Wage Theft proposal slowed

The Houston Chronicle reports that the “Wage Theft” proposal, which as some might recall, would create a Wage Theft czar who would keep of companies accused of improperly stealing overtime pay from workers.

Anyways, the City Council looked over the draft ordinance yesterday and had some choice words to say, Specifically, the conservatives on the council, backed by their business lobby friends, attempted to kill the ordinance. As Morris’ article continues, with a quote from Councilmember Dave Martin:

“This is overkill,” Councilman Dave Martin said. “There is a problem, we recognize it, but to create an administrative function seems to me like it’s going to be an expensive proposition and it’s going to be the city getting itself in the middle of employee-employer disputes.”

I tried to get some more quotes out of Morris vis-a-vis specific stands by other Councilmembers, but was unsuccessful. That being said, I suspect that other right-wing Councilmembers assisted in piling onto this measure. These would include people like Jack Christie, Helena Brown and Oliver Pennington.

Fortunately, some cooler heads also voiced opinions on the matter, specifically interest groups reached for comment by Morris:

Fe y Justicia Worker Center Executive Director Laura Perez-Boston described the proposal as watered down, but still important.

“This ordinance only impacts your business if you knowingly and willingly denied earned wages to your employees,” she said. “If you’re paying them fairly, it does not impact you and should not be of concern to responsible businesses.”

Richard Shaw, of the Harris County AFL-CIO, agreed.

“The city can choose with whom it wants to do business,” he said. “Do not do business with criminals. That’s what we’re asking.”

I absolutely agree with Shaw on this matter. It is not overkill to punitively punish those who steal from some of the most vulnerable among us. From what I understand, this measure was not voted on one way or another, and since the ordinance is still a draft, it will be sat on for a little longer. There is still no timeline in sight for such an ordinance.

In other news, I have officially moved into my new dorm in Boston. It has central air conditioning, which in Boston, is a pretty big deal. I even hung up the old tricolor, to remember where I came from as I continue writing about it.

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The final lineup

If yesterday had not been my last day in Houston, I would have absolutely staked out on the 3rd Floor of City Hall in preparation of the last day of filing, because wow there were some surprises.

The full list is here, and includes some big shakeups:

In the Mayor’s race, Cook, Dick, Douglas, Fitzsimmons, Hall, Lane and Parker all filed, but two more fringe candidates entered the fray late: Charyl Drab and Derek Jenkins. Drab pulls up absolutely no results from Google, whereas the only Derek Jenkins I could dig up is one who is a banker with no political past. No idea if this is the one running for office.

No surprises in the Controller’s race, it is still just a one-on-one contest between Ronald Green and Bill Frazer. Simply put, this means the ultimate disposition of the election bill be solved in November, not December.

In AL1, Stephen Costello received a last minute challenger with Michael “Griff” Griffin. Griffin, who has run for municipal election on ten previous occasions, is an interesting character. I’m not quite sure what is political orientation is, and based on previous experience, Griffin doesn’t really take being a candidate serious enough to let other people find out.

Moving onto AL2, the four candidates I mentioned last week are the only ones running: Burks, Gordon, Rivera-Modesto and Robinson.

AL3 did not include any last minute filers (Batteau, Calvert, Chavez, Kubosh, Morales and Pool). However, it did see two fewer candidates than previously rumored. Chris Carmona, a Republican, made a somewhat shocking announcement yesterday afternoon in deciding not to file. Meanwhile, Al Edward’s non-campaign campaign finally met his demise yesterday when he was nowhere to be found.

With AL4, C.O. Bradford incurred an opponent at the last minute: Issa Dadoush. Dadoush,  former staple at both HISD and the City of Houston, has a habit of making fiery exits, even being mentioned in one of Wayne Dolcefino’s “things” (I refuse to call what he did ‘journalism’). I’m not completely sure about Dadoush’s political views, but I have to admit he is a Democrat, as he was, at one point, the Treasurer of Ben Mendez‘s campaign.

Then, there is AL5. Per my previous promise, I am not editorializing or otherwise commenting on this race. That being said, there are three candidates: Jack Christie, James S. Horwitz and Carolyn Evans-Shabazz.

Going into the realm of District seats, we start with District A. Brown, Hale, Knox, Peck and Stardig all filed, as expected. A sixth candidate, Catarina Cron, did not file.

District B was another interesting race. A woman named Katherine Blueford-Daniels signed up to challenge the Councilmember somewhat early, and was the only candidate until an hour before the filing deadline yesterday. The incumbent, Jerry Davis, did in fact file at the last minute, as well as an individual named Joe Joseph who previously filed a campaign finance report. The surprise was an individual named Kenneth Perkins. He’s run for this seat a number of times before, as well as for Precinct 3 Constable most recently. Long time police officer, long time Democrat. He has a website, though it is still in Constable campaign mode.

In District C, there was some question of whether Ellen Cohen would receive a challenge from an individual named Pete Sosa. As it turns out, Sosa did not file, so Cohen has been re-elected.

In District D, there were the 11 candidates previously mentioned (Boykins, Caldwell, Edwards, Johnson, McGee, McKinzie, Provost, Richards, Robinson, Sanders and White. The newcomer is Demetria Smith. I feel really bad that she hasn’t popped up on my radar yet –I’m typically pretty good at that sort of thing– because she has had a Facebook page since March. She is a financial consultant who steered clear of any overtly partisan message, but I still think she is a Democrat.

Onto District E, Martin drew no challengers.

In District F, Hoang received a challenger named Richard Nguyen. There was a “Etienne Nguyen” who ran against Hoang in 2011 and started making death threats thereafter. It is a pretty common name, but there’s a chance the two could be related or Richard is even the anglicized version of his real name.

As I had noted before, District G remains Pennington and Taef.

In District H, Gonzalez drew no challengers.

In District I, the four previously mentioned candidates (Ablaza, Gallegos, Garces and Mendez) are the only candidates.

In Districts J & K, respectively, Laster & Green each drew no challengers.

Dos Centavos has more.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Roland Chavez

Editorial note: This is the seventh 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.

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Roland Chavez, Candidate for Houston City Council at-large Position #3

Texpatriate: What is your name?RC: Roland M. Chavez

T: What is your current occupation?
RC: Retired City of Houston Firefighter

T: Have you run for or held public office before?
RC: No

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)?
RC: Democrat.

T: Open seats typically attract countless candidates. Why are you specifically running for this seat?
RC: A native Houstonian, raised in the First Ward area of Houston, serving 34 years for the City of Houston Fire Department, and being part of the labor association and serving as President of the Fire Fighters Association, I feel I am the most qualified candidate having a true understanding of our entire city, the needs and concerns of our community, and city government. Public safety, infrastructure, quality of life issues, and a passion, courage, and commitment to continue serving our citizens is why I’m running for this seat. I will be a Full Time Council Member!

T: Are you in contact with the incumbent Councilmember for this position? Would the two of you have a good relationship for a possible transition?
RC: Yes, I am contact with the current Council Member and have always had a good relationship with Council Member Melissa Noriega. Our friendship will involve a very smooth transition.

T: What do you hope to get out of serving on the City Council?
RC: I hope that after serving on Council, I would be able to reflect back and see that my hard work may had left a positive difference in the everyday lives of all Houstonians.

T: What is an ordinance you would introduce in your next term?
RC: I would introduce several ordinances, including one that would ensure everyone working on a city contract has health benefits, and one that would ban contractors who fail to pay a fair and equal wage from future contracts.  Another would be an amendment to the current Re Build Houston ordinance dedicating the secured revenue be used on a “worse first” basis.

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?
RC: As a former Houston Fire Fighter and President of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, Local 341, it would be fair to say that my strong diverse core constituency would come from the public safety sector, the labor sector, the Democratic and Latino support. I firmly believe with my dedication to serving the entire City of Houston community and its citizens for 34 years, I never felt a weakness from any group and will continue to serve all with the same commitment, courage and compassion.  But if I had to name a group that I’m weak with it would be the “Non-Pro Active” partisan group who refuse to come to grips with a new Houston.

T: What has been the most important thing you have learned in your campaign?
RC: I have learned that Houstonians from every section of the map have a great love, affection, and concern for their city. Safe neighborhoods, core services, affordable housing, adding jobs, and the quality of life are the subjects that are discussed in every forum across this city. I to can resonate with my fellow Houstonians, this is why I am campaigning to help make our city a better place to live and work, and enjoy!  

TPA Roundup (August 26, 2013)

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy new school year as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff shows how the city of Pasadena and Galveston County are trying to take advantage of the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act to push through politically motivated redistricting plans.

Olivia at Texpatriate laments living in a world where the Lieutenant Governor can attempt to manipulate the law with little to no consequences.

David Dewhurst put his ailing political career out of its misery with one phone call to the Allen Police Department, and it fell to PDiddie at Brains and Eggs to write the obituary.

Republicans have figured out the best way bring back “states rights”. It’s to rule over the country from the states, where they hold much more power. WCNews at Eye on Williamson calls it Neutering the federal government .

Make way for the Bushes!! Specifically, George P. Bush. Many people have already crowned him as an “heir apparent” for the statewide office of Land Commissioner, but Texas Leftist thinks that if Democrats work hard, they can turn that heir apparent into an apparently NOT.

Neil at All People Have Value wrote about the taxpayer financed life boats on the Bolivar Ferry that runs across Galveston Bay. here seems little difference between state-purchased life boats and Texas Legislature support of Obamacare that will help so many people get health insurance coverage. All People Have Value is part of NeilAquino.com. Please check out the full NeilAquino.com site if so inclined.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Walkable DFW draws a lesson in traffic management from the rail systems in Houston and Dallas.

The Observer profiles Jessica Luthor, the Janie-on-the-spot organizer during the rallies against anti-choice bills in the legislative special sessions.

And along those lines, Jessica Luther informs us of a new crowdfunding effort to create an educational online game about abortion and access in Texas.

I Love Beer is looking for a few volunteers for the 2013 Texas Craft Brewers Festival.

Letters from Texas piles on David “I’m Kind Of A Big Deal” Dewhurst.

Nonsequiteuse wonders why we don’t regulate bounce houses more, given the Legislature’s oft-stated obsession with the health of women and children.

Juanita points out that if Greg Abbott can’t read all the way to the end of a tweet, his interpretation of anything longer than that cannot be trusted.

Concerned Citizens calls on San Antonio council member Elise Chan to resign.

Grits For Breakfast documents the rise of futuristic technology in police work.

Former Texan Roy Edroso gives retiring blogger TBogg an appropriate sendoff.

Parker goes on the offensive

I got a number of press releases from Parker’s campaign today, including one I found especially interesting on education. Some may remember that, just a few days ago, Ben Hall floated the idea of the Mayor’s office taking over HISD. Today, I received the official response:

On the first day of school, local education leaders have come together to call out Houston Mayoral Candidate Ben Hall for hypocrisy on the issue of education.

Debra Kerner is a leader of the Board of Trustees of the Harris County Department of Education.  Speaking as an individual, she said, “I was really taken aback when I heard that Mr. Hall was bragging about what he would do for education, when he couldn’t do the most basic thing – pay his school taxes. He doesn’t pay his taxes on time, but he wants to be mayor?”

Educator Alma Lara, retired after 35 years as a teacher and principal at HISD, said, “Ben Hall clearly thinks he is above the law when it comes to paying his school taxes and now he wants to be mayor? That’s a terrible example to set for our kids.”

Blake Ellis, Ph.D., Community College Professor, said, “Hall clearly hasn’t done his homework when it comes to education. He hasn’t offered one, single, solitary idea that would improve education. Worse, he claims that state law would give him the power as mayor to take over HISD schools. That’s not just wacky, it’s dangerous.”

Normally, I’ve liked Debra Kerner as an Education Trustee, but I was somewhat disappointed that she played so cautious with these comments. While Ben Hall’s tax problems are absolutely endemic of a larger problem –and I have certainly criticized him for it before– this does not automatically poison any ideas he has about schools.

Further, Ellis’ comments about Hall’s plans being “dangerous,” offer absolutely no substance to prove such an assertion. While I do agree that the City of Houston taking over HISD is not a very good idea (& Off the Kuff has a more ambivalent take on the matter), the Parker campaign must explain why in order to be taken seriously.

Parker, for her part, has explained in some detail what she has done on the topic of education. The page, which is part of her campaign website, is an overall positive post that reflects on the Mayor’s experience and trackrecord in office. Basically, exactly what she should have been doing all along.

In addition to the education comments, Parker’s campaign went the more discourteous route in publishing a new attack website, “www.AlltheFactsonHall.com

The website is a hodgepodge of all the (mainly Parker campaign-perpetuated) negative press against Ben Hall. Mainly the whole Tax Cheat issue, in addition to the residency issue, Parker’s commercial, and the refusal to show tax returns. All of this is expected from a negative website, but what I did not expect was what I found under the “Worth a Look” page.

The campaign embedded tweets by the fake Ben Hall twitter (@benhall4mayor) account. Historically, the campaign has distanced itself from the account, especially after Eric Dick made the accusation of the two being related. At press time, Parker’s campaign had not responded to my requests for comment on the matter.

UPDATE: The campaign still maintains the account is not run by the campaign, though I still find the cozier attitude somewhat perplexing.

As I have said many times before, the Mayor will always be in the best position by running a positive campaign on her record. Unfortunately, she did not even come close to doing that today.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Bill Frazer

Editorial note: This is the sixth 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.

bill

Bill Frazer, Candidate for Houston City Controller

Texpatriate: What is your name?
BF: William “Bill” R. Frazer

T: What is your current occupation?
BF: CPA

T: Have you run for or held public office before?
BF: No

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)?
BF: Republican

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?
BF: The City Controller is elected by voters to serve as a watchdog over tax dollars, conduct audits, and report timely findings to the public in a way that is clear and easily accessible.

The incumbent has been a City official for ten years, 6 as an At Large Council Member and 4 as City Controller.  Yet the vast majority of Houstonians are unaware of the serious financial problems the City of Houston faces.

  • The City has over $2.5 billion in “Decreases in Net Asssets” (“Net loss” in private sector jargon) over the past 10 years.  Our city is wasting valuable resources with no leadership or information from the Controller.

  • Houston has accumulated over $2.3 billion in Negative Unrestricted Net Assets, severely restricting future tax revenues. We’ve pushed payments for promises made into the future long after the services have been received or assets have been consumed.

  • Houston has been unable to adequately fund its pension plans and, as a result, has amassed over $1.5 billion in high cost debt; over $600 million in pension obligation bonds and $1 billion in IOUs to the pension funds themselves. We’ve promised rich retirement programs without the ability to pay for them.

  • There has been NO published report on the status of the Dedicated Drainage & Street Repair Fund (or RenewHouston) since the voters approved the drainage fee in 2011.  A survey of available documents indicated underfunding of this program of up to $120 million over the initial 3 years. Our infrastructure continues to crumble, and the promised fix is being spent on other programs without full transparency.

  • No audit reports on key tax incentive issues such as the Ainbinder/Wal-Mart 380 Agreement, the Costco sales tax abatement and other tax programs such as TIRZs. There has been no accountability at a time when the public needs sound financial information to help them understand if these programs are necessary or even working as intended.

The Controller has released Houston’s audited financial statements on or just days before December 31 of each year, after key November election dates.  This is 180 days after its June 30th fiscal year end.  Public companies with revenues in excess of $700 million or more (compared to the City’s $4 billion) are required to release final annual reports 60 days after their fiscal year end.  Although Houston meets the State’s legal requirement, delay in releasing comprehensive financial information for a city of Houston’s size represents a total lack of transparency.

T: Why are you specifically running against this incumbent?
BF: Houston simply cannot afford two more years of excessive debt, excessive spending, lack of transparency, and delayed financial reporting.

The current Controller is an attorney with no accounting training or prior financial management experience.  He has his sights set on future elective office and is beholden to the Mayor and City Council to support his political ambitions.

Houston deserves a CPA to serve as City Controller, someone who is uniquely and professionally qualified for the position and who has met the ongoing ethical standards of the profession and the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.

T: What do you hope to get out of serving as the City Controller?
BF: My wife and I are native Texans and moved to Houston 39 years ago, raised our family here, and have been actively involved in the Houston community.  I began my accounting career here in January, 1974 and I retired last year after 26 years as Chief Financial Officer of CBRE Capital Markets to work towards serving the community in a significant fashion. After an extensive study of the City of Houston’s financial condition, I decided my most meaningful contribution would be to take on the City Controller position and put my 39 years of financial management experience to address and to begin solving the very serious financial issues that Houston faces.  These issues can be solved with a lot of hard work and help from experienced professional leadership.

T: What is an action as City Controller you would do if elected?
BF: The most urgent financial challenge facing the City of Houston, its taxpayers, municipal employees, its bondholders, the business community, and civic leadership is to fix the City’s three public pension systems.  Prior “meet and confer” negotiations have only swept the key financial issues under the rug and have delayed funding.  Houston needs a seasoned financial professional as Controller to provide key oversight on any future negotiations and agreements.  We cannot afford to push the financial burdens of our decisions onto future generations.  For example, in 2006, instead of paying past due contributions, the City issued over $600 million in “pension obligation bonds”.  Since then, not one penny has been repaid, at a cost of over $30 million in interest a year.  Also, since then, the City has issued $1 billion in IOUs to the pension funds at a cost of over $85 million a year in interest.

Mayor Parker has tried to work with the Legislature to help Houston negotiate needed changes, but she hasn’t received the support she needs from the Houston delegation. I would work with officials in Houston and Austin from both parties to help implement reforms that make the benefits of future retirees safe and stable. The Controller should be someone with professional financial management expertise who can sit at the table on behalf of taxpayers as a meaningful participant in all negotiations and without the distraction of personal political ambitions.

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?
BF: As a first time candidate, I am beholden to no core constituency.  CPAs as a whole are not overtly politically active and place the professional and ethical standards and practices of the accounting profession above politics.  I am supported by taxpayers who understand the financial issues the city faces.  I am building my political relationships from scratch in this campaign by reaching out to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.  I have included individuals in my campaign who are representative of the many ethnicities that comprise our international city and who support improved financial management for Houston.  My Steering Committee is comprised of respected Democrats (Mark Lee and David Acosta) and Republicans (Pam Holm and Steve Krueger), and I have participated in the screening processes of organizations across the political spectrum.

I do, however, have a single non-political constituency, the CPA community, who place a very high degree of emphasis on fair financial reporting, accountability, risk assessment and personal and professional ethics.

T: What has been the most important thing you have learned in your campaign?
BF: I have been shocked to learn just how unaware most Houstonians, even very active voters, are of the serious financial challenges the City of Houston faces. I’m convinced we need to make a change in the City Controller’s office in order to begin to right the City’s financial ship.

Darkest before the dawn

About two months ago, the Editorial Board wrote that “it’s going to get worse,” that Democrats and progressive politics will continue taking blows, instead of the conventional wisdom that we have already reached the bottom. Simply put, we haven’t reached the bottom yet, and I have found some evidence of this continued decline.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an op-ed this morning discussing the plight so-called “moderate” Republicans like David Dewhurst have been along. My colleague summarized Dewhurst’s recent saga yesterday, but he by far not the only such official to find himself in such a predicament.

Avid readers of the Texas Tribune would have noticed that Jim Pitts, the only Republican to ever chair the House Appropriations Committee, is retiring. Pitts is often remembered as not-the-worst of the Republicans, being willing to work across the aisle and being able to go after Rick Perry, especially his regents. I would not be surprised if Pitts was deathly worried about facing a primary challenge from the Tea Party. This is because, after two insurgent-fueled Tea Party-dominate primary cycles, 52 of the 95 (55%) Republicans in the State House were elected in either 2010 or 2012. A mere 15 Republicans are left who take office before 2003, when Republicans took over the lower House. Of those 15, two (Hilderbran & Pitts) are already not seeking another term. Considering the rural areas these individuals represent, they will no doubt be replaced by far-right Tea Party types.

Kennedy’s opinion piece at the Star-Telegram continues by mentioning the sour place Senator John Cornyn was put into after Ted Cruz refused to endorse his re-election bid. The Dallas Morning News has the full story on that. The hypothetical primary opponent for John Cornyn at this time would be Louie Gohmert, the foul-talking Congressman with birther-tendencies. Again, the Morning News covered the issue in greater detail, as did Off the Kuff.

The op-ed uses the general theme of cynicism and doom & gloom I have been talking up for years. The night is always darkest before the dawn, and it is certainly still getting darker.

As much as I dislike David Dewhurst, Dan Patrick will almost certainly be worse in an executive position. As poorly as John Cornyn serves this State in the U.S. Senate, Louie Gohmert would be exponentially worse. The place where I break with Kennedy’s op-ed is at the end, where he has the bodacious temerity to assert the sun may be rising sometime soon:

The danger for the GOP,” he wrote, is that by the time Republicans realize they have swung too far, “it will be too late, and [Democratic San Antonio Mayor] Julian Castro will be celebrating his election as governor.”

That might be in 2018.

That’s three House election cycles away.

2018 is a very long five years away, but unless a lot of things go very right, it still won’t be a competitive election.