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December 14th, 2009:

Still more on Parker’s win

Hereare a couple of photo slide shows from the Annise Parker victory party on Saturday, from TPM and Hair Balls, the latter of which has some pix from the Gene Locke event as well. And BOR has a recording of a voice mail message President Obama left for Parker to congratulate her on her win. There’s a mighty nice thing to have.

We don’t have precinct data yet – at least, I don’t have it yet – but the Chron takes a stab at analyzing Parker’s support.

She was the policy wonk, a community activist who had won hard-fought elections for city council and controller and who had been a city official for a dozen years — and who, by the way, happened to be gay. Although she wasn’t a particularly exciting candidate, she ran a cohesive, focused campaign that relied on her years-long practice of grass-roots politics and her lengthy experience grappling with neighborhood issues at City Hall. She sought the endorsements of the same heavyweight political groups that swung in behind her opponent, but when the checks went the other way she countered with what turned out to be a more potent coalition of interest groups: liberals and progressives, feminists and gays, civic activists and moderate Republicans, particularly female Republicans.

In the end, Annise Parker’s name identification and years-long experience as candidate and elected official were too much for Gene Locke to overcome. What looked like a close race just a few days before Houstonians went to the polls turned out to be a relatively easy win for Parker, who got 53 percent of the vote to Locke’s 47 percent.

I suspect that when the precinct data becomes available, it will look a lot like it did in November, with Locke dominating Districts B and D, and Parker leading everywhere else.

BAE gets a reprieve from the GAO

The Government Accountability Office has set aside the Army’s decision to award a $2.6 billion contract to build combat trucks to Oshkosh Systems, giving at least a temporary victory to BAE Systems of Sealy, which currently has that contract.

Michael R. Golden, GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law, announced that his agency had “sustained or upheld the protests” lodged by BAE Systems and Navistar, rivals for the contract that had been awarded to Oshkosh Corp. “The Army’s evaluation (of the contract proposals) was flawed with regard to the evaluation of Oshkosh’s proposal.”

Golden said GAO recommended that the Army “make a new selection decision.”

The official added: “We also recommended that if at the conclusion of the re-evaluation Oshkosh is not found to offer the best value, the agency should terminate Oshkosh’s contract for the convenience of the government.”

Background on this story is here, here, and here. A statement from BAE Systems is beneath the fold. It must be noted that this doesn’t mean BAE will retain the contract. It just simply means the Army needs to take another look at how it made its decision and have another go at it.

The GAO decision is limited in scope and does not recommend that the Army reopen the competition for the truck contract, but rather reevaluate the bids the three companies originally submitted. It says the Army should reevaluate the three bids based on the “capability factor,” and also that it should conduct a new evaluation of Navistar’s past performance on contracts.

The GAO denied BAE’s challenge regarding the evaluation of Oshkosh’s price.

“Our review of the record led us to conclude that the Army’s evaluation was flawed with regard to the evaluation of Oshkosh’s proposal under the capability evaluation factor, and the evaluation of Navistar’s past performance,” Michael Golden, GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law, said in a statement.

“We also denied a number of Navistar’s and BAE’s challenges to the award to Oshkosh, including challenges to the evaluation of Oshkosh’s price,” Golden said.

After the Army reevaluates based on GAO’s recommendations it would have to issue a new solicitation decision. The GAO recommends that if at the conclusion of the reevaluation the Army finds that Oshkosh does not “offer the best value” the Army should terminate the current Oshkosh contract.

The Army has 60 days to inform the GAO how it will proceed based on the recommendations provided.

So the Army could re-run the numbers and decide that Oshkosh is still the best bet. Or, if they throw everything out and start all over, Oshkosh could submit a different bid that still wins. BAE is still in the running, but in effect it’s been granted a new trial, not a directed verdict. BOR has more.

(more…)

And now that that’s over…

It’s time to start focusing on the 2010 elections. Yeah, I know, I’m still recovering from the Houston runoffs as well. But the fact is that the filing deadline for the 2010 primaries is three weeks away, and candidates are lining up for various spots. In particular, in Harris County, there will be a ton of contested judicial primaries on the Democratic side. As I did last year, I will be printing a series of short Q&As from candidates in these contested primaries, so that those of you who participate in the Democratic primary can have some idea of who is running and who you might like to support. I’m going to start running responses I’ve received tomorrow, and will continue all the way through the primary in March. Yeah, there’s that many race and candidates. I’ll also put up a 2010 Election page to keep track of them and any in-person interviews I do for the primary and eventually the general as I did this year for the Houston races. Let me know if you have any questions about this. Thanks very much.

Mayor Parker hits the ground running

Mayor-Elect Annise Parker talks to the Chron and tells us again what she intends to do after she’s sworn in.

“One of the reasons I’m not having that big, excited, happy feeling is that there is a lot of work to be done, not because there are problems undone with the current administration, but because the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves are very, very fluid,” she said in a wide-ranging interview with the Houston Chronicle. “I’m going to be the mom telling you to eat your vegetables and you don’t get dessert. I’m trying to make sure you have enough food to eat.”

[…]

She said repeatedly that she plans to “leave it all on the table” in her efforts to bring lasting change to the city, noting that she does not aspire to higher office.

Her ideas for budget cuts, better policing and other issues seemed well formed in her mind, and she appeared to be under no illusions about the wide array of challenges she will inherit.

The first, the one that will permeate all the others, is the budget, which has been challenging enough to take up most of White’s last year in office. The city continues to have a $3 million shortfall, according to Parker’s latest finance report, one that has just grown with the need to audit the Houston Police Department’s fingerprinting unit, a contract that may cost several million dollars.

White said he has left behind a detailed draft budget for 2010 that will not “compromise city services.” The new mayor will face several constraints if lower-than-anticipated property tax appraisals come in next year and the fallout continues in municipal bond markets from the Wall Street meltdown last year.

Needless to say, the state is facing these same issues. Since the next budget at that level doesn’t have to be written until 2011, one response you’ll hear is to hope that sales tax revenues will rebound over the holidays. If that happens it will presumably be good for Houston as well. Hope may not be a plan, but you’d better believe everyone in government is hoping.

The most pronounced changes in a Parker administration may come in the Houston Police Department, which she routinely called out for having a 40 percent budgetary increase in the past six years without adding any new police officers.

She first intends to name a new police chief from within HPD “who understands that we can’t keep doing things in the same way.” Parker reiterated her intent to “shake up” the department and “take apart old and outmoded ways of thinking,” and relying more on technology and decentralizing police work.

“New York and Los Angeles have a decentralized model that really pushes accountability down to the neighborhood level,” she said. “Every neighborhood in the city of Houston, every area in the city of Houston, has a different set of public safety problems and potentially different public safety solutions. Let’s think about how we do policing at a much more granular level with the authority and the responsibility pushed down more to the men and women on the street.”

If any of this isn’t familiar, you weren’t paying attention during the campaign. Nonetheless, you can see why the HPOU really went nuts on her during the runoff. Change is coming, and they don’t think they’re going to like it. Ought to make for some interesting contract negotiations, that’s for sure.

The real fun begins in January. Parker says she’s willing to push things through on close Council votes if that’s what it takes. Well, everybody who ran for Council this year spoke about the need to deal with the budget, so at the very least this will be a test of their determination. It always gets harder when specifics get proposed. We’ll see how it goes.

More on the new DA drug policy

Mark Bennett notes the new policy for dealing with trace amounts of drugs as announced by the Harris County DA’s office and suggests there’s little to be concerned about.

What we’re really talking about here is a small number of people—the Harris County Sheriff’s Office guesses that 750 or fewer people are in Harris County’s jails for possession of trace amounts of controlled substances; there are a few people serving sentences of between six months and two years in State Jail as well for trace cases. The Office of Applied Studies of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that 8% of Americans over the age of 12 were current illicit drug users. Harris County has almost 4 million people. If (interpolating from Houston 2000 numbers here) 81.4% of those people are over 12 and 8% of those people are current drug users, then more than 250,000 Harris County residents are current illicit drug users.

In a county of nearly four million, can incarcerating 3% or 6% of the illicit drug users at any one time make a statistically significant difference in the amount of violent or property crime? It might, though I haven’t noticed any shortage of methheads wandering up and down my street under the current regime; I think Pat Lykos has indicated that she is willing to consider the possibility that things will get worse under her new policy.

If the resources taken to prosecute those 750 or 1500 people are then turned toward investigating and prosecuting thieves, burglars, and robbers will there be a net loss in public safety over six months? Pat Lykos is betting that there won’t. If she’s wrong, she can try something different, and if she’s right she has improved the criminal justice system for all time.

I should note that Mark had heard rumors about this change in policy back in October, and mentioned them again on his blog nearly a week before the Chron story appeared. Nicely done, Mark!

Council rejects Ashby appeal

I know, I can’t believe it, either.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday eliminated the final option outside the courthouse for the developers of the Ashby high-rise to gain approval of the 23-story, mixed-use development they first sought to build more than two years ago.

The council unanimously rejected the developers’ appeal seeking permission to build a dense concentration of apartments or condominiums, a spa, a restaurant, office space and street-level shops at 1717 Bissonnet. These plans had previously been rejected by city traffic engineers and an administrative appeals panel.

The developers, Matthew Morgan and Kevin Kirton of Buckhead Investment Partners, said they would pursue all available options, including a lawsuit, to build the project as originally conceived.

Start the lawsuit countdown watch, I guess. I was half-kidding when I suggested that this may be a problem Mayor Parker’s successor inherits, but perhaps the half-not-kidding part will prove to be correct.

TAMU-SA update

Here’s an update on the Texas A&M campus in San Antonio, which is now searching for a full-time president of the school.

Regents for the Texas A&M University System have appointed an advisory committee made up of regents, administrators, faculty, staff, students and community members to sift through resumes, conduct interviews and forward the names of three candidates to Mike McKinney, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, and the board of regents, who make the final decision.

The committee hopes to settle on three names by March, said Frank Ashley, vice chancellor for the Texas A&M System and chair of the search committee.

“I think that the Texas A&M-San Antonio job is a very desirable presidency,” Ashley said. “It is very seldom that people have the opportunity to build a university from the ground up.”

Founded as a system center in 2000, the campus grew to 2,300 students and became an independent university in May. Plans call for the university’s first permanent building to start going up by next April on donated land within a planned urban village. A&M System officials believe it will grow into the system’s second-largest campus by 2028.

I first heard about TAMU-SA in 2005. I’m glad to see it progressing, as this concept makes all kinds of sense. Good luck to the Aggies in finding the right person to lead the school.