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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.

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