Interview With Jack O’Connor for At Large 5

Transcript from my interview with Jack O’Connor, running for Houston City Council, At Large 5:
 
1.  What is your platform, and why are you running?
My platform is to focus on several issues.  The main thing I want to focus on is fiscal responsibility in the budget.  I want to get to a point where we understand what our revenue is.  There is a budget.  Everyone is given a budget – the police, the firemen.  The person over that is responsible for coming into the budget.  What is happening is they go over and have to borrow from someone else.  There is no discipline in the budget.  Discipline has to be put back in. 
 
The other thing is to focus on the city government being a good example to attract new businesses.  Businesses, like Exxon, just moving here will attract new business.  I want to make sure that the city has very good outward reputation to be proficiently business friendly and to have law and order and good public services like transportation.
 
The last thing is the neighborhoods.  I have been very active in the last two years with HOAs and super neighborhoods.  I’m a lucky person because I get to do it while I’m still young.  I got involved in my super neighborhood, and I’m on the board.  What it does is it gets feedback from all HOAs and tries to articulate policies, and city council members from our district (I’m in G – so Oliver Pennington) come to our meetings.  It’s an avenue for neighborhoods where they come and apply their influence to get things that are needed like roads that need to be fixed or routing on buses that needs to be changed.
 
Those are the three things, but public safety is a big part of that as well.
 
2. Why are you specifically running against Jolanda Jones and not for an open at large seat or for a district seat?
First of all, my thought about going in for Sue Lovell’s position is that there are 7, 8, or more people already in the race. Secondly, a lot of people in my super neighborhood encouraged me to run against Oliver Pennington, and I thought Oliver Pennington brings intelligence and can be influenced positively by me when I get on City Council.  Is he one of the bad ones, and would I be wise running against a council member who is popular and has a lot of money?
 
I went to the last city council meeting where they had the hearing for Renew Houston.  It was standing room only in City Council chambers.  Jolanda comes busting in and says that she has a meeting at 4:15 and said that she has to speak first.  I’m not sure what she said, it was so disjointed.  She finished.  She got up and walked around and interviewed everybody that was standing up.  It was very disruptive to the public hearing in my opinion.  She got back up and said she wanted to talk again, so she interrupted again and caused some confusion.  She tried to take what she learned by doing the personal interviews and tried to verbalize it to the crowd.  She was rambling.  I wasn’t sure what it was.  Then she said she had to do it by 4:15.  Well I had to leave because I had a meeting I had to go to.  I happened to be in the elevator at 4:15, and there is Jolanda on the phone.  She had no meeting.  She said that she had to leave the building.  So I saw she was disruptive and dishonest to the crowd, and I thought to myself that she is not good for the city.  She is disruptive, and she is not good at managing a body.  I decided at that point that I would run against her.  No one was challenging her.
 
3.  Can you name one vote Jolanda Jones took where you would have voted differently?
She voted for the last Rebuild Houston. I’m not against Rebuild Houston, but I’m against the way it was put in with all the variables.  That’s the one glaring one that she voted for, and I would have voted against.  I have a number of other ones too.  She gives the appearance that sometimes she is a conservative because she questions how the money is being spent, but it’s a general protest rather than someone getting into the details and saying that we can’t do it.
 
4. If you win, which committees do you hope to be appointed to?
Houston has more to offer than any place else in the world.  I think you can play that very efficiently, so I would be on the Development and Regulatory Affairs Committee and the International Business Initiatives Committee to help bring businesses in.
 
I also want to be on the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee because I have a good skill at asking where money goes and monitoring the progress of the budget.  The other thing is that the Police/Fire Departments have a budget.  Many times people blame the Mayor and City Council for cutting back.  Sometimes they are very aggressive in their request, and the city may grant it, but to sustain that is sometimes vulnerable to a downturn of the economy like we have right now.  I just think it’s better to be careful. 
 
On the budget side of it, I think every area of business should have a budget and funds that they are allocated.  If they go over the budget, sorry we can’t help you, unless there is a catastrophe.  If there isn’t a compelling reason to exempt it, they can’t.  They need to come under budget.
 
There is another thing I want to add.  The city should be an example and should be putting money into the Rainy Day fund.  They should be doing that because we could have a hurricane.  They should take a reasonable amount that they should keep in there.  If you go over that, it should go back to reduce taxes or go back to the area of attracting new businesses.  
 
5. If you were on the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, what would you do to balance the budget?
I would do several things.  The big part of our budget is our pensions and ill-funded liabilities we have.  I would do everything I could to form a commission to see how much we can reduce or change how much responsibility the city has to health insurance and the pension funds.  Pensions are very hardy and stout, and I think many people in their own businesses would be better off being police officers.  It’s a very generous and a good one.  I think we should attract the best police and firefighters, but I think we have to somehow bring that down to a reasonable number.  I would like to get a commission with a third party consultant who doesn’t have a direct interest in this to get to the bottom of this and to figure out how to take care of this.  There are certain fees and taxes that are going to be needed to balance the budget, but I still think the expenses can be taken down a bit.  I think the Fire/Police Departments have many things – they have cars, they have computers.  From a business standpoint, the rationale to buy new equipment should be very strong.  Not to hold people back but to spend money wisely.  I understand they bought fire equipment that was obsolete.  They bought fire trucks with the computer under the truck.  They could not operate within 9 inches of water.  So when we have flooding, they can’t get their equipment there because it could short it out.

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