Saturday, July 01, 2017

Sylvester Turner's ups and downs

Maybe he hasn't had such a bad week after all, given late developments.  Yesterday's post mentioned an update on some of the latest of Mayor Sly's tribulations, one of which has already taken a turn in his favor.

A state district judge on Friday dismissed Houston firefighters' lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city's pension reform package, leaving the law to go into effect Saturday.

State District Judge Patricia Kerrigan granted the city's request to dismiss the case while denying firefighters' motion to temporarily block the law from being implemented.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he was "pleased" with the decision. 

As well he should be.  The mayor has a pretty good track record defeating the public servants of the city at their attempts to be equitably compensated, during employment and in retirement, and the mayor's most important supporters -- not the HGLBT Caucus but the 1% of Houston, who can write him five-figure checks for whenever he may next stand for re-election -- appreciate the way he scrimps on city expenses that are not parks or incentives for corporations to do business here.  In other words, he performs just like every other mayor Houston has had for twenty years: bow and scrape to the powers that be, crush the poor, disadvantaged, and middle class while you do so.

All this bowing and scraping leads to the next big thing on his agenda: a half-billion dollar bond issue on the fall ballot for parks, etc.

Mayor Sylvester Turner is poised ask voters to approve bonds this fall to fund improvements to city parks, community centers, fire stations and health clinics, adding hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to a crowded November ballot.

City officials say the size of the bond request has yet to be determined, but a political action committee formed to support the bonds, Lift Up Houston, lists the amount as $490 million on its website.

The referendum is part of the city's latest five-year Capital Improvement Plan, which was unveiled at a City Council committee meeting Tuesday.

The proposed plan calls for $538 million in improvements to city facilities, such as expanded police and fire stations, renovated libraries, miles of bike trails and repairs to city buildings, to be paid for with tax revenues and philanthropic donations.

The plan, known as the CIP, relies on a November bond vote as a key funding source.

This is on top of the billion-dollar bond vote Turner has already set forth for the city's pension obligations.  Anyway, Turner got his wish, though not without enduring some carping from a few CMs, mostly about the amount of pork on their respective plates.

Mayor Sylvester Turner weathered several hours of consternation from City Council members upset about delayed projects Wednesday before securing passage, by a 14-2 vote, of his first capital spending plan.

The five-year proposal calls for $7.1 billion in new airport and utility projects, to be funded by user fees, as well as $567 million in public improvements, such as expanded police and fire stations, renovated libraries, miles of bike trails and repairs to city buildings.

What follows in the next excerpt is some of the nastier exchanges that mayors and council members past (at least those of the same political persuasion) have tended to keep behind closed doors.

Councilman Larry Green, who represents southwestern District K, questioned how and why projects he thought were funded had disappeared or been left at the mercy of tenuous grant funding. His district, he said, had been "overtly screwed," a phrase Councilman Dave Martin quickly turned into the day's catchphrase.

Councilwoman Brenda Stardig, in northwestern District A, suggested she had been misled by city staff, and Councilman Greg Travis, in westside District G, said "Enron accounting" had been employed to suggest that his district is rich with projects when most of that work will occur only within city economic development zones.

"The process is I make the decision," Turner told Green at one point. "If you don't like something then hold me responsible. I make the call."

By the end of the meeting, which slogged into early afternoon, Turner had pronounced himself "fed up" with council members suggesting his staff had bamboozled them.

"I've followed city politics for a long time. The Acres Homes Multi-Service Center was 10 to 12 years in coming in the CIP," Turner said, referencing the main city facility in his northside neighborhood. "It has always been the practice around here at City Hall to put things in the CIP when there was not enough funding. Let's not act like this is something new. Let's not play this game. There will always be more projects than there is money."

It gets a little worse and certainly deeper in the weeds from there so I'll leave it to those of you who are into that.  But note this at the very end.

(Along with CM Michael Kubosh), Councilman Mike Laster also voted against the plan, having argued that his District J had been slighted. Councilman Jerry Davis had stepped out of the room at the time of vote.

So a 14-2 win shows solidarity, even with some of the whiners mentioned above, but Laster's 'no' and Davis' abstention follow on their objections to the new and still pending contract for the city's waste recycling and processing, which Turner summarily pulled off council's agenda because he suddenly realized it lacked their support.  We'll  pick that up about halfway through.

Councilman Jerry Davis, who represents the area around the proposed (recycling) plant, said the site is mostly industrial but he plans to hold town hall meetings to answer residents' questions and to try to connect job seekers with FCC Environmental officials.

"The information they've given is it's a recycling facility, it's not a transfer station, it's not any of that as a negative," Davis said. "That was the No. 1 thing some of the people in my district wanted to make sure of."

As for the merits of the proposal itself, Davis said he still is sifting through the terms.

Councilman Mike Laster, who was to chair the canceled committee hearing on the topic Tuesday, echoed his colleague.

"There's still a lot of a lot of questions to be answered," he said. "That gives me concern, and I look forward to doing all I can to get the best information."

Laster and Davis are Democrats representing minority-majority districts, and their butting heads with Turner twice in a row is kind of a big deal.  They don't serve the sort of neighborhoods that the Caucus is going to be blockwalking for the mayor next election.  Then again, maybe the Caucus is counting on not having to, like always.

This isn't the kind of background you're going to see anywhere at Off the Kuff, and I promise I'm not going to kill this blog's traffic by posting too much about Turner and and his beeves with city council members, especially those that he ought to have in his vest pocket, but it shows -- to me -- a continuing demonstration of his weak leadership.  If he can't get his way the first time, he'll browbeat his opponents until they are forced to submit.  That's not good for long-term relations, and unless the SCOTX comes to our rescue with a decree ordering municipal elections this year, Turner's adversarial way of managing will, over the next few years, come back to bite his ass, and by extension yours and mine.  As I always understood it, Bill White and Annise Parker were better at building consensus with CMs before votes, even if that meant giving away the farm to the Republicans on council.

Hard to say which management style is worse for progressive values, but perhaps my expectations for Turner to be better were simply too high, which is why his fall seems farther.

Still waiting for him to bust an aggressive move on the homeless, which seems to be in neutral at the moment but is surely coming down the pike.


Gadfly said...

Having fun in Helltown? Speaking of bond elections, Big D is likely going to put one to the public for Fair Park repairs. IMO, it's a shame that the Lege won't lend some sort of hand, somehow.

Noah Horwitz said...

I can't speak to the White mayoralty, but it was Mayor Parker who ramrodded things through council without consensus, not Mayor Turner.

I'm not making a value-judgment about the things they pushed, because in both cases I agreed with some and disagreed with others. But to say Parker pushed for more consensus is frankly ludicrous.

PDiddie said...

Did you miss the "as I always understood it" part?

It can't be as Ludicris as you think unless I would be claiming some absolute knowledge (like you do).

Thanks for checking in, dipshit.