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Next up for Mayor Turner

A preview of his second term agenda.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he would seek to enact “transformational” changes in his second term, previewing an agenda that will require city leaders to confront politically difficult issues and vastly expand the use of public-private partnerships — a critical step for some of the mayor’s otherwise unfunded signature programs.

Fresh off his re-election victory over Tony Buzbee, Turner also spoke in new detail Sunday about his plans to restructure the fire department, accelerate the city’s permitting process, build a new theme park and intensify efforts to repair damaged streets.

“I said when I came in, in 2015, I wasn’t going to ignore things because they were not politically convenient. That has not changed,” Turner said in an interview with the Chronicle. “If I have to expend political capital to get some things done, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Chief among Turner’s priorities, he said, is to improve Houston’s flood mitigation infrastructure and quicken the pace of recovery from Hurricane Harvey, which has lagged. The key flood control projects, Turner said, are the construction of new gates on the Lake Houston dam, detention basins in Inwood Forest, the North Canal Bypass channel and an underground detention basin south of the Memorial City area.

Three of the projects have received initial funding through a federal grant program that covers a large share of the cost, with only the underground basin awaiting approval.

More immediately, Turner faces a burgeoning flood control challenge in the General Land Office’s cap on how much Houston and other local governments may draw from a $4.3 billion federal mitigation aid package. Since Harvey, Turner has sparred over the recovery process with Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Gov. Greg Abbott, both of whom wield influence over how the resources are dealt.

Turner said he has no interest in “fighting somebody just to be fighting,” but stressed that he would push for Houston to receive a bigger chunk of the aid.

“I want to work with the governor and I want to work with the GLO, but when it comes to making sure that those dollars benefit people in Houston-Harris County that were impacted by Harvey and can be impacted by another storm, how do you justify a disproportionate amount of those dollars going to some other place?” Turner said. “I don’t think you can make that case.”

[…]

Next term, Turner also said he would look to restructure the fire department by switching from a four-shift to a three-shift work schedule, which is generally viewed as more arduous and is opposed by the firefighters union.

Turner affirmed that such a move would involve lobbying the Legislature to raise the baseline at which firefighters begin accruing overtime pay. Under state law, Houston firefighters begin collecting overtime pay when they work for more than an average of 46.7 weekly hours during a 72-day work cycle. Without the added overtime cost, firefighters in other cities often work 53- or 56-hour weeks, with many operating on a three-shift cycle.

Calling the department’s model “archaic” and “not reflective of the current needs,” the mayor contended that these changes would allow HFD to more efficiently handle calls classified as EMS. Those calls make up more than 80 percent of the incidents handled by the fire department, though the fire union has noted that a far lower share of the department’s “man-hours” are spent responding to EMS calls.

There’s a long list, and we didn’t discuss the plan for HERO 2.0, which will surely use some of that capital as well. If there was ever a time to make changes to how the Fire Department operates, it’s now – the firefighters went all in on beating Turner, and they lost. I foresee a rocky road with Harvey recovery money, because it’s more in Greg Abbott and George P. Bush’s political interests to clash with Turner over how the funds are doled out and managed than it is for them to play nice and get things done. For everything else, political capital has a shelf life. We’ll be talking about the next Mayor’s race before you know it. The more the Mayor can get done next year, the better.

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6 Comments

  1. Manny says:

    I just donated a very small amount to Hegar, I had donated a similar amount to Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez earlier in the month.

    I don’t see how Ms. Ramirez will win the primary, if she was the only Hispanic running yes, but there are 3 Latinas and 1 Latino in the senate race, they will split the Latino vote.

    I have stated previously that the best candidate to take on Cornyn, is Hegar. I agree with much of what Warren and Sanders have stated as policy, however, I believe that the most important thing that we have as a duty to do for America is to make sure that Trump is not reelected. The Republican Party also has to be be defeated this November.

    I think that Texas will be in play this November at least in the Presidential race, and we need the strongest candidate heading up the race for US Senate. I think that if White had been the candidate for Governor that Beto may have beaten Cruz.

  2. Manny says:

    wrong section, oh well

  3. Marc says:

    Just because a union opposed the mayor doesn’t make a wholesale change in work rules the right thing to do. By moving from a 46.7 hour work week on average to a 53 or 56 hour workweek without a commensurate increase in pay is about as anti-labor as you can get.

    BTW, the article linked that cites the need to go to three shifts from four has some major holes, as it does not change the number of shifts worked per 72 day period. And there is no way to make the math work that makes this a net reduction in costs unless you increase the number of shifts per 72 day period, reduce overtime pay, stop paying people who are working in higher positions a differential for working in those postions, or you decrease staffing on fire apparatus. All of these positions are anti-labor.

    That said, I am miffed by my brothers and sisters who went all-in on Buzbee. He would have been a much worse disaster for HFD (Bill King, too), and he likely would have taken the rest of the city down with him.

  4. Jules says:

    Ugh, public private partnerships. To me that sounds like gifting tax dollars to the rich.

  5. C.L. says:

    @Jules, IKR ! Ranks up there with the City’s interest in building a freakin’ theme park, and having any other project that has a higher priority that flood mitigation/detention !

  6. Steve Houston says:

    Maybe the name of said park could be “Flood World”, brought to you by the combined efforts of Governor Abbott, George P. Bush, the Army Corps of Engineers, developers, HCCC, COH, and the weather! As long as the right cronies get to build such a park, each layer of government will sign off on the project. Think of the possibilities.

    Regarding HFD, what better way to restart negotiations than to toss in shift changes, OT changes, changes to hours reported to work, and restructuring along with the insistence on 30% raises? If nothing else, it will help separate those who really want to stay from those who don’t, maybe the numbers leaving will coincide with that Ten Year Report suggestion to lower staffing.