Where Tony Stands
The pay-to-play system and corruption at City Hall must be stopped. I am accepting NO campaign donations and seeking NO endorsements. As mayor, I will donate my salary to charitable causes.
Ending Pay to Play & the Rampant Corruption at City Hall
Houston needs a trustworthy mayor who will work for everyday Houstonians. Too often, City Hall politicians – including our current mayor – prioritize their contributors, old business partners, and friends over the public good. For example: the current mayor pushed through a $35 million contract that included a $6.7 million payment for his former law partner. Abuses like this must end!
As mayor, I will demand real and meaningful ethics reform. I decided to lead by example from day one of my campaign. I will not accept any contributions nor actively seek out the endorsement of any of special interest groups. I am 100% self-funding my campaign. I will only work for you, my fellow Houstonians.
I will also donate my entire mayoral salary back to the community. We can all be involved in this decision! I will also work to lower the mayoral salary for the long term. Houston has one of the highest mayoral salaries in the country – some of that money would be better spent on neighborhood services.
As mayor, I will also launch a petition to ask Houstonians to place a measure on the ballot that would end the practice of rewarding city contracts to big campaign contributors. Contracting with the city should be based on merit, and merit alone — not who you know or who gave money to the mayor or council. My position is simple: If you donate to a politician at City Hall, for one year you will not be permitted to enter a contract with or work for the city – period.
As stated above, the first thing I’ll do is end the pay-to-play politics as usual at City Hall. That means no more contracts for campaign contributors and more transparency and accountability for lobbyists and politicians. Because no actual enforcement mechanism exists to regulate lobbyists, many who lobby don’t even bother to register, set forth conflicts of interest or report expenditures. I will make sure all who lobby actually register as such. Too many times we see council and the mayor at major sporting events and concerts. Although it is nice that our public officials are in attendance, we have a right to know who is paying for this. As mayor, I will put in place a much more rigorous enforcement of the gifts and perks that public officials receive, as well as more stringent reporting for city lobbyists. And, frankly, I won’t be lobbied.
I intend to make Houston a truly open government. Every Houstonian should know exactly where their tax dollars are going. I’ll implement full online disclosure for all tax dollars so that residents, the media, and the government watchdogs can hold the mayor and council accountable for public funds – not only expenditures from the general fund, but also from enterprise funds. Once public funds are actually being monitored and tracked, we will see reductions in waste, fraud, and abuse by politicians and bureaucrats.
To ensure that future mayors and city councils always have independent oversight, I will appoint an independent auditor and work to make the position permanent in the city charter. This auditing arm will audit more than just budgets and expenditures; it will audit processes, such as pothole repair, permitting time, police response time, and actual live release rates from our animal shelters. Having an independent auditing arm will aid greatly in rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse at City Hall.
With these reforms in place, we could be the first city in the country to have a truly clean government – a government not subject to campaign finance influence, back-door deals, or improper lobbying. Wouldn’t you like Houston to be known for that rather than flooding or sexual trafficking? I certainly would. These reforms are required to ensure maximum transparency and public official accountability – both of which are the key to good government.
Houston voters decided that our firefighters deserved a raise. I will stop spending city money on waste and lawsuits, and instead will keep my word and give them their raise.
Prop B and Pay Parity
Prop B and Pay Parity will continue to be a major issue in the mayor’s race. I have been very clear about where I stand on this issue. To me, it’s more than a matter of fairness to the firefighters; it’s a matter of following the will of the voters. Historically, the mayor has failed and betrayed our firefighters in securing pay parity.
Years back, there used to be pay parity between the firefighters and police. That, for whatever reason, changed. Some argue parity changed because the firefighters were more willing to protect their pension benefits than were the police and municipal workers, so they agreed to accept fewer pay increases to ensure that there was a funded pension in place. The police and municipal workers, on the other hand, continued to receive pay increases. At the same time, they allowed changes to their pension benefits or allowed the city to get away with not making its required contribution to their pensions. No matter the reason, it is clear now that Houston firefighters get paid significantly less than their counterparts in other major cities. Moreover, according to the fire union, while the police have received raises over an approximate ten-year period of more than 35%, the firefighters have received only 3%.
During the last mayoral election cycle, the firefighters endorsed Mayor Turner and worked very hard to get him elected. Turner ultimately won by approximately 4,000 votes, and the firefighters would argue that they played a significant role in that win. Almost as soon as he was elected, Turner worked with his colleagues in Austin to address the impending pension crisis. In doing so, the firefighters argue that he took from their almost fully funded pension and used that money to help fix the failing pensions of both the police and municipal workers. Needless to say, the firefighters were not happy and felt betrayed by Turner.
As one would expect, when it came time for the fire union to negotiate with the city for a new contract, there were already hard feelings because of the pension issue. According to the fire union, the city refused to reasonably negotiate and an impasse was reached. At this impasse, the fire union requested arbitration; however, the city refused. As a result, the fire union decided to take matters into its own hands and seek pay parity with the voters, via Prop B. After quickly collecting the required signatures, the fire union presented them to the city. Nothing happened, despite tens of thousands of Houstonians indicating through petition that Prop B deserved to be put to a vote. Because the city refused to certify the petition signatures, the fire union was forced to sue the city to force them to put Prop B on the ballot. That lawsuit succeeded. Mayor Turner’s inability to competently handle the issue with the firefighters was a major failure. There should never have been a situation where a large segment of city workers, whose budget exceeds $500 million, should feel compelled to go to the ballot box for a raise. A mayor is supposed to lead. Turner did not.
The election surrounding Prop B was very heated. The firefighters worked very hard to pass Prop B. The mayor worked hard to defeat it. In fact, using his former law firm, Mayor Turner set up a political action committee with the specific purpose of defeating Prop B; he funded that PAC with more than $500,000 of his campaign funds. Despite Turner’s efforts, Prop B passed with almost 60% of voter support. More than 298,000 residents voted for Prop B—almost three times more than voted for Mayor Turner when he was elected.
Almost as soon as Prop B passed, Turner again turned to his old law firm. This time, he took the legal position that Prop B was unconstitutional, even though it was his own administration that put it on the ballot. He also argued that now that Prop B had passed, he could no longer negotiate with the fire union. He further threatened to lay off almost 1,000 firefighters as a way to implement Prop B. Worse, he pitted the police union against the fire union, encouraging the police union to file suit against the fire union, which the city ultimately joined. Ultimately, the mayor’s lawsuit failed; however, Prop B has not been implemented, and the mayor has put forth no plan to do so. Even after failing in his first lawsuit effort and publicly announcing he was preparing a plan to implement Prop B, the mayor has filed paperwork in the same lawsuit asking the court to find Prop B unconstitutional. Basically, we have the city suing itself. This lawsuit foolishness must end.
Since Prop B passed, the mayor instituted what he called a hiring freeze, but still did not implement Prop B. Already, one class of 24 new firefighters have completed their training but have not graduated or been hired due to the freeze. Another class of 47 is nearing graduation. The city has spent more than $13,000 per firefighter cadet for training, but apparently intends to throw that money away. This is despite the fact that the city continues to pay overtime to those firefighters already on the job because the fire department is short on firefighters. Worse, during the so-called hiring freeze, the mayor hired almost 900 new city workers. It appears that the hiring freeze only applied to firefighters!
The mayor’s refusal to fairly and reasonably implement pay parity is both a slap in the face to firefighters and to the voters who approved their pay parity. As mayor, I’ll treat our public safety professionals fairly and follow the will of the voters. Despite what this mayor says, we have the money to implement Prop B. As mayor, I will drop the lawsuits and immediately implement Prop B.
One other note: I have committed not to attempt to adjust or modify the firefighters’ current pension. The purpose of a pension is to have retirement set aside for a public safety professional who has put himself/herself on the line. The current pension benefits may not be the best, and certainly many lost a lot during the last so-called “pension reform,” but I can commit that, as mayor, I will not change the current pension benefits of the firefighters.
We are facing a major problem with rising crime. As mayor, I will make it my top priority to improve public safety. The most important role of government is to keep our citizens safe.
Our Crime Problem
We have to be brutally honest about where we stand — we have a serious crime problem in Houston, and it’s only getting worse. All types of crimes are on the rise. If someone breaks into your home, there is a less than 5% chance that crime will be solved. When a Code 1 – the most serious call – comes in, the response time to that call will be more than six and a half minutes! Our police officers are dedicated and hard working. The problem is we have too many officers on desk duty and not enough out on our streets. Houston has almost 5,200 police officers; only 2,300 patrol the streets. At any one time, if we are fortunate, we will have approximately 500 officers on patrol. That is far too few to adequately patrol the city of Houston. Houston is a horizontal city, 664 square miles. In Houston, we have 2.2 police officers per 1,000 citizens. On the other hand, New York City, which is a vertical city, has 4.4 police officers per 1,000 citizens. We need even more officers. We must grow the force, but in the right way–with patrol officers on the streets providing deterrence, building relationships, and learning the communities. We must switch from reactive policing to proactive policing.
As mayor, I know that I cannot solve all our problems alone. I need your help. I have sought out experts to assist me in solving our most critical problems. With regard to crime, I have already put together a group of individuals who have dedicated their lives to dealing with crime issues. These individuals are not and will not be on the city payroll, and none will ever do business with the city. We are putting together plans to deal with some of the challenging issues, some of which are discussed below:
Compstat- A Paradigm Shift:
The most important change the Houston Police Department can make is to adopt the proactive Crime Control or Compstat (Computer Statistics/Comparable Statistics) style of policing. Books have been written on this completely different way of policing because of the dramatic reduction in all types of crime experienced when the Compstat model is fully implemented. Compstat contains four principles: 1. Accurate and timely information, clearly communicated to all, with a breakdown of those barriers that make it difficult to share information within the department and with other law enforcement entities; 2. Rapid deployment of forces that are coordinated, controlled, and trained; 3. Tactics that are moral, legal, and firm, but effective; 4. Relentless assessment and follow up, holding all persons accountable.
What does this mean with regard to “boots on the ground?” It means that we use real-time, accessible data to know where crimes are likely to occur, and we rapidly respond and predict, thus deterring crime before it ever occurs. And, we need to consider a zero-tolerance policy with regard to “small crimes,” because we know from studies that those who commit lesser offenses will likely commit ones that are more serious in the future.
The Compstat approach is a paradigm shift. It will take active and aggressive leadership from a mayor and a police chief who understand the successes it has had in other cities. I believe it is an approach we have to implement if we are going to be serious about making ALL areas of this city safe again.
Human Trafficking: Houston is one of the top sex-trafficking epicenters in America. One only needs to drive down Bissonnet from Beltway 8 to Highway 59 to see the problem we face. We have to address this problem instead of continuing to ignore it. The solution to end this epidemic begins with education, not only of potential victims, but also of parents, teachers, and school administrators. We must get better at identifying victims and put more resources in play to rescue them. Once a victim is rescued, our task doesn’t end there. We must also help them rehabilitate and then assimilate. That means, of course, helping them transition back into society, preferably with gainful employment. There are a lot of very good people working in Houston to end sexual trafficking. The city must support these people, help coordinate efforts, and lead. As mayor, that is what I will do.
Gang Violence and Crime. Recently, Houston’s police chief finally admitted that there is an ongoing gang war in our streets. As a result, far too often innocent bystanders are victims of the crossfire. No community is immune. At last count, there were more than 23,000 DOCUMENTED (meaning we know who they are and what gang they affiliate with) gang members in Houston. That’s five times more gang members than there are police officers on the street. We have to get aggressive. As stated above, as mayor, my first task will be to put more police on our streets. My goal will be to get more officers off desk duty and onto the streets. Further, I will work to hire and train 500 more officers per year, over my first four-year term. In addition, we must encourage the new officers we hire to live within Houston city limits. The more officers we have that live where they work, the better they will be at policing our neighborhoods and keeping us safe. This is why I also believe in the neighborhood watch program. Our citizens can engage in helping keep the city safe.
It is not just trafficking and gang violence we have to worry about. Over the last several years, we have seen the number of sexual assaults rise dramatically. Tragically, most go unsolved. Moreover, we have seen break-ins and car thefts on the rise. Again, very few of these crimes are solved because we don’t have the personnel to do so. We must do better. The most important role of government is to keep our citizens safe and the current mayor is failing. Houston’s safety will be my top priority.
Other Ideas We Will Explore:
Civilian Review Board. We have to decide if we really want a Civilian Review Board. If we think such a board serves a purpose, then we need to give it some authority and not have it simply function as a pat on the back to the police chief.
Body cameras on all officers in the street, even when executing a warrant
Address a command structure that appears to be bloated.
Better recognition of officers who demonstrate heroism or outstanding police work
Outsource vehicle maintenance.
Revise the current chase policy.
Civilian police academy with certified, trained officers patrolling underserved areas on a volunteer basis
Reinstitute neighborhood watch programs, but provide them support.
Improving Infrastructure – Preparing for Future Storms
Houston needs a mayor who will finally get to work fixing our outdated infrastructure – that starts with fixing our streets and improving flood prevention. Flooding is a regional issue, which requires coordination with the county, the Corps of Engineers, and the state. The truth is, the city can’t go at this alone. But we can lead.
It’s a fact that in the future there will be additional storms; we must prepare now. We have to get smarter about how we prepare for storms. We have some of the smartest and most creative people in the country. I will engage them to come up with tangible things we can do right now to make Houston less vulnerable to future storms. We all remember the ravages and devastation of Hurricane Harvey. But the truth is, the overwhelming majority of the flooding that has occurred in the Houston-area since 1979 happened outside of the defined hurricane season. The floods will worsen, and although we will continue to implement solutions to mitigate the damage, we must also do things in the short term to protect ourselves. Everyone in the Houston area should consider purchasing flood insurance no matter what “zone” you live in. We must learn to protect ourselves when the storms occur, including the use of apps that show areas that are passable and those that are not, and the use of devices that can be purchased to protect our cars. There are many more basic things that can be done. My campaign will roll them out once our comprehensive white paper is complete. Many of the solutions are ones we have known about for some time, and, indeed, many have been included in at least THREE past mayors’ transition reports, yet we have not had the leadership to implement them. I will do so.
There are three types of flooding that we must address in Houston and the surrounding areas: 1. Storm surge, which is an issue we are absolutely going to have to address with regard to Clear Lake, the industrial areas around the Port, and other southern parts of the Houston area. Failure to develop a plan to address storm surge involving the ship channel will kill the economy in Houston. We know that although it has been said that Harvey was a rare storm, we will have more and more of such “rare” storms; 2. Sheet flow, which is the flooding that routinely occurs in places long before the bayous are full or the tributaries flow over their banks; and 3. River overflow or detention overflow, which is our lack of capacity that results in Buffalo Bayou leaving its banks, or uncontrolled releases from the reservoirs. Each is a major problem that must be addressed in a comprehensive manner. And, like each of the types of flooding, solutions to flooding are specific and as unique as the areas in which flooding in Houston routinely occurs.
West Houston: With regard to West Houston, it is clear we need more capacity. We must lobby the Corps of Engineers to start creating that capacity now. And, we must be mindful of when releases are made from both Barker’s and Addick’s reservoirs. During Hurricane Harvey, many that live on the west side felt they had survived the storm with little to no damage, only to awake the next morning with flooding in their homes. These people lost cars and other valuables they might not have lost, had they known the gates would be opened. But, unfortunately, the Corps of Engineers decided, in the middle of the night, to open the floodgates. The current mayor was aware when this decision was made, yet no warning was given. I would never allow that to happen. Who knows what personal items or vehicles could have been saved had someone bothered to alert the residents?
Kingwood: Kingwood was annexed by Houston, yet the residents that live and work there get only a fraction of the services they deserve, especially when you compare the revenues Kingwood generates against the value of the city services they receive. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Kingwood residents, and I know they feel ignored. It’s time they are no longer ignored by the city. One resolution is to have a city office in Kingwood with a representative to interact with the residents. We need accountability. With regard to the repeated flooding that has occurred in the Kingwood area, for years the San Jacinto River has needed dredging. The mayor has not once been a voice for these residents. A lack of dredging, and rampant sand mining immediately adjacent to the river, contributed greatly to the impacts of Harvey. Since Harvey, the lack of capacity of the river has worsened due to sand. And, although some dredging is being done, the area that most needs dredging–the mouth bar–isn’t being dredged! In addition to the dredging that is desperately needed, the flood gates need to be upgraded and replaced. Finally, there has to be detention built outside of Kingwood. Most of the water that comes into Kingwood is from outside. Kingwood needs a mayor who will advocate for its interests. That will include interaction not only with Harris County Flood Control District, SJRA, the Corps of Engineers, but also with Montgomery County. In addition to the issues discussed above, we also need to deal with the outdated storm and drainage infrastructure that causes parts of Kingwood to routinely flood. Areas flood due to sheet flow that simply should not flood. We have to directly deal with those areas in a methodical manner. That, of course, will include actually using monies collected from the Rebuild Houston drainage fee and ad valorem tax on drainage projects, rather than diverting it to other projects or to the general fund to balance the budget. Finally, Kingwood needs a mayor who understands that some of the current development plans that are to come before council for approval will exacerbate Kingwood flooding. We have to be mindful that development is not good if it detrimentally impacts the surrounding community. Kingwood has been ignored for years. As mayor, I will be a strong advocate for Kingwood and bring more attention to these issues. I will put in place short-term solutions, while working towards long-term ones.
Almost a decade ago, Houston voted in favor of a drainage fee and an ad valorem tax. That vote was reaffirmed in the last election. Since that initial vote, the city has collected more than a billion dollars. But only a small percentage of those monies have been actually used on drainage projects. This must end. As mayor, I will ensure that our drainage fee and the accompanying tax are actually spent on drainage instead of being siphoned off into the general fund to pay for city operations. Houston stands poised to receive almost $1.18 billion in federal aid. We have waited more than 18 months and many people are still out of their homes after Harvey. This aid is intended to help uninsured people get back into their homes or apartments and to buy out those who are in areas prone to flooding. We must ensure that every penny of those monies is spent for that purpose—and that purpose only.
Everyone agrees Houston has a flooding problem. There has been much talk about it, but very little has been done. Indeed, Houston’s own “Flood Czar” admits we are in no better condition to face the next storm than we were before Hurricane Harvey. We have to get serious. Did you know that when the current mayor came into office, his transition team laid out multiple, tangible things that could be done to eliminate or at least mitigate the impact of flooding? Almost none were accomplished. We need to be aggressive and realistic. It’s time to do something.
Improving Infrastructure – Fixing Our Roads
When it comes to infrastructure, we need to get back to doing the basics right. That starts with fixing streets properly, the first time. Streets across this city are crumbling and pothole-ridden. Too many times a pothole is filled, but then needs to be filled again a month later. Have you ever tried to drink a cup of coffee while driving our streets? Do you notice that sometimes the so-called repairs that are done actually make the drive worse? Enough of this madness! It makes no sense to spend taxpayer money and use city resources to hastily fix a pothole, only to go back and poorly refill it a few months later. It also makes no sense to repave a street now that is scheduled to be torn up for pipe replacements in a few months, or to repave streets in areas that are in good shape. As mayor, I will engage a group of engineers and construction experts to determine the best way to fix potholes and prioritize what streets we repair. We will do a full process audit on how we currently repair streets and how we prioritize projects. None of these experts will be on the city payroll, and none will be allowed to do business with the city. I suspect that our analysis may reveal that we are not efficient with taxpayer dollars. We will do better. If the data points in this direction, I will even consider privatizing some, if not all, street repair. With a comprehensive, vetted plan in place, we will then aggressively address our street issues once and for all. We will keep strict track of the efficiency of the road crews, the number of repairs made, and how long such repairs last. I’ll work with these experts to continuously improve how our streets are fixed and ensure that jobs are done right the first time.
One final note: There is a lot of misinformation put out by candidates hoping to score political points concerning how we spend the Rebuild Houston monies. Setting aside how we have spent the drainage fees – which I believe have actually been abused, but mostly used for drainage projects–no one has ever explored or discussed the ad valorem taxes collected, which are also a major part of the Rebuild Houston program. I’ve done the analysis. From what I gather, $214 million in ad valorem taxes have been collected since July 2016. Only $105 million of this has been used on infrastructure. Indeed, $109 million has been diverted into other non-infrastructure projects. This will stop. We will use the drainage fee and the accompanying ad valorem tax for drainage projects and infrastructure, period.
I am very proud to have served our country as a United States Marine. I first served as an infantry lieutenant in First Battalion, Fourth Marines, serving in the Persian Gulf and Somalia. Later, I served as the Commanding Officer of the First Recon Company, First Marine Regiment. I left the Marines as a Captain. As a Marine, veterans’ issues are very important to me. In Houston, the majority of the best work for veterans is done by charitable organizations or the state. As your mayor, the city will do much better.
I am very impressed with the services provided by Combined Arms here in Houston. The city needs to partner with and assist this group. I want Houston to continue to be a favored destination for veterans from all over the country, no matter which duty station they served. I see veterans as a huge asset to our city and our economy. Here are some initiatives we will pursue:
Utilizing existing programs at the City of Houston Health and Human Services:
- Increase and include services to veterans for dental treatment through Project Saving Smiles;
- Increase and include services to veterans for vision treatment through See to Succeed;
- Increase, include and advertise services to veterans through the five City of Houston Health Clinics;
- Increase, include and advertise to veterans about the City of Houston Diabetes program;
- Allow veterans to purchase produce at community garden programs;
- Support veteran services through City of Houston Aging programs that include caregiver resources; and
- Collaborate with Harris County Health, DHHS and VA to support implementation of the Mission Act.
Utilizing City Parks and Recreation Department:
- Implement free registration for veterans and veteran dependents for programs at Parks and Recreation;
- Allow all active duty members and families free registration to Parks and Recreation programs;
- Allow all dependent widows, widowers and dependents free access to Parks and Recreation programs; and
- Increase veteran-based activities within the City of Houston Park system.
Initiatives for Improved Job / Employment Opportunities for Veterans:
- Improve the amount of resources for employment for veterans through the the Veteran Affairs office;
- Design and implement a plan with the goal of an increasing veteran hires to 30% in all open city positions, with preference for those that are disabled;
- Develop an active “Hire a Houston Vet” program, partnering with local industries and corporations;
- Challenge companies relocating to Houston to hire veterans by working with them to set realistic veteran hiring levels and demonstrating the great veteran population we have in Houston;
- Initiate a City of Houston mentoring program; and
- Study an initiative to put in place tax incentives, similar to Philadelphia, for Houston veteran businesses and for the hiring of veterans.
Initiatives to Improve Homeless Veteran Housing Issues in Houston:
- Identify and utilize properties that are owned by the city, or that are in foreclosure by the city, in collaboration with the construction industry and other private partners, to build a Houston Veteran Center for female veterans. This center would include a homeless area, training area and would allow families to stay together;
- Identify and utilize properties that are owned by the city, or that are in foreclosure by the city, in collaboration with the construction industry and other private partners, to build a Houston Veteran Center for male veterans. This center would include a homeless area, treatment and training area and would allow families to stay together.
- Implement a female veteran officer position in the City of Houston Veteran Office to support female veterans and have someone knowledgeable on referral for female veterans;
- Study the cost and initiate a program to provide free access to Metro services for all veterans
Did you know that 54% percent of residents in Harris and surrounding counties say that stray dogs and cats are a problem, and that 1 out of 4 people in Houston say that stray dogs and cats are a very serious problem? Stray animals are not only a humanitarian issue, but also a safety and quality of life issue. In some neighborhoods, packs of wild dogs run free. We have heard reports of wild dogs attacking pets in the Third Ward. We’ve heard of children being chased by dogs in the East End. We have to do something.
There are many good-hearted organizations doing a lot within Houston to address animal cruelty and the stray animal problem. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t provide much support. In fact, when compared to other major cities, Houston spends far less on the problem and we stick with outmoded ways of doing things. We have to get serious about dealing with the stray animal problem.
No-Kill: Let me be clear, I support “no kill.” But, it must be Fully Transparent No-Kill; no more shortening of surrender hours. No more pushing away rescuers who bring in strays taken from the streets. (One question to ask here is why are our ACO’s not bringing in the strays, why must it fall to the rescuers?)
Many people have advocated hard for Houston to acquire “no kill” status. This is certainly a worthy goal–if we are fully transparent. “No kill” has different connotations to different people, and many times causes us to argue rather than work together. If one were to review the “live release” rates published by the city, one might be persuaded that the city is well on its way to no kill status. Two of their methods are to limit hours when strays are accepted, and discouraging animal drop-offs even during times when strays are supposed to be accepted. This must end. We have to be honest with Houstonians. We must have transparency. We have too many strays and we euthanize too many of the animals that are taken in.
I believe in Houston we must also do a better job enforcing laws against animal cruelty, and must work to strengthen such laws. Do we want to be recognized as having a “corridor of cruelty?” We can do better than that, and we will.
In summary, there is no one answer that addresses the stray animal population. The solution must be comprehensive and include a true public/private partnership. The solution will take time. But, one thing we know, any workable solution must involve the following:
- Spaying and neutering,
- Transport and Rescue,
- Research, and
- Cruelty prevention.
The problem can be solved. We can and will do better. Here are some specific proposals I will push as your next mayor:
Mandatory dog or cat pet licenses and a new way to enforce. Currently, when a dog or cat is vaccinated the owner is given forms to send into the city for licensing. IF the forms are actually sent in, the city follows up with a notice of fees, and, if not paid timely, a notice of late fees. Only about 25% of owners ever actually pay the license fee and certainly not yearly as required, as best I can determine. Although I’m no proponent for additional regulations, this is one that is already on the books. The ability of the city to deal with the stray population depends upon its enforcement.
As it stands now, license fees for dogs and cats are as follows (dangerous, service animals, and late fees are not included here. The prices below assume rabies vaccination is current.):
License Altered – $20
License Unaltered – $60
Sr. 60+ with ID/Altered – $ 2
Instead of requiring the pet owner to send in the License Request, proof of rabies vaccine and payment, the city could and should instead charge the license fee at the clinic when the rabies vaccine is given. Currently, the cost of the rabies vaccine is roughly $15-$20. So, someone with a pet, going to a vet or clinic now will face having to add in the additional cost of the license. But we will put these monies to good use to deal with the issues we face.
Under this new approach, rather than relying on the pet owner to send in the fee, the license fee becomes part of the rabies vaccine administration and the vet is responsible for reporting this and collecting the fee. (This could be a simple one-page report.) The vet then sends the fees into the city with the monthly report on rabies vaccines given and with addresses for those who received same for their pets. The only thing that changes for the vet is the content of the report. The money is sent directly to the city.
From the data I have been able to gather, there are about 45,000 licenses issued per year by the city, including renewals. Yet, there are over 300,000 animals in Houston and likely as many as a million. Even if the city were to lower the fees to $10 for all, revenues to deal with our stray animal population will increase dramatically; we will also use these additional revenues to deal with animal over population and cruelty.
Of course, we will not be punitive. As needed, exceptions or reductions in the license fee can be made for lower income pet owners. If you have a pet, it should be licensed; if you cannot afford the license, then we will work with you. The point is that pet owners are willing to do what it takes to help animals. This is an approach that will do so.
Pass Houston’s version of SB 295. Recently, a bill that had a lot of support and that would have helped many animals died due to a parliamentary point of procedure. If we can’t do it at the state level, we can get it done in Houston. We will pass the requirements set forth in the now dead SB 295.
Mandatory Micro-Chipping. As mayor, I will push an ordinance that requires all animals to be microchipped when they receive the rabies vaccine and city license. To offset the cost to owners, we will negotiate with the large providers for a citywide purchase and provide it to all vets. This has been done before in other contexts, and would massively reduce the cost of the chips. By requiring all animals to be micro-chipped, we will be able to reduce the time that animals are caged when they are lost and thus save the city money. This will also free up space for animals that are true strays and lower the need for euthanasia and lower the stress on the facilities. With microchipping when we find an injured or abused animal, officers will at least have a starting point to find the owner and origin of the animal.
The end result, if combined with the license fee change, is that every animal in Houston would be microchipped, vaccinated and licensed in one visit to the vet. With a new stream of revenue, and more data on the animals, we can finally begin to make a dent on the issues we face here in Houston.
High-Volume Spay/Neuter Incentives. The most effective way to begin to control the animal population in Houston is having a spay/neuter program that works. There are many factors that must be considered if this is to happen in a way that works.
We need veterinarians who are trained in high volume S/N. Or, we need to find a way to have paraprofessionals who can perform at least neutering on male animals.
High/Volume Training – We will offer scholarships to the ASPCA Spay Neuter Alliance in North Carolina to veterinarians who are willing to learn and then provide at least 4 days a year to assist us in performing these vital S/N clinics around the city. We can provide these to both current veterinarians and to 4th year students who will be coming to the Houston/Harris County area upon graduation.
Para Professionals – Currently, only licensed veterinarians can spay or neuter in the state of Texas. This needs to change but it may take some time to bring about that change. If we look at Spaying a female animal we realize that that is a surgical option that is much more complicated and has more resultant complications than the neutering of male animals. Frankly, animals are neutered on farms and ranches by non-veterinarians every day and they do just fine.
I propose, and will propose to the legislature, that a new, licensed vocation be created in the State of Texas akin to a nurse practitioner. That vocation would require training on how to safely neuter and this can be restricted if necessary to dogs and cats. Within a few months, an individual who is already a vet tech could receive certification and start to practice. Rather than seven or eight years of schooling, this individual would be trained specifically on that one task with that one gender of animal. We could also teach them the mechanics of high volume S/N so that they can be involved in the citywide Spay/Neuter initiatives we will be presenting. Imagine how many more animals we could spay or neuter!
Spay/Neuter Locations – Our administration will find current city owned or leased buildings in neighborhoods throughout Houston that can be used for S/N. We will also work with our partners at Harris County to do the same. These buildings will be ones that can be set up temporarily for high-volume spay/neuter. High volume S/N requires that tables and instruments and all items used be set up in very specific ways to ensure the highest efficiencies for those performing the surgeries. We will work to find locations that work best for this type of set up.
Once we identify the locations we will create a rotating schedule that is regular and that ensures the entire city is served. We will also investigate current city vehicles that can be repurposed for travelling S/N clinics that would visit different areas of the city on a similar rotation. We will have a coalition of public and private sector groups that ensure we provide the best coverage in the most needed areas of Houston.
Single Court for Animal Related Cases. We have learned over the years that specialized courts are very effective. I will work to convince Harris County to have specialized courts, or assigned judges, for animal cruelty cases. There is a lot for a judge to know about animal cruelty. I believe it makes a lot of sense to have one or two judges who are well versed in these cases to handle all cases that come to court involving animal cruelty. Of course, I know this is a county issue, but a strong mayor can make this happen.
Transparency at City Facilities and Services. Budget per animal is an interesting data point. From the data I have been given the budget for BARC (Houston) was $14.1MM. The budget for HCAS (Harris County) for the same period was $5.336MM. The BARC budget is 264% of the HCAS budget.
According to BARC, intake totaled 23,177 animals; HCAS intake totaled 18,174 animals. BARC has 27.5% more animals to handle from yearly intake. From the numbers we were able to obtain, BARC spent $608 per animal. HCAS spent $293 per animal. Why??
We must make BARC truly transparent. The need for transparency seems intuitive, but it simply is fact that BARC shares little or no information with the public other than that it believes reflects positively on its efforts. When facts and data are hidden from the public, a siege mentality develops in the department and choices are based on protecting departmental status quo and not on doing what is right for the city and the animals. In order for us to address the issues around animal overpopulation, animal neglect and cruelty we must have accurate, verifiable data and be able to draw conclusions and make decisions based on that data.
It is too easy when things are opaque to simply work at hitting irrelevant goals and percentages. When we are dealing with irrefutable data points, we will learn where we need to improve practices and strategies. When people are held accountable for hitting or failing to hit goals, the results will be REAL.
Establish a Houston Cruelty Registry. The city needs a Cruelty Registry. This would list anyone convicted of any type of criminal cruelty or negligence. This would not include those convicted of B or C misdemeanors but could include Class A misdemeanors along with felony animal cruelty convictions. If on the registry, you would be prohibited from owning any pets for a period of 3 years or longer. The database would list the name, TDL, and current address of the offender. There would also be an updated picture of them each year in the database that is published for all breeders and pet stores to access.
A breeder or pet store convicted of selling to one of these individuals could be fined or closed. Obviously, no shelter would allow an adoption or foster to anyone on the registry.
Change Animal Control in Houston and Harris County to Single Agency. We need a complete process audit at BARC. After we fully understand the staffing and processes at BARC, I believe we will find that it makes sense to allow ACO’s for BARC to work with Harris County in some type of joint City/County operation. We may find from our analysis that another way to find efficiencies and help more animals is to combine Houston and Harris County efforts for animal care and control and to alleviate arbitrary boundaries. This is not just a city or county problem. The problem is growing over the entire Houston area. The HCACT (Taskforce) has proven this is a doable model.
Such coordination or consolidation could very well allow for more efficiencies and potentially satellite shelters from the two larger facilities.
Make backyard breeding illegal in Houston. We have hundreds of thousands of stray animals running free all over Houston. We have multiple shelters, all of which are almost always at capacity. We don’t have sufficient staff to go out and pick up strays; we barely have staff to respond to cruelty calls. This is an epidemic!! We have plenty of animals available for those who want a pet. It is time to make the effort to ban backyard breeding in the city of Houston.
As a part of this ordinance we will include language that animals cannot be sold through venues like flea markets, etc. We will also seek to make it harder to sell animals online through resources like Craig’s List.
If this ordinance is passed, then we work with the county commissioners’ court to pass a similarly worded county ordinance and work together to end backyard breeding in all of Harris County.
**It will be necessary to have very limited exclusions for true, low scale breed specific breeders.
Pass an ordinance that any pet store in Houston can only sell rescue animals from approved rescue groups within Houston. There are simply too many dogs in Houston to continue to allow puppy mills and others to sell through pet stores in Houston. Those who need breed specific animals will still find a way to purchase the breed they want.
We are a strong and smart city and we already have a tremendous network of devoted animal welfare/advocacy/rescue organizations and individuals who are willing to help. I promise as your next mayor we will change the outcomes for all these suffering animals and for the people of the city of Houston!
One Bin Concept. We can make Houston completely waste-free in four years. The City of Houston collects waste, recycling, and yard waste for approximately 376,000 single-family residential households. More than two-thirds of our residents use our city’s waste service. Those that use the city’s service have their solid waste picked up once per week—when it is actually picked up. And, again, when it actually picks it up, the city picks up the recycling twice a month. And, of course, the city picks up yard waste once per month. All of the solid waste picked up by the city goes into landfills. Less than 30% of the “recycling” picked up by the city actually gets processed and recycled; the rest goes into landfills. (It has recently been reported that all of our recyclables are being buried in a landfill.) Around the perimeter of the city, we have multiple landfills and multiple transit stations for this trash—all operated by private companies. What if we could put in place a system such that we recycle almost all of the waste that the city produces and sell it ? Believe it or not, the technology exists to do so. As Mayor, I will put in place a system such that we pick up waste once per week, with all waste going into the same bin–NO MORE WASHING PLASTIC CONTAINERS OR SORTING TRASH. Such waste will be then taken to what is known as an Ecohub, where it will be sorted and turned into various products that can be sold. This will not only reduce the amount of trucks and personnel we need for waste disposal by a factor of three, but it will also save the city more than $40 million a year. The company that has this proven technology presented this idea to the city several years ago. But, due to lobbyists and the Mayor’s friends who are connected to the current waste companies doing business with the city, the proposal went nowhere. That will change! We can be the first waste-free city in the United States. That’s something we can all be proud of.
Repurposing our libraries. The city has 44 libraries. We need to make sure we are getting the most out of our libraries. Too many times, we have more staff in the library than there are patrons. And, we are not providing a relevant service. We all know HISD is going through some very difficult times; we cannot let HISD fail. One way we could help is by repurposing our libraries and making sure they are being used for our youth. Whether it be pre-school programs or after-school programs, we can support the school system and help give the kids something worthwhile and educational to do, all the while keeping them off the streets. I already have experts coming up with a plan on how we can do better with our libraries. The city employs more than 460 people at our libraries and spends more than $40 million per year on operating costs. This is an important service that the city provides. We can do it much better.
5G. A lot has been said about 5G. We don’t need to put base stations all over the city, in neighborhoods that don’t want them. If we use what I call REAL 5G, we would need very few base stations and yet we will have connectivity that would allow you to download your favorite movie in less than three seconds. So far, the large companies have failed at real 5G. But, winning technology is currently being tested right now in various countries that will completely change the landscape of how we communicate with one another–with no danger to our health! I’ve met with those on the forefront of this effort – they are Texans. We can make Houston the leader in real 5G.
Self-driving cars. The day will come when we will all utilize self-driving cars. Houston is perfectly poised to lead this effort. To accomplish this, we have to be forward thinking, change the way we do business and be open to new ideas. Imagine if we had driverless buses and cars taking us around Houston. This would be a dramatic paradigm shift. The technology exists now. The only impediment is outdated thinking, and lobbyists and businesses who are worried about losing market share and money. As Mayor, I will lead the effort to put Houston on the map with regard to developing technologies.
My father was a union meat cutter. I have always believed that there are only two places a worker has a chance to get a fair shake: in a court room or through the union. The current mayor has sought, in court, to declare collective bargaining unconstitutional. When I’m Mayor, I will immediately drop that suit, not only because it has no legal merit and is a waste of taxpayer money, but also because I know the importance of unions in the workplace. We shouldn’t have the city engaged in litigation with firefighters, period.
We live in a dynamic, entrepreneurial, diverse, can-do city. I believe Houston has some of the most creative and generous people in the United States. We are all in this together. For several years, I attended the various galas and balls that occur in the city each year. The people who throw these galas are wonderful people who are trying to raise money for many important causes. I applaud them and encourage them to keep up the fight! As mayor, I will encourage a new type of volunteerism. I believe that if you ask, people will help.
Here are a few examples that will foster a renewed sense of volunteerism and bring us together to do something good, as well as help the city save money:
As mayor I will be asking citizens to help with the clean up of the city. We will create and put in place a system to do what I will call “pop-up clean-ups.” Organized by the citizens themselves, when a citizen spots a particular area of the city in need of cleaning, through the city and sanctioned by the city, that citizen can organize a clean-up effort. The city will provide security and water for the effort, as well as receptacles for the trash. Think of how we could clean up this city together!
The city has 370 parks and 200 green spaces. The city employs more than 700 people in the Parks Department, with a budget of more than $70 million yearly. Parks and green space are very important. But, we can do better. I believe that we can maintain our parks better, with fewer people. I believe that we could create a nonprofit for each park, where it makes sense, and have the people who live in the area of the park maintain and improve that park. I know Houstonians. If you ask them, and lead by example, they will help. Think of the improvements we could see in our parks and the money we could save.
Houston is home to many families who have lived here for generations. Many of these families have been very fortunate and control endowments and foundations that, by law, must donate millions yearly to charitable causes. I believe we could and should pool these resources for the great benefit of the city. As mayor, I will go to each of the major foundations across the Houston area (I’ve already started!) with a comprehensive plan. We are calling it “Moonshot.” I believe we can choose an underserved area in our great city and do a complete needs assessment, as well as an assessment on what services are already in place. Imagine if we could put together a comprehensive program where we choose a defined area and, using private funds, ensure that prenatal care, resources for children from age 0-2, Pre-K, and after-school programs focusing on vocational training and tutoring STEM subjects are all in place. On top of that, ensuring that adequate housing is available will drastically reduce truancy, and that the police who work in the community actually live in the community as well. And, we can also make use of our local educational institutions, churches, and civic associations to assist in the project. Is this idea too “pie in the sky?” I don’t think so. We put astronauts on the moon! Surely we can dramatically change for the better areas of our city that need extra help. I think that with private funds pooled in this manner, we could make transformational change in some of the traditionally underserved areas of our great city.
Whether it be holiday lights or blight removal, helping the homeless or cleaning up City Hall, Houstonians will pitch in and help if asked. The answer isn’t always hiring more people and spending more money. Houstonians are yearning to be proud of their city. We must lead the way and bring this city together. The way to do that is to engage all residents in making Houston a better place to live.
As mayor, I will aggressively seek out businesses that are considering moving to Houston. The only way to do this is to make Houston a preferred place to live. This means, of course, that we cannot let HISD fail, and we have to do a much better job at providing the core services that residents expect. This means dealing with flooding head on, picking the trash up on time, reducing and solving crimes, making sure our fire department is adequately staffed and that firefighters have the right equipment, and making sure we can drive down the street without blowing out a tire.
Due to my background and experience, I know key people in most industries. We need to get the word out that the City of Houston is open for business. The best way to do that is to make the city work for all its residents. I will aggressively seek out those businesses that are appropriate for the city and that the city has the infrastructure to support. In addition to making our city work again, I will create panels of subject matter experts to help us make our city more efficient.
Let me start with this: I’m against raising the revenue cap. It’s not needed. The city wastes millions of taxpayer’s dollars and public monies. The money is there to put more police on the streets and pay the firefighters, as well as to efficiently and promptly provide the core services that residents expect.
Recently, it was revealed that the Airport Enterprise Fund had spent $85 million in the intended renovation of the international receiving terminal. Unfortunately, only $11 million of that was spent on actual brick and mortar. The rest was wasted on a plan that all of those involved agree was “flawed.” We have to do better. There should be immediate accountability of all of those involved in this debacle, including the mayor himself. The current mayor is frequently prone to calling himself the “CEO” of the city. We all know that any CEO who oversaw a debacle similar to what is happening at the airport would have already been fired.
The current mayor offered up, and pushed through, a spending item that the city would spend $3 million to hire performance bands for the airport. Why? This is a colossal waste of money. There are individuals in this town who would provide this service for free. We have to do better in the way we spend money.
Every year the city spends upwards of $500,000 on holiday lights at City Hall. Again, in light of the current budget situation, we simply can’t afford that. There are many light companies in this town that, if asked, would likely provide this service for free in exchange for the name recognition. Houston needs a mayor who is cognizant of the fact that every dollar spent doesn’t belong to the city; it instead belongs to the taxpayer. The answer to a need or problem is not always to spend more money!
Similarly, it is my belief that every department of the city is overstaffed. Have you looked at the various departments within the city? When I’m mayor, department heads will have to justify the necessity of every employee, detail what that employee does for the city, and why that employee is needed. They will also have to justify the existence of their very department. I believe in motivating and keeping good personnel. I also believe that in any organization there are those who do not pull their weight and don’t really provide a service. We all have to understand that the existence of a city job is not to provide an income for the employee, but is instead to provide a service for the citizens. With regard to personnel, of course, I will start with the mayor’s office itself. Currently, the mayor has—in his personal office—almost fifty individuals. If you count the other offices of which the mayor has direct control, that number is more than 100. That is too many! As mayor, I will make it clear to city employees that we work for the citizens of Houston, not vice versa.
We currently employ an individual whose entire job is to encourage moviemakers to come to Houston to shoot their movies. We pay this individual more than $150,000 yearly and provide her a fully paid for condo in Los Angeles. Do you know how many movies she has convinced to film in Houston? ZERO. We cannot keep spending money irrationally. This will end when I’m mayor.
Third-Party, Independent Financial Audit. Over the past three years, City revenues have increased by $450 million, yet spending has increased by $570 million. Are services any better? No. Are the streets better? No. Do we have more police on the streets? No. We have to get a handle on spending in the city. When I am mayor, we will have a third-party, independent audit of the budget. This audit will include the budgets of all TIRZ’s, Enterprise and other dedicated funds, as well as the General fund.
Process Audits. We must ensure that the way we perform city functions is the most efficient and productive way. I will encourage subject matter experts to assist me for the good of the city (free of cost) in performing process audits of every single department. Can you imagine how we could improve the way we do permitting or the way we repair potholes? Through process audits, we will be looking for ways we can do things more efficiently and for duplications and ways to save. Moreover, through such audits, every department and every position will be carefully analyzed to ensure it serves the residents in an efficient manner.
Zero-Based Budgeting. Houston needs a mayor who knows how to effectively deploy resources and get the absolute most for our public dollars. We must be more efficient. Because I’m not taking campaign donations and am not actively seeking endorsements, I will have the freedom to do what is necessary to ensure we provide core services and also balance the budget. All too often, a candidate promises to do something but does not follow through once in office because it is contrary to his/her campaign donors’ interests or to those who endorsed him/her. Not me. And, too often politicians and government bureaucrats complain that they don’t have enough money for core city services yet they have no problem finding money for a pet project – or worse – they give multi-million dollar contracts to their friends, donors, or former partners.
I’ve overseen big budgets as a Texas A&M Regent. I’ve learned all the tricks of how large government organizations spend money. As chair of the audit committee, I oversaw the processes and budgets of 11 universities and 7 state agencies. I know where to find the inefficiencies and wasted monies. As the owner of a large, successful law firm, I know how to hire, train, motivate and manage employees. I’ve owned shopping centers and apartment complexes, and I know about capital projects, permitting, construction, and renovation. I’ve built retail businesses from the ground up, staffed them and sold them. Over the years, I’ve come to understand budgets, management, and how to keep a business going and make it successful. For every expenditure, I’ve learned to ask “why,” and if we can do it for less. And, the most important thing I’ve learned is to surround myself with smart budget experts and verify their recommendations. I won’t have all the answers myself, but I do know how to find the answers.
Every bureaucracy will spend every available dollar—it’s the nature of government. I think we can do better. I believe in zero-based or performance-based budgeting; that means deciding how much money we need to provide services, rather than deciding how much we have and then deciding how to spend it. I will only put in place department heads that believe in zero- based budgeting, period. I also believe we can provide all the services our residents expect but be efficient. Additionally, I will be looking to save taxpayer dollars. As a Marine, I learned to do more with less. That’s the type of mayor I will be. When I’m mayor, everything will be on the table. Let’s provide effective and timely service, all with an eye to saving taxpayer money. That’s what I’m about.
Transparency. One of the issues that constantly comes up in Houston is the complete lack of transparency at City Hall. We should know where every penny is spent. When I’m mayor, we will have metrics that every resident can review, to see how the city is doing in real time. And, we will make every department transparent–everyone should be able to see what is being spent, what it is being spent on, and how we are performing.
Ending TIRZs and making Enterprise Funds and remaining TIRZs pay their share of city services. Typically, when the city budget is discussed, it is done so in terms of the General Fund. The General Fund makes up a fraction of the overall budget. On a wider scale, we have to get a handle on how money is being spent in the Enterprise funds, dedicated funds and the TIRZ’s. As my campaign continues, I will propose ways to monetize and charge the enterprise funds and TIRZs for their fair share of city services. I believe we could realize tens of millions for the City. These monies could be used to make sure the under-served areas of the city are receiving adequate services. Further, as the campaign continues, I will be rolling out a proposal calling for the “sun setting” of those TIRZs that have run their course and no longer meet the purpose of their creation.
5% minimum with a 10% goal for cuts in the following departments, with no corresponding layoffs:
- Parks ($43 million budget/700 employees);
- Library ($37 million budget/467 employees);
- Health Department ($37 million budget/402 employees);
- Neighborhoods ($9 million budget/110 employees);
- Administration ($15 million budget/191 employees);
- Controller ($7.4 million budget/60 employees);
- Council ($7 million budget/82 employees);
- Finance ($13.5 million budget/110 employees);
- IT ($12 million budget/100 employees);
- Human Resources ($2 million budget/21 employees);
- Business Opportunity ($3 million budget/35 employees);
25% cuts in the following departments:
- Legal ($14.5 million budget/110 employees);
- Mayor’s Office ($5 million budget/42 employees);
- Eighteen-month hiring freeze, with the exception of public safety professionals.
- Outside review and elimination of unnecessary perks.
- Outside review of any incentives or abatements to be sure those that received them are living up to the bargain.
- Outside review of recycling program and waste removal; initiate process to move to one-bin concept.
- Begin to aggressively pay down debt ($392 million per year in budget for debt service) through a comprehensive plan, to improve the City’s financial rating as well as reduce payments going forward.
- Transition of the Permitting Function from a general fund operation to a fee-for-service enterprise fund. Currently, the Permitting Department is not only an expense of the City, but it is also a detriment to the growth of the City and its tax base. The reality is that the Permitting Department (which is part of the Public Works Department) performs very poorly – its operations are slow, its processes confusing, and its results uncertain. From city data, it appears that the permitting function generates approximately $66 million in annual revenues and spends approximately $33 million on annual salaries and benefits. After study, I may propose that the Permitting Department be converted to a fee for service operation and that permitting fees be increased – perhaps doubled. In exchange for these increased fees, property owners and their architects, engineers, and contractors that apply for permits, are promised prompt and certain processing. The way to handle this is for the Permitting Department to retain the services of external architects, engineers and other qualified professionals to work for professional fees (not salaries) to evaluate projects and their plans according to City requirements and codes (thus maintaining technical standards for approval and removing temptation for inappropriate behavior).
- Third party aggressive collections of ambulance fees.
- Revamp permitting process of the Fire Marshall’s Office.
- Accelerated Foreclosure of Abandoned Properties for Delinquent Taxes and Assembly of Parcels into A City Land Bank for Re-Sale to Real Estate Developers. This will be a major initiative offering large amounts of new revenue (from the foreclosure and then sale of properties from delinquent taxes), and also improved re-use of land in under-served neighborhoods (cleaning up dangerous properties and selling cleaned up land back into the private market for redevelopment of new projects). This offers substantial cash generation potential from the parcels directly involved in the new, accelerated program, but more importantly from the increase in property tax base created by neighborhood clean-up and new development activity stimulated.
 The Aviation Enterprise Fund has a $519 million budget. This is the fund responsible for the $85 million building at the airport that should have only cost $11 million. The Convention and Entertainment Fund has a budget of over $100 million. The Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal budget is $275 million, yet our streets aren’t any better. Millions upon millions of dollars are being spent without council or mayoral oversight. I believe there are significant savings that could be realized with proper oversight of these funds.
 It has been shown that in other cities, such as San Francisco and New York, developers and their teams will pay increased fees in exchange for quality service, speedy processing and professional reviews (including suggestions for improved designs). And, the Fire Marshall inspections can be coordinated with the Permitting Department. If the Permitting function does indeed become a fee for service operation and all expenses associated with the department will be covered by the permitting fees charged to its customers (like landing fees paid by airlines to finance operations of the airport), then the salaries currently consumed by the department’s employees could be returned to the General Fund as savings – say, approximately $33 million. This same idea could also generate millions in revenue through the Fire Marshall’s office, while at the same time providing prompt and predictable service.
Everyone agrees Houston has a flooding problem. There has been much talk about it, but very little has been done. Indeed, Houston’s own “Flood Czar” admits we are in no better condition to face the next storm than we were before Hurricane Harvey. We have to get serious. Did you know that when the current mayor came into office, his transition team laid out multiple, tangible things that could be done to eliminate or at least mitigate the impact of flooding? Almost none were accomplished. We need to be aggressive and realistic. It’s time to do something.
We must remember that the flooding issue is different all across the city. In Kingwood, for example, there are very specific issues with regard to the need for immediate and complete dredging of the Mouth Bar and thereafter scheduled maintenance dredging; pushing sand miners away from the river and holding them accountable when they break the rules; and the installation of flood gates in Lake Houston to properly control the water releases. When we discuss the west side of town, of course, the issues are different. There are major capacity issues with regard to the Barker’s and Addick’s reservoirs and there are issues with the strength of the levees; the residents need to know when the flood gates are opened; building within the planned reservoir runoff should be forbidden; and there is a need for a third detention area. Of course, Meyerland is yet another area that has unique issues with regard to flooding, requiring a unique solution, some of which are discussed herein.
Setting aside the specific issues that are unique to some parts of the city, we face three distinct threats from flooding – storm surge, river flooding, and sheet flow (the technical name for street flooding.) While we aren’t going to be able to fix the problems overnight, the city can work together with the business community to achieve long term improvement in short order.
To begin with, it’s important to understand the different nature of the three types of flooding. Storm surge flooding comes with hurricanes. It’s big and scary; it’s also very predictable. The contours of storm surge flooding are well defined. The National Hurricane Center publishes maps of the Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH). Within the SLOSH modeling, they produce a Maximum of Maximums map (MoM.) This map is the absolute worst-case scenario. Looking at the worst-case scenario tells us just how bad things can get, but also tells us the small scope of danger. The human loss and suffering are significant and need to be mitigated, but, thankfully, the total population exposed to danger is small when looking at the city as a whole.
River flooding is what causes our bayous to overflow and brings misery to the city. This is in part determined by the upstream flow, and partly determined by the amount of rain falling in and near the city. Addressing this problem requires looking at both elements of the problem. What can we do when the big surge of water moves to the city, and what can we do to try and keep rain that falls near and in the city from causing the waterways to overflow?
Sheet flow is a different threat. No one is safe from sheet flow, and sheet flow issues exacerbate river flooding issues if not dealt with appropriately. The mismanagement of sheet flow impacts all of us, and we must address this problem in order to both protect homes as well as reign in costs to mitigating the river flooding issues we face.
It’s easy to envision storm surge and river flooding, but when someone says sheet flow that doesn’t bring an image to mind. So, what is sheet flow? Sheet flow is the technical name to how water moves when it is not in a defined channel – like a river or bayou. Sheet flow is what causes street flooding. Sheet flow running into the bayous is what leads to river flooding. We can’t stop the sheet flow upstream from causing us problems, but we can, and must, address sheet flow issues in the city to protect homes, minimize traffic and economic disruption, and lessen the impacts from river flooding.
The rain this May in Kingwood is a good example of the disaster than can happen when sheet flow is not handled properly. This recent flooding, which severely impacted the Elm Grove neighborhood and others, was the result of a developer who failed to follow the rules. That developer, when clearing and preparing for development, caused slopes that directly impacted the surrounding neighborhoods, with no preparation for that impact. But, sheet flow isn’t just something that impacts communities due to errant developers. Street flooding from sheet flow happens when the amount of water trying to enter into the storm drainage system overwhelms the drainage capacity. The water then backs up into yards and eventually into houses.
Hydrologists and engineers have a formula to explain sheet flow, but in simple terms the variable called the “S curve” is what determines how bad sheet flow issues are. The S curve is a measurement of how much and how fast water flows over the surface. When rain falls, some is absorbed into the ground, and some flows into the storm drainage system. The S curve tells us how much, and how fast, the water enters the storm drainage system. When rain falls, some falls onto grass, some falls into ditches, and some falls into the concrete jungle. Grass is better for flow control than ditches, and ditches are better than the curb and gutter system that lines many of our streets.
This problem can be addressed in two ways – improving the storm drainage system’s capability to handle sheet flow and reducing the amount and speed in which water is added into the system. We can address both issues easily; it’s just a matter of having the political will and financial discipline to make the needed changes.
To begin with, we are paying a drainage fee and an accompanying ad valorem tax, and we need to make sure that they are being used only for the intended flood control purpose that was promised when the voters approved the tax. The drainage fee was approved under the premise that it would be used to fund drainage improvements and pay down past drainage debt. These should be the only items on which these funds are spent. Even then, we need to focus on actions that will have an immediate impact on sheet flow control over paying down debt.
Long term planning and project completion are necessary for some aspects of flood control. However, we also can act on items that will immediately improve the situation. The storm drainage system has deteriorated, resulting in lost capacity. Identifying areas where the storm drainage system has structural damage and areas where the drainage system has become clogged will lead to an immediate increase in capacity. Just like a slow draining sink or bathtub, if you can clear the plug, the water drains faster. Making these repairs and unplugging the clogs increases the drainage capacity, getting water off our streets faster. This is actually simple stuff, if we had a leader who focused on it and aggressively but methodically addressed it.
Draining the streets faster helps lessen the extent and duration of flooding, but it doesn’t do anything to prevent flooding in the first place. An effective sheet flow flood control program must address both drainage as well as prevention. To that end, the city needs to work with local citizens and businesses to reduce the amount of water that is going into the storm drainage system in the first place. When elected mayor, I will push the city to take the following steps:
1) When a business makes improvements, any proposal that includes flood abatement as a part of the design can be made as a line item in the proposal during the permitting process. Any amount line itemed and spent on flood mitigation activities will receive a dollar for dollar reduction in drainage taxes the year the flood mitigation improvement occurs.
2) I will direct our permitting process to give priority to identifying and approving improvements where the total amount spent on flood mitigation is at least 15% of the cost of the project. These improvements will be brought to the front of the line for approval.
3) Since replacing concrete with natural surfaces both absorbs more rainfall, and slows the speed in which water flows into the storm drainage system, we will implement a Beautify Houston program where businesses can be recommended for judging and the city will select one business a month for recognition of their effort to beautify their property.
Houston is full of citizens who care about the city. I’ve heard stories of people walking the neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey and clearing debris from gutters so that water could again flow freely into the storm drainage system. We will re-establish the adopt a drain program since many drains remain “unadopted”. Not only will we make a push to have every drain adopted, but we will specifically recognize individuals and businesses who are participating in the program. On the city’s web page, we will specifically make a link listing every business or individual who has adopted a drain, and if they have a web page we will link to it. We have the citizens ready to assist; it’s just a matter of promoting the need and giving recognition to those who step up to address the problem.
Simply demanding accountability for how the drainage fee is spent, focusing on actions that have an immediate impact, and engaging with businesses and individuals who want to be part of the solution will improve our sheet flow issues. However, sheet flow is only one area that we need to address. The bigger issues of river flooding and storm surge protection need to be addressed as well.
The larger expenditures of river flooding and storm surge control are a much more expensive proposition. In these areas, we need to look at the success that the county has had with flood control measures. To begin with, we need to drive down the time it takes to implement flood mitigation. The best plans are worthless if they are never implemented. One of the biggest factors in the delay is the city currently operates under a bond method. We must have the cash on hand before work begins. It’s time to recognize we have a stable funding source – the drainage fee – and change the way we operate for funding these projects. We were promised “pay as you go” when we voted for the drainage fee. We need to shift to “pay as you go” operations to begin and complete projects in a timely manner. Rather than 5 to 8 year projects, since we have a funding source that is “pay as you go,” we should be accomplishing drainage projects in a 1 to 3 year time span. We have to change the way we are thinking about these projects.
The requirement to have the cash on hand not only needlessly delays the initiation of projects, but it also allows the city to indefinitely forgo some of the expensive needed projects by directing expenditures in a manner that never allows for the required cash on hand to accumulate. Rather than simply deny the project, the city can say that they want to help but that the funds simply aren’t available. The city can kill a project without ever actually declaring they do not want to do the project. Switching to a “pay as you go” method not only allows the city to begin projects that currently cannot take place, but it holds the city accountable for all proposed projects rather than allowing the city to kill a project by indefinite inaction.
We must also take care to strengthen our relationship with the Harris County Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers. Some projects are simply beyond the reach of the city. We cannot do anything about rainfall upstream of the city. However, the HCFCD and COE can, and we need to work with them as a team to make certain we have an integrated plan on how to address upstream issues. This requires cooperation, and at times compromise, in order to achieve the desired end results. Working together with HCFCD and COE also leads to efficiencies from economies of scale. Integrated cooperation means that the planning and required environmental impact assessment can be divided between the city, HCFCD and COE. Working together to plan and cut through the administrative red tape not only reduces cost, but also speeds up when work can begin.
Lastly, we need to invigorate thinking in flood control processes. The city is blessed to have some of the best and brightest minds working in the private sector. We need to invite people with geology, engineering, hydrology, and meteorology backgrounds into a volunteer committee to inject fresh ideas into the flood control process. To that end, when elected mayor I will solicit volunteers from the private sector to form a select committee on flood control to offer ideas on how to address the issues we face. The committee will have access to public works information and individuals, but they will report to me, not public works, on what they believe to be the best course of action to take regarding flood control. This is not a condemnation of public works, but rather an acknowledgment that “group think” can set in when an organization has become well established and committed to a course of action. The goal of the select committee is to offer ideas to invigorate the process, rather than continue with the “group think” and management by inertia that can set in with large time-consuming projects.
We can be fiscally conservative and still care about the homeless and those that need help. We have a homeless epidemic in this city. We have to address it! It is not only an issue in every major artery entering and leaving downtown, but it is also an issue in many neighborhoods. We need a plan. Whether you see it as a humanitarian issue as I do (I don’t see people who are down and out as an “eyesore”; a health and safety issue; a public safety issue; or an optics issue that reflects poorly on our city, we MUST do something. One caveat: homelessness and panhandling are two different issues. I intend to end panhandling, period. Many aggressive panhandlers are simply not homeless. We have rules in place with regard to panhandling and I intend to enforce them. No one should be accosted at a stoplight, or trying to walk down the street or going to the store. We will end that immediately when I’m your mayor.
Before we dive into a comprehensive, solution there are some factual issues that must be addressed. Homelessness, in Houston, despite what we are told by the city, continues to grow. The city manipulates the numbers by counting the homeless during those times when the city knows that those that occupy the camps will be gone, either to work or to get aid. Yes, that is right, many of the homeless have jobs!! Homelessness is on the rise. One need only drive around the city to see the homeless camps all over the city. Remember, more than a third of the homeless have addiction issues; we must address that. About a third have mental health issues that must be addressed. Many are veterans—as a Marine, I find that to be unacceptable. Those that have studied the issue say that there are 11% of the homeless who don’t want to be helped. That is not a reason not to try. Our city must deal with this issue, now. If there are 11% percent who refuse to be helped, that means there are 89% who can be helped. And let’s not forget: most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and are one catastrophe away from homelessness. So, let’s make sure any plan we have is compassionate but also firm. We also need buy-in from those that have been working in the area for years. We need to all work together. No more working in silos—no more competing for resources. As mayor, I will make sure that our charities work together, and that the city supports a comprehensive effort. Also know, that one of the first laws that I intend to rescind when I am the mayor is the one that makes it illegal to feed the homeless. We will never criminalize kindness.
To address the homelessness problem we must start by determining goals: measurable outputs by which we can gauge the success of our program. These goals are as follows:
1. Designate areas where the homeless can receive get services and help;
2. Empower the homeless by putting them to work, while at the same time cleaning up the city and making the city better;
3. Increase access to stable and affordable housing;
4. Make sure the services provided improve health and stability of those on the street;
5. Utilize existing non-profits working in the homeless arena, encourage them to work together, and partner with them while engaging their specific skill sets;
6. Create a Homeless Advisory Council to act as an intermediary between the City, non-profit partners, businesses, neighborhood residents, faith-based groups and other government entities in addressing homelessness; and,
7. Make clear the ultimate goal is to provide resources in designated areas with measurable metrics to get the homeless ultimately off the street and back into society.
My plan consists of a number of interlocking initiatives that work cohesively to address different segments of the homeless population. I’ve outlined the various initiatives below:
Utilization of City Properties and Designated Areas to Help the Homeless.
One of the problems we face in addressing the homelessness issue is that the homeless congregate at certain places across the city, mostly where they obtain services. If you know the city, you know that there are places, for example, the areas near Star of Hope Mission or the downtown library are avoided by the rest of the residents. When I’m the mayor, we will make sure the charities know that there will be specific, designated areas where the homeless can be helped, and the city will partner with the charities to make that happen. Houston has more than 3,000 properties that it owns. We will make use of those properties and designate those city-owned properties as areas not only where the homeless can be provided health care, mental health care, food, job training, clothing, job prospects, etc., but also temporary housing. The goal is to get those on the street off the street. If a charity wants to provide services, the city not only encourages but will help with that, but it will be in those designated areas. We will no longer have homeless living in tents under overpasses, period. But, the alternative will be many times better, as the city encourages and requires coordination amongst all the charities who have worked so hard in this area for years. Buy in from many of those great charities will be important. So, to facilitate that, we will incentivize the charities to join in our efforts, because we will provide free space and other assistance where they can do so.
Providing the homeless with daily job opportunities, aptly titled the “Empowerment Program,” furnishes the homeless with the opportunity to work for pay. Here is the way it works: A fleet of vans drive to those different designated areas across the city in the morning and picks up people willing to work for a set amount per hour and then drops them back off in the evening. The only caveat is that those who want to work must be sober. The participants are given their money at the end of each day, or the city can hold it for them and let it accumulate so that the participant can ultimately build up a nest egg to get a place to live. A byproduct of this program is that it gives those homeless back a piece of their dignity, allowing them to invest in themselves, and additionally gives them access to social services should they so choose. Can you imagine the amount of trash we can pick up across the city with this program?! As people participate in the program, they will have the ability to advance, and even supervise teams that work on clean up and other projects. Remember, there are engineers and other professionals who are homeless. Imagine the types of projects we can get done with this labor. This program has been tried in other cities and works. What is most astonishing is that this program actually pays for itself, and more. This could be a home run in Houston.
This approach prioritizes providing permanent housing to homeless people, with those in the high-risk population being placed immediately. The Housing First mentality stresses the importance of providing housing first, then offering services such as addiction treatment, mental health counseling, and job training. Contrary to what you might believe, this program has actually proven to save a city money because the people who are homed through the program do not require as many emergency room and police services. A number of controlled trials show that between 85 and 90 percent of the participants in such programs are still housed two years later. In addition, emergency room visits, jail costs, and hospital inpatient bills all decline as well when this program is successfully implemented. The City of Houston says that they currently follow the Housing First model and claim that they have allocated $102 million towards housing the homeless, but there is absolutely no proof of this. I would ensure that these monies were actually used for the intended purpose and not misspent to fund the pet projects of our city leaders!
Homeless Advisory Council
I believe that Houstonians are more than willing to help, they just have to be asked! This volunteer Council will consist of stakeholders from a wide variety of sources, including community organizations, religious leaders, super neighborhood leaders, and homeless advocates. The Homeless Advisory Council will have three primary functions: to engage the community in the City’s efforts to address the homeless problem, to establish concrete strategies for addressing the problem with key stakeholders, and to serve as a venue to overcome obstacles as the City and its partners work together to deliver services to the homeless population. This Council will house innovative ideas on how to combat the homeless problem Houston is facing in order to develop real solutions to the problem. All ideas on how to address the growing homeless problem in Houston will be filtered through this committee in a collaborative manner to verify their effectiveness and analyze their cost-benefit.