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July 11th, 2015:

Saturday video break: Hand In Hand

A couple of underrated songs by iconic 80s acts. First up, Dire Straits:

Man, Making Movies is an awesome album. Not a bad song on it, and it starts out with three classics, then keeps it going with this tune. For those of us to remember the concept of a “desert island album”, this would be one for me.

And with his different song by the same name, here’s Phil Collins:

That’s an extended version of the song from his first solo album, Face Value; you can hear the studio version here. I’m not ashamed to say I wore a groove in that and Hello, I Must Be Going! back in the day. Collins was very comfortable using instrumentals (okay, quasi-instrumentals) as transition songs on his solo records; this was the last song on Side One, and it just worked. I always loved his use of horns – what can I say, as a sax player, I was biased. I figure that comfort with wordless music helped his transition to his later arc as a big band artist. We caught his big band show a few years back – it wasn’t what I expected, but it was well worth seeing.

Dave Wilson will never go away

What’s that definition of insanity again?

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance have once again submitted petitions calling for a voter referendum to put a gender identity issue on the ballot in November, but the mayor says it’s not going to happen.

Anti-gay activist Dave Wilson showed up at Houston City Hall Thursday with boxes of petitions he said bore the signatures of 20,000 voters calling for a referendum on a city charter amendment defining one’s gender as whatever sex was assigned at birth.

“It will prohibit men from going into women’s bathrooms and vice versa in all sex-oriented facilities — like swimming pools, locker rooms — that the city has,” Wilson said.

[…]

Wilson said his proposed charter change would effectively nullify much of the equal rights ordinance. And that’s precisely why Mayor Annise Parker said Wilson’s latest petition drive will come to nothing.

“It’s a non-starter, because it has been determined by a federal court that you cannot change an ordinance with a charter amendment,” Parker said.

The legal precedent the mayor cited comes from a ruling in a case involving Houston’s troubled history with red light cameras. It’s a complicated matter involving the difference between an ordinance and the city charter.

Any petition effort to repeal an ordinance in Houston must be completed within 30 days after the passage of that ordinance. Opponents of Houston’s red light cameras thought they’d worked their way around that restriction by proposing not a repeal of the ordinance, but a charter amendment that accomplished the same goal.

But a federal judge issued a sharply worded opinion against that notion.

It was just three months ago that Wilson failed at this the last time, having not turned in enough signatures to meet the statutory minimum. Not that it mattered, since as Mayor Parker points out, you can’t use the charter process to amend an existing ordinance except within a 30 day period of the ordinance taking effect. Needless to say, that ship has long since sailed. But as always this is really all about Dave Wilson getting attention for himself and painting himself as a victim of oppression, both of which he is highly successful at doing. The rest of it, not so much. And to add to the mountain of evidence that the law means nothing to Dave Wilson, he’s filed a lawsuit against the city to force them to count the signatures anyway, presumably before dumping them all in the trash since they’re irrelevant. I guess all this activity keeps him off the streets, so we should be thankful for that. I just pity the poor judge who will have to deal with this, since Wilson is representing himself. (According to the Chron story, the case is in the 270th District Civil Court.) And I’m sure we’ll be back in another few months with another batch of pointless petitions. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Paxton grand juror names accidentally released

Oops.

Ken Paxton

A list of Collin County grand jurors was mistakenly released by an employee with the Collin County District Clerk’s Office.

The release violates a June 25 order by District Judge Chris Oldner that deemed the names and personal information of grand jurors in the current term to be confidential.

Grand jury proceedings are secret, but the names of those serving in this term are of particular interest because they will be hearing evidence, possibly as early as this month, alleging securities law violations by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Brian Wice, who was appointed along with Kent Schaffer as a special prosecutor in the Paxton case, said Thursday they were made aware of the release.

They issued a statement, saying: “While certainly unfortunate and inopportune, we trust that whatever harm the inadvertent disclosure of the grand jurors’ names and addresses might have caused was mitigated by Judge Oldner’s immediate and thoughtful response.

“Because both the state and Mr. Paxton are entitled to an investigation informed by fairness and confidentiality, we hope that whomever had access to the grand jurors’ personal information — especially members of the media — will respect their privacy during the pendency of their investigation.”

Messages left for Oldner and the District Clerk’s Office were not returned.

Radio station KRLD-AM reported Thursday that the grand juror names were mistakenly sent by an employee with the clerk’s office to 93 email recipients. A second, frantic email demanded all the unintended recipients “please immediately delete the previous email sent in error,” according to the news story.

Apparently, there was a mix-up with a previous grand jury. The Chron story fills in a few blanks.

In sealing the names, Judge Oldner cited previous instances were Collin County grand jurors were contacted with information regarding cases they were hearing. Oldner’s order states this information “was received outside the grand jury process and in violation of the laws of the state of Texas.”

The Houston Chronicle did receive the names of the grand jurors empaneled for the term that ended in June. After [Collin County DA Greg] Willis’ inaction, those members confirmed to the Chronicle that they had asked the Travis County District Attorney’s office for Paxton’s file to undertake their own probe.

“Collin County appears to be the venue where this evidence needs to be heard,” the grand jury vice foreman’s letter to Travis County read. “Therefore, we are requesting the documents be sent to us as soon as possible.

So in the end this is likely no big deal and no damage done. But man, does it ever seem like everything associated with Ken Paxton is cursed. Makes you wonder if one of his ancestors got in a feud with the Sianis family or something. What could possibly happen next?

Reps. Otto and Marquez join the retirement list

Another committee chair bows out.

Rep. John Otto

After a decade in the Texas House and fresh off his first session as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, announced Tuesday that he is not planning to seek re-election.

“I want to thank the voters of House District 18 for their support and encouragement over the years,” Otto said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision, but I never intended for this experience to be a lifelong endeavor. After accomplishing much of what I set out to do when first elected, the time is right for me to step aside.”

[…]

Along with announcing his retirement, Otto also endorsed Liberty County Attorney Wesley Hinch to replace him in the district, which covers Liberty, Walker and San Jacinto counties in southeast Texas.

“Wes Hinch has the values, integrity, and experience needed to serve House District 18,” Otto said. “I am honored to endorse him to be our next state representative.”

Otto was first elected in 2004 and like several other retirees is considered a moderate, which mostly means he wants to get stuff done rather than burn it down. It’s a bit amazing to realize that he defeated an incumbent Democrat, Dan Ellis, in 2004 – Ellis won in 2002 in what was a red but not overwhelmingly so district – John Sharp got more than 45% of the vote for Lite Guv in that 2002 race. By 2012, this was a 71.6% Romney district, so it will not be changing hands. One hopes Otto’s endorsed would-be successor is from a similar mold as he is.

Over in El Paso, a Democratic seat opens up as Rep. Marissa Marquez steps down.

Rep. Marissa Marquez

State Rep. Marisa Márquez will not seek reelection after representing El Paso for four terms in the Texas House.

The Democrat announced her retirement from House District 77 in a statement on her official website, saying she would remain an active figure in state politics.

“I am truly grateful to the many people who have worked with me on the passage of important legislation for our area and to my constituency for their support over the last eight years,” she said.

[…]

First elected in 2008, Márquez was considered somewhat of an ascendant among the outnumbered Democrats in the lower chamber. She was named by House Speaker Joe Straus as vice-chair on the House Committee on County Affairs in her sophomore term in 2011, and currently sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Marquez defeated longtime legislator Rep. Paul Moreno in a typically nasty primary, which made her less than overwhelmingly popular among her peers when she first arrived. She was viewed as a potential Craddick Dem at the time, which didn’t help either. That of course all blew over, and in the last session she made a valiant attempt at marijuana reform. President Obama carried her district 64-34 in 2012, so this is another one that will be decided in the primaries. The El Paso Times has more on Rep. Marquez. Best wishes to her and to Rep. Otto in the next phases of their lives.

Downtown post office has a buyer

Redevelopment, here we come.

Photo by Houston In Pics

Lovett Commercial, a Houston-based developer of neighborhood shopping centers and urban redevelopments, is under contract to buy the downtown post office property and potentially turn it into an urban complex of shops, offices, housing and perhaps a hotel.

“It’s extremely rare to find a 16& acre parcel in any major U.S. downtown,” the company said Monday in a statement emailed to the Chronicle by vice president Burdette Huffman.

Conceptual plans are still being devised, but the company said it expects “to attract multiple uses such as retail, creative office, residential and/or a boutique hotel. Tenants that we have visited with are extremely excited about the project, its location and the possibilities.”

Lovett is also exploring ways to reuse portions of the site’s existing buildings, which sit on the northwestern edge of downtown, just north of Buffalo Bayou and across from the Theater District.

[…]

Anne Olson, president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, was pleased to hear of the company’s plans.

“I think Frank Liu is a real visionary,” Olson said of Lovett’s president, who also develops urban housing. “I think he’s willing to think outside the box.”

She said the plans are in line with the type of mixed-use development the partnership recommended more than a decade ago in a comprehensive master plan for the bayou.

Olson recalled several years ago during a bayou-related focus group when multiple prominent developers called the downtown post office property “the key site for development along the bayou.”

See here, here, and here for an abridged history of this site. It has always seemed to be destined for some form of mixed-use development, with a bit of speculation about it as a transit hub thrown in for flair. There’s not a whole lot immediately around it, so it will be interesting to see if this project spawns other development, or if this project is executed as something that is intended to be a stand-alone destination. What would you like to see in this space?