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Not Exactly Jury Duty

Since I'm gradually catching up on all things blog, I'll take this opportunity to combine two events I had the good fortune to take part in recently. Both involved a lunch meeting with elected officials, so there's a bit of similarity there. Both were also the product of Justin Concepcion organizing the idea for Mayor Parker, only to begin a new job with Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan before the event with the Mayor took place. Kudos to both electeds for their time and willingness to meet and kudos to Justin for making it all happen.

Friday afternoon with County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan
The most recent meeting with Sullivan was held at his office, which afforded me the opportunity to pick up some info at the County Clerk's office on the same trip. There's something to be said for efficiency there. I've bumped into Mike a few times - all at or outside of church. In every instance, he's been beyond cordial. Downright friendly, I'd go so far as to say. I've always had a fair amount of respect for Sullivan dating back to his time on City Council. While I may or may not have always agreed with those points where he spoke in opposition to something the Mayor wanted passed, I felt he was always thoughtful and explained his position very fairly. And since it's my view that City Council works fairly well when there is one critical voice on the left and right, I think Mike's time on council was a pretty good model for how to serve in that capacity from the right. It was an easy assumption in 2012 that if (and ultimately - when) Mike won the General Election, he'd be an easy upgrade over the previous two holders of his office.

The biggest point of emphasis that I think indicates Mike's early success is that all of the voter registration-related lawsuits that were aimed at the office in prior years have since been dropped. That would appear to be a good sign of trust that the parties involved in those suits have in Sullivan to be fair with his treatment of the Voter Registrar section of his office.

I'm not sure how to compare Sullivan's early years to that of Paul Bettencourt's, though. While Bettencourt came up through the ranks of party bureaucracy and campaigns, I don't know that I can point to his early years as being any kind of activist with regard to voter registration. But that's certainly how it ended up for Bettencourt. For now, though, Sullivan benefits most in comparison to Don Summers and Leo Vasquez. That's a low bar and one that Sullivan glows in comparison to. I'd obviously like to see the Sullivan we recognize today continue for as long as he's destined to hold this particular office. There's still a few areas of the office to keep an eye on if you're the skeptical type.

My only minor gripe to impart was that the upgrade of the website has apparently led to a change in the data provided for registered voters by precinct. Apparently, I can no longer download data to show whether a voter is "Active" or "Suspense." My complaint has been politely heard and is being looked into. I'm confident that less than five other people in the world share in my grief over this.

We spent a bit of time discussing Voter ID, although much of the implementation of the law will fall on the County Clerk. I'm a little hopeful that Voter ID implementation will be looked at by the Lege once the Interim Charges are released. Part of that is a desire to see how agencies like the County Clerks, Tax Assessors, and Election Admins are dealing with the need to do outreach, training, advertising, and other activities at a point after much of their budget decisions have already been decided. I asked Mike what he could share about that and it seems the biggest uptick in dollars has come from new mailing requirements that added something north of $250,000 to the agency's costs.

Kuff has some other notes from the meeting toward the end of this post. The gathering for this event was a Dem-friendly affair, with Justin noting that there were plans to arrange a GOP-friendly gathering afterward.

Last month with Mayor Parker
I arrived at this one a tad late. Two fairly interesting topics of conversations that came up were food trucks and pensions. The first of those mean something vastly different in my neighborhood than they do in trendier parts (or downtown, even). The latter of the two is a point where I'm not quite on the same page with the Mayor. Most of the attendees were among us Dem-types, but Tory from Houston Strategies was included for adding a bit of advocacy for libertarian policies for the city.

I don't know that there was much new ground covered in the meeting with the Mayor since most of the issues the city deals with are covered by professional media on a daily basis and few of us bloggers are moonlighting as actuaries to dive into the weeds of pension policy. But points for the outreach effort, nonetheless. It might be a bit more noteworthy to try this again with the city at a time when some new initiative is being rolled out and split the meeting into one-half "Here's what the Mayor wants to talk about" and another half of "here's what bloggers want to ask about." The recent Chapter 42 policy changes might have been a good tie-in, for example. I've been in front of all of one presentation on the subject and it's both interesting and very complicated. Those sort of issues don't always come along on a routine basis, but that strikes me as a good point to impart some useful info while giving others a chance to ask about anything else that pops to mind.

Just as well, I do think that one area where Mayor Parker has been a welcome change has been the degree to which she's made the rounds at a variety of public events throughout her term as Mayor. Heck, I even bumped into her at my church where she was making a presentation as part of a conference several days after this meeting. All in all, still a good meeting and hopefully an idea that continues over time. I can't say that I'd mind seeing County Judge Ed Emmett latch onto the idea, as well.


Let the Campaign Filings Begin (Ctd)

Some updates on yesterday's post ...

HD136 ... I stand corrected on Mano DeAyala. He's showing over $144k raised and $106k on hand. That leads the pack in a pretty strong field of candidates that at least a few people have cast a ballot for in elections past. I'd still rank him as an underdog, but he's a very well-financed one.

HD137 ... Joe Madden gets his report in and shows just over $10k on hand.

HD144 ... Ken Legler gets his report in: $34k on hand.

A few more Harris County filing totals to highlight:


                      RAISED       SPENT          ON HAND
Alma Allen          $5,565.00    $14,542.75     $18,764.13
Wanda Adams             $0.00     $4,697.82     $59,572.22


                      RAISED       SPENT          ON HAND
Borris Miles          $15,900      $2750.00      $6,800.08
Al Edwards              $0.00         $0.00      $1,199.64

Adams' money lead over Allen is pretty impressive. I'd probably have to peg Allen as a better campaigner in that one. We'll see what the voters think, though. My hunch is that it gets more even in terms of resources. They should be at parity on dollars spent when it's all said and done. The dollar figures on Miles and Edwards is a bit misleading. Miles will have whatever resources he feels he needs - he can either raise it or write the check. The question for Edwards is whether he'll have the people driving his campaign that do all the work for him like Sylvester Turner has done in years past. If other people think Edwards is pushing it this time around, this could be the election where he becomes an afterthought. All that said, either new configuration for HD146 could show some interesting new twists.

District Attorney

                      RAISED       SPENT          ON HAND
Mike Anderson           $0.00         $0.00          $0.00
Pat Lykos         $194,598.71    $40,927.94    $320,551.54

I'm not sure what Anderson can bring to the table in terms of resources, but given the high profile of his challenge, I'm just assuming he hasn't gotten around to holding a fundraiser yet.

Tax Assessor

                      RAISED       SPENT          ON HAND
Mike Sullivan       $8,200.00    $14,629.25     $53.641.89
Don Summers             $0.00     $2,788.56      $3,921.11

Interesting. Just interesting.

Harris County Sheriff

                      RAISED       SPENT          ON HAND
Adrian Garcia     $187,726.78    $37,531.56    $302,290.00
Carl Pittman       $13,039.00    $25,178.31     $28,907.02
Paul Day                $0.00         $0.00          $0.00
Harold Heuszel          $0.00         $0.00          $0.00
Louis Guthrie      $96,690.00    $35,590.87     $21,641.03
Ruben Monzon       $33,250.23    $18,336.49     $14,913.74

All listed here but Garcia are running in the GOP primary. I have no idea what to expect from that electorate among the crew listed on their ballot. But it's nice to see Garcia start off with a healthy advantage.

Constable - Pct 1

                      RAISED       SPENT          ON HAND
Alan Rosen         $43,500.00     $5,923.87     $37,313.67
Quincy Whitaker     $5,475.00    $18,260.84          $0.00
Grady Castleberry   $3,741.06     $9,908.66      $4,568.00
Cindy Vara-Leija   $22,765.71     $3,256.01     $15,508.37

This could become more interesting if the "caretaker" appointed to Pct. 1 decides he's got the itch to run for election. But this is going to be an eventful field to watch since the district - and the primary electorate in particular - is a bit of a catch-all with no clear distinct tilt favoring any particular candidate. The precinct includes Acres Homes, part of Fifth Ward, Northside, and much of the Anglo Dem belt inside the loop. And you've got a field of candidates that appeal to every corner of that precinct.

There are a few contests that I drew the line at researching just for the interests of time and personal interest. If you're truly interested in putting together a more thorough list or adding to this one, feel free. I need to think through some placement on the Almanac for the county races as soon as time permits. Here's hoping that it permits sometime this year.


Bandit Signs

CM Mike Sullivan and Mayor Annise Parker in agreement on something from the June 1 Council session ...

I've not seen any of the freeway overpass signs yet, but have heard of a few being placed there already. They seem to be inevitable. Hopefully, a little ounce of shame from Empty Lot Primary will help in dissuading folks from engaging in that particular practice.


Kingwood Does Redistricting (and Annexation, and Immigration)

I wasn't at the Kingwood redistricting hearing last night, but Marc Campos was. So here's a snippet from his telling of it ...

Last night I made it up to Kingwood to attend the City of H-Town’s Redistricting Town Hall Meeting. The Mayor was there along with CMs Sullivan and Bradford. About 60 to 70 folks (including staff and security) showed up but only a handful got up to speak in what turned out to be more of a conversation than a hearing or meeting. It is apparent that some folks still haven’t gotten over being annexed.

Here is what I heard last night. Most folks clearly do not understand the concept of the Voting Rights Act. Some folks don’t want to be in a district that includes Clear Lake – good luck on that one. None of the folks support adding two council district seats. Some folks don’t want paperless folks included in redistricting or the census. They clearly made it sound like proceeding with redistricting under current city, state, and federal law and adding two council seats per the actions of H-Town voters back in 1979 was somewhat un-American – yikes!

So we now have some "anti-2" voices on the public record. If all goes smoothly, I'll be at the Clear Lake hearing tonight. I'm guessing we'll hear from more "anti-2" voices there. If wi-fi is around, I'll be liveblogging. If not, look for a recap later in the night.


Liveblogging the Houston Population Hearing

Honestly, I think this is one of the more important City Council meetings in recent memory. If nothing else, it may be a pivotal moment in Mayor Annise Parker's relations with Council. I'll be watching in case, for some reason, you find this moment less enthralling than I do. Right now, we're four minutes in and still waiting for kickoff.

9:05 - Kickoff. The formalities are done with. MAP announces that Vidal Martinez and Carroll Robinson are already on the public session que. David Feldman is starting his pitch. Feldman is doing a good backgrounder on how Houston's history with annexation is intertwined with redistricting. Here's a backgrounder from Burka in a 1979 issue of Texas Monthly on that. Getting into the weeds on how the charter doesn't limit reading the Census number as the population determination, as well as some of the legal precedence that relates to our current situation.

9:15 - It's Jerry Wood's time now. Getting into the Census weeds. Says there were 566 people who were counted and show up in Census blocks that the Bureau failed to place within city boundaries even though they are. Sue Lovell opens the questioning of Jerry. Among the points raised in Lovell's questioning is the possibility of undercounts. It's a fair and valid point, but isn't the crux of what the City is contesting 2.099 on. Wood's analysis is that the Census bureau has already counted over 2.1 but failed to "credit" them as within COH boundaries.

Play-by-play action below the fold ....

Oliver Pennington is up now. First anti-2.1 voice to speak. His take is that Wood's analysis is limited and that the Census count could be more or less than 2.099M. Now, I think that's bogus. But it's a particular point that might be thought of as a weak link in the case for 2.1. Namely, the City's main interest is just in clearing the 2.1M hurdle. Note that Wood's number puts the city just past that mark. If the issue of city boundaries actually showed another thousand or two people, it would be a secondary issue for the sake of redistricting. Also, he says more two more people on council would really bog down discussion and the budget of staff is a "concern."

Mike Sullivan is up now. Says he "still doesn't know" how to work a spreadsheet to count population in his district based on the precinct spreadsheet the City put out. This is obviously an issue I've run into. But it's a pretty easy-to-see matter in hindsight. The first spreadsheet that was put out had certain blocks allocated to neighboring districts because of the GIS info the Census bureau provided incorrect files that muddled some of the boundary lines. Wood points out an example precinct from an email our office sent to the city when I saw the impact this had on District F. On the whole, however, the issue doesn't have anything to do with what's being discussed. It's only being brought up to raise doubt. And since it's essentially a lawyer's trick, Feldman chimes in to highlight that this doesn't affect whether or not we are at 2.1M.

Al Hoang up now. He's getting into some weeds on whether the boundary issues might have had any negative impact - that any changes might reflect losing residential areas and gaining industrial areas. Woods says (IIRC) that there were some, but the balance of changes was a net population gain of the 566. He then drops the boss's name on council about the research we did when we noticed that District F had an inexplicable population loss. What's our Q-rating at the office these days?

Anne Clutterbuck up now. Interesting approach in that she directly questions MAP instead of Wood or Feldman. The question is whether, since we're presently contesting the allocation are we planning on contesting the count itself. There will be a contest for that, much like every major city does. In and of itself, that doesn't impact the 2.099 v 2.1 issue. She ties it together by stating that if we don't know where the errors are (see Sullivan's issue with the district population reports), we should wait until we have more certainty. One error she's making is that she's confusing the precinct assignments with the fact that the Bureau measures by Census block level. It's a very detailed techie, GIS-related matter. But it's not one that really undoes the question - it just raises doubt to people that don't live in the weeds of the topic.

Ed Gonzalez is now up. First openly advocating voice in favor of two new seats. Good position to be in since there should be a third Hispanic seat out of eleven. He shows a 2007 report that shows the City's population at over 2.2M on analysis that includes postal deliveries. He's running down other examples that show us over 2.1M. Given that the charter does not limit us to using the Census, he's really adding to the pro- argument here.

Jarvis Johnson is now up. He's on the fence for this issue. His question is to Feldman about the financial risk of being sued if we don't add two new seats. He's also interested in what the quantification is of federal dollars we lose by having 566 fewer people credited to Houston. Feldman minimizes the impact of federal dollars based on adding the 566, but says that the longer-term appeal of the count is what will help ensure that future estimates have the capacity to "correct" for that (my paraphrasing). As far as litigation issues, he says that it's likely the judge will issue an injunction to add the new seats for a November election. Given the timeline (including preclearance), that could place a November election in jeopardy. Pretty strong claim, but it's not hard to see it happening. I think it's likelier that we see what we've seen with some recent Congressional election in the past 20 years - you have a November election, but you have a new one in May. Ugly, messy, and confusing. But we'll see if it comes to that.

Brenda Stardig up now. She's starting off weak - suggesting that the population of Houston is a moving target, how you can pick numbers as desired. Not impressive. If she really thinks the information she's getting is a "shell game," you really have to wonder how much brain power she's putting into her job. She says she wants "what's fair for representation" ... hard to explain the disparity in Hispanic representation given that argument.

C.O. Bradford up now. Another one on the fence. Things could get tricky for him if he votes to deny Houston minorities fair representation in city affairs. He's starting off with a fairly critical view of whether we should consider ourselves at 2.1M. He says that Wood's analysis is not comprehensive enough to consider us at 2.1M, and that the Census is the best evidence. 5% of African-Americans go undercounted in the Census. He's looking like he's falling on the wrong side of history right now. Bad move, Brad. He's asking Feldman for clarification on what the "best available data" is. Hopefully, he's leaving himself an out to come back around and make the right conclusion.

Jolanda Jones up now. Another possible fence-sitter, but I've had her pegged as possibly going along with Bradford. Says she cannot understand the map in Wood's report. Make your own jokes. She's not coming out as critical as Bradford did, so maybe there's more of an out for her to see that there really are 566 more people that should be allocated to the city. On the surface, she and Jarvis Johnson look like the truest fence-sitters.

Stephen Costello up now. He starts up saying he's in favor of two new districts. Very good to see, since his opinion wasn't offered last week at council. He questions Wood to give him an opportunity to explain the GIS boundary issue.

Mike Sullivan back up. Says that he voted for "the Jerry Wood contract" and didn't realize the severity of the task that Wood would have. Again, some doubt-raising, saying that we have "one living human being in charge" of a process he can't get. The phrase "behind the scenes" is thrown out. Pure bunk and Sullivan is embarrassing himself. He wants to do a new contract to "a firm." He also asks MAP about the point that the court discussion in 2009 put the White administration on record as saying we would redistrict in 2011 based on the assumption that the city was already over 2.1M in 2009. He's now saying that MAP framed that point more resolutely at the Kingwood redistricting hearing. MAP also rebuts that Wood is not just "one man" doing the work - that there is work done with the Planning Department, the three major universities in town, and city legal staff. Good rebuttal on her part.

Jarvis Johnson back up again with "the Bill White issue." He asks a good question of whether the city can adequately defend itself if we move forward in the event council does not agree that we're at 2.1M. Again, he's doing a good job of not coming down resolutely on 2.099 or 2.1. His questions are generally fair. Feldman says he's prepared to defend the city whichever route it chooses to go, but stands firm to the fact that the allocation issue of 566 still exists.

Sue Lovell back up. Notes that Census Day was in April 2010. She addresses Johnson directly in "betting" that Houston has gained 549 people since then. It's a secondary issue, but it's also pretty relevant. CMs can use whatever they determine as "best available data." I certainly take that to include the year-long difference as well as the traditional undercount rates. She adds an argument that adding two new seats reduces the number of constituents with a "student-teacher ratio" comparison. I don't agree with Lovell on a lot, but that's a key point where I do agree with her 100%.

Melissa Noriega now up. She's probably being the most diplomatic of all CMs, but notes the 1979 agreement that's now in city charter. Essentially, it's an argument about fairness and integrity of the city's word. Good, simple point.

C.O. Bradford back up. Says he'd take Lovell's bet because he doesn't know anyone who's moved into the city in the last 12 months, but does know several who have moved out. He's getting into specious arguments now. He's saying that it's obvious the high estimates in 2007, 2008, and 2009 were wrong because of the Census data. The hole is still being dug. One good point he raises is that he wants private discussion on this matter to be in the public domain. On that, I agree.

Brenda Stardig back up. Looks like Lovell has another taker for her bet. Citing losing Continental and other companies; losing headcount for school districts; etc .... In all of her time, she's not asked a single question of anyone, but given two distinct speeches. I think that sums up Brenda Stardig, ladies and gentlemen.

Ed Gonzalez makes a motion to start hearing public speakers. The session has been going on for nearly 90 minutes before they've had an opportunity. Mike Sullivan argues to let council continue around the table. Five public speakers are announced, but contests that the "serious" discussion has ended. It doesn't get more snobbish than that. Bradford concurs with Sullivan. Some true colors are coming out now. Seriously, these people can't wait 15 minutes to let the public speak after they've waited 90 minutes? Stardig finds a way to outdo both Sullivan and Bradford on this matter, citing "family issues." It's 10:30 in the morning. Kinda curious how many employers would put up with that. It looks like we may get a test vote on the outcome of tomorrow's ordinance. Clutterbuck asks if this is a motion to suspend the rules, which would require 10 votes. It will not.

The vote loses 7-8. Council continues to force public to wait. Aside from the usual suspects, Rodriguez, Lovell, Johnson vote to have the public wait. Bradford votes for the wait. Jones votes for the public.

Jolanda Jones is back up. She notes that she wanted to expand council by two in 2009 and notes undercounting issues. She's a bit scattershot on whether she's going to side one way or the other, but if I had to make a small wager, I'd say she gets the proof she wants to her satisfaction in the end and winds up voting for two new seats.

{revised} Backtracking to whether the previous vote might serve as a test case for council expansion - I don't know what's going on with Lovell's vote, but she is supportive of two new seats. Wanda Adams voted yes, but she's on record as being against two new districts. So it looks like it could be a close votes tomorrow if the others hold for tomorrow. Looking like JoJo & Jarvis are the swing votes.

Stephen Costello is back up now with more extensive question than before. The questioning involves the statistical analysis done for block-level Census counts and whether a margin of error is factored in. Pretty good point of detail. The backstory is that hard, physical counts are done for the purpose of apportionment. But statistical analysis is done for block-level work that goes into redistricting. And with that, a margin of error comes into play. The importance for that, of course, is that such a margin of error would certainly be that 549 people could very well be accounted for in the "over" on the actual enumeration. That's not a factor that goes into Wood's memo, but it's certainly a valid point.

Ed Gonzalez brings up a challenge to the Census' 2006 population estimate, noting that the challenge was accepted and the estimate was revised upward. The vote for continuing council discussion may well have been misguided, but there's at least some good info coming out now that would have been nice to see earlier.

Mike Sullivan back up ... again. And Lovell has another taker since he's arguing that people are moving out of Houston. Feldman is addressing "Limited Purpose Annexation" now, noting that they are included as "persons" under the Voting Rights Act.

C.O. Bradford back up ... again. Raises one valid point about whether this issue can be dealt with in the next election cycle rather than this one. Feldman notes that with every election, there is a determination of the population. That's the hinge that all this comes down to - if it's determined to be 2.1, there's no discretion about expanding council. That's really all this hearing was supposed to be about. It seems as if time ran out before any definitive answer was given. But the matter remains secondary.

Mike Sullivan is back up ... yet again. And we cross the 2-hour mark for the public to speak. Looks like we're getting to them now.

Vidal Martinez apparently has left, as he was first on the list.

Carroll Robinson is first up. He's on the pro- side of this matter, noting that this isn't about "council's rights." He also echoes my argument that if you're worried about the strong mayor form of government, then there is another process to address that. He also addresses the budget matter of staff, noting that voting rights are being bartered away. I'm not one to praise Robinson too easily, but he's singing from the hymnal I sing from on this. Well done, Carroll. He notes that the budget pegs spending to population and inflation and that the budget they last voted out has council on record as saying that there are over 2.1M. Another good point.

Wanda Adams has questions for Robinson. Interesting since we never heard Adams in the original round of repetitive fire and she's on record as being against expansion. It's a pretty good exchange on the details of where and how the City has already modeled 2.2M as the basis for the budget. Is Adams backing off her opposition? Maybe we'll see tomorrow.

C.O. Bradford questions him next, sticking to his assessment that the prior estimates were just wrong. Robinson does a good job of pointing out that there will not be new block-level data to do redistricting with any different eye in 2013 or 2021 than you could do now. In other words, if you redistrict at a later point in this decade, you would end up using the same exact information that you have in front of you now.

Brenda Stardig up next for Robinson ... says we just don't have the money to expand council. That's specific to the staff budget for CMs. Easily the dumbest point in the entire discussion. Brenda Stardig, ladies and gentlemen. Amazingly, she concludes with the point that "We're trying to stop spending" despite her complaint from a sentence before. Utterly amazing.

Jarvis Johnson up now for Robinson. He makes a fair point about whether we necessarily should accept the higher, earlier numbers. Robinson argues that the basis for picking the population for the budget, that it was at least used with some valid basis. He addresses Bradford's point that if it's recognized as incorrect, you should revise the budget. Wonder if Bradford wants to take that to HPD and HFD.

Anne Clutterbuck up now for Robinson. She notes a "very clear" federal standard that Census numbers are determined to be the most accurate until proven otherwise. It sounds like she's reading from law that speaks to challenging Census numbers, though ... not how it applies to situations such as this. Case in point - federal law allows for formula spending to be based on biennial updates in population estimates. Robinson reiterates the point that you will never have new block-level data that impacts redistricting until 2021. And aside from any of that, it doesn't address the central issue - there were 566 people that were enumerated, but the Census failed to allocate them as "Houston." I have a fair amount of respect for Clutterbuck, but she's not seeing this point.

Wanda Adams is back up to allow David Feldman the opportunity to address Robinson. There's some explanation aimed at Clutterbuck from the Lopez v Houston case of whether 8-9 yr old info after a Census can be viewed as "best available" ... but that it doesn't address the 566-person issue.

Mustafa Tameez (aka - my boss) up now. His point is to refocus on the point that Jerry Wood's memo deals with - that the boundary lines the Census used impacted their allocation of population. "We know our boundary lines better than Washington." Interesting point to the conservative, anti- voices on council.

Al Hoang first up for Mustafa. Asks about undercounts among Asian community. The response is that undercounting, while important on the whole, isn't the immediate issue.

Chuck Davidson up now. Simple point to pick the number and "move on."

Rogene Calvert up now. Her focus on on something Lovell spoke to earlier - the number of constituents per district. She's also part of the Asian-American Redistricting Initiative and points out that a more compact district gives minorities a stronger voice within districts.

Nobody else on the public list. Meeting adjourned. Analysis later on. Goodnight, Cleveland!


COH Redistricting: The Population Cage Match

The City has announced the date & time of the session on explaining the population situation to members of council. It's on for Tuesday morning at 9am. You know I'd rather be nowhere else but in front of a laptop at that time. So expect a liveblog.

I'm curious how much it settles debate for those that seem to be in the middle on the debate from yesterday. At the end of the day, I think the Census' 2.099M gives any wannabe critic enough ammunition to hold their ground. As anticipated, any more the Mayor could have taken would be assured of being taken to a judge for any settlement. I think whatever course the administration takes starts off as hard to overturn in court (at least if judged on the merits). And I certainly am among those who favor expanding council - both on the assumption that the population really is over 2.1M and on the basis that a government closer to the people is better government.


COH Redistricting: The Day After the Tags

The newsy takes on yesterday's redistricting/council expansion fracas ...

» Chron: Houston City Council pushes back against expansion plan
» Houston Politics: Council expansion stalling



City Redistricting Season Picks Up Steam

Just a reminder that the City will begin their redistricting town hall meetings tomorrow. The purpose of these are two, as I understand it: for the city to provide information on the process, and to allow for public input from citizens on what they'd like to see happen. That last item may pertain to things like what neighborhoods to keep whole or whether or not we should have 2 new districts. Whichever way you lean, this is the one shot at getting it on the public record. And here's the pre-Spring Break dates ...

March 3 - District D (Museum of Fine Arts - 1001 Bissonnet)
March 7 - District E (Woodbridge Church - 5707 Kingwood Dr)
March 8 - District E (UH-Clear Lake - 2700 Bay Area Blvd)
March 10 - District C (Pershing Middle School - 3838 Bluebonnet Blvd)

Times for all meetings are 6:30pm till 8:00pm. Anyone can attend any of them and offer testimony at any, as well. I'll be at tomorrow's, so if you're there, swing by and say hi.

The Council's session today dealt with the following items:

ORDINANCE determining the population of the City and of each of the council districts; finding the population of existing council districts to be materially unbalanced; finding that the City’s current population mandates the creation of two additional council districts under the City Charter

There was some lively discussion on it and the result was that the two main aspects of this - the declaration of districts being material unbalanced and finding that the population mandates the creation of two new districts - were split into two separate ordinances and then tagged till next week.

From the sound of it, there may be a presentation before next week's vote specifically on the issue of whether or not Council can/should declare the population at 2.1M. I can't even begin to express how many degrees of fun that represents for me. I mean, I still feel like I'm on a sugar high and I haven't had a soft drink since 9am.

The question of districts being materially unbalanced will pass. That's an open & shut argument. But it sounded like the question of assessing the assumed population count would go along with that (I could be wrong here, so if anyone else took it in any better, please clarify). Whether or not we will go to 11 districts seems to have some vocal opposition. Sullivan, Pennington, Stardig, and Adams seem dug in on their opposition. Clutterbuck seems to be, as well. Whether they have the votes to win, we'll see next week.


Nine versus Eleven: The Debate Continues

» Chron: Battle lines taking shape as expansion talk heats up

The argument over whether the City of Houston should or can expand from nine single member council districts to eleven looks like it will continue ...

Councilman Mike Sullivan views expansion as a function of mayor-council politics, and he opposes it.

Houston's residents, Sullivan said in an impromptu news conference after last week's council meeting, "don't want to see us trying to disenfranchise council members. The mayor has a leg up on us, if you will, in the strong mayor form of government. A super-majority with new council members would be 12, and that throws entirely too much power to the mayor's seat."

Mayor Annise Parker followed with a news conference of her own. "It's going to be messy. It's going to be contentious. We don't have a choice (but to expand)," she said.

To Sullivan's thinking, expansion dilutes the power of existing council members who shed turf, constituents and the weight of their individual votes as the council adds members.

Any increase in the super-majority, which is needed for such parliamentary maneuvers as extending speakers' time, Sullivan explained, gives the mayor a tighter grip on the reins of a meeting.

But the plans in motion are to expand council to eleven seats. There seems to be a lot that feeds into CM Sullivan's paranoia these days as he's expressed concern that Kingwood and Clear Lake will be split apart (perhaps to his political detriment). He's also lobbed some ad hominem attacks on Mayor Parker with sympathetic media in town. He'd be wiser to address those matters at the core rather than the method he seems to have chosen. Redistricting is usually a good excuse to make allies, not enemies. So his criticisms really warrant more salt-shaking than the Chron report seems to offer.

The matter of whether an expanded council has any bearing on Houston's already "strong" mayor form of governance is something that can be addressed with the current council. If Sullivan were to be more proactive and were capable of building a bridge he didn't later burn down, he might seek out some possible charter changes that add a bit more balance of power to council. But that doesn't seem to be the route he's taking. So it's hard to take his criticism at face value.

Personally, I could care less about the council dynamics. I just prefer seeing representation closer to the population. That tends to mean expanding the number of said representative districts. I support it at the federal level as well as in this instance. At it's core, that has more to do with good governance than Sullivan's concern over parliamentary rules.


Missed It By That Much!

» Chron: Redoing council districts still on

As mentioned previously, the City of Houston is still moving forward with plans to add two new districts.

Mayor Annise Parker said the redistricting plans would proceed, given that the official count fell just 549 people short of the 2.1 million mark.

"I am quite surprised by the numbers because all indications were that we had already reached a population of 2.1 million residents," Parker said in a statement.

The city is expected to consider an ordinance on March 2 declaring the nine geographic districts "materially imbalanced," meaning the boundaries need to be redrawn to have an equal number of Houstonians represented by each district. That ordinance, if passed, would pave the way for the creation of the two new districts, J and K.

CM Mike Sullivan is already making noise about not having a need for the two new districts, stating "Council governs very well in its existing form .... As the population grows, they are still very well represented at the council table. I don't know of any ethnic group or interest group that does not have a voice at City Council."

Previously, Sullivan had expressed his concerns that Clear Lake and Kingwood would be detached in any new map to come out of council. It's not sounding like he's interested in mending any bridges. If nothing else, the debate over whether we should or shouldn't add the new districts seems likely to liven up the scheduled public forums on redistricting next month.

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