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!

Majority of Councilmembers support NDO

As I reported yesterday, the first real draft proposal of Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance has officially been introduced to the City Council and unveiled to the general public. Longtime followers of the saga could probably explain it as well as me at this point, but the ordinance does three basic things. First, it bans discrimination against LGBT people (among countless other demographics, all of which are already protected under Federal Law) in government sectors. Second, discrimination is banned in businesses, both in employment and public accommodation. The anecdote I keep using is that a restaurant would not be able to deny service to a gay patron, nor fire a lesbian waitress for coming out to her boss. That last part, extending the ordinance’s protections to private employment, was a hard-fought victory for the GLBT caucus in Houston, as well as all opponents of homophobia.

Mayor Annise Parker was originally tepid on this provision because there were ostensibly not enough Councilmembers supporting it. A few weeks ago, my sources counted eight supporters of private employment protections in the NDO (Mayor Annise Parker and CMs Stephen Costello, David Robinson, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Ed Gonzalez, Robert Gallegos and Mike Laster). This was exactly one vote shy of the needed majority for passage. However, a couple more Councilmembers have now gone out in the open supporting such legislation, giving it the green light to becoming law.

Click here to see which Councimembers are now supportive!

Who’s lying?

Via Lone Star Q: a question is asked of the recent non-discrimination ordinance proposal floating around the corridors of City Hall. A few days ago, I noted that trusted sources had confided in me that seven Councilmembers, plus the Mayor, support a comprehensive ordinance that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people in not only public employment and public accommodations, but by private employment as well. Simply put, not only would a store no longer be allowed to deny service to a gay patron, it could similarly no longer fire a lesbian employee themselves. Lone Star Q picked up the story the next day, noting that “Horwitz’s list is accurate.”

That brings us to today. John Wright, the author of all the LSQ articles, now ponders why the number of Councilmembers supporting private employment decisions is not a slam duck majority. Specifically, he takes aim at four Councilmembers (C.O. Bradford, Jack Christie, Jerry Davis and Larry Green) who had represented to the GLBT Caucus their support for a comprehensive NDO (including private employment protections). As many will recall, in preparation for the 2013 Municipal elections, all of these men were endorsed by the GLBT Caucus, following conciliatory questionnaire replies.

Click here to read analysis of each of these current undecideds!

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!

Horwitz on Dog Laws

Via the Houston Chronicle. This op-ed contains many of the same quotes from Councilmember C.O. Bradford as my article last Wednesday, but with a very different theme. Simply put, it is about the exceptionalism of Houston’s governance, as compared to both Washington D.C. and Austin. As always, I hope you enjoy:

Regarding “Dog law” (Wednesday, Page B6), all sides agree that there is a great deal of good in the new ordinance. Among other things, it lowers the bar for authorities to deem a dog aggressive and cleans up some byzantine old regulations involving kennels. More impressive, though, is how City Council deliberated the contentious provisions of the ordinance. The debate last week best exemplifies what is right with Houston, specifically, how the council governs.

Under the ordinance approved 15-1 yesterday, BARC now may assume full ownership of your pet after six days if tagged, and after three if not. Previously, the limit was 30 days, though dogs could still be adopted out in the interim with the understanding that the previous owner could reclaim her or his pet. That shorter timeline drew ire in some quarters. Ultimately, it prompted Councilman C.O. Bradford to vote against the ordinance.

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF MY RECENT OP-ED AT THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE!

Council update 3/26

The Houston City Council accomplished three major actions today: (1) implementing a tax break for developers who raze buildings, (2) approving a tax credit for affordable (family friendly) apartments in District A and (3) a rewrite of the City’s animal control laws. Among the other actions taken, the City unanimously decided to both offer a bigger incentive to police academy recruits and amend ethics/disclosure rules for the municipal governance. I will have more on each and every one of these issues, complete with analysis and commentary from pertinent sources, including Councilmember C.O. Bradford on the dog issue.

First, on the minor issues, the Council unanimously voted to offer a $5000 incentive to new police academy recruits. As Mike Morris, a Houston Chronicle reporter/writer, noted on Twitter, this will hopefully make cops’ salaries somewhat more competitive in the marketplace. The cost is estimated to be about $350,000. The other minor action taken was loosening ethics rules, specifically by easing how many employees must annually file fiscal disclosure forms. Morris wrote an article in the Chronicle, slated for publication Thursday, dealing with this in greater detail. The only specific facet of any importance is that while elected officials, their personal staff and department directors were previously required to file disclosures, this has now been changed to simply the officials, their top staff and department directors.

Click here to read more, including analysis of the new affordable housing and dog code!

Council update, 1/29

The Houston City Council finalized two major contracts this meeting, both in rather uncontroversial votes despite rather tumultuous and often uncertain paths to day. First, the Council passed a new contract with a more local advertising to provide advertising at the airport. Two weeks ago, the Mayoral administration removed this issue off of the agenda after incessant complaints from Clear Channel communications, who had originally bargained for the contract themselves but had later been cut out of the dealings. Unless the details of the calculation has changed in the last few days, the contract will generate upwards of $10,000,000.00 from advertisements at both Bush and Hobby airports.

Second, the Council unanimously approved a contract to select a health and pharmacy benefits administrator. Specifically, the City chose CIGNA to accomplish this goal. The otherwise mundane, miniscule agenda item recently flared tensions between the City Council and Mayor Parker, as Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle had described in great detail. Ultimately the critics, be it C.O. Bradford or Oliver Pennington, showed their qualms may have just been political posturing, as Jayme Fraser at the Chronicle noted that there was not a single ‘no’ vote at the final tally.

Click here to read about a new policy enacted!

Council update, 1/15

As was noted last week, the City Council delayed a proposal to approve an advertising contract at the airports for one week, until today’s meeting. Today, after brief discussion, the Council decided to refer the decision back to the Mayoral administration. Not much else about this item came up for public consideration this week, as the original controversy revolved around both Clear Channel and another firm fighting over the contract.

Next, the City Council discussed hiring “advisory counsel” for a planned new Courthouse and Justice Complex. Specifically, the firm of Hawkins, Delafield & Wood was retained, out of New York City. Only Councilmember Oliver Pennington voted against this arrangement, noting that the City should have hired more local counsel. Of course, Pennington was a high-profile attorney at Fulbright & Jaworski, but his criticism is nonetheless valid. I would have probably joined him in raising my eyebrows, though that is neither here nor there.

Click here to read more!

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!

Feldman gets pay hike

The Houston Chronicle reports that David Feldman, the City Attorney of Houston (the municipal equivalent of the Attorney General), has received a hefty pay raise per an order from Mayor Annise Parker. Specifically, his pay was increased by 43%, from $244,000 to $350,000.

The raise drew the ire of many at City Hall, most notably City Controller Ronald Green. The Controller’s office ostensibly acts as some sort of financial watchdog over the City, which is typically most apparent when a Democratic Mayor faces off against a nominally conservative Controller. However, given that both Mayor Parker and Controller Green have similar political persuasions, I cannot recall a single other instance that they had such a high-profile disagreement that has bled over into the paper. Specifically, Green circulated a memo that criticized Parker for making this move unilaterally rather than consulting with Councilmembers first, as he alleged has been the precedent in previous circumstances.

While there is no precedent for an increase of this magnitude, it has been your policy to require salary surveys to justify such an increase. For the sake of transparency and consistency, a salary survey should be readily available for the public and council members,” Green said.

Click here to read what Councilmembers had to say!