For all of the Federal Government’s turmoil and uncertainty with the impending Presidency of Donald Trump, Houstonians can be assured that municipal leaders have their act together.
As if Mayor Sylvester Turner’s deal with Uber this week wasn’t enough, the Chief Executive of Texas’ largest city had more big news to make this week. Here it is directly from the city’s Press Release…
In a sweeping announcement, Mayor Sylvester Turner named four new department directors and a reappointment Thursday. Pending City Council confirmation, Art Acevedo of Austin will assume the position of police chief and El Paso’s Samuel Pena will take over the fire department.
“Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo and Acting Fire Chief Rodney West have performed exemplary in dealing with some challenges and we are indebted to them for their service,” said Mayor Turner. “I had said all along that once we reached solution to our pension problems, I would move quickly to fill key positions. This is the team that will carry us into 2017 and beyond. We are going to build upon the successes of 2016 and be even more transformative, innovative and responsive.”
Acevedo has served as Austin’s police chief since 2007. His 30 years of law enforcement experience began as a field patrol officer in East Los Angeles. In Austin, he oversaw a department with more than 2,400 sworn officers and support personnel and a $370 million annual budget. He joined the department at a time when relations with minorities were strained due to questionable police shootings. He has been credited for a commitment to police legitimacy, accountability and community policing and engagement. His accomplishments include creating a special investigative unit to criminally investigate officer involved shootings and a new disciplinary matrix. Acevedo holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from the University of La Verne, is a graduate of the FBI’s National Executive Institute and speaks fluent Spanish.
Pena joined the El Paso Fire Department in 1995 and then rose through the ranks to the position of fire chief, which he has held since 2013. He has previous experience as a fire fighter, paramedic, media spokesperson, advanced medical coordinator, Combined Search and Rescue Team member, Hazardous Materials & Special Rescue Task Force member and academy training chief. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Texas at El Paso. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he served for four years as an air control specialist. Like Acevedo, he is fluent in Spanish.
Along with the high profile appointments of Chief Designates Acevedo and Pena, Mayor Turner also appointed Judge Elaine Marshall to preside of the Municipal Court system, while Tom McCasland, currently serving as Interim Director of Houston’s Department of Housing and Community Development, will now ascend to the permanent post. Municipal court Judge Phyllis Frye, the first openly transgender judge to ever serve in the state, was also reappointed to the city’s Municipal Court.
Once again surrounded by a diverse coalition of Council Members, Mayor Turner was all smiles in naming the “full house” of appointments.
Today’s news comes at the end of an unprecedented sweep of progress for the new Administration’s 1st year in office. After the announcement of an historic pension reform plan last month, and a city budget that was passed unanimously by Council in the Spring, Mayor Sylvester Turner seems to be living by his mantra that Houston is “a can do city”. If the game of politics is won with leadership by example, then Mayor Turner appears to be nothin’ but net.
Of course one final showdown is yet to come. We’ll see what the State Legislature has to say about the pension deal next year.
If you live in the city of Houston, this election matters. Houston is a growing city that will face many challenges over the coming decades. It is the next Mayor and City Council which will decide how we handle them. Get informed, and V-O-T-E!!
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In the Seventeenth installment of the 2015 Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire we hear from Tom McCasland, candidate for Houston City Council, At-Large Position 1.
Please note: Responses are directly from the candidate, and have been posted ver batim from the email received. This is done out of fairness to all candidates. Publishing these responses does not constitute an endorsement, but may be considered during the endorsement process.
TL: What is your name, as it will appear on the ballot?
TM: Tom McCasland
TL: Are you a current or former elected official? If so what office(s)?
TL: As a political candidate, you clearly care about what happens in certain levels of government. In your own words, why is government important?
TM: Government, at its best, can accomplish those goals and activities which we have set for our society and which the free market either cannot accomplish or as a society we have chosen not to entrust to the free market. Properly construed, I believe the work of government is too important to be done badly. Thus, I believe the best defense of the continued role of government at any level will be government that is thoroughly competent, fiscally responsible and effective.
At the municipal level, city government should ensure the effective delivery of core services such as ensuring safe neighborhoods (including both safety from crime and safety from traffic collisions due to poorly designed or managed streets), delivering water and waste water services, maintaining streets and proper drainage, and picking up the trash. These core services reflect what our residents should expect from a minimally competent city government.
However, there are many other quality of life indicators that make our shared, compact existence as a city far more enjoyable, healthy and economical that residents should expect the City to deliver or assist in delivering. These include a robust arts community, revitalized parks, recreational venues, economic opportunity through job training for middle skills jobs, a welcoming environment for small businesses (e.g. reforming the Permitting Office), creating a beautiful and interesting streetscape for all street users, and supporting (while not replacing) the local public school system as it attempts to deliver a quality public education to every child in Houston.
I will work to make Houston a city that does not simply deliver the minimal services (although that must be the first task), but instead is striving also to be a great place to live, play and raise a family in addition to being a great place to work.
TL: If elected, what is your top priority in office for the upcoming term? Describe how you plan to accomplish it.
TM: While I have important goals relating to quality of life concerns and economic opportunity to address income disparity, the top priority for the next mayor and city council must be resolving the serious financial challenges faced by the city. Every other goal discussed above and below requires a strong financial footing for the city. Thus, resolving the pension issues, ensuring a secure source of funding to rebuild our streets, drainage & sewer lines, and rebuilding the trust between the taxpayers and the city government that is (hopefully wisely) spending the taxpayers’ money will be my first priority.
TL: After decades of deferred maintenance and neglect, Houston’s infrastructure is in a critical state of disrepair. Ask any driver, cyclist or pedestrian, and they can readily tell you that city streets and sidewalks are crumbling… some to the extent that they pose significant danger to those that would traverse them. The Parker Administration has attempted to address the problem by the voter-approved ReBuild Houston program. Knowing that the next Mayor has no choice but to invest in city infrastructure, do you support the continuation of ReBuild Houston? If yes, please explain why. If no, please explain how you would address our copious infrastructure needs differently.
TM: I support ReBuild. While ReBuild is back to the trial court and I cannot predict what the outcome will be, Houston’s streets and stormwater sewer system need immediate and extensive work. I support the pay-as-you-go model of ReBuild, but I believe that the City needs both more transparency and better communication about its “worst first” approach to streets. Regardless of whether the source of funds is ReBuild or some other mechanism, City taxpayers must be prepared to pay for streets, and City officials must be prepared to answer publicly and transparently for the way they administers those funds.
TL: At present, the city of Houston has one of the strongest forms of “strong-Mayor governance” in the state of Texas, to the point that the Mayor alone decides what business comes before City Council. If elected, would you support an amendment to the City Charter that would allow any coalition of 6 Council Members to place items on the Council Agenda without prior approval from the Mayor? Whether yes or no, please explain your answer.
TM: I have not yet decided whether allowing a certain number of council members to place items on the council agenda would be beneficial in the long run for the City.
TL: If elected, would you support and seek to continue the current administration’s Complete Streets policy, which establishes that any new or significant re-build of city streets will work to prioritize and incorporate safe access for all road users, including pedestrians, persons with disabilities and cyclists?
TM: As a regular pedestrian, cyclists and transit rider, I will support and aggressively push to ensure that every street is designed to be safely used by every likely user of that street. Specifically, I will work to ensure that every street funded through Rebuild Houston is built in a way that accommodates all users of that street, that we swiftly implement the Houston Bike Plan currently being developed, and that we fund a pilot Neighborhood Greenway program, with a rollout for at least one major Neighborhood Greenway in every District in the City. I will also support Complete Streets by working to build connected off-street infrastructure, including swiftly completing ParksByYou and beginning to build important North/South connectors along the Centerpoint easements.
Finally, I believe that complete street design provides Houston with great options for creating landscape that both slows and cleans stormwater runoff rather than pushing it downstream as quickly as possible, negatively impacting downstream neighborhoods. With a complete streets design, bioswales, planters, and street trees that can be planted in traffic calming curb extensions or as an additional barrier along a sidewalk can provide reduced flooding, cleaner water and safer mobility.
TL: What makes you the best candidate for this office?
TM: I work hard. I make sure I understand the issues. I seek input from all sides. I practice transparency in government. I try to make the best decision I can based on the information I have. And if I’m wrong, I work quickly to mitigate any damage done by my wrongheaded decision. This is how I’ve run the housing authority, it is how I attempt to live my life generally, and it is also how I will serve as your City Councilmember.
While I believe the qualifications above are the most important qualifications for the office sought, the qualifications from my resume include nearly four years working for Vinson & Elkins representing corporations and local governmental entities, one year running Bill White’s research department for his gubernatorial campaign, one year working to fund the trails and parks being built along the bayous, and 3.5 years reforming and running a local governmental entity called the Harris County Housing Authority. This experience provides significant background for addressing the legal, financial and political issues facing the City.
TL: When not on the campaign trail, how do you like to spend your free time?
TM: I deeply believe in the importance of recharging through soulful activity and practices. My preferred methods to recharge include gardening, dancing (mostly blues, fusion or lindy hop), cooking, and wilderness hiking, canoeing or backpacking. I am also a cyclist and runner, although most of my cycling is done primarily for transportation.