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 names Committee chairs

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.

Click here to read more!

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!

Civil Affairs: Parker’s night

CIVIL AFFAIRS

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This past Saturday night was my last weekend evening in Boston as a resident. Despite this, I could find no better activity for the night than to meticulously follow and live-blog the Houston municipal runoff elections. Albeit, most of my friends have either gone home for Christmas or are intensely studying, and it did not help anyone’s social life that a foot of snow fell upon Boston over the weekend.

Click here to read Horwitz’s column!

The Empire Strikes Back

The progressive one, anyhow.

Amid painfully low voter turnout of less than 4%, it became abundantly clear that the progressives* had showed up in force last night *–I use the term progressive, not ‘liberal’ or ‘Democrat,’ in this context because the Council is far more diverse, with Conservative Democrats like Andrew Burks and Progressive Republicans like Stephen Costello. Two incumbent City Councilmembers were defeated for re-election and an open seat saw a repudiation of the longstanding political dynamic there. In many respects, this is the realignment of the City Council from the blunders of 2011.

There were also three elections for the HCC Board, two of which also featured incumbents losing their re-election bids. Particularly of note here was the loss of Yolanda Navarro-Flores, who has an accomplished political career. A longtime HCC Trustee and former member of the Texas House of Representatives, she has also run unsuccessful campaigns for the City Council and the State Senate. According to Off the Kuff, Navarro-Flores allegedly engaged in some pretty unseemly and homophobic tactics throughout the election. Despite having roughly a 23 point lead in November and just being a few votes shy of outright victory, she lost by a whopping 6 points on last night. Despite doing very well in absentee votes, she lost Election Day votes by 24 points. Goes to show what motivating your base will do for you.

Click here to read more!

Texpatriate runoff liveblog

Please follow @NmHorwitz on Twitter for up to the minute coverage from the runoffs!

10:58 BOS/9:58 HOU
Final RESULTS!
A–Stardig 51%/Brown 49%
D–Boykins 70%/Provost 30%
I–Gallegos 53%/Garces 47%
AL2–Robinson 51%/Burks 49%
AL3–Kubosh 53%/Morales 47%
HCC1–Capo 53%/Navarro-Flores 47%
HCC3–Tamez 53%/Garcia 47%
HCC5–Glaser 60%/Kunetka–40%

Continue reading

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!