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Oliver Pennington

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”.

Chron analysis of how Turner won

I suppose it’s a bit simplistic to say “he got more votes than the other guy”, but one way or the other that’s what happened.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner’s 24-year quest for the mayor’s office was realized by a narrow margin Saturday night, driven by overwhelming support from black voters and a robust effort to push supporters to the polls.

The tallies showed Houston’s long trend of voting in racial blocs held in this year’s runoff, by far the closest in 12 years.

Conservative businessman Bill King took 71 percent of the vote in the city’s majority-white voting precincts, where residents also turned out in the highest numbers. Turner won a whopping 93 percent of the vote in majority-black precincts, however, erasing King’s turnout advantage. Turner also had an edge in the city’s two predominantly Latino council districts, giving him the boost he needed to secure a 4,100-vote victory.

[…]

Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said the racial polarization reflected in the tallies is consistent with Houston’s electoral history. Adams’ research on black candidates’ performance in Houston elections from 1997 to 2009 shows Turner performed slightly worse than would be expected in Anglo precincts.

“Turner’s success in only a handful of majority-white precincts, all inside the 610 Loop, is interesting. He performed worse than other Democrats had in similar precincts,” Adams said. “His success is almost entirely attributable to the overwhelming vote in the African-American community.”

Turner lost the city’s progressive urban district west of downtown, District C, by more than 10 points, but Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the tallies are not necessarily a sign of racial polarization.

“It had more to do with the effectiveness of the Bill King campaign,” Jones said. “King’s message regarding the city’s fiscal crisis resonated with those voters in part because District C is the most educated and arguably the most politically interested council district. If it was going to resonate with any district that was a non-core conservative district, it was District C.”

Here’s another map of how the precincts voted, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m the wrong person to objectively evaluate King’s campaign, because I was never buying what he was selling. I will say three things about the race he ran, then move on:

1. The timing was good for him and his gloomy economic message. In 2015, with the local economy sputtering and some bills coming due for the city, voters were more receptive to his message than they likely would have been in, say, 2013. It also helped that the sky-is-falling crescendo about pensions has been incessantly drilled into people, thanks in no small part to King’s own column in the Chronicle and his apparent effect on their editorial board. This was a good year for that message.

2. King basically had the Republican vote to himself. Remember, at the start of the year Oliver Pennington was a candidate for Mayor. I think it’s fair to say that he would have eaten into King’s November vote total had he stayed on the ballot, and it’s quite reasonable to think that the two of them could have split the vote to the point of letting Adrian Garcia slip into second place. One need only look at At Large #1 this year and At Large #3 in 2013 to see the scenario I’m talking about. Yes, I know, Steve Costello is a Republican, but come on. He’s a pro-HERO, pro-“rain tax” Republican. Who else was going to get the Polland/Woodfill/Hotze vote? For that matter, King was lucky that the only true wingnut anti-HERO candidate on the ballot that could have sucked votes away from him on his right was Ben Hall, whom the local GOP establishment warned its voters away from for not being an actual Republican. Surely if an Eric Dick or Dave Wilson had decided to run, that would have made it harder for King to get into the final round.

3. Still and all, King ran a good campaign. I can’t think of any obvious mistakes he made, none that would have cost him any votes anyway. He might have unleashed some negative mail on Turner in the runoff, but looking at how he actually did in the Anglo Dem areas, it’s hard to say that he could have done much better. Unless things go badly wrong for Turner, I don’t think he’d have as much success in a rematch in 2019 (or in 2017, if term limits hadn’t been changed), but he took advantage of the opportunities he had at this time and came close to winning. There’s no shame in that.

Beyond that, every election is different. I’d be hesitant to draw any broad conclusions from this race. Barring legal intervention, the next city races are in 2019, and by then this year will be ancient history. Next year is completely different as well. Learn from what did and didn’t work and move on to the next election.

One more thing before I can move on to the next election: I have a nit to pick with this Daily Kos election roundup that states “Houston leans Democratic, but poor turnout from Team Blue almost allowed King to become the city’s first non-Democratic mayor since Republican Jim McConn left office in 1982.” This is what happens when out of towners try to make sense of our news. Turnout was fine in Democratic precincts. King did as well as he did in part by winning some Democratic crossover votes, and in part by giving Republicans a reason to vote. Both Turner and King had ground games going, and Turner’s was very effective. Let’s not fall into oversimplified narratives about what happened; that does no one any good.

Hall for all the haters

He is who we thought he was.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall said Thursday he signed a petition seeking to define gender identity and prevent men “who perceive or express themselves as women” from entering women’s restrooms because he wants to protect the right to vote.

Hall’s press conference at his Montrose law firm comes three days after an LGBT blog reported that Hall signed the request, which it framed as “anti-gay.”

“I’m trying to correct the record about people who are mischaracterizing why we signed the petition. I want to make sure we change that narrative,” said Hall, who was accompanied by his wife. “We signed this petition because everybody has the right to vote, whether you like the outcome or not.”

Hall added that he “will protect all our citizens from illegal discrimination, gay or straight.”

Of this year’s crowded slate of mayoral contenders, Hall, the 2013 mayoral runner-up, is the most vocal opponent of the city’s equal rights ordinance, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, and family, marital or military status.

A picture of Hall’s signature was posted to the HOUEquality Facebook page a few days ago; Hair Balls confirmed it was in fact Hall’s autograph. I think everyone would agree that the one sure beneficiary of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling is Hall, who is the one Mayoral candidate with any visibility who is full-on for repeal. He’s got Wilson and the Hotzes in his camp, and where else are these voters going to go? Bill King isn’t a HERO supporter, but I don’t see him lining up with the repeal forces, not if he wants business support. Oliver Pennington voted against HERO on Council, but he’s not in the race any more. Who else is there? As David Ortez reported, at least one fringe candidate is rabidly pro-repeal as well, but there’s a reason why fringe candidates are on the fringe. Hall is the choice of those who think that HERO was crammed down their throats, and who want very badly to stick it to Mayor Parker. And yes, that choice of words is quite deliberate.

Pennington withdraws from Mayor’s race

Sad news.

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

City Councilman Oliver Pennington announced he would end his candidacy for mayor on Friday, citing his wife’s health.

The term-limited councilman, who represents west Houston’s District G, said in a press release he would complete his third and final two-year term, which runs through the end of this year.

The 75-year-old retired attorney’s exit removes the candidate best positioned to secure conservative votes, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. That could have a significant impact on a crowded race in which any candidate with a reliable base has a shot at earning one of two spots in the December runoff election that will surely follow November’s initial vote.

The news is an obvious boon to Councilman Steve Costello and former Kemah mayor Bill King, Jones said, two centrist-to-conservative candidates who were set to spar with Pennington for the same supporters.

“There simply was not enough room for them to all three run and have a real chance of entering the runoff,” Jones said. “Pennington had at least a potential path to the second round. But it would have been a very uphill battle to actually win a runoff because the characteristics that made him one of the more viable Republican candidates also made him less viable against a Democratic foe in a runoff.”

In Pennington’s press release, he said, “For nearly 47 years, Beverly has been the love of my life, and I will be by her side as we walk through this situation.” Reached by phone Friday, he declined to elaborate on the medical diagnosis.

[…]

Pennington said he will not endorse any mayoral hopeful in what he sees as a wide-open race, but said his vote will go to the candidate who best shows leadership abilities and focuses on financial sustainability and the efficient delivery of city services.

The press release from the Pennington campaign is here. My best wishes to CM Pennington and his family going forward.

Endorsement watch: Pushback on the process

The early endorsement by the firefighters’ union – and now the Houston Police Officers Union – of Rep. Sylvester Turner for Mayor has ruffled some feathers.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The Houston Police Officers’ Union on Tuesday followed their firefighter counterparts who on Monday endorsed Turner, a 25-year state representative who long has maintained close ties to first responders. Both organizations said that Turner’s legislative record placed him head and shoulders above his competitors and that the decision to endorse him was easy.

The endorsements arrived as various mayoral campaigns are only beginning to roll out their platforms and before the organizations knew the full field of candidates available to consider. In 2009, the last open mayoral race, the unions only chose to endorse in August. Sometimes, the organizations have made endorsements for a November election as late as September.

The firefighters union endorsement is drawing particular scrutiny because the group did not screen any candidates other than Turner, who brokered a deal this month between the city and the fire pension board that earned plaudits from firefighters.

Scott Wilkey, spokesman for the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341, said a more extensive interview process was unnecessary. Given the public statements of the well-qualified field, Wilkey said, the union already knew the positions of most of the candidates.

“Screening candidates who are on record as hostile to firefighters or who are profoundly ignorant of public safety issues just wastes everyone’s time,” Wilkey said in a statement.

[…]

Asked why former congressman Chris Bell and businessman Marty McVey, who have expressed conceivably less threatening positions on pension reform, were not considered, Wilkey said the union compared “a 25-year history versus a 10-year absence in politics versus a neophyte.”

See here for the background. It’s obvious why the HPFFA did not bother to screen candidates like CM Stephen Costello, CM Oliver Pennington, and Bill King. Everyone knows where each side stands on the single issue that matters the most to the firefighters, so why waste everyone’s time? As for the likes of Chris Bell and Marty McVey, endorsing organizations are free to set their own rules and follow their own procedures. The tradeoff for a streamlined process in this case is the possibility of alienating someone who could have been friendly or at least neutral to you. Now that person’s supporters might be less inclined to listen to you, a non-trivial factor in a race that will surely go to a runoff, and you might wind up with a Mayor you’ve annoyed by your process. You pay your money and you take your chances.

But wait, I hear you cry. What about that other guy?

That process snubbed not only McVey but also Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who has not yet announced a mayoral run though people with firsthand knowledge of his plans say he will formally launch his bid in the next few weeks. Garcia, who declined to comment through an adviser, spent 23 years as a Houston police officer.

“Adrian would have been screened Friday if Adrian had announced prior to Friday,” said Houston Police Officers Union president Ray Hunt, who defended the process as thorough and welcoming.

Sources may say that Sheriff Garcia is running for Mayor, but until he himself says it, he’s not a candidate. No organization is going to consider or screen a non-candidate. It happens every two years that some late-entering candidates miss out on endorsements they might have won if they’d been in the race earlier. In this case, the endorsement process was a lot earlier than usual, but them’s the breaks. It’s all part of the process.

Police officers’ pension fund speaks up

The firefighters’ pension fund is the one that gets all the attention, but it’s not the only one the city is responsible for. The Houston Police Officers Pension System (HPOPS) has sent a letter to the city reminding it that they have a deal that restricts what the city can request from the Legislature.

Police pension leaders, in a March 11 letter to Mayor Annise Parker and City Council members, asked for documents proving that city officials are complying with a provision of the 12-year deal, approved in 2011, that requires the city to join the fund in opposing legislation that would affect the terms of the agreement.

The letter named no particular official, but it would be hard to miss the recent actions – and accompanying press releases – of mayoral candidates and City Councilmen Steve Costello and Oliver Pennington, who back a bill filed by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, that would grant the city local authority over its three pension plans. Today, the plans are controlled in Austin, where lawmakers have stymied repeated attempts at reform. The rising cost of pensions has caused stress at City Hall for more than a decade; Houston is paying $353 million into its pensions this fiscal year, almost twice what it spends on trash pickup, parks and libraries combined.

In writing the mayor, police pension officials also sought a meeting, which they got Friday morning. City Attorney Donna Edmundson said the gathering was cordial and brief, and served simply to confirm that pension leaders and the Parker administration view the agreement similarly and will thus jointly oppose Murphy’s bill, despite the mayor having sought related legislation in years past.

The key, Edmundson said, is that when the agreement refers to “the city” it refers to the executive branch – in this case, the mayor, her top staff and legislative coordinators – and not individual council members in the legislative branch.

“Council member Costello has gone to Austin. But in those trips to Austin, he’s not representing the city of Houston, and they just wanted to be clear on that and make sure we’re on the same page,” Edmundson said. “We can’t stop an individual from going to Austin and expressing his or her views or the views of his or her constituents. They have a First Amendment right.”

Police pension representatives confirmed Edmundson’s characterizations, but declined further comment.

On the fund’s website, however, chairman Terry Bratton on Friday posted that he had met with Parker and that their plans aligned.

“The agreement provides that the city and HPOPS (Houston Police Officers’ Pension System) will work together to oppose bills adversely impacting HPOPS. The mayor is aware of the provision and intends to honor the contract,” Bratton wrote.

Just a reminder that there’s more than one dimension to the pension issue, and that if you think Mayor Parker should be supporting Rep. Murphy’s bill, the 2011 agreement with HPOPS – which as the story notes, both CMs Costello and Pennington voted for – says she cannot. Mayoral candidates Costello and Pennington are free to do what they want, but that agreement with HPOPS will bind them going forward if one of them gets elected.

Meanwhile, the chair of the firefighters’ pension fund sent a letter to the Chronicle to point out a few things regarding the recent deal.

Regarding “Missed chances” (Page B8, Friday), last August, during a special subcommittee meeting of the Houston City Council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, several members of City Council challenged the board of the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF) to develop an alternative proposal to Mayor Annise Parker’s plan for newly hired firefighters.

In response to this challenge, HFRRF developed a proposal that addressed several issues. Primarily, it maintained the hard-earned and promised benefits of our active and retired firefighters. Additionally, it addressed the City’s contributions needs during the next three fiscal years and avoids costly litigation for all the parties.

Throughout the months of August and September, members of the HFRRF board, including myself, and staff members personally met with almost all members of the City Council and reviewed our proposal.

During these meetings, each of these members were advised that HFRRF was participating in discussions with the mayor about the proposal. Most members expressed encouragement that we had voluntarily engaged in a discussion with the mayor and hoped that some form of agreement might be reached.

Over the next several months, we participated in many meetings in the mayor’s office. Included in these meetings were the mayor, her staff and some members of Council. The mayor also attended two public board meetings at the HFRRF office.

Traditionally, when two parties attempt to come to mutually agreeable terms, each side receives some benefit for their considerations to the other party.

I believe that both the HFRRF and the mayor recognize that the result of this agreement is a reasonable solution, and it addressed the challenge initiated during the August subcommittee meeting.

Todd Clark, chairman of HFRRF

Here’s a post about that Council meeting in August. Looking for that also reminded me that news of the deal was first reported in September. Clearly, a lot of people, myself included, had forgotten about that. The deal that was agreed to this month doesn’t look all that different from what was proposed six months ago. People may not like the deal, but no one can say they didn’t know about it.

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.

Revenue cap will stay in place

Boo, hiss.

BagOfMoney

Houston voters will not be given the option this fall of passing a property tax hike after a City Council committee on Thursday unanimously recommended leaving the city’s much-maligned revenue cap alone.

[…]

The topic has received less attention recently, however, as projections show the cap will mean a projected $24 million less is available to spend in the next budget compared to current one. That is significantly less than the $63 million deficit City Council must close by the new fiscal year July 1, and the even larger deficits projected in the following years.

City finance officials project the revenue cap will allow the city to collect $39 million more in property taxes for the upcoming budget year than it collected in the current one. However, they said, contractual costs – not including staff salaries or the delivery of services – will increase by $58 million, led by rising pension and debt payments.

Still, council members, led by C.O. Bradford, Oliver Pennington and Stephen Costello, said they cannot support asking the public to pay more when they cannot justify to voters all the ways the city spends money today. Only once the city’s budget problems push parks and libraries to close, Costello said, will voters consider a change.

So I guess we need to destroy the city – or at least the city’s budget – in order to save it. I’m sorry, but that’s not good leadership. What it sounds like is a rationalization by some Council members that didn’t want to put this to a vote, but didn’t want to admit that they didn’t want to put it to a vote, either. It’s also fiscally irresponsible, as Council’s hands will continue to be needlessly tied as it deals with the upcoming shortfalls. Funny, considering how much we’re going to be hearing about “fiscal responsibility” from the squadron of Mayoral candidates, that being willing to do what it takes to be able to pay all of our bills is so easily shunted aside. Sorry, but I’m not going to be letting this go anytime soon. The Chron editorial board has more.

January campaign finance reports – Mayoral wannabes

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

I wrote yesterday about the start of the 2015 campaign season in Houston, and how it’s started a bit early thanks to the ruling in the lawsuit filed by Trebor Gordon that invalidated the blackout period. This week also marked the January 15 finance report filing deadline, so now is as good a time as any to see who has what. The Gordon ruling really had no effect on the January filings – it came way too late for that – so as I’ve said before, the real story of its effect will be told in the July reports, when we can see who raised what during January. Because the blackout was in effect last year, several Mayoral candidates have no reports to file as yet – Chris Bell, Marty McVey, and Joe Ferreira fall into that category. Bill King did file a report, but only had some expenditures to list. Folks like Stephen Costello, Oliver Pennington, and Jack Christie have existing city finance accounts and thus had reports to file for their activity; Ben Hall still has his account from the 2013 race; and of course current holders of other offices like Rep. Sylvester Turner, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and Treasurer Orlando Sanchez filed reports with their respective authorities. (In Sanchez’s case, since he would not be on the ballot until 2018 if he stays put, he was not required to file a January report he does not have a January report on the County Clerk website that I can find; I have his eight-day report from last year linked.) So without further ado:

Sylvester Turner
Stephen Costello
Oliver Pennington
Ben Hall
Jack Christie
Bill King
Adrian Garcia
Orlando Sanchez

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Turner 657,227 121,719 0 1,014,424 Costello 0 35,324 15,000 273,001 Pennington 0 126,039 0 116,632 Hall 0 26,300 2,000,000 59,300 Christie 0 11,404 0 4,080 King 0 7,300 0 0 Garcia 175,681 350,030 0 57,213 Sanchez 18,041 14,115 200,000 1,258 Locke 0 0 0 4,065 Parker 0 57,109 0 350,695

I included reports for 2009 candidate Gene Locke and Mayor Parker for the heck of it as well as for purposes of comparison. It will be interesting to see if Mayor Parker, who has her eye on a future statewide run, does any fundraising this year.

Turner’s report, with its sizable cash on hand total, and Garcia’s report, with its much less sizable COH number, are the ones that have attracted the most attention. You can see why Chris Bell really wants to enforce a $10,000 limit on the amount Turner could transfer to a city account. A million dollar head start is a big obstacle for him or anyone else to overcome. Turner, for his part, ramped up his fundraising last year in the expectation of being able to transfer it all because now that the Lege is in session, he’s on the sidelines until at least May unless he decides to resign, which I would not expect. As for Garcia, who has held some recent fundraisers for his county account, he could likely bring in some money quickly once he announced, if he does. But as Campos notes, the clock is ticking. The longer he waits, the harder it will get and the more likely that some of the deeper pockets will commit themselves to someone else. You have to figure that if he intends to get into the race, it will happen in the next month or so.

Beyond that, not too much to see. Jack Christie and Bill King can both do a certain amount of self-funding, though probably not to the extent that Ben Hall has done. I can only marvel at his outstanding loans figure, which I’ll bet goes up even more. Costello and Pennington have both shown to be strong fundraisers in past elections. I have no idea about McVey and Ferreira or whoever else might be thinking about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s only so much space for viable candidacies in the Mayoral race. With a cap on how much and individual and a PAC can give in a cycle, there are only so many deep pockets to tap. Mayor Parker has done very well with a big network of small-dollar donors, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight, and one usually has to have an extensive personal network to begin with. Like I said, the July reports will tell us a much more detailed story. I’ll check out the other finance reports in future posts. Stace has more.

UPDATE: A couple of people have asked me about the statement that Orlando Sanchez didn’t need to file a January report. I could swear that I saw something to that effect in the Chronicle, but now I can’t find where I saw it. So, since I can see that Stan Stanart, who also would not be on the ballot till 2018, has a January report filed, I’ve changed my wording above. My apologies for the confusion and for not being more skeptical of that.

And they’re off

Gentlemen, start your fundraising engines.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The Twitter handles have been rechristened, the first attacks have been fired and the “DONATE!” buttons have gone live.

The yearlong slugfest for mayor of Houston has begun.

In what is expected to be Houston’s most wide-open mayoral race in recent history, most of the dozen potential candidates are shedding their coyness after the traditional Feb. 1 starting gun was quieted by a federal court ruling last Friday that cleared the way for them to begin asking for their first dollars immediately.

Seven candidates have not been bashful about their intent to run: Rep. Sylvester Turner, former Congressman Chris Bell, former Kemah mayor Bill King, current council members Stephen Costello and Oliver Pennington, former airline executive Joe Ferreira; and 2013 candidate Ben Hall, who lost to Mayor Annise Parker, who is in her third and final term.

“Let the games begin,” Parker said Wednesday.

And they have.

Nearly every campaign has hired its top strategist and is sifting through the resumes of the potential campaign managers, fundraisers and spokesmen who they can now pay to implement that strategy.

[…]

For the candidates still dithering over a bid, they no longer have the luxury of effortlessly keeping pace with their competitors. Businessman Marty McVey, who previously said he was considering a run, now plans to designate a campaign treasurer next week. Sean Roberts, a personal injury lawyer, is a probable entrant, but has not committed to the race. And council member Jack Christie, who also is weighing a bid, continued to indicate this week that he would hold off on a race unless he knew if the business community would finance his bid.

Two other candidates, who must at least pretend to be undecided for legal reasons, still loom over the race: Harris County Sherriff Adrian Garcia, considered a top-tier candidate if he launches a bid as expected, and Orlando Sanchez, the county treasurer. Both would have to resign their offices under state law to run in a race they very well could lose.

Yes, that ruling has had an effect. I expect my inbox to fill up with invitations and solicitations shortly and quickly. With still more new names surfacing (Joe Ferreira?), no one’s email address is going to be safe.

Finance reports are slowly appearing on the city of Houston reporting site. I’m going to try to slog through the interesting ones this weekend and post a few tidbits. Later, I’m going to post a series of mini-manifestos to highlight the sorts of things I want to see discussed in this campaign. I’ve also got an opening look at the other races that will be on the ballot on my to do list. It’s going to be a long campaign, and it’s already well underway. Houston Politics has more.

First HERO repeal petition hearing today

Have I mentioned that this is a really busy month for big ticket courtroom action?

PetitionsInvalid

Conservative opponents suing the city over its equal rights ordinance are pushing, along with several City Council members, for the upcoming case to go before a jury, a move the administration said is unprecedented and would defy election law.

After a City Council meeting Wednesday, members Michael Kubosh, Oliver Pennington and C.O. Bradford, who voted in favor of the ordinance last spring, all argued the case should go to a jury trial rather than before a judge as originally scheduled. A state district judge will hold a hearing Friday on the request for a jury trial and the city’s response asking for a such a trial to be barred.

“The city may be deploying a demonstrative legal strategy,” Bradford said. “But I believe it will be a loser in the public opinion arena. We simply should not be trying to remove the people from the process.”

Just as a reminder, this is all about whether or not The People get to vote on the civil rights of some other people. We simply should not be conceding that point.

“There never has been a jury trial in an election contest in the state of Texas,” [former City Attorney David] Feldman said.

Plaintiff Jared Woodfill disputed that claim, saying the case is not an “election contest” because it does not pertain to the results of an election.

“What they’re really saying is they don’t think the people are smart enough to make that decision,” Woodfill said. “Whether it’s been having the voters vote or now allowing a jury to decide, (Parker) has been consistent on that.”

Election law attorney Doug Ray, who had not seen the court filings, said the case sounded like a “ballot access” issue – whether or not a candidate or a measure qualifies for a ballot. In those cases, granting a jury trial is rare, he said.

“It’s not clear-cut,” Ray said as to whether or not the plaintiffs are entitled to a jury trail. “As they say, the devil is always in the details.”

Feldman agreed that the case is a “ballot acccess” issue, saying that both “ballot access” and “election contest” cases fall under the state’s election code. Under the election code, only a district judge, not a jury, has the power to rule in those cases, he said.

Woodfill, Kubosh and Bradford all said the city would be wise to allow a jury trial in light of the recent controversy over the city’s subpoenaing of sermons and other materials belonging to certain pastors who helped organize the petition.

Funny how the “wise” thing to do at every stage of this process has been to give the haters exactly what they want. I’m not an attorney and I don’t know anything about the fine legal points at issue here. If Woodfill et al have a persuasive case, they’ll get what they’re asking for on the merits. What say we stick with that for now? The case is set to begin on January 19. I can’t wait.

UPDATE: I was not aware of this:

Attorneys for the city last month filed a motion requesting a bench trial, but the plaintiffs say they have a “constitutional right to a trial by jury.” That motion and others are scheduled to be heard today, but we’ll have to wait until the trial, scheduled for January 19, for the truly good stuff, which includes allegations of forged signatures.

So far, most of the City’s challenges to the petitions’ validity has centered around technical — and pretty boring — matters like whether a page included a blank space for a circulators’ signature. What’s really intriguing, though, is the City’s more recent contention that many names were forged, and that Woodfill “is no stranger” to fraudulent petitions.

In motions filed last November, attorneys for the City cited a suit where Woodfill — then the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party — accepted “facially valid” election petitions that “turned out to involve ‘forgery, fraud, or other non-accidental defects discoverable only by independent investigation.”

No one has argued that Woodfill knew the signatures in that election were invalid at the time he accepted them, but attorneys for the City point out that the court didn’t buy Woodfill’s argument that “the truthfulness of a circulator’s affidavit is strictly a criminal matter.”

[…]

These allegations were enough for for plaintiff Steve “Birth Control Pills Make Women Less Attractive to Men” Hotze, to drop out of the suit — something the City’s attorneys say is evidence that “misconduct and non-accidental defects are so pervasive” throughout the petitions. Listen, it’s a bad sign when your co-plaintiff is Steve Hotze. But it’s a really bad sign when Hotze drops out from fear that he may not have a legally sound argument.

My, my, my. Now I really can’t wait to see what happens at trial.

Three thoughts on the state of the Mayor’s race

Inspired by this story, which doesn’t name any potential additions to the ever-large field of Mayoral wannabes for 2015 but which does put some things in context.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Most observers consider Rep. Sylvester Turner, with his support base from the African-American population that could cast a third of next year’s vote, to be the man to beat in November. Yet his fortunes to win in a December runoff – all but guaranteed to be needed in a large field – depend heavily on whom he faces in a one-on-one comparison.

Councilmen Oliver Pennington and Stephen Costello have committed to the race, with Pennington going as far as to send mailers to potential supporters in July, 18 months before the first votes are to be cast. Ben Hall, who lost to Parker in 2013, launched radio advertisements last month, and former Kemah mayor and Chronicle columnist Bill King designated a campaign treasurer. Former Democratic congressman Chris Bell also is an all-but-filed entrant.

Six weeks before the campaign fundraising floodgates open, the field is settling save for a potential entrant who looms over much of the discussion in Houston power circles: Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who has not yet declared his intentions. Legally, Garcia cannot make an affirmative move toward running without being forced to resign his county post, though he has acknowledged the pressure he faces from others.

That pressure, though, is pushing him in both directions. Commissioners Court likely would replace Garcia with a Republican sheriff ahead of the next election cycle.

“You’re going to be giving them an early 2016 gift,” said Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who had the sheriff at her home this month and expressed concern about a run. “Nobody wants a Latino mayor more than I do, but it’s got to be the right time.”

[…]

If Garcia does not enter the race, Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a close friend of Garcia, could look to capture Latinos’ support. Other prominent Hispanic leaders look to pass on the race, including Metro chairman and Parker ally Gilbert Garcia and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce head Laura Murillo. Both expressed some signs of interest earlier, but do not appear to be joining the field.

Garcia’s exit also could create political lanes for other Democratic alternatives to Turner, like Bell. Though Bell has not formally committed to the race, he has filed a lawsuit challenging Turner’s fundraising strategy and plans to make an official announcement in January.

The other four candidates most seriously weighing bids are: Councilman Jack Christie, an at-large councilman uncertain whether he can raise the money needed to compete; County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, who like Garcia would have to resign to run for mayor; Sean Roberts, a local attorney; and businessman and political neophyte Marty McVey.

Councilmen Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford considered the race earlier this year, but both now say they are unlikely to launch campaigns. And despite floating the idea that he was open to a run, outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this month he had no plans to do so.

Conservatives have not yet coalesced around any of the six non-liberal candidates: Pennington, Costello, Hall, King, Christie or Sanchez.

“Right now, there’s no clear conservative choice yet, but people are obviously angling for being it,” said Paul Bettencourt, the new Republican senator from northwest Harris County.

1. It may be useful to think of these candidates as falling into one of three groups: Candidates with an obvious base of support, coalition candidates, and gadflies. Turner and Pennington fall into the first group, and as such you can sort of guess about what they might expect to get in November if that’s the limit of their appeal. It’s a decent position from which to start, especially in a multi-candidate race, but it’s no guarantee, as Turner himself could attest from his 2003 experience. Coalition candidates don’t have an obvious base of support, but can reasonably hope to draw from a broad range of constituencies. Bill White is the poster boy for such candidates, and folks like Bell, Costello, King, and Christie will all be competing for the kind of voters that propelled White to victory in 2003. Coalition candidates have a higher ceiling, but with so many people fishing in the same pond, it will be harder to stand out. White also had the advantage of lots of money to spend and no activity from anyone else at the time he launched his campaign. No one has that this year. Another consideration is that Turner and Pennington could have their bases eroded by Hall and Sanchez. I’d consider Sanchez a much bigger threat to Pennington if he runs than Hall would be to Turner – and Sanchez would have some appeal to Latino voters as well, not that he did so well with them in 2003 – but in a race where the difference between first and fourth or fifth could be a few thousand votes, I’d still be worried about it if I were Turner.

As for gadflies, he’s not mentioned in this story but Eric Dick, who I feel confident will run again since the publicity is good for his law firm’s business, is the canonical example. From what I have heard, Sean Roberts may be following in those footsteps. One could argue that Hall is a gadfly at this point based on the ridiculousness of his ads so far, but anyone with that kind of money to spend is still a threat to do better than the three to five points a typical gadfly might get.

Yes, there’s one candidate I haven’t mentioned here, and no I don’t mean Marty McVey, about whom I know nothing. I’ll get to him in a bit.

2. Conservatives may be better off not falling in line behind a single candidate just yet. Getting someone into the runoff is nice and all, but any Republican candidate will likely be an underdog in that runoff. The dream scenario for conservatives is what happened in the 2013 At Large #3 race, where three well-qualified Democratic candidates split the vote so evenly that none of them were able to catch up to the two Republicans. Michael Kubosh and Roy Morales were splitting a smaller piece of the electorate, but their two shares of that smaller group were greater than each of the three shares of the larger group. I still think Sylvester Turner is the frontrunner right now, but it’s not insane to imagine a Pennington-Sanchez runoff, especially if Ben Hall can be serious enough to put a dent in his numbers.

3. And then there’s Adrian Garcia. Will he or won’t he? You already know how I feel, so I won’t belabor that here. Garcia is both a candidate with a base and a coalition candidate, which is why he was as strong as he was in 2008 and 2012. Running against flawed opponents those years didn’t hurt him, either, so a little tempering of expectations may be in order here. I’m sure Garcia is carefully measuring the support he might have if he ran. I wonder if he’s trying to gauge how many Democrats he’d piss off by resigning and handing his office to a Republican, and how long said Dems would nurse that grudge when they will have at least two viable options in Turner and Bell to go with instead. It would be one thing if this were December of 2008, and Democrats had just had a great election and were feeling good about themselves. After last month’s debacle, I don’t know how forgiving anyone will be about any Dem that yields a freebie like that to the Republicans. I may be overestimating the effect, especially given how much time Garcia would have to make up for it, and I personally think the Presidential race will have a much larger effect on Democratic fortunes in Harris County in 2016 than Garcia would. But I think it’s real and I think Garcia needs to be concerned about it. Whether it’s enough to affect his decision or not, I have no idea.

And we’re still talking about the 2015 Mayor’s race

Here we go again.

Mayor Annise Parker

Still the Mayor

The mayor’s race may be more than a year away, but nearly all candidates have launched shadow campaigns – and not all shadow campaigns are created equal.

[State Rep. Sylvester] Turner and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, considered early frontrunners if both launch bids for City Hall, already have the name recognition from years of holding public office. That advantage may be multiplied by their ability to raise money through their existing campaign committees – an opportunity they have capitalized on over the last month.

City ordinances prevent candidates from raising money for a mayoral bid before Feb. 1, but because Turner and Garcia currently hold non-city offices, they can raise cash through their committees.

Come February, they are expected to transfer the lion’s share of that money to their mayoral bids, turning the well-liked frontrunners into well-funded frontrunners.

“It’s a little bit of a head start for sure, but the people who are talking about it are lining up their donors the same way they are,” said Lillie Schechter, a Democratic fundraiser. “One person will have to pick up checks, the other person will have to transfer checks.”

[…]

In what is expected to be the most crowded mayoral field since the last open race in 2009, a dozen potential candidates have effectively launched their bids, hiring consultants, meeting with labor and business groups, and telling the political class that a campaign is imminent. They must sit on their hands, however, when it comes to raising the money that determines their political viability, unable to collect a single check until the nine-month brawl for the mayor’s office begins in February.

As many as seven Republicans are looking into entering the race: Ben Hall, who squared off against Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, and councilmen Steven Costello and Oliver Pennington said they will announce bids, while councilmen Jack Christie and Michael Kubosh and former Kemah mayor Bill King are waiting to assess the field.

Republican Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, METRO chairman Gilbert Garcia, [Chris] Bell, City Councilman C.O. “Brad” Bradford and private equity executive Marty McVey are said to be considering bids.

See here for the previous roundup of wannabes, could-bes, and never-will-bes. I have four things to say.

1. Most of what I think about this story I’ve already said in that previous post. I do consider Rep. Turner to be the frontrunner, for whatever that’s worth, but we’re a long, long way from being able to assess the field. Hell, there really isn’t a field to assess right now. As I said, there are only so many max-dollar donors, only so many endorsements that are worth chasing, and only so much grassroots/volunteer energy to go around. The market, if you will, just can’t support more than about four serious candidates. Most of the names you see and hear now will disappear long before we get to put-up-or-shut-up time.

2. Like Texpatriate, I remain skeptical that Sheriff Garcia will throw his hat into the ring. He must know that a fair number of Democrats will be unhappy with him if he leaves his post to a Republican appointee, which is what we’ll get from Commissioners Court. I do not speak for Sheriff Garcia, I do not advise Sheriff Garcia, and I have zero inside knowledge of what Sheriff Garcia has in mind for his future. If I were advising him, I would tell him to line up a strong successor for 2016, then set his sights on running for County Judge in 2018, when we know Ed Emmett will step down. We all know that Sheriff Garcia has ambitions for bigger things. I’ll be delighted to see him on a statewide ballot some day. Mayor of Houston would certainly be an excellent springboard to something statewide. So would County Judge. I think he’d have a clearer shot at that, and he’d risk angering fewer current allies with that choice. This is 100% my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.

3. Listing Ben Hall as a Republican made me guffaw, followed by some giggles. Any article that can do that to me is all right in my book.

4. I still don’t think we should be talking about the Mayor’s race now, and we shouldn’t be talking about it until after the election this November. That’s far more important right now. That said, I am thinking about what I do and don’t want in my next Mayor. I’ll publish it when it’s done, which I guarantee you will be some time after November 4.

Do we really have to talk about the 2015 Mayoral race right now?

sigh All right, all right, if you insist. But let’s make it quick.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The list of possible candidates thus far includes mainly those who have held or sought public office before, though analysts said the guessing game at this point is difficult.

“There are always people who get in the race who no one expected and people everyone expects to run who don’t,” said Houston political consultant Mustafa Tameez. “At this early stage, rumors are often floated about people as an insider game.”

The list of rumored or confirmed candidates includes:

  • Chris Bell, a lawyer who was elected to City Council in 1997, to one term in the U.S. Congress in 2002, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006, and ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 2001;
  • City Councilman Jack Christie, a chiropractor in his second term;
  • City Councilman Stephen Costello, an engineer in his third term who chairs the council’s budget committee;
  • Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who is in his second term, having served on City Council and, for 23 years, in the Houston Police Department;
  • City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who spent 18 years with HPD before being elected to City Council in 2009;
  • Ben Hall, an attorney and ordained minister who was city attorney from 1992 to 1994 and who lost to Parker in last year’s mayoral race;
  • City Councilman Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman in his first term who has helped lead several petition drives to overturn city policies;
  • Laura Murillo, the president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since 2007;
  • City Councilman Oliver Pennington, a retired attorney in his third term who chairs the council’s ethics committee.
  • State Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Democrat and a Harvard-educated lawyer who was first elected to the House in 1988 and who is vice chair of its appropriations committee; he ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 1991 and 2003.

[…]

The bottom line, [UH poli sci professor Brandon] Rottinghaus said, is that speculation about next year’s politics are, perhaps, better left to next year.

“It’s like trying to predict what the Texans’ record is going to be,” he said. “It’s shaping up – there’s no doubt there are some blocks that have been put in place here. But we still don’t know about so much of this.”

There are a few things we do know. One is that if Sheriff Garcia makes any official move towards running for Mayor, he’ll have to resign as Sheriff. Other people can talk about him all they want, but once he joins them he runs into the state electoral code. If he does resign to run, Commissioners Court gets to appoint a new Sheriff, who would almost certainly be a Republican. I know of a few Democrats that aren’t very happy with that scenario.

What else do we know? Well, after my post about Laura Murillo, I have been informed that she is registered to vote in Pearland. You know how I feel about that. I presume if there is anything to her inclusion on lists like this, the first indicator that there’s something to it will be an update to her voter registration information.

CMs Kubosh and Christie may have made themselves some friends with their anti-HERO votes, but they definitely made themselves some enemies with that vote. I figured that would translate to them getting strong challenges for re-election. I suppose running for something else instead is one way to deal with that.

Beyond that and more generally, this much I know: There’s only so much room available for Mayoral candidates. There are only so many donors, there are only so many endorsing organizations, there are only so many constituencies to court for votes and volunteer energy. Look at that list above and ask yourself who will be competing against whom for which slices of the electorate and a shot at a runoff. Sure, there are people on that list that have demonstrated various levels of ability to draw support from other parts of the political spectrum, but how well will they do when they’re up against someone for whom those parts of the spectrum are their base? This isn’t a buffet line – you can only choose one. Most of the people on this list, if they really are interested in perhaps running for Mayor and aren’t just a name some insider is floating around, will run into that reality. File this list away and take it out again next July when the first finance reports are in for 2015. That will tell you the story.

Laura Murillo

Campos tosses a hat into the ring for Mayor 2015.

Laura Murillo

Laura Murillo, CEO and President of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is telling folks she will be running for H-Town Mayor next year. I said this yesterday:

She would certainly be a fresh face. Being a Latina and the only woman in the race would help her. I think she could raise the money – certainly as much as the other three could. She is smart, articulate, and bilingual.

And:

Here in H-Town we kind of know who is seriously thinking about running for Mayor. Council Member Stephen Costello, State Rep. Sylvester Turner, and former Congressman Chris Bell are the ones most mentioned. We pretty much know what to expect from these three. They have all been around for a while if you know what I mean.

I can see folks getting excited about a Laura Murillo candidacy. She goes into the race with a built-in relationship and record working with hundreds of Latino business owners and professionals. They know her well.

Her going up against three veteran male politicians would certainly provide voters with a choice. A Murillo candidacy also means that the other three candidates will probably not be doing a whole lot of Latino voter outreach.

As noted, he teased this the day before. I’ve met Dr. Murillo a couple of times – I’ve been to at least one candidate forum at the HHCC – and I’m sure she’d make an interesting candidate. There are a lot of people who are at least thinking about running for Mayor next year – Campos’ list doesn’t include CM Oliver Pennington, who is as out there as any of the other three he mentioned. I don’t plan to spend too much time thinking about it until after this year’s elections are over. I will say that all of the wannabees will have lots of challenges to deal with, but also lots of opportunities. I’m going to need to see some big ideas from them if they want me to take them seriously. But not today. Y’all have till December or so to start getting it together. Be ready to hit the ground running.

HERO passes

Finally.

After nearly nine hours of chanting and tears from seas of opponents and supporters in color-coded T-shirts, Houston City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday extending equal rights protections to gay and transgender residents.

Despite weeks of discussion and dissent over the measure, the final vote was 11-6, a count that matched guesses made months ago, when Mayor Annise Parker — the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city — said she planned to bring forward such a measure.

The approval was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience, largely full of supporters, and chants of “HERO,” for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

“While much of the debate has centered around the gay and transgender section of the ordinance, it is a comprehensive ordinance,” Parker said after the vote. “It is a good step forward for the city of Houston.”

That’s the early version of the story. I’ll update later from the full story when I can. While the vote was 11-6, it was a little different than I thought it might be – CM Richard Nguyen, who movingly said that his 6-year-old son told him to “just be brave”, was a Yes, while CMs Jack Christie and – very disappointingly – Dwight Boykins were Nos. The other four Nos, from CMs Stardig, Martin, Pennington, and Kubosh, were as expected. I don’t have much to add right now – despite the final passage, this story is far from over, so there will be much more to say later. I have no idea if those half-baked recall and repeal efforts will go anywhere – we’ll deal with them if we must – but I do know that a lot of folks will have some very long memories in 2015. I’m proud of my city, proud of the Council members who voted with Mayor Parker, proud of Mayor Parker for getting this done, and really really proud of all the supporters who packed City Hall to tell their stories and witness history being made. Well done, y’all. Think Progress, PDiddie, and Rep. Garnet Coleman have more.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story, which includes a heaping dose of Dave Wilson and his many petition drive threats. I’ll deal with all that in a subsequent post.

NDO vote will be next week

The proposed non-discrimination ordinance was on Council’s agenda yesterday, but it did not come to a vote as it was tagged, which means it’ll be voted on next week. The Chron’s preview story gave some insight into what we should expect from the ordinance based on the experience of other cities that already have protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in their local codes.

RedEquality

Houston handles discrimination complaints from city employees and sends a hundred housing complaints to federal authorities each year, [city attorney David] Feldman said. The work added by protecting sexual orientation and gender identity and covering places of public accommodation may be modest.

Less than half of 1 percent of the housing complaints Fort Worth received last year were based on sexual orientation, and the city received no employment claims based on sexual orientation, according to an annual report

Fort Worth has received five complaints against places of public accommodation in the last two years; Austin typically sees three or fewer per year.

“The fact that it creates a scheme that is almost entirely voluntary compliance doesn’t reduce the value or the effect of it,” said Jonathan Babiak of Austin’s Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office. “Many, many people are going to comply just because it’s the law.”

Since passing its nondiscrimination ordinance last fall, San Antonio has learned of three incidents of alleged discrimination in areas other than housing, all against transgender or gay residents. The events, one involving a city contractor and two involving businesses that serve the public, have not yet resulted in formal complaints, said deputy city attorney Veronica Zertuche. One city employee also has filed a complaint based on sexual orientation, she said.

In El Paso, deputy city attorney Laura Gordon said she is aware of two incidents of alleged discrimination in places of public accommodation, both from gay couples, and neither of which resulted in a complaint. El Paso does not cover private employment.

Feldman said a Dallas official reported that city has received 12 complaints not related to housing in the decade that its ordinance has been in effect.

Feldman said he foresees Houston fielding more employment and public accommodation complaints than other cities, due, in part, to its size.

“We’ve never had it before, and now people will say, ‘Ah, there’s a remedy here,’ ” Feldman said. “But I also think it will dissipate in time.”

Houston’s added workload also would be limited by its exemption for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Fort Worth and Austin exempt businesses of 15 or fewer employees, matching federal and state laws. Texas Workforce Commission data show 29 percent of the state’s private workforce is employed by firms with fewer than 50 workers.

Houston GLBT Political Caucus president Maverick Welsh and others want the 50-worker exemption dropped to 15. “I’m very optimistic,” Welsh told the council Tuesday. “I believe you’ll do the right thing.”

See here and here for the background. An amendment proposed by CM Robert Gallegos would lower the threshold to 15 employees; we’ll see how that one goes. As there will be another public session of Council on Tuesday the 13th, with the vote scheduled for the 14th, there will be another opportunity to address Council and show your support for the ordinance and CM Gallegos’ amendment. Email citysecretary@houstontx.gov to get on the list of speakers for that.

The late Wednesday story has more on the amendments.

Councilman Oliver Pennington proposed the most substantial changes to the measure, seeking to exempt all private employers and to permit discrimination in the sale or rental of a single-family home if the seller or landlord owns eight or fewer homes; the current drafts exempts the owners of three or fewer houses.

Pennington also seeks to allow a first-offense conviction to be dismissed if the person is not convicted of discrimination again within a year, and wants to let someone accused of denying a transgender person access to the public restroom of his or her choice to have the complaint dismissed by submitting an affidavit explaining the decision to deny access.

“The thrust of my amendments today was to promote voluntary compliance, and I know reconciliation is provided for now, but for first offenses there’s still a possibility for criminal prosecution,” Pennington said. “Whatever we can do, in the long run, to promote interaction with the affected parties on a voluntary basis will be a worthwhile thing to do and I hope we can reach that.”

[…]

Other council members sought to strengthen the ordinance.

Councilman Robert Gallegos wants the measure to cover more private employees by dropping the proposed exemption for businesses that employ fewer than 50 workers to those with 25, and then to 15 over two years.

That change had been advocated by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which said the stated exemption left too many workers unprotected.

“The transition from 50 to 15, which is the more common standard across the United States, was thoughtful,” Parker said. “That may be doable … .”

CM Pennington’s amendment is a non-starter. CM Gallegos’ amendment is the one to watch. Most of the rest were technical in nature.

Back to the Tuesday story:

[Mayor Annise] Parker and 11 of the 16 City Council members agreed last fall to support a nondiscrimination ordinance. Some members have expressed concerns about the item, however.

The 11 Council members that stated their support for an NDO in their screening questionnaire for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus are listed here. Of those 11, CM Christie has waffled a bit, but I think in the end he’ll be a Yes. In addition, based on his willingness to engage on the issue and the feedback I’ve heard, I have hope that CM Kubosh will vote in favor as well, though he expressed some doubts in Wednesday’s story. CM Nguyen is hard to read, CM Martin is a firm No, CM Pennington is a likely No, and as of Tuesday CM Stardig is a No. I recommend you read Brad Pritchett’s response to CM Stardig, as he says what needs to be said. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in 2015. Be that as it may, I expect this to pass with a healthy majority next week, and about damn time for it. Texpatriate has more.

Your daily Uber/Lyft update

From the Tuesday Council committee hearing at which the draft ordinance was reviewed.

Despite having a newly-released draft ordinance in hand, City Council members spent a Tuesday committee hearing asking many of the same questions about regulating ride-sharing services as they did months ago.

Echoing concerns raised by taxi and limousine companies, council members grilled Parker administration officials about setting rules for emerging services that connect riders to willing drivers via smartphone applications.

Repeatedly throughout the three-hour hearing, cab and limo drivers stood up as council members asked questions that centered on their fears that new regulations would create an unfair business advantage for the new services and eat away at their livelihoods.

“What will the effect be on the public if the taxicab companies are no longer viable?” Councilman Oliver Pennington asked.

“The taxicab companies will continue to be viable,” said Tina Paez, director of the city’s Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs. “They probably will lose some market share.”

[…]

The administration’s conclusion is that existing operators will adjust, pointing to studies from other cities that have chosen to regulate, rather than ban, the ride-sharing services.

“What we’ve seen, especially if you look at that Seattle data that just came out from last year with two years of operations … they’ve actually seen a growth in the number of trips and a growth in revenues,” Paez said. “It’s only 3 percent, but if they were having a significant impact where they were cannibalizing, you would have seen a significant decrease.”

Lauren Barrash, founder of The Wave jitney shuttle service, disagreed.

She said her business already has seen a decline because her target market is the same as Uber and Lyft, which have been operating in Houston since February.

Ahead of a City Council decision, both services had offered free trips until last week, when Uber said it would charge riders.

Critics, however, say the two have been charging customers for weeks.

“My April revenue is the lowest in 2014 and 2013,” Barrash said. “January is traditionally our lowest month. Currently, for April, we’re at half of what January 2014 was. … I might not be as big as Yellow Cab, but I will be impacted the quickest. It will put me out of business.”

That would be unfortunate if it happens, and I confess I hadn’t given much thought to non-cab operators like The Wave. With all due respect, however, Council is no more obligated to protect jitneys like The Wave than they are to protect legacy cabs. I’d hate to see The Wave go under, but I’d also hate to see Houston try to deny the existence of change in the business. The basic idea behind the draft ordinance, which will make Uber and Lyft comply with the same safety and inspection requirements as the cabs, seems like the right direction to me. I look forward to Council finishing the job. PDiddie, who is not a fan, Campos, who thinks the lack of representation by Uber/Lyft supporters at the meeting could upset the conventional wisdom about how this turns out, and The Highwayman have more.

We have our first HFD rolling brownout

And nothing bad happened.

Three Houston firetrucks were pulled from service Friday morning, the first “brownout” in the city’s fire fleet since the Houston Fire Department’s budget struggles came to light in early February.

In keeping with a plan Fire Chief Terry Garrison announced last month that called for trucks in areas with lower call volumes and more nearby stations to be idled first, department brass decided to park Engines 45, 77 and 78. In all, 15 positions were left vacant Friday, including one of the five spots on the department’s heavy rescue truck and a district chief post.

“Our firefighters will continue to do the best job they can and they’ll ensure firefighter safety and customer service to the best of their ability, but … the quicker we get to an incident, the quicker we can start stabilizing that incident, whether it’s a house fire or a heart attack,” Garrison said. “We wanted to make sure we had the least amount of impact, but there will be a slight impact.”

Mayor Annise Parker said she expects the fire department will effectively handle the situation.

“We have every faith in the Houston Fire Department that they will be able to make the necessary adjustments and handle each call efficiently and effectively,” she said.

[…]

Councilman Oliver Pennington, whose District G is home to Station 78, said he was disappointed.

“Everyone knew spring break was coming up when this agreement was made,” Pennington said. “Any time you run short of money, there’s always a chance for crisis. People really need to pay attention. Hopefully, we can plan better for the next holiday.”

When the city-union deal was approved, officials said all trucks would remain in service as long as HFD averaged fewer than 35 unexpected absences, such as sick days and emergency leave, per day. Friday, there were 42 such absences, including 28 sick days.

“We feel like people are going to think we’re browning out because too many people called in sick,” Executive Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann said Friday. “Well, today I had 927 people that were assigned, and only 28 called in sick. That’s 3 percent. So, it’s more a factor of we’re just short-staffed. We need to get our staffing levels up.”

See here for the background. I’m a little surprised that this happened since everyone wanted to avoid it, but the personnel issue is a factor, as is HFD’s previous management of overtime. As noted, nothing bad happened, which is good, not surprising, and no guarantee of anything going forward. I hope this isn’t a common occurrence, but there’s no guarantee of that, either. Texpatriate has more.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

One more set of finance reports to document, from city of Houston officeholders and candidates. I’m not going to link to the individual reports this time, since the city’s system automatically downloads the PDFs and I don’t feel like uploading these all to my Google drive. Here are the basic summaries, with my comments afterwards

Officeholder Office Raised Spent Loan Cash ========================================================== Parker Mayor 121,165 574,185 0 461,089 Green Controller 6,575 39,253 0 14,585 Costello AL1 81,200 62,410 15,000 144,753 Robinson AL2 26,246 33,265 0 32,918 Kubosh AL3 83,691 84,157 15,000 11,452 Bradford AL4 8,050 30,257 0 33,485 Christie AL5 15,275 11,606 0 10,548 Stardig A 5,250 30,393 0 24,238 Davis B 19,300 28,798 0 84,551 Cohen C 47,982 76,405 0 93,364 Boykins D 16,375 49,004 0 6,727 Martin E 45,650 27,968 0 43,423 Nguyen F 21,269 5,795 0 8,750 Pennington G 13,550 30,046 0 192,142 Gonzales H 40,375 33,623 0 90,782 Gallegos I 38,882 18,279 0 22,940 Laster J 3,500 8,081 0 77,408 Green K 10,150 15,455 0 77,366 Hale SD15 0 472 0 0 Noriega HCDE 0 8,690 1,000 9,335 Chavez AL3 3,150 6,652 160 15,716 Calvert AL3 1,600 65,031 10,000 2,654 Brown A 21,969 22,121 0 25,729 Peck A 0 2,811 0 0 Knox A 1,220 17,271 0 931 Richards D 2,000 16,043 0 2,727 Jones, J D 0 0 0 3,203 Provost D 7,960 9,033 0 15 Edwards D 3,745 4,415 0 0 Rodriguez I 0 3,581 0 6,731 Garces I 32,950 49,802 0 0 Ablaza I 380 10,288 0 673 Mendez I 2,050 19,120 0 0

Mayor Parker has a decent amount on hand, not as much as she had after some other elections, but then she won’t be on any ballot until 2018, so there’s no rush. I know she has at least one fundraiser happening, and I’m sure she’ll have a solid start on fundraising for whatever office she might have her eye on in four years’ time.

And speaking of being prepared for the next election, CM Costello is in pretty good shape, too. It’ll take a lot more money than that to mount a successful campaign for Mayor in 2015, and there are likely to be several strong candidates competing for the usual pots of cash, but every little bit helps.

The other At Large incumbents are in reasonable shape. Both Kubosh and Christie have done some degree of self-funding, so their totals aren’t worrisome. While I believe there will be some competitive At Large races in 2015, and not just in the two open seats, I don’t think anyone will be caught short in this department the way Andrew Burks was.

I continue to marvel at the totals in the district seats. Many of those incumbents have been helped by not having well-financed opponents. CMs Gonzales and Pennington are well placed if they have their eyes on another race. Personally, I think CM Gonzales ought to consider running for City Controller. If nothing else, that will likely be less crowded than the Mayor’s race in 2015.

CM Richard Nguyen, who was nicely profiled by Mustafa Tameez recently, received nearly half of his total – $9,500, to be exact – from various PACs after the election; this is called “late train” money. As far as the money he received from individuals, every one of them had a Vietnamese name. That’s some good networking there.

Of the others listed, two of them – Ron Hale and Melissa Noriega – are running for something in 2014. The rest, with one exception, was either an unsuccessful candidate in 2013 or a term-limited Council member. The exception is former CM Jolanda Jones, whose eligibility to run for something else remains disputed. The one notable thing in this bunch is the $25K that now-former CM Helena Brown had on hand. Given that CM Brenda Stardig left a lot of money unspent in 2011 when Brown knocked her off, there’s a certain irony to that. Beyond that, no one left themselves very much for a subsequent campaign if they have one in mind. I won’t be surprised if one or more people on this list runs for something again, perhaps in 2015, but if so they’ll be starting out as they did in 2013.

Endorsement watch: Pennington

The Chron endorses CM Oliver Pennington for a third term.

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

For the past four years, District G has been ably represented by attorney Oliver Pennington. We recommend a vote for Pennington to continue his service at city hall.

Pennington, a retired Fulbright & Jaworski partner and 40-year District G resident, brings decades of invaluable experience in municipal finance, municipal law and environmental law, as well as time spent representing local governments.

These are precisely the skills City Council will require as it faces issues such as city employee pension reform and ongoing issues related to water and drainage infrastructure.

In a third and final term, we would also encourage Pennington to be active in city efforts to manage the traffic congestion brought by the construction of numerous midrise apartment buildings across Inner Loop Houston.

This growth, while welcome, is threatening mobility on inner city thoroughfares, with consequences that extend to school and neighborhood safety as frustrated drivers seek cut-throughs to avoid delays on main routes.

I did not interview CM Pennington this time around, as my schedule was fuller and less accommodating this year. Here’s the interview I did in 2011 with him if you can’t bear the thought of not hearing me speak with him. I think CM Pennington has done a good job, and I’d vote for him if I lived in District G. One thing I appreciate about Pennington, and it’s something I appreciate more each day as we watch the ongoing train wreck in Congress and the already-nauseating Republican statewide primaries here is that he considers it his job to make things work better. He’s not there to tear things down, or obstruct for the sake of obstruction, or otherwise refuse to accept that not everyone sees the world as he does. He’s conservative and he operates as a conservative, but in the service of getting things done and making city government function effectively and efficiently. I wouldn’t want him to be Mayor, but people like him are needed on Council.

Another way to look at it, from my perspective anyway, is this: In any legislative body where people are elected from districts, any district map is going to include places where candidates that would represent my point of view are not going to get elected. The best outcome in those districts, especially in a legislative body where my kind of legislators are in the minority, is for those representatives to be more like Oliver Pennington and less like Ted Cruz. It’s not a matter of conservatism, at least for any definition of “conservatism” that makes sense, but of nihilism and radicalism. That point was driven home the other day as I read this Trib story about Sen. Tommy Williams, whose retirement announcement caught everyone by surprise. Look at who is being mentioned as a possible successor:

Williams was on the conservative end of the spectrum when he came into the Senate, but the spectrum moved with the elections of senators like Brian Birdwell, Kelly Hancock and [Ken] Paxton. He could be replaced by someone whose politics are more like theirs than his. The line is already forming, sort of: Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, might give up his bid for agriculture commissioner and run for SD-4 instead; Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, is looking; Ben Streusand, a serial Republican candidate who doesn’t hold office, is also considering it.

Tommy Williams is hardly my ideal Senator, but for a guy who represents the district he does, we could do worse. And if the likes of Steve Toth or Ben Streusand get elected, we’ll see just how much worse. Toth has already demonstrated that after his ouster of Rob Eissler. As I said after Sen. Donna Campbell defeated Jeff Wentworth, it’s not about the Senate getting more conservative, it’s about the Senate getting more stupid, and more mean. We’ve seen the effect in Congress. We’re seeing it in the Lege. I for one do not want to see it on City Council.

July 2013 finance reports for district Council candidates

We move now to the remaining Council races, which are the district races. Here are the July finance reports for candidates in District Council races. Please note that all reports now appear on my newly-published Election 2013 page. Refer to that page for future updates, candidate interviews, and so forth.

Dist Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- A Brown 67,446 29,633 46,674 0 A Stardig * 56,650 21,206 60,439 0 A Knox 41,666 13,139 35,624 12,500 A Peck 4,481 3,526 9,163 5,000 A Hale 2,670 3,438 137 0 B Davis 52,600 7,990 104,820 0 B B-Daniels 5,000 2,564 5,000 5,000 C Cohen 128,064 33,716 106,696 0 C Sosa D Boykins 150,155 52,262 100,592 0 D Richards 37,108 10,318 18,294 0 D Provost 20,916 17,618 2,378 9,000 D McGee 4,560 4,570 1,369 0 D White 780 780 780 0 D Caldwell 2,725 2,234 490 0 E Martin 53,950 6,225 23,710 5,000 F Hoang 13,480 2,100 11,399 0 G Pennington 185,500 44,455 249,059 0 G Taef 150 755 150 0 H Gonzalez 79,639 20,524 73,364 0 I Mendez 94,632 43,092 12,048 0 I Ablaza 27,230 4,574 16,582 0 I Gallegos 16,945 7,649 9,295 4,379 I Garces 18,917 13,195 4,272 0 J Laster 66,403 12,916 80,858 0 K Green

For reasons unclear, CMs Cohen and Green do not have finance reports posted as yet. I’m sure they will show up eventually. I was able to inquire with CM Cohen’s staff and get a copy of her report, which they had submitted on time; I did not get to do that with CM Green. There are several other candidates in District D, including Lana Edwards, wife of At Large #3 candidate and former State Rep. Al Edwards, and perennial candidate Larry McKinzie; I’ve just listed the candidates whose reports I could find. Let’s go through these in some more detail.

District A

Brown report
Stardig report
Stardig SPAC report
Knox report
Peck report
Hale report

Note that former District A CM Brenda Stardig filed two reports, one of which is for a special purpose PAC. That one had all the contributions and a portion of her expenditures, while the other one, which is the same basic form everyone else submitted, had the bulk of her expenditures. She’s clearly spending more on actual campaign outreach, which stands in contrast to her July 2011 report. Stardig took in $6,500 in PAC money, and also received $1,000 from Peter Brown, $1,000 from Rusty Hardin, and $20 from Orlando Sanchez.

I may have to recalibrate my estimate of CM Helena Brown and her odds of winning, because that’s a pretty decent haul she’s got. Only $4,750 of it was PAC money, which is less than what former CM Stardig got. You can look at that as the establishment being unwilling to back her, or as evidence of her ability to connect with individual supporters. She got no money from incumbent officeholders, but did get donations from activist types like Steven Hotze, Don Sumners, and Dave Wilson. Unlike last time, when she filed at the last minute and came out of nowhere based on pure disgruntlement and dissatisfaction with the incumbent, Brown has to run a “real” campaign this time around. Towards that end, she spent $9,600 on consulting services, mostly to an outfit called Colonnade. I don’t recall seeing that name on other forms, so we’ll see if this is their breakout moment, or their fleeting moment of fame.

Mike Knox also had a good report. Among his contributions were several with oddly specific amounts, which showed up more than once, including such figures as $92.25, $471.25, and six donations of $47.13 each. I have no idea what that’s about. $2,100 of his contributions were in kind. Most of his expenditures, including $2,900 for consulting services, were made from personal funds with the intent to seek reimbursement.

I’m puzzled by Amy Peck’s lack of fundraising success. You’d think the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick would have more connections to utilize. She did receive $500 from SBOE Member Donna Bahorich, but there was nothing and no one of interest beyond that. In what may be a sign of a newer-generation approach to campaigning, she spent $463.05 on Facebook ads, and $438.90 on T-shirts. Make of that what you will.

Ron Hale contributed $730 to his campaign, and spent a bit more than $900 from personal funds.

District B

Davis report
Blueford-Daniels report

While at least two other district Council members have opponents so far (Cohen in C and Pennington in G), I consider first term CM Jerry Davis’ situation to be more like Brown’s than like theirs, since Davis won as an outsider in 2011, and there are members of the establishment in B that don’t like him. He has a credible opponent in Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who didn’t make the runoff in 2011 but was the Chron’s endorsed candidate in November. He’s definitely taking his task seriously, judging by his report. Of his contributions, $21,000 came from PACs, including $250 from Planned Parenthood PAC. I note that mostly because I don’t recall seeing anyone else receive money from them as yet. He also received $750 from Peter Brown. No major expenditures – mostly event sponsorships and other related expenses. The only entry I saw that had anything related to consulting in it was $8 for a birthday cake for his consultant. Awww.

Kathy Blueford-Daniels had nothing particularly notable on her report. She had $5K in pledges in addition to her contributions. She hasn’t been campaigning for long – I got a note to like her campaign Facebook page on June 25 – so perhaps her 30 day report will tell a different story.

District D

Boykins report
Richards report
Provost report
McGee report
White report
Caldwell report

This is Dwight Boykins’ fourth run for Council, and first time vying for a district seat. He finished third in At Large #5 in 1997, lost in the runoff to Gordon Quan in 1999, and lost to Michael Berry in At Large #5 in 2003. He’s clearly separated himself from the pack here, however. Of his astonishingly large haul, $14K of it is PAC money, with another $8,375 in business donations. He spent $20,051 on consulting fees, some of which were “field operations” and “printing expenses”. He probably doesn’t have to raise another dime the rest of the way, but what he can do is aim for 50% in the first round by flooding the district with name recognition-boosting ads.

Assata Richards’ total would have been a standout in some other years. As it was, she did receive $3,500 from Peter Brown, $1,500 from David Mincberg, plus another $324 in kind, $100 from Sue Lovell, and $50 from Sue Davis, who is one of the key members of Team Annise Parker. She spent most of her money on advertising – website design, push cards, yard signs, and the like.

Georgia Provost had the distinction of receiving a $1,000 donation from Ben Hall. She also put a lot of her money into advertising, but she was a bit more old school than Richards, with ads on radio station KCOH and in the Forward Times, in addition to push cards, yard signs, and robocalls. She also donated $25 to Battleground Texas, which bumps her up a notch in my estimation. The loan she received was from Justin Jordan.

District I

Mendez report
Abalaza report
Gallegos report
Garces report

Ben Mendez had the most complicated non-Mayoral report so far. Of his generally impressive total, $37,100 was in kind, most of which appears to be items for a fundraising auction. That includes items such as $100 for a yoga mat and $150 for an hourlong massage, both of which strike me as overvalued, though that doesn’t really make much difference to the bottom line. There were also in kind donations of $5K for website design and $3500 for campaign advertising/digital marketing, the former of which also strikes me as high. Most of the other reports had website design figures in the $1000 to $2000 range. Mendez also received contributions of $500 from State Rep. Ron Reynolds, and $100 from HCDE Trustee Erica Lee. He spent $19,500 for consultants.

Leticia Ablaza is back for a second try at District I, with a solid if not terribly interesting report. $7,660 of her contributions were in kind, and she received a $100 donation from At Large #3 candidate Chris Carmona. Not much of interest beyond that.

Neither Robert Gallegos nor Graci Garces did anything spectacular. Gallegos, a former staffer for now-Sen. Sylvia Garcia, received $500 from her and from Peter Brown, plus a few bucks from some current Garcia staffers. $2K of the loan he reported is from James Dinkins. Garces got $500 from Drayton McLane and spent $6,800 on consulting fees.

Other districts

Cohen report
Martin report
Hoang report
Pennington report
Gonzalez report
Laster report

The lobby made newest CM Dave Martin feel welcome, with $30,200 in contributions to him from PACS. He spent $1,500 on consultants.

I don’t quite understand why CM Al Hoang doesn’t have more campaign cash. Be that as it may, he got $7,500 from the PACs, and also spent $1,500 on the same consultants as CM Martin, Blakemore and Associates.

CM Oliver Pennington continues to be a fundraising machine. He got $30,900 in PAC and business donations, and many, many four-figure contributions from individuals, among them $1000 each from Patricia Dewhurst and Bob McNair. I just scanned his expenses since his form was so long, and spotted recurring fees of $3K to Sarah Tropoli (his daughter) and $2K to Richard Cron for consulting; $2500 and $500 to Walden and Associates for fundraising and office rent, respectively. Clearly, the fundraising fees are money well spent.

Also a prodigious fundraiser is CM Ellen Cohen, and she keeps that up here. In addition to $24,900 from PACs, she got $100 each from Kathryn McNeil, the campaign consultant for CM Stephen Costello; Sallie Alcorn, CM Costello’s chief of staff; and Sue Davis. She also got $100 from Ann Johnson, the 2012 Democratic nominee for HD134, Cohen’s former legislative seat, $500 from Peter Brown, and $20 from Stuart Rosenberg, Mayor Parker’s campaign manager.

CM Ed Gonzalez, my Council member, had another one of those solid reports that didn’t have anything terribly interesting to blog about. He took in- $28,500 from PACs and $20 from Stuart Rosenberg. He spent $8,321 on consulting fees.

Last but not least is CM Mike Laster, another solid performer. He received $250 from Peter Brown, $100 from Sue Lovell, $100 Rodrigo Canedo, who was one of his opponents in 2011, and the customary $20 from Stuart Rosenberg. He also got $31,750 in PAC money, and spent $4,644 in consulting fees.

And that’s all I’ve got for this report. Still to come are a look at the reports filed by people not running in 2013, a closer look at the Mayoral reports, and looks at the reports filed by officeholders and candidates in HISD, HCC, Harris County, and the Legislature. Did I mention that July was a busy time of year? As always, any questions or requests, leave ’em in the comments.

Seniors get a tax cut from Council

Good for them.

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing:

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

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

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

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

The Uptown plan is as much about HOV as it is BRT

Maybe more.

Most discussion of the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone’s plan, which goes before City Council this week, has been about a proposal to annex Memorial Park into the zone and spend $100 million restoring the drought-stricken park. The centerpiece of the zone’s plan, however, is a $187.5 million vision to widen and rebuild Post Oak Boulevard with dedicated bus lanes in the middle, build 7,500 feet of elevated bus lanes on the West Loop, and finance a transit center and parking garage at Westpark and the West Loop.

“We’re doing a lot to improve streets in the Uptown area to help make it more convenient for people to get around, but getting to the Uptown area, we’ve done about all we can with the automobile,” said John Breeding, director of the Uptown zone. “What we need to do is find some way to grow our transportation supply, and that is by bringing in transit.”

Breeding stressed that Post Oak’s existing six lanes and protected left turn lanes would be preserved.

More than 65 percent of Uptown workers live to the southwest and northwest in areas served by HOV lanes and Metro’s park and ride service, Breeding said, but just 10 of 300 daily park and ride buses visit the Galleria; most go downtown.

“We are badly underserved right now,” said Kendall Miller, an Uptown zone board member. “We have some local routes that kind of go through us, we have some van pools that are organized by the big companies. It’s very ad lib.”

About 37 percent of all downtown workers take a Metro vehicle to work, Breeding said, and 62 percent of them make more than $80,000 a year, showing people choose transit for many reasons and that everyone from oil executives to retail clerks would use the buses if they served Uptown.

[…]

Metro board member Christof Spieler said about half the people who live in areas served by park and rides use the service, adding that Metro has long wanted to add Uptown to that list.

“It’s never been possible because, in order to get from the Northwest Transit Center or the Southwest Freeway to Uptown, those buses would have wound up stuck in same traffic with everyone else,” he said. “I really think this is a game-changer for transit in one of our most important job centers.”

City Councilman Oliver Pennington, who represents the area, said Greater Houston Partnership data show there are almost 200,000 jobs in his district, 91 percent of which are filled by workers living elsewhere, creating “a terrific traffic nightmare.” The proposed transit plan would make the area more competitive and more livable, he said.

“I’m a firm believer that we need some things to show what a great city we are. I think it will not only serve the people, but it will show the world that Houston is doing things for its citizens. We need some physical evidence of the kind of life that we enjoy here.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I think this is the first mention I’ve seen of elevated bus lanes for the West Loop, which would enable the park and ride buses to avoid the traffic of the Loop and thus be more attractive to potential riders. It certainly makes sense to expand the park and ride network into Uptown, and I do think it will be heavily used once that happens. Having the support of CM Pennington makes approval of the TIRZ expansion very likely, though I’m sure there will be some lively discussion given the Memorial Park concerns that have been raised.

Expansion of the TIRZ is still a necessary condition for any of this to go forward. Funding for this plan is dependent in part on a grant from the Houston-Galveston Area Council Transportation Policy Council, which has not yet approved said funding but could take the matter up once soon.

The proposals could come for consideration before the regional group’s Transportation Policy Council – the body responsible for allocating the federal grants – on May 24 or June 28, said Alan Clark, H-GAC’s transportation director.

“The council allocated around $400 million in grants at its April 26 meeting. The projects in question were not slated for action, but money was held back so these projects can be considered,” Clark said.

Before the proposals go for a TPC vote, an H-GAC advisory committee will consult with the Texas Department of Transportation about one phase of the plan that would involve linking bus service on Post Oak to Metro’s Northwest Transit Center, Clark said.

Current ideas include creating a grade-separated bus way above the main lanes of Loop 610 that would be connected to a Post Oak transit line, he said.

“Because this (the connection between Post Oak and the Northwest Transit Center) is so integral to the overall plan and its anticipated benefits, the Technical Advisory Committee wants to do further study,” Clark said.

Again, I feel confident that this will go through, but it’s fine if H-GAC wants to take its time and think about it some.

One other point to stress about all this is that by extending Metro’s park and ride network into Uptown, which includes the BRT lanes on Post Oak, we are also building for even more expansion and connections in the future. The Westpark transit center would obviously be of use when the University line finally gets built. If there is ever a commuter rail line along US 290, the Northwest transit center, which is the northern endpoint of this project, would be the gateway from it into Uptown. Adding a node to a network has value beyond the node itself. This plan has a lot to offer for Uptown, but it’s potentially very good for the big picture as well.

Have your say on the Uptown/Memorial Park TIRZ

From the inbox, and the office of CM Oliver Pennington:

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

To the Residents of District G:

As many of you are aware, the May 1, 2013, Council Agenda contained several items related to the Reinvestment Zone Number Sixteen (Uptown Zone), also known as TIRZ 16. Included on the agenda today were Items 15 (enlarging the TIRZ boundaries), 15a (extending the duration of the TIRZ), 15b (authorizing the issuance of bonds by the TIRZ) and 15-1 (adding land to the Harris County Improvement District No. 1, also known as the Uptown Management District). Those Agenda Items, and the back-up provided by the administration, can be viewed at this link: http://www.houstontx.gov/citysec/backup/2013/043013.pdf

At the City Council Meeting this morning, Council Member Pennington made a successful motion to delay further consideration of these 4 agenda items for two weeks so that these matters can be presented to and discussed at a Committee Meeting. That will allow the public to fully learn the plans relating to the Post Oak METRO project and the re-forestation of Memorial Park.

There will be a presentation regarding TIRZ 16 at the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Committee Meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 10:00 A.M. The Public is invited to attend and there will be an opportunity for all concerned citizens to speak at the meeting. The meeting will be held in Council Chambers, located at City Hall, 901 Bagby, 2nd Floor, Houston, TX 77002.

So if you share Lisa Falkenberg’s concerns about this TIRZ, here’s your chance to put them on the record. You might even suggest some ways that your concerns could be addressed. If you can’t make it to this meeting, my advice is to send an email to Mayor Parker and the members of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee with your feedback. You can find Council member contact information here. As they say, speak now or forever hold your peace.

On the city bonds

Here’s an overview of the city bond issues.

The city of Houston is asking voters on Nov. 6 for permission to borrow $410 million to shore up its parks, police stations, libraries, other government buildings and substandard housing.

Propositions A, B, C, D and E for the most part are what Mayor Annise Parker calls “housekeeping” the city does every four to six years to add to, expand, renovate or repair city buildings and other public property. None of them requires a tax increase to pay principal and interest that over decades could mount to an estimated $719 million.

However, the propositions draw voters into a debate over city debt that has largely been confined to the City Council table and a task force that last year examined the city’s long-term finances.

The borrowing is the lowest amount the city has asked the voters for in 30 years. In 2006, the ask was $625 million. Without the new bond measure, Parker explained, city government won’t be able to carry out its five-year plan to continue to fix leaky roofs, repair fire station foundations, renovate old libraries, repair swimming pools and demolish abandoned apartment buildings.

“It’s like a pre-qualification for a mortgage. That’s basic. We’re going to the voters and saying, ‘Can we borrow money in these categories?’ ” Parker said.

Opponents of the measures say it’s more like continuing a spending binge with a credit card.

As Mayor Parker said when I interviewed her about the bonds, for the most part these are projects that went through the CIP process and were approved by Council. This is how the city pays for projects like these – it’s how nearly every entity pays for capital improvement projects, since it’s exceedingly impractical to pay for them out of cash. There’s really nothing remarkable here, save perhaps for the extra dollops of debt hysteria.

Two more things to note. One is that Proposition E, which is listed on the ballot as being about “affordable housing efforts”, is really about paying for the demolition of derelict properties so that some better use can be made of the land. The other is that CM Oliver Pennington is quoted in the story as being a supporter of the propositions, he just thinks the city should have asked to borrow less than $410 million for them. This make him more than a supporter of the parks bond. Not that it really matters, I just like to nitpick.

Council adopts strip club fee

Here it comes.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Council defers on strip club fee

Tagged for a week.

Consideration of a $5-per-head fee on customers of strip clubs to pay for reducing the city’s backlog of untested rape kits has been delayed for a week.

Council members Melissa Noriega and Al Hoang both tagged the item, a parliamentary maneuver that puts off an agenda item for one week, no questions asked.

Neither Noriega nor Hoang said they were against the plan but wanted more time to consider the measure, which was introduced a week ago by Councilwoman Ellen Cohen.

I suspect this will go through in the end. The clubs themselves are unsurprisingly not happy at the prospect, but their main argument against is unlikely to strike fear in anyone’s heart.

Al Van Huff, lawyer for several Houston-area strip clubs, said the city can expect a court fight.

“It sounds great if you’re a politician,” Van Huff said. “The reality of the situation is, it’s going to be expensive for the city to attempt to impose such a tax on these businesses.”

Enforcing a city ordinance also could be complicated. Cohen estimated that about 30 clubs would be affected. Van Huff said fewer than a handful of clubs fit the city’s definition of a sexually oriented business, while an additional 50 clubs’ entertainers wear just enough clothing to skirt the classification.

The fee unfairly targets clubs with the intent of making them unprofitable and forcing their closure, Van Huff said. The clubs already are responsible for taxes as well as the state fee, he said.

The State Supreme Court upheld the legality of the state fee, and the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling. That case isn’t the be-all and end-all, it was strictly about the constitutional free speech issue, so the clubs may find a more promising avenue for litigation, but again the historical record is against them, as their suit against the 1997 SOB law ultimately went nowhere. Whether or not you approve of the idea, I don’t see litigation as a big threat to it.

Meanwhile, another budget item moves forward.

City Council‘s Ethics, Elections and Council Governance Committee will consider a charter amendment ballot proposition to change term limits from six to 12 years.

Councilman Andrew Burks proposed doubling Council terms from two to four years and keeping the three-term limit in place. Houston voters would have to approve a ballot measure to change current term limits, which are more than two decades old.

The committee would review ballot language, which Burks says will save the city $3 million each two years by reducing the number of elections for the mayor, 16 Council members and controller. Councilwoman Wanda Adams is a co-sponsor of the Burks proposal, which was submitted last week as a budget amendment.

The full Council would have to act by Aug. 20 to place language on the November ballot.

Burks said two-year terms are so short that “We really can’t get anything done” because Council members need to campaign for re-election. Extending terms “improves upon the ability of Council members and mayor to do a better job,” he said.

Councilwoman Helena Brown and Oliver Pennington voted against sending the matter to a Council committee.

“Four years is too long a time for change-out if we’re not doing our job right,” Brown said.

My thoughts exactly, Helena. If this gets approved, it will be yet another referendum on the fall ballot. Get ready to do a lot of voting, y’all.

And finally, there was the plastic bag issue.

Council has approved a budget amendment ordering city officials to consider doing something about the litter problems presented by plastic bags or even to phase them out.

Councilman Ed Gonzalez’s original amendment called for preparing an ordinance within a year that would address a bag ban. Gonzalez spoke of looking to Austin, where a plastic bag ban is in effect, as a possible model.

Numerous speakers criticized the proposal at Tuesday’s public session. The amendment was watered down Tuesday night to say the city should only ”address phasing out plastic bags” and deleted mention of an ordinance. At the Council table today, Councilman Oliver Pennington further softened the proposal by adding language calling on the city to “address littering by plastic bags or phasing out plastic bags.”

Not really sure what that amounts to, but we’ll see. I’m still perfectly fine with the idea of charging a fee for plastic bags and using that money to clean up trash around the city.

UPDATE: In the end, the budget was approved, along with a few other amendments.

Going green to save some green

The city of Houston has made significant investments in energy savings.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors named Mayor Annise Parker the winner of Mayors’ Climate Protection Award last year for green building initiatives that incentivize conservation and energy-efficient design features.

“We don’t do it just because we get attention. We do it because it’s been good for the city’s bottom line,” Parker told City Council in introducing Laura Spanjian, whom Parker hired two years ago to fill the director of sustainability position she created.

Spanjian walked Council through a long list of the city’s green initiatives that included:

A bike share program scheduled to expand to 200 bikes at 20 kiosks in downtown, Montrose, the Heights, Texas Medical Center and the Museum District by year’s end.

Four wind turbines to be placed atop the Houston Permitting Center on Washington Avenue.

A plan to retrofit 297 city buildings to reduce energy use by 30 percent. Energy savings are expected to cover the cost of the alterations within a decade.

Near completion of replacement of incandescent bulbs at the city’s 2,450 intersections with traffic signals with LEDs, which are expected to cut energy bills by $3.6 million a year.

A lot of this investment has been paid for with federal stimulus dollars, which is important because the city’s budget, like those of many other cities, can’t often afford the up front cost of such investments. Taking advantage of those funds while they were available was smart and will pay off for years to come.

[CM Oliver] Pennington and others also asked about the most visible of green initiatives – recycling. More than a third of the city’s homes do not have curbside recycling pickup. Of those that do, only half have the 96-gallon containers.

“The challenge is recycling costs more money than picking up trash. Since we’re the only major city in America without a garbage fee, there is no economic incentive. The constraint is entirely budgetary,” Parker said.

I’ve asked about that before as well. Basically, the city generates revenue from the recyclables they collect, and when they have enough of that revenue they buy another truck to do the single stream curbside collection, thus expanding the service. I was going to say that I had not heard of any recent expansion announcements or other news concerning the program, but now I have.

[Solid Waste Management Department Director Harry Hayes] said that if Council would agree to a recycling fee of $3.75 to $4 a month per household, though, by the end of the year he could have a 96-gallon green recycling barrel at every home in the city and the people and trucks in place to pick it up.

That would be “instead of whenever” if he cannot get the fee, he said. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done without charging households directly.

In fact, Hayes said, he plans to bring the big green barrels to 30,000 to 50,000 additional homes in the coming year. He won’t say which neighborhoods are first in line until he makes a formal proposal later this spring. The city picks up garbage at 375,000 homes. Currently 105,000 homes have single-stream recycling — the big green barrels. Another 100,000 homes have dual stream recycling — the small bins. Residents have been clamoring for expansion of recycling.

[…]

On Wednesday’s agenda, Hayes is asking Council for $87,500 for a study “to determine the viability and fiscal incentives of establishing an Enterprise Fund for certain Solid Waste Operations…”

An enterprise fund separates an operation from the general fund. That means it is no longer funded by property and sales taxes. But the fund takes in money through fees. Current examples include the city’s airport and water systems, which charge customers, not taxpayers, to fund their operations.

The proposed study would examine whether to create an enterprise fund to cover the city’s three solid waste transfer stations. The stations are drop-off points for the trucks that make curbside collections and the pickup sites for much larger trucks that haul the garbage off to a landfill. The stations save city and company trucks from having to drive clear across the city to a landfill each time they fill up. The city already charges the companies that use the transfer stations.

If the study recommends an enterprise fund and the Council approves one, the city’s Solid Waste Management Department would keep the money the users pay instead of forwarding it to the city’s treasury.

I know a lot of people in neighborhoods that don’t have single stream recycling that would gladly pay the fee to get it, but I wouldn’t claim that’s a representative sample. I suspect the idea would be well received, but we’ll know more after today’s Council meeting. What do you think about the idea?

Feeding the homeless

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this.

Mayor Annise Parker is asking the council to adopt rules that would require organizations and people who feed the homeless to register with the city, take a food safety class, prepare the food in certified kitchens, serve only at three public parks, and leave those parks as clean as when they entered them.

Parker described her vision as one in which charities can coordinate their efforts through the city registry to reduce redundancy and waste.

“We’re trying to do this in a way that we don’t waste food so that churches, for example, don’t show up on top of each other trying to feed the same group of 20 guys,” Parker said during two hours of public testimony Tuesday.

Civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen called the proposed rules an “assault on freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of speech.” The ordinance’s penalties of $50 to $2,000 could make it a crime to feed the homeless, Kallinen said.

[…]

Councilman James Rod­riguez, who represents downtown, said the rule changes would make charity more efficient and coordinated. He said downtown residents complain of persistent litter, defecation and fights that require police intervention and detract from the quality of life and make homes harder to sell.

The proposal was tagged on Wednesday, and with Council out next week it won’t come up again till the 22nd, which will hopefully allow more time for discussion of all the concerns.

The proposed ordinance does not provide a public site for serving meals to the homeless outside of downtown Houston. Although the city’s parks director would be authorized to designate more sites in the future, the proposed rules would limit feeding on public property to Tranquillity Park, Peggy’s Point Plaza Park and undeveloped park land on Chartres, north of Minute Maid Park.

“For the city to designate it to just those three parks makes it hard,” Edward Sweet Sr., bishop of Strait & Narrow Way Temple Full Gospel Church in southwest Houston, said earlier this week. “How will these homeless people get to these three parks without transportation?”

The city is willing to add more parks, said Janice Evans, a spokeswoman for Mayor Annise Parker, but first wants to see how the new rules work in the three designated parks and to gauge whether there is a desire from groups to serve meals at other locations.

The Coalition for the Homeless, which supports the proposed regulations that would institute food handling standards, require trash pickup and have organizations register with the city, expects to produce a map in coming weeks that will show that many of Houston’s estimated 13,000 homeless residents live outside of downtown.

No doubt there are plenty of homeless folks outside of downtown, and that’s a big issue. I’m fine with the cleanup requirements, and the food safety requirements are reasonable as long as they’re not too onerous, but it’s not really clear to me what problem is being solved here. This sounds like the right way to go about it:

Council members Oliver Pennington and Jack Christie said they would like to hold off on mandatory rules until after a campaign that promotes voluntary compliance with some of the proposed rules, such as clean-up of the sites where food is served.

I agree. Let’s try to deal with that in a non-intrusive way, then we can see if there’s anything left that actually requires an ordinance. Campos and Stace have more.

30 day finance reports for City of Houston races

The 30 day campaign finance reports for City of Houston elections were due last week, and they are now mostly up on the city’s campaign finance report website, with a large number showing up today. Already I’m seeing questionable, curious, and interesting things in the reports. Some highlights so far:

  • Helena Brown, the late-filing candidate in District A, reported a quite respectable $15,848 raised, but she did not file a Schedule A report, so you can’t see who gave her how much.
  • Griff Griffin, who failed to file a report in July, did not include any totals on his report. I did the math and counted $2522 in contributions along with $6443 in expenditures. As he did not report any loans or expenditures from personal funds, there’s no way to reconcile these numbers in the absence of a cash on hand balance from an earlier report. Which Griff, who’s run for Council approximately three thousand times and very well may be carrying a balance from those prior efforts, really ought to know. Perhaps one of the consultants whom he lists as a payee could advise him on this.
  • Jack O’Connor, who switched from At Large #5 to the Mayor’s race just before the filing deadline, also failed to list totals on his report, even though he did so correctly in July. By my count, he raised $7866 and spent $11,195, of which $5295 came from raised funds and the remaining $5900 were personal expenditures.
  • Bo Fraga took in a very respectable $55K in the period. He also reported a $35K loan from Lupe Fraga of Tejas Office Products, which I am told may be a problem because loans are apparently subject to the same $5,000 limit as contributions. I’m not a lawyer and I haven’t read the ordinances myself so don’t take my word for this, but I will say that’s the biggest non-personal loan I can recall seeing offhand.
  • Both of CM Jolanda Jones’ challengers had decent reports. Laurie Robinson raised almost $81K, though a bit over $30K of that was in kind. Jack Christie took in $40K, and unlike last time he’s not loaning himself big bucks. Of interest is that former Council member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown showed up as a contributor to each. CM Jones’ report is not up yet, so I can’t say yet if Brown went for the hat trick or not.
  • The only thing interesting on Brad Batteau‘s report, which showed no money raise or spent, is that he declared himself a candidate in At Large #3, not District B. There may come a day when I will quit harping on this, but that day is not here yet.
  • Ellen Cohen continues to be a fundraising machine, raking in over $92K for the period. I didn’t scroll through the whole thing, but at first glance she appeared to have quite a few small dollar donors as well. She also continues to be a one woman economic stimulus package, spending $104K since July 1. She still has nearly $93K on hand for the home stretch.
  • CM Al Hoang raised a surprisingly small $10,950, and has less than $14K on hand. Both of his opponents were deadline day filers, so I don’t expect either of them to have that much, but it wouldn’t be that hard to have outraised him. I’ll let you know when I see their reports.
  • CM Oliver Pennington raised a fairly modest $33K, but thanks to previous fundraising prowess and not spending a huge amount, he has $185K on hand. Other than Mayor Parker, no one is going to come close to that.
  • Finally, we have one report from a non-candidate, Jim Bigham, who was going to run in District J but had to drop out because his voter registration had been purged by the Tax Assessor and could not be restored in time. Let this be a lesson to all of us, kids: As long as it is the philosophy of the Tax Assessor that it is better to purge nine eligible voters in order to ensure one ineligible one is removed, no one should take their registration status for granted. Today at 5 PM was the deadline to be registered for this election. I hope none of my readers will find out that they have suffered a similar fate.

That’s enough for now, as this post is getting long. I will follow up with another review post tomorrow, to cover the later report ones and to report on additional oddities and other things that merit comment. I will also be adding all reports to the 2011 Election pageand you can visit this spreadsheet put together by my pal Erik Vidor to see everyone’s running totals so far.

Endorsement watch: René and Pennington

Today we learned that the Chron is apparently not endorsing in uncontested elections, as they skipped over CM Mike Sullivan in District E, and we got our first endorsement of a challenger over an incumbent.

After a series of controversies involving incumbent Al Hoang divided his Vietnamese-American base, Hoang indicated he would not stand for re-election. Though he later changed his mind, we think his initial decision was the right one. The district, which has demanding infrastructure and economic development needs, requires new, focused leadership at City Hall.

Fortunately, voters have the opportunity to elect such a person, businessman and community activist Peter “Lyn” René. Born on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, René came to Houston in 1979 and graduated from Westbury High School and UH-Downtown.

[…]

René promises to be a strong voice at City Hall for street repair and district beautification. To counter budget cuts that have closed community centers and after-school programs, he says he would use his skills as a grant writer to solicit funds from corporations and foundations to continue vital municipal youth services.

With his technical skills and record of community service, René is, from our point of view, the best choice on the ballot to represent District F constituents.

I’m going to step out on a limb here and infer that the Chron is telegraphing its forthcoming endorsement in At Large #5 for Laurie Robinson. Who disagrees with me about that? In any event, you can listen to my interview with René, who was a deadline day filer, here.

The Chron stayed with incumbent CM Oliver Pennington in G.

Pennington is a retired lawyer who spent much of his career at Fulbright & Jaworski working on issues related to municipal governance. That familiarity with the ways of City Hall has allowed him to tackle complex issues with knowledge and experience that benefit his district and the city as a whole.

[…]

Pennington well understands the need for Houston officials to work with our state lawmakers to better manage employee pension expenses that threaten to bankrupt city coffers. There is no more pressing long-term fiscal issue.

Finally, Pennington also backs important quality-of-life difference-makers, such as preservation of our city’s architectural heritage and green spaces.

The Chronicle recommends that District G voters return Oliver Pennington to City Hall.

My interview with CM Pennington is here. Of note in that endorsement is the Chron’s complimentary mention of Pennington’s late-filing opponent, Clyde Bryan. As you’ve seen in earlier endorsements, they don’t usually bother to do that.

Interview with CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington was elected in 2009 as the Council member for District G. Pennington was a partner at the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski, where he specialized in various aspects of municipal law. He’s also a graduate of Rice University, which as you know always counts for a little extra with me. Here’s what we discussed:

Download the MP3 file

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

More on the red light camera ruling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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