Results of the Budget Amendments

June 20, 2012

Here is a list of all of the budget amendments and votes on each (the final ones will be updated once the archive video is online for me to view):

Amendment List (click here)


Hobby Expansion Almost Ready for Take Off

May 23, 2012

Mayor Parker announced that Southwest Airlines (SWA) will pay for the $100 million Hobby Airport expansion, which is the first step to opening the airport up to commercial international flights.  The agreement made by Mayor Parker and SWA says that the city will own the improvements to the airport, but SWA “will have preferential scheduling rights and pay no rent for its use of four of the five new international gates, and will also pay no rent for its use of the customs facility. The fifth additional gate and the customs facility will be available for use by all other airlines at Hobby, but unlike SWA, the other airlines will pay rent.”  In addition, SWA must abide by the Hire Houston First policy to make sure that local workers get a chance at the construction jobs.   This agreement must be confirmed by City Council, likely to take place on May 30th.

With many groups, such as Greater Houston Partnership supporting the Hobby expansion, there has also been plenty of criticism. The most vocal critique was a so-called independent study that said that the expansion would add 10,000 jobs and bring $1.6 billion to the Houston economy.  Many council members said that the study was biased and should be thrown out.  United Airlines, the competitor which flies out of Bush Intercontinental, argued that the expansion would actually cost Bush Intercontinental thousands of jobs and lose $295 million in the local economy.  Of course, both competing companies have their own agendas that conflict with each other.  It seems likely that both studies are exaggerated.

There are so many different theories out there about whether having one central hub for major flights is better than having several options where essentially the city would “compete against itself” as United President and CEO Jeff Smisek says.  However, if companies want to compete, should the government really stand in the way of that?

So far council members supporting the expansion are: Helena Brown, Andrew Burks, Stephen Costello, Ed Gonzalez, Al Hoang, Melissa Noriega, Oliver Pennington, and James Rodriguez.  I would like to know whether the other members just have not made a decision yet or are actually against the proposal.  If they are against it, I am curious as to the reason, as there surely could be more items to consider.

So far it seems like this is a pretty good deal for Houston.  It requires a private company to cover the costs of something the city will have for years to come.  Ultimately even if Hobby does not see an increase in 20 more flights a day as predicted, there appears to be very little risk for the city, so I hope to see this expansion take off.

The Feeding Ordinance is Hard to Swallow

April 4, 2012

Houston City Council passed the feeding ordinance today despite the protests from many Houstonians. Although this ordinance is slightly better than the one originally proposed, Mayor Annise Parker severely failed on this one.  The ordinance that passed requires written permission from the property owner to feed five or more homeless people and gives the city parks director the authority to designate certain parks as legal feeding venues (see here).  The ordinance also asks for charitable organizations to voluntarily register with the city and agree to safety rules and the coordination of scheduling.  The penalty for violations is $500.

There are many, many things wrong with this ordinance, and I think many of the council members and others have done a great job explaining that.  So rather than reiterate the same reasons why this ordinance is so awful, here is my take on how they should fix the ordinance (IF they HAD to pass something at all – and at this point, I am not convinced of that):

The City of Houston could create a website that allows charitable organizations to sign up on a voluntary basis, similar to the current ordinance.  The website would allow charitable organizations to sign up on a calendar for a date, time, and location for where they are planning on feeding the homeless.  Owners of private land even put their location on the calendar to allow charitable organizations to sign up at their place too.  The difference between this and the current ordinance is that this plan wouldn’t prohibit other groups from feeding the homeless on the same day.  Rather, it would just allow groups to coordinate their efforts, and since the website could run on its own, it would cost very little for the city to help this coordination…. Again, only if the city really thinks that this “problem” is as necessary as they say.

Charities that feed the homeless have to work very hard for the monetary donations they receive.  I am sure that many charities would voluntarily sign up for this website to join efforts to make sure that they aren’t planning a big event to feed the homeless at the same time and place as another group.  Coordinating efforts is helpful and might be welcomed by groups.

This would completely do away with penalties and requiring written permission to feed five or more people.  Charities would be able to see many private locations that welcome their services.  If a private land owner is worried about loitering and littering, there are already laws on the books for them to follow.  We don’t need more!  Also, if a land owner has tried to remove the homeless from his or her land to no avail, they could put up a “no loitering” sign and another sign explaining that food is not allowed on the property.  Surely charities will listen and find another place to feed the homeless.  Charities aren’t here to make enemies!

There are many other cities that have similar ordinances such as Orlando, Dallas, and Las Vegas.  All of these cases ended with lawsuits and many unhappy people, and there is no concrete evidence that such ordinances have helped anyone concerned.  Mayor Parker should rethink the message this is sending to the city.  This ordinance will do little other than making Houstonians angry and criminals out of those who are here to help.

Thanks to the following council members who voted against the ordinance: Mike Sullivan, Helena Brown, Al Hoang, Oliver Pennington, C.O. Bradford and Jack Christie.

Council Members who voted in favor of the ordinance are: Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Wanda Adams, Ed Gonzalez, James Rodriguez, Mike Laster, Larry Green, Stephen Costello, Andrew Burks, and Melissa Noriega.

New Committees​, New Power, Same Problems

January 11, 2012

Mayor Annise Parker announced the new City Council committees and their chairs and vice chairs (see below or here).  There are some interesting points to note about the new committees. 
First, Council Member Mike Sullivan is no longer the chair of the Ethics, Elections, and Council Governance Committee, and he is not the chair or vice chair of any committee.  While there are fewer committees this time, he is an experienced member who knows how to effectively run a committee. Although CM Sullivan is known as the conservative vote of “no”, Mayor Parker has picked conservatives to be in powerful positions before.  Council Member Anne Clutterbuck was picked to be the Mayor Pro-Tem by Parker, and Parker also chose her to be the chair of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Clutterbuck later resigned as Mayor Pro-Tem, perhaps at the request of Parker?  Maybe that was a bit of foreshadowing for what was to come.
Other items to note: Council Member Stephen Costello is the new chair of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee.  In general he might be a neutral pick – not too far to the left or the right.  Before I get hate mail on that comment, yes, I know he was the driving force behind Rebuild Houston.  What I mean is that in general terms, he doesn’t seem to side with one party or the other.  He appears to vote issue by issue.  This will be good in some situations and bad in others.  We will have to wait and see.  I am uneasy with him being on the TRANSPORTATION, TECHNOLOGY & INFRASTRUCTURE (TTI) Committee.  While he has valuable expertise with this subject, he should not be allowed to vote on anything in the committee that benefits his company.  Finally, Bradford isn’t the chair of the Public Safety Committee?  He used to be the Chief of Police, so his expertise might have been useful there, but at least he is on the committee. 

See anything else interesting about the committees?  Comment below, or send me an e-mail.
Chair: Costello
Vice Chair: Bradford
Members: Brown, Davis, Cohen, Adams, Sullivan, Hoang, Pennington, Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Laster, Green, Burks, Noriega, Christie
Will Review: Finance, Human Resources, Office of Business Opportunity and Fleet Management Departments, TIRZ budgets. 
Chair: Bradford
Vice Chair:
Members: Brown, Davis, Cohen, Adams, Sullivan, Hoang, Pennington, Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Laster, Green, Costello, Burks, Noriega, Christie
Ad Hoc Committee to Review: Chapter 18, Chapter 2 and any issues related to the conduct of local elections on an as needed basis.
Chair: Adams
Vice Chair: Laster
Members: Davis, Sullivan, Pennington, Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Green, Costello, Burks, Noriega, Christie
Will Review: Administration & Regulatory Affairs, Solid Waste Management, Housing & Community Development, Planning & Development Departments, Homeless Initiatives, Veteran’s Affairs and items related to both domestic and international economic development.
Chair: Gonzalez
Vice Chair: Cohen
Members: Brown, Davis, Adams, Hoang, Pennington, Laster, Costello, Bradford, Noriega, Christie
Will Review: Houston Police Department, Houston Fire Department, Houston Emergency Center, EMS, Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security, and Municipal Courts.
Chair: Rodriguez
Vice Chair: Hoang
Members: Brown, Davis, Cohen, Adams, Sullivan, Pennington, Gonzalez, Green, Costello, Burks
Will Consider: Department of Neighborhoods, Parks and Recreation Department, Houston Public Library, Health and Human Services and items related to Houston’s local International Community and Cultural Affairs.
Chair: Noriega
Vice Chair: Pennington
Members: Davis, Adams, Sullivan, Hoang, Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Laster, Green, Costello, Christie
Will Review: Information Technology, General Services, and Public Works and Engineering Departments, Rebuild Houston Water & Sewer, Rebuild Houston Streets & Drainage, and water resources and conservation.

Predictions for the November 2011 Election

November 4, 2011

Now that Election Day is right around the corner, here are my guesses as to who will win.  Keep in mind that this is not a list of who I want to win.  It is a list of who I think will win.

Kevin Simms
Amanda Ulman
Dave Wilson
Fernando Herrera
Annise D. Parker
Jack O’Connor

I think Mayor Parker will win reelection.  Although there are many people who will gladly vote for anyone else, there are still plenty of people who are excited to continue voting for Parker.  As of November 3rd, early voting was down by 23%.   This shows that people might not be as excited to rush out to vote for Parker, but it also shows that people aren’t excited to vote against her either.

District A:
Brenda Stardig
Helena Brown
Bob Schoellkopf

CM Stardig will likely win again.  Although Brown raised more money than a challenger to an incumbent is expected to, beating an incumbent is so difficult, and I don’t think Brown did enough.

District B:
Kenneth Perkins
Kathy Blueford-Daniels
Phillip “Paul” Bryant
Alvin Byrd
Jerry Davis
Charles A. Ingram
Bryan Smart

It is really difficult to predict who the front runners are in this one.  There will be a runoff, but I don’t think anyone can predict at this point who will be in that runoff.

District C:
Randy Locke
Josh Verde
Ellen Cohen
Karen Derr
Brian Cweren

I think Cohen pretty much has this one locked up.  The only thing standing in her way is the fact that she and Derr might split votes, causing a runoff between Cohen and Cweren.  Even with a runoff, I think Cohen will win.

District D:
Wanda Adams
Larry McKinzie

CM Adams will most likely win reelection. 

District E:
Mike Sullivan

District F:
Al Hoang
Hoc Thai Nguyen (Nguyen Thai Hoc)
Peter “Lyn” René

I predict CM Hoang will win.  Even if a District F resident is incensed with Hoang’s job (which many definitely are), the presence of two other candidates to choose from will render a splitting of votes, causing Hoang to win.

District G:
Clyde Bryan
Oliver Pennington

Although CM Pennington is an incumbent, many people in District G know Bryan.  Still I don’t think that enough people are upset with Pennington’s performance to change their vote.  Let’s not forget that Pennington beat four other people in 2009 and won with 59.10% of the vote.

District H:
Patricia Rodriguez
Edward “Ed” Gonzalez 

CM Gonzalez will likely win again. 

District I:
Leticia Gutierrez Ablaza
James Rodriguez 

CM Rodriguez will likely win again.

District J:
Mike Laster
Rodrigo Canedo
Criselda Romero

Laster raised the most money.  Although this district is considered a “Hispanic-Opportunity District,” with only 17 of registered voters with Hispanic surnames, I don’t think being Hispanic automatically predicts a win here.  I think Laster will win.

District K:
Pat Frazier
Larry Green
Alex Gonik

Simply, Green has the money and the endorsements.  While that doesn’t always predict a win, I think it will in this case.

At-Large 1:
Stephen C. Costello
James Partsch-Galvan
Scott Boates
Don Cook 

This is a hard one to say.  CM Costello is the one behind the Rebuild Houston drainage fee, and I think most voters know that by now.  Although many are angry about it, let’s not forget that it did pass by the voters in the last election.  Even when you take away the number of people who originally voted for it and are now against it, there are still many who support the fee and who support Costello.  Couple that with the fact that Boates recently stated that he “‘ joined both parties this year as part of this run for office.'”  It’s fine if someone is a moderate (actually that might not be a bad thing at all), but his poor choice of words and the fact that it will be difficult to make headway with either party might cause a clear opening for Costello to win again.  I am fairly confident in many of my predictions, but I really won’t be shocked if Costello loses. 

At-Large 2:
Kristi Thibaut
Elizabeth C. Pérez
Andrew C. Burks, Jr.
Gordon R. Goss
Bolivar “Bo” Fraga
Eric B. Dick
Jenifer Rene Pool
M. “Griff” Griffin
David W. Robinson
Roslyn “Rozzy” Shorter 

This is another one where it is really difficult to predict.  I think there will be a runoff that includes Thibaut, but I am not sure who will be in it with her.  Maybe Robinson, but then again, let’s not discount the fact that for the last couple of months you couldn’t drive anywhere in Houston without seeing an Eric Dick (illegal) sign.  In the end I think Thibaut will win. 

At-Large 3:
Melissa Noriega
Chris Carmona
J. Brad Batteau 

CM Noriega will likely win.  I think those who supported her last time still support her today. 

At-Large 4:
Louis Molnar
Amy Price
C. O. “Brad” Bradford 

I don’t see CM Bradford losing his seat.  He has lots of support from both sides of the aisle and hasn’t done anything that the majority of voters would find alarming. 

At-Large 5:
Laurie Robinson
Jolanda “Jo” Jones
Jack Christie
Bob Ryan 

I really think Christie will win this time.  I think enough people are mad an CM Jones and want her out.  With Christie as the clear front runner with Jones, I think it will end up being just a battle between them with Christie winning. 

City Controller:
Ronald Green

Take the Deal and Run (But not Through the Red Lights)

August 23, 2011

American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the vendor company for Houston’s red light cameras offered a last-minute settlement.  They suggested that they will not pursue damages against the city for the eight months the red light cameras were turned off as long as the city keeps the lights on through 2013 (5 months before its original May 2014 expiration). 
Houston City Council is set to consider a resolution to turn off the cameras.  Council Member Sue Lovell tagged this item last week, pushing back their vote.  If they shut off the cameras now, it will probably cost them $25 million in damages.
Council Member Al Hoang said that as “a city, we cannot let a company bully us” (see here).  I agree, but I’m not sure this meets the definition of bullying.  Contracts are signed so both the proprietor and those doing business with them know the terms and the end date.  What is the point of having a contract if both parties don’t stick to it?  ATS probably hired people (although out of state – but still) to manage this contract.  They planned on a certain amount of money through 2014 to pay their employees, and they expect to receive what was signed in the contract.  So really this is the fault of the city.  As I’ve said before, they should have put in a clause about ending the contract if there is a change in the Charter that would warrant the terms to come to a close.  They didn’t, and now we have to pay for their mistake one way or another. 
We voted against the cameras, and the city needs to uphold this vote by shutting them off; however, I think in this situation, being as volatile as it is, the city should take this deal with ATS.  No, it’s not a perfect solution, but either way Houstonians get the short end of the stick.  Right now there is no scenario where we shut off the cameras and pay no money, and I don’t see that option ever taking place.  We have two scenarios on the table.  Senario 1: We shut the cameras off now and pay $25 million dollars that we don’t have.  Scenario 2: Take the ATS deal and not owe money.  My caveat to scenario 2 is that they better pass an ordinance now that bans red light cameras after 2013 and then work with voters to pass another Charter amendment in the next election that will ban them permanently starting in 2014.

More on Council Member Al Hoang’s Possible Forgery

June 17, 2011

Mayor Annise Parker is requesting an investigation by Houston’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) into the forgery allegations against Council Member Al Hoang.  CM Hoang is accused of forging signatures on a petition to change the street name of Turtlewood to Little Saigon Drive.
It seems completely ridiculous that he would need to forge signatures.  There are two ways to change a street name: get enough signatures, or bring it before City Council.  He is a council member, so he could easily bring it up for a vote (which he tried to do).  So why forge names? 

In my previous post, I said that even if CM Hoang didn’t forge the names, he shouldn’t have brought this up to City Council until after the forgery was investigated.  How can he truly know that homeowners want this name change if some (or many) names were forged?  Since he wasn’t responsible enough to wait on this measure, Mayor Parker stepped in and said that nothing “‘is going to move until we can be assured that the community wishes have been fairly represented'”.  THANK YOU.  That is what should have been done in the first place.