Hall 2.0

I will preface all my remarks with a full confession that, once upon a time, I greatly respected Ben Hall, the former City Attorney, as a politician of honor and integrity. In fact, about two years ago, when he first announced his candidacy in the 2013 Mayoral election and made his first appearance on this publication, I noted that “in an open election, I probably would have supported Ben Hall.”

Over the next year, Hall ran what could generously be called the worst campaign I have ever bared witness to in municipal politics. He was scattered, dishonest and unnecessarily abrasive. I strongly urge you to read through some of my archives tagged under “Ben Hall,” and you will find someone whose patience grows thinner and thinner as time went on. Hall spent a 12 month campaign without bringing up any concrete issues. He merely spoke in broad platitudes, or with unsubstantiated claims about his opponent, Mayor Annise Parker. The few times that he did open his mouth, Hall sometimes contradicted himself, such as his hypocrisy on a proposed non-discrimination ordinance.

Hall’s campaign was also marred by myriad controversies involving his integrity. The Parker camp honed in on Hall’s nasty little problem with not paying his taxes, while Sophia Arena and I published a lengthy exposé on some other conflicts of interest in the past. Simply put, when Hall announced today that he would run for Mayor again next year in the open election, and would immediately begin running radio ads (as reported by the Houston Chronicle), I was not pleased, to say the least.

Hall joins an already crowded list of prospective mayoral candidates, including but not limited to State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), former Congressman Chris Bell, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia, former Kemah Mayor Bill King and City Councilmembers Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), Oliver Pennington (R-District G) and Ed Gonzalez (D-District H).

In Hall’s 60-second radio spot, triumphant music plays as he narrates. “Last year I promised to have a conversation with you about the things we needed to do to improve our city,” he says. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

Hall’s ad appears to glance past the fact that he chose to ignore those important issues, and he spends about the next 50 seconds speaking once again in broad platitudes. The one exception, however, is getting in a cheap shot about “Subpoena-gate,” when the mayor’s office made a bone-headed decision to go after the sermons of pastors who railed against the non-discrimination ordinance. As I referenced above, Hall has — at one time — both supported and opposed that ordinance. Ambiguous banalities aren’t doing much to clear up the confusion.

In other news, HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson officially announced his candidacy for City Controller. Robinson, a former member of the City Council, already has a great deal of community support. His likely competitors will be Dwight Jefferson (current METRO Board member and former District Judge) and Bill Frazer (an unsuccessful 2013 candidate).

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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 endorses for Controller of Houston

Within the City of Houston, there are few positions more complex and less understood than the City Controller. The position was created over 100 years ago, but was somewhat ill-defined for the first era of its existence. In 1977, when Kathy Whitmire was first elected to the post, the modern era of the Controller first began. At that time, Mayor Jim McConn was spending large amounts of money from sometimes unscrupulous sources. Whitmire fought this spending tooth-and-nail, and ultimately won the war when she succeeded McConn as Mayor in 1982.

Shortly after that time, the conflict between the Mayor and the City Controller perpetuated. Whether that was George Greanais or Lloyd Kelly, Mayors often found themselves at odds with the City’s fiscal watchdog. All this unpleasantness, however, ended in 1998.

The concurrent tenure of Mayor Lee Brown and Controller Sylvia Garcia, as well as Mayor Bill White and Controller Annise Parker, saw unprecedented cooperation that helped to solve some of the biggest problems facing this City. Likewise, this board believes that Mayor Annise Parker and Controller Ronald Green have worked remarkably well together.

Please click here to find out our selection

Chronicle endorsements in ‘D,’ Controller

The Houston Chronicle fielded its first two municipal endorsements over the weekend, which included Anthony Robinson for District D and Bill Frazer for Controller.

I have previous interviewed each of these candidates, and was somewhat impressed by their answers. That being said, the Chronicle endorsement of them really surprised me.

Starting with the post of City Controller, it is worth noting that the Chronicle endorsed Green in 2009. Though he ran unopposed in 2011, the paper also was quite content to see Green be re-elected. The similarity of the 2009 editorial compared to yesterday’s is somewhat amusing, as it includes nearly identical language on the role and responsibility of the Controller, with both noting Kathy Whitmire as the gold standard later Controllers should be measured against.

Differing itself from four years earlier, however, the Chronicle scrutinizes the office and all the responsibilities thereof. They allege that incumbent Ronald Green has not been a very effective “watchdog.” Further, the Chronicle lambasts his seemingly endless scandals over the last year. Therefore, by the process of elimination in the very uncrowded race, the Chronicle supports the challenger, Bill Frazer. Specifically, the enjoy his credentials as both a CPA and promise to be more of a watchdog.

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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.

State of the Municipal Races

Daily Commentary has a somewhat exhaustive list of municipal candidates, but I felt like I needed to do the due diligence myself. Accordingly, this morning, after I left the Federal Courthouse for the day, I walked across the street to City Hall and visited Anna Russell’s office to see the Campaign Treasurer files for myself. Luckily I got out of both buildings before things went to hell. But you can watch the 6 o’clock news about all that. Anyways, I want to list the candidates and discuss each of the candidates’ financial records.

Mayor
First up, the two new candidates for Mayor. Keryl Douglas, the homophobic, bigoted unsuccessful candidate in last year’s campaign for Harris County Democratic Party Chair, has thrown her hat into the ring.  Douglas’ website is still a shell, containing nothing about the infamous Douglas Plan or her supporters. Like Eric Dick’s entrance into this race, I do not think this is really going to affect Parker’s chances. Douglas is just going to turn votes away from Ben Hall, because none of the Parker’s voters would go for the homophobe. Pardon my tone, but I will be pulling no punches against candidates for Mayor on this issue.

The other new candidate for Mayor is Victoria Lane. I found a telephone number on her from the treasurer form, but no website and no hits from I Googled her name.

The self-proclaimed Green Party candidate, Don Cook. Cook raised a little more than $10k, of which a negligible amount is still on hand. The self-proclaimed Socialist Worker, Michael Fitzsimmons, did not submit a form. I guess private campaign donations are sort of anathema to the glorious proletariat revolution, or what not. The self-proclaimed Republican, Eric Dick, did not file a form delineating his donations. He did, however, have about $11k in expenses. Victoria Lane raised about $4k.

Annise Parker’s campaign, meanwhile, raised a total of $2.2M, and only spent a fraction of that amount. But the real story is Ben Hall’s farce of a campaign. Hall raised a measly $300k or so, going significantly in the red, including a $1.5M loan. This is a far cry from his claims to be raising so much money. Oh well.

Controller
No new candidates for this race. Still a classic one-on-one fight between Green and Frazer. In this race, Green has raised about $70k, with most of it still on hand. Frazer, a Republican CPA, raised about $50k and spent close to 80% of the total.

AL1
Costello is still unopposed, as of now. The Councilmember raised a whopping $156k. Perhaps he has higher ambitions. Speaking of Costello, what the heck is his political affiliation nowadays? Once upon a time, I remember thinking he was a Republican, but between his common alignment with the Mayor and liberal takes on social issues (pro-choice and pro-gay marriage), I do not think the GOP would ever support his candidacy in this State.

AL2
Councilmember Burks has three opponents: David Robinson, Trebor Gordon and Carolyn Evans-Shabazz. Burks, for his part, raised $41K and only spent a fraction of it. Robinson raised over $80k, but, as Dos Centavos points out, he probably has to retire some old campaign debt. Accordingly, he only has about $50k fit for spending. Still more than the incumbent.

Trebor Gordon is not a name I had heard in connection with this race before. He has a website as http://www.treborgordon.com/ and is an avowed Republican. It will be interesting to see what he does. The other name is Carolyn Evans-Shabbaz. A cursory Facebook search reveals a deep dissatisfaction with the Trayvon Martin case and close frienship with Assata-Nicole Richards, both tell-tale signs of a Democrat. Gordon raised about $1500, while Evans-Shabbaz did not submit a return.

AL3
Here comes the mess.

First up is Michael Kubosh, who raised over $100k ($108k, to be exact). Right next to this total is Rogene Calvert, who raised $84k and retained most the cash.

Roland Chavez raised about $27k, and only spent a couple thousand. Chris Carmona is completely destitute. Roy Morales raised $37k and spent $35k of that. This is surprising, and not just because Dos Centavos originally called him broke as well. Morales did not run for anything in 2011 or 2012. That’s like a new record for him or something.

Jenifer Pool, who seemed to have filed late, raised $34k and spent most of the total. Al Edwards, who still in unofficially officially in the AL3, did not file a return.

AL4
Bradford, presumably running for re-election, raised $54k with most of it still in the bank.

AL5
Jack Christie raised a whopping $95k, with over 2/3 still on hand. Even worse, he has not a single opponent. Personally, I think Robinson should run against Christie. Sure, Burks is a little odd and sometimes frustrates progressives, but Christie is legitimately a Conservative Republican who goes on anti-vaccine rants.

Once upon a time, I had heard of quite a few possible candidates for this race, from former State Reps, former City Councilmembers, activists to lawyers. I think I even read my father’s name mentioned for this one. Alas, no one will step up. I’d put my own name on the ballot if push comes to shove, but I feel there will be at least token opposition.

District A
This race really boils down to a third-person race between the incumbent, Helena Brown, the former one-term Councilmember, Brenda Stardig, and Amy Peck.  Ron Hale, Mike Knox and Catarina Cron are the other candidates I have hard from in this race. This is still no Democrat in the race.

Brown raised about $67k, spending a little under half of the total. Stardig, meanwhile, did not report raising any money. Peck  raised a pitiful $4k. In this regard, it looks like the incumbent may not have that hard of a time after all.

Ron Hale picked up $2.5k, while Knox took in a whopping $41k. Cron did not submit a report.

District B
The incumbent, Jerry Davis, will be facing some opposition next year within his own party. For his part, he raised about $53k and spent a negligible amount.

He has two declared opponents: Joe Joseph & Katherine Blueford-Daniels. I can’t really find anything on the former candidate, but Blueford-Daniels does come up with a few searches. She is being supported predominantly by Carol Mims Galloway, the former Councilmember and School Board member in that district and NAACP leader. This, of course, begs the question of how much other support Blueford-Daniels has.

Joseph did not file a return, but Blueford-Daniels did. However, she only raised $5k.

District C
Ellen Cohen could very possibly draw some opponents, including Brian Cweren, her biggest 2011 opponent. However, the only other candidate who has filed a campaign treasurer or campaign report is Pete Sosa. For the life of me, I cannot find a Facebook page or other meaningful internet footprint.

Cohen raised $128k, with most of it still on hand. Sosa did not file any sort of report.

District D
The District D race might actually have more people in it than the AL3 one. Dwight Boykins, who is backed by much of the old guard political establishment including Mayor Brown, raised $150k with over $100k left unspent.

There are a few other well-known candidates, Assata-Nicole Richards and Georgia Provost. The former raised $37k with half on hand, while the latter raised $21k with little on hand.

Onto the new candidates, the first is Kirk White. White has a Facebook page for his campaign, but it doesn’t go into very much detail about anything. I have no idea if he’s a Democrat in the Democratic district, or not. He filed a report of less than $1k in contributions.

Then there is a Keith Caldwell. Caldwell is an activist in the Democratic Party, serving positions at both the Precinct and Senate District Level. He has a website and big social media presence already. His campaign, however, raised a measly $2.75k with full expenses.

Travis McGee, the past Sunnyside Civic Group President, has also been conducting a campaign. He’s raised nearly $5k and spent about all of it.

Not filing reports but registered as candidates anyways are Anthony Robinson, Larry McKinzie and Lana Edwards. Robinson just has a shell of a website. Though his Facebook page is more active and suggests he was involved in the big Trayvon Martin protests yesterday. I guess it is safe to assume he is a Democrat.

McKinzie, who now has a website, previously ran against Adams in 2009. Another Democrat.

Edwards has a little shell thing here, but I can’t figure out much else.

District E
At this point I think Councilmember Martin is just running unopposed. He has raised $53k with $23k on hand.

District F
Likewise, Councilmember Hoang has yet to draw any opposition. He raised just $13k with just $11k on hand.

District G
Councilmember Pennington is not unopposed, however. Pennington raised a very impressive $189k for his campaign, so it will probably not be a credible threat.

I had been wondering if Clyde Bryan would make another run for his seat, again with the bandit signs and such. He is not, Bryan will be working on Dick’s campaign. But a candidate named Brian Taef is running. I could not find any trace of him on Google, but Taef did file a campaign report. He raised $150, for the record.

District H
At this point, it looks like Ed Gonzalez will be unopposed for yet another term. He raised close to $80k with most of it still on hand.

District I
We start things off with the pseudo-favorite, Graci Garces, Councilmember Rodriguez’s Chief of Staff. Garces raised about $19k with most of it still on hand. Her main competitor, Ben Mendez, raised a huge $94k.

Robert Gallegos, yet another Democrat in the race, got about $17k. The lone Republican, Leticia Ablaza, got $27k with about $16k on hand still.

As Dos Centavos points out, until March Garces, and Gallegos were competing with the SD06 race for donors. Accordingly, their numbers may have been retarded in comparison with the Republican candidate. Although that does not explain Mendez.

District J
Councilmember Laster, with $66k in donations and $81 on hand, is unopposed.

District K
Councilmember Green, with $93k raised and most still on hand, is likewise unopposed.

That’s all, folks. Off the KuffDos Centavos and Greg’s Opinion all have a lot more. They’ve been doing this stuff since before my Bar Mitzvah, so I highly suggesting consulting their work too.

Bill Frazer to run against Ronald Green

Welp, Controller Green won’t get the free ride this year he got in 2011. Bill Frazer, a Republican CPA, has officially thrown his hat into the ring for City Controller. Big Jolly breaks the news, and informs me there is a press release (why I am never included in these things, I’ll never know).

Why not zoidberg? - sending out press releases? why not horwitz?

Anyways, Frazer, in an extended interview with Big Jolly, lambasted Ronald Green and everything he stands for in loquacious fashion. I’m looking forward to the race, personally, because I believe Green to be quite a formidable opponent. Remember, he’s the lone Democrat who took 36% in November, and somehow managed to win the runoff. Green is in the unique position to be poised to ride both Parker and Hall’s coattails. He both appeals to the African-African community, and is satisfactorily supported by Parker’s middle-class white intelligentsia base. Either way, he’s got an advantage going into this race, that is, unless he @%&#s up again. No word on what this means for Don Sumner’s hypothetical campaign.