Friday, August 03, 2012

City attorney Feldman, Mayor Parker want closed council meetings

The mayor and city attorney are floating the idea of shutting the public out of some City Council discussions.

Houston is unusual, perhaps even unique, among Texas cities in requiring that its council always meet in public.

On Thursday, City Attorney David Feldman unveiled a proposal to authorize closed-session discussions of hirings and firings, lawsuits, real estate transactions and other matters allowed by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Because the idea would require a change to a 70-year-old provision in the city charter, it would need voter approval. Mayor Annise Parker is considering asking the council next week to place it on the November ballot. 

The political tone-deafness of our mayor no longer surprises me. That Feldman is obviously a big fan of George Orwell does.

"Contrary to what some might say, and that is that this is a move away from transparency, I believe that just the opposite is true," Feldman told members of the Council Committee on Ethics, Elections and Council Governance. "We are oftentimes -- this administration, any administration of this city -- accused of bringing matters to council as a fait accompli. The primary reason that that's the case is that we can't have an executive session like everybody else in the state of Texas to discuss these things before they're placed on the agenda for action." 

He simply doesn't get how stupid that sounds, and Mayor Parker, finger cautiously in the wind, chose to send Feldman out to the gun range for target practice. As the target.

The mayor has no formal position, but through Feldman presented the proposal to get feedback before deciding whether to place it on next week's council agenda, spokeswoman Janice Evans said.

A few council members are tactfully attempting to explain it to them. Well, maybe not so tactfully.

"I think our system works fine, and I've seen it work fine. I believe that we'll lose a lot of good will in the community if we move to try to put this on the ballot," (CM James) Rodriguez said. "I believe in transparency. I believe that we need to hash out our issues in the public and work with the public and to have their confidence and trust that we're going to be open and upfront with issues."

CM Costello clarifies, at least from an electoral point of view.

The mayor already has proposed five ballot propositions that would ask voters to approve $410 million in borrowing for parks, public safety, libraries, affordable housing and other purposes.

Councilman Stephen Costello said he supports the closed-session option, but now is not the time to put it before voters.

"You incite an emotion that you really don't want the voters to have as they walk into the ballot box," Costello said. "What we want is voters going in and approving our bond issue, and I'd rather just have the bond issue there up for a vote, or, if we're going to make some charter amendments, make them noncontroversial." 

Costello gets it. I would hope that every single Democrat on the ballot in Harris County would call the mayor's office and suggest that she not torpedo their November prospects by waving any more red flags in front of TeaBaggers.They have too much animosity in their blood stream as it is.

If you favor this, Mayor Parker, then revisit it in 2013 -- an election year when YOU will be on the ballot -- so that voters can hold you accountable for it. That would be the politically courageous thing to do.

Which, thankfully, is why it won't happen.

Update (8-6-12): *BOOM* ... *thud*

The mayor apparently will not seek voter approval of a proposition that would have allowed Council to go into closed session to discuss real estate transactions, litigation and personnel matters. Council will, therefore, continue to follow city law that requires that all portions of its meetings be open to the public.

City Attorney David Feldman presented a proposed ballot measure to a council committee on Thursday. Several council members opposed it as either bad policy or bad timing because it would have gone on the same ballot as five proposed city bond measures totaling $410 million.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Jerk chicken

Homophobes turned out in droves to support free speech hate on the gay at Chick-fil-A yesterday.

The conversations waiting in a long line at a Houston Chick-fil-A were unusually political Wednesday.

Patrons -jammed into the popular Houston chicken restaurant in Sawyer Heights - said people were asking each other about whether they shared the chain president's views on same-sex marriage or were just hungry. 

To demonstrate what a loser this effort is, even David Dewhurst jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to make some last minute hay.

How'd that work out for ya, Dewfucked?

This isn't about Archie Bunker Dan Cathy's free speech rights, nor is it remotely about Obama or "libruls".  It is the same thing it is always about: right and wrong. And I'm not referring to the Biblical version, either.

Chick-fil-A has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay efforts and causes. They even contributed $25,000 to Tony Perkins' Family Research Council -- you may remember Perkins was an active participant in Rick Perry's Prayerpalooza last summer -- which was used to lobby Congress members to not block approval (see, that's different than 'support') of a Ugandan "Kill the Gays" bill.

Chick-fil-A blew goats long before this clever Cathy marketing scheme to shear conservative sheep came together. I'm only talking about their lousy food. Their closed-on-Sunday policy never bothered this atheist.

No, these people -- the owners and corporate executives, not the minimum wage workers, straight or gay -- have made their Christian conservatism a hallmark of their business right from the get-go, to only the mildest of public rebuke. They saw a business opportunity, and like most greedy corporations, took full advantage of it.

But guess what? There's a counterpoint on the schedule for Friday.

Opponents of the company's stance are planning "Kiss Mor Chiks" for Friday, when they are encouraging people of the same sex to show up at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country and kiss each other. Houston, which elected the country's first openly gay mayor in a major metropolitan area, is considered a somewhat progressive town, said Houston GLBT Political Caucus president Noel Freman.

"I think there are certain aspects that have gotten away from what it was about in the beginning," Freeman said. "There is a lot of momentum in favor of same-sex marriage. It has been in the news a lot in general. When Chick-fil-A goes out and makes this position public, it's going to grab people's attention."

He said Dan Cathy has given money to anti-gay marriage groups that support taking away marriage licenses for people who are already married. Regardless, he said his group is asking same-sex marriage supporters to be respectful of the Chick-fil-A businesses, particularly because the franchise owner may not agree with the corporate stance.

"If people support same-sex marriage, then I think they shouldn't give their money to efforts to impose a federal ban on it," Freeman said. 

Did you catch that word 'respect'? That's what this is all about. Oh, and freedom also. Freedom to marry the person you love.

I'll let Colonel Sanders have the last word.

"When it comes to the subjugation of marriage rights, I reckon I'm a bit more progressive than my pals down at Chick-fil-A" ... "Yup, let it be known that Colonel Sanders loves the gays. Hell, I might even be gay."

"I know what you're thinking as you're snuggling up there with your bear, 'How do I know you're not just gibberin' this jab to win more of my gay business? Well, you don't." ...

"But if you have to pick one chicken chain, why not pick us? I know their service is better, but we got those bowls."

Presidential not-daily briefing

-- This news broke a few weeks ago: Obama not only assassinated an American citizen with an armed drone, he also assassinated that man's 16-year-old son, a US citizen as well, in a subsequent drone attack. Sort of a Tom Cruise/Minority Report/Department of Pre-Crime kind of thing.

If you only have time for the abridged version, click here.  I didn't need another reason not to support Obama in November, but I got one anyway.

What I really don't understand is how my fellow progressives who call themselves Democrats can complain about George W Bush capturing people like this on the battlefield and then extraordinarily renditioning (read: torture) them, and now overlook Obama's acting as judge, jury and executioner simultaneously.

Too much cognitive dissonance for me.

-- Here's a sliver of slightly good news: Obama is sending aid to Syrian rebels. Unlike some peace advocates, this is the sort of thing I can support.

-- Mitt Romney is still a wealthy out-of-touch putz. He's George Herbert Walker Bush redux without the power of incumbency. No updates today but it's still early in the morning as I post this.

-- Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party is the man most likely to be held responsible for Romney's defeat in 2012. I wonder if Republicans will hold a grudge against him for decades after, like the Democrats do Ralph Nader.

-- That is, if they wouldn't rather blame Gary Johnson and the Libertarians.

-- Green Party presidential and vice- presidential candidates Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala both were arrested as part of a citizen action against two Philadelphia-area Fannie Mae foreclosures.

In explaining why she joined the protest, Stein said that almost half of Americans now live in poverty or near poverty, eight million families face eviction from their homes due to foreclosures, and over a third of mortgage holders are "underwater" - meaning that they owe more to the lenders than their properties are worth on the market.

Said Stein, "The developers and financiers made trillions of dollars through the housing bubble and the imposition of crushing debt on homeowners. And when homeowners could no longer pay them what they demanded, they went to government and got trillions of dollars of bailouts. Every effort of the Obama Administration has been to prop this system up and keep it going at taxpayer expense. It's time for this game to end. It's time for the laws be written to protect the victims and not the perpetrators. It's time for a new deal for America, and a Green New Deal is what we will deliver on taking office. "

Stanart chokes again

As of 9:15 p.m.(Election Night), Harris County still had not posted any voting data from Election Day on its website; only early voting data was available.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said the delay appears to be due to technical problems in relaying the data via phone lines from Reliant Park, the drop-off location for all Election Day data, and the clerk’s election hub in downtown Houston.

“It’s a connectivity issue between here and Reliant,” Stanart said. “We’re trying different phone lines. Apparently Reliant gave us some garbage phone lines out there. That’s what it looks like right now.”

Stanart said, at this point, he’s not sure of the specific problem or who in particular is to blame. ...

Reliant never gave anyone garbage phone lines when Beverly Kaufman was the county clerk. Besides, I thought AT&T was in the phone line business, not Reliant. The morning -- or maybe afternoon -- after...

Stanart blamed delays in posting results on a Reliant Park contractor, saying his office had been given "garbage" phone lines over which to securely transfer voting data downtown.
He said the equipment had been tested, but the Reliant phone lines had not because they were not activated until Tuesday.

Reliant's phone line contractor got it wrong, then. At least that's not as cheesy as blaming the Democrats, as Stanart did in May after the primary election. 'Garbage phone lines', however, doesn't resolve the confusion in the Precinct 2 contest.

The discovery of an error in which some votes were counted twice appears to have changed the result of the Harris County Precinct 2 constable’s race.

County Clerk Stan Stanart said this afternoon he will know more detail about what happened, but said an updated report that went online at 10:12 p.m. displayed incorrect vote tallies for Democratic candidates. One batch of precinct data appears to have been counted twice, he said, while stressing that the final tallies posted at 12:43 a.m. are correct. 

So now we have computers tabulating votes that can count them twice. And the King Street Patriots are worried that Mickey Mouse or the Dallas Cowboys might try to vote.

“When we merged the databases there was an error that was not caught by my people and was not caught by the election judge. We ended up with a double count of one of the databases,” Stanart said, adding he has met with (Precinct 2 Constable candidate Zerick) Guinn and assured him they’ll have a meeting to go over the situation in more detail.


Guinn said Stanart had no answer when he asked why the number of total votes in the race appeared to drop by 478 between 10:12 p.m. and 12:43 a.m. while his person vote total dropped by 634 votes. 

More on this clusterf:

Stanart said he saw problems in a not-yet-published report of GOP results shortly before midnight, and began running both parties' results from scratch. Stanart said he initially thought the problem was isolated to the report he had just run on the computer he was using, and, thus, did not pull the faulty numbers off the county website and did not inform Democrats because their numbers were being generated by a different computer.

By late Wednesday, Stanart said, he had learned both parties' results online from 10:12 p.m. until at least 12:43 a.m., were wrong, though he stressed only the outcome of Guinn's race had changed.

Do you believe him?

"The Republican Party keeps screaming about voter fraud, but it seems the mistakes, year after year, are happening in the tax assessor's office and the county clerk's office," (HCDP chair Lane) Lewis said.

Stanart and tax assessor Don Sumners, whose office botched the boundaries for the department of education primary, are Republicans. Sumners maintains the department was required to notify him of the boundary changes; the department disagrees.

Stanart said voters should have faith in his office, adding he is going to develop software to verify that the numbers coming from the counting machine and the reporting machine match.

"Election night reporting is just a small portion of the process that goes into ensuring the integrity of the final count," Stanart said. "I understand the importance of having an accurate count for the public. This will never happen again."

Do you believe Stanart? If so, I've got some teabags to sell you. They're only a little rotten around the edges. And to the core.

My friend Keir Murray, FTW.

"You're talking about an election with essentially nobody voting," said political consultant Keir Murray. "If they can't handle this, what's going to happen when we have 1.2 million people voting in November?"