Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 29th, 2016:

Friday random ten: In the city, part 8

More Memphis!

1. Leningrad – Billy Joel
2. Lisdoonvarna – Ceili’s Muse
3. Liverpool Sunset – Gerald Jay Markoe
4. Lodi – Creedence Clearwater Revival
5. London Homesick Blues – Flying Fish Sailors
6. (Making The Run To) Gladewater – Michelle Shocked
7. Marching Bands Of Manhattan – Death Cab for Cutie
8. Memphis Exorcism – Squirrel Nut Zippers
9. Memphis in The Meantime – John Hiatt
10. Miami – Shorty Long

Manhattan isn’t technically a city, unless Death Cab for Cutie was writing about Kansas, but it is a county (New York County, technically) and I did allow for counties before, so we’re good. Memphis currently has a 5-2 lead on New York, though I have two versions of “Fairy Tale of New”, so you could look at it as 5-3. It’s still a lead, though having looked ahead a couple of weeks, I can tell you (spoiler alert) it’s a lead that won’t last. Enjoy it while you can, Memphis.

More on the Uber ultimatum

Initial reaction is not terribly receptive.

Uber

Ride-hailing giant Uber threatened Wednesday to stop operating in Houston unless city leaders amend local regulations the company said are making it tough for them to recruit drivers.

The ultimatum, the latest skirmish in what has been a contentious relationship between Uber and the city since it started operating here two years ago, drew a strong rebuke from city leaders.

“This is just not how we do business in Houston,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner, who added the city “will not compromise on public safety.”

[…]

The Uber announcement, which officials viewed as a threat to meet the company’s demands or lose the service, was met with frustration by city leaders, some of whom have grown increasingly exasperated by the tumult.

“If you don’t want to follow the rules we all agreed to, have a good opportunity in another city,” District E Councilman David Martin said. “But we cannot be blackmailed when it comes to public safety.”

[…]

Uber and its supporters argue that part-time driving for the company helps people make money while keeping rates for riders cheap.

The company in its report said drivers take an average of four months to sign up with Uber and complete the city permitting process. Houston officials said the longest a driver has waited is two months, and that the average time to clear the regulations is 11 days. About 47 percent of drivers received a license within a week, officials said.

“What they are putting out is factually incorrect,” Turner said, adding that he thought the company’s motive is to put pressure on politicians to capitulate.

See here for the background. I didn’t expect Uber’s announcement to be greeted warmly, but I am a bit surprised that no one stepped forward to defend them, or at least to criticize the fingerprint policy, in the story. CM Martin’s comment is of particular interest, since Uber’s main allies on Prop 1 in Austin are a couple of conservative Republican Council members there. I’ve look around at other coverage but have not seen any other reactions from Council members. I will be very interested to see who, if anyone, is in Uber’s corner on this. It was one thing to advocate for allowing Uber to operate here. This is a whole ‘nother level, and unless a Council member comes under pressure from constituents, it’s rather a large stretch.

The Press brings up another aspect of this fight.

Notwithstanding the curious timing (voters in Austin will decide May 7 whether to keep similar regulations; early voting for the ballot measure started this week), it’s hard to know what to make of Uber’s claims. Officials with the City of Houston insist that, by pretty much any trackable measure, Uber has been a resounding success here. The city’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs department says that every month it sees an increase in drivers who want a license to drive for the company. And, according to city officials, judging by the company’s revenue in Houston (under the regulations passed in 2014, Uber pays 2 percent of gross bookings to the city), Uber is doing quite well.

It seems there’s either fundamental difference of interpretation or someone’s not telling the whole truth. We’d love to get to the bottom of this, but here’s the problem: Uber has sued to block the city from releasing pretty much any internal data that could show whether Houston’s regulations have been a success or unreasonable burden for rideshares.

Lara Cottingham, deputy assistant director of the city’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs department, insists that Uber has had an undeniably good run here since the city began enforcing its rules for licensing drivers for so-called transportation network companies (or TNCs) like Uber, limo services and taxi companies. “The number of drivers is increasing, their revenue is increasing, everything seems to be working out for them very, very well,” Cottingham told us. “But because Uber sued us to stop us from releasing [those numbers], I can’t tell you how successful they are.”

[…]

While Uber claims it takes drivers on average four months to get a city license, Cottingham says that’s just not the case. She says that according to a survey the city conducted this spring (which, of course, she can’t release because of Uber’s lawsuit), nearly half of all drivers got their license within a week of applying – almost all (about 84 percent) had al license within three weeks of applying, she claims. Whatever the case, Uber’s Meridia said in the letter to city leaders yesterday that demand in Houston “continues to grow approximately twice as fast as our ability to onboard qualified drivers.”

Cottingham says the city has streamlined the process as much as possible, but what Uber’s really asking for – axing the city’s additional background check provision – isn’t an option.

KTRK also noted that some of the facts in dispute cannot be checked on either end. That makes this more of a PR battle than anything else. Do people, who clearly like using Uber’s service, side with them against the city and buy into the argument that needless regulation is making it impossible to operate? Or do they see the fingerprint requirement as a basic safety measure, which Uber should have no issue with complying? That seems to me to be the basic outline of the dispute, and it’s why I’m so interested in who Uber’s proxies will be in the fight. I’m sure Mayor Turner’s response to this has been along the lines of “I don’t need this $#!+ right now”. Who will be on his side? BOR has more.

Rangers investigating Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Busy days for them.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

The Texas Rangers have joined a Travis County District Attorney office criminal probe into state Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ use of staff, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed.

“At the request of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Rangers are assisting in an investigation into alleged criminal misconduct of Dawnna Dukes,” DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said in a statement released Tuesday.

The Texas Tribune reported in February that the State Auditor’s Office had launched an investigation after Dukes’ then chief of staff, Mike French, asked whether it was legal for the Austin Democrat to ask staff to work on the annual African-American Heritage Festival. The festival is an event Dukes helped create 17 years ago to raise money for scholarships to Huston-Tillotson University.

The auditor’s office referred the case to Travis County prosecutors on April 15, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

See here for some background. I’m sure if Rep. Dukes winds up getting indicted for something, Ken Paxton and Rick Perry will stand with her in solidarity over these overly politicized investigations. Until then, we’ll see what happens. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Council approves body camera storage funds

Good.

City Council voted Wednesday to spend $1 million to buy servers and other equipment to store video collected by city police officers equipped with body cameras.

The vote, passed with relatively little fuss following months of sometimes-contentious public debate, marks the next step in the Houston Police Department’s ongoing effort to equip more than 4,000 patrol officers with the devices.

The storage will cost the city about $8 million over five years, with about $585,000 more per year in additional staffing costs, officials said. An alternate proposal to use cloud-based storage would have cost the city even more.

[…]

The city plans to purchase 4,500 body cameras, of which about 400 would be spares. Wednesday’s vote cleared the way for the city to purchase Dell Compellent computer servers with space to hold 1.5 petabytes of data, and a similar amount of space to hold a duplicate copy of the data.

One copy would be stored in HPD’s data center, with a separate copy stored in the city’s Disaster Recovery Center, according to the police department.

The move to store the data in-house had prompted worries from some that the data could be more easily tampered with, a concern Mayor Sylvester Turner brushed aside in brief remarks after the meeting.

“I’m comfortable the integrity of the system is sound,” he said.

See here and here for some background. I’m a little surprised that a cloud solution was more expensive, but no big deal. A petabyte, by the way, is one step up from a terabyte, which is one step up from a gigabyte. If your PC has 500 GB of hard disk space, then 1.5 petabytes is like 3000 of your hard drives. So yeah, a lot of storage space.

The city wasn’t the only entity taking action on body cameras. From the inbox:

In a move to strengthen service, the METRO Board unanimously approved issuing body cameras to METRO police (MPD) officers as part of their regular uniforms.

“Our officers are excited about this. We see this as an enhancement not only for our officers but for our employees and patrons,” said MPD Chief Vera Bumpers.

The $184,125.00 contract with Watch Guard covering the purchase and implementation of the 195 cameras, will provide new surveillance capability for security purposes. Each camera costs $699.00, and all officers as well as sergeants will all wear the units.

“We are pleased to take this step. We expect this program to enhance our police department from a investigative and training perspective as well as strengthen community trust in law enforcement with increased transparency and accountability,” said Board Chair Carrin Patman.

Anticipated delivery and roll-out of the new security program is projected to take six months.

Camera data is planned for storage on MPD’s video management system for 90 days unless it is classified as evidence. Storage of the video data will require the purchase of additional hardware with an estimated cost of $253,015. The METRO Board has not yet approved that expenditure.

Good for Metro. I hadn’t been aware before now that they had been working on getting body cameras for their 191 officers. We should remember that there are a whole lot of law enforcement agencies in Texas, and the more of them that equip their officers with body cameras, the better off we’ll all be. The school districts, community college districts, universities like Rice and UH and TSU, and the many small cities in the area should all have plans of some kind to get on board with this. Don’t be the last holdout.

Another FEC complaint filed against Cruz

We’re up to two.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

The Texas Democrats have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz and his associates violated campaign finance laws.

The complaint, dated April 22, asserts that Cruz national co-chair, J. Keet Lewis, broke election laws at an official campaign fundraiser in December by asking attendees to donate unlimited amounts, as well as to make corporate contributions to the pro-Cruz Stand for Truth PAC.

Cruz and his wife, Heidi, reportedly attended the Dec. 30 event in Dallas.

Federal law prohibits coordination between candidates and Super PACs. While a candidate or agent of a candidate can solicit donors to a PAC, it is illegal for them to solicit unlimited contributions or corporate contributions to a Super PAC. They can only solicit up to $5,000 from individuals.

The Texas Democrats say Lewis clearly violated those terms when he told donors “If you hit your max then we have a table for you that is the unlimited table. It can take corporate dollars, it can take partnership dollars, and that’s the Super PAC, Stand for Truth…” according to the complaint.

Lewis also said “The method to our madness is this: You max out and then get engaged in the Super PAC,” the filing states.

Lewis has denied wrongdoing and told Politico, which reported the potential violation earlier this month, that he is not an agent of the campaign under federal standards. Lewis was one of roughly 50 co-hosts. Texas Democrats argue that he is, given his national co-chair role.

A copy of the complaint is here. As the story notes, there was another complaint filed with the FEC against the Cruz campaign in January, this one alleging that he failed to disclose financial support from Goldman Sachs and Citibank for his 2012 Senate campaign. I have no idea what the timetable is for either of these, but I won’t be surprised if they are not concluded till after the campaign. The Trib has more.