Archive for August 14th, 2014

The Leader’s Slam

Congrats go to Ferguson, Missouri for getting known throughout the universe for all the wrong reasons! They even arrested a couple of reporters last night.

The 1998 ‘Stros were probably the best team we ever had. Heck, we went 102-60. We had six players with 200 plus at-bats that batted over .300 – name them?

According to the Twitter folks, there were over eight million mentions of Robin Williams after he left us. Some writer on Politico wrote it ain’t cool to post stuff after someone dies. Huh! Yeah, good luck!

I still don’t know what set off the publisher of The Leader. Here is his entire slam of the Mayor and City Hall:

We don’t spend much time at The Leader covering city government. I’m beginning to wonder if we should. Especially if no one else is going to do it.

In the Houston hierarchy of media, here’s how things typically work: You’ve got your big boys like The Chronicle, the local network news and, if we can stretch it, the Houston Press. Next you’ve got your talk radio folks and some wonderful niche news websites like CultureMap and SwampLot. Only after those can you begin to list newspapers like The Leader. In fact, there are more than 40 newspapers like ours around this city, and all of them (ideally) are geared toward covering specifically local news.

The Leader, for instance, cares a lot more about what’s happening on 19th or 43rd Streets than we care about what’s happening on Bagby Street. We care about the businesses on White Oak and Ella more than we do about the conglomerates down on Louisiana Street.

As a general rule, the only time we worry about what’s happening at City Hall is when their actions impact the lives of the people who live in the Heights, Garden Oaks, Oak Forest and all the wonderful pockets of neighborhoods in between.

It’s not completely foreign to read about city news in this newspaper. Some would accuse me of being on a crusade against the implementation of a certain historic preservation ordinance the city passed back in 2010. Of course, those accusers would only be half-right. I am not against historic preservation or even the ordinance; I am against the callous and capricious way the ordinance is enforced. But let’s not swerve too far off subject.

Maybe it’s the journalist in me, or maybe it’s from past experience, but over the past couple of months, I’ve paid a little closer attention to our city’s government. I’ve been incredibly disappointed in some of our city council members who have personally told me they would do one thing only to blatantly ignore that promise just two weeks later. I’ve been even more disappointed (if there’s something more than “incredibly”) in Mayor Annise Parker.

The city of Houston has myriad problems. While you don’t read much about it in The Leader, I sure hope most of our readers understand that our city is on a perilous financial slope. Whether it’s pensions we cannot fund, revenue caps that voters likely won’t remove, or suggestions that police begin limiting calls to our homes, our city is not in very good shape.

I don’t know that I would wholly blame Parker for those problems, but as one source told me this week, if there’s anyone we should blame, it is her. Parker has been in city government for almost two decades as a city council member, controller or mayor. She has been elected to serve us, and if her financial background didn’t give her reason for concern, then she has failed us tremendously.

My bigger concern with Parker, and members of our city council – including those who represent us directly – is that most of their energy has gone into fighting battles that don’t address our most important concerns.

Parker has been on a self-proclaimed (and self-serving) mission to pass what many call the Equal Rights Ordinance in Houston. I’ll steer clear of offering a personal opinion on the legislation, but I won’t steer clear of adamantly addressing the renegade approach Parker and City Attorney David Feldman have taken in making City Hall their personal playhouse.

We don’t have the time or space to give all the details of the ordinance, but earlier this week, a group of opponents – namely church organizations – presented 50,000 signatures to the city requesting a repeal of the ordinance. In order for a repeal like that to be placed on a ballot, opponents needed signatures from 10 percent of the total number of people who voted in the last mayoral election. In this case (and tragically, I might add), that meant the opponents needed a little more than 17,000 signatures to be placed on the next ballot.

Rather than allowing voters a chance to approve or defeat this Equal Rights Ordinance, Parker and Feldman began bending rules to fit their agenda. A very good source in City Hall told me they were able to kill off 35,000 of the signatures by finding one questionable name on a sheet of signatures and eliminating the entire sheet. City officials pulled out every red-tape trick they could find to get their desired result, and I have no doubt that was a concerted effort by our mayor.

Now, contrast that to what we experienced in the Heights in 2010, when Parker wanted to shove this Historic Preservation Ordinance past the voters. In this case, the city literally ignored the very same red tape they used to avoid putting the Equal Rights Ordinance before the people. In the historic instance, they used a shoddy ballot, allegedly broke the City Charter, and despite the screams of constituents, went ahead and ram-rodded some legislation that may not have passed if done properly.

When I talked to my source in City Hall earlier this week, some of the other examples of this sort of behavior made me cringe more. Remember the red light camera fiasco? In that case, Parker didn’t care if the votes were legitimate. She allowed that measure to go to voters because it suited her politically.

Remember the ordinance banning feeding the homeless? There was a petition to repeal that. According to my source, the names on that petition are still being counted – two years later.

Want to know the worst part about all of this? I don’t think there’s a single entity in this city that has the courage or stones to hold City Hall accountable. I don’t think Mayor Parker or her administration cares one bit what we, the constituents think.

It’s a sad commentary on a couple of things. First, our government runs like we work for them, not the other way around. Second, and most devastating to me, the media – the “big boys” of the media – are too busy trying to cut expenses and shoulder up with government that they’re scared to stand up when our elected skirt their jobs.

Moises Alou (.312), Baggy (.304), Derek Bell (.314), Sean Berry (.314), B-G-O (.325), and Richard Hidalgo (.303) all batted above .300 of course in 1998.

We start a four game series this evening at Fenway.

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