Shortly after the inauguration nearly two weeks ago (wow, time flies), City Councilmember Stephen Costello announced he had been selected as the Chair of the Finance & Budget Committee for the second straight term. Today, as the Houston Chronicle reports, the Mayor appointed Chairs and Vice-Chairs to the remaining seven committees.
First up, Parker creates a Subcommittee within Costello’s budget committee that will deal with Pensions and Health Benefits. Councilmember Dave Martin, a conservative with somewhat right-wing views on the guaranteed benefits, will Chair this subcommittee. The decision is strange for Parker, as she has often sought a middle ground on this budgetary matter, with views typically aligning with the far more moderate Republican (Costello). Still, sometimes these chairmanships are nothing more than empty titles, so it is possible I might be reading too much into it. Meanwhile, Councilmember Jerry Davis, who is now the Vice-Mayor Pro Tem, will also serve as the Vice Chair of Costello’s Budget and Fiscal Committee.
Councilmember Ed Gonzalez, who previously Chaired the Public Safety Committee, will continue in that position for his final term. Gonzalez also serves as the Mayor Pro Tem. This committee will consider at least one high-profile issue this term, the issue of whether or not to ban texting while driving. Councilmember Brenda Stardig, another Republican with ties to Parker, was named the Vice-Chair of this committee.
Ellen Cohen, the Councilmember for the sprawling District C, will become Chair of the Quality of Life Committee, while David Robinson will become the Vice-Chair. This committee, while it may have a pretty title, does not actually do all that much. Meanwhile, Councilmember Oliver Pennington will become the Chair of the Administration & Elections Committee.
The Transportation, Technology & Infrastructure Committee, which is perhaps best known for monitoring Houston’s roads and drainage, will now have Councilmember Larry Green at the helm. Jack Christie, yet another Republican Councilmember with friendly relations to the Mayor, landed the Vice-Chairmanship. Finally, Mike Laster will Chair the Community Affairs Committee while freshman Councilmember Robert Gallegos will become the second newbie to receive a Vice-Chairmanship.
Among the notable absences from this list is Councilmember C.O. Bradford. A former Vice-Mayor Pro Tem, Bradford was also previously the Chair of the Administration & Elections Committee. While the other two returning Councilmembers were given their old jobs back, Bradford was not, nor did he become the Vice-Mayor Pro Tem once more. Mike Morris in the Chronicle article editorializes that this could be connected to Bradford’s recent disagreements with the Mayor, specifically his endorsement of Ben Hall in last year’s election.
However, as Morris notes in the next sentence, “Bradford said he’s happy in the new role.” Additionally, Mayor Parker noted that she will create a special committee on Charter changes in the near future, and will appoint Bradford to the chairmanship.
All in all, the Committees at City Hall are rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Houston is a strong Mayor system, meaning the City Council is normally almost powerless. Further subdivisions of this body almost certainly dilute whatever power existed into nearly negligible amounts. The point of these exercises is that it tells us who Mayor Parker is supportive thereof and who she does not want to deal with anymore.
Notice how of the seven Republicans on the Council, five received some sort of officer position. With only one exception, they were all Vice-Chairmanships or directing Subcommittees. This tells us that Mayor Parker wishes to reach out to Republicans, but not with anything especially valuable. Specifically, she does not want to give anyone the power to torpedo her platform for the future.