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!

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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!

Everybody’s a critic

A few days ago, I wrote about the upcoming brownouts at the Fire Department. At that time, the Council Budget Committee voted on a non-binding resolution to idle certain trucks and force the HFD to solve a ballooning deficit solely from their own coffers. This deficit was largely created by a flood of overtime pay in just a couple of big holiday weekends. Critics charge a favorable union contract for the deficit.

Now, Mayor Parker has announced that she will go forward with implementing the Committee’s resolution. The brownouts will begin soon and follow through to the end of the fiscal year (the end of June). As Off the Kuff notes, one of the bigger critics of this strategy is Councilmember C.O. Bradford, who has long been both sympathetic to the firefighters and unfriendly towards the Mayor’s platform and agenda. However, the Parker/Bradford dichotomy is a drastic oversimplification of the real politics of the issue. Also disagreeing with Mayor Parker on the issue has been Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez, a typical ally of the administration.

Click here to read more on this issue, including some surprising comments from a State Senator!

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!

Sylvester Turner will run for Mayor

KRIV reports that Sylvester Turner, a longtime State Representative, will run for Mayor of Houston in 2015. Turner has run for Mayor twice before, in 1991 and 2003. While he finished in a distant third place in 2003, he proceeded into a very close runoff election during his first run. In that race, he lost in a squeaker to Bob Lanier after Wayne Dolcefino ran a slimy expose based on utter falsehoods. Turner later sued Dolcefino for libel, but that is neither here nor there. My point is that if you think of Sylvester Turner with preconceived notions of alleged wrongdoing, you are totally incorrect.

In the 22 years since then (30 years total, in the House), Turner has truly become a force to be reckoned with on the State Legislature. He currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Committee (the ranking Democrat) and is one of the biggest leaders among the minority party in the Capitol. Instrumental in the passage of a massive water-infrastructure constitutional amendment this past session, he earned a spot on Texpatriate’s list of Best LegislatorsTexas Monthly also noted his massive contribution to the session by naming him the Bull of the Brazos.

Click here to read Turner’s announcement!

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!

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!