Tuesday was a very special day at Houston City Council, as the city’s municipal government took some time to honor the work of one very special Houstonian. Here’s the story from the Houston Chronicle…
Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg was honored by Houston City Council Tuesday after being awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker officially proclaimed June 2, 2015 as Lisa Falkenberg Day in a ceremony in council chambers.
The proclamation, in part, states that the “City of Houston commends and congratulates Lisa Falkenberg for her commitment to exposing problems in local public policies and systems in order to encourage improvements therein and extends best wishes on her future endeavors.”
Lisa’s work is certainly cause for celebration within Houston, as she claimed the first ever Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Houston Chronicle, and the first for Bayou City journalism since Gene Goltz of the Houston Post won 50 years ago. But above all of the fanfare, Falkenberg’s writing shined important light on the unfairness of how Texas chooses its grand juries. HB 2150, a bill that would scrap Texas’ current “pick-a-pal” system of Grand Jury Selection, awaits the signature of Governor Abbott before it can become law. The bill was sponsored by Houston Area Legislators Rep. Harold Dutton and Senator John Whitmire.
So for now, Falkenberg will continue to be Texas news instead of just writing about it. Congrats, Lisa… can’t wait to see what’s ahead for you!
Today marks another huge victory for the city of Houston and supporters of equality, as a Texas District court rules against petitioners of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Here’s the story from Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle…
After separate rulings from both a jury and state District Judge Robert Schaffer, attorneys for both sides entered dueling counts of the valid signatures, adding and subtracting voters as Schaffer responded to motions. By early this week, the counts were closer together than ever before, fewer than 1,000 signatures apart.
Ultimately, Schaffer on Friday ruled the final count of valid signatures was 16,684, leaving opponents short of the threshold required in the city charter of 17,249 signatures, or 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election.
The law, on hold during trial, is now in effect, according to a city spokeswoman. Mayor Annise Parker released a statement celebrating the verdict.
“I would hope that the plaintiffs would not appeal, they lost during a jury trial and today they also lost with the judge’s ruling,” Parker said. “Now all Houstonians have access to the same protections.”
The day’s news marks the end of a huge week for Houston Mayor Annise Parker as well, who just gave her final State of the City address on Thursday.
Though the District Court ruling may come as quite the surprise to many Texans, it should be of little surprise to those familiar with the shoddy work of Anti-HERO petitioners. When reviewing the signatures City of Houston officials, independent review groups, the jury and the judge were all able to uncover glaring errors and inconsistencies. Yet still, today’s decision is both a relief for supporters and a great victory, as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance can now take full effect.
In her weekly press conference following yesterday’s City Council meeting, Houston Mayor Annise Parker made an announcement that many have been waiting for. Here’s the story from Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle…
Edmundson has been a lawyer with the city since 1986 and most recently served as section chief to the city’s Neighborhood Services division. She would be the first woman in the city’s history to hold the post, Parker said.
“Her experience within the city is deep and broad,” Parker said. “I’m particularly happy that her recent experience has been in the area of neighborhood protection which has been one of my top priorities. She is a hands-on person. She’s out in the field regularly.”
The post must be confirmed by Houston City Council, which is expected to occur in two weeks. Given her long history with the city, this is unlikely to be a controversial confirmation, though with the current political toxicity surrounding the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and the simple fact that it’s now an election year, one can never be too sure.
Though she presumably only has one year to serve in the top job, it promises to be a very busy time for the city’s legal team. Parker was smart to choose someone from within, as they are already up to speed on the most pressing issues. Unlike Feldman, Edmundson has spent the whole of her law career in the public sector. It will be interesting to see how she differs in approach from her predecessor.
“I’m anxious to get to work and ready to hit the ground running” said Edmundson in comments after the Mayor’s introduction. A good attitude to have, because the ground is moving fast.
Here’s video of the Press Conference, via YouTube…
Just days before a pivotal court date, proponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance are set to lose one of the persons most knowledgeable about the law. Here’s more from the Houston Chronicle…
City Attorney David Feldman on Friday announced that he plans to resign next month, citing, among other reasons, that he could better defend the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance as a key witness than as a lawyer in the upcoming case.
Feldman has played a crucial and at times controversial role in Mayor Annise Parker‘s administration, alternately acting as chief negotiator, attack dog, policy wonk and spokesman.
Feldman said Friday that the main reason for his departure was his desire to work at a law firm with his son.
“The primary driving force is the desire to go back into private practice and frankly to go back into private practice at a time when I think there are people out there who I used to represent who still remember me,” Feldman said. “And my son has been after me continuously. There’s a draw there, there’s an allure, ‘Feldman and Feldman.’ I wanted to start 2015 in a new gig.”
But he acknowledged that the timing of his resignation was driven by the court date for Parker’s signature equal rights ordinance, which is set to take center stage Jan 19. Conservative critics sued the city this summer after Feldman and Parker announced that the group’s petition to send the ordinance to the ballot did not contain enough valid signatures. Opponents seeking to force the referendum largely take issue with the rights extended to gay and transgender residents under the ordinance City Council passed last May.
Despite Feldman’s statement saying that he will be a greater asset to the City from the witness chair than the Attorney’s desk, it’ very hard to see any logic in his decision to step out just as the HERO case is heating up. Unless of course he sees what myself and other have… The fight that lies ahead to protect HERO is potentially much more difficult than the fight to get the law passed.
This leaves city in a scramble not only find top notch legal representation, but also to get those persons up to speed in a precious few weeks. We’ll see what Mayor Parker and her team can come up with.
No matter the amount of animus thrown at HERO, it’s really important to remember one last point… the anti equality side’s arguments are built on lies. They may be growing rapidly in money and power, but that doesn’t make anything that they say actually TRUE. This ordinance is common-sense legislation that is already in place across the country. The facts are are squarely on the side of equal protection for all.
For most politically-engaged Houstonians, the first week of November was focused primarily on the big 2014 election held on Tuesday the 4th. That is when we got to decide the future of the state by electing a Governor, Senator, Lieutenant Governor and legislature. It was a pivotal day for state of Texas, including Houston.
However, few may guess the political importance that happened just days before that big election… events which started in the Bayou City, but could end up proving significant at the national level. November 2nd, now known as I Stand Sunday, marks a very important turning point for the Houston Area Pastor Council. Houstonians probably know this group as those who stood in staunch opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, passed earlier this year. The core of the group consisted of 5 area pastors, among them Dave Welch- Executive Director of the council, and Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church. Both especially significant for their long-held opposition to the Parker administration and full-on assault of the LGBT equality movement in any form. Thanks to creative use of media attention, it became national news when these same pastors received subpoenas for the political work being done within their churches, and from the pulpit. Although the city has long since withdrawn the actual requests to subpoena any sermons, the national outrage that it sparked was enough to turn these local pastors and their local grievances into a world-wide cause.
It was in Riggle’s sanctuary of Grace Community Church where the I Stand Sunday rally was held. But this rally was far more than a gathering of a few in the house of worship. With powerful co-sponsors like the Family Research Council and American Family Association, coverage of I Stand Sunday was viewed by an estimated 1 million people all across the country. It has literally elevated the Houston Pastors and their cause to national prominence. The full I Stand Sunday event can be viewed here.
So much so that the Houston Area Pastor Council has now branched out to become the U.S. Pastor Council… a national organization intent on defeating the equality agenda, and upholding their said religious beliefs. Aided by the likes of Tony Perkins, Phil Robertson, Mike Huckabee and others, what was once little more than a dream by Welch and his close confidants has now become a reality. In 2014, the organization has expanded to a membership of over 700 pastors across the nation, with ready access to the financial and voting power of their congregants. Indeed, the U.S. Pastor Council is well on it’s way to becoming the nation’s most powerful hate group.
Texas Leftist has not chosen to post things like the I Stand Sunday video for promotional purposes. However, it is critically important for those that support the equality movement in Houston and beyond to know what we are up against. If the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is forced to a ballot, the full weight of the U.S. Pastor Council, FRC and other anti-equality groups will turn their focus to the Bayou City at a level none of us could anticipate. After I Stand Sunday, this is not the same fight that H.E.R.O. proponents faced back in May to get the law passed.
Anyone that lives in the city of Houston probably has stories of encountering the homeless. We see them at traffic stops, under freeway bridges, and at various points around town. Sometimes the issue of homelessness can seem like an insurmountable problem for a major urban area.
But Houston, under the leadership of Mayor Annise Parker and Police Chief Charles McClelland, is making great strides to tackle the needs of the city’s most at-risk population. The new film Shepherds in Blue talks about the innovative methods being deployed by the Houston Police Department, and also highlights that they are having success. Through partnerships with city and county mental health organizations, HPD is working to show people that they do have a way out from homelessness.
“Traditionally police departments have been reactive… The goal of the Homeless Outreach Team is to reduce the number of police complaints by reducing the number of people on the streets.” says Sergeant Stephen Wick in the film. Instead of “short-term fixes” like writing tickets to homeless persons or throwing them in jail, HPD is making an effort to target the root causes of homelessness.
This new level of proactive community policing is beginning to yield real results for the city, and for the people whose lives are changed when they are given the opportunity for a better life.
In more big news about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the city is taking an interesting new turn in its case. Here’s more on the perplexing news from Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle…
Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists who have sued the city.
Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
City attorneys issued subpoenas last month as part of the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
The subpoenas were issued to pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance: Dave Welch, Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida, Khanh Huynh and Steve Riggle. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization known for its role in defending same-sex marriage bans, filed a motion Monday on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas, and in a press announcement called it a “witch hunt.”
The city’s lawyers will face a high bar for proving the information in the sermons is essential to their case, said Charles Rhodes, a South Texas College of Law professor. The pastors are not named parties in the suit, and the “Church Autonomy Doctrine” offers fairly broad protections for internal church deliberations, he said.
When asked about the decision to subpoena the sermons in her weekly press conference, Mayor Parker immediately distanced herself from the decision, saying she knew nothing about it…
One word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read, and I’m villified coast to coast… it’s a normal day at the office for me. But you’re going to have to ask the City Attorney that question.
There’s no question that the wording was overly broad… It should be clarified and will be clarified. People are rightly concerned if a government entity tries to inhibit, in any way, religious speech. That is not the intent.
Attorney Feldman later responded, and basically echoed the Mayor’s words. Both chalk it up to a document that they never read before issue, trusting pro bono lawyers not employed by the city to construct the subpoena.
This is what the Mayor said on Wednesday morning. But it seems in direct contradiction to what the Mayor tweeted on Tuesday night, saying the sermons are “fair game” and giving further fuel to the media firestorm…
If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?-A
One needs only to look at the process by which the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was passed to see that both sides were treated with fairness and respect, even when they didn’t always deserve it. So many in the news media seem to be rushing to the defense of the Houston Area Pastor Council, but failing to mention all of the lies and deceitful practices that they have carried out. Just because these pastors claim to be men and women of the cloth does not mean that they are always doing God’s work. They are the ones spreading hate and division, and deserve to be appropriately scrutinized for their actions.
But appropriate scrutiny can be well exercised without having to subpoena sermons shared with their congregations, as Feldman already stated in the press conference. Much of that information has already been compiled by those working to protect the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, and does not need to be extended to direct sacred practices.
Many of the people feigning complete and total outrage against the Mayor are the ones that have hated her since day one. That’s not going to change anytime soon. But what can change is that the city makes sure that in its effort to defend the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, they do not isolate the many religious groups within the law’s broad community of support. The subpoena was cause for legitimate concern, and now that Parker and Feldman have promised to redact the wording to exclude sermons, leave the issue where it is, and make sure that they correct it. Just like in May, it’s time to practice dignity and common sense on both sides.