Mayor Parker loses a key member of her team going into her final year as Mayor.
City Attorney David Feldman on Friday announced that he plans to resign next month, citing, among other reasons, that he could better defend the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance as a key witness than as a lawyer in an upcoming case.
Feldman has played a crucial and at times controversial role in Mayor Annise Parker’s administration, alternately acting as chief negotiator, attack dog, policy wonk and spokesman. He said Friday that the main reason for his departure was a desire to work at a law firm with his son, also an attorney. Feldman spent 33 years in private practice, running his own firm after serving as a partner at Vinson & Elkins, before Parker appointed him in May 2010.
“The primary driving force is the desire to go back into private practice and frankly to go back into private practice at a time when I think there are people out there who I used to represent who still remember me,” Feldman said. “And my son has been after me continuously. There’s a draw there, there’s an allure: ‘Feldman and Feldman.’ ”
Feldman said he long had planned to leave by early 2015 but acknowledged the precise timing of his resignation was driven by the lawsuit against Parker’s signature equal rights ordinance, set for trial Jan. 19.
The Louisiana native and Army veteran appeared on the verge of leaving last January, when Parker gave him a hefty 43 percent raise, to $350,000. The raise made Feldman the second highest-paid municipal employee in the state, according to the City Controller’s office, which questioned the decision.
Feldman then called his work with the city “the most challenging and interesting chapter” of his career, and argued that his experience – many city attorneys are young lawyers on their way up; Feldman is 65 – had allowed him to shift the focus of the job from defensive advice to proactive solutions.
This fall, for instance, Feldman spearheaded the effort to ban synthetic drugs in Houston. He also has touted his effort to force developers who illegally remove trees on public land to pay damages to the city.
“I’d like to think I’ve set the tone for city attorneys in the future to have a more expansive role,” Feldman said. “They’re not just caretakers, and they’re not just supervisors of other lawyers, but they have the opportunity to help shape where the city is going.”
This approach made Feldman a piñata long before the equal rights fight. There was his role in ending a law firm’s monopoly on collecting delinquent city property taxes, an ordinance he drafted prohibiting wage theft that was unpopular with business groups, and a much-criticized strip club settlement that saw 16 clubs get clearance to allow fully topless dancing in exchange for funding a police unit to combat human trafficking.
It was indeed Feldman’s style to swing for the fences, which was not how it was with most City Attorneys before him. And like baseball players who take that approach, sometimes he hit it out of the park, and sometimes he swung and missed. Overall I’d say he had more wins than losses, though I’m sure those who didn’t like him would argue with me. One can only imagine what the last five years would have been like with someone who had a different philosophy in the City Attorney’s office. Be that as it may, to a large degree Feldman’s tenure as City Secretary will be judged by the result of the HERO repeal lawsuit, as his actions during the process are a big part of the reason why we are where we are now. The implications and repercussions of that lawsuit could wind up being far bigger than just the Houston ordinance, as Texas Leftist points out. The stakes are really high, so we’d all better hope that Feldman’s work on this will hold up. Texpatriate, PDiddie, and Hair Balls have more.