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August, 2009:

Burton for Land Commissioner

Via BOR, we have a report of a new statewide Democratic candidate, former Henderson County Justice of the Peace Bill Burton, who is running for Land Commissioner. I don’t know the man, but I hope to learn more about him. Incumbent Land Commish Jerry Patterson doesn’t have a huge war chest – $564K as of July, after raising a similar amount in 2006, so Burton doesn’t start in as deep a hole as some other candidates. We’ll see how he does. Greg has more.

Interview with Council Member Sue Lovell

Sue LovellCouncil Member Sue Lovell is running for re-election to her third term in At Large #2. She chairs the Quality of Life committee, from which the recent ordinances about billboards, signage, and attention-getting devices originated, as well as the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Aviation committees, and she also serves as Mayor Pro Tem. Oh, and she’s Houston’s representative on the Houston-Galveston Area Council, and serves on H-GAC’s Transportation Policy Council. She’s had a full plate, to say the least. Lovell has four opponents in November, including perennial candidate Griff Griffin, who collected 47% of the vote against her in 2007 when she didn’t run an active campaign but put a lot of effort into helping several other Council members get elected. She’s running a vigorous campaign this year, and that was one of many things we discussed in this interview.


Download the MP3 file

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1

KHOU polls the Mayor’s race

We have a data point going into the Labor Day weekend.

“The vast majority of voters are still undecided about who to vote for,” said 11 News political expert Bob Stein. “They’re simply unfamiliar with the candidates.”

In the poll, Houston Controller Annise Parker leads among the four main candidates, with 13.2 percent of respondents telling us they plan to vote for her. Former city attorney Gene Locke is behind Parker, but within the margin of error, at 9.6 percent. City Council member Peter Brown has 5.2 percent support, and Harris County Board of Education member Roy Morales has the backing of 2.8 percent of likely voters.

The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

In the poll, likely voters were asked to pick between the four major candidates or a “don’t know” response. Nearly 68 percent of respondents picked “don’t know.”

Well, I suppose you can count that as evidence of sparklessness. For comparison purposes, a mid-September poll from 2003 showed about 70% of the electorate with a preference, more than double the number in this poll. Some of that difference is likely to be the amount of money spent in each election by this point – as you may recall, Bill White had been blanketing the airwaves for months by this point in 2003 – and some of it may be from other factors, like the economy and the national political climate, which has been dominating the news. However you slice it, there’s a lot of room for growth for all of the candidates here.

Of interest also is the second question the pollster asked, which was an “informed ballot” question in which they gave a brief bio of each candidate, then asked again for whom the respondent would vote. Roy Morales got the biggest boost from this, climbing into third place. That would be because among the things mentioned in those brief bios was party affiliation. Morales is the only Republican, so he collected some reflexive support for that. If he had the money to make sure everyone knew he’s a Republican, he could be a real factor in the race. But he doesn’t, so he won’t. Note that even after hearing about the candidates, the “don’t know/no answer” total is still almost 48%. Either there’s going to be a lot of late deciders, or this will be a small electorate. This suggests to me that mail pieces may play a big role in the end. Watch for that.

Finally, I received a press release from the Locke campaign touting his showing, which they said put him in a “statistical dead heat” with Parker. I don’t know how much you really want to conclude from this poll beyond “there’s an awful lot of undecided voters out there right now”, but yes, a 3.6 point lead in a 4.4 point margin of error poll is within the margin of error. “Statistical dead heat”, however, is a bit of an overbid. Kevin Drum performed the great public service five years ago of trying to quantify what this means. He created a spreadsheet that calculates the probability one candidate is leading the other given a sample size and margin of error. You can download it at that link or view it here with the relevant values filled in for this race (I assumed a sample size of 500 based on the margin of error). By that calculation, the probability that Parker actually leads Locke is over 95%. Again, I would strongly caution anyone from drawing conclusions based on this poll. Put everyone on the air for a month and check again, and then maybe we’ll know something.

Three candidates so far for HISD Trustee in District I

We know that Natasha Kamrani, the incumbent Trustee in HISD District I is not running for re-election. One candidate to replace her is Alma Lara, who was in the race before Kamrani announced that she was stepping down. According to School Zone, there are now three candidates for Trustee in District I, for which the filing deadline is also Wednesday, September 2 at 5 PM. One of the others is Linda Toyota, who is the Chief Development Officer for the YWCA of Greater Houston. The other is Anna Eastman, who sent out the following email about her candidacy over the weekend:

Dear Friends,

I have decided to run for HISD Board of Education Trustee for District 1. Incumbent Natasha Kamrani has announced that she will not be running again this fall. Each of you know my commitment to public schools in Houston and my fundamental belief that every child deserves the opportunity to receive an excellent public education. I have been proud to send my own children to HISD schools and have had the privilege of knowing many amazing teachers and faculty who are willing to work tirelessly for their students’ success.

I know that there is no magic bullet or quick and easy solution to the challenges inherent to a large urban district such as HISD, and I will commit to educate myself, listen to you and build alliances to make excellent, well-rounded public education a reality for all of our children. Those of you who have worked or interacted with me over the years know me to be transparent, sincere and passionate about the importance of public schools. While I always seek to build consensus in my various leadership roles in our neighborhood schools, I’ve never been afraid to take an unpopular stand when it was best for all children. I feel strongly that is essential to close the achievement gap, insist that every child functions at or above grade level and graduates college-ready.

Is there a sweeter sound than the laughter of recognition from your child who suddenly “gets it” while reading? All children deserve our best efforts to ensure that they get it, because they are receiving the best public education possible. Every parent should experience the full heart of knowing their children are getting our very best.

I am humbled and honored that so many have encouraged me to run and will look to you for guidance and input throughout this process. I would be deeply grateful if you can join me in this effort by making a donation to my campaign, hosting a coffee or gathering so that I can meet your neighbors and discuss my vision with you all and, most importantly, voting for me on Tuesday, November 3.

I met Eastman last week at an event for parents of new students at Travis Elementary after she contacted me to tell me she was running for the HISD board; she has kids at Travis and has been active in its PTA. she doesn’t have a website up yet but tells me she will have one up this week. In the meantime, you can see her Facebook page here. I will be publishing interviews with Lara and Eastman next week.

As for Toyota, I’d heard there was another candidate some time ago, but hadn’t heard anything more than that before now. I’ll try to track her down for an interview as well. For what it’s worth, one of the things I found while Googling around was that she made a $2300 contribution to Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential campaign last year. Eastman was an Obama donor and campaign volunteer. I didn’t find any contributions made by Lara, but she has received several endorsements from Democratic officials and groups.

More on the city-county TIRZ deal

The Chron does a kind of big picture overview story of the city-county TIRZ deal that we heard about earlier this week.

If successful, the months-long negotiations between the city and Harris County could provide a solution for problems that have vexed both sides for years, including redevelopment of the Reliant Astrodome, construction of a new jail and a new professional soccer stadium.

But that could be a very big if, according to numerous city and county officials. All the factors that led the two bodies to disagree before are still at play, as well as a new wrinkle: that the success of the plans would depend on the use of tax increment reinvestment zones, or TIRZs, a financing vehicle typically used more to generate economic development than pay for major capital projects.

“I’ve never been a big fan of the TIRZ,” said County Judge Ed Emmett, who said he will wait to see the completed proposal before deciding whether to support it. “It assumes that property values are going to go up and are going to be worth a certain amount, but as we’ve seen with the downturn in the economy, maybe it doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to work out.”

Emmett said the public must be assured that the use of TIRZs is not just a means to circumvent a public bond election, given that one of the possible projects that could come from the negotiations — a new jail — was rejected by voters last year.


The city-county proposal involves four TIRZs: two that already exist near downtown and two the city would create for use by Harris County. City and county officials stressed that the negotiations have been dynamic and that the TIRZs are really more of a mechanism for development possibilities.

The first step, and the most advanced in the negotiations, would be for the county to join the East Downtown TIRZ near the George R. Brown Convention Center. Using TIRZ tax money and bond proceeds, the city and county would pay $20 million for the infrastructure improvements around a new soccer stadium for the Houston Dynamo that also could be used by Texas Southern University. The stadium itself, which would be jointly owned by the city and county, would be built by the Dynamo with $60 million in private funds.

The second element involves the county joining one existing TIRZ and the city creating another, both in the general downtown area. Tax revenue and bond sales would not be committed to any specific project but eventually could be used for a new county administration building or joint booking facility that would allow the city to close its two jails. The city has budgeted $33 million for the joint booking center in its five-year capital improvement plan.

The last element would be the creation of a TIRZ around the area of Reliant Stadium that eventually could include the redevelopment of the Astrodome. The area, close to the booming Texas Medical Center, is likely to see numerous major development projects when the economy picks up steam again, city and county officials said.

The Dynamo Stadium deal, which has been in the works for over two years now, should be straightforward and non-controversial. If Commissioners Lee and Garcia, in whose precincts the affected area is, want this to happen, it will happen. The jail stuff, you know the score. If it’s simply a replacement facility, I’m okay with the idea; if it’s an expansion, I’m not. Who knows what the Dome stuff will be about, but I do agree that the area, which has already seen a lot of new development projects, will continue to be very active. We’ll see what the details are and what they do with it.

Terry and Abe

Here’s another get-to-know-Terry Grier story, focusing on his time in San Diego. The most interesting bit to me is right here:

Abelardo Saavedra, the man Grier is in line to replace in Houston, endured more than his share of criticism for making big decisions without public input during nearly five years on the job. And many of Saavedra’s biggest proposals — courting outside groups to take over troubled high schools and scaling back busing for HISD’s popular magnet school program, for instance — failed after meeting swift and powerful opposition. His $805 million bond referendum in 2007 almost died because of intense lobbying from some of Houston’s most powerful black politicians and activists, who felt left out of the process.

But HISD school trustee Paula Harris, who was part of the unanimous vote to name Grier as the sole superintendent finalist, said Grier has the political skill to succeed where the less charismatic Saavedra stumbled.

While the two men may have some similarities, Harris said, “Terry’s going to be able to sell his ideas better.”

I can believe that Grier will be a better politician than Saavedra, and that he will have less trouble selling some of his ideas as a result. But part of Saavedra’s problem wasn’t so much the sales job as it was the lack of public input before the sales pitch. If Grier repeats that pattern he’ll have trouble no matter how good his political skills are. Get people on board beforehand, especially when making changes, and the rest follows a lot more easily. We’ll see how good he is at that.

Weekend link dump for August 30

Apparently, strep throat killed Mozart.

Eric Bruntlett’s game-ending unassisted triple play.

The publisher of “Reader’s Digest” has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

It’s a good question: How do you deal with mass market crankery? We may need a Genius Grant for this one.

Funny, isn’t it, how many of the people that are now decrying the evils of government-run health insurance are themselves the beneficiaries of government-run health insurance?

Almost as funny as the number of “deathers” who demanded the government make the decision about whether or not Terry Schiavo lived or died.

Behold, the power of the marketplace.

Once again, the reason so many politicians – and, it must be said, political pundits – lie is because there are no consequences for it.

The kilogram isn’t what it used to be.

For that matter, bipartisanship isn’t what it used to be, either.

And for those who like things in threes, the placebo effect isn’t what it used to be.

“Torture lite” is still wrong.

It’s not easy being green, if you’re a university in Texas.

Coming to the Heights – Burgerzilla.

Save the Burt Reynolds Museum! Honestly, I can’t believe I even have to ask.

Remembering Washington Avenue as it used to be.

Jonah Goldberg is a jerk.

Hey, Jonah. Go tell Woody and his family that health care reform isn’t needed and the status quo is just peachy. Go ahead, I triple-dog dare you.

Sen. Kennedy gets the last word.

Second-hand second-rate culture war hackery.

How to buy a car.

Please go ahead and leave

Meet the real America haters. And remember that even though he wants nothing to do with them now, because it would look bad, these are the people Rick Perry was speaking to when he spoke about seceding. You can run from them, Governor Perry, but you can’t hide from what you said. Trail Blazers and Texas Politics has more.

The state of the Governor’s race

So we know that Tom Schieffer is in. So are Mark Thompson and Felix Alvarado. Ronnie Earle may or may not be in. Hank Gilbert now says that he’s in. Kinky (sigh) is fixing to be in. Some people think that one or the other of Bill White and John Sharp ought to be in. Here’s what I think.

I think we’ll have a pretty good idea soon if the fundraising will exists to make one of these people a serious challenger for the Governor’s mansion. I was on a conference call with Gilbert and a number of my blogging colleagues yesterday morning, and one of the things he said was that he’s set a goal of raising $100K online between now and his official launch on September 21. I don’t know if he can do this, but I do agree that if he does, he’ll establish himself as a viable contender, and that it will make it easier for him to attract support from the conventional donors. (Though it must be noted that this doesn’t necessarily follow. Just ask Rick Noriega about that.) Schieffer’s recent announcement about receiving endorsements from House Democratic leaders may be an indication that the establishment has decided to coalesce around him; if so, expect him to post better fundraising numbers for the third and fourth quarters. And despite adamant denials about changing races from White and Sharp, I believe that one of them, most likely the one who has had the least success in raising money for the Senate race, could be cajoled into switching if a promise of an open money spigot came with it.

Basically, my thesis is that the Democratic donor class has finally started to wake up to the realization that there’s an excellent chance Rick Perry will be on the ballot for another term in November, and that unless they get in the game, there’s an even better chance he’ll get it. Six months ago, they could have rationalized that Kay Bailey Hutchison was inevitable, but as she has morphed into Strayhorn 2.0, such thinking is increasingly wishful. Barring any Tuesday morning surprises, the options are to actually support the Democratic ticket (I know, what a radical concept) or brace yourself for four more years. And if you’re going to choose the former, you may as well get started now and have a say in who will be at the top of that ticket. Oh, and if you’re going to do that, you may as well go ahead and fill out the rest of the ticket as well, lest all the resources Democrats put in to retaking the State House get wiped out by an all-Republican (or four-fifths Republican if there’s a Democratic Speaker) Legislative Redisctricting Board. Why make 2012 a repeat of 2002 if you don’t have to?

So keep an eye on the fundraising, and see if any more Democratic elected officials start giving endorsements. If there’s a frontrunner for the nomination, we’ll know it soon enough. Hopefully, along with all that will come candidates for the remaining offices, with each of them having decent fundraising potential. Honestly, it’s not too much to ask, is it?

Grand juror disagrees with dismissal of arson charge against Francisca Medina

Given the grand jury issues that surrounded the original indictment of Supreme Court Justice David Medina in the matter of the fire that destroyed his house, this seems only fitting.

A grand juror who sat on one of two panels to indict the wife of Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina for setting their home on fire said Saturday he was disappointed that charges against her had once again been dismissed.

“There were two independent grand juries, and from the facts determined, there was sufficient probable cause to retain indictments,” said Steve Howell, a retired oil and gas executive. “I would like to have a jury hear the facts. I am perfectly contented once a jury has heard the facts, to abide by a decision of a jury … I trust juries.”

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos denied politics had anything to do with her decision Friday to dismiss the charges against Francisca Medina. Instead, she said it was strictly new evidence that earned her approval.

Prosecutor Steve Baldassano said neither of the grand juries that heard the case had the new information.

Expert evidence recently given to Baldassano by the defense team – and agreed upon by at least one official from the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office – indicates it could have been an electrical fire.

“If you can’t rule out an electrical fire as the cause, then you can’t prove arson,” said Lykos.

Arson cannot be ruled out either, said Baldassano, who emphasized that the defense’s expert witnesses were “highly regarded” in the field and also serve as experts for the state in other cases.

Howell, the grand juror, said the new information indicating the cause of the fire could have been electrical would have had little effect, if any, on his decision to indict because he had access to other evidence and testimony, which he would not discuss.

I presume that nothing precludes the possibility of charges being refiled in the future if the evidence warrants. This has been a truly weird case from the beginning. Murray Newman has more.

Do we have too much police?

One thing that every candidate I talk to about crime in Houston agrees on is that we need for the various law enforcement agencies in Houston to work together better. Via Grits, it would seem that this is a statewide problem.

The Texas State Board of Pharmacy, which licenses and disciplines pharmacists, has its own. So do the state Department of Insurance and the Board of Dental Examiners.

The Mackenzie Municipal Water Authority, which supplies water to four small Panhandle towns, has one, as does the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, a private trade group. Concordia University Texas recently acquired its own.

Every organization that might conceivably come into contact with a scofflaw, it seems, wants its own police department. And in Texas, many get to have them.

“The joke at the Capitol,” said Tom Gaylor, who lobbies for the Texas Municipal Police Association, which has opposed the proliferation of policing agencies, “is that it’s often easier to identify those who aren’t police officers.”

In recent years, the peace officer designation has spread far beyond its original constitutional definition of constables, sheriffs, marshals and police officers. Since 1965, legislators have amended the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which sets out who can designate their own police department, nearly 50 times.

The result: Today there are three dozen types of agencies, institutions, boards, commissions and political subdivisions that can appoint their own law enforcement agents. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, which licenses police officers, keeps tabs on 2,615 separate law enforcement agencies.

These are not just hobby cops.

“In Texas, when you get a commissioned, certified police officer, you get the same person who has the ability to investigate crimes and the authority to arrest,” said Charley Wilkison, public affairs director for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, a statewide police union. “And they’re on the job 24/7.”

That means that on the average, each county in Texas has about ten unique law enforcement agencies operating within its boundaries. I’d bet Harris has a lot more than that. As Grits notes in his post, one big problem resulting from this is communication and coordination between all these agencies. Including, you may be surprised to learn, some that are not subject to some of the same regulations and requirements that public agencies must adhere to.

In 2006, a commissioned peace officer named Bobby Arriola was fired from Methodist Health System of Dallas, which boasts its own police department because of its affiliation with a medical school.

But when Arriola asked for the arrest report and other documents such as his personnel file, the hospital said they were corporate records not subject to public scrutiny. In a May 2007 opinion, the state attorney general agreed.

“The (hospital) system, including its police department, is not a governmental body subjected to the (Public Information) Act,” it concluded.

There’s a can of worms for you. All of this makes me think that the real problem isn’t interdepartmental coordination, it’s having too many departments in the first place. Unfortunately, that’s not a problem that can be solved by the Mayor or City Council.

More on Judge Jackson

Prosecutors aren’t done investigating Harris County Criminal Court Judge Don Jackson, who was indicted this week on charges of official oppression.

Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said investigators in the public integrity division want to know whether there are other people who have any knowledge of similar behavior in Jackson’s court.

It seems likely to me that if this charge is true that there are other incidents like it. I suppose it’s possible that a 17-year veteran of the bench, who had a good reputation among the attorneys who argued before him, would become sufficiently obsessed with a defendant to offer her a deal in return for sexual favors, but it strikes me as more probable that such behavior is part of a pattern. That’s assuming the charge is true – Judge Jackson is very much innocent until proven guilty, and we have no idea what his defense will be. But if others come forward with similar stories to tell, it shouldn’t be too big a surprise. Mark Bennett and Miya Shay have more.

Saturday video break: Billie Jean doo-wop

I think we’ve had enough time since Michael Jackson’s passing to pay video tribute to him here. I daresay you’ve not heard him done in this style before:

Thanks to Mark Evanier for the tip.

DA drops arson charges against Justice Medina’s wife

You may recall the saga of State Supreme Court Justice David Medina, who was indicted on a charge of arson after his house burned down, then had that charge dismissed by Chuck Rosenthal amid much controversy – see here for more links. Along the way, his wife Francisca was indicted as well last year. Now that charge Cameron Willingham, I can’t criticize that kind of caution on the DA’s part. Justice Medina still has other issues to deal with, but this one appears to be closed now.

From the “Term limits for thee, but not for me” department

Write down the date and time, kids, because this doesn’t happen very often: I agree with Rick Perry about term limits.

In seeking to retire the state’s longest-serving governor, Hutchison wants to limit Texas governors to eight years in office, asserting that Perry would be in power far too long if he won an unprecedented third four-year term.

In response, the Perry camp is accusing Hutchison of being disingenuous, saying she backtracked on early pledges to seek term limits for members of Congress and broke a campaign promise by winning re-election to a third six-year term in 2006.

While I find it hilarious to hear Senator Kay Bailey “Now Serving The Third Of My Two Promised Terms In The Senate” Hutchison babble about the need to term-limit someone, it’s also deeply funny to see Rick Perry get huffy about someone pandering to the Republican base. That’s his job, lady!

[Perry] is unequivocal in his opposition to term limits, saying that incumbents who aren’t doing the job can always be removed by voters at election time.

“I am a big supporter of the public making the decisions on whether or not they should send people back to office or not,” Perry told reporters last week. Term limits, he said, “may on the surface be an interesting concept but in actuality it does not work.”

When he’s right, he’s right, and Rick Perry is right about this. If one really wants to solve the problem of incumbents having too great an electoral advantage, the way to do it is via campaign finance reform, possibly including some kind of public financing. It’s the same thing with the ridiculous proposals for nonpartisan judicial elections that have cropped up lately – like term limits, they are an inferior solution to the stated problem. I daresay the Governor and I part ways right about here, and that will come as a relief to both of us. But on the matter of term limits, I agree with him.

Always go to the source

If you find yourself in the position of needing to file for unemployment insurance from the state of Texas, be sure you go to the Texas Workforce Commission page to do it. Do not go anywhere else.

As if it’s not bad enough to lose a job, some people trying to apply for unemployment benefits with the state have instead mistakenly filed their personal information with privately run Web sites.

“What you’ve got is a private site that may be legal but is trying to get information from people so they can sell those lists to others for possible financial gain,” said Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken. “They are just taking advantage of the situation. There’s always somebody trying to figure out an angle.”

The state commission isn’t alleging any laws have been broken, he said, but people may be confused by official-looking private sites if they aren’t familiar with the system.

Just this week, the three-member commission decided to allow a woman to backdate her jobless claim after she initially provided information to a site called www.The, and began an e-mail correspondence with it.


The Unemployment Advisor doesn’t appear to charge a fee to those who provide information; instead it offers advice on maximizing the chance of getting claims approved to those who provide their information.

The state agency said some businesses may try to charge a fee to file claims. Filing for benefits through the Texas Workforce Commission is free.

It’s not really clear what that site might be doing, since presumably it has a profit motive in mind. I suppose this woman and anyone like her will start to receive a lot of unwanted mail now.

Besides warning jobless Texans to be sure they file in the right place, Pauken said the commission is looking into contacting Google to see whether the search engine can help make sure this type of site “doesn’t bubble up to the top” in searches.

In a Web search Wednesday for “unemployment benefits,” www.TheUnemployment was the second site to pop up.

The first was for another private company.

The good news is that a Google search for unemployment benefits Texas, the TWC page came up first. When I searched simply for unemployment benefits, sites for other states filled the first result page, but atop them was a sponsored link to a private company that claimed to represent Texas and exhorted me to “Submit an Application online today. Visit our site. Get your benefits!” Be careful where you click, that’s all I can say.

Filings and endorsements

I’ve added several updates to my recent endorsements list. It’s not comprehensive, as it doesn’t include earlier endorsements, but it’s what I know of the recent activities. Endorsement lists added today were the Spring Branch Democrats and the Greater Houston Restaurant Association. I’ll keep adding to this post as I get more.

The filing deadline is this coming Wednesday, September 2, at 5 PM, and it will be followed by Council Member Melissa Noriega’s Let The Games Begin event. Martha continues to keep track of who has filed and who hasn’t done so yet. Council Member Ronald Green announced his filing for City Controller today (see press release beneath the fold), and I ran into Lane Lewis at City Hall Annex as he was on his way to file. Annise Parker did hers yesterday for Mayor – see Martha’s liveblog coverage for more. Gene Locke filed early, Peter Brown and Roy Morales haven’t done theirs yet. There’s always the potential for a surprise or two, so we’ll keep an eye on it right up till the last minute.


Friday random ten: Right back at you

The word of the week is “Back”.

1. Back Door Santa – Bon Jovi
2. Back Home Again in Indiana – Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, and Stan Getz
3. Back In Baby’s Arms – Patsy Cline
4. Back In Love Again – LTD
5. Back In The High Life – Steve Winwood
6. Back In The Saddle – Aerosmith
7. Back In Your Arms – Bruce Springsteen
8. Back To Black – Amy Winehouse
9. Back to Chico – Clandestine
10. Back to Tyrone – SixMileBridge

And as a special bonus video, here’s BB King visiting Sesame Street to sing about his favorite letter.

Via Mark Evanier. What’s back on your list this week?

Harris County criminal court judge indicted


A Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law judge was indicted Thursday on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression, accused of offering to get a DWI defendant in his court help getting her case dismissed in exchange for a sexual relationship.

According to the indictment, Judge Donald W. Jackson, 59, offered to get the young woman “a different attorney to get her case dismissed if she would be interested in the defendant and enter into a relationship with him that was more than a one-night stand.”

If convicted, the 17-year judge could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Although only one incident is alleged, prosecutors said Jackson committed the offense in three possible ways on Feb. 19: unwelcome sexual advances, a request for sexual favors and verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

The subject of the judge’s alleged actions, Ariana M. Venegas, was charged with driving while intoxicated on Feb. 1 and her case ended up in Jackson’s court. The 27-year-old Tomball woman gave a Harris County grand jury a sworn affidavit and is cooperating with prosecutors in the case, her attorneys said.


The charge was handed down amid rampant courthouse speculation fueled, in part, after Jackson recused himself from Venegas’ case on June 3.

Joe Stinebaker, spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, said County Court-at-Law Judge Jean Hughes, the administrative judge over the county criminal courts, will appoint a special judge to take over Jackson’s docket.

Stinebaker said the district attorney’s office will notify the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which will decide if suspension is appropriate, and if so, whether the suspension should be with or without pay.

Bob Wessels, courts manager for the County Criminal Courts at Law, said Jackson was expected to remain on the county payroll drawing a $140,000 salary while the case is pending.

Jackson posted bail of $1,000. The charge, a misdemeanor, will be handled by the 351st state District Court, a felony court, because of Jackson’s position.

There had been rumors about Judge Jackson resigning from the bench for at least two weeks, which is when I first heard about this. Hair Balls made fun of local defense attorney/blogger Paul Kennedy for jumping on what turned out to be a premature report, then having to retract it. Turns out that Kennedy, who posted a copy of the indictment, got to say that he was right all along. I look forward to hearing what Judge Jackson’s defense is.

Brown’s energy plan

Completing our trifecta of Mayoral policy examinations, we come now to Peter Brown’s energy plan. As with other policy matters, Brown goes into more detail than the others – David Ortez recently wrote that Brown is “winning the policy campaign”, and I think that’s a fair assessment. I’m just going to comment on a couple of points in Brown’s plan, which you should read in full for yourself.


When Houston residents pay for something, it better be delivered. As Mayor, Peter Brown will stand up to local utility companies, demanding that they adhere to existing contractual obligations under the terms of their current franchise. Utility companies should be responsible for demonstrating compliance with the maintenance, grid-hardening, and energy-efficient investments they’re supposed to be making. No more double billing, no more corporate bailouts. Peter Brown will make sure we get what we pay for, and don’t have to pay for it twice.

One thing I find myself asking over and over again as I look over various policy statements from candidates is “How much of this is something they can do themselves, and how much would require coordination with or the cooperation of some other governmental entity?” I’m really not sure how to answer this question here, though my impression is that this is more of a state issue than a municipal one. And as always with these policy papers, it’s about the what they want to do and not the how they plan to do it, so there’s no help there. I feel confident that this is something that can be made an issue and a prioirity by Houston’s Mayor, and there probably are some things that could be accomplished by fiat or city ordinance, but more than that I couldn’t say.

Still, even if everything Brown proposes here requires the Lege or a state regulatory agency to accomplish, a Mayor Brown can still bring attention to these issues, and can pledge to work with or put pressure on whoever can get them done. Which suggests to me that how effective a Mayor may be in getting other elected officials or agencies to do things he or she wants to do is something that perhaps ought to be given more priority in how we decide who to elect. Perhaps the endorsements that a Mayoral candidate gets from other elected officials is a possible indicator of this, and should be given some weight as a means to guide one’s voting decision. Just a thought.


As it is, we pay too much. Electricity in Austin and San Antonio is nearly half the price of ours. The City should use its leverage and drive a harder bargain, protecting Houston consumers and getting them a better deal. And we should explore creative ways to lower monthly electric bills, like an opt-in program that would allow residents – especially seniors and those on low or fixed incomes – to buy their electricity from the City and enjoy the discounted bulk rates the City already receives.

The question of why Houston’s electric rates are higher than those of Austin and San Antonio deserves more exploration. For that, I refer you to this 2006 Observer story about electrical deregulation in Texas:

What makes the Texas experiment with deregulation especially interesting is that a “control group” has survived—the municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives. Nobody disputes that higher electric rates are partly due to the near-tripling in cost of natural gas, the fuel for 46 percent of Texas power generation. But the rates of still-regulated city-owned utilities and electric cooperatives, which also use natural gas power plants, are substantially cheaper almost across the board. A ratepayer in Austin—who must buy power from the city-owned Austin Energy—spends a little less than $95 each month for 1,000 kwh of electricity. In San Antonio, it’s about $72. Austin and San Antonio have the advantage of owning their own power plants, but the statewide average bill for customers served by municipally owned utilities is a little over $100 and is $97 for cooperatives, according to the PUC.

The cheapest service plan—one negotiated by the City of Houston—in the entire deregulated market is about 35 percent more expensive. What accounts for this difference? “[T]he energy being sold in the deregulated service areas didn’t cost any more to produce than in the regulated areas,” says Biedrzycki of Texas ROSE. “The difference is in the way the pricing is established.” In the deregulated market, economists and industry experts say, expensive natural gas-fueled plants generally act on the “margin” to set the wholesale price that retail power companies must pay for all power generation. Even though it’s currently much less expensive to create electricity from coal and nuclear generators, costly natural gas plants control the market price.

“[O]wners of nuclear and coal plants have no incentive to charge anything less than the gas-based market price [to retailers],” as the Association of Electric Companies of Texas explained in a presentation to lawmakers recently.

Again, one wonders what the Mayor can do on his or her own about this, and what would require legislative intervention. Regardless, one presumes that Brown or any of the other candidates would prefer not to rely on coal-fired plants to get a better deal for Houston consumers. Brown does talk about making a bigger investment in renewable energy in his plan. I hope we’ll see something like this as part of it.


Peter Brown will use the latest technologies to allow residents to instantly alert the City of poorly maintained infrastructure – including downed lines and poor maintenance – to keep our grid working and electricity flowing. Streamlined notification processes using smartphone applications enable quick and easy reporting to city departments, allowing residents to quickly collect and share photographic evidence of disrepair or neglect. We can also connect with residents via their existing social networks like Facebook and Twitter to enhance communication between residents and City departments.

I highlight this to show Brown’s commitment to better service through smartphones. Of which I definitely approve.

Overall, I like Brown’s ideas, and think that more attention should be paid to stuff like this. For all the talk we always get about “finding efficiencies” in government, this is exactly the sort of place that we should be looking for them. Of course, some of these things require an up-front investment, which may not pay off within the six years of a Mayor’s term in office. That doesn’t mean they’re not wise or necessary, but it does tend to warp the political dynamic of implementing them.

That wraps up this week’s look at Mayoral policy positions. I’m sure we’ll get more of these as we pass the tradiational Labor Day start of the campaign season. I’ll do my best to do more of these analyses as we do get them. Let me know what you think.

Parents get their vote on HISD school construction projects

The battle between a parents group and some HISD trustees had been waging with HISD Board President Larry Marshall over getting a vote for some school construction projects that the parents said had been promised during the 2007 bond referendum campaign is over, and the projects will go forward. Most of them, anyway.

The Houston school board voted Thursday to spend an extra $121 million — divided equally among each of the nine trustees’ districts — to cover pet construction projects not funded in previous building programs.

The vote, following days of fighting among the trustees, earmarked money specifically for six campuses considered to be in severe disrepair: Worthing High, Bellaire High, Sam Houston High, Grady Middle, Lockhart Elementary and Bellfort Academy.

Left out of the deal, however, was a new campus for the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which angered parents who believe they had been promised a new school. Money for that work, which would cost roughly $40 million, would need to come from another source, HISD officials said.

Nearly 100 parents turned out for Thursday’s board meeting to plea for money for neglected campuses. Board President Larry Marshall had only three schools — Lockhart, Bellfort and Worthing — on the agenda, much to the chagrin of trustees representing other parts of town.

Parents pressed for the vote now because they said outgoing Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra had promised to recommend the projects in return for their votes for the $805 million bond referendum that narrowly passed in 2007. Saavedra is leaving at the end of the month.

Board member Manuel Rodriguez Jr. made the last-minute suggestion to give each trustee’s district $13.5 million to fund repairs at campuses that he says were not adequately addressed in the bond program. Some of the schools have been promised money for more than a decade, parents said.

“We are looking for the district to keep its promises,” said Mary Nesbitt, vice president of Parents for Public Schools.

Hair Balls has more. Marshall complained about the fact that some of the funding comes from savings in the general fund. I can appreciate that, but if this is what HISD promised, then HISD should be prepared to deliver on it.


I don’t know that I would say that the Mayor’s race has lacked spark, but it’s been relatively low key so far. I agree with this:

What does it all mean? That the race remains a toss-up going into the final two months, as each new development has failed to crown any candidate with the title of frontrunner, area politicos say.

“I still see it as a fairly tight race,” said Nancy Sims, a Houston political analyst and former campaign consultant who is blogging about the race. “There seems to be a significant amount of voter apathy. … That means we will see a low voter turnout, and any variety of factors could put one of these candidates into a frontrunner position.”

Those factors include endorsements, fundraising, grassroots networks, advertising, outreach in various Houston communities and the built-in name recognition — or lack thereof — that each candidate brings to the race.

Nancy says on her blog that she regularly encounters people who don’t realize that Mayor White is term-limited out, and are wondering why someone is running against him. Suffice it to say there’s room for the interest level in this election to grow.

More from neoHouston on the new transit corridors ordinance

Andrew Burleson, also known as neoHouston, was quoted in the Chron story on the new transit corridors ordinance. They only used a few words from him, however, and we all know he had more to say on the topic than that. Fortunately, he has a platform for expressing all those other words, and he used it. Like him, I hope that the city now sees the need to tackle the parking issue, which is long overdue, and that it does so in a way that really provides incentives to create walkable urban development in places where it makes sense.

Oh, and he also took a moment to solve the Ashby highrise problem. All in a day’s work.

The Sheriff and the deputies

I had mentioned before that there was some discontent from the Sheriff’s deputies bubbling up, mostly in the form of emails sent to Carl Whitmarsh’s listserv. Earlier today, the following was sent out:


A Labor Resolution

Whereas, Houston Police Officer Adrian Garcia enjoyed a Peace Officers Bill of Rights when he worked the streets as an officer; and

Whereas, Candidate Adrian Garcia promised the Harris County Deputies Organization, Local 154, IUPA, a Harris County AFL-CIO affiliate, that if elected he would support and sign a Peace Officers Bill of Rights within the first 90 days of taking office; and

Whereas, Candidate Adrian Garcia also promised the Harris County Deputies Organization that if elected the union would be a part of the transition process; and

Whereas, Candidate Adrian Garcia also promised the Harris County Deputies Organization that if elected he would review all cases pending before the Civil Service Commission to see if any could be resolved prior to a formal civil service hearing; and

Whereas, Candidate Adrian Garcia also promised the Harris County Deputies Organization that if elected he would stand with us in Austin to get favorable bills including a Collective Bargaining Bill and a permanent Peace Officers Bill of Rights; and

Whereas, Candidate Adrian Garcia also promised the Harris County Deputies Organization that if elected he would talk to members of the civil service commission to see if he could get quicker hearings for unresolved cases; and

Whereas, Candidate Adrian Garcia also promised the Harris County Deputies Organization that if elected he would work with us toward adopting a better transfer policy; and


Whereas, once elected Sheriff Adrian Garcia also has proposed a transfer policy that is based on a 25% “oral review” provision that is totally unacceptable; and

Whereas, current state law (Texas Government Code § 614.021 – 614.023) requires internal investigators to give deputies copies of sworn complaints within a reasonable time after the complaint is filed, and Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s internal investigators have not abided by the law;

NOW BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, that the Harris County AFL-CIO joins with the Harris County Deputies’ Organization to tell Sheriff Garcia that we expect him to keep his promise and to support and sign the un-amended, unadulterated Peace Officers Bill of Rights without further delay; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Harris County AFL-CIO joins with the Deputies’ Organization, tell Sheriff Garcia that we expect him to keep his promises to the union.

This resolution was adopted by the Harris County AFL-CIO on this the 26th day of August, 2009.

I forwarded the email to Alan Bernstein, who is Sheriff Garcia’s public affairs director, asking if Garcia had a response, and a little while later received the following:

Statement of Sheriff Adrian Garcia

August 27, 2009

For most of my 30-year career in public service, and long before holding elective office, I was a Houston police officer union member. The experience informs my understanding of employees’ needs and is the basis for many of the policy changes I am making in the Sheriff’s Office. And while I recognize the primary responsibility employee groups have to aggressively advocate on behalf of their members, as Sheriff I must balance those interests with my commitment to the people of Harris County to restore accountability to the HCSO and regain and protect the public trust.

So when I took office in January, I pledged to improve the operations, management, and transparency of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and to lead an organization that is accountable both to the public we serve as well as to our employees. Putting into place organizational policies that are consistent, transparent and fair to all employees is vital to achieving that accountability. Thus, it has been a top priority for my administration. My new policies include:

A Fleet Accident Review Board, which includes an employee group representative, assures the fair treatment of deputies involved in fleet accidents and sets a standardized system of review and even-handed penalties, if any. I have removed the automatic probation and its ban on extra jobs because of fleet accidents.

An Administrative Disciplinary Committee, consisting of four majors, which reviews serious allegations against HCSO employees.

Resolution of Complaints – I have redirected existing HCSO resources toward the investigation and resolution of allegations of employee misconduct with a goal of resolving complaints within 180 days.

    An Appeals Process – Two members of my executive team – a major and a civilian – consider appeals of disciplinary actions. The inclusion of a civilian executive adds balance and perspective to the process.

I have also taken steps to create a Corrective Action Manual, which will clearly define appropriate, consistent disciplinary actions for policy violations by all employees, as well as a Peer Review Group, in which employee group representatives will review minor employee infractions. Over the last several months, I have met with supervisors – sworn and civilian – at all levels of this organization to have constructive dialogue, as well as to set my expectations for the treatment of front line employees.

Finally, nearly four months ago I submitted to employee group leaders an Employee Bill of Rights, which will apply to all HCSO employees, sworn and civilian. It clearly enumerates employee rights, as well as investigators’ powers, duties and authority when conducting internal investigations of alleged employee misconduct. It was drafted with considerable input from employee groups; they have accepted 98 percent of it. Our discussions, as fresh as this month, continue so we can reach agreement on the remainder.

I am grateful to the men and women of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for their continued dedication and hard work, and I remain fully committed to treating all employees with fairness and consistency.

It doesn’t sound nearly as bad as what’s happening in the District Attorney’s office, but it certainly bears watching.

Interview with Rick Rodriguez

Rick RodriguezToday’s interview subject is Rick Rodriguez, who is running in At Large #1. Rodriguez is a 24-year veteran of HPD, where he has worked in a variety of divisions and units, and is now in the Criminal Intelligence Division. He has been the President of the Houston Police Organization of Spanish Speaking Officers. Rodriguez was a candidate in the May special election for District H – you can listen to the interview he did from that election here – and finished fourth in the nine-candidate field. He is a resident of Lindale.

Download the MP3 file


Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G

Parker’s education plan

Next up for review we have Annise Parker’s education plan. I should note that while the press release about this plan came out last week, a lot of the ideas within the plan have been on the table for awhile. This statement from May that Parker put out in response to comments Peter Brown had made previously about forming an urban school district heavily influenced by the mayor through board appointments contains a number of the points raised in the issues paper. This revision has more specific ideas and goes into some more detail, which is always good to see. A few highlights:

It’s About Working Together to Help Our Kids

There are 17 school districts within the borders of the City of Houston. Let’s stop the bickering about taking over these schools and start working together to support them.

I take this as a shot across Brown’s bow. For what it’s worth, where there’s divergence among the top three candidates on a specific issue, it seems to be Brown who goes his own way. Make of that what you will.

Most of the meat of Parker’s plan is here:

Strong Schools Partnership. As Mayor, I will reach out to school districts and create a partnership for strong schools that will be a vehicle for communication, coordination and cooperation between the city and school districts.

I will lead regular partnership meetings to make sure our city initiatives make sense for the districts and our neighborhoods and to make sure there is a strong voice to hold our school districts and the city accountable.

Working as partners, we can leverage and focus existing city resources to strengthen our schools. For example:

• Public Works. Identify and expedite infrastructure projects such as streetlights and sidewalks around schools and make the pathways safe that students use to walk to school.

• Public Safety. Target anti-gang and other public safety resources on problem schools. Establish direct coordination between HPD and HISD police to work together on safety in and around schools. Gangs don’t stop at the schoolyard gate, yet our police departments too often see that as a boundary. My proposals (below) to expand after-school programs, work/study programs and apprenticeship programs will also provide productive alternatives to gangs and drugs.

• Resource Sharing. Work together to share facilities – from multi-service centers to athletic facilities to idle school buildings that can be used for Express Libraries or after-school programs. Spark Parks – founded by the late Councilmember Eleanor Tinsley to develop public school grounds into neighborhood parks – is the model. The city is already building and remodeling our libraries – why not use them as community centers in areas that aren’t served by a multi-service center?

• Joint Purchasing. Negotiate interlocal agreements between the city and school districts to jointly purchase fuel and energy – such as wind power currently used by the city – as well as supplies. Purchasing in higher quantities will reduce costs for both the city and our school districts.

• Student Health. Coordinate school clinics and the health department mobile clinics to boost immunizations. Houston has one of the worst rates in the country.

• School modernization and neighborhood renewal. Coordinate school reconstruction and improvement projects with city parks and infrastructure improvement projects and public safety initiatives to develop a coordinated neighborhood renewal program.

I think these are all good ideas, though my first reaction was to wonder why we’re not already doing some of them. As it happens, Parker acknowledges at the end of her paper that much of it is indeed already happening; her idea is that by clearly articulating these goals, we can help them along. I wonder a bit about the possibility of duplicating effort, or causing a turf battle. For instance, the Harris County Department of Education already has a purchasing cooperative. Would Parker’s plan complement that, or compete with it? I suppose that would be one of the tasks her Chief Education Officer would be responsible for. I should note that Parker recently received the endorsement of HCDE Trustee Jim Henley, so one presumes there’s no inherent conflict in her vision and HCDE’s mission. As always, more information would be helpful.

Other thoughts that I have from reading this plan: I wonder what overlap there would be between Parker’s vision and the role of the various independent school districts, especially HISD. As always, there’s the question of how some of these initiatives would be funded. I’m a little surprised Parker didn’t reference her crimefighting plan when she talked about facilitating better coordination between HPD and HISD’s police force, since she’s made a tag line out of her statement that when you’re a victim of crime you don’t care which agency responds as long as it’s someone with a badge and a gun. Finally, I’m curious how the public works stuff would relate to the CIP process, which everyone agrees is glacially slow. Like I said, I think these are good ideas, but they lead to many questions.

The rest is mostly statements of principles rather than policy prescriptions. I continue to find it interesting that education has been such a high profile issue in this election, but I do think the discussion about it has been good, and I think Parker’s plan highlights some places where the city can have a positive effect, which is something I hadn’t really considered before.

UPDATE: Clarified the penultimate paragraph regarding Parker’s crimefighting plan.

Forensic Science Commission gets its report on Willingham case

It’s going to be a lot harder for anyone to claim with a straight face that the state of Texas has never executed an innocent man.

Key testimony that sent a Corsicana auto mechanic to the execution chamber for setting a house fire that killed three young children was based on faulty investigations that ignored eyewitness reports and failed to follow accepted scientific procedures, an expert review of the case concludes.

While the 51-page report by nationally known fire scientist Craig Beyler stops short of charging that Cameron Willingham wrongfully was sent to his death, it dismisses as slipshod the investigations by Deputy State Fire Marshal Manuel Vasquez and Corsicana Assistant Fire Chief Douglas Fogg. Willingham maintained his innocence until his execution in 2004.

“The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man — convicted of a crime I did not commit,” Willingham said from the death house gurney.

The men’s investigations into the December 1991 blaze at Willingham’s residence failed to meet current standards of the National Fire Prevention Association or even standards that were in place at the time of the fire, Beyler wrote.

Some of the testimony Vasquez offered to support his claim that the fire was set to kill Willingham’s 1-year-old twins and 2-year-old stepdaughter, Beyler contended, was “hardly consistent with a scientific mind-set and is more characteristic of mystics or psychics.”

Beyler performed the review for Baltimore-based Hughes Associates Inc., a global fire protection engineering firm commissioned last year by the Texas Forensic Science Commission. The commission was created by the Legislature in response to the Houston Crime Lab scandal and other irregularities at state forensic labs.

Commission Chairman Sam Bassett, an Austin lawyer, said the panel will interview Beyler at its Oct. 2 meeting in Irving. Bassett said the commission will seek a response from the state fire marshal’s office. Vasquez died in 1994.

“This is a major step in the commission’s review,” the chairman said in an e-mail, “but it is by no means the end of the investigation.”

For more background on the Willingham case and other questionable arson cases in Texas, see here, here, and here. The Chicago Tribune, whose 2004 article on Willingham got the ball rolling on all this, has their own story, which contains this ending that may prove to be sadly prophetic.

Contacted Monday, one of Willingham’s cousins said she was pleased with the report but was skeptical that state officials would acknowledge Willingham’s innocence.

“They are definitely going to have to respond to it,” said Pat Cox. “But it’s difficult for me to believe that the State of Texas or the governor will take responsibility and admit they did in fact wrongfully execute Todd. They’ll dance around it.”

There is enough wiggle room to do that, if you’ve got a Sharon Keller/Antonin Scalia view of what “innocence” is. As encouraging as it was to see the state do the right thing in the Timothy Cole case, this is a step I’m not sure the powers that be are ready to take. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong about that. Grits and The Contrarian have more.

Bonding Metro

It wouldn’t be Metro if there weren’t drama.

Metro has not obtained performance or payment bonds to cover all the planned construction of four new light rail lines, and some officials say that could put taxpayer dollars at risk.

Metro President Frank Wilson said the transit agency has not made a final decision, but tentatively plans to use a different form of risk management, called parent guarantees, to make sure the four major companies fulfill their obligations and pay their subcontractors on the $1.46 billion contract.

The four companies are Parsons Transportation Group, Granite Construction Co., Kiewit Texas Construction L.P. and Stacy and Witbeck Inc. They have formed a joint venture known as “Houston Rapid Transit.”

Wilson’s announcement at a July board meeting aroused the concern of the national surety industry, which provides the bonds for construction projects by public agencies. Some local officials also questioned the decision.

Texas statute requires public agencies to obtain performance bonds on construction contracts larger than $100,000 and payment bonds on contracts larger than $25,000. Metro did use performance bonds during the construction of the Main Street rail line.

“By Metro not putting these bonds in place the taxpayer is potentially liable,” said Peter Brown, a Houston City Council member and mayoral candidate. “We do these for every major project at the city of Houston. Metro has been planning the light rail project for a long time, and if they needed to find protection for the taxpayers through another means they should have taken that up with the Legislature this past session.”


Wilson said that Metro was complying with the state law but had to explore a different method because performance bonds for a $1.46 billion contract would be too expensive and difficult to obtain. “We went out and got 100 percent performance bonds, just not in the traditional way,” he said. Bond underwriters object because they can’t get business from the contract, he said.

Wilson said that the contract ensures the four parent companies share “joint and several liability” for the proper building of the new light rail system. “They have pledged their corporate assets,” he added.


A parent guarantee is written into contract language, while a performance bond is issued by a regulated, third-party underwriter with deep pockets, said Peter Linzer, a University of Houston business law professor. Although a parent company involved in a joint venture may also have deep pockets, and may pledge to make good on any disputes or failures of subcontractors, there is still some risk it could go under.

“There is no doubt in my mind that a performance bond is not the same as a parent guarantee,” Linzer said.

I’m not a finance guy, so I’m not going to try to analyze this stuff. I get that the issue is the risk that the public could wind up on the hook in the event things go south. What I don’t see in this story, maybe because it’s not possible to accurately quantify at this point, is how big this risk is. Metro is claiming their way of doing this is less expensive, and that the tradeoff in increased risk is minimal. How valid are those claims? I don’t have a feel for that based on this story.

On a tangential note, Metro and the Medical Center have settled the lawsuit filed by the Med Center over stray current from the Main Street line. One less thing for Metro to have to deal with.

Wilshire Village Apartments…gone

Hair Balls, Swamplot, and Robert Boyd document the final demise of the Wilshire Village Apartments. Boyd wonders what will replace them. I wonder how long the land will lie vacant, given how long some other lots have remained empty following the demolition of what had been on them.

Gilbert for Governor?

Hank Gilbert, the 2006 Democratic candidate for Ag Commissioner who had been up till recently running for that office again, is now thinking about running for Governor.

[A]ccording to multiple sources that have confirmed this to Burnt Orange Report, Hank Gilbert, our 2006 Agriculture Commissioner candidate is gearing up to run statewide in the Governor’s race. Gilbert was one of the first three TexRoots endorsed candidates, which included soon to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia.

This is an exciting development. Not only would such a move shake up interest for activists who have long appreciated Gilbert’s true Texas style, it has the potential to set up a productive and active primary to keep Democrats from straying over into the Republican fold for Kay Bailey Hutchison. From conversations with those close to Gilbert, he’s secured commitments and support to take his campaign to the top of the ticket should he choose to and start a campaign with more online infrastructure than anyone else in the 2006, 2008, or 2010 Democratic fields.

While our statewide ticket isn’t dependent on our Gubernatorial nominee, it has an influence in providing support for the downballot races, including freshman members and rural Democrats in the Texas House. Compared to some of the current gubernatorial candidates, Gilbert could be an asset for Democrats’ downballot efforts. From what I’ve been told, Gilbert is interested in helping to proactively fill out other spots on the statewide ticket and is interested in working with other candidates to minimize unnecessary conflict.

Hank’s a charismatic guy, and he’s popular among the activists, which may give him a leg up in the primaries. As Molly Ivins would have put it, he’s got a lot of Elvis in him. While the BOR report sounds promising, I confess I’m skeptical about this. I think Hank makes for a very good Ag Commissioner candidate, but I’m not sure how all of his qualities will translate to the top of the ticket. I’d need to hear more about this. Has Ronnie Earle made a decision yet?

Here’s the Chron story on Gilbert’s announcement.

[Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom] Schieffer said he had hoped that Gilbert would run for agriculture commissioner again on a ticket with him.

“Ten days ago, Hank Gilbert talked to me about being part of the team and running the ag race. His exact words to me were: ‘You need to cover me in the urban areas, and I’ll cover your back in the rural areas,’ ” Schieffer said.

Gilbert said he had told Schieffer that at a Democratic summit in Tyler, but he said he changed his mind and decided to run for governor after listening to Schieffer speak.

“The man is very intelligent,” Gilbert said. “But he just didn’t inspire me. I was looking for that spark.”

As it happens, today I got an email from the Tom Schieffer campaign touting some endorsements from Democratic leaders like State Reps. Garnet Coleman, Jessica Farrar, Jim Dunnam, and Pete Gallego. I’ve reproduced the press release beneath the fold. I’ll be honest, while I think a competitive primary between credible candidates will be beneficial, all told I’d rather have both Schieffer and Gilbert on the ticket in November. But we’ll see how this plays out.


Let the games begin

The filing deadline for Houston municipal offices is one week from today – Martha has been keeping track of who has filed yet and who has not. What could be better to do immediately after the deadline than get together with a bunch of fellow political junkies and gossip about it? Well, now you can.

Let The Games Begin!

Go here if you want to add this as an event on Facebook. Have fun!

Interview with Mills Worsham

Mills WorshamNext up is Mills Worsham, who is a candidate in District G. Worsham is the Houston Community College Trustee representing District 6, succeeding Jim Murphy after the latter’s election to the State Legislature in 2006. He is a native Houstonian who was educated in HISD and who graduated from the University of Houston, and a 20-year partner in Worsham Interests, Ltd. Worsham is a resident of Briargrove Park.

Download the MP3 file


Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5

Locke’s crimefighting plan

In the past week or so I’ve had several Mayoral candidate issue papers hit my inbox. As there was one from each campaign, I thought I’d try to do a little analysis of each of them. We’ll start today with Gene Locke‘s Seven Point Plan to Keep Houston Safe, which you can see here. Locke’s issues page is a bit light in comparison to his opponents, and this was the first such release I’ve received from his campaign, so it was with no small amount of interest that I took a look. As with Annise Parker’s plan, I’d say the priorities Locke highlights are good ones, ones for which there’s a fairly broad consensus. Not to put too fine a point on it, but six of the seven items Locke highlights can be found in Parker’s plan as well, and almost as many can be found in Peter Brown’s plan as well. That’s what I call a consensus.

(Interestingly, one thing Brown doesn’t mention that Locke and Parker both do is a promise to put more cops on the street. Of course, neither Parker nor Locke say how they plan to pay for those extra cops, so perhaps it’s just as well. And as noted before, while both Locke and Parker support the idea of closing the city’s jail and folding it into the county’s system, Brown opposes the idea. So it’s not all Consensusville here.)

Locke’s page here has fewer details than those of the other candidates, so there’s only so much for an armchair quarterback such as myself to quibble with. One place I really wish he had gone into greater detail is the matter of the city’s jail, for which Locke claims credit as the originator of the idea to close it. The city’s jail has been in the news quite a bit lately, especially with that story from Monday about a possible TIRZ deal with the county to pay for a replacement facility. What does Gene Locke, or Annise Parker or Peter Brown, think about this? Whoever wins in November will inherit this deal that the city makes, so it would be really nice to know where they stand. I figure I’ll get statements from one or more of their campaigns now that I’ve posted this, but frankly this should have been in the story. At this point, getting comments from the three of them on anything newsworthy that Mayor White and/or City Council is doing ought to be standard operating procedure.

The one point of Locke’s plan that’s unique to him is this:

HOMELAND SECURITY With the growing importance of Houston to the economy of the nation and the world, Gene knows we need to take special care to protect institutions like the Port of Houston. Gene will lead the way in developing a regional plan to prevent, protect, respond to, and recover from an act of terrorism or any other type of catastrophic event. Safeguarding our engines of economic development will make Houstonians safer in their homes and communities.

The City of Houston currently has an Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, while Harris County has an Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. The former is more focused on crime, while the latter is more about hurricanes, at least going by their web pages. I’d like to know more about what Locke thinks about these current setups, and how his plan enhances or adds to them. I’d also like to know how he sees the role of the federal government in all this, since this clearly falls under the rubric of the DHS. I think this is a good issue to highlight, I just need to hear more.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. I’ve got Parker’s education plan and Brown’s energy plan in the works as well.

No vote from HISD on several school upgrades

Last week, I noted that a parents group and some HISD trustees were complaining about there not being a vote on three school construction projects that were promised as part of the 2007 bond referendum. Even though we now have a new Superintendent in tow, which was supposedly the holdup on these items, they’re still not getting any action.

Parents trying to get facilities upgrades at several Houston ISD campuses said Monday that Board President Larry Marshall has once again thwarted efforts to bring the matter to a vote this week.

Saying she is in a “complete state of shock” after the posting of the board’s workshop schedule for Thursday morning, which contains only three of seven schools, education activist Mary Nesbitt is calling on parents and others to come to the workshop to get the board to honor commitments by Supterintendent Abe Saavedra to correct facilities deficits at Bellaire High School, Grady Middle School, Sam Houston High and the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Nesbitt called Marshall’s actions “completely unprecedented and without regard for the wishes of the other board members who made a formal request to put forward the package of seven schools.”

Nesbit sent out another message to the Facebook group HISD Parent Visionaries about this, which I’ve reproduced beneath the fold. Trustee Harvin Moore said on Twitter that this was “The most bizarre power play I have witnessed in six years on the HISD board”. The workshop will be held at 7:30 a.m. Thursday in the Board Services Conference Room at district headquarters, 4400 W. 18th St., and I daresay it will be contentious. Be there if you can.