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Donna Edmunson

Mayor Turner names new City Attorney

From the inbox:

Ronald Lewis

Mayor Sylvester Turner has announced his selection of Ronald C. Lewis as the new city attorney. Like the mayor, Lewis is Harvard educated and has run his own law firm.

“I wanted a lawyer’s lawyer, someone highly respected who can relate well to me as well as City Council and the general public,” said Mayor Turner. “Ronald certainly fits this description. He is an outstanding lawyer with excellent credentials and the experience necessary to run the law firm that is part of City government.”

Before co-founding Marshall & Lewis LLP in 2006, Lewis was a partner at Baker Botts LLP, which he joined right after graduating from Harvard with honors in 1983. He is a trial lawyer with more than 30 years of experience handling complex cases for businesses and individuals in the energy, real estate, construction, financial and manufacturing industries. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the Houston Bar Association as well as a Life Fellow at the Houston Bar Foundation, where he was chairman of the board in 2000. His undergraduate degree is from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

“I look forward to serving the people of Houston, their elected officials and city employees,” said Lewis.

Lewis’ professional affiliations include the Best Lawyers in America, the American Law Institute, and The International Association of Defense Lawyers. In addition, he has served as a member of the Houston Bar Association Minority Opportunities in the Legal Profession Committee, as a steering committee member for the State Bar of Texas Minority Counsel Program and on the Commission for Lawyer Discipline. He volunteers for the Center for Public Policy Priorities and has previously served as a member of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors, the South Texas College of Law Board of Trustees, Texas Appleseed, Neighborhood Centers Inc., and Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas.

Lewis was selected after a competitive search coordinated by a panel comprised of local lawyers. There were about 30 applicants who went through the selection process. Houston City Council is expected to be asked to confirm Lewis’ appointment in two weeks. He will start work May 2, 2016 and is replacing retiring City Attorney Donna Edmundson, who has agreed to stay through the end of May to help with the transition.

As the Chron story notes, Lewis has maintained a fairly low news profile, with “his selection by Harris County officials to represent disgraced former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal in a 2008 contempt of court case related to Rosenthal’s deletion of emails that were under subpoena in a federal court case” being the only cited exception. Lewis inherits the ReBuild Houston re-litigation and the ongoing term limits ballot language lawsuit as his main action items. Beyond that, we’ll have to see what his priorities are. Welcome aboard, Ronald Lewis.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story.

Resign to run has kicked in for Council members

Another change that our new term limits law has wrought.

Houston elected officials who become a candidate for another elected office are now automatically required to resign their current seat, uncharted territory for city officeholders who previously had not been subject to the so-called “resign-to-run” provision of the Texas Constitution.

The requirement that has long applied to county officials also covers officeholders in municipalities whose terms are longer than two years. Voters extended the terms of Houston elected officials to four years, from two, last November, triggering the change.

The “resign-to-run” clause pertains to those with more than one year and 30 days left in their terms who announce their candidacy or become a candidate in any general, special or primary election.

The provision does not appear immediately to affect three City Council members – Dwight Boykins, Jerry Davis and Larry Green – who have expressed interest in the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s seat, because it would not kick in until Democratic precinct chairs select someone to replace Lee on the November ballot.

[…]

Executive committee nominations aside, a memo sent Tuesday by City Attorney Donna Edmundson and obtained by the Chronicle defines “announcing candidacy for office” as “making a written or oral statement from which a reasonable person may conclude that the individual intends, without qualification, to run for an office.”

Edmundson added: “A statement made in a private conversation does not constitute an announcement of candidacy for the purposes of the ‘resign to run’ provision. Likewise, a statement indicating an interest in an office is not considered an announcement of candidacy.”

[Mark] Jones said the new rules further constrain elected city officials.

“Previously, they effectively could have their cake and eat it, too, in that they could run while keeping their City Council position,” Jones said. “Now, they’re going to have to actually make a hard choice, which in some cases may be a risky move.”

Yes, but let’s not go overboard. Not that many people that would have been affected by resign-to-run took advantage of their prior exemption from it. Going back a decade, I can think of six sitting municipal officeholders who were also candidates for other offices. Three of them were in the last year of their final term – Bill White in 2009, Wanda Adams in 2013, and Ed Gonzalez in 2015 – and thus had less than a year and a month remaining in office. Only three people would have had to resign to run – Shelley Sekula Gibbs, who ran for Congress in 2006; Adrian Garcia, who ran for Sheriff in 2008; and Mike Sullivan, who ran for Tax Assessor in 2012. Sekula Gibbs and Garcia resigned after winning their November elections, thus triggering special elections to succeed them the following May, while Sullivan resigned after winning his primary, which allowed the special election to fill his seat to happen that same November.

The rest of the story is about filling Commissioner El Franco Lee’s spot on the November ballot, and it’s mostly stuff we already know. The main thing here is that this change probably won’t have much effect, though it could alter how some incumbents view the rest of the election cycle. If anyone decides to run for something in 2018, we’ll know.

Back to square one for ReBuild Houston

Here we go again.

A state district judge on Thursday voided the 2010 charter referendum that enabled the city to create the ReBuild Houston program, muddying the fate of the multi-billion-dollar funding scheme to dramatically improve Houston’s streets and drainage.

Visiting Judge Buddie Hahn ordered the city to hold a new election on the drainage fee, though that is unlikely to happen any time soon if the city appeals the decision. Hahn sided with a ruling issued by the Texas Supreme Court in June that said the city had obscured the ballot language surrounding the drainage fee, a major funding source for ReBuild Houston.

By omitting the drainage fee, the Supreme Court said, the city failed to adequately inform voters about the intent of the ballot measure.

In a brief court hearing Thursday, Hahn said he had little discretion because the “Supreme Court has just about said as a matter of law” that the election should be voided.

[…]

Mayor Annise Parker said the city has no plans to stop collecting the fee. She echoed City Attorney Donna Edmundson, who said during the summer that the lawsuit targets the charter amendment, not the ordinance City Council later passed to begin collecting the fee.

In a written statement, Parker said the city is “disappointed with the court’s ruling and are considering our legal options,” but “the ordinance remains valid and in effect.”

Voters approved a ballot measure in 2010 that did not make specific mention of the monthly fee, asking instead if the city charter should “be amended to provide for the enhancement, improvement and ongoing renewal of Houston’s drainage and streets by creating a Dedicated Pay-As-You-Go Fund for Drainage and Streets?”

Then, in spring 2011, City Council approved an ordinance that set the fee and authorized its collection.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s statement. This is going to be tied up in court for awhile, and the question of whether or not the fee is in fact still in effect will be front and center in that fight. You know my opinion on this, but it’s not like that counts for much. As Bob Stein says later in the story, this ought to be a focal point of the Mayoral runoff, since the next Mayor will have to decide how to handle this – fight to the bitter end, seek to settle, surrender unconditionally, etc. I asked all the Mayoral candidates about ReBuild Houston – heck, I asked all of the At Large Council and Controller candidates about it as well – so go back and listen to some interviews on my 2015 Election page if you want to review their answers. Texas Leftist has more.

What now for road projects?

What do we do with road projects that were going to use ReBuild Houston funds now that the Supreme Court has ruled the 2010 referendum to have been illegal?

A necklace of neighborhood streets encircling Hudnell’s home is among the ReBuild projects, deemed beyond “economical repair” and originally scheduled for work late next fiscal year, which starts July 1, but recently pushed back several months.

Now, that delay could last much longer, and residents who have waited for their crumbling roads or poor drainage to be improved could simply be out of luck; a Supreme Court ruling two weeks ago found the ReBuild ballot measure voters narrowly approved in 2010 obscured the nature and cost of the drainage fee. The case is headed back to trial court where legal experts say a judge is likely to honor the unanimous Supreme Court decision.

If the city no longer can collect the drainage fee, ReBuild projects slated for mid- to late next year, like the one near South Acres, could be shelved. Next year alone, the city has budgeted more than $100 million in drainage fee spending, and the fee is projected to bring in $500 million over five years.

At a budget meeting last week, Mayor Annise Parker acknowledged the city’s Capital Improvement Plan could take a hit. Council members have pushed the administration for more clarity on the impact of the lawsuit as they consider the five-year plan, up for a vote Wednesday.

“The Supreme Court ruling, first of all, it’s ongoing litigation, it has no operational impact today,” Parker said. “But it would be the CIP. Probably a third to a half of the CIP would go away if we didn’t use the drainage fee. But there’s still other money in there.”

[…]

City Attorney Donna Edmundson disputed the notion that the city could not collect the drainage fee if the trial court finds the ballot language was misleading, pointing out that the lawsuit targets the charter amendment, not the ordinance City Council later passed to begin collecting the fee.

“The ruling by the Texas Supreme Court regarding the language for the Proposition 1 charter amendment has no bearing on whether the drainage ordinance continues,” Edmundson said. “The enabling ordinance adopted by City Council created the drainage utility and accompanying monthly fee that finances the streets and drainage program. For this reason, the ongoing legal dispute has no impact on the city budget for the coming fiscal year or the five-year Capital Improvement Program City Council will consider on Wednesday.”

South Texas College of Law professor Matthew Festa said that the charter amendment is struck down and the city continues to collect the drainage fee, it begs the question why they sent it to voters in the first place.

“It might be a technically correct legal argument,” Festa said. “But it might not be prudent to continue implementing a law where the basis on which the law is enacted is in grave doubt.”

See here and here for the background. As I said with the calls for doing over the election, I’d like to hear what the district court has to say before we do anything rash. Proceeding as if nothing has changed strikes me as unwise. I hate the idea of putting off needed maintenance, and I still think the Supreme Court ruling was politically motivated, but we are in uncharted waters here, and any further activity involving ReBuild funds risks putting the city in legal jeopardy. If there are projects that can be done without tapping into that funding source for now, then go ahead with it. Anything else, let’s get some clarity about what the Supreme Court ruling means in practical terms.

New litigation against ReBuild Houston

To be expected at this point.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the city, seeking to reimburse residents who pay the drainage fee that helps fund ReBuild Houston, the multibillion-dollar streets and drainage improvement program that voters narrowly approved in 2010.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a Texas Supreme Court ruling issued Friday that found that the ReBuild ballot measure failed to disclose the cost of the drainage fee to the public. The case has been sent back to trial court, where plaintiffs expect a swift victory and legal experts said it’s likely a judge will honor the Supreme Court ruling.

Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs in that case, is also behind Wednesday’s class action suit. The named plaintiff, or class representative, is resident Elizabeth Perez, one of the plaintiffs in the original ReBuild suit.

In order for the class action suit to move forward, a judge must agree that there is a group of similarly disadvantaged people, constituting a “class.” Taylor is attempting to include all residents who receive a water bill to which the drainage fee is tacked on every month. His argument hinges on the idea that property owners were “under duress” when they paid the drainage fee because they could have their water shut off if they failed to do so.

See here for the background. Is there a form I can fill out to attest that I’d sooner have an arm gnawed off by wombats than consent to be legally represented by Andy Taylor? Because while I have no doubt that there are many homeowners who would like to get a refund on their drainage fees, there are plenty – like me and the commenter on this Chronicle story – who are happy to have paid a few extra bucks each month to help fund infrastructure improvements, however imperfectly they were done. If Andy Taylor tries to claim that all homeowners were coerced into paying the fee, then he deserves to lose, because he sure as hell doesn’t speak for me.

A later version of the story suggests Taylor’s actions are indeed odd.

In order for the class-action suit to move forward, a judge must agree that there is a group of similarly disadvantaged people, constituting a “class.” Taylor is attempting to include all residents who receive a water bill, to which the drainage fee is tacked on every month. His argument hinges on the idea that property owners were “under duress” when they paid drainage fees because they could have their water shut off if they failed to do so.

City Attorney Donna Edmundson called the class action lawsuit “very premature” because the trial court case over the legality of the ReBuild ballot measure hasn’t been resolved. Without establishing that the fee is illegal, Taylor’s class action suit would be moot.

“This presupposes we’ve lost,” Edmundson said. “We haven’t lost on remand yet. We still get our day in court. The charter amendment has not been struck.”

Stanford law professor Deborah Hensler said Taylor’s case is ambitious because he is not only seeking to halt the fee, but also to reimburse residents going back five years. The sheer logistics involved in repaying residents and the financial hardship to the city could factor into a judge’s decision even if the legal case is sound, Hensler said.

“Most judges are sensitive to the size of the damages,” Hensler said.

Well, no one has ever said Andy Taylor doesn’t reach for the stars. He seldom gets there, but he does reach. We’ll see what a judge makes of it.

On a related note, I went and checked the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of each of the five candidates for Mayor who had not made a statement about the Supreme Court ruling as of my previous post. Here’s Sylvester Turner’s statement, posted on June 15 at 11:44 AM. The other four – Chris Bell, Adrian Garcia, Marty McVey, and most puzzling to me Steve Costello still had nothing to say on the subject as of last night. I will ask again: What are you waiting for?

On regulating city lobbyists

Still a work in progress, it would seem.

BagOfMoney

Four years after Mayor Annise Parker’s administration tightened Houston’s lobbying rules and pledged to enforce them, not a single person or firm has been cited despite records showing that many lobbyists have failed to abide by the regulations.

A Houston Chronicle review of city records and interviews show that dozens of lobbyists do not properly record the clients they represent, do not keep their registrations up to date or do not report spending any money to influence city leaders.

In addition to registering their employers, lobbyists must disclose the spending they do to lobby city officials. Of the 142 lobbyists with active files in the City Secretary’s office, only 24 reported spending money on lobbying, and only 10 reported making more than three expenditures. Many activity reports also were filed late.

Lobbyists must update their registrations annually, but dozens fail to do so, leading to lapses ranging from a few days to several months. Some fought issues before the City Council, met with city officials or took council members to luncheons or Astros games during those lapses.

Houston lobbyists say any examination of influence peddling at City Hall inherently will omit the worst offenders who never disclose their clients and have no paperwork on file, and will name only those who try to follow the rules by maintaining active files. Many add that the city’s paper filing process is unwieldy, complicating compliance, and say city enforcement falls short.

Indeed, some advocates at City Hall do not always register because they do not view their efforts as lobbying, some because part of their work is public relations and others because they are attorneys representing clients and believe they qualify for a loophole in the law.

Parker said disdain for city lobbying rules is “not an insignificant problem,” but said enforcement must be complaint-driven.

“Obviously, we’d like better compliance, and I would encourage anyone who believes that someone is lobbying illegally to come forward,” Parker said.

“The whole goal of having a lobbyist registration is to know who someone’s working for, and, if they’re good lobbyists, you ought to know who they’re working for, they ought to be in there talking to you and advocating. It’s more of an issue of background information for council members.”

Craig McDonald, director of the Austin-based nonprofit Texans for Public Justice, took a different view, arguing that lobbying rules are drafted not for elected officials, but for the citizens they serve.

“It’s a basic right to know, almost like the ability to know who’s paying for elections,” McDonald said. “Without knowing who’s lobbying and who’s paying for it, it’s hard to find the conflicts – and that’s usually a conflict between an interest group and the general public.”

Houston’s lobbying rules have a simple goal: to make those who seek to influence city actions disclose their clients and the money they spend on their behalf. Despite records and interviews showing problems in both areas, City Attorney Donna Edmundson said her office does not have the resources to do proactive enforcement. Edmundson acknowledged some lobbyists complain about competitors, but said she has never received a written complaint that would spur her to investigate.

“The criminal standard is ‘intentionally or knowingly violates.’ The bottom line is, it’s just a Class C misdemeanor,” Edmundson said, noting the $500 fine such a violation would carry. “If someone files a written complaint, that’s fine. I don’t know of anyone in the city that would sit here and look at the City Secretary’s list.”

That lack of urgency on lobbying rules is common, McDonald said, noting that even the Texas Ethics Commission does no proactive enforcement. However, he said even minor violations of state ethics rules bring citations and fines because the bar to levy penalties is lower.

I generally agree with PDiddie that this is unacceptable. It’s not clear to me how much fault goes to the wording of the ordinance, how much goes to the lobbyists, and how much goes to the city for being so lax about it all. Tighter ethical rules are something we should all believe in, but where we go from here to get to what that new ordinance promised is a question we – more appropriately, the Mayoral candidates – can discuss. Towards that end, as I see it, there are three reasonable responses for a candidate to make to this:

1. Though there is always room for improvement, the system is basically doing what it was designed to do. It was never intended to be proactive, as the City Attorney’s office doesn’t have the resources to pursue investigations on its own. Adding sufficient resources to be proactive would be expensive and would be unlikely to provide much value. Clean up the language as needed, remind all the stakeholders what the rules are, remind everyone else that they are empowered to report violations, and we’re good to go.

2. The system is not working as intended, and the “do nothing until someone files a report” approach is exactly backwards. The city should be aggressively enforcing the ethics ordinances that it made a big show of tightening four years ago, and if that means spending more money on resources for the City Attorney to pursue these cases, even if there’s not much evidence now that there’s all that much to enforce, then so be it.

3. If the city can’t enforce its ordinances, then those ordinances should be changed or removed. Figure out how much we actually want to spend on enforcing these lobbyist rules, figure out where the most bang for the buck is, then rewrite the ordinance to reflect that and enforce them like any other law.

Which response do I prefer? I’m going to weasel out and say that I’m not sure, but I’m open to persuasion. What I would really like – say it with me now – is to know what approach the Mayoral candidates prefer. This task will fall to one of them, after all, and there is a budget reality at play here. How would they handle it, and what specifically would they do differently? We need to know.

Police officers’ pension fund speaks up

The firefighters’ pension fund is the one that gets all the attention, but it’s not the only one the city is responsible for. The Houston Police Officers Pension System (HPOPS) has sent a letter to the city reminding it that they have a deal that restricts what the city can request from the Legislature.

Police pension leaders, in a March 11 letter to Mayor Annise Parker and City Council members, asked for documents proving that city officials are complying with a provision of the 12-year deal, approved in 2011, that requires the city to join the fund in opposing legislation that would affect the terms of the agreement.

The letter named no particular official, but it would be hard to miss the recent actions – and accompanying press releases – of mayoral candidates and City Councilmen Steve Costello and Oliver Pennington, who back a bill filed by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, that would grant the city local authority over its three pension plans. Today, the plans are controlled in Austin, where lawmakers have stymied repeated attempts at reform. The rising cost of pensions has caused stress at City Hall for more than a decade; Houston is paying $353 million into its pensions this fiscal year, almost twice what it spends on trash pickup, parks and libraries combined.

In writing the mayor, police pension officials also sought a meeting, which they got Friday morning. City Attorney Donna Edmundson said the gathering was cordial and brief, and served simply to confirm that pension leaders and the Parker administration view the agreement similarly and will thus jointly oppose Murphy’s bill, despite the mayor having sought related legislation in years past.

The key, Edmundson said, is that when the agreement refers to “the city” it refers to the executive branch – in this case, the mayor, her top staff and legislative coordinators – and not individual council members in the legislative branch.

“Council member Costello has gone to Austin. But in those trips to Austin, he’s not representing the city of Houston, and they just wanted to be clear on that and make sure we’re on the same page,” Edmundson said. “We can’t stop an individual from going to Austin and expressing his or her views or the views of his or her constituents. They have a First Amendment right.”

Police pension representatives confirmed Edmundson’s characterizations, but declined further comment.

On the fund’s website, however, chairman Terry Bratton on Friday posted that he had met with Parker and that their plans aligned.

“The agreement provides that the city and HPOPS (Houston Police Officers’ Pension System) will work together to oppose bills adversely impacting HPOPS. The mayor is aware of the provision and intends to honor the contract,” Bratton wrote.

Just a reminder that there’s more than one dimension to the pension issue, and that if you think Mayor Parker should be supporting Rep. Murphy’s bill, the 2011 agreement with HPOPS – which as the story notes, both CMs Costello and Pennington voted for – says she cannot. Mayoral candidates Costello and Pennington are free to do what they want, but that agreement with HPOPS will bind them going forward if one of them gets elected.

Meanwhile, the chair of the firefighters’ pension fund sent a letter to the Chronicle to point out a few things regarding the recent deal.

Regarding “Missed chances” (Page B8, Friday), last August, during a special subcommittee meeting of the Houston City Council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, several members of City Council challenged the board of the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF) to develop an alternative proposal to Mayor Annise Parker’s plan for newly hired firefighters.

In response to this challenge, HFRRF developed a proposal that addressed several issues. Primarily, it maintained the hard-earned and promised benefits of our active and retired firefighters. Additionally, it addressed the City’s contributions needs during the next three fiscal years and avoids costly litigation for all the parties.

Throughout the months of August and September, members of the HFRRF board, including myself, and staff members personally met with almost all members of the City Council and reviewed our proposal.

During these meetings, each of these members were advised that HFRRF was participating in discussions with the mayor about the proposal. Most members expressed encouragement that we had voluntarily engaged in a discussion with the mayor and hoped that some form of agreement might be reached.

Over the next several months, we participated in many meetings in the mayor’s office. Included in these meetings were the mayor, her staff and some members of Council. The mayor also attended two public board meetings at the HFRRF office.

Traditionally, when two parties attempt to come to mutually agreeable terms, each side receives some benefit for their considerations to the other party.

I believe that both the HFRRF and the mayor recognize that the result of this agreement is a reasonable solution, and it addressed the challenge initiated during the August subcommittee meeting.

Todd Clark, chairman of HFRRF

Here’s a post about that Council meeting in August. Looking for that also reminded me that news of the deal was first reported in September. Clearly, a lot of people, myself included, had forgotten about that. The deal that was agreed to this month doesn’t look all that different from what was proposed six months ago. People may not like the deal, but no one can say they didn’t know about it.

Appeals court reverses ruling about pension retiree information

So much for that.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

A state district court’s 2013 ruling that Houston’s fire pension board must turn over detailed information on its retirees to help city officials better project future pension bills has been overturned on appeal.

Justices with the 1st Court of Appeals issued the opinion Tuesday, arguing that, in essence, state law protects the city’s ability to request information on its pensioners but not at the breadth and depth the city originally sought when it sued the pension fund in May 2012. At the time Mayor Annise Parker argued she needed better data to project future pension costs.

Todd Clark, chairman of the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund, cheered the ruling, and said the city has all the information it needs on retired firefighters.

“The city took a run at trying to convert the plain meaning of a statute providing for an independent audit into a license to rummage through a decade of pension members’ personal information,” Clark said. “Both taxpayer and pension resources were wasted by the city’s lawsuit.”

City Attorney Donna Edmundson said she and her staff still are reviewing the ruling and weighing the city’s options, which could include appealing the ruling or narrowing the city’s request for information.

Houston originally sought individual data on each retiree from 2000 forward, and later amended its request to target group data from that period. Edmundson said the ruling suggests state law may protect the city’s access to retiree information if it requests only group data dating back to only 2011.

“I think basically, on our part, we just need to go back in and refine our request a bit, just tweak it,” Edmundson said. “Obviously we’re reaching out to the firefighters trying to come to agreement on numerous issues. We’re just going to sit back on this for the time being since we do have other litigation pending, as well.”

Assistant City Attorney Judith Ramsey added that it was important for the city to pursue the case because state law requires Houston to audit its pension funds every five years, “and we felt that we needed the level of detail we originally asked for in order to do the kind of audit we were required to do.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the court’s opinion. Narrowing the request is probably the shorter path to some kind of resolution, though I suppose the firefighters could still appeal if the First Court of Appeals accepted a revised petition. I’m just guessing – if anyone knows better what the possible paths are, please leave a comment. Barring some kind of settlement agreement, which I would not bet on, I presume this will not be resolved by the end of the year, meaning that the next Mayor will inherit this. I wonder what legal strategy the various candidates would prefer to see Mayor Parker pursue. A statement from the HFRRF is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Donna Edmunson

From the inbox:

Donna Edmunson

Mayor Annise Parker has selected Donna Edmundson to be the new city attorney. Upon confirmation by City Council, Edmundson will become the first woman to hold the position. She has nearly 30 years of experience with the City Legal Department.

“With just a year left in my term and a wealth of internal talent, I did not see a need to consider an outside candidate,” said Mayor Parker. “Multiple employees were interviewed from within the department, and I concluded Donna is the best choice. She has deep and broad experience in matters of law and management. I particularly like that her recent experience has been in the area of neighborhood protection, which is one of my top priorities.”

Edmundson has been practicing law in the City Legal Department since 1986. Since 2008, she has served as Chief of the department’s Neighborhood Services Section. Her current responsibilities include managing 25 attorneys and support staff as well as providing legal advice regarding neighborhood issues to various city departments. She has pursued legal action against the owners of dangerous buildings and works closely with the Houston Police Department (HPD) on gang, drug and vice related matters. Her work targeting a north side gang known as the Hollywood Click resulted in a 40 percent reduction in criminal activity in a 48 square mile area on Houston’s north side. She was also intimately involved in the settlement that ended long-standing litigation between 16 area topless clubs and the City. The agreement set new regulations for operation of the clubs and provided funding for creation of a human trafficking unit within HPD.

Prior to being named to the management position of section chief, Edmundson served as a Senior Assistant City Attorney. She has a law degree from South Texas College of Law and a B.A. from Sam Houston State University.

Edmundson will replace David Feldman, who is resigning effective January 16, 2015, to go into practice with his son.

City Council is expected to consider Edmundson’s confirmation in two weeks.

The Chron story has some more details.

Colleagues describe the soft-spoken attorney – a fourth-generation Houstonian, Westbury High School graduate and the youngest, with her twin brother, of six siblings – as tireless, firm and passionate about her work.

Wanda Adams, an HISD trustee and former council member who worked with Edmundson on many neighborhood nuisances, said she has “a community heart.”

“She approaches her work with passion, and she’s very honest and transparent,” Adams said. “Donna would go out and look at the issue. She didn’t sit at the desk. I always used to talk about the landlords and dilapidated apartments. She would actually go out there and look and see and talk to the tenants.”

[…]

Parker lauded Edmundson’s work to secure a 10-year court order against a north Houston gang known as the Hollywood Click. The injunction, signed in 2011, severely limits gang members’ activities in a 48-square-mile area and, officials said, has cut crime there 40 percent. Edmundson also worked on a novel settlement with 16 area topless clubs that legalized lap dances in exchange for the clubs funding a new police vice unit and closing private rooms.

“The things that we do and we impact, you can directly see,” Edmundson said. “We can get a call about something that’s a dangerous building and get the owner to take it down. You have locations where there’s criminal activity. We can go in and sue them or get some sort of injunctive relief to bring that activity to a close.”

Neighborhood leaders praised Edmundson for her responsiveness. Glenbrook Valley residents had accumulated a backlog of alleged deed restriction violations the city had ignored when Edmundson took over theNeighborhood Services Division several years ago, civic leader Ann Collum said. Edmundson came to the neighborhood and reviewed the entire file.

“She’s very caring and very concerned,” Collum said. “There was a completely open communication line if we had a question or didn’t understand something. She will be an asset to the whole city.”

Councilman Mike Laster served in the city attorney’s office with Edmundson in the 1990s and has worked with her on issues in his district since joining the council in 2012.

“As a colleague in the city attorney’s office, she was a great mentor and a gentle teacher to young attorneys and other colleagues,” he said. “As a person who worked with a council member, she brought that same sort of intelligence and good humor to the table. She has the ability to be strong and firm and definite when that’s needed, and she also, more importantly, has an open mind.”

All very good to hear. Gotta say, I’d have thought we’d have had a female City Attorney by now, but apparently not. I wish Ms. Edmunson all the best. She’s coming in at a critical time, with the HERO repeal petition lawsuit about to get underway. Good luck with the new job, and please be immediately successful. Texas Leftist has more.