Chris Hollins begins his term as Controller

Lots of potential for action here.

Chris Hollins

Houston Controller Chris Hollins knows that following Tuesday’s inaugural celebration comes the hard work. But the 37-year-old former Harris County Clerk says he is up to the task.

“The people of Houston put (me) here to be their eyes and ears at City Hall … and when necessary to ring that bell, to sound the alarm,” Hollins said.

As Houston’s newest financial watchdog, Hollins has vowed to help tackle a host of financial challenges — including the city’s growing budget deficit. City officials have warned Mayor John Whitmire’s administration could face projected budget shortfalls of $114 million to $264 million during his first term.

In addition to getting a handle on the city’s fraught financial state, Hollins also has specific issues he wants to address through audits and financial reports, including ongoing inefficiencies in the city’s permitting process.


In Houston’s strong-mayor government, Mayor John Whitmire has chief decision making power in all city matters. He also has unfettered control over most administrative aspects of city government.

But the controller plays an important role, too. Hollins’ job will be to alert the mayor and City Council to city department inefficiencies and problems through audits and reports. This job will be particularly critical in addressing the city’s budgetary issues.

While Whitmire’s team has yet to introduce a detailed plan, the new mayor said Tuesday that Houston’s financial problems can no longer be ignored. Hollins plans to meet with Whitmire this week to determine how they can best work together to accomplish this.

Hollins shares another common goal with Whitmire — a commitment to improving accountability and transparency throughout city government.

“It’s a very important task,” Hollins said. “It’s a responsibility that I’ve internalized, that I’ve taken incredibly seriously. And we’re going to get to work immediately.”

On the campaign trail, Hollins said he wanted to aggressively audit city departments and share best practices with local officials.

The first department on his list of audits is Houston Public Works, which oversees water leak issues, permitting applications and sidewalk repairs, among other matters.

Issues with Public Works have mounted for months as residents continue to receive exorbitant water bills, often the consequence of aging water infrastructure leading to inaccurate readings.

You can still listen to my interview with now-Controller Hollins to hear him talk about these things. It’s fair to say that some Controllers have been more active on the audit front than others – Annise Parker would fall into the “more active” camp – and that some have a more antagonistic relationship with the Mayor than others. Hollins is clearly aiming to be a more activist Controller, which I think is both needed and likely to help him build some political capital. Finding ways to save money and eliminate waste are good policy and good politics. I tend to think that this is a less fruitful tree to harvest than one might think, but there will be opportunities. I figure I’ll be getting some press releases touting various achievements in the next couple of months.

We should also consider the possibility that Hollins will get into more than a few jousting matches with the new Mayor. While at first glance it appears that everyone is on the same page about the city’s finances, some of Mayor Whitmire’s big campaign promises – hiring more cops, settling the longstanding feud over back pay with the firefighters – will come with a price tag. The potential is very much there for the Controller to disagree with the Mayor over the fiscal effect of all this. I’m not saying this will happen, just that it could. We should get a feel for that pretty quickly.

Also, too, let’s not forget that Chris Hollins originally wanted to be Mayor. He made the decision to change races after Sheila Jackson Lee entered the field, but that doesn’t mean he stopped wanting to be Mayor. There’s a non-trivial chance that Hollins may decide that he wants to be Mayor in four years, not eight. Always in motion is the future and all that. Again, I am not saying any of this will happen. I’m just saying that one possible path includes Hollins and Whitmire being more in conflict than harmony. Doing a bunch of productive audits and having one’s own ideas about improving the city’s finances are good ways to be in the public eye. Just something to keep in mind.

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2 Responses to Chris Hollins begins his term as Controller

  1. Ross says:

    I would love for Hollins to put fear into the various departments that seem to play fast and loose with procurement rules. I would add a prohibition on outside employment or businesses, and increase required conflict of interest disclosures.

  2. Bill Kelly says:

    Uh, you are going to ban police & firefighters from outside employment?

    Cool story.

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