Tag Archives: Helena Brown

Houston Runoff Elections: Less of the Extreme

Over the weekend, the winds of change blew through the halls of Houston and HCC municipal governance. In Saturday’s runoff election, turnout was expected to be light and that certainly proved to be true. With a meekly 4 percent of overall voter turnout, some of the most contested races of the year were decided. Given that such a small number of voters lent their voice to the runoff, it’s hard to garner any real indications of how this reflects the city’s political trend map. But one thing is for sure… people who vote in runoff elections are the most determined voters you will find anywhere.

There is no better evidence for this fact than in Houston’s District A. In 2011 Tea Party Challenger Helena Brown, armed with a bevy of anti-government, anti-establishment voters, defeated then- Incumbent Council Member Brenda Stardig by 605 votes. In the year and a half that followed, district residents got to know Council Member Brown as being true to her word. After racking up an extraordinary record rejecting even the most mundane city business, District A citizens (at least those precious few that voted in the December 14th runoff) decided that they have had enough, rejecting Brown’s extremism and reinstating Stardig to her former seat. Interesting what honesty in politics gets you these days.

Though At Large 2 Council Member Andrew Burks is far from a ‘right-wing extremist’, he is known for some measures of extremism just the same. In his first term, he had several instances of berating constituent speakers that disagreed with him, and perceived hostility toward some of his elected colleagues. These very public shows of difficulty certainly didn’t do him any favors during the 2013 election, but finally on Saturday, they may have proven to be his downfall, as Burks was defeated by challenger David W. Robinson. Once again, extremism lost out.

Perhaps the most fiery race of this years election season was in District I. Prior to the November elections, four candidates fought hard to encourage turnout in the low-performing district, and each candidate ended up with close to equal shares of the votes. So much so in fact that only 25 votes separated second-place finisher Robert Gallegos from 3rd place Ben Mendez. But a second-place finish turned out to be the right prescription, as Robert Gallegos defeated Graci Garces in the runoff election, and will now represent the citizens of District I.

There were some less exciting race results as well. In District D, frontrunner Dwight Boykins went on to handily defeat Georgia Provost. Adriana Tamez, who was the top vote-getter in the General Election, went on to oust incumbent Herlinda Garcia for HCC District 3. Zeph Capo won the HCC seat for District 1 by defeating incumbent Yolanda Navarro- Flores, and Robert Glaser retained his top position and went to win against Phil Kunetka in HCC District 5. Even with the defeat of 2 incumbents, these races at least gave an indication of what may occur from the General Election totals.

But to have a runoff election that results all 4 incumbents beaten? To say the least, it’s an anomaly. Or perhaps (particularly in the case of City Council), the anomaly was actually 2011, and 2013 was simply a course correction back to less of the extreme. Texpatriate, Off the Kuff and Brains and Eggs have much more.

Only time will tell. But for now… so long Helena Brown.

Houston, We Have A Budget…

And we didn’t have to fudge it.  

As exciting as Texas state politics have been this week, it’s important to also take a look back at events in local politics. For the City of Houston, a lot has been accomplished in the last couple of weeks. Far-removed from K-street underbelly controlling DC, or even the overt grand-standing that you find in Austin, Houston politics is on the whole a series of honest events. But that doesn’t mean municipal government lacks for excitement, or doesn’t have its fair share of fights. Houston City Council is about as diverse a government body as one may find. With a contingencies of Liberals, Conservatives and even Tea Party members holding office, Houston’s City Government feels quite reflective of the nation itself.  
But there is one critical delineation… In local government, failure is not an option. If Houston is to be a successful city, we must have a successful council. If they mess things up, Houstonians immediately know it. It also means that a city’s annual budget has to be real. Council can’t pass Continuing Resolutions, or waste constituent time and money promoting religious holidays through meaningless legislation. For a city, every dollar counts.  
That was the massive task that lay before Houston City Council on last week. They showed up to City Hall, political philosophies in tow, and worked together  past sundown. It wasn’t easy, but it was done.  
From Houston Chronicle reporter Mike Morris, here’s a summation of how the day went down…  
The roller-coaster 10-hour meeting – all but 45 minutes of which focused on Mayor Annise Parker’s budget and council members’ 60 proposed amendments to it – will require Parker to shuffle about $3.9 million in the $2.2 billion general fund budget. The rest of the city’s spending occurs in enterprise funds fed by fees and not taxes.

Parker said this year’s budget cycle has been far different from the past three, which saw the city slash spending during the recession.  

This budget we had new revenue coming in, and so there was an opportunity to set priorities for new spending,” she said. “So it was a little more difficult here at the table because we all had different ideas on how we spend that new money.”  

Among the successful amendments: A $2 million push to redeploy four ambulances shelved during the cutbacks; a $1.5 million summer jobs program for youth; $250,000 for cameras to monitor illegal dumping; and money to increase the Houston Center for Literacy’s budget from $400,000 to $500,000. Other big-ticket items, including a $3 million summer-jobs program and $1.5 million for after-school programs, were voted down. 
Houston’s Senior Citizens will be getting some tax relief as well. The city’s current tax exemption for homeowners 65 and older will rise from $70,862 to $80,000. This exemption, along with the other amendments will impact the overall budget, requiring the Mayor’s office to look for flexibility in other areas.

“I’m not going to make the cut right away… Since we all believe that the revenue will come in above our expectations, we believe we can still hit our targets even with this cut. It just means there’s less going to next year’s fund balance” Mayor Parker said. Council Member Brown went on to reiterate that this year’s budget came in with a $6 million- dollar surplus as well, confirming that the money was available to absorb the cut.

And 10 hours later, the Houston City Council adopted a $4.9 Billion- dollar budget. The first one in three years with no significant job cuts. I applaud the Mayor and Council members for their hard work. 

A city budget may lack the glamour of a raucous floor vote at the Capitol, but keeping an area as massive as Houston running is noble and necessary work indeed. Mayor Parker and City Council deserve to be lauded for it. Off the Kuff has a more timely post on the subject.

Houston City Council PASSES Chapter 42

Ready or not, here we come…

After six years of vigorous debate, the Houston City Council has voted to further increase the city’s density. Chapter 42 passed Council on a vote of 14 to 3. The ordinance changes development rules in the hopes of making the city more competitive with the suburbs. And given the extreme interest by area developers, it will likely be successful in that regard. This was far from an easy vote, as virtually every Council Member had qualms with the ordinance. As the Mayor said, this vote ends the separation between inner loop and outer loop areas. “The city of Houston now has one development code.” And it has been updated to reflect a much more ‘urban’ reality.

Council Member Melissa Noriega voiced resident concerns that Chapter 42 does not address a legacy of draining issues (currently covered under Chapter 9 of the development code), and that will only put a greater strain on an already aging drainage system. Even with this concern, Noriega voted in favor of the ordinance.

Council Member Helena Brown even proposed an Amendment to exclude her entire district (District A) from the Chapter 42 changes. It failed, and Brown voted against the whole measure. Of course to most Houstonians ‘Council Member Brown voting no’ shouldn’t be a surprise.

But even with all of the added drama, anxiety and resistance, this grand bargain is an important next step for the city of Houston. The Mayor and her office worked tirelessly on the issue, and to strike an agreement between the neighborhoods and builders was a win in itself. But now that agreement is law, and Houston can pave the way to a more dense development future.

From a purely political standpoint, the passing of Chapter 42 is a very big win for Houston Mayor Annise Parker. It is yet another major legacy issue that she has tackled as Mayor. If any other elected offices lie in her future, she can point to Chapter 42 as one of the big things that she accomplished. Hopefully, the continuing issues with drainage, complete streets and buried powerlines will be tackled in the not-too-distant future. But Chapter 42 is officially DONE.

For previous coverage on chapter 42, you can check here and here.