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!

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!

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!

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 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!

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!

Early voting begins

The Houston Chronicle notes that early voting for December 14th’s municipal runoff election has officially begun. I have yet to receive my absentee ballot, though I have three layers of confounding incompetent bureaucracy (Harris County Clerk, US Postal Service and my university’s mailroom) to deal through, so I have faith it is somewhere between Houston & Boston at press time.

The incumbents in the top two municipal elections (Mayor Annise Parker and City Controller Ronald Green, respectively) were both re-elected outright last month, meaning that only an assortment of City Council races will be on next Saturday’s ballot. Specifically, at-large Positions #2 and #3, as well as Districts A, D & I. There are also a few HCC Trustee races with runoff elections, though these only cover a portion of the City.

Click here to read summaries of all the runoff elections!

Voting now open for Texpatriate Person of the Year

From 2009 to 2011, Noah M. Horwitz individually awarded the title of “Person of the Year” to an individual with a great impact upon both Houston & Texas politics in the preceding calendar year. In 2012, the task fell to Texpatriate, which at that time simply consisted of Horwitz & Andrew Romo and received roughly 1-2% of the monthly views it does today.

That year, we selected Lane Lewis, in his official capacity as Chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, as the Person of the Year. In previous years, Horwitz selected Annise Parker (’09), the “Houston Public Employee” (’10) and Andrew Burks (’11). Please note that, like Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, the indication is not simply meant to represent the individual we admire the most. Rather, irrespective of our personal opinions, it represents the person who had the biggest impact on Texas & Houston politics.

Accordingly, the Editorial Board has selected a number of individuals who we feel have contributed more than anyone else to Houston & Texas politics this year. While we have typically eschewed generic designations (remember when “You” was the TIME Person of the Year?), one has been included nonetheless. We invited our readers to look over the options below and vote in the poll at the bottom of the page. The Person of the Year will be decided by the Editorial Board around New Year’s.

Click here to see the candidates for Person of the Year!