Tag Archives: C.O. Bradford

Houston City Council Proposes 2015 Charter Amendments

Many that follow Houston municipal government have expected a charter amendment proposal to remove the city’s voter-imposed revenue cap on taxes.  With rapid growth and exploding property costs, most Houstonians understand that the cap hinders the city’s ability to carry out basic functions.

But as Texpatriate reports, City Council is doesn’t plan to stop with just the one charter amendment for the upcoming elections…

Texpatriate has learned that the Houston City Council’s ad hoc “charter review committee” has assembled a memorandum of four proposed rule changes to the city’s constitution-like document and plans on holding a public hearing on the matter. On December 4th at 1:00 PM, a week from tomorrow, the council will hold a public hearing on these four proposals, which I will delineate below. Additionally, to call it a “committee” is a misnomer, as the whole council sits on this special group. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez (D-District H) will preside.

The four proposals were initially suggested by City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4). They are eliminating the so-called “revenue cap” for local property taxes, allowing for secret sessions of the council, modifying term limits and allowing a coalition of at least six councilmembers to add agenda items.

Removal of the municipal revenue cap seems to have support on both sides, so it is unlikely to stoke much in the of controversy as Houstonians head into November 2015.

But the proposal for term limits is a somewhat different matter.  Many expect the committee to propose shifting limits of the Mayor and City Controller from a maximum of three 2-year terms to a maximum of two 4-year terms.  This would not only lower the number of elections these public servants have to endure, but would also increase the total amount of time they could serve in office by 2 years overall.  There are points to be made on both sides of the issue. Points in favor would be that fewer elections means more time for governing and more experienced office holders. In opposition would be that the elected official doesn’t have to be held accountable to the public as often for their actions.  In a constituency as large and diverse as Houston, I tend to believe that our elections are important enough to hold every two years.  Rather than reform the frequency of when elections occur, it would be a better idea to reform how they are held– i.e. campaign finance restrictions that level the playing field.

On the other hand, allowing a contingency of Council Members to place an item on the meeting agenda without prior approval of the Mayor seems not only reasonable, but long overdue.  It is a way to go about the people’s business in a more efficient and direct manner.

For all of the positive that would come expanding agenda abilities to members of Council, the proposal to allow secret sessions of City Council seems confusing at best.  As Texpatriate pointed out, it has potential to cause conflict with the open meetings act of the Texas Constitution.  Of course the other side to that is many Council Members feel that the open meetings act is actually too restrictive– they’re not allowed to even informally discuss an issue if not convened in an official meeting.

All of this to say that November 2015 looks to be yet another very important election for Houstonians.  There won’t be a President or Governor on the ballot, but the new Mayor, Council Members and whatever charter amendments are passed could have a huge impact on the city.


TLCQ 2013: Endorsements in City Council At Large Races

Though he’s drawn one challenger in perennial candidate Mike “Griff” Griffin, Council Member Stephen Costello is looking strong for reelection in At Large Position 1. Costello is a Republican, but his style of politics is far-removed from the grand-standing hyper-partisanship of Washington. As head of the Budget Committee, Costello has become an important ally to the Parker administration and helped to garner much consensus among his council colleagues (no government shutdown in H-Town). He has chosen to go after some of the city’s biggest issues, including the municipal pension fund, the continuing struggle with food deserts and Rebuild Houston. To the latter, Costello has been a leading voice for not only the passage of Rebuild Houston, but also worked hard to monitor its implementation and see that tax dollars are spent wisely. For all these reasons, Council Member Costello deserves a final term. The pick for At Large 1 is Stephen Costello.

Though only in his first term, At Large 2 Council Member Andrew C. Burks has already left a dramatic impression on Houston municipal politics. In many instances, he has been an important voice to issues that previously had little focus in government, especially those relating to the city’s minority communities. He has continued to remind council of the vast poverty and inequality we see in our underserved neighborhoods, and at times has even lodged political power to ensure that these issues are addressed. For Texas Leftist, fighting for Houston’s most vulnerable citizens is something to be admired. This is Burks at his best. But for all of these moments, Council Member Burks has also publicly berated constituents appearing at City Hall, openly threatened his opponents, and done other things that are counter to the mission of good governance. For all of these reasons, it is time for a change in At Large 2, and that change David W. Robinson. As an architect, President of the Super-Neighborhood Alliance and committed civic leader, Robinson will lend a wealth of experience to some of the next great challenges. He was an important leader of the passage of Chapter 42, and like Council Member Costello, I suspect Robinson would be just as committed to seeing the new density requirements implemented successfully. The pick for At Large 2 is David W. Robinson.

In At Large 3 Texas Leftist will not be issuing an endorsements a I am already supporting candidate Jenifer Rene Pool’s campaign as a volunteer. But I highly recommend that readers consult other endorsements in this race, all of which are conveniently compiled on Off the Kuff’s 2013 elections page.

At Large 4 Council Member C.O. Bradford is not without his dramatic moments, but on the whole he has done a good job of representing the views of a diverse constituency. For all of the vocal opposition he gives to the Parker Administration, ultimately Council Member Bradford works to find good compromise and keep the city moving forward. As a former Police Chief, his tireless advocacy for our public servants is a voice that needs to be heard in local government. The pick for At Large 4 is C.O. Bradford.

Eccentricity is a word that comes to mind with At Large 5 Council Member Jack Christie. As the Chronicle endorsement points out, Christie’s sensationalist remarks are still mostly rhetoric, and have not caused any genuine harm around the Council table. When it comes time to vote, Christie has shown much willingness to work with his colleagues and get the business of the city accomplished. Texas Leftist is grateful for that, but the whole purpose of having elections is to find the BEST persons for the job. Why can’t Houstonians have both a good role model on City Council and someone that espouses more sound judgments in his public views? It’s what we deserve. Amongst two strong opposing candidates, the standout in this race is James S. Horwitz. The Houston attorney has a strong record of community service, and Progressive views that would be a great asset to council. As the city continues to grow with bold new initiatives like Rebuild Houston, Chapter 42, rail line expansion and complete streets, Houstonians need stability within our municipal leadership. Unlike the Chronicle staff writers, Texas Leftist does not believe that Christie’s behavior should just be ignored. The pick for At Large 5 is James S. Horwitz.

City Council debates the True Cost of 380 deals

Last week, I had the honor of doing something that I’ve yet to do while living in Houston… I attended Houston City Council at City Hall. Sure I have watched the meetings all the time, but attending gives additional layers of perspective that just don’t, can’t come across through the HTV cameras.

Anyway, it’s more than sufficient to say that I picked a very interesting day to attend.

On the whole, the meeting was as expected, with everyone focused, collegial and moving rapidly through the city’s business. But when Council reached the last item on the agenda a 380 agreement to incentivize CostCo to build in Houston’s far-west ETJ, things became contentious.

“We just came out of a brutal budget battle, and I believe that corporations should get involved in our summer jobs programs, our after school programs, and actually help our citizens do better. The time is now to ask those corporations for help… I was told in the briefing that no matter what we say at the this council table that… the contract is final, it’s done. That part I understood. That part I resent…” Burks said.

The Mayor reminded Burks that none of those programs were part of the deal. Council Members Noriega, Pennington and Gonzalez immediately chimed in supporting the 380, citing that it’s empty land, and that Costco is “ready to develop somewhere”. If they didn’t choose the Houston ETJ, they were just as ready to take their development, and any tax revenue it could generate, to Katy.

But to Council Members Burks, and now Bradford, that answer just wasn’t good enough.

“Just a few weeks ago, we had a discussions about summer jobs, and senior citizens’ [tax] relief, but now we can afford to give [tax breaks] to CostCo. I haven’t heard anybody articulate the real need for the incentive… I’ll read from [today’s Chronicle editorial] for just a second…’While the city looks to budgets spread thin to fix our roads, we’re giving tax cuts to corporations to build towers and open stores in Houston, without any evidence that these incentives are actually necessary. This questionable use of taxpayer dollars deserves serious contemplation from our elected officials.’ Have we really delved into this to conclude that this incentive is necessary? That’s what I’m hung up on” Bradford said.

And of course Burks came back in to close his thoughts…

“I’m getting tired, mayor and council, of hearing, ‘We don’t have any money.’… We give all these incentives for rich folk do all sorts of rich things, but poor folk are still being hurt. And they vote too. We’ve [left them out] too often and for too long.”

The Mayor immediately shot back to Burks…

“Council Member I’m afraid you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I think most of the things you have mentioned are outside of the purview of an economic development contract.”

After all the back-and-forth, the 380 deal passed 12 to 3.

But what you may not have seen away from the HTV cameras? For Burks and Bradford, this was a clearly intentioned stance… perhaps political, perhaps not… to appeal to their community. Given that protesters (in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict) ground Tuesday’s Public Session to a halt, they used this deal to voice some community-wide frustrations, and to highlight what they see as a lack of fairness and inequality. And let’s just face facts… it certainly cannot hurt Bradford or Burks to be fighting for fairness in an election season. They are well aware of where this message will resonate with the most clarity.

Perhaps there were better reasons to vote against the 380 deal than to heap social injustice onto it, but nonetheless, I think that Council Members Burks and Bradford made important points. As great and glitzy as Houston appears in magazines, there are still some gross inequalities throughout this city. Our roads and bridges are in sub-standard condition, the mass transit system is grossly under-funded, and our water and sewage infrastructure can barely keep up to meet the increasing demands of new development. Just as Burks and Bradford pointed out, the city struggled to find money for summer jobs programs and Veteran’s services in under-served neighborhoods. It makes sense that those who represent those neighborhoods should give pause to tax breaks for Billion- Dollar corporations while our poorest communities continue to do without. Given this as the reality in Houston, we should apply a high level of scrutiny to which entities receive substantial city tax breaks, and always be mindful of who have to do without.

Off the Kuff has thoughts on this as well.