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August, 2013:

RIP, Mike Anderson

Very sad.

DA Mike Anderson

DA Mike Anderson

Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, who announced in May that he had cancer, died Friday, sources said.

The Texas District & County Attorneys Association on Saturday posted the news on Twitter: “We have just learned that Harris Co DA Mike Anderson passed away. Our prayers are with his wife & kids & the entire Harris Co DA family.”

Anderson, 57, took office Jan. 1, following his election in November.

He announced his illness by releasing an email which did not include details about the type of cancer or when it was diagnosed.


Anderson spent 12 years as a felony criminal court judge, following his 16 years as a prosecutor.

His wife, Devon Anderson, is a criminal defense attorney and also a former state district judge. They have two children.

Anderson revealed that he had cancer in May, but did not give any details about it. As you know, I interviewed Anderson last year during his primary against then-DA Pat Lykos. I wound up voting for him in November after the Dems screwed up their DA primary race, and while I had serious disagreements with him about policy, I was comfortable that the office would be in capable hands. I found him to be thoughtful and engaging during the interview, and I enjoyed chatting with him for a few minutes after we concluded the on-the-record conversation. We talked about our families; he told me about his baseball-playing sons, and it was easy to see how much he enjoyed that part of his life. I am stunned and saddened by this news. My deep condolences to his family, friends, and coworkers. Rest in peace, Mike Anderson.

UPDATE: Texpatriate and Murray Newman share their thoughts.

UPDATE: BOR has more.

Abercia takes a plea


Jack Abercia

Former Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia told investigators he performed illegal background checks to raise money, in part, for an elevator at his home, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Abercia pleaded guilty Thursday to 11 counts of exceeding authorized computer access. The charges stemmed from illegal background checks Abercia and a top staffer performed for private companies, using a national criminal information database that is restricted to law enforcement purposes.

“God willing, this money will go towards my elevator,” the longtime lawman is alleged to have said while taking $3,000 for the illegal background checks. Abercia is suffering from colon cancer and told undercover investigators that he needed help getting up and down the stairs in his home.

The 79-year-old Abercia, who took office in 1991, will remain free on bail until he is formally sentenced Nov. 26. He could face up to five years in prison on each count.


“He was being paid to arrange criminal background checks for personal financial gain,” said Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman for the Houston U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In total, Abercia received $9,000, Dodge said. Wiener was paid $1,000 for his part in the illegal searches. The three were indicted in January 2012, accused of conspiring to sell information from a law enforcement database, accepting a bribe for hiring an unqualified deputy and sending employees on personal errands on county time. The other charges were dropped as part of Thursday’s plea agreement.

So tawdry. Abercia was arrested last January. This is the first update since then that I know of. I have no sympathy for him.

Redistricting and voter ID lawsuit updates

From Texas Redistricting, a typically thorough look at where things stand with redistricting and voter ID litigation in the three courts – San Antonio, where the redistricting litigation has been ongoing and is likely due for some action; Corpus Christi, where the recent voter ID lawsuits were filed and now stand, likely pending consolidation; and the DC Circuit Court, which still has some unfinished business on redistricting but no longer on voter ID. Read it and stay up to date on what’s happening.

There are now some new players in the voter ID litigation. First up is the Texas League of Young Voters, who filed papers to join the fray on Monday.

The filing contends that the state’s voter ID law would disproportionately affect students like Imani Clark, a student at historically black Prairie View A&M University in Waller County.

The filings said that Ms. Clark did not drive and did not possess any of the seven forms of ID required by S.B. 14, though she does have a student ID with which she had been able to vote in past elections.

The League contends that the law violates both section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th amendments of the Constitution.

See the filing, which will be opposed by the state of Texas, here. The state of Texas also opposes the intervention by the Justice Department, not that this should surprise anyone. The DOJ, meanwhile, wants the court to combine the cases and postpone some of the deadlines. I expect that will be granted.

Also getting in the voter ID litigation action is the city of Austin.

A unanimous council, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 cleared the way for the voter-ID law, directed the city’s lawyers to look into joining a lawsuit already filed U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, as well as any challenges to the voter law by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The council also directed the city staff to explore other steps, such as establishing places where residents without proper identification could secure a provisional ID for voting purposes.

The council’s resolution states the voter-ID law “may present a barrier to eligible citizens who intend to vote, especially minorities and those who may have recently moved or gotten married or divorced and may not realize that they need to update their identification.”

Good for Austin. I’d like to see a lot more cities join them in this.

The Atlantic has a good overview of the stakes and the more inflammatory rhetoric being used in the current legal battles.

What we are seeing now is a political war that will be waged in legal terms in part because of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling and in part because of all of the voter suppression efforts that preceded it (in Texas and around the country). Just because state officials are offended by a federal lawsuit doesn’t mean the state law they seek to defend is constitutional. And just because a state law makes it harder for people to vote doesn’t necessarily make it unconstitutional. The post-Shelby County world has arrived, not with a quick Congressional fix to restore key voting protections for minorities but with still more politically tinged litigation.

Read the whole thing. In addition to the state-versus-federal lawsuits, there is now litigation in Galveston County over its proposal to reduce the number of constable and JP precincts, and I feel confident that a lawsuit over the Pasadena City Council redistricting plan is imminent. These are good days to be an election lawyer, that’s for sure.

Ratliff and Patrick spar over CSCOPE

Sounds like fun.

The state curriculum system known as CSCOPE — little known until recently — can now add two hours of lively and at times testy debate to a long list of public appearances that includes State Board of Education meetings, legislative hearings and the Glenn Beck Show.

On Saturday evening, SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the chairman of the Senate’s education committee, sparred over the controversial lesson plans before a vocal audience that filled the University of Texas at Tyler’s student activity center. Grassroots activists have relentlessly pushed to eliminate the lessons, which are used by 70 percent of Texas school districts, because of a perceived liberal, anti-American agenda.

The unusual event — a public debate between two elected officials of the same party who are not primary opponents — came about after Ratliff accepted an offer from Patrick, who said on his Facebook page that he would debate any CSCOPE defender.

Patrick, who has led the charge against the lessons, focused his arguments on the lack of transparency behind the operations of the state education centers that produced them.

“The thing that we are missing here is that there seems to be this fight and sometimes attack against parents who have a right to ask a question,” he said. “I don’t understand this ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ CSCOPE mentality that we don’t care if there is anything wrong with CSCOPE — we just want our CSCOPE.”

Ratliff, whose district is filled with small, rural schools that have depended on CSCOPE’s lesson plans, has championed the right of local school boards to choose how best to teach state curriculum.

“Local districts ought to be able to make that decision for themselves, not have you make it for them,” he told Patrick at one point during the debate.

Yes, well, “local control” is only a good thing when the locals are doing what you want them to be doing, right? The Observer also covered this, and from their account it sounds like Ratliff got the better of the exchange.

Ratliff credited Patrick with helping to force CSCOPE’s lesson plans—which were once proprietary documents only available to subscribers—out into the public domain. Now they’re available online.

But Patrick wasn’t satisfied. “You should be concerned that, for six years, CSCOPE was violating the law,” Patrick said. “We cannot turn a blind eye and say ‘It’s alright. We take public taxpayer money, form a private company, we don’t have an address, we don’t have anything.’ You couldn’t find someone who worked at CSCOPE. It didn’t exist,” he said. “It did not exist.”

Patrick stoked vague fears about what more CSCOPE could be hiding. “What don’t we know?” he repeated.

To many of Patrick’s accusations, though, Ratliff had an answer. When Patrick said that the Texas Tribune conducted a study finding that children in CSCOPE schools performed poorly, Ratliff countered that the “study” was actually conducted by a 9th-grade business class using the Tribune’s online data.

“He’s pointing to a 9th-grade spreadsheet. I’m pointing to an email from a superintendent right here in Tyler; the superintendent in Llano that just defended himself against a frivolous lawsuit; and two doctoral theses: one done by a private Christian university known as Baylor University, the other done at Texas Tech University,” Ratliff responded. “The facts are clear, and if you look at the facts, CSCOPE does not impair, but it enhances student performance.”


Patrick chided Ratliff Saturday night for never having reviewed more than a few of CSCOPE’s lesson plans. But when Ratliff asked Patrick how many he’d read, Patrick said he hadn’t read any. It was a surprising moment, highlighting just how far the politics of CSCOPE are removed from its use in the classroom.

After the debate, Patrick said that Ratliff “made some valid points,” but could not remember any of them specifically. “Overall, he could not answer any of the questions that I put forward,” Patrick said. “I was surprised that the educators were cheering on something that they don’t know a lot about, and that they’re not concerned.”

Ratliff said he was confused by Patrick’s persistence in going after the curriculum. “If the issue was transparency, mission accomplished. But he’s not stopping. And the non-CSCOPE schools are next, because as soon as the Tea Party finds something in their curriculum they don’t like, they’re going after them,” Ratliff said.

He said he was disappointed by the political antics Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have used to prolong the CSCOPE controversy. “What this has become is a tug-of-war between two guys who want to be Lieutenant Governor,” Ratliff said. “And they’re using public schools as the rope.”

Well, it is primary season, and like some other candidates that don’t have anything substantive to say, Dan Patrick needs to remind the seething masses of the GOP electorate that he’s One Of Them. Be that as it may, I like that Ratliff and Patrick did this, and frankly I wish debates like this would happen more often. The nature of a debate like this, between two people who aren’t running against each other for something, makes it more focused and less prone to talking point responses.

Friday random ten: Millennium nostalgia

My inspiration this week is this Grantland playlist of the Top 64 Songs Of The Millennium. I presumed it was a decade retrospective thing, thus defined as the years 2000-2010, but it turns out that they just meant “since 2000”. I don’t have enough of these songs, including covers and parodies, to add up to ten – what can I say, I’m just not that into hip-hop – so I combed my library for ten of my top-rated songs from the last decade:

1. Hurricane Season – Trombone Shorty (2010)
2. Hurt Feelings – Flight Of The Conchords (2009)
3. How Long Do I Have To Wait For You? – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings (2008)
4. LDN – Lily Allen (2007)
5. Texican Style – Los Lonely Boys (2006)
6. Rehab – Amy Winehouse (2006)
7. Someday You Will Be Loved – Death Cab For Cutie (2005)
8. Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day (2004)
9. Hurt – Johnny Cash (2002)
10. Sell Out – Reel Big Fish (2001)

I tried where possible to avoid covers (the Johnny Cash masterpiece “Hurt” excluded), re-recordings (thanks to Popdose I have a ton of KCBO studio cuts, which are awesome but not at all indicative of the decade), live performances, local bands, and anything for which the year listed in iTunes was sketchy. I couldn’t find anything matching these criteria for 2000 or 2003, so I doubled up on 2006 to fill the gap. As it happens, “Rehab” is the one song from their list that I have and am responsible for in my library. I have four other non-covers that are there because Olivia asked for them – “Teenage Dream”, Katy Perry; “Bad Romance”, Lady GaGa; “Call Me Maybe”, Carly Rae Jepsen; and “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together”, Taylor Swift. I’ll add that Olivia has made a Taylor Swift fan out of me, but that song was from 2012 so I wasn’t looking for it. Anyway, I think this is a reasonably accessible list, not too cheesy and not too snooty. What are your faves since Y2K? Leave a comment and let us know.

Interview with Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

My last candidate interview for District A is a fitting bookend for the first one. Brenda Stardig was elected to District A in 2009, leading the pack in November and cruising in the subsequent runoff. It’s fair to say that her two years in office were tumultuous. Some people didn’t like the political choices she made, such as supporting the Renew Houston proposition, others didn’t think she was sufficiently engaged in the district and with her constituents. Previous Council Member Toni Lawrence, who had backed Stardig in 2009, switched her allegiance to challenger Helena Brown in 2011. It all added up to her defeat at the hands of CM Brown in the 2011 runoffs. It is also fair to say that CM Brown’s time in office has been tumultuous, and so Stardig, a realtor and former Super Neighborhood president, is back to try to get a second chance in office. Here’s the interview I did with Stardig in 2009, and here’s the interview for this year:

Brenda Stardig interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

We’ll have to wait a little longer for Wendy

Take the time you need, Sen. Davis.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democrats’ best hope to run for Texas governor, said Wednesday she is postponing the announcement of her decision so she can help care for her sick father.

“I had hoped to make public my decision about that next week, but with everything that’s going on with my dad, I won’t be doing that,” Davis said. “It’s likely it will be late September before I do.”

Davis’ father, Jerry Russell, has been in critical condition at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth following complications from abdominal surgery. In a Facebook post, Davis said Russell, who has been battling pneumonia, was “continuing to show small but positive steps toward improvement” but was “not out of the woods” yet.

Russell, an actor and director, is well known in North Texas theater circles. He is the founder of Stage West, a popular nonprofit theater company that offers dinner service. He was in the third week of production of his latest play, Thank You Jeeves, when he fell ill, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

My best wishes for a fast and full recovery for your father, Sen. Davis. I’m sure I speak for many when I say we understand and we’ll be ready when you are. BOR has more.

Just so we’re clear, cities don’t run the schools

Lisa Falkenberg does some fact checking.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

Houston Mayoral Candidate Ben Hall seems to have done his homework before he began claiming that, if elected, he’d have statutory authority over local schools.

But he apparently didn’t check his interpretation of the statute with the Texas Education Agency.

In an interview last week, Hall criticized Mayor Annise Parker for continuing “to remain silent” on education, and he took issue with Parker’s assertion that although her office is engaged in education-related activities, she doesn’t have statutory oversight.

“Well, one, she’s legally wrong on that,” Hall told me. “There is statutory authority for cities to take over even school districts or assets of school districts that are independent.”

I checked that statement with TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe, who researched the issue and found “the candidate is wrong.”

“Cities can regulate school districts in limited ways through general provisions like fire and safety codes,” Ratcliffe said, but the state ultimately regulates education and only the state education commissioner has the ability to “take over” or close a district.

One exception to the state’s power, Ratcliffe said, is something called a “municipal school district,” which has a hybrid governance that requires city council approval of the district budget. Ratcliffe said she believes the Stafford district is the only such hybrid left.

“But that is an anachronism,” Ratcliffe said. “Cities can’t run school districts any more than districts could cities.”

See here for the background. Now to be fair, this response isn’t the final word. I don’t know if Debbie Ratcliffe is a lawyer, but whether she is one or she just consulted with one, this is all just someone’s opinion, and in the absence of a court case one can reasonably dispute that particular interpretation of Texas’ education code. But ask yourself this question: What do you think would happen if Ben Hall were to try to exert some kind of authority over the schools to “expand education” according to his vision, whatever that vision may be? Do you think the two dozen or so school districts that overlap Houston will respond by saying “Sure, Mayor Hall! Whatever you want!”? Or do you think they will tell him, in polite but precise legal terminology, to go pound sand?

Again, if we had more details about what Hall has in mind, we could better judge whether his vision is realistic and/or worthwhile. As Falkenberg has documented, what he has said so far won’t fly. I really would be interested in hearing any ideas Hall might have to use the Mayor’s office to improve schools. But first he has to come up with something that he could actually do.

Lawsuit filed against Galveston County redistricting

Expect more of this going forward.

A Galveston County plan slashing the number of justice-of-the-peace districts from eight to four intentionally discriminates against minority voters and should be blocked, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

The lawsuit comes exactly one week after Galveston County commissioners approved a redistricting plan for justices of the peace similar to one rejected last year by the U.S. Justice Department. The department opposed the plan because it reduced the number of districts with black and Hispanic majorities from two to one, as does the one adopted last week.


By cutting the number of justice of the peace districts in half, Galveston commissioners reduced the number of judges from nine to four. Although the county has eight districts, there are nine justices of the peace because two are elected from a single precinct, an unusual arrangement arrived at under a 1992 consent judgment in a discrimination lawsuit.

Attorney Joe Nixon, whose firm was hired by the county to redraw the justice-of-the-peace districts, said the plan is in compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “It’s hard to say there was race involved when of the five seats lost one was a minority and four were non-minorities,” Nixon said. He said the proportion of minority districts is the same as in the plan the Justice Department approved for commissioner’s districts.

Attorney Chad Dunn, who filed the lawsuit, said the new plan is both intentionally discriminatory and has a discriminatory effect. “The county was already told by the Department of Justice that this plan was discriminatory,” Dunn said. “The county knew the plan was discriminatory and they did it anyway.”

See here for the background. The proportionality argument is interesting and may wind up being persuasive, but it didn’t work for getting preclearance. The county commissioners also argue that they can save a bunch of money by consolidating constables and JP courts, claiming that two of the courts they have targeted for elimination had very low caseloads; the plaintiffs in the lawsuit dispute this. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Texas federal court in Galveston, and a copy of the suit is here. Note that among other things, the plaintiffs ask that Galveston County be bailed in to preclearance requirements under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Whatever happens with the lawsuits against the state, local requests for Section 3 supervision will surely continue until clearer guidelines are set.

Interview with Ronald Hale

Ronald Hale

Ronald Hale

The third challenger to CM Helena Brown in District A is Ronald Hale. Hale is a private security consultant, currently the Director at NZ Control Specialists. His biography page says that he has maintained a blog since last year, though I couldn’t find a link to its index page. Please note that this interview was conducted at a restaurant in which there was a significant amount of background noise, so I apologize if the conversation is a little hard to hear. Here’s what we talked about:

Ronald Hale interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Who’s advocating for the Dome?

Some old familiar names are getting back in the game.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday after the Commissioners Court meeting name-dropped two former county judges — Jon Lindsay and Robert Eckels — who will lead the charge on a campaign to garner support for an Astrodome renovation project.

A $217 million bond referendum to turn the vacant stadium into a massive, energy-efficient convention hall and exhibition space will appear on the ballot this November.

“You know, I know former Judge Eckels, former Judge Lindsay, people at the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., are talking about it,” Emmett told reporters. “Now, how it gets formed, they have to wait and see.”

Lindsay confirmed on Wednesday that he and Eckels, who will serve as treasurer, are, indeed, planning to lead the charge. He said they have had one meeting with the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., which conceived the renovation proposal, and are planning another for next week.

“All I can say right now is we’re working on it and trying to get organized,” Lindsay, first elected in 1974, said, describing the effort as “preliminary.”

He said that Edgar Colón, chairman of the sports corporation, the county agency that runs Reliant Park, likely would chair the campaign.

I believe this is the earlier story to which that refers. Eckels and Lindsay, who offered some warnings about the two of them being a bit out of shape for fundraising and campaign-running, are likely as good as anyone to do this. They know the county and they ought to be credible to a large segment of the electorate. Both Judge Emmett and Commissioner El Franco Lee will be on board with them as well. Honestly, I don’t know that you could have gotten a better team, all things considered.

More from that KHOU story:

“I think it’s going to take some sort of organized effort,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political science professor and KHOU analyst. “Bond proposals of this sort usually succeed when there’s an overwhelming majority of campaigning and spending on behalf of a bond.”

Emmett said a number of people have talked about leading the effort, but nobody’s grabbing the ball to run with it.

“Typically, right after Labor Day is when things crank up,” Emmett said. “And so we don’t know who all is going to be involved, frankly.”

Among people who’ve watched with dismay as the dome has fallen into disrepair, this only fuels suspicion that a failed bond election will give county leaders political cover to destroy the dome. Even a Houston Chronicle editorial recently opined, “The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation comes to bury the Astrodome, not to praise it …We’ll see it on the ballot only with the intent of it being voted down.”

That suggestion leaves Emmett visibly annoyed.

“No, I don’t think that’s right at all,” Emmett said. “I think that we spent so much time trying to find a private use for the dome and none of those were funded. Then we had to decide what the best public use is, and I think that’s what’s before the voters right now.”

As before, I’ll side with Judge Emmett on this. Harris County was set to move on a privately-funded plan for the Dome in 2008, but that fell through when the economy bottomed out. Maybe the Court could have acted last year, but not much earlier than that. They also could have waited for another private investor with sufficient capital to step up, but despite the plethora of suggestions for what to do with the Dome, no one with financing in hand has come forward. I don’t know if Eckels and Lindsay can fully quiet the conspiracy-minded, but they ought to muffle them a bit.

Whether the referendum passes may depend largely on the age of the voters who turn out in November. Polling conducted during the past few years for KHOU and KUHF Houston Public Radio has shown a curious generational pattern. The strongest supporters of preserving The Astrodome tend to be older voters, who are more likely to have seen games in the historic stadium. Younger voters are more likely to oppose spending bond money on saving the dome.

Generally speaking, off year elections skew in the direction of older voters. I don’t know what the dividing line is in the poll cited, but I feel pretty comfortable predicting that the average voter this year is likely to be north of 50. When I said earlier that Eckels and Lindsay ought to have credibility with a chunk of the electorate, these are the people I had in mind. Who better to talk to a bunch of old voters than a couple of old politicians, right? PDiddie, John Coby, and KUHF have more.

Heights-area bike trails to be linked

Excellent news.

Getting from the MKT bike trail to the West White Oak Bayou trail

Houston’s expanding trail system will soon gain a new leg in the greater Heights area.

The addition will be part of Bayou Greenways 2020, a $215 million project aimed at creating a continuous network of hike-and-bike trails and parks along the city’s 10 major bayous.

“This is just one critical piece that will be a great help to the Heights area and the White Oak Bayou trail system,” said Heights resident Kevin Shanley, a former president of the White Oak Preservation Association.

The current trail along White Oak Bayou originally ran from 11th Street north to Watonga. As it grew in popularity, it was extended north from Watonga to Antoine. The expansion was completed last year.

In addition, a downstream section has been added from Stude Park to the University of Houston-Downtown campus.

Also in place is the Heights Hike & Bike Trail, which runs along the Missouri-Kansas-Texas rail line in the Heights from south of 11th Street near Eureka across the Heights community.

The planned section of trail, 1.35 miles, will connect the Heights segment to the existing White Oak Bayou Trail. The project will include replacing a burnt-out bridge over White Oak Bayou. Groundbreaking on this section will take place this fall, Shanley said. The work could be done by fall 2014.

“When the first leg is complete, you’ll be able to ride from (the University of Houston-Downtown) all the way to Antoine,” he said.

Ultimately, the trail will extend much further west/northwest than that, but it’s the connection between the MKT (Heights) and White Oak trails that specifically interests me. I wrote about this two years ago in response to an earlier story by Marty Hajovsky about the effort to link these trails. In the embedded image above, it’s the purple line that represents what is to be built. Making that connection will do a lot to expand bike transit in this area, and I’m delighted to see it happen.

One of the many nice things about these trails is that for the most part they are off the streets and separated from traffic, which makes riding on them quite safe. There are places where the MKT and Nicholson trails in the Heights do cross streets, and in some places those crossings are a bit hazardous. In an earlier entry, Hajovsky wrote about efforts by the neighborhood to mitigate the dangers at these crossings.

Last month, the HHA board sent a letter to District C City Council Member Ellen Cohen, Mayor Annise Parker and other city officials calling for safety improvements at six locations where the Nicholson/SP and MKT Rails to Trails bike trails cross major streets. For those of us who use those paths regularly, frequently with kids, as well as those of us who cross those paths in cars regularly (raising hands as I’m included in both of these groups), this would be a major improvement.

The six locations were identified in an independent traffic engineering study obtained by the Heights Association. According to a report in the HHA newsletter that goes out to members, the group claims that the changes should “enhance the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians without significant delays to motorists.” Here’s an excerpt from that newsletter:

The study recommends (1) installation of pedestrian hybrid beacons (“HAWK lights”) where the trail crosses Heights Boulevard, Yale, West 11th, West 19th, and West 20th; (2) installation of in-roadway lighting where the trail crosses White Oak, and (3) enhanced traffic signals and pavement markings at all six crossings. We note that the City has recently installed “bike crossing” pavement markings on the roadway approaches to the MKT intersections at 7th and Yale, 11th and Nicholson, and Columbia and White Oak.

Driving and riding over those six sites frequently, the safety problems are obvious. At West 19th, the Nicholson/SP trail splits from a single trail north of West 19th, to a split trail on both sides of the street to the south. It is so common to see children on bicycles, jogger or walkers darting across the road there to avoid oncoming traffic.

And since the bike trail covers what once were railroad tracks, the trail is on something of a rise in the street at all six of these locations. That makes the bike path hard to make out for oncoming drivers, whose cars are already “at pace” along all six of those streets. On white Oak and West 19th, with the shops, restaurants and bars, there are plenty of distractions already, further endangering trail users.

I personally would rank the intersections at Yale and 11th as the most dangerous because they’re the busiest and fastest-moving. Heights is basically two separate one-way streets, and I find that a lot easier to cross safely, and there isn’t as much traffic on 19th and 20th in my experience. The HAWK signals are still a good idea for all the locations – I’d like one installed at that White Oak crossing, too – but if I had to prioritize them, that’s how I’d do it. Houstonia has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy new school year as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Interview with Amy Peck

Amy Peck

Amy Peck

Two of the candidates that are running against CM Helena Brown in District A have run for this seat before. One of them is Amy Peck, who ran for District A when it was last open in 2009; here’s the interview I did with her for that race. Peck has been in public service for some time now, working as the District Director for Senator Dan Patrick for the past six years, and for Senator Jon Lindsay before that. She volunteers at Texas Children’s Hospital and at the VA hospital in Houston. She’s also a blogger, which you know is something I respect. Here’s the interview:

Amy Peck interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

The 2013 lineup

So many candidates.

He’s baaaaaaack…

More than 60 candidates have filed to run for city of Houston elective office this fall, many of them rushing in before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.


Atop the ballot, [Mayor Annise] Parker is challenged by wealthy attorney Ben Hall, conservative Eric Dick, repeat Green Party candidate Don Cook, and six others. City Controller Ron Green is opposed by accountant Bill Frazer.

The ballot’s most crowded council race, with 11 contenders, will be for District D, the south Houston seat held by term-limited Wanda Adams, who has filed to run for a seat on the Houston ISD board.

Looking to succeed Adams are several candidates who have sought the seat or other council posts before, including Dwight Boykins, Larry McKinzie, Lana Edwards and Keith Caldwell. First-time contenders include Anthony Robinson, a businessman and lawyer who was exonerated after serving 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and Houston Housing Authority vice-chair Assata-Nicole Richards, who briefly was homeless and went on to earn a doctorate in sociology.


Other notable filings include Issa Dadoush, who formerly ran the facilities department for the city, then HISD. He will challenge incumbent Councilman C.O. Bradford. Perennial candidate Michael “Griff” Griffin – who said his 10th failed bid for City Council in 2011 would be his last – also filed, against At-Large 1 incumbent Councilman Stephen Costello.

So we will have Griff to kick around again. Whoop-de-doo. No, I will not be interviewing him. My to-do list is a little longer now, but it doesn’t include Griff. Life is too short.

I’m still working on my 2013 Election page, since there are some names that remain unknown to me. I’ll wait and see what the final list of candidates on the City Secretary page looks like before I declare the page finalized. Some races are no different – At Large #2, Districts A, C, and I. Apparently, neither Chris Carmona nor Al Edwards filed in At Large #3, leaving that field a bit smaller than I’d have expected. The Bradford/Dadoush race in At Large #4 is potentially interesting. I know of at least one more candidate in At Large #5, James “father of Noah” Horwitz. And my God, could we possibly have more Mayoral candidates?

The big non-city-race news is the retirement of HISD Trustee Larry Marshall.

Marshall, who turned 81 in June, first was elected to the board of the Houston Independent School District in 1997. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The other four incumbents up for re-election are running, and two face opponents.

A civil lawsuit filed by a construction contractor in late 2010 put Marshall under intense scrutiny, accusing him of a bribery and kickback scheme with his political campaign treasurer to help certain construction firms land HISD contracts.

The Houston Chronicle also has reported that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office had launched a criminal investigation tied to the lawsuit.


The candidates running for Marshall’s seat are: W. Clyde Lemon, who served on the board in the mid-1990s; City Councilwoman Wanda Adams; Anthony Madry, a former HISD assistant principal; and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot.

I need to update the District IX race on the 2013 Election page, but I have the other races right – Anna Eastman versus Hugo Mojica in I, Harvin Moore versus Anne Sung in VII, and nobody versus Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VIII. At least these races are straightforward.

Not mentioned as far as I can tell are the HCC Trustee races. Five trustees are up for election, thanks to the two appointments. Two incumbents, Neeta Sane and Bruce Austin, have no opponents that I am aware of. Yolanda Navarro Flores, who in 2011 lost a defamation lawsuit against her colleagues, is opposed by educator Zeph Capo and civic activist Kevin Hoffman, who narrowly lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. Herlinda Garcia, a former trustee who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by State Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HCC 3, is opposed by Adriana Tamez and Dane Cook. Leila Feldman, appointed to replace Richard Schechter after he resigned, is opposed by Phil Kunetka. Among other things, this means that the tail end of my interviewing schedule will be fuller than I originally thought it would be. As I said, these are the races I’m aware of. If I’ve missed anything, let me know. Stace and Campos have more.

“Poopgate” is a big load of…

Well, you know.

Documents released Monday by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s provided no new evidence that officers found one jar of urine and 18 containers of feces at the Capitol before a July 12 debate on a controversial abortion bill.

DPS released a press statement the day of the debate that said officers had discovered one jar suspected of containing urine and 18 jars suspected to contain feces. After initially resisting requests for additional information about the reported discoveries, DPS on Monday released 144 pages of documents about the alleged incident. But the documents contain no official reports of the findings, and several DPS officers said they had not seen any of the suspected items.

The documents included photos that show a bottle of acrylic paint and a small jar — reportedly collected at the Senate gallery entrance — that DPS Commander Jose Ortiz said he was “trying to getting clarification on.” There was also a photo of three bricks collected in the Capitol extension.

In a text message exchange three days after the debate, one DPS employee asked others if they were aware of “urine or feces taken during our shakedowns.” Three employees responded that they had not seen any discoveries of excrement.

DPS director Steve McCraw indicated he was frustrated about media reporting on the incident, and in a July 14 email he asked DPS officers to give the media photos of the suspected items.

“I’m tired of reading that we made this stuff up,” Steven McCraw wrote in an email. “Let’s get the photos we have to members and the media. Does anyone realistically believe we would fabricate evidence to support a political agenda. Amazing.”

Well, Steve, the evidence, or rather the lack of any evidence to back up that ridiculous, irresponsible, and inflammatory press release you put out on July 13 (scroll down here to see it), would suggest that’s exactly what you did. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but you have a past history of dirty tricks, so you get zero benefit of the doubt from me. Cry me a river if you don’t like it.

The Observer was first out with the story of DPS’ document dump, which came after several weeks of stonewalling on their part. I refer you to this remarkable exchange at the end:

A DPS spokesman responded to questions from the Observer. Here are the question we posed and the agency’s response in its entirety.

1) What advantage did closely monitoring social media accounts provide DPS?

We do not discuss security measures or methods.

2) How did DPS gather intelligence on the meetings of activist groups? Were there undercover law enforcement personnel present at the meetings?

We do not discuss security measures or methods.

3) The documents still do not show any evidence of those “suspected” jars of feces and urine despite Director McCraw’s requests to produce any photos showing potential disruptive objects. Was DPS definitively unable to locate any photographic (or other) of these items?

We have no additional information to provide you.

4) Is it routine for DPS to monitor the social media accounts of private citizens?

We do not discuss security measures or methods.

Transparency, y’all. I didn’t blog about this before because there was just too much else going on at the time, but needless to say the wild and unsubstantiated claims by DPS, based on little more than rumor and fearmongering on Twitter by anti-choice activists got wide play, egged on by shameless political opportunists like David Dewhurst. The truth will likely never dislodge the belief that any of this really happened, but at least now we know the truth. BOR, nonsequiteuse, PDiddie, and Juanita have more, and I have a special musical dedication to Steve McCraw and his poop-seeking cronies:

It’s a little gross in places, but could hardly be more fitting.

On selling junk food in Texas schools

Every session, there’s at least one bill that gets passed with little to no notice that has completely unforeseen effects. The Lunch Tray breaks a story about one such bill from this past regular session, which has to do with the sale of junk food in Texas schools.

When it comes to the sale of junk food on campus, high schools tend to be the biggest offenders. Here in Houston ISD, for example, high school students, PTOs and coaches often set up fundraising tables at lunch to sell entrees from local restaurants and fast food chains, everything from pizza to Chinese food, creating veritable “food courts” of junk food.  Students often prefer to buy these items rather than eat in overcrowded cafeterias or go off campus, and the fundraisers are so lucrative that some principals not only turn a blind eye to them, they are rarely deterred even when TDA fines the school for a violation.

Last spring, though, [Texas Department of Agriculture] got serious and imposed fines totaling $73,000 on eight Houston high schools for illegal competitive food sales.*  Those eye-popping fines made headlines and local TV news, and apparently motivated someone to head up to the state house in Austin to successfully lobby on the issue.

Alluding to the recent TDA fines imposed in Houston, Republican House Representative Ken King introduced in the last legislative session HB1781 which “ensure[s] that Texas high schools have the freedom” to continue junk food fundraisers and which expressly forbids the TDA from fining those schools based on the food’s nutritional content.  Six Republican and two Democratic representatives joined King in co-sponsoring the bill, which ultimately passed and was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry on June 14th.  The law is now in effect statewide.

So while the nation as whole is moving forward on issues relating to childhood obesity and poor nutrition, Texas has taken a big leap backward in protecting fundraising that directly and adversely impacts student health.  That development is disheartening enough, but here’s where it gets really messy.

Whoever drafted HB1781 decided to use some legislative shorthand to describe the types of foods that high schools may continue to sell.  But instead of referring back to the state regulations the bill is trying to thwart, HB1781 instead allows Texas high schools to sell “foods of minimal nutritional value” (FMNV), as that term is defined by federal law.

The federal definition of FMNV harks back to the 1970s when there were virtually no rules regarding competitive food and the government was trying to keep the “worst of the worst” out of school cafeterias during meal times.  FMNV is defined generally as foods providing less than 5% of the daily value of certain nutrients and specifically as: sodas and other carbonated beverages; water ices; chewing gum; and certain types of candy — hard candy, jellies and gums, marshmallows, fondants, licorice, spun candy and candy-coated popcorn.

So while the Texas legislature was trying to allow high schools to sell fast food entrees at lunch, its sloppy drafting has inadvertently limited high schools to selling only a few foods – basically soda and candy – identified by the federal government over forty years ago as the least healthy for our children.

As TLT notes, when new federal regulations go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year, Texas will be in violation of them. Will Greg Abbott and/or one of the Abbott wannabees sue the federal government to defend Texas’ precious right to let its public schools sell Royal Crown and Moon Pies in school cafeterias? I’ll be honest, I’m kind of rooting for them to do so, just because I think the briefs would be hilarious. Be that as it may, I will point out that HB 1781 passed the House unanimously on the Local and Consent calendar, meaning that it was a bill that was fast-tracked for passage on the grounds that there was basically no opposition to it. What that says to me is that the contents and effect of the bill where not well understood. The TDA may be able to do some things with the implementation of this bill to mitigate its effects, but ultimately it will take an act of the next Legislature to fix this. Hopefully now that this issue has been raised, it can be dealt with.

Interview with Mike Knox

Mike Knox

Mike Knox

There are four candidates seeking to oust first term CM Helena Brown in District A. The first one I spoke to is Mike Knox. Knox is a former HPD officer who helped create HPD’s first divisional gang unit. He later wrote a book about gang culture and is now a nationally recognized expert on the subject. He left HPD after the publication of his book to form a consulting business and still consults with HPD on this issue. He has served as a Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, as a board member of the Spring Branch Education Foundation, and as the Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. Here’s what we talked about:

Mike Knox interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

No Early To Rise on the ballot

Place your bets on the outcome of the litigation.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Monday he would not place a 1-cent property tax on the November ballot intended to buoy area pre-schools, prompting a lawsuit by a local nonprofit that suppliedtens of thousands of signatures on a petition asking him to do so.

Emmett, a critic of the effort since it launched at the beginning of summer, said the ballot language on the petition does not comply with a certain chapter of the Texas Education Code.


Citing a seven-page legal opinion by a private lawyer, Emmett conceded that the antiquated law still is applicable, because a section of the education code says it is, but said that the ballot language on the petition is too specific about both the nature of the proposed tax – specifically, that it says the tax would be “additional,” on top of the education department’s current 1-cent taxing authority – and how it would be used.

“Describing the requested tax as ‘additional’ is a significant departure from the statute because there is no authority in Chapter 18 for more than one tax,” Emmett said at a news conference on Monday, the last day items could be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot. “If early childhood expenditures can be controlled by the general public through a tax election, then why not vocational educational, agricultural education, adult education, special education or any other source of educational programs that the public imagination might run to?”

Emmett said he could not change the ballot language because it would be different than the language on the petition that people had signed.

His lawyer, William Bednar, who drafted the opinion, confirmed that if the language had been different – meaning less restrictive – Emmett would have had to order the election.

See here for more on the dispute over the law. Judge Emmett’s decision is not a surprise, though honestly neither direction would have been a surprise. One reason why Judge Emmett received legal advice from a private lawyer is that he did not receive an opinion from the AG’s office prior to the announcement. You can search the Attorney General’s opinions and see for yourself if you want. You can get a little peek at the legal advice Judge Emmett got on Chron reporter Kiah Collier’s Twitter feed. It won’t tell you much, but it’s more than what the AG had to say. This too is not a big surprise, since the opinion process is usually measured in months, but in this case it meant Emmett had to go out on his own. For the third non-surprise of the day, the Early To Rise folks announced immediately afterward that they were filing suit. Here’s their press release.

“Because we believe the law requires the county judge to place this issue before the voters, we will be filing a petition for a writ of mandamus in behalf of the registered voters who signed the petition requesting relief from the Court of Appeals,” said attorneys Richard Mithoff and Russell Post, who are representing Jonathan Day in behalf of registered voters who signed the petition seeking to put the issue on the ballot.

“This is not about Judge Emmett. He is a committed and conscientious public official,” Mithoff said. “This is not about the wisdom of the early childhood initiative: voters may disagree about whether revenue should be raised for this project.”

“This is about the law,” he said.

The Texas Legislature has authorized voters to petition for an election to authorize their government to levy and collect taxes for educational purposes. The requirement to invoke this procedure represents a high hurdle–requiring the support of 10% of voters from the last gubernatorial election. We have now validated more than twice that number.

Under these circumstances, the Texas Legislature has mandated that a county judge has no discretion to second-guess the will of the people. Rather, “the county judge . . . shall immediately order an election.” This command is unambiguous and unequivocal; it must be enforced.

Therefore, this initiative should be put before the voters to decide if early childhood education is something they want to invest in.

Emmett is quoted in that Chron story saying he expected to get sued no matter what he decided. As I’ve been saying that this will ultimately be decided in court, I believe him. I will note that I received an advisory about Mithoff’s press conference an hour before Emmett’s presser was scheduled to begin, so I’d say it’s a fair conclusion that Early To Rise knew which way the wind was blowing.

[The lawsuit] implores Emmett to order the election immediately, and requests the court make a decision by Sept. 16 “assuring sufficient time to satisfy the printing deadline for” the election.

I have no idea which way the courts will go. I’m not sure this will be truly settled in time for the election – I suspect that no matter what happens, there will be more to come afterward. What do you think will happen?

Texas Supreme Court to hear gay divorce case

That sound you hear is a big can of worms being opened.


The Texas Supreme Court announced Friday that it will determine whether same-sex couples, legally married in other states, can be granted a divorce in Texas.

The cases, involving couples from Austin and Dallas, will be the first test of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court determined this summer that marriage laws can be unconstitutional if they relegate legally married same-sex couples to second-class status.

Oral argument will be Nov. 5, and a ruling isn’t expected for months afterward.

Attorney General Greg Abbott argues that Texas law not only limits marriage to opposite-sex couples, it forbids any action — including divorce — that recognizes or validates a same-sex marriage obtained out of state.

Lawyers for the couples, two Austin women and two Dallas men who were married in Massachusetts, say Abbott lacks the authority to intervene in their lives because divorce is a private matter that does not obligate Texas to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state.

But if Texas can deny same-sex couples the right to divorce, then the state’s ban on gay marriage should be overturned, the couples argue.

Here’s the history, for those of you who tuned in late. In October 2009, a Dallas district court judge ruled that it “has jurisdiction to hear a suit for divorce filed by persons legally married in another jurisdiction”, which in this case includes same-sex couples. AG Greg Abbott subsequently intervened in that case, and in a February 2010 case in which a Travis County district court judge granted a divorce to a same-sex couple. The Fifth District Court of Appeals heard the appeal in the Dallas case in April 2010, and the court overturned the district court ruling in September 2010. The Third Court of Appeals heard the appeal of the Austin case in December 2010, and upheld the district court ruling in January 2011. That was the last update before now, and as Texpatriate correctly notes, when appeals courts issue contradictory rulings, that’s when it’s up to the Supreme Court to step in and sort it all out.

The Dallas Observer and the Dallas Voice have more. The latter contains a reader comment that sums up the possible outcomes:

– Holding that Texas’s laws denies divorce proceedings and are consistent with the Constitution. This will reverse the judgment of the Texas 3rd Coa, and affirm the judgment of the Texas 5th CoA. Naylor, Daly, and J.B. will have the option to seek certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. If they fail to do so, or the Supreme Court denies cert, the divorce petitions will be denied as soon as the family courts resume jurisdiction, and marriage equality claims will be barred in Texas state courts as a matter of precedent.

– Holding that Texas lacked jurisdiction to appeal the divorce cases. The Texas 5th CoA ruling will be vacated, and the Texas 3rd CoA ruling will be affirmed. The divorce decrees will be issued as soon as the family courts resume jurisdiction. This will only set precedent as to the state’s standing to intervene and appeal divorce decrees. It will not settle the issue of whether Texas family courts may entertain divorce petitions from same-sex couples.

– Holding that Texas law allows same-sex divorce. This will affirm the judgment (though not the reasoning) of the Texas 3rd CoA, and reverse the judgment of the Texas 5th CoA. Because no federal question would be answered, there will be no opportunity for United states Supreme Court review. The divorce decrees will be issued as soon as the family courts resume jurisdiction, and, as a matter of binding judicial precedent, Texas family courts will have jurisdiction to hear divorce suits brought by same-sex couples.

– Holding that Texas’s laws that denies divorce proceedings violate the 14th Amendment. This will affirm the judgment (though not the reasoning) of the Texas 3rd CoA, and reverse the judgment of the Texas 5th CoA. It is almost certain the state will seek certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court denies cert, then the divorce decrees will be issued as soon as the family courts resume jurisdiction, and more significantly, marriage equality will exist as binding juidicial precedent upon all Texas state courts and state and local executive officials.

What happens after that is anyone’s guess. And while you’re pondering that, remember that there’s also a transgender divorce case out there waiting for some clarity, too.

Texas cities embracing bicycles

It’s a good thing.

In Fort Worth, the mayor hosts occasional bicycle rides called “Rolling Town Halls.” The Dallas City Council could may soon require new businesses to set aside space for bicycle parking. Over in El Paso, officials are developing plans for a bike-share system, which is expected to be the fifth such program in the state after Austin’s makes its debuts this year.

In car-clogged communities around Texas, a biking movement is gaining speed. Midsize and large cities are expanding bike trails and putting roads on “lane diets” to accomodate bike lanes.

“Biking has just exploded over the last year in Houston,” said Laura Spanjian, director of Mayor Annise Parker’s office of sustainability.

While curbing traffic and air pollution prompted earlier interest in such initiatives, those concerns are now overshadowed in some cities by other motivating factors, particularly boosts to public health, quality of life and economic development.

“It’s really being embraced for solving a lot of problems. It’s not this sort of fringe, tree-hugger issue anymore,” said Linda DuPriest, a former bicycle-pedestrian program coordinator for Austin who is now a senior planner for Alta Planning + Design, a Portland, Ore.-based design firm that focuses on bike infrastructure. In June, DuPriest opened the agency’s Texas office in Dallas.

“Texas is really ripe” for an expansion in bike infrastructure, said Mia Birk, the firm’s president and a former bicycle program manager with the City of Portland, widely regarded as a national model for biking infrastructure. “There’s so many cities that are growing and thriving, and really looking for ways to create healthier opportunities for residents and businesses.”


“People who are trying to attract people and businesses to their cities get it,” said Robin Stallings of BikeTexas, an advocacy group. “If they want to get their kids to come back after college, if they want to get any kind of high-tech industry, they need this stuff.”

“Our population is trending younger, and I think younger populations are wanting more density and want to live closer to where they live, play, shop and eat,” Spanjian said.


“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that within two years of each other, we have four Texas cities with bike-share programs,” Spanjian said.

Developing such programs in Texas poses unique challenges, Birk said, because the cities are more spread out and less crowded than in many other states.

“When you have very high density but that smaller footprint, you also have a competition over space and a lot of humans debating how we use that space,” Birk said. Many Texas cities, she said, have almost the opposite problem: so much space that it is more difficult to convince people that biking is a practical way to get around.

Advocates often stress the value of biking for short trips and as a means of connecting with public transportation.

“About two to three miles is the sweet spot where it really can be more efficient and faster to take a bike,” said Annick Beaudet, a City of Austin planner who had previously worked as bicycle program manager for the city.

Here’s more about Austin’s forthcoming bike share program, and about El Paso’s program, which has run into some obstacles. This is a quality of life issue first and foremost, even more than it is a transportation issue. A lot of people want to live in the inner urban core, younger people especially. Driving and especially parking becomes problematic because there isn’t the space to easily accommodate everyone and their cars. Facilitating biking, especially for short trips, alleviates a lot of these problems and makes it more practical for amenities like bars, restaurants, and small retail to exist. That often requires ordinance and code changes as well, but the cities are dealing with those as well. The cities are competing with the suburbs and outlying areas for new residents and businesses. Solving these problems, and making their spaces be the kind of places new residents want to live is the key.

Interview with CM Helena Brown

CM Helena Brown

CM Helena Brown

We now enter the realm of district Council races, where in addition to two open seats there are two incumbents that face credible challenges. One of those incumbents is first term District A Council Member Helena Brown. If you’ve been a reader here for the last year or so you’re probably familiar with CM Brown, about whom I have written frequently. Obviously, she and I are not on the same page politically, but she represents a conservative district and is philosophically in line with many of its voters. She is a frequent critic of city spending, and often votes against ordinances that she believes are not good priorities for the city, though in the interview you’re about to listen to she points out that she votes Yes a lot more than she votes No. I had not met CM Brown before we sat down for this interview, and all I knew about her was what I had read and heard from others, so I was glad to have this opportunity to talk with her. Here’s the interview:

Helena Brown interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

More redistricting shenanigans on the way

The city of Galveston prepares to make like Pasadena.

[Gulf Coast Interfaith], which includes representatives of the NAACP and others, sent a letter Thursday to the city of Galveston’s attorney also questioning the wisdom of the city seeking to make a change by having two council seats elected city-wide, rather than coming from individual districts. Similar plans were shot down four different times when submitted to the Justice Department for pre-clearance. In the letter, the ad hoc group said the city is taking the opportunity provided by the court decision “to attack the voting rights of the minority community.”

The letter called the plan part of a “racist onslaught of efforts around America to turn the clock back,” and said that Galveston will be one of the places where there is a “pitched political battle to obtain and maintain equal rights.”

The proposed plan, the group said, would reduce the number of districts in which the majority of the residents were minority from three to two.

But the Galveston council, which has hired an attorney to study the possibility of resurrecting this redistricting plan, believes an at-large councilman will take a broader, rather than parochial, view of the city’s needs.

And if that means eliminating a minority opportunity district or two and making it harder for minorities to get elected in the future, well, that’s just the way it goes. Don’t expect this to be the end, either. There’s a reason why cities like Farmers Branch – and Houston, thirty-some years ago – were ordered to implement single-member districts in place of their all-at-large systems. There’s nothing wrong a priori with a hybrid district/at large approach, but given the previous rejections by the Justice Department and the sneaky way these jurisdictions are going about it now, they don’t get any benefit of the doubt.

Dems have a Comptroller candidate

BOR introduces us to Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Earlier this month the Burnt Orange Report wrote about a “Mystery Houston-Area Democrat” who was building a statewide team, it turns out that man is Mike Collier, and he wants to be the next Comptroller for the state of Texas. The Houston businessman believes our state government needs an experienced CFO to handle its complex accounting and to hold our current elected officials accountable.

Collier not only wants the job, but believes he is the most qualified. He says Texas needs a Comptroller with a professional financial background and one who is not using the position as a stepping stone for higher office.

“For too long, the people we’ve hired to mind Texas’ tax dollars have been more interested in their political ambition than in holding politicians accountable. Texas needs a Comptroller who has the courage to tell taxpayers the truth and who has the know-how to hold the Texas legislature accountable.”

Collier says his business experience will be attractive to conservatives but that, “the Comptroller shouldn’t be beholden to the Republican party,” instead they should offer an independent view of the state’s finances. He served as executive assistant to the world chairman of Price Waterhouse, the world’s largest professional services firm with over 100,000 employees. He was a partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers for a dozen years and for a time served as a Merger and Acquisition consultant for their major energy clients. He left PWC to become Chief Financial Officer for an energy company. He then met a crossroads after he helped sell the company two years later — take a lucrative job in the private sector or step up and run for public office.


He is encouraged by the crowded field in the Republican primary which could leave the emerging candidate bloodied and broke. Another reason he cited was the “Wendy Davis factor”. He looks forward to her campaign energizing the donor base and spearheading an effective effort to get out the vote, but says that it’s her polling with anglos that could give Democrats the best opportunity to win that they have had in a very long time.

I am not yet acquainted with Mr. Collier, but I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to meet him soon enough. Collier joins John Cook in the potential Democratic field for 2014, though of course we’re all just waiting for Sen. Wendy Davis’ announcement and to see what follows from there. I have heard about some other candidate recruitment going on, but nothing that I can say out loud just yet. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about once we know what Sen. Davis’ decision is. In the meantime, welcome to the race and best of luck to you, Mike Collier.

Rape kit backlog eliminated

More good news.

For the first time in its history, the Houston Police Department doesn’t have a backlog of rape kits that haven’t been tested.

The backlog, which at one point totalled 6,600 untested rape kits, was eliminated by sending the kits to outside labs, Chief Charles McClelland said.

“There is no backlog regarding DNA (evidence) and sexual assault kits,” said McClelland, adding that lab results are beginning to arrive back at the police department and criminal investigations will be updated if usable evidence is found.

The police department used federal grants and city funding to pay for processing the rape kits, in addition to testing evidence in other pending cases for possible DNA, the chief said. Rape kits are the informal term for biological samples as well as physical evidence gathered from victims of sexual assaults, which are later processed to see if they match the DNA of a suspect.

Police officials say they have the laboratory capacity, both inside HPD and in outside labs, to keep a backlog from developing.

It was back in March that Council unanimously approved a plan by Mayor Parker to allocate funds to clear the backlog by sending all of the kits to two outside labs. I presume what this story really means is that as of now all of the kits have been physically transferred from HPD’s possession to those two labs. The fact that HPD is now able to process all of the DNA evidence it collects in a timely manner so that no new backlogs develop is at least as big a deal as the clearing of the backlog that had existed for so many years.

Past critics of the department’s forensic services, including the city’s largest police union, say they expect the crime lab not to ever lag behind again.

“Under this chief and mayor, it better be sustainable because they made it very clear to the (assistant) chief who took over that position that it is not going to happen again,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officer’s Union. “I’m very confident, under this administration, that there won’t be a backlog. That is something that has to happen – you can’t get behind.”

Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard said that HPD investigators receive about 1,000 new sexual assault cases each year, and these cases are also being sent to a pair of outside laboratories. Other criminal cases needing forensic testing are being processed in the HPD lab.

This is a big deal and an accomplishment of which Mayor Parker should be justifiably proud. It will make the transition to the new crime lab structure much smoother, and it means that the new crime lab can be more aggressive about pursuing and analyzing DNA evidence in property crime cases. All in all, a very good day for the city.

Weekend link dump for August 25

School starts tomorrow, y’all.

Here are some photos of giant sinkholes. You’re welcome.

“So, you know, in keeping with Newton’s Laws, every bit of grandiose idiocy is matched with an equal and opposite bit of grandiose idiocy.”

How Twitter fights spambots. It’s harder than it looks.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you isolate yourself from the culture at large.

It’s tough being a Republican these days. And no, they don’t deserve any sympathy for that.

Want to go to Mars? Sure thing! Want to come back? Um, let me get back to you on that.

Here’s one way to get Facebook’s attention.

“It seems to us that Google’s reasons for blocking [Microsoft’s YouTube app] are manufactured so that we can’t give our users the same experience Android and iPhone users are getting. The roadblocks Google has set up are impossible to overcome, and they know it.”

An oral history (wink wink, nudge nudge) of HBO’s Real Sex. Did you know its production team was basically all women?

From the Some Guys Have All The Luck department.

That Chubby Checker app isn’t what you think it is.

The “paradox of choice” isn’t a paradox, it’s a myth.

Playboy versus Marfa.

So are the business types repelled by the crazy of the modern GOP, or is their singular focus on tax cuts for themselves enough to overcome any lingering distaste?

Good call, NCAA.

Ted and man at Princeton.

“If you go back far enough to recall that what became Medicaid was originally a Republican alternative to universal health coverage, the repudiation of their own ideas in the war on Obamacare becomes pretty much complete.”

RIP, Elmore Leonard. No author had a better track record of movies made from his books.

“Obama is the president; he’s a Democrat; the right doesn’t like him; ergo impeachment is a credible option. QED.”

Peggy Noonan is a dishonest hack. You already knew that, right?

“And if voter-I.D. laws were solely designed to prevent fraudulent voting, rather than to winnow minorities and other Democratic-leaning constituencies from the electorate, why would they be paired with a host of other measures that do not prevent voter fraud but do winnow Democrats from the electorate?”

Don’t mess with Barbie.

“More than 70 percent of the new abortion restrictions enacted in the first half of 2013 don’t include any kind of exemption for pregnancies that result from rape.”

Canadians understand they’re getting the better deal by far in Ted Cruz’s renunciation of his Canadian citizenship.

“Yes, I know this makes me the Ron Jaworski of pool dunks. I’m cool with that.”

“Rather, as reporters, we should all be careful to ask ourselves: ‘Are we exercising our due diligence when it comes to bullshit, click-bait stories about rich naked folks steaming up the bathroom?'”

Are you ready for Google football?

Finally, a scandal we can all agree is truly scandalous.

RIP, Jose Sarria, gay rights pioneer.

Even Disney princesses want equal pay. And why wouldn’t they?

WalMart’s “Buy America” program is mostly hype.

Arnold Schwarzeneggar was Bob Filner ten years ago, except for the whole “resigning in disgrace” part.

Hall and the firefighters

Ben Hall has the support of the firefighters’ union. He has also criticized Mayor Parker for not doing enough to deal with the financial stability of the pension funds. How does he reconcile these two seemingly contradictory positions? Not surprisingly, he’s light on the details.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

The fire union’s endorsement puts Hall in a political pickle. He likely cannot avoid talking about pensions, which some City Council members say is the top financial issue facing the city. Yet, he also cannot discuss the topic in a way that risks upsetting some of his most important supporters.

Hall’s campaign website is silent on pensions, but he has not skirted the issue. Asked to elaborate on what Parker is “hiding” about the city’s finances, a charge Hall made in his first TV ad, his spokesman replied, in part, “Our looming pension liabilities are real. What is Parker doing to address them before it is too late?”

Even as he accepted the fire union’s endorsement, Hall added a note of restraint, twice saying “we may not agree on all things.”


Todd Clark, chairman of the Houston Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Fund, said he has not spoken to Hall about pensions and is not aware of any proposal the candidate has made.

Hall has spoken of a more creative approach to pensions, such as dividing the 30-year liability into decades and buying insurance to cover the last decade. His press secretary, Julia Smekalina, said several options are being discussed along the lines of dividing the pool of pensioners into groups based on the projected cost of their benefits. Hall was not available for comment Wednesday.

“Ben Hall is proud to be endorsed by Houston firefighters and is committed to constructive dialogue on a variety of issues, including employee pensions,” Smekalina said. “Ben Hall is committed to finding pension solutions that sensibly maintain city fiscal health, while honoring promises to employees and retirees.”

Representatives of the National Institute for Retirement Security, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and the Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Security at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School said that while Hall’s proposal lacked details, they knew of no examples of the idea being used in public pensions.

Parker campaign spokeswoman Sue Davis said Hall’s solution shows he has not done his homework.

“There is no silver bullet – the math is the math. Several years of poor market conditions and the fact that the workforce is living longer have created this problem,” Davis said. “That’s why Mayor Parker has taken a thoughtful approach, pressing the Legislature for local control and negotiating with stakeholders for a balanced solution that protects both employees and taxpayers.”

It should be noted that the firefighters’ pension fund disputes the assertion that it is insufficiently funded or that the city’s future obligations represent a crisis, so it would have been perfectly consistent for Hall to argue that Mayor Parker has misrepresented and overstated the issue. He has not chosen that path. It should also be noted that this problem has been caused in part by the city underpaying the three pension funds in recent years, for a variety of reasons. It would therefore also be consistent for Hall to say that the city needs to honor its obligations, and if that means raising more revenue here and/or cutting expenditures there to pay for it, then so be it. Again, Hall has not chosen that path. Maybe there’s another path that’s consistent with what the firefighters want, I don’t know. Maybe someday Hall will tell us.

Dallas County to sue state over voter ID

The shoe is on the other foot.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Democratic Dallas County commissioners narrowly agreed [Tuesday] afternoon to join a lawsuit against Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry over state efforts to enforce a controversial voter identification law.

Democratic Commissioner Elba Garcia stepped out of the partisan fray inextricably linked to the national debate on voter ID laws and joined Republican colleague Mike Cantrell in voting against the move. County Judge Clay Jenkins and commissioners Theresa Daniel and John Wiley Price, all Democrats, votes for the measure.

Supporters of suing, including District Attorney Craig Watkins, said the move is an attempt to protect voters’ rights. An estimated 220,000 county voters lack the identification the law would require.

Cantrell, the lone Republican commissioner, accused his colleagues of using county funds to push a partisan agenda. Garcia criticized the lack of detailed information on what joining the suit will cost.

Here’s a fuller story in the DMN that adds a few more details.

Missing from the vote at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting was a clear idea of just how much the county’s direct involvement will cost taxpayers.

That’s largely because commissioners haven’t been told what expenses will need to be covered — or how much of those costs will be paid by the lawsuit’s existing plaintiffs. Before the vote, Cantrell failed to get attorney Chad Dunn to provide ballpark figures of the suit’s total cost or each plaintiff’s likely contribution.

That ambiguity prompted Garcia’s opposition. Garcia said she wanted more time to figure out how much the county could end up paying Dunn’s firm. She said officials were told they had to vote Tuesday so that the state could be served with legal papers in the case before a hearing scheduled for next month.

Garcia said that state leaders still hadn’t been served with the initial complaint from the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in June.

“When I ask for one week and I’m told it’s now or never, you won’t be a part of it, I take that as my questions are not important,” Garcia said.

When asked why attorneys couldn’t request that the September hearing be moved to allow both sides more time to prepare, Jenkins said there is no guarantee such a request would be granted.

As she did on the campaign trail last year, Daniel said managing the county’s budget is the primary job of commissioners. But she added Tuesday that fighting the state is the “right thing to do” because Texas is using taxpayer money to disenfranchise voters.

“That’s wrong, but that’s on somebody else’s plate,” she said.

According to this DMN story from before the vote, the commissioners voted to hire a law firm to join a federal lawsuit. That would be the Veasey lawsuit, which of course is now enmeshed with the Justice Department lawsuit. I’m honestly not sure what the practical effect of this will be, but hey, the more the merrier. The question about how much this will cost is a fair one, and if it turns out to be a bigger number than expected it will be a political issue for County Judge Clay Jenkins and DA Craig Watkins, both of whom are up for re-election next year. As for the complaint about pushing a partisan agenda, well, tell it to Greg Abbott. A statement from the Dallas County Democratic Party is beneath the fold, and BOR, The Trib, and Trail Blazers have more.


Farmers Branch still hasn’t learned

There’s stubborn, there’s mulishly stubborn, and then there’s Farmers Branch.

When will they learn?

The City Council is not ready to give up its fight to ban immigrants in the U.S. illegally from renting in the city.

The council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court its rental ordinance’s latest failure in court.

The chamber audience erupted in applause — with some jumping from their seats — following the vote.

Council members Jeff Fuller, Ben Robinson and Harold Froehlich voted to appeal. Ana Reyes and Kirk Connally voted against it.

Before the vote, the city’s outside attorney, Michael Jung, agreed to handle the appeal at no cost, at Fuller’s request. Fuller noted that $4 million had already been paid to Jung and his Strasburger & Price law firm.

“I want to stop spending,” Fuller said.

The fight has cost the city about $6 million in legal fees for court suits, and more than $2 million in bills were expected to be presented to the courts for the city to pay by the law firms that had prevailed against the city. But the decision to appeal puts that on hold, pending the outcome by the nation’s highest court.

William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer Storefront and counsel for some of the plaintiffs, said in a prepared statement that the City Council “seems incapable of reading the handwriting on the wall — this ordinance is unconstitutional.”

“It is unfortunate that the Farmers Branch City Council has decided to continue a pursuit that many view as costly and ill-advised.”

Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way. It was just a month ago that the Fifth Circuit spiked the latest appeal from Farmers Branch, this time with the full court reconsidering the original three-judge panel ruling in light of the SCOTUS decision on Arizona’s “papers, please” law. I have no idea why Farmers Branch City Council think SCOTUS might be willing to take this question up again, but I suppose it at least offers them the opportunity to inconvenience the law firm that’s beaten them like a pinata every step of the way. The good news is that the FB Council is now 40% less stupid with the addition of Ana Reyes and Kirk Connally, but clearly there’s still work to do to bring them into the light.

Food trucks going un-mobile

It’s a trend.

Matti Merrell and Rodney Perry first parked their Green Seed food truck on a Third Ward street in 2011. Within a year Food & Wine named it the No. 9 vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the U.S.

Last year, the pair opened on Almeda, just around the corner in the neighborhood south of Midtown. They keep the truck parked outside, but don’t use it. They run a standalone version of Green Seed instead.

Standing over a stove in a truck parked in front of a bar may not sound like a stylish life for a chef. But for some talented young entrepreneurs, a food truck is a stepping stone to having their own restaurant.

Other local food truck chefs who have made, or will soon make, the leap to brick and mortar include Fusion Taco, Good Dog, Bernie’s Burger Bus and Eatsie Boys.


The city’s myriad ethnic groups make the local food truck culture interesting, [Paul Galvani, an adjunct marketing professor at the University of Houston] said. The hundreds of taco trucks, for example, offer items from many Latin American regions.

“Any vibrant city has a very strong street food culture,” he said. “Houston is not quite there yet,” he said, but he sees a lot of excitement building around food trucks.

Many food truck chefs came out of culinary school during the recession and had trouble finding a job they liked, Galvani said.

I don’t really have a point to make, I just read the story to see if there were any updates on the MFU Houston movement. Judging from the lack of updates on that page, and the brief mention in this related story about Fusion Tacos opening a brick-and-mortar location downtown, I’d say the answer is “not a whole lot”. Still, the idea remains on Mayor Parker’s to do list, and if you’ve been listening to my interviews you know I’ve been asking all the Council candidates about it. But other than that, right now there’s not much to report.

Saturday video break: Hurt

Song #5 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Hurt”, originally by Nine Inch Nails and covered by Johnny Cash.

Such a powerful song, and you can really feel what Trent Reznor is singing. Now here’s the Man In Black:

Wow. Now that’s what they had in mind when the idea of music videos was first conceived. The imagery…”haunting” isn’t a strong enough word. Cash sings a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the same album as “Hurt”, and I’ve said before that when he voices lines like “And pain is all around/Like a bridge over troubled water/I will lay me down” you really believe him, because you know he’s lived it. That goes double for this song. A truly amazing achievement, a defining achievement for the end of his career as the Popdose writer says.

The law and the Early To Rise petition process

Much has been made about the obscurity of the state law that allows for the petition process that the Early To Rise folks have followed to put an item on the ballot that would raise money for pre-K education in Harris County. The Chron takes a closer look at the statutes in question and the requests for clarification on them from the Attorney General.

When the campaign first launched earlier this summer, Emmett said he believed the law was not applicable because it no longer was on the books, saying the state “didn’t recodify these sections and you can’t find these anywhere in state statutes today.”

The state law stipulating the petition process – two sections of the Texas Education Code, specifically – was repealed in 1995 when the Legislature reorganized the education code, according to campaign and county lawyers.

The law, which dates to the 1920s, gave county education departments in the state authority to levy a so-called “equalization tax” to raise revenue for “the support of the public schools of the county.” Unlike school districts, whose governing bodies can raise taxes by a vote, the equalization tax can be authorized only by an election called via citizen petition.

Under the education code, a county education department operating under those repealed sections “may continue to operate under” them, meaning those sections stipulating the petition process still apply.

That fact is conceded in two separate requests for a legal opinion sent to the state attorney general this month on the applicability of the law, one from County Attorney Vince Ryan on behalf of [County Judge Ed] Emmett and another by state Sen. Dan Patrick.

However, Patrick wrote, whether the education department could operate under those repealed laws if its tax rate is increased still is in question.

Emmett’s objections recently have come down to whether the ballot language proposed on the petitions is consistent with the repealed sections.

The petition language says the revenue generated is “to be used solely and exclusively for early childhood education purposes,” which does not appear to fit the definition of an equalization tax “to be distributed equally among all school districts” in the county.

One of the leaders of the petition group, Jonathan Day, a former city of Houston attorney, said the law does not say exactly what the ballot language must be. He also pointed to other sections of the law that stipulate broad uses for equalization tax revenue, including “for the advancement of public free schools in such counties.”

The education department is “already spending money on early childhood,” Day noted.

I’m not even going to try to guess what AG Greg Abbott will write in his opinion. I do know that county education departments used to be common in Texas, but as of today there are only two left, in Harris and Dallas, and this is undoubtedly why those statutes were modified or repealed back in 1995. It’s just a muddle, and I will say again, it will ultimately be settled in court. The story also notes that Emmett will announce his decision about whether or not to put this on the ballot on Monday, which is the deadline for making such a decision in time for the election. I presume we will have AG Abbott’s opinion by then as well, but I’m just guessing.

None dare call it Obamacare

You’ve probably seen the Politico story by now.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Gov. Rick Perry wants to kill Obamacare dead, but Texas health officials are in talks with the Obama administration about accepting an estimated $100 million available through the health law to care for the elderly and disabled, POLITICO has learned.

Perry health aides are negotiating with the Obama administration on the terms of an optional Obamacare program that would allow Texas to claim stepped-up Medicaid funding for the care of people with disabilities.

The so-called Community First Choice program aims to enhance the quality of services available to the disabled and elderly in their homes or communities. Similar approaches have had bipartisan support around the country. About 12,000 Texans are expected to benefit in the first year of the program.

One line of thinking as to why the Texas governor, who has honed his national image in no small measure by denouncing Obamacare, would make such a seemingly inconsistent move goes like this: Treating disabled and elderly people is less politically charged than a sweeping national law forcing people to buy health insurance. Perry recently decided against seeking reelection next year but is mulling a second presidential bid in 2016.


The Texas Legislature approved the program earlier this year, and Perry signed it into law as part of a larger package of health reforms, as well as in the state budget. Now, his administration is working win approval from the Obama administration to fit the program into the state’s existing Medicaid framework.

“Efforts are under way to develop and submit an application to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for participation,” said a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. The goal is to implement the initiative by Sept. 1, 2014.

Supporters of home care contacted by POLITICO worried that even a news story about the connection between the Community First Choice program and Obamacare would spook the Perry administration from participating.

“[I]t would be worse than a shame if Texas’s moving ahead with CFC or BIP policies — both are from the ACA — was hurt as the result of scrutiny from a press inquiry,” said one Texas-based advocate.

Added another local advocate, “I would hate for the CFC to become a political football.”

An official with a prominent national advocacy group noted that Texas isn’t the only resistant state to quietly accept some lower-profile components of the health law. Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Maine and others have already been approved for 2 percentage point increases in their Medicaid fund through a little-known provisions of the health law, the advocate said.

“I think some of those [provisions] are easier because they’re not as high profile and people don’t connect home and community services with Medicaid,” according to the advocate.

There’s been a lot of other reporting on this, plus some snarky commentary. However, I don’t think anyone put it better than Ezra Klein.

Remember Peggy Noonan’s “This is the reason many people don’t like ObamaCare”? The “this” in question was the Community First Choice program, which helps Medicaid cover at-home care for the disabled rather than shunting them into institutions.

The program is so irresistible that even Texas Gov. Rick Perry is asking if his state can be part of it. And you don’t get Obamacare haters more diehard than Perry. But for that exact reason, his office is saying the program, which is literally part of the Affordable Care Act’s statute and which would cease to exist if the entire law was repealed, “has nothing to do with Obamacare.”

To be generous to both sides, Noonan didn’t seem to understand the program she was criticizing, and she relied on other people’s reporting that turned out to be wrong, or at least confused. As for Perry, he can argue that Community First Choice program isn’t related to Obamacare’s core coverage expansion, which is really what people think of when they hear the word “Obamacare”.

But the result is the same: you’ve got Noonan saying that the Community First Choice program is the reason people hate Obamacare even though she seems to want something exactly like the CFC program to exist. You’ve got Perry asking the Obama administration for $100 million from a program created as part of Obamacare even as he swears the program isn’t Obamacare.

It’s almost as if there’s much in the law that Republicans would like if only they felt able to give the legislation a chance.

Yes, well, funny how these things work. As Paul Burka likes to say, we don’t have policy in this state, we have ideology. Rick Perry has to BS about this, he has no choice. It’s hilarious hearing him brag about how he’s been making Medicaid better and didn’t need any stinking Obamacare to do it. Given his pathetic record on health care in Texas, it’s a little like the Astros bragging about having quality middle relief pitching. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would ever believe a word Rick Perry says. But given the state of things in our great state, what’s a few more lies and denials of reality by Rick Perry if that’s what it takes to make things a little better?

City reaches settlement with developer over Woodland Park damage

Good news.

Mayor Annise Parker, the City of Houston Legal Department and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) announced the City has recovered $300,000 to restore recent damage to Woodland Park by a private developer. Woodland Park, located at 212 Parkview, is a 19.67 acre park near White Oak Bayou in the Woodland Heights neighborhood in City Council District H. It has been a city park since 1914.

“The residents of Woodland Park were justified in their outrage over this tragic act. There is no way to be able to fully restore the vegetation and trees that grew there over so many years, however we were amenable to a settlement in this case,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “The City of Houston fought to ensure the developer would pay for the vegetation to be replanted, and hopefully it can begin to grow again without further incident. We believe this is fair and will compensate the city for the amount of work needed to restore the area.”

During the week of June 3-7, 2013, private developers constructing several townhomes on private property adjacent to the Park caused substantial damage to nearly one acre. The damage included removal of trees, vegetation, and harmful grading of soil. Although the developers promptly offered to pay the costs of restoring the Park to its original condition, there were major disagreements regarding how this should be accomplished, and what the costs would be.

The Houston Parks and Recreation Department moved promptly to determine the best approach to restore the Park. The City Legal Department partnered with HPARD to negotiate a fair settlement amount with the developers. Those joint efforts culminated with the $300,000 payment received last Friday.

“I’m pleased a compromise has been reached that creates a path towards the restoration of Woodland Park,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez, District H. “The destruction that occurred in early June was devastating and I’m looking forward to joining community members in crafting a plan of action and ensuring that all terms of the settlement are followed. I’m confident that the members of the Parks and Recreation Department are the best folks to perform the work needed at Woodland Park. I’m also very grateful to the Friends of Woodland Park for their hard work over many years and stay committed to the goal of revitalizing this hidden gem of green space in our city.”

HPARD intends to work through the Houston Parks Board to restore the Park, as much as possible, to its original condition. The project will take an estimated 6 months to complete. HPARD will meet with the community representatives, Friends of Woodland Park and Council Member Gonzalez to discuss a plan of action.

See here for the background, here for the Chron story, and here for a copy of the settlement. As part of the agreement, the city will remove the red tags on the development so it can continue. All in all, seems like a reasonable outcome. I look forward to seeing the restoration work completed. Kudos to all for getting this done. Nonsequiteuse has more, including one small suggested modification to the settlement agreement, and Swamplot has more.