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August 4th, 2012:

Saturday video break: Stop Your Sobbing

Song #57 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Stop Your Sobbing”, originally by The Kinks and covered by The Pretenders. Here’s the original:

Definitely an early 60s song, very different in structure and sound than what I at least am used to hearing from the Kinks on the radio. Here’s the cover, which as the Popdose writup notes came from Chrissy Hynde’s affair with Ray Davies:

When I started out on this post, I thought it was going to be about a song I’d not heard before, but instead it was a song whose name I’d not known before now. That’s been one of the nice things about doing this series, I’ve finally learned the names of some songs I’d always known. Gotta love commercial radio. Anyway, it’s the same basic song but definitely improved. And now I know what it’s called. Awesome. What do you think?

Up or down, more or less

Metro has chosen its referendum.

I still hope we get to have all this some day

A sharply divided Metro board approved a plan Friday that would give the city of Houston tens of millions of dollars more for road projects under a ballot referendum to be put before voters in November.

The 5-4 vote followed a sometimes strained, four-hour meeting and sparked accusations that city board appointees had orchestrated the move.

“It deprives the unincorporated area of Harris County the funds necessary to continue to build the infrastructure necessary for all the people who don’t want to live in the city of Houston,” said Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack. “It’s disgusting. The growth is in the unincorporated area.”


The proposal passed Friday would treat Houston, Harris County and the other 11 small cities in similar fashion, giving each 25 percent of the sales taxes collected within their boundaries.

Humble, Katy and Missouri City would continue to receive a disproportionately larger share, Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia said, in part, because they sit on the distant edges of Metro’s service area.

The proposal also would require another referendum by 2021.

Should voters reject the proposal, Metro would be entitled to keep all of the sales tax revenues.

Garcia, however, said the mobility projects are important and said Metro would work with its member governments to continue funding them.

Afterward, representatives of the county and smaller cities were incensed, saying the move would shift millions to Houston, where the bulk of local sales taxes are collected.

I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to feel any sympathy for the claims about how the small cities and the rest of the county are being shafted. How many billions of dollars have been spent over the past decade or so building or improving roads out in the farther reaches of the county? I-10, I-45, US59, with 290 and the Grand Parkway to come. My tax dollars help pay for those projects, and I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve been on those roads in the past year. But I recognize that what’s good for the greater region benefits me as well, if indirectly. Why isn’t the same true for improving mobility inside Houston as well? If the bulk of the sales taxes are being collected inside Houston, then that’s where the people are even if it’s not where they sleep. The streets are crowded and the freeway traffic inside the Loop has gotten steadily worse even as all that spending outside the Loop has made it better out there. All the complaints here just sound like sour grapes to me.

Be that as it may, I expect there are plenty of people who see it the way that the county and the small cities do. You’ve seen the Spieler and Sanders guest posts on the referendum, and you’ve seen the dueling polls, the latter of which either didn’t ask this question or didn’t publicize the result if it did. I’ve expressed my concerns about an anti-Metro campaign being waged over this; with this basically being a Houston versus not-Houston question I fully expect that to happen, and I won’t be surprised if the Lege gets involved as well. What’s funny is that as it stands I’m not sure which outcome I’d prefer. Sure, Houston will benefit if it passes, but Metro might benefit more if it doesn’t. In theory, anyway – I rather don’t think any of the stakeholders will let that happen. We’ll see how nasty it gets. A statement from Mayor Parker about this is here, and the Examiner, Texas Watchdog, and Houston Tomorrow have more.

The discussion is closed

I don’t know about this.

The mayor and city attorney are floating the idea of shutting the public out of some City Council discussions.

Houston is unusual, perhaps even unique, among Texas cities in requiring that its council always meet in public.

On Thursday, City Attorney David Feldman unveiled a proposal to authorize closed-session discussions of hirings and firings, lawsuits, real estate transactions and other matters allowed by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Because the idea would require a change to a 70-year-old provision in the city charter, it would need voter approval. Mayor Annise Parker is considering asking the council next week to place it on the November ballot.


Councilman Jack Christie said that, based on his 14 years as a state or local school board member, he considered it “common sense” not to discuss in public details about security, for example. He also suggested that public discussion of an employee could expose the city to a defamation lawsuit.

Councilman James Rodriguez spoke most forcefully against closed meetings.

“I think our system works fine, and I’ve seen it work fine. I believe that we’ll lose a lot of good will in the community if we move to try to put this on the ballot,” Rodriguez said. “I believe in transparency. I believe that we need to hash out our issues in the public and work with the public and to have their confidence and trust that we’re going to be open and upfront with issues.”


Councilman Stephen Costello said he supports the closed-session option, but now is not the time to put it before voters.

“You incite an emotion that you really don’t want the voters to have as they walk into the ballot box,” Costello said. “What we want is voters going in and approving our bond issue, and I’d rather just have the bond issue there up for a vote, or, if we’re going to make some charter amendments, make them noncontroversial.”

On the one hand, I do think it’s appropriate for certain matters to be discussed in private, at least in theory. It’s not like this is unheard of – Commissioners Court, Metro, school boards, nearly every other city council in Texas, they all do this, for good and not so good reasons. I think the list of topics that are allowed to be held behind closed doors should be small and the reasons for doing it should be compelling, but I can see the case for it. On the other hand, I think CM Costello is exactly right – this isn’t the time to put a question about whether to allow non-open meetings on the ballot. Beyond the possibility of a referendum like this doing damage to other ballot propositions, if we’re going to examine this issue we should take our time about it and have a lot more engagement than a Council meeting or two. What’s the case that the city really needs this? Are there some examples that Feldman or Mayor Parker can cite where discussion of a sensitive topic in a normal Council meeting led to harm that might have been prevented if a closed door session had been an option? I get the theoretical case, but is there a practical one to be made as well? If there isn’t, then maybe there won’t ever be a good time to put this on the ballot. PDiddie and Campos have more.

Bike sharing to come to Fort Worth

Good for them.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority said Monday it’s raised more than $1 million, and plans to launch a central city bike-sharing program by next Spring that will include 30 stations and 300 bikes.

The program will start by April, Dick Ruddell, president of The T, said Monday. Stations will be between the Hospital District and TCU on the South Side and the Stockyards on the north, and the West 7th corridor on the west and Texas Wesleyan University to the east.

The heavy-duty three-speed bikes will come with locks, lights, baskets, and GPS devices that the T can use to track the locations of each bike. Users will be able to use credit cards or program membership cards to check bikes at out from kiosks at each station, and to check them back in. Rent rates will be based on time, and haven’t been determined yet.

Ruddell said there’s potential to expand the program beyond the initial numbers of stations, “but that’s certainly enough to get us started.”

“It’s the last mile of connectivity,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who joined Ruddell Monday in announcing the bike share program and another one the city announced to put down bright green-painted bike lanes at intersections and other heavily trafficked places where cars and bike paths meet.

The T has received a $940,000 Federal Transit Administration grant and sponsors have chipped in another $260,000 for the bike share program, Ruddell said.

See here and here for more info and a little jealousy from the latter.

Here’s how the U.S. Department of Transportation described the grant, announced this morning by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on his blog: “To further improve mobility and connectivity between popular destinations, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority will implement the Fort Worth Livability Bike Sharing Program. Bike stations will be placed in areas that have dense neighborhoods with high activity and access to a variety of transit connections. Bike stations will also be placed at the intermodal hub in Ft. Worth.”

Joan Hunter, spokeswoman for The T, said she learned of the grant through a call from the city this morning and was still tracking down details. But she said the transit agency has been working on a plan to run a pilot program for the bike-share in hopes of “being a catalyst for the city of Fort Worth.”

She said if the program works, officials are hoping the city will expand it and set up the Fort Worth bike share effort as a standalone entity. She said the agency was hoping to have the bike-share pilot project underway by the end of this year, but was still looking for the necessary funding. The federal grant will help a lot, she said.

They’ll be modeling this after the successful San Antonio bike sharing program, though there are still a lot details to be worked out first. Along with San Antonio, Fort Worth joins Houston and Austin in the bike sharing business. Don’t worry, Dallas, I’m sure you’ll get it sooner or later. Oh, and Metro got $11 million to rehab six bus operating facilities as part of the same set of grants. Very cool.