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May 27th, 2014:

Recall effort against Mayor Parker?

The haters huff and puff with their last breath.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Opponents of Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed Houston equal rights ordinance have vowed to take the issue to voters in a referendum, but now they’re seriously discussing a sort of nuclear option at the polling place: a recall election to remove her and some council members from office.

Although recalling the mayor wouldn’t be easy and the opposition would have to work quickly, the threat alone could cause problems for some city council members.

“This is absurd, it’s unheard of,” said Dave Wilson, a longtime anti-gay activist and critic of Parker who’s fighting the proposed ordinance. “It’s nothing but pure payback for the mayor. She’s paying back her core constituents that supported her.”

Houston’s city charter prescribes the criteria for which an elected official can be recalled – incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office – but opponents argue the proposed ordinance contradicts state law.

“We consider them to be incompetent,” Wilson said.

The charter decrees that citizens have 30 days to gather enough signatures on petitions to mandate a recall election. The number of signatures required varies for each office, because it amounts to 25% of the number of voters who cast ballots for the elected official involved.

And that’s where it gets interesting. Since fewer people vote in district city council races, it’s much easier to gather enough signatures to trigger a recall election.

Look at the numbers. About 170,000 Houstonians voted for mayor in the last election, so opponents would have to gather about 42,500 signatures to recall Parker. Given only 30 days, that would be difficult.

But substantially fewer people vote in races for district council seats, which are more like neighborhood campaigns. If 10,000 ballots are cast in a council race, only 2,500 signatures are required to trigger a recall election.

I’ll get to some details on this in a minute, but let me say this first: Bring it. Seriously. Let’s settle once and for all who the real majority is. I don’t think Dave Wilson is going to like the answer.

Now then. You can find Houston’s charter and city ordinances here. The provisions for recalling officers is Article VII-a. A few points of interest:

  • “The holder of any public office in the City of Houston, whether elected thereto by the people or appointed by the City Council, may be removed from office by recall.” That’s right there in Section 1. The only place where “incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office” are mentioned is in the wording of the recall petition. Based on that, I don’t think there are any special criteria for initiating a recall – either you get enough signatures in the prescribed time or you don’t.
  • From Section 3a: “The petition may consist of one or more papers circulated separately, and the signatures thereto may be upon the paper or papers containing the formal petition, or upon other papers attached thereto; each signer of a petition shall sign his name in ink or indelible pencil. The verification may be made by one or more petitioners, and the several parts of the petition may be verified separately and by different persons, but no signature to such petition shall remain effective or be counted which was placed thereon more than thirty days prior to the filing of such petition or petitions with the City Secretary.” Emphasis mine. My read on this is that the clock starts when the first signature is collected. The petition itself is submitted when/if enough signatures have been gathered. I didn’t see anything in there to suggest there was a constraint on when the signature-gathering effort could begin, nor any cutoff point for when no further signatures could be collected. I sense the possibility of some shenanigans here, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.
  • If this goes forward and if the haters manage to get enough signatures, the actual recall election would be this November – section 7, “the election shall be held on the next available uniform date prescribed by state law”. This would not be a low-turnout off-schedule affair. I’ll leave it to you to decide which side that favors.

So these are the conditions as I understand them. The one thing I know for sure is that if this happens – if the haters manage to collect enough signatures to force this issue onto the November ballot – it’s going to go national. I guarantee this recall election will be as big as anything else in November, and it will draw all kinds of attention and money. You have to wonder what kind of effect this will have on the other races. Like I said, you can make your case for who benefits from this, but generally speaking, the favorite doesn’t want anything unexpected. Look at it this way – to whatever extent Dave Wilson thinks his coalition includes black voters, do you think Greg Abbott wants there to be a campaign to boost black turnout in Harris County? Do you think all the Republican District Court and County Court judges on the ballot want that?

By the way, as long as we’re discussing the possibility of recalling public officials, does anyone know what provisions (if any) exist to recall HCC Trustees? I’ve seen some chatter on Facebook about mounting a counter-recall effort against Council members that vote against the ordinance. I don’t know how effective that might be, given that most of the No votes are likely to come from members in heavily Republican districts. Anyone else will be up for re-election in 2015 anyway, so one way or another they’ll be made to account for their actions. Personally, I think it would be nice to give Dave Wilson a taste of his own medicine. He can’t win if he can’t hide his identity as he did in 2013. If no such provision exists for recalling HCC Trustees exists, then perhaps one of our local legislators can file a bill to that effect. It probably won’t get anywhere, but it would make a point.

Like I said, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance actually has to pass. The vote happens tomorrow, after a public comment session, and you should be there to register your support for the HERO. After that, we’ll take it as it comes. The haters’ webpage is here, and I’m sure it will be more than just a landing page soon. I don’t fear these jackasses, but we can’t afford to not take them seriously. Be ready for the next fight, it’s as important as this one is. TransGriot has more.

More on the Metro bus system reimagining

Christopher Andrews has a practical look at Metro’s reimagined bus network.

Nearly two weeks ago METRO released the System Reimagining proposal, arguably the biggest service adjustment in METRO’s existence. METRO is currently welcoming feedback on the system. I hope most feedback will be positive, as the reimagined system should provide an opportunity for ridership for more people, and to a larger area of the Houston region, without an increase in costs or major infrastructural improvements. The reimagined system helps to reduce redundancies in coverage and increases the number of “frequent” bus routes throughout the region, creating a grid-like network of bus routes in which riders rely on transfers to reach their destinations.

I looked at the map of new routes and how they would impact my commute, and I thought about improvements needed to accommodate more riders and transfers. Examine proposed routes yourself to learn their physical coverages, frequencies, and surrounding conditions. I could think of no better way to examine the proposed routes than by bike. You can do the same. Then send your comments to METRO or attend a public meeting. It’s time for Houstonians to own their transit routes.

I followed the northwest portion of the proposed 11-Heights-Dallas-Telephone route that goes through the Heights and Montrose into Downtown and then on to the East Side. I kept in mind any infrastructural improvements that are needed, like bus stops, curb cuts, benches, signalization, crosswalks, or bus shelters that would make transferring and ridership more accommodating and comfortable.

He has a lot more at his personal blog. I really like the approach he’s taking here. People get to bus stops by walking or biking to them. If we really want to maximize the potential gains in ridership from the new routes, we need to make sure people can get to the bus stops easily and safely. The city of Houston needs to work with Metro to ensure that sidewalk improvements are in place or in the works for the new routes, and B-Cycle should examine the new map to see where new kiosks might go. I hope to hear more about this as we go.

Reading those posts led me to two others that came out at the time of Metro’s reimagining announcement: one from Jarrett Walker, who was one of the consultants Metro used on the new map, and one from Citylab, which mostly summarized the work Metro and Walker had done. Remember how I said in my post about the reimagining announcement that I wondered if some of the usual light rail-hating suspects would have anything to say about this, since they all claimed to be big bus fans? Well, I haven’t gone trawling through their blogs – life is too short – but I do know that Bill King, the Chron’s one and only op-ed page columnist, has written four pieces since then, and none of them have been about Metro and buses. Nope, it’s been pension, pension, pension, and I hate light rail, always a classic. I’m sure he’ll get around to it sooner or later.

On the bayou and erosion

A portion of the work being done on Buffalo Bayou, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, is drawing opposition for being too big a change to the natural state of the bayou.

Borne of a 2010 workshop hosted by the Bayou Preservation Association, the project calls for reshaping the banks of the bayou that wind past the [River Oaks Country Club], the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, a residential neighborhood and the southernmost border of the 1,503-acre park.

The plan calls for the segment of Buffalo Bayou – stressed, both sides agree, by the increased runoff that has come with urban development – to be widened, its course adjusted in some places and its crumbling banks shaped into stable slopes. A mass of vegetation would be stripped away from its banks and trees removed. Replanting would occur toward the end of the project, the cost of which Harris County, the city of Houston and the country club have agreed to share.

According to the Harris County Flood Control District, which will oversee the project, the plan would “create a self-sustaining bayou that would slow the erosion process” and potentially serve as a model for future projects – if it works. The project would be the first along the bayou to employ “natural channel design techniques,” as opposed to traditional concrete lining, something Mayor Annise Parker and County Judge Ed Emmett describe as a sign of progress. It has been dubbed a “demonstration” project because officials say it would showcase the benefits of the methodology.

Groups such as the Sierra Club and the Houston Audubon Society, however, say the plan would destroy all wildlife habitat along that stretch of the bayou, and that the science behind it has not been proven to reduce erosion.

“If we strip off 80 percent of the vegetation, if we remove the trees that shade the water, we will actually ruin a mile and a quarter of the main channel of Buffalo Bayou,” said Evelyn Merz, conservation chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The group is proposing an alternative that involves promoting the existing habitat by planting native vegetation. It would impact the area less “because it will be aimed at the areas that most need support,” Merz said.

Save Buffalo Bayou is leading the activism against this. Two of its members had an op-ed in the Chron recently, reprinted here, that lays out their case. I haven’t followed this closely, but the way they illustrate what the plan is sure doesn’t make it look appetizing. If you want to offer your feedback, you have until June 30, when the public comment period closes. Here are their recommendations for what to say. CultureMap has more.

Runoff Day is finally here

It’s the day on which the toxic idiocy of the GOP runoffs for Lt. Governor and Attorney General finally come to an end and we get a brief respite before the general election gets into full swing. But first, you have to vote if you didn’t vote early, and that means you have to find your polling place. From the inbox:

vote-button

Voters should visit www.HarrisVotes.com to verify their Election Day polling location before going to the polls on Tuesday, May 27th. Due to precinct consolidations, polling locations for the Democratic and Republican Primary Runoff Elections have changed from the March Primary Elections for many voters.

“Voters participating in the Primary Elections are reminded on Election Day that they may only vote at their designated polling location,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, “To avoid frustration and confusion, please check www.HarrisVotes.com to find your Election Day voting site.

The Democratic & Republican Parties, who select the locations in primaries, have significantly reduced the number of polling locations. Primary Voters should not assume that they will be voting in the same location they voted in the March Primary. Election Day polling locations will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Voters, who voted in the March Primary, are only able to vote in the same party’s election for the Primary Runoff. If they did not participate in either Party’s March 4th Election and are eligible to vote, they may participate in the Runoff Primary of their party choice.

“Voters may also use the website’s ‘Find Your Poll and Ballot’ feature to print out a sample ballot to review,” said Stanart, who is also the county’s Chief Elections Officer. “The election webpage provides voters the information they need for the who, the when, the where, and the how to accessing the polls.”

To view a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID that can be presented to vote at the poll, Election Day polling locations and other voting information, voters may visit HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965. On Twitter, voters can obtain timely voting updates by following the County Clerk’s Voter Outreach Office: @HarrisVotes.

Definitely check where your polling place is before you head out. I’ll have results later and tomorrow.