I’m back!!

After seven tests and two essays, my summer has officially begun. I’m going to be undertaking two main projects this summer, one starting on Monday and one in June, after which the two will run concurrently until late August. I’ll have more on this on Sunday and next month, respectively. Obviously, studying for tests is hard, but these past eight days have been some of the most stressful in recent memory because I have been unable to contribute to Texpatriate. Fear not, regular posting will continue perpetually at this time. At this point, my intent is to publish early the morning before I head out for the day. Anyways, I’d like to briefly touch upon a few of the major actions that have occurred since I signed off.

First and foremost, a public hearing was held over the proposed non-discrimination ordinance at City Hall. The results were predictable, to say the least, with the usual suspects showing up and pontificating the same-old trite arguments about religious liberty and such. The number of Councilmembers on the fence appeared to have broadened, and includes such officeholders I have named before such as Michael Kubosh, C.O. Bradford and Jack Christie. Additionally, it includes a few new names, especially Richard Nguyen. I’ll probably have a little more about this soon, but the general point is obviously to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people from both governmental agencies and private employers. Much of the argument that this provision is somehow anti-business has been put to bed after the Greater Houston Partnership backed the ordinance. Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist have more.

Please click here to see more!

Council update, 4/16

The Houston City Council had a rather busy meeting today, unanimously passing two major ordinances. Additionally, conversations were sparked on two other major issues. Specifically, the previously-noted hoarding ordinance passed, as well as a provision to expand subsidies for downtown living. Meanwhile, the discussion over both One Bin for All (recycling programs) and the Wage Theft ordinance’s implications continued.

First up, the Council unanimously passed the hoarding ordinance. Jayme Fraser at the Houston Chronicle has a somewhat fuller story on the topic. Among the provisions in the ordinance are fines (up to $550/day) for rampant hoarders who disturb the peace of their neighbors and clarifications on when the police could step in without a warrant. Councilmembers such as Richard Nguyen have previously voiced concern on the prospect of criminalizing a mental illness. However, following a reassurance from the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, these fears were largely placated.

Next, the Council unanimously approved additional subsidies for living downtown. Mike Morris, also at the Houston Chronicle, first reported this on Twitter. Morris wrote a lengthier analysis in the paper on this issue last month; the issue at play, essentially, is that the City will continue offering subsidies of up to $15,000 per unit to the downtown developers.

Click here to read about the Recycling and Wage Theft developments!

Council action on hoarders

We’ve all watched those TLC reality shows before, right? Hoarding, which is typically defined as a mental disorder, involves the gross obsession over seemingly valueless or trash, so that the situation in one’s domicile becomes functionally unlivable. Generally, this is seen as only a personal issue, as it would appear logical that only the persons suffering from hoarding is the hoarder himself. While this may often be true of single family houses, the same cannot be said for condominiums, apartments, duplexes and townhomes, among other living arrangements. When people live in such close conditions, the carelessness of one resident easily becomes gross negligence that could harm neighbors and other innocents.  Whether this be unsuitable odors, fire risk or pest infestations, neighbors are easily affected by hoarding on the part of others.

Accordingly, the Houston Chronicle reports that on Wednesday the City Council considered a proposal to limit the damage done by the hoarders. Among those provisions in the proposed ordinance would make it easier for police to enter residences without a warrant, impose more stringent fines on hoarders and increase opportunities for treatment for the offenders. Councilmember Richard Nguyen (R-District F), concerned about the possible criminalization of a mental disorder, tagged the measure (Editorial note: A “tag” is a dilatory tactic on the Houston City Council in which a Councilmember may unilaterally delay any piece of legislation for one week).

Click here to read more!

Parker pulls an Obama

This is a few days late, I have had a whirlwind of a weekend in Houston, but I felt that this story was specifically too important to ignore. In a recent speech and press release, Mayor Annise Parker outlined her proposals for a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT rights. The only problem with this, of course, it is not all that comprehensive. Texas Leftist sums up the position somewhat well, as does Lone Star Q. In short, it covers both public employment and private corporations providing public accommodations. However, it does not cover private employment. This means, simply put, that most people could continue to be fired in Houston just for being gay.

Ostensibly, Parker sold out on this important detail because she did not have the votes on the council. It is important to note, however, that the comprehensive NDOs are not as ubiquitous as many may think. Only Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth fully ban the private employer discrimination, whereas El Paso and San Antonio have ordinances similar to the one Mayor Parker has proposed. For all of Julian Castro’s accolades in his past last year for a comprehensive NDO, it did not actually go all that far in comparison.

Click here to read an analysis of how things stand at City Hall!

Fire Department brownouts

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that ballooning overtime pay had occurred at the Houston Fire Department. This excessive overtime arrangement, wherein (because of an overly generous union contract) there was no cap on many firefighters could take off on a given day, saw a great deal of expenditures allocated to overtime on a small number of weekends. This, along with other factors, caused the Fire Department’s budget to be way over the mark. Accordingly, the Houston City Council’s Budget Committee met today to discuss ways to cut costs in HFD for the remainder of the City’s fiscal year (roughly four months). Since most of the department’s expenses are personnel costs protected by the union contract, the Committee had to come up with somewhat drastic solutions to this problem.

First, the committee discussed the idea of paying the department’s deficit –estimated at around $10.5 Million– out of pocket, given that the municipality has seen extra tax money in its coffers. But the Chairman of the committee, Councilmember Stephen Costello, was quite tepid on the subject, saying “I’m not real sure that there are enough votes on council to just arbitrarily give them $8 million.” Mayor Annise Parker, meanwhile, was far tougher. “They managed their way into the problem; they can manage their way out,” she said.

Click here to read about what the Committee did!

Parker inaugurated again

This morning, I attended the official Houston inauguration at the Wortham Center. Mayor Annise Parker and City Controller Ronald Green were both inaugurated for their third and final two-year term in office. Additionally, the new City Council were initiated and took office themselves. Among the new additions to the Council were David Robinson and Michael Kubosh in At-large seats and Dwight Boykins, Richard Nguyen and Robert Gallegos in district seats. Brenda Stardig, who has previously served, also took office once more after a two year hiatus.

Parker and Green both had the oath of office administered by Vanessa Gilmore, a local Federal Judge. Parker then delivered a rather brief inaugural speech that was somewhat light on specifics. She did mention, quite specifically, the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people. This move was met with only tepid applause from a fraction of the City Council, including the inconspicuous absence of applause from Councilmember Bradford. Actions meant to assuage the damage caused by hurricanes (read: Ike Dike) were also explicitly referenced, as was further improvement to roads and drainage. Perhaps the biggest shock of the day occurred when Parker announced her intention to “completely eliminate chronic homelessness.” This line drew big applause from individuals who have disagreed profoundly with the Mayor in the past, including, most notably, Michael Kubosh.

Click here to read more!

Council update, 12/11

The Houston City Council took no major action this week, as Councilmembers high and low tagged proposals to delay them for one week. Instead, the only updates we have are those that seek to prognosticate towards the future involving existing proposals, almost all of which were pushed back by the dilatory tactic.

First, KPRC is reporting on a proposal to relax the City’s alcohol sales ordinance, which bans any store from selling beer or wine within 1000 feet to a school or a church. Mayor Parker has now proposed easing the regulation to 300 feet, applying only to “larger grocery stores.” I have no idea what the cutoff between a small store and a large grocery store is, and I am in no small part concerned about the possibility that this is an olive branch to Wal-Mart and the like. That being said, perhaps I am just misreading all of it.

The proposal is meant to attract more grocery stores to low-income areas, where very small churches are often ubiquitously located in strip-malls alongside shopping centers. These low-income areas are often called Food Deserts for the scarcity of healthy eating and shopping options nearby. The Houston Chronicle recently cataloged these problems, citing efforts by the City to help alleviate the problems.

Click here to read about the Payday Lending ordinance and why it is in jeopardy!

Hoang vs. Vo

The Houston Chronicle reports that Al Hoang, the two term member of the Houston City Council recently defeated by political newcomer Richard Nguyen, will be continuing his political career in a new way: running for the Texas House. Hoang will reportedly challenge incumbent Hubert Vo, a Democrat and the only Vietnamese-American member of the legislature, in District 149. Hoang, an ostensibly moderate Republican (he endorsed Mayor Parker), is waging much more of a partisan campaign this time.

Interestingly, some made veiled accusations that it was Vo and associates of his who originally propped up Nguyen to run against Hoang. However, this makes little sense. Nguyen mentioned in his interview with us that he is a Republican, and for rather unapologetic conservative rationale (…because I believe strongly in the US Constitution). Even Morris’ article notes that Hoang received some negative publicity for supporting deescalation with Vietnam.

Click here to read about Hoang’s campaign strategy!

2013 results and analysis

We’re working on trying to abridge the hours and hours of livestreamed Texpatriate election return coverage into about 20 minutes of the top hits. Yesterday, our all-time view record was demolished as thousands of people appeared to come to our website to read up on candidates before they voted. Additionally, Richard Nguyen, the victor in District F, had little impact on the internet besides his interview with Texpatriate.

First and foremost, Mayor Annise Parker was decisively re-elected to a third and final term as Mayor of Houston. She cruised to over 57% of the vote, far outpacing the amount of the vote she received in 2011. Meanwhile, Controller Ronald Green also was re-elected, albeit by a much smaller margin. The only surprises amongst City Council races were in At-large 3 and District F, respectively. Otherwise, most incumbents cruised to re-election.

All nine Statewide propositions passed, as did Harris County Proposition 1 (the joint processing center/jail). The Astrodome referendum, however, did not pass, as the iconic 8th Wonder of the World now looks condemned to demolition.

Click here to see full results and read more!

Texpatriate’s Questions for Richard Nguyen

Editorial note: This is the thirtieth in our series of electronic interviews with City Council, City Controller and Mayoral candidates. We have sent 10 questions based on seven different templates: (1) incumbent City Council, (2) challenger City Council, (3) open seat City Council, (4) challenger Controller, (5) incumbent Controller, (6) challenger Mayoral and (7) incumbent Mayoral. The following are verbatim copies of the questions sent out and the answers received.

Campaign Photo

Richard Nguyen, Candidate for the Houston City Council District F

Texpatriate: What is your name?
RN: My name is Richard Nguyen. I am running for the District F Councilmember position.

T: What is your current occupation?
RN: I am an employee of the City of Houston, Solid Waste Management Department, Combustible Waste Storage Permitting and Inspection.

T: Have you run for or held public office before?
RN: No, this is my first attempt.

T: What is your political affiliation? We understand that City Council elections are nonpartisan, but this is a point many voters find important. If you are not comfortable currently identifying with a political party, what was the last Political Party’s primary election you voted in (a matter of public record)?
RN: It is true that City Council elections are nonpartisan.  However, I voted with the Republican Party because I believe strongly in the United States Constitutions.

T: Typically, this board will defer to incumbents unless we are convinced the incumbent has failed in some way. Do you believe the incumbent has failed at her or his job? If so, why?
RN: The incumbent has poorly represented District F.  The district is underserved.  However, the incumbent took credits for Capital Improvement Projects that were in progress before he took office.  Instead of representing the constituents in City Hall, the incumbent has been too busy either suing someone or defending himself in court.  He closed his door on his constituents and forgot why he was placed in office.

T: Why are you specifically running against this incumbent?
RN: District F does not need a Councilmember who is self serving.  District F needs a Councilman who serves EVERYBODY.

T: What do you hope to get out of serving on the City Council?
RN: Since I was young, I have always been taught that you must learn to serve in order to be a good citizen.  I want nothing more for me than to be a good citizen and give back to the community that I call home.

T: What is an ordinance you would introduce in your next term?
RN: One of my pet peeves is to see our neighborhoods trashed with unused furniture and appliances.  I would like to see our city become of the cleanest places to live in.  We have scheduled trash pick ups that we must adhere by.  We have depositories that our citizens can use to dispose items they no longer need at no cost.  We cannot just dump our trash anywhere we please.  Perhaps an ordinance that further deter illegal dumping and encourage the use of our city facilities, or an incentive for clean ups is needed to keep our city sparkling.

T: Obviously, an officeholder strives to maintain a diverse core constituency and political base, but all candidates have interest groups they have been traditionally strong with and traditionally weak with, respectively. For you, what would be one example of each type of group?
RN: Surprisingly, I have been weak with the Asian groups, perhaps because I have mistakenly considered them the traditionally “Model Minorities” and that they do not need more attention than other groups.  However, as an officeholder, especially one who represents the “International District” (District F), I will be representing the most diverse district in the city.  I will be striving for equal representation in every ethnicity, groups, or base.

T: What has been the most important thing you have learned in your campaign?
RN: Humility wins over hubris.  Honor your voters, not hustle them.  By surrounding myself with sincerity, not sycophants, I have received more affection from my supporters.  Although I have little money to run this campaign; I make up for that with motivation.  I am driven by compassion and when a decision has to be made between head and heart, I chose to not split the two.  Go with conviction.