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Michael Kubosh

July 2018 finance reports: City of Houston

Every level of government requires finance reports in January and June, whether or not there is an active election cycle in that year. That includes the city of Houston, whose january report data we inspected here. Our next election is in 2019, and while this is still traditionally a little early for there to be much activity, there are the finance reports. Here’s what we’ve got:


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
S Turner         Mayor   585,267    137,758        0  2,260,407

C Brown     Controller    13,070     17,650        0     59,164

M Knox      At Large 1    28,225     12,691        0     62,856 
D Robinson  At Large 2    61,650     21,468        0    162,079
M Kubosh    At Large 3    72,475     23,841  276,000     82,360
A Edwards   At Large 4    40,345     26,349        0    147,883
J Christie  At Large 5     3,263      6,055        0     25,918

B Stardig       Dist A    56,439     24,738        0    116,794
J Davis         Dist B    22,750     12,487        0    147,300
E Cohen         Dist C    33,990     18,591        0     57,264
D Boykins       Dist D   126,000     55,556        0     96,400
D Martin        Dist E    43,900     17,226        0    123,730
S Le            Dist F     4,000      6,445   30,823     10,570
G Travis        Dist G    69,468     81,775   21,000     56,571
K Cisneros      Dist H    34,399      5,660        0     49,176
R Gallegos      Dist I    32,875     21,319        0     80,288
M Laster        Dist J    20,330      7,524        0    173,358
M Castex-Tatum  Dist K    15,375        339    3,788     43,822

A Parker                       0     10,383        0     82,854
L Green                    5,500     42,118        0     40,492
Lift the Cap PAC               0          0        0      3,987
Citizens to Keep               0      1,803        0     47,564
 Houston Strong

As you may recall, there wasn’t much in the way of fundraising for anyone except Mayor Turner last time. I don’t know if it’s due to the time of year, the approach of the next election, or the overall political climate, but as you can see nearly all of our elected officials have been busy. The report for Martha Castex-Tatum, who was elected in May to succeed the late Larry Green, is in a shorter period than everyone else since she had to post 30-day and 8-day reports for her cycle; the others are all for the full January through June time frame.

Looking at these numbers, only Jack Christie has acted like the term-limited Member that he is. Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, and Mike Laster have been more or less business as usual. I’ve speculated before about the possible future ambitions they may have, and I don’t have anything to add to that. I’m sure there’s a reason why the three non-Cohen members have been stockpiling the loot like this, but until they do something tangible it’s hard to say what that might be.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t speculate at all. I look at what Dwight Boykins and David Robinson are doing and I wonder a little. Both are on the ballot next year for their final terms (as always, modulo future rulings in the interminable term limits litigation), and while Robinson had to fend off four challengers and win in a runoff in 2015, Boykins cruised home unopposed. It could be that Robinson is merely gearing up for the next battle while Boykins is doing his best to keep potential opponents at bay. It could also be that they’re looking beyond their next term to a time when both the Mayor’s office and the Controller’s office will be open seats. I have no idea and no evidence – like I said, I’m just speculating. Dave Martin is also in that “one more term and has a lot of cash” group, but we don’t tend to elect Mayors who fit Martin’s political profile, though perhaps Controller might appeal to him.

Be all that as it may, this is the first time since we switched to four-year terms and no blackout period for fundraising that we’ve seen incumbents establish a clear financial advantage for themselves. No one on the outside has yet taken a concrete step (like designating a campaign treasurer and raising their own money) towards running for a Council seat, but do keep in mind there are several now-former candidates for Congress in town who likely have some cash remaining in their coffers (sorry, I’m only checking on still-active candidates). Surely it would not be a surprise if one or more of them decided to act more locally next year. Given that possibility, it’s hard to blame any of the members who are up for re-election next year to take precautions.

The remaining reports I included because they’re there. As we learned after the death of El Franco Lee, the remaining funds in Larry Green’s campaign account are to be distributed by his campaign treasurer, whose name is Kevin Riles. As we see from Lee’s July report, there’s no particular rush to do whatever that turns out to be. I don’t remember what Citizens to Keep Houston Strong was about, but Bill White is their treasurer. I’m sure we’ll see plenty more PACs and PAC activity as we move towards referenda for firefighters’ pay parity and the revenue cap.

No quorum for very special Council meeting

Close, but no cigar.

A handful of city council members who organized a rare special meeting to push for a Houston firefighters petition seeking pay “parity” with police to appear on the November ballot fell short of a quorum Friday and broke up without a vote.

The resolution they had put forward called on Mayor Sylvester Turner to let the council vote at its meeting next week to place the parity petition on the ballot.

Turner told one council member last Friday that he planned to have that discussion at the Aug. 8 council meeting, but word of that plan had not reached the full council Monday when members Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, Martha Castex-Tatum and Dwight Boykins signed a memo calling the special meeting.

[…]

No more than seven members reached the council chamber Friday morning, two short of the count necessary for a quorum, so Councilwoman Brenda Stardig called off the effort after 15 minutes.

Signatories Travis, Kubosh, Stardig and Boykins were present, though Boykins grew impatient and left. Council members Mike Knox, Steve Le and Dave Martin also were present. Castex-Tatum did not attend.

Martin had said he would skip the gathering, but the New Orleans native acknowledged he showed up in Cajun mode, spoiling for a fight.

See here for the background, and here for Mayor Turner’s statement. CM Martin did indeed mix it up, getting into squabbles with CMs Travis and Kubosh, which I encourage you to read. If more Council meetings had that kind of entertainment, I’m sure more people would tune in to them. There will be a Budget Committee hearing, followed by a Council vote on August 8, and we’ll have this thing on the November ballot.

A very special Council meeting

Who knew there was such a thing?

In a rare maneuver that sidesteps Mayor Sylvester Turner’s authority, five city council members have called a special meeting this week, hoping to force the issue of Houston firefighters’ push for a referendum on pay “parity” with police.

The council members aim to secure their colleagues’ support for a resolution calling on Turner to place an item on the council’s July 24 agenda to schedule a November election on the petition, which seeks to grant firefighters the same pay as police officers of corresponding rank.

In Houston’s strong-mayor form of government, the mayor generally has sole authority to decide what appears on the agenda for the weekly council meetings.

The lone exception allows three council members to set the agenda of a special meeting. Such gatherings — including this one — typically are organized without the mayor’s approval, and often struggle to muster a quorum, as many of the 16 council members are loathe to invite the mayor’s wrath.

Council members Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, Martha Castex-Tatum and Dwight Boykins signed a Monday memo calling a special council meeting for Friday at 10 a.m.

Turner is on a trade mission in South America and will not be back in time to attend the meeting.

Kubosh said he signed the memo to help ensure the issue was discussed, noting that several elections have passed since the petition was submitted.

“They were successful last year at stalling it a whole year, so, yes, I think that’s possible,” Kubosh said, referring to the Turner administration.

[…]

[CM Dave] Martin [who chairs the Council’s budget committee] said he does not intend to attend Friday’s meeting and doubts the organizers will have the quorum necessary for a formal vote.

“If they don’t show up, they don’t show up,” Kubosh said. “But I’ll show up.”

It is unclear what the impact would be if the proposed resolution reaches a vote and passes.

City Attorney Ron Lewis declined to address whether that outcome could force the mayor to act, given that the city charter gives Turner control of the council agenda.

“As a practical matter,” Lewis said, “the item will go on an agenda that’s timely, and the mayor’s committed to that.”

Insert shrug emoji here. The petitions were certified in May, and one would think the vote would be in November. According to Mayor Turner’s chief of staff and confirmed by CM Martin, this was to be discussed at the budget committee hearing on July 26, with the item for placing it on the ballot to be on Council’s August 8 agenda. I don’t know what else there is to say.

Council approves Mayor’s budget

The annual ritual is observed.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council adopted Mayor Sylvester Turner’s $4.9 billion budget by a vote of 13-4 Wednesday, ending three hours of otherwise amiable debate with an impassioned speech from Councilman Jack Christie that concluded with the councilman resigning his post as budget committee chair and voting no.

Christie was joined in opposing the budget by council members Mike Knox, Greg Travis and Michael Kubosh, who said they wanted the mayor to make more of an effort to cut spending.

“I can keep playing politics, go along to get along, or start fighting vigorously for our tax-paying citizens and not waste their money,” Christie said, listing his past ideas for constraining costs or forming commissions to study cost-cutting that were not implemented. “As a political body, we are failing the people of Houston.”

Turner rejected the criticism. He said the budget is “sound,” and noted that Kubosh’s lone amendment would have given each council member an additional $100,000 for staff salaries. Knox submitted no amendments, and Travis submitted amendments that sought cost-cutting recommendations from the administration but listed no specific cuts.

Christie also submitted no cost-reduction amendments, and, in fact, twice admitted one of his items — earmarking $150,000 to fund an external study on the emissions of the city’s vehicle fleet — was “a waste of money” because he already knows a shift to alternative fuels is the right move.

“It’s so easy to just say to the administration, ‘Mayor, you didn’t cut enough,’” Turner said after the meeting. “Every individual that voted ‘no’ put forth no ideas, no amendment to reduce the cost. Not one. Not that they offered it and we voted them down — they didn’t offer any. To the contrary, they put forth amendments that would increase the amount that we were going to have to expend.”

[…]

The general fund budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is $2.5 billion. That fund is supported primarily by property and sales taxes and funds most core services, such as the police and fire departments, parks, libraries and trash pickup.

That is $83 million, or 3.5 percent, more than the current budget. The increase largely is driven by a $42 million increase in debt service, related mostly to the issuance last year of $1 billion in pension obligation bonds as part of the mayor’s pension reform package.

Also driving the increase is $14 million in previously-agreed-to raises for police that take effect July 1. About 57 percent of the general fund, or $1.4 billion, goes to public safety — the police and fire departments, the municipal courts and emergency operations.

See here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s press release. The story also notes the $17 million the city may wind up being short thanks to an unfriendly Census estimate and the stupid revenue cap; it’s not clear to me if that would apply to this year or next if the city’s appeal fails. I’m not surprised there were no cost-cutting amendments of any substance. Turns out that’s a hard thing to do, especially in a budget that’s mostly about public safety, trash pickup, parks, and libraries. You know, basic things that people want and need. Good thing talking about it remains free.

Houston will get involved in the SB4 fight later this month

Very good to hear.

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to ask City Council to vote this month on joining lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ new “sanctuary cities” law, ending months of equivocation on the controversial immigration enforcement measure.

If City Council votes to sue, Houston would join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and several other local governments already challenging the state or planning to do so.

“I will ask this month City Council to consider and vote to join the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB4,” Turner tweeted Thursday morning, after the Houston Chronicle ran a front page story about his decision to remain on the sidelines of debate over the statute.

Here’s that front page story. You can see what a change of direction this is.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Turner has asked the city attorney’s office to review the law known as Senate Bill 4, which allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained even for a routine traffic stop, but otherwise continues to deflect questions about whether he plans to challenge it.

That has meant carefully sidestepping the term “sanctuary city,” while touting Houston as a diverse, “welcoming city” and assuring residents that Houston police will not violate their constitutional rights.

On Wednesday, the mayor attempted to redirect attention to Austin by urging Houstonians to take up their concerns at the Capitol, even though the law has been signed and the Legislature is not slated to revisit the issue during its July special session.

“The right forum to reconsider Senate Bill 4 before it goes into effect on Sept. 1 is Austin, Texas, and I’d encourage people to write to call to drive or go to Austin,” Turner said. “Go to Austin by the hundreds, by the thousands, and ask those who authored, voted for and signed Senate Bill 4 to repeal Senate Bill 4. Those of us around this table, we cannot repeal Senate Bill 4, as we did not author Senate Bill 4.”

So Houston may follow in the footsteps of San Antonio and Bexar County and Dallas, if Council goes along. According to the full Chron story, it looks like that will happen.

Houston could sue over SB4 without City Council approval, but Turner nonetheless promised a vote. City Council is in recess next week, meaning a vote would come June 21 at the earliest.

As of Thursday, the left-leaning City Council appeared to be breaking along party lines, with Democratic members largely favoring a lawsuit and Republican members generally opposed.

District I Councilman Robert Gallegos, who supports a lawsuit, said he worried the law could tear families apart if it causes more parents to be deported, calling it “an open door for racial profiling.”

District C Councilwoman Ellen Cohen also plans to vote to sue, citing concerns that the law could discourage victims from reporting crimes, echoing law enforcement leaders across the state, including Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

“We now have a percentage of the population that, out of fear for their own lives and deportation, won’t report, and it jeopardizes women’s lives and others,” Cohen said.

At-large Councilman Michael Kubosh said he opposes a lawsuit because of the potential cost.

“I don’t want to spend the money on a lawsuit that’s already been well-funded by other cities,” Kubosh said. “It won’t have an effect on the outcome of the case.”

He and others also worried that suing the state could put Houston at risk for losing federal funding.

Two council members, Mike Laster and Brenda Stardig, declined to say how they would vote, and at-large Councilman Jack Christie said he was likely to abstain.

“I’m not in favor of suing people to just show where we stand,” Christie said. “We show where we stand by example.”

There’s a sidebar on the story with a vote count for when this does come before Council (and while it could come as early as June 21, you can bet your bottom dollar someone will tag it for a week). Counting Mayor Turner, there are eight Yeses, five Nos, Christie’s abstention, and three who declined to comment or could not be reached. Of those three, I’d expect two Yeses – Mike Laster, who has since suggested on Twitter that he would likely vote in favor, and Jerry Davis – and one No, Brenda Stardig. You should probably reach out to your Council member and let them know how you feel about this. In the meantime, I agree with Campos, this would not have happened, at least at this time, had not there been pressure from the Texas Organizing Project and the DREAMers. Activism works, y’all. The Press has more.

Bail reform bills

Glad to see this.

Sen. John Whitmire

An unusual bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and judges has teamed up to back broad reforms in Texas that could eliminate cash bail for nonviolent offenders who are not deemed dangerous or a flight risk.

Bills introduced simultaneously in the House and the Senate this week by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston and state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, would require all judges statewide to use a proven risk assessment tool and quickly determine within 48 hours whether a defendant accused of a nonviolent crime might be eligible for a so-called personal bond — a measure that carries a financial penalty only if the person fails to how up for court. Now, defendants who can’t afford to pay bail are left in jail, even for minor crimes.

The proposals have been hammered out by jurists and legislators following reports that show more than 1,100 people died in Texas jails in the last decade – most of them pretrial detainees such as Sandra Bland, who committed suicide in the Waller County jail after being locked up after a traffic stop.

Nonviolent defendants detained after the first hearing would be re-evaluated within 10 days. And judges would be required to seek alternatives for those deemed mentally ill or disabled.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who is backing the measures, said he and other members of the National Conference of Chief Justices of the United States generally have concluded that America’s bail bond system “simply doesn’t make any sense.”

He said he’d like to see Texas follow the model of New Jersey, Washington D.C., Kentucky, Arizona and other states in pursuing reforms that restrict or eliminate monetary bail for defendants who pose no real risks.

Hecht said bail reforms elsewhere already have saved taxpayers’ money by eliminating unnecessary jail expenses and spared hardships for low-risk defendants who often lose jobs, homes or their health while being locked-up awaiting trial.

“There are constitutional problems, there are practical problems, there’s a burden on taxpayers — change is just the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re just talking about low-level crimes —we’re not talking about crimes of violence. So across the country, there’s been an effort to change bail procedures to get away from high bond and jail time in all of these low-level crimes.”

Hecht chairs the Texas Judicial Council, 22-member group that includes Murr. Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is vice chair. He said the council studied bail reforms and recommended changes last fall.

See here for some background. Via Grits, the bills in question are HB3011 and SB1338. Grits also notes that the bail bondsmen are fighting these bills, which is not surprising. A later version of this Chron story goes into that.

“We have a very conservative governor, lieutenant governor, Senate and House,” said Michael Kubosh, a Houston City Council member and long-time commercial bondsman. “To get all that through, there’s going to be a real battle, and our lobbyists are talking to them. They’re not going to want to let crime run rampant and give everybody free bonds.”

Kubosh and other industry supporters say bondsmen help make sure low-level defendants appear in court – and track them down when they fail to appear. They say they also get families involved, since relatives often must post cash or property to back bail bonds even when commercial bondsman are involved. He and other advocates are simultaneously monitoring a federal court challenge to a fairly rigid bail schedule used for years by Harris County judges even for low-level misdemeanor offenses.

[…]

The legislation also says that defendants are entitled to have lawyers present at pretrial detention hearings – not a common practice today.

On any given day, the Harris County Jail is crowded with 1,500 or more misdemeanor offenders awaiting trial. The county has spent more than $1.2 million in legal fees so far defending county court-at-law judges and hearing officers in the federal civil rights case before Judge Rosenthal.

Kubosh, the commercial bondsman, said he agrees that truly indigent defendants often don’t get personal bonds in Harris County. But he argues that bondsmen routinely save the county money by helping ensure that those who are released on commercial bond follow court conditions and by tracking down those who fail to appear. With fewer commercial bonds, he argues, “you’re going to see a spike in people thumbing their noses at the courts … you’ll see huge increases in warrants.”

No question, this would affect the bail bond business, and I can’t blame them for opposing these bills. I don’t agree with CM Kubosh’s assessment of what may happen if these bills pass, but there ought to be an objective way to evaluate it. Personal recognizance bonds are used with far greater frequency in other states. Is there any evidence to suggest that crime “runs rampant” where PR bonds are more the norm? Show me some numbers, or this is just going to sound like scaremongering.

Bike plan vote delayed

What’s another two weeks?

Houston’s long-term plan for improving bicycle routes around town will wait a couple more weeks after a handful of elected officials voiced various concerns.

City Council members Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Steve Le, Mike Knox and Dave Martin tagged the proposed Houston Bike Plan on Wednesday morning, delaying its approval for at least two weeks.

The plan, which doesn’t commit money but does guide future projects as the city proceeds with road work, lays out an ambitious plan for hundreds of miles of high-comfort bike lanes in Houston, meant to make bicycling safer and more appealing to residents.

Work on the plan began roughly 18 months ago and has been through various drafts with input from city and community officials.

See here for some background, and here for the plan itself. If you’d like a more executive-summary view of it, see this Offcite post from last year, and this Kinder Institute blog post from Wednesday. At some point, part of the solution for traffic has to be getting some cars off the road, and the best way to do that is to give more people more non-car options for their daily travels. Note that you don’t need someone to completely give up their car to have an effect here – trading in some of your car trips for non-car travel helps, too. Let’s get this done, y’all. The Chron editorial board agrees with me on this.

Council ratifies Turner’s pension plan

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

On a 16-1 vote, Houston City Council has endorsed Mayor Sylvester Turner’s historic package of pension reforms. The vote clears the way for the City to move forward in partnership with the pension systems to seek legislative approval of the reforms.

“I am bubbling over on the inside,” said Mayor Turner. “I am thankful to everyone who has helped get us to this point. That includes City Council, the pension systems, our City employees and many others. This plan is historic, transformative and budget neutral. We are solving our pension problem permanent and we are doing it without needed a tax rate increase. There is no other plan out there offering the same benefits. The Houston solution can be the model for other cities with similar challenges.”

The police, fire and municipal pension systems all signed off on the package of reforms prior to today’s City Council vote, marking the first time that the City and all of the pension groups have been united.

The plan immediately reduces the City’s nearly $8 billion pension debt by over 30 percent and then sets a 30-year fixed payoff schedule for the remaining $5.3 billion of debt. This immediate reduction is accomplished through a combination of benefits changes that include scaling back cost-of-living adjustments, higher employee payroll contributions and phasing out of the Deferred Retirement Option Program, known as DROP, which allows employees to accept retirement benefits while continuing to work for the City. In return for the concessions, the City has agreed to issue $1 billion in Pension Obligation Bonds to make up for years of prior underfunding of the pension systems.

“It is a big deal that employees have agreed to these benefit changes,” said Turner. “I know this has not been easy, and I thank each of them for their patience, understanding and service. This plan will provide stable and sustainable retirements at an affordable cost to the taxpayers who foot the bill. Retirees won’t have to worry if the check will be there.”

Moving forward, predictions about the anticipated performance of pension system investments will be based on a more conservative seven percent assumed rate of return. If there are market changes that cause costs to exceed pre-agreed limits, there is a mechanism to force additional changes in benefits to bring everything back in line. A requirement that both sides share information will ensure compliance with the required 30-year payoff schedule.

State Senator Joan Huffman and State Representative Dan Flynn are expected to carry the Houston pension legislation. Bill filing for the 2017 legislative session begins mid-November 2016.

See here and here for the background. CM Mike Knox was the lone No vote, saying he couldn’t support it without there already being a bill written. The Chron story fills in a few details.

Turner secured the political chip of a prompt and lopsided endorsement by using an impassioned speech to persuade Councilman Michael Kubosh to remove his “tag,” a parliamentary maneuver that would have delayed the vote. Kubosh had said he initially tagged the measure at the request state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who has called for a delay until more information was available on the reform plan.

“Either you all are going to represent the people of the city of Houston or – I’m going to borrow your term Councilmember Kubosh – are you going to represent political interests? I stand with the people of the city of Houston,” Turner said. “I was voted (in) to represent their interests, not some party affiliation or some political interest or somebody who wants to be mayor.”

Turner’s comments plainly were directed at Bill King, who was runner-up in last year’s mayoral race and who joined Bettencourt at his news conference. The duo said the detailed reform proposals were public for too short a time and too vague to be properly vetted, particularly a key “corridor” provision that would force benefit cuts in the future if a market downturn led the city’s payments to increase above a specified threshold.

King and Bettencourt say the city should switch new hires to retirement savings plans similar to 401(k)s, but acknowledged a well-written “corridor” provision could offer the same benefits to the city.

[…]

Most council members, however, referenced the briefings they had received on the plan and echoed Turner’s point that no public speaker in the six weeks since the reform outline was first announced had appeared before City Council to criticize it.

“I want to make sure the public understands we have been briefed, and it wasn’t a 24-hour-ago briefing,” Councilwoman Brenda Stardig said.

Councilman Dave Martin, like Stardig, a conservative, offered even stronger comments.

“I did not vote for you. I did not support you. I’m supporting you 100 percent on this,” Martin told Turner. “I think it’s ridiculous for people to criticize this plan. It’s been transparent; it’s been thorough. We’ve been diligent. We don’t need any more information. Maybe the state does, but do your homework.”

Yeah. Just as a reminder, the Kinder Institute has analyzed the plan, so we are not operating in an information vacuum here. I’m sure if Sen. Bettencourt had called the Mayor’s office and asked for a briefing, he’d have gotten it. But it’s easier to preen than it is to prep, so here we are. My guess is we’ll see bills get pre-filed for this, probably in November, so we’ll know soon enough what that will look like. The next question is who will support it and who will try to kill it. The games have just begun.

The city cab app

Meet Arro.

Houston’s fractured taxi market is headed toward a rare bit of unity, with a push by the city toward how people hail cabs in the 21st century.

As the taxi and limo industry adjusts to new ways of doing business, under intense competition from firms like Uber, city officials plan to consolidate dispatching via a private smartphone app in an attempt to buoy travel options for visitors and residents.

Citing a need to better use the nearly 4,000 taxi and limo permits across roughly 9,000 drivers, city officials announced Monday that Arro, a company already combining dispatch in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, will develop a universal taxi app for Houston’s 146 taxi companies.

“We’re excited to bring the taxi industry, fully, into the digital age,” said Tina Paez, director of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.

Cab and limo companies encouraged the city to develop something to even the playing field with Uber, which has dominated the ride market since arriving legally in Houston in November 2014.

“I think you will have people come to rely on faster cab service than they do now,” said Duane Kamins, owner of Lone Star Cab Company.

The app would mean all cabs could be hailed based on who’s closest, breaking the taxi reliance on downtown cab stands and airport trips that leads to bunching of vehicles and a lack of available rides in other neighborhoods. The app also provides an emergency scenario, should Uber – which opposes some of Houston’s regulations – bail right before thousands descend for the Super Bowl.

City Council is expected to discuss the app at its meeting next week.

Starting with consolidating taxi companies into a single online dispatch system, the app will eventually expand to include other features such as transit schedules, real-time traffic information and bike sharing information.

Council member Michael Kubosh, however, questioned at a Monday committee meeting why the city was entering into the app business – or even encouraging a vendor to jump in.

“If you want government intervention and you all are holding hands singing Kumbaya, I will vote for your government intervention,” Kubosh said.

No taxpayer money will be used to develop or advertise the app, though city staff will guide the process with Arro, and elected officials could devote time to promoting it.

I don’t see any problem with the city’s involvement, especially given the other features mentioned. Cabs remain a regulated utility, so there’s a pretty good argument to be made that the city should get make this kind of investment. The concerns CM Greg Travis raised about Arro’s app receiving mediocre user ratings are more worrisome, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s a good idea, and it brings independent cabbies into the fold as well. Let’s see what the beta version looks like and go from there.

What Council members think about the Uber threat

I was scrolling through Facebook and came upon this post from CM Michael Kubosh:

Mayor Turner wants UBER to stay, but they must follow the city’s ordinance that requires a CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK and FINGERPRINTS. Council Member Michael Kubosh said that all public service drivers for buses, cabs, train, limos, shuttles and jitneys require the same CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK and FINGERPRINTS. They must follow the rules. They came to Houston during the 2014 Rodeo operating illegally and the City Council changed the Ordinance to make room for their business model. NOW LOOK WHAT THEY ARE WANTING.

Which got me to wondering about other Council members and what they thought. Of the five Council members that voted against the original ordinance in 2014, four remain on Council: Kubosh, Jack Christie, Jerry Davis, and Mike Laster. I went looking, via Google, Facebook, and Twitter, to see who else has had something to say.

And the answer is, most of them have not said anything as yet. One who has is Brenda Stardig, who is the Chair of the Public Safety committee:

CM Dave Martin was quoted in one of the stories I blogged about after Uber issued its ultimatum:

“If you don’t want to follow the rules we all agreed to, have a good opportunity in another city,” District E Councilman David Martin said. “But we cannot be blackmailed when it comes to public safety.”

And that’s pretty much it for actual opinions. The only other Council member to say something was Greg Travis:

Mayor Sylvester Turner wants uber to stay in Houston, but wants the company to operate under the same rules as other transportation companies. Uber wants to eliminate regulation for its drivers to have city fingerprint check. Rather, uber wants to use its own background check. Mayor says uber’s background check inadequate. Your thoughts?

Comments on that post ran more in Uber’s favor than against, for what it’s worth. Also for what it’s worth. all four of these Council members – Kubosh, Martin, Stardig, and Travis – are Republicans; so is Jack Christie among the No votes from 2014, while Davis and Laster are Dems. I mention that mostly to note that if Uber is trying to make a free-market/deregulation argument, it’s not working on the kind of people you’d think it might work on. This discussion is just getting started, and Lord knows Uber is willing and able to dump a ton of resources into winning it, so this is hardly a final whip count. But clearly, Uber has some ground to make up to win this one.

RIP, One Bin For All

It had a good run, but at the very least the timing was all wrong.

The One Bin For All program would let Houstonians throw all trash in the same bin, to be separated for recycling later. The hope was to push up Houston’s low recycling rate. But now the city could end up with no recycling at all.

The city council on Wednesday delayed a vote on a new contract with Waste Management, which would cost the city about $3 million more per year because commodity prices for recyclables are low.

Several council members are calling for suspending recycling until that changes.

The One Bin program was not mentioned at all in the discussion.

It turns out Mayor Sylvester Turner is not a fan.

“I’ve looked at and read the paper that’s been presented from what was done,” he said. “I’m not convinced that that is something I want to move forward with right now, if at any time, but it’s not a part of this conversation.”

See here for the last update. Mayor Turner had spoken in generalities about One Bin before now – I’d have to go back and re-listen to the interview I did with him for the 2015 election, but that’s how I remember him speaking about it then as well – so this is a rhetorical shift for him. It’s not exactly a policy shift in the sense that he had never committed to doing anything with One Bin, so think of it more as a door being closed.

As for the Council action, the Chron story from Wednesday before the meeting suggested some pushback on continuing the recycling contract with Waste Management, but nothing more than that.

Until now, Waste Management would resell the recyclables, deduct a $65-per-ton processing fee and give 70 percent of the remaining revenue to the city. If the firm’s costs exceeded the fee the city paid, Waste Management ate the difference. Those terms meant the city could make $25 per ton two years ago, when recyclables were bringing $100 per ton.

Now, with commodities prices at lows not seen since the 2009 recession, Waste Management has been dropping or renegotiating its contracts with Houston and many other cities.

If City Council approves the new deal, the city next month will begin paying a $95-per-ton processing fee. With commodities now earning $48 a ton, that means each ton of material recycled will cost Houston almost $50, at least in the near term.

That’s nearly double what it would cost to truck the recycled items to the landfill, where the tipping fee is $27 per ton.

And, with Mayor Sylvester Turner warning that layoffs will be needed to close a projected $126 million budget gap by July, some council members are inclined to quit recycling until the market improves.

“As much as we are for recycling, I’m also against cutting people that are actually doing city services,” said Councilman Michael Kubosh. “It’s going to hurt to lay people off and then to tell them we laid them off because, ‘Well, we want to recycle.’ We’ve got to think it through.”

Councilman Jerry Davis, whose District B is home to landfill facilities, disagreed, citing studies showing negative health outcomes for those near dump sites.

“If we stop recycling, we’re going to have more crap taken to landfills in District B,” Davis said. “With the rate we’re growing, we have to find a way to get rid of our waste in an efficient manner. What are we going to do when all our landfills are full? I understand commodities are down, but it’s a cycle. I don’t think we need to steer away from sustainability because the market is somewhat volatile.”

See here for the background. The single-stream recycling program has been pretty popular, so I kind of doubt it’s in any danger, but I’m not surprised that there was some grumbling about possibly having to pay for something we used to make money off of. And if the words “garbage fee” are forming on your lips, you may want to bite your tongue.

If you were concerned Mayor Sylvester Turner could consider pushing a new garbage fee to cover that cost, however, think again.

As Turner put it, when asked at today’s post-City Council meeting press conference:

“No. I have never contemplated a garbage fee. When it’s come up, I’ve said to members of my own staff I’m not going to advocate a garbage fee and I’m not going to support a garbage fee. So, absolutely not, no.”

I don’t agree with that – at the very least, I think we ought to keep the option open – but that doesn’t appear to be the case. We’ll see what Council does with this next week.

Our bail policies are unjust, costly, and stupid

Any questions about how I really feel?

go_to_jail

“The numbers clearly tell the story: More than three-fourths of the people in Harris County Jail haven’t been convicted of crime, and the majority of them are sitting in jail simply because they can’t afford to get out – not because they’re a threat to public safety,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. “This means the indigent are more likely to be kept in jail pretrial, lose their jobs, affect their family lives, and receive harsher sentences solely because of their income status.”

Harris County locks up more people pretrial than most other large counties utilizing a standardized schedule that sets bond amounts for specific crimes. Magistrates makes bond decisions based almost entirely on charges filed and prior convictions in hearings via video linkup at which few questions are asked and defendants have no attorneys – a process the county’s public defender has described as potentially illegal in an upcoming law journal article.

The magistrate’s bond decisions are almost never altered by the county’s elected district court judges, who reduced bonds in less than 1 percent of cases, court bond data from 2014-15 shows.

Judges can, if they choose, grant personal bonds to defendants in which bail fees are waived in exchange for a promise to appear. But in 2014, they granted personal bonds to about 1 percent of felony offenders and only 9 percent of misdemeanor offenders, county statistics show.

Those rates are below those in other urban Texas counties, including Bexar and Travis, according to a related 2015 report. Several district court judges have told magistrates never to issue personal bonds for anyone assigned to their courts, while others specify such bonds be granted only to students, a former judge and other county officials told the Chronicle.

Once jailed, no mechanism exists to automatically alert elected judges even when an inmate falls severely ill or already has served more time pretrial than the punishment for the alleged crime, Harris County judges said.

In August 2009, after the U.S. Department of Justice found civil rights abuses at the Harris County Jail, a consulting firm hired by the county urged judges to increase the use of personal bonds to reduce crowding in the jail complex, then bursting with more than 11,000 inmates. More than six years later, jail population has decreased, but the proportion of inmates awaiting trial has grown, from 54 percent in August 2009 to 76 percent in November 2015.

Some judges defended their tough bond schedule, explaining that many defendants are repeat offenders or require high bail to guarantee court appearances and protect the public. But in a $2 million proposal the county is preparing to submit to the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, judges and attorneys alike have called for reforms. In interviews, many agreed the pretrial system is broken and the jail is regularly clogged with too many mentally ill and low-risk offenders arrested for crimes like smoking pot and trespassing.

Ultimately, the system most punishes the poorest and sickest defendants, defense attorneys and some legislators say.

Fifty-five inmates died in the jail while awaiting adjudication since 2009. Eight were too ill to appear at initial bail hearings.

Emphasis mine. This is outrageous and infuriating. People who have not been convicted of a crime are in jail without any consideration of their risk to the community, their health, or the effect their incarceration may have on their families. Some of them wind up spending more time in jail waiting for their case to be resolved than they ever would have if they had been convicted of the crime for which they were arrested. Many of them wind up pleading guilty to a crime they may never have been convicted of just to get out of jail. Does any of this sound like justice? Does any of it sound like something you would tolerate if it happened to you or someone you knew? Does any of it sound like a viable and cost-effective way to promote public safety? This isn’t something we have to do. It’s not something we are being forced to do by state or federal mandate. It’s something we are choosing to do, and by “we” I mean the judges who set these dumb bail amounts and the people who vote for them. We chose this, and we can choose differently. It’s up to us.

More HERO public information requests

The bullying continues.

He’s a bully!

Does President Barack Obama regularly drop a line to Houston City Council members?

Probably not, but we could soon find out, thanks to a public records request that opponents of the city’s equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, filed this week. It’s a response to a public records request that a nonprofit filed earlier this month seeking correspondence between members that voted down the city’s equal rights ordinance and national anti-LGBT groups.

At the time, Councilman Michael Kubosh called a press conference to denounce the request, saying he was particularly upset that just the six council members that voted against the law, not the full council, were subject to the request. He called it “bullying.”

A week later, however, HERO opponents have taken the same approach. In a request filed Wednesday, conservative lawyer Jared Woodfill sought all communication between pro-HERO council members and a slew of local and national figures and groups, most pro-LGBT.

Fourth on the list, sandwiched between Mayor Annise Parker and the Human Rights Campaign, is Obama. Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders along with mayor-elect Sylvester Turner are also included.

See here for the background. I’m sure CMs Kubosh and Martin will be holding a press conference to denounce this bit of bullying any minute now. Or maybe we’ve all managed to get a grip and recognize that this is just normal politics and nothing to get upset about. Regardless, I expect this request to have about the same effect as the other one, which is to say, not much. But at least everyone will have gotten it out of their system.

Turner’s Council

So what kind of City Council will Mayor-elect Sylvester Turner have to work with?

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

In addition to Turner replacing term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, the council also will gain five new faces, four thanks to term limits and one who defeated an incumbent. Political analysts, however, sensed little ideological shift among the 16-member body.

How city government will function or fail to do so, observers say, thus circles back to Turner. With a looming $126 million budget deficit to close by June, the 26-year Texas House veteran will be tested quickly.

“Having a career legislator lead the council is likely to have a significant change in how the city operates,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston political consultant. “He’s likely to lean on his experience and run the council as a legislative chamber versus, in the past, other mayors saw it as an executive office and the council may have been a nuisance.”

[…]

If the political tilt of the council shifted with Saturday’s results, analysts said, it may have been slightly to the right. Conservative former policeman Mike Knox will replace moderate Steve Costello in the At-Large 1 seat; physician Steve Le, who opposed the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, ousted District F incumbent Richard Nguyen, who voted for it. As a counterbalance, the analysts said, municipal finance lawyer Amanda Edwards’ replacement of C.O. Bradford in the At-Large 4 race is a shift to the left.

In conservative District G, where lawyer Greg Travis replaces Oliver Pennington, and in progressive-leaning District H, where educator Karla Cisneros replaces Ed Gonzalez, observers saw little ideological change.

Observers guessed the general split to be roughly 10 to 11 progressive votes and six to seven conservative ones, depending on the issue, though council members are known to invoke the adage that there is no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole.

The new council will have four years to work out the kinks, thanks to voters, who approved a move from a maximum of three two-year terms of office to two four-year terms on Nov. 3.

That change, coupled with the loss of rules banning campaign fundraising during certain months – known as a blackout period – will bring the biggest changes to City Hall, Tameez said.

Let me start by saying I completely agree with Tameez here. I believe the change to four-year terms is going to have a big effect on how our municipal government operates and how our elections are conducted. I have no idea what those changes will look like, and neither does anyone else. It’s just going to be different, and we won’t begin to understand how until four years from now.

As for the makeup of Council, again I basically agree with what’s being said here. Mike Knox is to the right of Steve Costello, but I’d argue Amanda Edwards is to the left of C.O. Bradford. Losing Richard Nguyen hurts, but District F has always operated as a Republican-friendly district. Nguyen only declared himself to be a Democrat in 2014 – he was a political enigma when he was elected. It’s a loss, but we were playing with house money.

And to a large extent, none of that matters very much anyway. The Mayor still sets the agenda, and as long as the Mayor can get nine votes for whatever is on that agenda, it gets enacted. It will be interesting to see if Turner, a master of dealmaking and getting things done in a hostile environment, adopts a collaborative Lege-like approach to Mayoring (*), as that would be a great departure from every other Mayor in my memory, or if he exercises the power of the office like all his predecessors have done. Usually there’s at least one Council member who acts as a foil to the Mayor; of the holdover Members, Michael Kubosh and Dave Martin were the main antagonists to Mayor Parker. Will one or both of them maintain that role with Mayor Turner, or will someone else pick up the baton? The next budget gets adopted in June, so we ought to have some idea soon enough. Feel free to speculate on these topics in the comments.

(*) If “Presidenting” can be a word, then so can “Mayoring”.

Is Bill King a sign of a trend?

Probably not. Doesn’t mean that other candidates like him can’t do well, however.

Bill King

Bill King

Bill King’s near-upset over Sylvester Turner in the Houston mayoral runoff stoked the hopes of some Republicans that the party soon could break Democrats’ 34-year hold on City Hall.

Political experts, however, attributed King’s success more to his unique profile as a moderate fiscal conservative than a Republican resurgence in the Bayou City.

“King pretty skillfully positioned himself. He didn’t run as a Republican but happily accepted the support of Republicans,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “You might get elected with support from Republicans, but that’s not enough to win unless the turnout is extremely skewed.”

Murray estimated Republicans make up about 35 to 40 percent of the city electorate, just 21 percent of whom cast a ballot in last Saturday’s runoff election to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker.

[…]

Kingwood Tea Party co-founder Jim Lennon said King’s bid instilled new confidence in Houston Republicans.

“With the results of this race being so close, I think there’s a change in attitude,” Lennon said. “We know we can win. We know we can put together a coalition.”

Nonetheless, Lennon acknowledged that the former Kemah mayor’s bid may be difficult to replicate.

“I don’t think there’s a deep bench of Republican politicians that can duplicate that,” Lennon said.

As you know, I largely agree. King was a decent candidate who took advantage of the opportunities he had and ran a good campaign. He was also lucky – again, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if Oliver Pennington had not dropped out of the race. I think we’d be talking about why Adrian Garcia fell short against Turner in the runoff. That’s the way it goes, and every successful politician, like every championship sports team, gets a bit of luck here and there.

Republicans may not be able to win a Mayor’s race in Houston, but they’ve done a lot better in At Large Council races. Steve Costello, Jack Christie, Michael Kubosh, and now Mike Knox have all won citywide since 2009. Of course, the first three all won with the support of a significant number of Democratic voters – Costello (who basically profiled and governed as a moderate Dem) and Christie have done well with Anglo Dems, while Kubosh has solid support among African-American voters stemming from his previous work on the red light camera referendum. Only Knox won based on Republican votes, and that comes with a bit of an asterisk, given how low profile his runoff election was. The real test will be in 2019, when Christie is termed out and Knox will have to run without the backdrop of a King candidacy. If the Dems could unite on a single candidate against Knox (I know, I know) then that person ought to be favored. But let’s worry about that later, like maybe after the current electeds get sworn in and figure out where their offices are.

Finally, however swell the GOP establishment may feel about their near-miss with Bill King, it should be noted that they also had a good chance to win the Controller’s office as well, but missed that by a wider mark. Bill Frazer was a well-qualified candidate who was much more clearly identified with the Republican Party and who was as focused on pensions and fiscal matters as King. He was also Chron-endorsed and led the field in November after running a strong race in 2013, yet he wound up more than 10,000 votes behind Chris Brown (remember to add in the Fort Bend votes when you tally it all up). Brown had a bit of a financial edge, he had a bunch of ads running on cable TV, and he definitely made this a D-versus-R race. At a guess, I’d say that he had the support of a lot of Anglo Dems who had gone with King. All of which is a longwinded way of saying what Jim Lennon said: It’s hard for them to duplicate what King did.

Council members complain about open records requests

Oh, please.

CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

Councilmen Michael Kubosh and Dave Martin on Tuesday blasted a records request from a D.C.-based nonprofit to those council members who voted against the Houston equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, last year.

The Campaign for Accountability’s request seeks communication between prominent local anti-HERO activists as well as anti-LGBT groups, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council, and the six council members who voted against the law. Kubosh and Martin were joined by Councilwoman Brenda Stardig and councilmen Jack Christie, Dwight Boykins and Oliver Pennington in opposing the law in May 2014.

[…]

At a press conference outside City Hall on Tuesday, Kubosh said council members were being “harassed and intimated” by the request. He called on the mayor to condemn the request, and said the six council members were unfairly targeted.

“I felt like when we received this open records request for over tens of thousands of emails and 51 names of individuals and organizations that we’re going to have to search through, this is a type of bullying,” Kubosh said.

The Campaign for Accountability, a watchdog group that files records requests all over the country, responded in a written statement that the move was not meant to intimidate council members. The group called Kubosh’s charge an “outlandish allegation that seems contrived more to attract press attention than to express a serious concern.”

In an interview, deputy director Daniel Stevens also denied Kubosh’s allegation that Mayor Annise Parker, a proponent of the law, was behind the request. Kubosh called it a “lump of coal” from the mayor.

Mayoral spokeswoman Janice Evans responded to Kubosh’s comments in a written statement, saying his charge that the mayor is connected to the request is “totally unsubstantiated.”

“There are hundreds of people who have made political contributions to the mayor during her 18 years in office. Receiving open records requests is very common. We tend to get one or more a day here in the mayor’s office and they often come from people who disagree with something the mayor has done or a position she has taken on an issue. They can be overwhelming and time consuming to process but it is part of being an elected officeholder. If this is the first time the council member has received one, he should count himself lucky.”

Indeed. Of course some of these requests are going to be annoying, politically motivated, and/or time-consuming. That’s part of the job. You want to complain about people who don’t like you demanding to poke through your emails, go have a drink at the bar with Hillary Clinton. I’m sure she’d have a sympathetic ear to lend. Beyond that, I say suck it up.

If you think I’m being a bit harsh here, I admit that I am. But ask yourself a simple question: What would the reaction have been like from the folks at this little event if it had been Mayor Parker calling a press conference to decry the “bullying” open records requests of a political opponent? My guess is that sympathy would not have been the first order of the day. Sometimes the best course of action is to just get over yourself and show these people that you have nothing to hide and they’re the ones who are wasting their time. Assuming that’s how you feel about it, of course.

One more thing:

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, also attended the event in support of Kubosh and Martin. Bettencourt is already planning to convene the Senate Intergovernmental Relations committee to look into why the city has been rebuffed by the Texas Supreme Court on ballot language issues, including one pertaining to HERO. He added Tuesday that he would seek to discuss a law that would “limit out-of-state access to this type of punitive open records request.”

Seriously? I’m going to outsource my reply to one of the commenters on the Chron story, who is not at all aligned with me politically:

Note to “Uncle Paul” — all your anti-transparency bill would do was (sic) lead the out of state organizations to get a member or supporter from Texas to file the request. It is done more frequently than you think, anyway.

So unless you’re proposing to do away with open records requests altogether, such legislation would do exactly nothing. But thanks for playing. The Press has more.

Runoff endorsement watch: New business

As I mentioned before, there are a couple of runoffs in which the Chron did not endorse a candidate who is still in the running. Those races are At Large #1, #4, and #5; I had forgotten about #4 when I recounted that. The Chron has now made their choices, while restating their preference in the other race.

Georgia Provost

Georgia Provost

At-Large 1: Georgia Provost

The runoff to succeed term-limited Councilman Steve Costello is a study in contrasts. Mike Knox, who led a crowded field in the general election with about 25 percent of the vote, is a former Houston police officer and the author of a book on gang and youth violence. His focus is on bringing the city budget under control by instituting what he calls “a confirmed revenue stream budget.”

His opponent, Georgia Provost, is a photographer and owner of a photography studio and public relations firm. A longtime community activist in the Third and Fifth wards, she is a fund-raiser for various charitable organizations supporting youth and law enforcement, a leader with the Texas Metropolitan Organization and executive director of the Texas Southern University Bayou Bend Alumni/Ex-Students Association Inc. This is the second council race for both candidates.

Knox is articulate and knowledgeable about the issues, but Provost brings grass-roots awareness and years of experience helping solve problems in her community. We believe those are qualifications that will prove valuable on the council. We’re confident she will speak up for Houstonians too often ignored by city government. We endorse Provost.

[…]

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

At-Large 4: Amanda Edwards

Candidates often like to run as symbols of a greater issue: the conservative candidate, the community representative, the education wonk. In this race to replace term-limited Councilman C.O. Bradford, Amanda Edwards has become a sign of Houston’s future – hard-working, engaged and passionate.

A municipal finance lawyer with Bracewell and Giuliani, Edwards has more on-the-ground experience than plenty of politicians twice her age (she’s 33). A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has spent years working for community development corporations and nonprofits across the country, from Atlanta (where she served as student body president at Emory University) to New Orleans (where she moved after Hurricane Katrina).

[…]

Jack Christie

Jack Christie

At-Large 5: Jack Christie

For the past four years, Jack Christie has proven to be one of the most confounding members on City Council. He’s collaborative, soft-spoken and effective at working behind the scenes. He’s also expressed a personal opposition to vaccinations and water fluoridation.

Still, to this day, you can count on one hand the number of times that Christie has raised these issues at City Council. There are also plenty of times when the incumbent proved himself to be a well-prepared workhorse.

Christie faces a challenge from Sharon Moses, a former City Council staffer. When she met with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Moses said she wasn’t running to oust the incumbent. If there’s no reason to boot him from office, voters should re-elect Christie.

The Chron re-endorsed David Robinson in AL2. Edwards was an obvious choice – frankly, she is who they should have endorsed in the first place. Far as I know, they have never endorsed Roy Morales in any of the races he has been in; they were pretty dismissive of him when they endorsed Michael Kubosh over him in the 2013 AL3 runoff.

Both of the other two could have gone either way. The Chron had said some nice things about Knox when they endorsed Tom McCasland in Round One. They didn’t mention Provost at all in that, though they had some kind words for her in their 2013 District D runoff endorsement. I approve of this choice, and I’m guessing they overlooked Provost in November because she wasn’t running much of a campaign at that time. As for Christie, he has been endorsed twice by the Chron before, just not this year. They weren’t necessarily disenchanted with him, I think they just liked Philippe Nassif more. I’m sure they considered Sharon Moses, but for better or worse, in this case they were happy enough to come back to him.

Council approves body camera contract

Moving forward.

City Council approved a $3.4 million contract Wednesday to equip Houston Police Department officers with body-worn cameras despite some lingering concerns that key pieces of the city’s policy for the equipment have not been finalized.

Councilmen Mike Laster, C.O. Bradford and Michael Kubosh along with councilwoman Brenda Stardig voted against the contract with the selected company, Watchguard. Officials hope the cameras will provide transparency and evidence in resident-officer interactions, particularly when force is used.

The four council members who voted against the contract said they supported outfitting officers with the cameras, but that they were either concerned that community groups had not been included in the broader body camera discussion or were frustrated that the city’s policy for storing the video data had not yet been finalized.

Mayor Annise Parker said the plan was to split the body camera program up into three parts: the equipment, the protocol for using the equipment and a storage plan. But she said the camera procurement was sound and the best price for the city.

“My only concern about this whole process is the police department being the police department was, ‘We’re the police experts, we’re going to …’ They don’t always think about the fact – and the chief acknowledged it – that this is a highly sensitized issue right now and a lot of scrutiny,” Parker said. “They could have done a little more up-front public information, although I’ll point out there were some council members today who … collective amnesia.”

A committee meeting on Thursday will tackle the question of whether footage from the cameras should be stored in-house or with a third party, a more costly option but one that proponents say would alleviate concerns about video being tampered with or edited.

There are more questions than that that need to be answered. I’m sure there’s time to get those questions answered before the body cameras are fully deployed, and if this was the deal that was on offer, then it needed to be completed. This process does need to move along, but let’s remember that it is a process, and it’s an ongoing one.

Meanwhile on a related note, this interview with Chief McClelland about the need for criminal justice reform is well worth reading. A sample:

How have previous policing policies affected Houston and how might this new response change that?

There are many who believe the criminal justice system is broken. I’m certainly not one to believe it’s broken – it’s producing the results it’s designed to produce. If we want different results, that’s why the system must be reformed. Because it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do. When we have mandatory sentencing laws [for] minor crime offenses, drug offenses, for people who are really not the greatest threat to community safety, and who are using massive amounts of law enforcement resources, there has to be a better way.

And criminal justice reform and what we’re speaking about in our group… to reduce crime and incarceration – we believe we can do both – if we put more resources into substance abuse treatment, treatment of folks suffering from some form of mental illness and also to reduce the homeless population. Because if you think about it – some of people we arrest on a regular and routine, and very frequent, basis for minor crimes – We are sentencing these people to life sentences – but they’re serving just 3-4 days at a time. Those suffering from intoxication, mental illness, homelessness – they commit a minor crime [and] they only stay in jail 2-3 days at a time, but they are being arrested quite frequently. And over a lifetime, we’re sentencing them to a life sentence – they’re just serving it 2-3 days at a time.

It just doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem or the issue the person is suffering from.

Now let me make this very clear – people who pose the greatest threats to our neighborhoods and our communities, especially those who are violent – and repeat violent offenders, we need to lock those people up for long periods of time, and some of those individuals need to be locked up for the rest of their natural lives. But that’s a very, very small portion of folks who make up the criminal justice system, because an overwhelming number – 90 percent of folks who go to prison get released at some point in time.

But if a person has nothing to be released to – no family structure – no opportunity for legitimate employment – no education, no job skills – the system is almost guaranteeing you’re going to get involved in some illegal activity and go back to prison.

Also, the empirical data clearly has shown that the earlier one contacts the criminal justice system, such as a juvenile, the chances increase two- and three-fold you will go to jail or prison.

So if we can prevent the initial contact from occurring, we reduce the likelihood a great deal that you’ll ever be arrested and put into the system.

Lots there for us all, including the next Mayor and police chief, to think about. Go take a look and see what you think.

Precinct analysis: At Large #4

At Large #4 features a newcomer and a multi-time candidate in its runoff.


Dist  Edwards  Hansen  Blackmon  Robinson  Thompson  Murphy  Morales
====================================================================
A       3,707     572       662     2,378     2,565   1,844    2,702
B      10,732     306     1,296     2,109     1,160     327    1,477
C      11,309   1,226     1,189     6,688     3,891   2,967    3,911
D      12,636     400     2,691     2,618     1,559     542    1,902
E       3,612   1,054       960     3,197     5,033   5,288    4,158
F       2,673     438       542     1,368     1,370     713    1,675
G       4,914   1,150       960     7,210     5,746   4,073    4,193
H       4,121     304       475     1,397       982     468    4,664
I       3,187     302       537     1,022       895     418    4,568
J       1,911     281       325     1,031       909     408    1,339
K       8,357     395     1,444     2,555     1,730     646    1,900
							
A      25.69%   3.96%     4.59%    16.48%    17.78%  12.78%   18.72%
B      61.65%   1.76%     7.45%    12.12%     6.66%   1.88%    8.49%
C      36.27%   3.93%     3.81%    21.45%    12.48%   9.52%   12.54%
D      56.54%   1.79%    12.04%    11.71%     6.98%   2.43%    8.51%
E      15.50%   4.52%     4.12%    13.72%    21.60%  22.69%   17.84%
F      30.45%   4.99%     6.17%    15.58%    15.61%   8.12%   19.08%
G      17.40%   4.07%     3.40%    25.53%    20.34%  14.42%   14.84%
H      33.20%   2.45%     3.83%    11.26%     7.91%   3.77%   37.58%
I      29.16%   2.76%     4.91%     9.35%     8.19%   3.82%   41.80%
J      30.80%   4.53%     5.24%    16.62%    14.65%   6.58%   21.58%
K      49.08%   2.32%     8.48%    15.01%    10.16%   3.79%   11.16%
Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards turns in an impressive performance, even more so for being a first time candidate. It occurred to me in looking at these numbers that Edwards has the kind of profile that would make for a strong challenger to Michael Kubosh – a progressive African-American with solid business/establishment credentials. Of course, a candidate with that profile would be a formidable opponent for anyone, which is a big part of the reason she did so well here. Every candidate in the runoff is at least somewhat dependent on the Mayor’s race, as that will do far more to determine who votes and how many of them there are, but Edwards’ first round performance makes her less dependent on that than most.

I suspect a lot of people (I was one) expected Laurie Robinson to do better than she did. She’d run before, she collected a decent number of endorsements, including a few from more conservative groups who apparently weren’t too impressed with the Republican candidates in the race, and it seemed likely she would collect a fair share of the vote in districts B and D. Instead, Edwards blew her out of the water, so much so that Robinson slipped into third place and out of the runoff. Robinson did slightly worse in these districts than she did in 2011, though here there were seven candidates including three African-Americans, while in 2011 there were four and two. One possible explanation for this is that people may have held a grudge against her for opposing then-CM Jolanda Jones, who was forced into a runoff she eventually lost. I have no way to test that hypothesis, so it’s just a guess. Whatever the case, if Robinson wants to take another crack at a Council campaign in 2019, her inability to do well in these districts is an issue she’s going to have to address.

With Roy Morales sneaking ahead of Laurie Robinson into the runoff, this race shapes up as D-versus-R, as are most of the others. In this case, while there were several Rs in the first round, they combined to score almost no endorsements from the Republican/conservative establishment; as noted above, Robinson did better with that crowd than Morales, Matt Murphy, Jonathan Hansen, and Evelyn Husband Thompson combined. They’re pulling together for Morales now, as they did at the tail end of the 2009 Mayor’s race, and Morales does have the advantage of picking up some low-information votes in districts H and I, but this is Morales’ third runoff out of five citywide races (2007 AL3 special election, 2007 AL3 November election, 2009 Mayor, 2013 AL3, and 2015 AL4, with the first, fourth, and fifth being the runoff races) and it’s hard to see him doing any better than he has done before. One should never take anything for granted, but I suspect the Vegas oddsmakers would install Edwards as a strong favorite in this race.

Precinct analysis: At Large #3

Only one candidate running for citywide office won outright in November. That candidate was first term CM Michael Kubosh in At Large #3. Here’s how he won:


Dist  Kubosh   LaRue  McElligott  Peterson
==========================================
A      8,782   1,042         835     3,152
B      8,988   1,526       1,251     3,541
C     16,414   2,314       1,409    10,138
D     12,074   1,599       1,367     4,385
E     15,033   1,249       1,217     5,314
F      4,192     973         819     2,274
G     19,632   1,463       1,069     5,433
H      6,149   1,284         925     3,055
I      5,121   1,057         953     2,567
J      3,230     600         492     1,566
K      8,524   1,271         989     4,283
				
A     63.59%   7.54%       6.05%    22.82%
B     58.72%   9.97%       8.17%    23.13%
C     54.22%   7.64%       4.65%    33.49%
D     62.16%   8.23%       7.04%    22.57%
E     65.90%   5.47%       5.33%    23.29%
F     50.76%  11.78%       9.92%    27.54%
G     71.14%   5.30%       3.87%    19.69%
H     53.88%  11.25%       8.10%    26.77%
I     52.80%  10.90%       9.83%    26.47%
J     54.86%  10.19%       8.36%    26.60%
K     56.57%   8.44%       6.56%    28.43%
CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

There’s not a whole lot to say here. Kubosh won a majority in every Council district, only coming close to not having a majority in District F. Some of this is a perk of high name ID, but said name ID was earned through work on the red light camera referendum and by being visible on Council. There have been a lot more people running for At Large seats in recent elections, challenging incumbents as well as piling up in open seat races. Since 2009, when CM Melissa Noriega ran unopposed, two At Large members have been dislodged, and every At Large incumbent save Steve Costello and Brad Bradford in 2013 have had at least two opponents. Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones survived runoffs in 2009, while David Robinson and Jack Christie face them this year. In that context, Kubosh’s achievement as one of only two At Large incumbents to clear 60% against multiple opponents in this time frame (Bradford in 2011 is the other) is even more impressive. Give the man his due.

With all this recent interest in At Large races, and with the next election being four long years away (barring any further intervention from the Supreme Court), one wonders what the landscape will look like the next time these seats are up. As noted once before, CM Christie is the only At Large member whose term would be up in 2019, meaning that if he loses then every citywide officeholder as of January 2, 2016, can be on the ballot in 2019. (Like CM Kubosh, CM Robinson is in his first term, so regardless of the outcome in At Large #2, the incumbent in that seat can run for re-election.) With four years between races, one would think that there will be a lot of pent-up demand for Council offices, which may attract another truckload of citywide hopefuls. On the other hand, districts A, B, C, J (if CM Laster wins), and K will all be open then, so perhaps that will siphon off some of that demand. I really have no idea what it will be like, but barring anything strange, it seems reasonable to say that CM Kubosh will be a favorite to win a third term. Check back with me in January of 2019 and we’ll see how good that statement looks at that time.

What the passage of the term limits referendum means

It’s a little unclear from this story.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

The passage of Proposition 2 also means some current officeholders will be able to serve longer than the six years they originally signed up for.

Current freshman council members will now be able to serve two more 4-year terms, for a total of 10 years. Those serving their second terms will be permitted a final term of four years, for a total of eight years. Those finishing their third terms this year, including Mayor Annise Parker, are not permitted to run again.

[…]

Polls did show voters were more likely to oppose the measure when told incumbents could benefit, but there was no organized campaign on either side – aside from some radio ads and phone calls funded by GOP state Sen. Paul Bettencourt – and the ballot language did not detail the impact on incumbents. Ultimately, it passed by a wide margin.

Barry Klein, who was involved in the original fight to pass Houston’s term limits in 1991, lamented that his small-government colleagues were too occupied with other issues to mount a campaign.

“The citizens of Houston used to get four elections over eight years and now will get only two, and I think we’re all worse off for that. I really do think it weakens accountability,” Klein said. “The special interests will find it easier now because when they get their man in place they won’t have to worry about him getting replaced because of term limits.”

I don’t often agree with Barry Klein, but on this matter I do. I voted against Prop 2 because I think two-year terms for city officeholders are the better idea. Increasing the number of terms they could serve is to me the much better idea, but that’s not what was on the ballot. We can argue all we want about how much voters understood Prop 2, but first let’s be clear on what this does mean, because the wording of this story is confusing. Searching my archives, I found this story from August, when the term limits item was put on the ballot. Here’s the key paragraph:

The change, if passed, would take effect for officials elected this fall. Current freshman council members could pick up two four-year terms and those serving their second term would be permitted one four-year term. Elected officials who are already term-limited would not be affected by the change.

So the next municipal election will be in 2019, and at this point all terms have become four years. Anyone elected for the first time this year – Greg Travis, for example – can run again in 2019 and serve a total of eight years. Council members elected to their third term this year, like Jerry Davis and Ellen Cohen, can serve until 2019, also for a total of eight years. This is why the original idea was to not put the change into effect until 2020, so no current members would get extra time. And the real lucky duckies, the people who were first elected in 2013, like Michael Kubosh, can run again in 2019, and if he wins he will get to serve a total of 10 years.

So. Did you know this going in? I admit, I didn’t, but then I was always a No vote on Prop 2, so this particular detail more or less didn’t matter to me. If you voted for Prop 2, does seeing this change your mind?

One side effect of this change, which I doubt has received any consideration, is that the turnout level in HISD and HCC elections will vary dramatically in years with and without city elections. How many voters do you think will show up for Trustee races in 2017 if there are no Mayor or Council races on the ballot? I mentioned this as a potential problem for the idea of moving city elections to even years, and it’s as true here. I suppose that’s not the city’s problem, and if anyone in HISD thought about it they didn’t think loudly enough for the rest of us to hear, but there it is. What effect might this have in the off-year odd-numbered elections? Other than lower turnout, hard to say. Maybe it makes it easier for upstarts to get traction, maybe it helps incumbents stay entrenched. We’ll just have to see.

Omnibus election results post

I’m going to take the easy way out here, because it’s been a long day/week/month and I’m hoping to get some sleep tonight, and just hit the highlights. There will be plenty of time for deeper analysis later, and of course we are now officially in runoff season. There’s absolutely no rest for the political junkie.

– Obviously, the HERO result is deeply disappointing. I’ll leave the Monday morning quarterbacking to others, but I will say this: Whatever you think about this issue, get ready for Jared Woodfill to be the public face of Houston for a few days. There’s no way this is good for anyone.

– It’s Sylvester versus King in the Mayoral runoff. The runoff will basically be the campaign we should have had in November, which will be dominated by the Mayor’s race and not the HERO campaign and the avalanche of lies that accompanied it. Don’t expect the same crowd to show up in December – if I had to guess it would be turnout in the 150K range, as it was in 2009.

– The Controller’s race was reasonably according to form, with Bill Frazer and Chris Brown in the runoff.

– Four out of five At Large races will go to runoffs, with CM Michael Kubosh being the only candidate who can take November off. I suggested there might be some goofy results in these races, and we have them, in ALs 1 and 5, where candidates who didn’t do much if any campaigning are in the runoffs. The single best result of the night is Amanda Edwards’ big lead. She will face Roy Morales, who sneaked past Laurie Robinson into second place, in December.

– And the single worst result from last night, even worse than the HERO result, is Juliet Stipeche losing her race to Diana Davila. A terrible blow for the HISD Board. Jolanda Jones won easily, Rhonda Skillern-Jones leads but is in a runoff, and Manuel Rodriguez also leads but is in a runoff, with Jose Leal and nor Ramiro Fonseca. What a weird night. On the plus side, both Adriana Tamez and Eva Loredo won re-election to the HCC board easily.

– Mike Laster and Richard Nguyen are both in runoffs, in J and F. I feel pretty good about Laster’s chances, less so about Nguyen’s. Greg Travis is a close winner in G, and Karla Cisneros leads in H, Jason Cisneroz holding off Roland Chavez for second place; the difference between the two was in double digits most of the night. If there’s one race on the ballot where someone calls for a recount, it’ll be this one.

– I guess if you really wanted to change Houston’s term limits law, this was the election to do it. There was absolutely no campaign either way, and for all the shouting about “ballot language” in the HERO and Renew Houston elections, I’ll bet a large chunk of the people who voted for Prop 2 had no idea what they were voting for.

– All the county bond issues passed, as did all the state props, and Montgomery County finally got a road bond to pass. Hope it’s all you want it to be, MontCo.

I will have more to say later. For now, this is all the energy I have. I’m going to be looking for national reaction stories to the HERO referendum. I strongly suspect it will be ugly, and I expect the likes of Dan Patrick and Jared Woodfill to keep lying about it in the face of such blowback. But we’ll see. Thanks for reading, and I’ll post precinct analyses as soon as I can get my hands on the canvass. On to the runoffs!

8 day finance reports: Controller candidates

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


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

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

BagOfMoney

A few comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defining HPD body camera policies

It’s still a work in progress.

Houston Police Department officers would activate body cameras when arriving at a crime scene, initiating a traffic stop and during an arrest or search, according to a long awaited proposal outlining use of the devices that was released Tuesday.

But City Council members said they were concerned by a process they said seemed to have failed to seek input from everyday officers, the public or other non-law enforcement groups. They also said the policy did not adequately address tricky logistical problems such as how the department planned to store camera footage, or explain how much the whole process would eventually cost.

“I’m really concerned that there are no community stakeholders involved,” said C.O. “Brad” Bradford, an at-large city council member and former HPD police chief.

Council member Michael Kubosh called for “the public at least have an opportunity to come and discuss this matter before council” and urged for the body camera data storage to be run by an independent third-party vendor, and not the police department.

Timothy Oettmeier, HPD’s executive assistant chief, encountered the resistance after offering details of the draft policy at a three-hour presentation to the Council’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

Oettmeier said police officers would also use the body cameras when executing search warrants, transporting prisoners, engaging in suspect pursuits or interviewing victims. In some situations – such as quickly unfolding events – officers might not be able to immediately activate their cameras, he said.

Police officers working extra jobs would also wear the devices, he said.

[…]

Oettmeier said the presentation to the committee was the department’s first step in presenting the policy to the public.

The draft also outlined retention plans for the data. Oettmeier said that for footage deemed evidentiary, the department would retain the video for a period of time following the state’s statute of limitations for the recorded offense or case.

Footage deemed nonevidentiary would be kept for 90 days. The department plans to regularly audit the recordings, he said, with supervisors and internal investigators both reviewing recorded footage every year.

One key point of pushback from city leaders came after Oettmeier said officers would have to classify whether the footage was evidentiary.

“From a conflict of interest standpoint, how can the officer that may have been involved in the arrest, in the crime, in the whatever, determine an evidentiary position or opinion, because it seems like that would be a conflict of interest,” said council member Dave Martin.

I agree with CMs Bradford and Kubosh. Community input is going to be vital to ensure everyone buys into the plan. As for Kubosh’s comments, let me put my IT hat on for a minute here. There are a few things to think about.

1. Security: Who has access to the video footage? That’s a policy question, but for that policy to be properly enforced, there needs to be monitoring of who accesses what, and a full audit trail, since among other things we’ll need to know who at the hosting company is doing what with these files. And who has access to the audit logs? What is the request process, and who if anyone approves requests?

2. File retention: How long is that period that evidentiary footage is kept? What about backups? When a file is deemed no longer needed, are backups destroyed as well?

3. Incidents and alerts: We’ve already discussed monitoring. What happens when an unathorized access attempt occurs? Under what conditions are HPD, the District Attorney, and the relevant defense attorneys notified when there has been a potential incident? Who gets notified, and when, in the event of an outage, whether planned or unplanned?

This stuff isn’t terribly complicated, and I’m sure HPD already has similar policies in place for its existing data. But getting back to Bradford’s point, the public needs to be involved in setting these policies. If the idea is to have this up and running by the beginning of next year, we need to get this going. The Press has more.

Endorsement watch: HERO ain’t everything

I predicted that the Chron would endorse CM Kubosh, so I can’t say that I’m surprised that they endorsed him. That said, their logic is always a sight to behold.

CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

At a City Hall filled with lawyers, urban planners and technocrats, Kubosh stands out as an elected official who tries to put the will of the people first. Often that means opposing referenda-driven politics, such as red-light cameras, the homeless feeding ordinance and the Houston equal rights amendment (HERO). But sometimes it just means dancing for the crowd.

Kubosh’s circus show might as well be a metaphor for his two years on City Council. He’s more jolly Santa Claus than nimble elf, but the 64-year-old bailbondsman has been able to deftly maneuver his way through Houston’s political beats like few other elected officials can. These skills were on full display during the passage of HERO. During the weeks of debate, Kubosh met with members of Houston’s LGBT community at town hall meetings, talking to them and listening to their concerns. At Council meetings, Kubosh routinely tried to assure HERO opponents that their voices were being heard. When he met with the Chronicle editorial board, he emphasized that his vote against the ordinance and his continued opposition was about procedure and unintended consequences, not hatred or fear of the LGBT community.

“This was all being done in the back rooms during the Easter holiday by the Greater Houston Partnership and with the lawyers from the city at the mayor’s bidding, and only two council members, I understand, were involved,” Kubosh said. However, this process argument hasn’t stopped him from propagating false, fear-mongering rhetoric against the non-discrimination ordinance. If HERO were the only issue on the agenda for City Council’s next term, Kubosh’s actions would be reason enough to boot him from office. Yet the days will pass, Houstonians will vote on HERO, and a new council will have to confront all the usual problems of potholes, pensions and public safety. On those important issues, none of the challengers for this seat have made a convincing case that they would do a better job than Kubosh.

[…]

In this race, Kubosh faces two serious challengers. Doug Peterson, 64, served as press agent for the astronaut corps at the Johnson Space Center and John LaRue, 30, is a local attorney who practices family law. Peterson, who lives in Clear Lake, makes a compelling argument about the need for an at-large councilman who can represent suburban issues, but that isn’t reason enough to boot an incumbent.

Whatever. I personally think that “propagating false, fear-mongering rhetoric” against a population that has every reason to feel hated and feared by it is a pretty big strike against someone, but maybe that’s just me. I said in my guess-the-endorsements post that outside of HERO Kubosh had done nothing to disqualify himself, and I’d even say that he’s done a good job otherwise. It’s a question of how much HERO – not just the vote, but the “propagating false, fear-mongering rhetoric” – means to you.

Time to guess the Chronicle’s endorsements

vote-button

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

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

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

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

Mayor

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

Controller

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

At Large incumbents

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

At Large open seats

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

District seats

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

HISD and HCC

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

Referenda

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

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

Endorsement watch: The score so far

We’ve had a slew of endorsements for municipal races this past week. I’ve been keeping track of them as best I can on my 2015 Election page. This isn’t always easy to do, because some groups are not very good at posting their endorsements anywhere. I gather, for example, that the HPFFA has made endorsements, based on these tweets, but so far no official list appears to be visible. Groups whose endorsements I have added to the page so far:

AFL-CIO
Houston GLBT Political Caucus
Houston Stonewall Young Democrats
Houston Area Stonewall Democrats
Democracy for Houston
Harris County Tejano Democrats

Log Cabin Republicans
Houston Police Officers Union
Houston Building Owners & Managers Association

I’ve separated the traditionally Democratic/progressive groups from the rest. There are still a lot of groups out there to endorse – HOPE (they have endorsed Sylvester Turner for Mayor but I’ve not seen anything else from them as yet), SEIU, Houston Black American Democrats, Houston Association of Realtors, Houston Contractors Association, the C Club, Texas Organizing Project, and the firefighters if they ever produce a list. Things may change as more endorsements come in, but here are my initial impressions on what we’ve seen so far.

Sylvester Turner has done very well so far. I had thought some endorsing organizations might want to keep their powder dry in this crowded field, but Turner has stood out with his ability to collect support from different groups. Given all the competition for the LGBT group endorsements, snagging two of them is an accomplishment. Stephen Costello nabbed the other two, with the nod from the Stonewall Young Dems being a bit contentious. Adrian Garcia got on the scoreboard with the Tejano Dems; I’m sure that won’t be his last endorsement. Chris Bell has impeccable credentials for some of these groups, but he’s come up empty so far. You have to wonder if they’re getting a little discouraged over there, and you have to wonder if their fundraising is taking a hit. Ben Hall is getting Hotze support; I’ll be interested to see if he buys Gary Polland’s endorsement in the Texas Conservative Review. Will also be interesting to see if a more mainstream group like the C Club throws in with Hall or goes with an establishment choice like Bill King.

My initial reaction to Chris Brown’s dominance in Controller endorsements so far was surprise, but on reflection it all makes sense. He’s really the only viable Democrat running – Carroll Robinson has Hotze taint on him, and Jew Don Boney doesn’t even have a campaign website. Frazer got the Log Cabin Republicans, and I expect him to sweep up the other R-based endorsements. Keep an eye on what the realtors and contractors do in this one, if they get involved at all rather than waiting for the runoff.

Lane Lewis has crushed it so far in At Large #1, not only sweeping the Dem/progressive endorsements over three quality opponents, but also picking up support from the police, firefighters, and BOMA, who didn’t endorse in any of the other three open citywide races. He won’t win any Republican endorsements, of course – I assume new entrant Mike Knox will, if he can get his campaign organized in time to do whatever screenings are needed – but at this point I’d make him a favorite for most of what’s left. Amanda Edwards has impressed in AL4, though Laurie Robinson has split a couple of endorsements with her and will be a threat to win others. Not clear to me who will take the Republican support that’s available.

I expected more of an even fight in the two At Large races with Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, but so far Doug Peterson and Philippe Nassif have taken them all. As I understand it, Durrel Douglas hasn’t been screening for endorsements – this can be a very time-consuming thing if you are doing a solo campaign – so Nassif has had a clear path and has taken it. As for AL3, I get the impression that Peterson is considered the more viable candidate against CM Kubosh. I though both he and John LaRue were good interview subjects, for what it’s worth. CMs Kubosh and Christie have gotten the “friendly incumbent” endorsements so far, and I expect that will continue. CM David Robinson has gotten those and the Dem/progressive nods. I’ll be interested to see if HBAD backs Andrew Burks; I expect Gary Polland to give Burks some love for being a HERO opponent, but I don’t know if groups like the C Club will join in with that. Burks is doing his usual thing campaign-wise (which is to say, not a whole lot), so anything that requires an organized response is probably beyond his grasp.

Not a whole lot of interest in the District Council and HISD/HCC races. I’m a little surprised that Karla Cisneros hasn’t picked up any endorsements in H, but there’s still time. Ramiro Fonseca has done well against Manuel Rodriguez, who is deservedly paying for the rotten things his campaign did in 2011. Jolanda Jones still has some game. Beyond that, not much to say.

So that’s where things stand now. As I said, they may look very different in a month’s time. And as with fundraising, a good showing in endorsements only means so much. Plenty of candidates who have dominated the endorsement process have fallen short at the ballot box. So consider all this as being for entertainment purposes only, and take it with a handful or two of salt.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the fact that HOPE and SEIU are no longer affiliated.

Finance reports come trickling in

As always, the Mayoral reports lead the story.

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bail reform for Harris County?

This would be a big deal.

go_to_jail

In jails across the country, including Harris County, a majority of the people behind bars have not been convicted of a crime. In the jail complex on the north side of downtown Houston, more than 6,600 people, about three-quarters of the prisoners there, are waiting to go to trial. Each one costs taxpayers about $45 a day.

Those prisoners are there because they can’t afford to pay bail, the debt a judge imposes to make sure defendants return to court.

Advocates for bail reform have said the system can be burdensome for low-income defendants, saying it inhibits their ability to go back to work, support their families and aid in their own defense.

Leaders at both the local at state level are now looking at ways to change that, possibly allowing defendants charged with lower level crimes to remain free without bail, but with a pledge to return to court. They will use a screening process that can predict whether defendants will return to court or if they might commit more crimes if released.

Earlier this month, Nathan Hecht, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, announced the creation of a committee to study the issue for the Texas Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the state judiciary. Depending on the results, they may throw their support behind changes in the next legislative session.

Hecht said a recent report by the National Conference of Chief Justices showed that bail for suspects of non-violent crime, like drug offenses, is an unnecessary expense.

“It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help the criminal justice system and it doesn’t help society,” he said. “It just creates additional burdens. If it’s easy to avoid and you end up at the same place, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Hecht said he wants to be able to prove that point before advocating for a change.

“The District of Columbia is pretty far along in revamping their system so that bail is not required,” Hecht said. “We’ll have Texas look at this and see if we can’t make some improvements.”

[…]

Some of those who oppose changing the system are the bail bondsmen who stand to lose business.

“Who’s going to chase these people when they miss court?” said Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman and a city councilman. “You’re going to have to hire more government people to do it.”

When defendants use a bondsman to secure bail, they pay a fee-10 percent or more of the bail amount-and pledge collateral, usually property or automobiles, for the remaining amount.

If a defendant does not show up for court, the bondsman either has to pay the entire bail or go on a manhunt.

“If someone has a financial interest, then we can get ‘Billy Bob’ to show back up because someone will produce them,” Kubosh said. “Their mom will produce them before she’ll lose her house.”

He noted the cost of current system is paid by the people accused of crimes, not spread among taxpayers.

“If they miss court, a bondsman is financially obligated to the state to get these people back in custody,” he said. “We monitor every one of them every day, at no cost to the taxpayer.”

All due respect to CM Kubosh, but Harris County doesn’t owe bail bondsmen a living. The issue here isn’t with the people who make bail, it’s with the many people who can’t, and who as a result sit in jail – for which the taxpayers do foot the cost – even though they haven’t been convicted of anything and may never be convicted of anything, or – even worse – plead guilty to something they didn’t do in order to get out of jail. Basically, some number of people – more than is the case now – need to be released on their own recognizance, and more people need to be assessed a lower and more affordable bail amount. The goal here is to have fewer people in jail at any time, which is both more just and less expensive. If that means leaner times for the bail bonding business, well, that’s okay by me. The tradeoff is more than worth it.

At Large comings and goings

Meet Atlas Kerr, who will be running in At Large #3 against CM Michael Kubosh.

Atlas Kerr

I am an accounting and finance double major at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business. I have in-depth knowledge over capital budgeting, debt/bond valuation, and capital asset price modeling. I am a registered volunteer instructor at the Women’s Resource of Greater Houston that teaches budgeting and financial literacy classes to women, high school teenagers, and men.

I am of African-American and Hispanic decent. I am a first generation American on my mother’s side and first generation college student on my father’s. As a proud Houstonian, Texan, and American, I believe in the American dream and have made vow to fight for equality for all inhabitants of our great city and tear down barriers of race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. Although we all come from different places and have grown up with different backgrounds, the law treats everyone as equals. This is the reason why I have so much respect for and strive to be a part of the legislative force of the municipal government.

For the entire duration of my campaign, I will be following in the footsteps of my greatest political hero Bob Lanier and run without identifying myself as either republican or democrat. Houston municipal elections are run non-partisan and I fully intend on running this way so that voters can be assured that my campaign platform are my own personal beliefs and no one else’s.

I have watched every single city council and committee meeting since 2012 and have met with many former and current city councilmembers to get the best possible picture of where the city is currently and where it has come from. I have such a great and profound respect for Houston. I want to thank my professors for being so accommodating, my friends and family for their outstanding support, and my contributors for believing in me. Without any of you, all of this would not be possible.

In prior communication with me, Kerr said that he had filed to run for Mayor in 2011 under the name Brian Carr, but he was not a resident of the city of Houston at that time, so he did not make it to the ballot. The name change was a personal decision he made.

Meanwhile, Jan Clark, who had previously announced her candidacy for At Large #5, has since announced that she will not run.

Friends,

Thank you all very much for the incredible show of support. I am humbled and overwhelmed and so very grateful. However now I must tell you I am terminating the campaign. I got in committing fully, but due to recent changes in my personal obligations I cannot devote the time and effort needed to run the campaign I can be proud of, and you can be proud to support. Unless things change dramatically, very dramatically, I will not run in the 2015 election.

Yes, I considered waiting a while to terminate in case my circumstances changed again soon, but I chose to make a final decision now in part because it is still early enough that the campaign has not yet “accepted” any contributions. Contributions received have been refused/returned. Investing other people’s money believing I would end up having to make the same decision later is not something I could do. When I run, be assured I will not waste your contribution.

Please stay tuned. There are issues to talk about and many ways to serve the people of our great city. Having every reason to believe my circumstances will be in different in a year, I fully intend to run for city council in the 2017 cycle. At which time I will again ask for your support. It will be here before we know it.

With my heartfelt gratitude,

Jan

P.S. For what it’s worth the website (www.janclark4houston.com) and FB (https://www.facebook.com/JanClarkforHouston?ref=hl) will stay up although obviously not for a specific office.

Sorry to see her have to drop out, but I believe that counts as the first candidate announcement for 2017. I look forward to seeing her on the ballot then.

Council’s pension meeting

It was about what you’d expect.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Many City Council members who attended a special meeting Friday to discuss Mayor Annise Parker’s controversial deal with the city’s firefighters pension called the gathering a success, despite two members walking out and breaking a quorum before a vote could be held to support or oppose the agreement.

The meeting’s unusual ending matched the unusual situation. Typically, the mayor alone calls City Council meetings and decides what items will appear on the agenda for a vote, a power that council members can subvert only by teaming up in a group of at least three to force a special meeting.

Council members C.O. Bradford, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig and Dave Martin did that last Monday, saying the council had been excluded as Parker negotiated the three-year agreement to lower the city’s costs and that the deal must be vetted publicly.

The unrealized vote would not have been binding because the council has no legal authority over the agreement, but organizers hoped the resolution would raise public awareness of the city’s pension situation and send a signal to the Legislature, which controls Houston’s three pension funds. State Sen. John Whitmire and mayoral candidate and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, both Houston Democrats, have agreed to carry the legislation in Austin.

“A vote would have sent a signal to the state Legislature, so I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the opportunity to express our opinion to the state,” said Martin, who opposes the deal, “but I thought the discussion was good, so I leave here pleased.”

[…]

Parker spokeswoman Janice Evans said the administration is moving forward on getting the deal passed in Austin, and stressed that the mayor has never claimed the agreement represents true pension reform.

“The meeting turned out as we thought it would … a lot of talking, but no new solutions offered and no new information presented,” Evans said.

See here for the background. The Wednesday Council meeting at which Mayor Parker presented the plan to Council could be characterized similarly. Of interest is that not only will there be a bill to enact the negotiated deal, but also one to give the city the kind of control over the pension fund that Mayor Parker had been pushing for before. From the press release that CM Costello sent out on Friday evening:

City of Houston At-Large Council Member Steve Costello was extremely instrumental in crafting House Bill 2608 which was filed today by State Representative Jim Murphy of Houston. Local control of pensions is key to the citizens of Houston. H.B. 2608 will allow the mayor and city council to directly negotiate with its pension plans to create the most beneficial structure for both taxpayers and retirees.

Council Member Costello has also written and distributed a letter to the local Houston delegation encouraging them to support the bill, local control and vote against the Parker/Turner plan.

“There’s no way for the city to pay our pension benefits as currently structured without severely limiting the city’s ability to provide basic city services to its citizens. Without showing real leadership and tackling the pension benefits themselves, the amount the city owes does not change,” Costello said.

“This bill will provide for a more sustainable and responsible pension program that is good for our city, our brave firefighters and Houston taxpayers. Fortunately, Representative Jim Murphy has filed H. B. 2608, and I am pleased to have played a key role in crafting a bill that actually moves us toward a solution,” according to Costello.

Costello continued, “I’m going to continue to fight hard for local control. The City must be able to fulfill our promise to our public safety and municipal employees in a way that is also fair to Houston taxpayers.”

There was no mention of a bill like this at the beginning of the session, when everyone seemed to want the city and the firefighters to work this out among themselves. It’s interesting to hear people like Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who was at the meeting and who expressed his support of Rep. Murphy’s bill, talk favorably of local control when he’s busy helping Greg Abbott eviscerate it elsewhere. Be that as it may, I guess this answers my question about what Costello thinks he can do differently than Mayor Parker – if he’s able to help get HB2608 to Abbott’s desk, it would be quite an accomplishment. The politics of this are going to be fascinating to watch, that’s for sure. I just hope that the Mayoral candidates that lobby for one bill or the other in Austin get equally and visibly involved in beating back the many bad bills out there.

Council meeting called to discuss firefighter pension deal

Some Council members are determined to discuss the deal Mayor Parker made with the firefighters’ pension fund.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Four City Council members have taken advantage of a rarely used provision in city law to call a special meeting Friday to discuss Mayor Annise Parker’s controversial deal with the city’s firefighter pension board that was announced last week.

Typically, the mayor alone controls what items appear on the council agenda to be voted on, a power that can be subverted only when a trio of council members teams up to call a meeting.

Council members C.O. Bradford, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig and Dave Martin did so Monday morning, with one more signer than was required. City officials said this appears to be the first time the legal maneuver has been used in Parker’s more than five-year tenure.

It’s not clear whether enough of the foursome’s colleagues will attend to muster a quorum, but the symbolism of the meeting is more significant than any action that could be taken, given that the group will simply consider registering support for or opposition to the pension deal.

Regardless, Parker’s liaison to council, William-Paul Thomas, said he will work against a quorum. Parker had said she would not put the deal to a council vote because it does not call for the expenditure of city funds.

The three-year agreement would see the city pay a projected $77 million less into the pension fund and see firefighters contribute an estimated $20 million more. Supporters call it a compromise that will free up city funds during a budget crunch, while critics call it a risky missed opportunity that will see $57 million less paid into the system without any changes to the cost of benefits.

Bradford said the aim of Friday’s meeting is for council to discuss the pension deal openly and to send a signal to Austin on the council’s view of the agreement. Firefighters’ pension benefits and the city’s contributions to the fund are controlled by the Legislature, and the mayor’s deal would need to pass in Austin to take effect.

[…]

Firefighters union president Alvin White – whose organization is a separate entity from the fire pension board – early Monday raised his own concerns, saying the union “is the only legally recognized entity authorized to negotiate Houston firefighters’ workplace rights, wages and benefits.” White said he was entering into talks with fire pension chairman Todd Clark to “protect our members’ rights” in the deal, which requires firefighters to contribute 12 percent of their pay toward their pensions, up from 9 percent today.

Those talks yielded progress Monday night, however, with White saying the resolution would allow the union the flexibility it needs to negotiate future contracts. Clark did not return a call for comment Monday; a pension spokeswoman said he was busy working to get the bill filed at the Legislature.

See here for the background. At least this gives me some idea what the fuss is about, since the net effect is that the fund will receive $57 million less in payments over the next three years. The fund is in good enough shape that these underpayments probably won’t cause any issues, but for obvious reasons this is not a sustainable approach. I don’t know what these members have in mind to discuss or what if anything they might be able to accomplish, but I see no reason not to let them have their meeting. Maybe they’ll come up with some good questions to ask, or maybe they’ll agree with the Mayor’s judgment. Let them meet and make up their own minds. Campos has more.

On Council and charters

Council continues considering charter changes. (Go ahead, say that five times fast.)

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The Charter Review Committee’s proposal would allow for six council members to add an item to the agenda for consideration by the full City Council. Under the current city charter, the mayor decides what gets to be discussed during the weekly council meetings.

At-large Council member Michael Kubosh said the only way for him and his colleagues to place an item on the agenda is if the mayor agrees.

“Yeah, we have to get the mayor to put it on the agenda,” Kubosh said. “We need to be able to do that even if the mayor is in opposition of it.”

He said that makes Houston unique among most governmental bodies.

“It doesn’t work that way in the state legislature and most other cities,” Kubosh said. “The council controls much of the agenda and brings forth the legislation and ordinances and laws.”

[…]

But Mayor Annise Parker said, at this point, she isn’t considering putting the proposed change up for a vote. That’s because she believes council members are not allowed to meet and discuss city business privately.

I continue to be agnostic on this question, though I wonder if the cities CM Kubosh has in mind are also strong Mayor cities like Houston; if they are city manager cities, like San Antonio, then I’d say he’s comparing basketballs and hockey pucks. Be that as it may, and at the risk of beating a dead horse before we’re even at the first post, perhaps this is something that interested parties should be working to get Mayoral candidates to weigh in on. Do they agree with the Mayor’s interpretation of our Open Meeting laws? Would they support or oppose this amendment? It would affect whoever comes after Mayor Parker much more than it would affect her, after all. I’m just saying.

January campaign finance reports – Council

CM Jerry Davis

CM Jerry Davis

Mayoral reports
Controller reports

Four Council members are term limited this year. Two, CMs Stephen Costello and Oliver Pennington, are running for Mayor. The other two, CMs CO Bradford and Ed Gonzales, do not have any announced plans at this time, though both were on the list of Mayoral possibilities at one time or another. While there are some known candidates for these offices, there are many more to come. No one who isn’t or wasn’t a candidate before this year has a finance report, and no one has any contributions to report, so the data we have is somewhat limited.

Brenda Stardig (SPAC)
Jerry Davis
Ellen Cohen
Dwight Boykins
Dave Martin
Richard Nguyen
Robert Gallegos
Mike Laster
Larry Green

David Robinson
Michael Kubosh

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Stardig 0 21,191 0 59,517 Davis 0 6,091 0 97,563 Cohen 0 23,304 0 63,769 Boykins 0 5,845 0 1,129 Martin 0 20,345 0 34,339 Nguyen 0 20,120 0 15,020 Gallegos 0 7,326 0 45,021 Laster 0 5,791 0 78,216 Green 0 45,671 0 55,983 Gonzales 0 35,987 0 29,603 Brown 0 3,858 0 34,900 Robinson 0 1,565 0 48,334 Kubosh 0 17,403 10,000 0 Bradford 0 12,282 0 20,088

I’ve included the totals for Helena Brown above, since rumor has it that she’s aiming for a rubber match against Brenda Stardig in A. Beyond that, the two numbers that stand out to me are Boykins’ and Nguyen’s. Boykins was the big dog in 2013, nearly winning a first round majority in a very crowded field. I presume he emptied his coffers in the runoff, I haven’t gone back to look at his last reports from 2013 and his January 2014 report to confirm that. He burned some bridges with his vote against the HERO last year, so it will be interesting to see how things develop from here. As for Nguyen, he came out of nowhere to knock off Al Hoang in F. He then made a courageous vote for the HERO and announced that he was a Democrat. All of these things would put a target on his back even if he had a big cash on hand balance. As for Kubosh, he did a lot of self-funding in 2013, and I’d expect at least some more of the same. It will be interesting to see how much of the usual suspect PAC money he gets. We’ll have to wait till July to find out.