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July 18th, 2014:

Friday random ten: What the H?

I love how a single letter can represent a swear word.

1. Philadelphia Freedom – Hall and Oates
2. Stompin’ At The Savoy – Harry Connick, Jr
3. Big Rock Candy Mountain – Harry McClintock
4. Jump Into The Fire – Harry Nilsson
5. My Best Friend’s Girl – Hayseed Dixie
6. Well You Needn’t – Herbie Hancock
7. White Wedding – Herman’s Hermits
8. Black Eyed Suzi – The Honeycutters
9. I Can’t Tame Wild Women – The Hot Club of Cowtown
10. Back In Time – Huey Lewis & The News

Yes, that’s Herman’s Hermits covering Billy Idol. I see nothing wrong with that.

Wilson wins residency fight

That was quick.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Houston Community College trustee Dave Wilson lives in the residence he claimed and can keep his seat on the college system’s board, a jury decided Thursday.

“Thank you,” Wilson shouted when the verdict was announced about 4:30 p.m.

Harris County officials filed a lawsuit seeking to remove Wilson from office on grounds that he did not actually live in an apartment at 5600 W. 34th St. in the HCC district he represents. Because of this, county officials said, he was unqualified to hold his seat.

Jurors disagreed.

[…]

A slew of exhibits by the defense showed that if Wilson doesn’t live in the warehouse, he’s gone to great lengths to make it look like he does.

Wilson’s blood pressure medicine is mailed to 5600 W. 34th St. His bank statements and bills go to the warehouse. His numerous magazine subscriptions – from Forbes to National Geographic and Hemmings Motor News – go there, too. He’s also registered to vote there and lists the address on his driver’s license.

The sticking point is that Wilson’s wife lives on Lake Lane. It’s also where Wilson’s children were raised, where Wilson says he spends his weekends and where the family gathers to celebrate holidays. Wilson also listed the home as his address on tax returns. Wilson says that’s because he wants the check sent to the house, so he can sign it over to his wife.

I’ve said all along that if nothing else I hope we get some kind of standard out of this, because the residency laws as they stand now are ripe for gamesmanship. I don’t know if this definitively settles the matter, but it certainly sets an outer bound, which we could call the Wilson Line. Anything less egregious than what he did is apparently okay.

Yesterday’s story, which focused on the county’s case, showed how Wilson tests boundaries better than any toddler or teenager you’ve ever known.

Houston Community College Trustee Dave Wilson, whose name has become a staple on local election ballots, has made a habit of claiming one residence after another to qualify for his numerous runs for office, a Harris County attorney argued in court Wednesday.

Wilson has also claimed tax exemptions at a home on Lake Lane, which is in the Lone Star College System district. Lake Lane is where his wife lives and where he raised his children, spends his weekends and has his family gatherings, Douglas Ray, an assistant county attorney, told a jury in his opening argument in a case to determine where exactly Wilson lives.

Wilson lives exactly where he says he lives: in a “fully furnished” apartment in a warehouse on W. 34th Street, in District II of the HCC system, defense attorney Keith Gross told the jury. Just because his wife lives on Lake Lane does not mean it has to be his residence, Gross argued.

[…]

Wilson has stated on voter registration cards, drivers licenses, tax and other forms that he has lived at four addresses since 2005, and those addresses all line up with some motive – whether that is to run for office, or take out a tax exemption – Ray told the jury.

“When it’s convenient for him to claim for some economic reason he lives on Lake Lane, he’s lives at Lake Lane,” Ray said. “When he wants to run for office, well he lives wherever he needs to live.”

Wilson lived, and still does live, exactly where he claimed when he filed to run, his attorney said,adding his client spends “more than 70 percent” of his time on 34th Street. He has a driver’s license there, is registered to vote there and has all of his bank statements sent there. He’s lived there since early 2012.

But since moving there, he’s also registered to vote at another address, on Claremont Street, where he never lived, so he could run for an open state Senate seat, Wilson testified during questioning. Wilson said he “intended” to live there, but he did not end up running.

His defense attorney says “nowhere is it ever written” that you can’t live somewhere, if your motive is to run for political office. Wilson, an anti-gay activist, only wants to “improve the community” and has offended people in his quest to do so, Gross said. The case against him is politically motivated and that’s proven by the fact that more than 4,500 Harris County voters are registered at commercial buildings, as Wilson is, and the county isn’t going after any of them, Gross said.

Residence, Wilson and his attorney argued, is based on three factors: volition, intention and action. People can choose to live wherever they want. That they intend to live there, and that they actually hang their hat there make the place a residence.

Basically, Wilson says he lives wherever he says he lives at the time, and that’s sufficient for the law. Nothing else matters – the homestead exemption on the house where his wife lives, the ever-changing nature of the address on his voter registration, the fact that some of his “residences” are not permitted as residential, etc. The law is vague and he’s hardly the first person to take advantage of that. He’s just the most blatant and least apologetic about it.

And now a jury has accepted it. So be it, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s right. More to the point, I don’t think this is how it should be. As you know, I have an idea what I’d like to see the Legislature do about it. I plan to start my lobbying effort shortly.

Council votes to sue over bad pension projections

Game on.

BagOfMoney

Houston City Council on Wednesday paved the way for city attorneys to sue an actuarial firm the city claims gave inaccurate pension estimates that spurred costly changes to firefighters’ retirement benefits in 2001.

[…]

Houston’s contribution rate to the fire pension skyrocketed soon after the changes were approved, despite an actuarial report from Towers Perrin, now Towers Watson, that predicted the payment rate would remain flat for a decade. This year, the city is contributing 33 percent of payroll to firefighters’ retirements, more than double the rate prior to the changes.

In the event of a payout in the proposed lawsuit, the money would be used to reimburse the city for the Susman Godfrey’s fees and expenses up to $970,000, and the firm would get a third of the remaining cash, with the city keeping the rest.

See here and here for the background. Based on past history, the city would have a decent chance of winning. How much they might stand to collect remains to be seen, but it likely would fall in the “not nothing, but not going to make a big dent in the unfunded liability” bucket.

It really is about more than just marriage

Jo Ann Santangelo writes for the Observer about what it means to be in a same-sex marriage that isn’t recognized as legal by the state of Texas.

RedEquality

In 2012, my wife, Kate, and I traveled more than 3,400 miles from Austin and back to marry legally in New York City. Seven years earlier, in November 2005, our fellow Texas voters had approved Proposition 2, amending the Texas Constitution to declare that “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman,” thereby banning same-sex marriage within the state’s borders.

Like other same-sex couples who live in Texas, we are denied access to 1,138 federal rights, benefits and privileges because our marriage is not recognized here. That list, tallied in a 2003 report by the General Accounting Office, includes Social Security, military and veterans’ benefits, employment rights, and immigration and naturalization privileges.

In the eyes of Texas, Kate is not my next of kin. To approximate the status that a legally recognized marriage would confer, our attorney has recommended that we file six different contracts: a medical power of attorney and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act release; statutory durable power of attorney; declaration of guardian; directive to physicians; appointment of agent to control disposition of remains; and a last will and testament.

We have recently begun trying to become parents. Kate will be the birth mother. A lawyer has been necessary in this process as well. Months ago we started discussing the paperwork that will be required for me to adopt our child. We discovered that even after I file this paperwork, am screened and declared a fit mother by Child Protective Services, and appear in front of a judge, my name can never appear on our child’s birth certificate due to Texas Health and Safety Code 192.008, which states, “The supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of the adoptive parents, one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father.”

You can see that GAO report here; it’s actually an update to a report from 1997, prepared after the passage of the now-unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act that listed a mere 1,049 “federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor”. All these rights that the rest of us get to take for granted were a part of the argument against Prop 2 in 2005, but unfortunately they fell on deaf ears. The courts are likely to grant same sex couples the right to have their marriages recognized and to get married wherever they want, but a lot of those “benefits, rights, and privileges” are codified into state laws as well, and their practical effect won’t disappear overnight when and if SCOTUS makes a favorable ruling in the Utah case. As the Riggs and Hanna case showed, there are lots more issues to be sorted out, and this will take time because the Lege is unlikely to deal with the business of repealing these soon-to-be-unconstitutional laws. I mean hell, the anti-sodomy statute struck down by the Lawrence ruling of 2003 is still on the books. It’s going to take a lot of court cases clear these matters up one by one, which will mean a lot more harm and hardship to many same sex couples.

In her essay, Santagelo talked to six other same sex couples about their experiences, including one of the two couples that served as plaintiffs in the case that struck down Texas’ marriage law, which is now pending appeal.

Nicole: “[When we were discussing having children] we thought, ‘Do we get married now even though it’s not legal in our own state?’ We knew we wanted to have kids, but we didn’t want to have kids and not be married. We’re both pretty traditional people. There’s just no way we’re going to have kids out of wedlock, and I wanted to be able to tell [our son] that we’re as married as we can possibly be. … She had an inordinately hard labor, a C-section that wasn’t planned. It became an emergency. For about 30 minutes we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Cleo: “It only comes up in some of the most vulnerable times. During the labor and delivery—you can’t adopt a child while he or she is in utero, so if something had happened … they become essentially orphans, they don’t have a second parent. The [legal arrangements] that we had, she could make decisions for me. She couldn’t make health decisions for him. We didn’t even think of that. You don’t think about those things. You think that you’re covered, you talk to your lawyer, you’ve got everything filed and prepared and ready, and then you’re in this situation and all of a sudden it dawns on you, ‘Oh my God.’ It really drove home the need to change the laws in this state. … So we are vulnerable, and that’s one of the reasons why we feel so strongly about the lawsuit that we’re in. We want to make sure that all the default laws that are afforded to different-sex couples are given to us as well, because we’re a family and we feel that if the state really wants to promote responsible procreation, then why are you making it harder for us?”

Nicole: “You don’t have an accidental kid in a gay relationship. There is so much intention and planning that goes into having a kid. There’s nothing irresponsible about that.”

Reading that just kills me. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the hell that Nicole Dimetman and her son would have faced if tragedy had struck, but the point is that she shouldn’t have had to think about that. The sooner we as a society fix this injustice, the better.

B-Cycle keeps racking up good numbers

Great to see.

From meager beginnings, Houston’s bikesharing program has blossomed into a big draw for visitors and locals looking for a quick ride.

For the first six months of 2014, Houston B-Cycle logged 43,530 checkouts, according to agency data. The system had about 2,000 checkouts in all of 2012, the year it started with three stations and 18 bikes.

“We are excited about continuing the expansion and operations,” Houston B-Cycle director Will Rub said. “We still feel like we are on track for our five-year plan for having 100 stations and 1,000 bikes by 2017.”

The smooth ride to a 29-station, 225-bike system hasn’t been all downhill, however. Use of a couple of stations meant to move B-Cycle into targeted areas is well below expectations, and three bikes, valued at about $1,200 each, have gone missing.

The bumps are balanced by good ridership even in the city’s hotter months, if June is any indication. As the weather warmed, the system still averaged more than 220 checkouts a day. Based on calculations of how long the bikes were checked out and an average travel distance, officials estimate the bikes have traveled more than 143,000 miles this year.

[…]

Denver’s growth is a good aspiration for Houston, however. Its system, one of the country’s largest, logged 263,000 trips last year. Denver has 84 stations and 624 bikes.

Houston’s long-term plans mirror what Denver has already built in some sections of the city. Stations are spaced about every 1,000 feet, making it easy for a rider to grab a bike for a quick trip down the street for lunch or an appointment. From there, stations have been added to expand the edges of the system.

Although Houston has a group of committed, frequent riders, it hasn’t hit the level where grabbing a bike becomes a viable option for most people, Rub said.

“Right now we don’t have the station density that really contributes to it being a really integrated network,” Rub said.

Houston B-Cycle is hoping to lure a title sponsor – like New York’s 6,000-bike system did with Citibank – to commit $4 million over five years. Paired with grant money and federal funds for air quality improvements, the title sponsor would give Houston the capital to blanket many areas, such as the Texas Medical Center.

“I think that network in and of itself is going to create some very impressive numbers when we are in the (medical center),” Rub said.

I renewed my membership this weekend. I don’t use B-Cycle as often as I thought I would, but when I do use it, it’s been for the reasons I expected – to get me places in and near downtown that are too far to reasonably walk but which make no sense for me to drive to. A lot of folks – some visitors, some locals – have used B-Cycle on impulse, which is good for the system since they pay a slightly higher rate than members do. It would be nice to understand why some of the stations have been lightly used, and as I’ve said before I hope all interested parties are talking about how best to integrate B-Cycle with the new bus routes going forward. I can’t wait to see what B-Cycle’s numbers look like next year and the year after.