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January 31st, 2011:

Interview with David Feldman

The main focus in Houston over the next few months will be Council expansion and redistricting. One of the people who will do the heavy lifting on this is City Attorney David Feldman. If you haven’t watched this video from a recent Council session in which Feldman outlined the history, legal process, and parameters for redrawing Council boundaries (Mayor’s Report, part 1), you should, it’s very informative. I wanted to know more, of course, and I had a few questions about some other recent city business, so I asked for an interview with him. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

My thanks to David Feldman for taking the time to talk to me.

Kicking Grandma to the street

Another feature of the Republican budget.

Hundreds of nursing homes, including dozens in Dallas-Fort Worth, may close if lawmakers cut Medicaid as leaders propose, industry officials said Thursday.

Since last week, GOP leaders have introduced budgets in both chambers that would reduce by one-third the state’s budget for its 56,000 nursing home residents on Medicaid. Two-year spending would sink to $2.8 billion, from $4.2 billion.

“We are not crying wolf. Pieces of the sky are falling,” said Tim Graves, head of the Texas Health Care Association, a trade group that represents 500 nursing homes, most of them for-profit operations. He said the cuts would jeopardize about half of the state’s 1,100 nursing homes: those with 70 percent or more of patients on the Medicaid rolls.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, though, said he was “expecting that kind of input” and it’s why he’s opening budget hearings next week with a look at social services.

“The worst news is already out there,” said Ogden, head of the Senate Finance Committee. “Over the next few months, we’re going to try to improve it so at the end of the day, these cuts are not fatal.”

You’ll note that Sen. Ogden doesn’t make any actual commitment to keeping any of these nursing homes open, just that maybe the final budget wouldn’t suck quite as much for them. To be perfectly fair, I do believe that Sen. Ogden wants to minimize this, and that there will be plenty of support for that. But let’s not kid ourselves, the Republican Party is full of people – elected officials, outside agitators like Talmadge Heflin and Michael Quinn Sullivan, and everyday selfish types – who are perfectly happy with this state of affairs and just don’t care about the effects. When, not if, nursing homes are forced to close down because of Medicaid cuts, the responsibility for it is theirs.

Castro gets involved with school politics

This will be interesting to watch.

Mayor Julián Castro will take an active role in local school board elections and superintendent appointments, he said in an interview Saturday outside SA2020’s final community workshop, one in which education was heralded as key to the city’s future.

Castro, stepping directly into a domain previous mayors have avoided, said his plan begins with refusing to accept failure from the city’s “urban school districts.”

“I envision, for instance, coming up with a system of measuring the progress of these urban school districts in a mayor’s scorecard on their progress and holding them accountable for student success,” he said. “I believe that getting more involved in ensuring that there are knowledgeable and strong board members at these school districts needs to be a part of my job.

“We have sat too long and allowed our school districts to not have as top-notch leadership as they could have, both in superintendents and in school boards.”

[…]

On Saturday, as about 1,000 people wrapped up SA2020, Castro’s collaborative long-term planning effort, it was clear that for San Antonio to succeed during the next decade, improving education would be pivotal.

During the session, participants discussed how to connect seemingly disparate issues — from downtown development to economic competitiveness and family well-being.

Ann Stevens, president of BioMed SA, said education “is the river that runs through our lives and binds us together as a community.” Several other speakers, representing the collective thoughts of their working groups, pointed to a strong education system as a game changer — a daunting task made more difficult by looming state budget cuts in the Legislature.

Two points here. One, you may recall that Peter Brown made Mayoral involvement in education a part of his campaign. Nobody else followed his lead, so watching Castro will give us some idea of what might have been. This could be a brilliant, game-changing idea, and it could be a political tar pit. Who knows? I look forward to finding out.

And two, if Castro is gearing up for a future statewide run, something like this could be an excellent springboard, and it could be a great way to set himself up as a counterweight to Rick Perry. (He’s running for re-election this May, but that doesn’t preclude anything for 2012 or beyond.) The contrast between the Mayor rolling up his sleeves and getting personally involved in making his schools better against the Governor who’s making things like voter ID and so-called “sanctuary cities” emergency priorities while public education is being cut by $10 billion is striking and potentially quite compelling. I have no idea if this is something he has in mind, and there’s the very real risk that he’s bitten off more than he can chew, but I have to think the idea has occurred to someone besides me. Like I said, we’ll see how this goes.

Dallas County’s elections administrator resigns

I spotted this story in the DMN the other day.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has called a meeting of an obscure commission charged with appointing a county elections chief, raising the suspicion that it’s an attempt to oust longtime Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet.

The County Election Commission, which county officials say has not met since the late 1980s, is made up of Jenkins, Tax Assessor John Ames, County Clerk John Warren, local Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman and local Democratic Party Chairwoman Darlene Ewing.

The meeting has been set for 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Fox conference room in the Dallas County Administration Building.

Jenkins said Tuesday he is not targeting Sherbet for removal but simply convening the meeting because state law says it must meet every two years.

“What this is to me is following what I understand to be the law,” Jenkins said. “All the members of the committee are free to nominate whomever they want to.”

Jenkins, who said the meeting would take five minutes, did not comment specifically about Sherbet or his job performance, saying it would be inappropriate for him to do so since he is county judge and Sherbet is a county employee.

The newly elected county judge, however, did not rule out that a vote on Sherbet would be taken at the meeting.

Neither of the two party chairs had any desire to make a change, according to the story, so the four-fifths majority to remove Sherbet didn’t exist regardless of what Judge Jenkins has in mind. In the end, that didn’t matter because Sherbet resigned later in the day. I know nothing about Bruce Sherbet and have no opinion as to how good a job he did, though clearly a lot of people liked him, I’m just noting this story out of curiosity over how Judge Emmett’s proposal for an elections administrator for Harris County is doing. I suppose the fact that the county is firing people left and right and is supposed to be under a hiring freeze would create obstacles to the creation of a new position. Still, I haven’t heard anything since Don Sumners’ post-election tantrum about the idea and the subsequent kerfuffle over his attempt to make voter registration more difficult, so I thought I’d throw this out there and see what happens.