Houston we have a problem.
Inadequate Infrastructure Leads to Flooding
Houston has a flood problem. It is outrageous that some of our neighbors have flooded three or four times in the last few years.
Houston has underinvested in its drainage infrastructure, and has not maintained what has been built. This has left us with a system that is dilapidated and ineffective during heavy rain storms.
Preventing both types of flooding will take cooperation from the federal and state government, but Houston can also help itself. We must show that we are serious about correcting the problems that have led to repeat floods.
Two immediate things to do: we need to actually put the drainage fee we already pay toward fixing drainage infrastructure. We also must get serious about common-sense regulations when it comes to new developments.
Fixing our flood problem will require a hard look in the mirror, but it’s critical no family go to bed during a rainy night and worry if their house is going to flood.
Protecting Family and Home
Nearly every parking lot in Houston has a warning to leave nothing valuable in your car and to hide your belongings. And it’s probably easier to find someone whose car has been broken into than someone who hasn’t. Additionally, there has not been a significant reduction in violent crime in the last five years.
Despite a promise by Sylvester Turner to hire 500 new police officers, the department has cut more than 150 experienced positions. Houston has fewer officers per person than it did nearly 20 years ago, and many neighborhoods employ private security to keep their community safe.
It’s a sad situation that neighborhoods are forced to hire private security to patrol their neighborhoods. Unfortunately for those who can’t afford it, their neighborhoods are rarely patrolled.
Houston needs a properly staffed and properly funded police department. Ninety percent of the personnel reductions since Sylvester Turner was elected have come from the police department. That is outrageous and shows how out of touch the priorities this administration are with those of ordinary citizens.
In order to properly fund the police department, we need to get our fiscal house in order. That means making city government more efficient to ensure we are driving the best value with your taxpayer dollars.
Unreliable Garbage Pickup & Dumping
Garbage on the Streets Stinks
The most fundamental responsibility of any city is to pick up the garbage on a regular basis. Sadly that is something on which Houstonians can no longer rely. This is a direct result of the mismanagement of the garbage truck fleet where frequently less than half the trucks are in service.
Also, in some neighborhoods, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods, illegal dumping has become rampant. You’ll find nearly everything from bags of trash to old tires to used oil drums.The city is doing nothing to stop this. It often takes weeks, sometimes months, to clean up these eyesores and public health hazards.
Houston must have a properly managed solid waste department, that does regular preventative maintenance on its fleet and a regular program of investments in new vehicles.
Illegal dumpers should be aggressively prosecuted and illegal dump sites should be cleaned up immediately. They are certainly not tolerated in affluent areas of the city. Everyone deserves to have streets that are free of garbage.
Pay to Play at City Hall
City Hall is run by and for the benefit of special interests. Campaign contributors that do business with the city or are regulated by the city, have given Sylvester Turner millions of dollars in campaign contributions. This is far beyond the financial ability of most Houstonians. As a result, the city serves the interests of these large donors and not ordinary citizens.
One of the most recent and egregious examples of rampant pay-to-play system at City Hall was Sylvester Turner awarding his former law firm a $6.7 million contract. That work could have been performed for far less, and perhaps even on a pro-bono basis, but because Turner chose one of his cronies over flood victims, about 200 families’ homes will not be repaired. This award was unconscionable and indefensible.
Houston residents need to know City Hall is working for them and not special interests. Creating the most ethical and transparent administration starts with ending pay-to-pay at City Hall. We must stop the endless cycle of political donations that lead to government contracts. I strongly support a citizen-driven petition to severely limit contributions with those who do business with the city.
Everywhere I travel across this city, people are fed up with the pay-to-play and cronyism at City Hall. They are sick and tired of the fact that people who make large campaign contributions play by a different set of rules than everyone else. They have lost their patience with the city hiding how their tax money is spent.
It will obviously take new leadership to reform city hall. But just new leadership is not enough. If we are to truly end the corruption, we must overhaul our ethics rules and take steps to guarantee transparency in how the city conducts its business. After all, we all know that sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Here is my plan to help safeguard against corruption, save taxpayer dollars and improve access to public information.
Create an Independent Office of Inspector General & Public Release of Findings: Currently, the Office of Inspector General is supervised by the city attorney, who reports to the mayor. I will create a truly independent inspector general who will jointly report to the mayor, the city controller and one member of City Council, elected by Council in a vote in which the mayor will not be allowed to participate. This will increase accountability and eliminate the mayor’s unilateral control of investigations involving employee misconduct. Also, all final reports of the OIG will be released to the public unless the mayor, controller and Council representative determine the complaint was frivolous.
Reform Campaign Finance Rules: I fully support the limitations on campaign contributions included in the End Pay-to-Play PAC petition. If that petition drive fails for any reason, I will put the issue on City Council’s agenda when I am mayor and if council fails to adopt the limitations, I will seek a charter amendment to enact them. I will direct the city secretary to begin entering all campaign contributions into a searchable database and begin working backward to eventually include all available historical data on campaign contributions. Current contribution information is only available in individual PDF files, which are cumbersome and time-consuming to search.
Reform the City Bid Process: The city is currently evaluating bids using what is known as the “Best Value” method. This method allows subjective factors, like “community engagement,” to be weighted as much as, or even more than, the cost. The result is that projects cost taxpayers more money and fewer projects are completed. Several contractors have shown me awards made by the city to bidders that were nowhere near the lowest bids using this method.
When I am elected, contracts will be awarded based on the lowest responsive bid, no exceptions! This is the method the city used for decades before the Turner administration. It is more cost-effective and will eliminate the subjectivity that allows pay-to-play bidders to be rewarded for their campaign contributions. Once a contract is awarded, all documents related to the evaluation and award, except those which cannot be released by state law, will be posted on the city’s website for the public to review.
Restore Deleted Budget Information: The last budget submitted to City Council by Annise Parker contained 821 pages of information. In each of his budgets, Turner has eliminated more than 200 pages of details about how your tax money is spent that were included in Parker’s budget. I have attached the 2016 and 2020 Dedicated Drainage and Street Funds budgets so you can see the kind of information that Turner has deleted. When elected, I will restore this information to the budget.
Expand Fiscal Accountability: Every contract entered into by the city, regardless of amount, will be posted in a searchable database available on the city’s website. In addition, the Monthly Financial and Operations Report (MFOR) will include a listing of any contracts executed in the previous month that fell below the $50,000 threshold that triggers the requirement for council approval. The report in the MFOR will include a general description and link to an on-line copy of the contract.
I will also expand the existing searchable online database of city payments maintained by the city controller’s office to include access to the authorizing purchase order, contract or ordinance. Currently, this database allows for searches based only on date and recipient name.
Texas Public Information Requests: There are circumstances in which the city has discretion to release or withhold certain documents which are not deemed confidential under state law. In my administration, those discretionary documents will only be withheld upon joint agreement by the mayor, city controller and City Council representative.
Charter Amendment: I will seek an amendment of the city charter to incorporate these reforms so that they cannot be undone by future mayors and councils.
We need a mayor who works for the taxpayers not the special interests. If you want an end to corruption and believe that is best accomplished by openness and transparency, then join our campaign to clean up city hall and get us back to the basics of balancing the books, improving public safety, reducing flooding and fixing the streets.
Houston Skimps on Street Spending
Houston streets are an embarrassment. Sylvester Turner promised to fix the streets, but after his photo-op with an asphalt packing machine, he actually cut street spending 26% in the first two years of his administration. The amount of asphalt the city used in the last year in street repairs was at its lowest level in a decade, and it resurfaced the fewest lane miles since 2014.
Taxpayers in 2011 mandated a lockbox for street and drainage improvements. Unfortunately, the Turner administration has pilfered the lockbox to fund their pet projects and to avoid truly balancing the city’s budget. We need to treat this fund for what it was intended: a dedicated revenue source to be used strictly for infrastructure improvements.