nominal amount, and I believe that people who want to do something about improving drainage would have found that to be a reasonable amount to pay for the purpose of improving it. And that’s what makes this screwup so annoying. Had the public pronouncements been that the average fee was $8, there would have been the usual whining from the same cast of characters that have opposed this from the beginning, and nobody would have cared. Now people who weren’t opponents are grumbling about it, and for good reason. Yes, as Campos says, the Mayor owned up to the error – she took some lumps in Wednesday’s Council meeting as well – but it was an unforced error. She needs to do better than that.

As for those ever-whining opponents of Renew/Rebuild Houston, it remains the case that they have never said what they would do instead. From Paul Bettencourt and his extreme aversion to paying for anything to CM Bradford and his “we need to start over” refrain, which should sound familiar to anyone who paid attention to the debate over health care reform in 2009, their goal is to stop Rebuild Houston and ensure that the city continues to do nothing to mitigate flooding and improve drainage. If they had an alternative plan and could provide any details about what it would entail and how much it might cost, that would be one thing. But they don’t, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. People voted for Prop 1 because they knew that flooding is a problem in Houston, and they were willing to pay a reasonable amount of money to do something about it. Both remain true today. Houston Politics has more.