I try to give all new council members the benefit of the doubt for a while before being really critical of them. After all, it takes time to understand how the city works, how to vote, and how to critically analyze ordinances. With that being said, I cannot let this incident go without commenting on it because this situation didn’t seem to be just a matter of not understanding the process; rather this was a complete mishandling of what should have been a simple problem. Yesterday, Council Member Helena Brown got into an altercation with Mayor Annise Parker over the appointment of a member to the Spring Branch Management District. The way this process is supposed to work is Mayor Parker picks members for a board, and she gives this list to all council members. They then have two weeks to vet the members and let Mayor Parker know if they see an issue or even make other recommendations to the mayor. If there are no issues to be worked out, she will bring it before council, and they can vote to accept or decline the members.
In the council meeting yesterday, CM Brown tried to remove current Board member (who was up again for consideration), Victor Alvarez, and add another person, Randy Simms, in his place. CM Brown commented that Simms would be better for the “Korean community.” Here is how the rest of the meeting played out (or watch the video here - Item 2 on the agenda):
- Mayor Parker explained that Brown can’t do this.
- CM Brown asked for clarification from the city attorney who ruled with the mayor.
- Long rigmarole of procedural questions.
- After much discussion, Mayor Parker said to CM Brown, “I’ve been attempting to schedule a meeting with you for about two and a half weeks now. I’ve made multiple requests, and I have resorted to communicating with you by email in order to discuss a range of items. You have consistently refused to meet with me, and had you had the opportunity to meet with me we may have been able to deal with this privately.”
- CM Brown said, “Mayor, I will not be bullied. You have made a request via one of your assistants for a meeting two weeks ago for which I specifically asked for specifics so I can decide whether the meeting is to be merited. And I don’t appreciate you announcing what is supposed to be our business before the whole city of Houston. I’m a duly elected council member, and I will not be bullied.”
-Mayor Parker said, “I certainly apologize if you feel in any way bullied by my request that you meet with me privately in my office.”
- After the vote, Mayor Parker’s nominees were confirmed.
There are many things wrong with the scenario that played out in the council meeting. First, Victor Alvarez is a supporter of former Council Member Brenda Stardig. In fact, he let her use his garage apartment for her campaign headquarters (see full story here). Many may remember that CM Brown beat Stardig last year, and Mayor Parker was a big financial contributor to Stardig’s campaign. CM Brown brought nothing to the council meeting to show why Alvarez shouldn’t be on the Board other than saying that he sent “negative communications” – whatever that means. If she had really disconcerting evidence, she should have explained further.
Next, I am a little confused why CM Brown would want to delay a vote where two weeks won’t make a difference, but in other circumstances, she will not delay a vote to hear her constituents out (see here). In January, some of her constituents asked her to hold off on selling 8,840 square feet of land in the district for $41,990 to a body shop owner. The constituents have been trying to have a park built in that location for a long time. She could have tagged it for a week just to have time to discuss it with her constituents. Maybe in the end the outcome would have been the same. Regardless, she should have tagged that item, but she didn’t, and she never said why she refused. Somehow that vote was not ok to delay, but this is?
Finally, CM Brown really should have met with Mayor Parker before this hearing. The mayor doesn’t ask to meet with you so she can say, “ha ha. Too bad that you disagree with me.” She calls a meeting so she can get someone’s input and have a discussion. Maybe in the end Mayor Parker would have still disagreed with CM Brown, but at least they could have discussed it. CM Brown accused Mayor Parker of bullying her. If anything, CM Brown is the bully in this scenario by bringing this up in front of everyone to make Parker look bad and telling everyone that Mayor Parker’s meeting may not have been merited. ALL meetings with the mayor to explain your point of view is merited! CM Brown should have met with Mayor Parker, and if Mayor Parker still didn’t agree, that’s when Brown should have informed the other council members about Alvarez’s “negative communications” within the two weeks they had to discuss it. As Council Member Andrew Burks said, “Who is Randy Simms? Is he in the room today? … How can I make an intelligent decision on this? I can’t. If Victor Alvarez has some problems, I’d like to know.” How did CM Brown expect the other council members to agree with her if they knew nothing about the situation? Either she didn’t think this through, or she brought it up to serve some other purpose (maybe to make Mayor Parker look bad?) Either way, she didn’t handle this in the right way.
Whether you agree or disagree in general with Mayor Parker, she is still the mayor, and being disagreeable is NOT the way to get the job done. I understand being the voice of opposition and trying to shake things up in a system that isn’t ideal; however, this is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to work within the system to get things done and then try to work within the system to change it. Voting no EVERY time just because it was brought up by the mayor is just as bad as voting yes every time. What disrespect to one’s constituents to not even give an ordinance the proper time and consideration just because of politics. With a strong mayoral form of government, she is never going to get any of her items on the agenda. She needs to vote no when a no is warranted (and vice versa), but she needs to be respectful. The point is that she needs to learn how to be an effective council member, and so far I haven’t seen it from her.
Other notable quotes:
Council Member Melissa Noriega said, “Forgive me. I must object strenuously to this. I think that it has not been our practice to single out individual appointments, nor has it been our practice to hammer them out at the table. It is a lot of work and a lot of exposure and a lot of things for folks to do these jobs, and I am both uncomfortable and in opposition to the idea that we are going to handle it this way.”
Council Member James Rodriguez called it “unprofessional” to call out someone who is not there to defend themself. He also said, “To pin two different cultures against each other is unprofessional. I’m not going to stand by it, and I’m not going to support the motion”