After Four Months Time Is Up for Occupy Houston
February 13, 2012

Since October 6, 2011, members of  Occupy Houston have used Tranquility Park as their staging area.

At one point dozens of people were part of the movement to protest social and economic injustice, but in recent weeks, only a handful of  people have taken part in the local occupation.

Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston Police Department have decided it’s time to move out the occupiers and cleanup the park in time for the beginning of the city’s spring festival season.

According to the news release from the Mayor’s office, the City of  Houston has reinstituted the dawn to dusk limits on activities in Tranquility Park.  As a result, those participating in the Occupy Houston encampment have been asked to peacefully pack up their belongings and leave the park at dusk tonight.  The Houston Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team will be on hand to provide transportation to shelters, if needed.  The move comes approximately four months after Occupy Houston movement began.

“I told Occupy Houston leaders in January they need to decide the next phase for their effort,” said Mayor Annise Parker.  “I support their right to free speech and I’m sympathetic to their call for reform of the financial system, but they can’t simply continue to occupy a space indefinitely.  We have to get the area ready for the spring festivals and that necessitates their leaving.”

What did it cost taxpayers?  According to the city, providing a police presence at the park for the last four months has cost the Houston Police Department a total of $54,917.68 and $287,268.00 in overtime and regular salaries, respectively.  The end to the encampment will free those officers for assignment elsewhere.

The Houston Parks Department estimates it will cost more than $13,000 to clean up and lay new sod in the park.

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Join The Mayor’s Holiday Celebration and Tree Lighting
November 27, 2011

Houston, it’s time to get into the holiday spirit.

Mayor Annise Parker, Santa, Frosty the Snowman, Mrs. Gingerbread, along with officials from Reliant Energy and the Downtown District, gathered recently to announce details of  the city’s annual holiday celebration and tree lighting.

The event is scheduled to take place on Friday, December 2 at City Hall from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The fun event will feature a towering 67-foot White Fir holiday tree, along with Grammy Award-winning entertainers, Diane Schuur and 2003 American Idol winner Ruben Studdard.

There will also be pictures with Santa, gospel music and a toy drive benefiting the Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command.

I covered the news conference and of course, I had to have my picture taken with my favorite Christmastime characters.

For more information about the event, please visit www.houstontx.gov or www.houstonspecialevents.org

The Final Report is Released On Council Member Jolanda Jones
September 29, 2011

 Houston City Council Member Jolanda Jones must be breathing a sigh of relief.  A council review panel released its findings Thursday and cleared Jones of any major violations following complaints that she used her city office resources and staff to operate her private law firm.

The problems began when Jones passed out “Know Your Rights With the Police” cards at local community meetings. The cards listed both her council office phone number and a number for her legal practice.

The panel did conclude that “Jones used extremely poor judgement in listing her council officer telephone number on the card.” But the report also stated “There is no evidence that the council member was untruthful in her statements to the OIG.”

The panel did meet with Jones and ask her to take several remedial actions including “to conduct additional ethics training for her staff.”

I wasn’t assigned to cover Jones’ news conference but her statement is posted below:

Jones Statement: Since February, I have maintained that when the facts came to light, I would have acted within the acceptable standards of conduct and now, seven months after this process began, the District Attorney and the Mayor’s Review Panel have come to the same conclusion. 

I have never used my role as a council member to benefit anything or anyone other than the people I was elected to serve. The accusations made against me have been baseless and defamatory from the start. I do not practice civil law and have never represented anyone in a police brutality case. It is always good judgment to inform the public of their legal rights and for that, I take full responsibility.

As was finally acknowledged by the Review Panel today, this process allowed for multiple allegations against me to remain in the media and with the public for which the OIG never had the authority to make. I am disappointed in a process that allowed for this sort of negligence to occur.

I share the Review Panel’s concern regarding a lack of thoroughness in the OIG investigatory processes and it is my hope that changes will be made to prevent further situations that result in nothing more than waste and injustice.  

It is time for all of us to put political distractions aside and focus on the significant challenges this city faces. I have never lost sight of the needs of our citizens and I take very seriously my role as an advocate for the people of Houston. I have never backed down from a fight for what I believe is in the best interest of Houston and I will always take a stand on important issues. My commitment to the people of Houston remains unaffected. I will never stop speaking up for citizens that have no voice at city hall.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Mayor and my fellow council members to address the issues we were elected to resolve.

Should You Have to Pay A Red Light Camera Ticket?
September 22, 2011

The city of Houston  has turned out the red light cameras and is fighting in court to prevent the camera company, American Traffic Solutions,  from trying to enforce a multi-million dollar contract.

In the meantime, motorists who were caught running red lights and received a ticket in the mail are still expected to pay the fine.

However, Houston attorney Randell Kallinen has announced that he is filing a federal class action lawsuit against Houston and Mayor Parker to nullify thousands of red light camera tickets issued after the election. 

More details will be announced at a news conference Friday morning. In the meantime -here is the press announcement.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A class action lawsuit has been filed in a Houston federal court to stop the
enforcement and collection of thousands of Red Light Camera tickets issued after 181,000 Houston citizens voted to amend the City Charter in 2010 outlawing Red Light Cameras and after the City itself certified the election results.
“If a citizen pays their red light camera ticket they likely cannot get their money back even when this class action lawsuit is won.” said civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen. “If  Judge Hughes ruling throwing out the City-certified People’s Vote stands then the People of  Houston–conservative and liberal, black and white, Republican and Democrat–will have lost an important right to directly effect the way they are governed.”
After traffic data showed that Houston’s Red Light Cameras were dangerous and increasing accidents a majority of safety conscious Houston citizens voted out the Red Light
Cameras in the November 2010, election. After the election the Mayor and the City certified the election results and the cameras were turned off.
On July 9, 2011, Mayor Parker unilaterally turned the cameras back on without City
Council input and on July 24, 2011, the City began issuing Red Light Camera tickets at 70 RLC locations until August 24, 2011, issuing thousands of Red Light Camera tickets in violation of the People’s Vote.
“The City and Mayor need to respect the People’s Vote and if they do not someone has to stand up for the People.” said John Strangmeier, the plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Not only were the Red Light Cameras shown to increase accidents the total number of red light citations increased in the last year of operation echoing critic’s contentions that the Red Light Cameras did not decrease red light running. Many RLC intersections had their yellow light times so short that the citations were ten times that of the RLC intersections with TxDOT standard yellow light times.
 

Mayor Parker Names New Deputy Chief of Staff
September 21, 2011

Mayor Annise Parker has quietly made some Important behind the scenes changes in her administration.

In August, Darrin Hall was named deputy chief of staff.

His responsibilities include municipal courts IT, administrative and regulatory affairs, health and human services and the Houston Fire Department

20110810-095452.jpg

I meant to post this several weeks ago.
Darrin is a nice guy and I wish him the best of luck in his new role.

I’m waiting to see if the Mayor adds media management to his long list of responsibilities 🙂

Mayor Parker Announces New Drought Safety Measures
September 9, 2011

 

People Protecting Our Parks

Mayor Annise Parker Announces New Fire Safety Campaign for City Parks

Mayor Annise Parker, theHoustonParksand Recreation Department (HPARD) and the Houston Fire Department (HFD) announced People Protecting Our Parks, a new campaign that calls on Houstonians to proactively protect the City’s parklands during the ongoing drought.  The campaign has two main goals:  fire prevention education and the protection of public parklands.  The first step in this campaign is the issuance of a temporary ban on all barbeque pits in City of Houston Parks.

“Houstonians always respond to calls for help during times of need.  People Protecting Our Parks is our call for help to everyone who loves our parks, green spaces and trees,” said Mayor Parker.  “We ask all Houstonians to join with us to help prevent fires in our city parks.  We are already facing the loss of thousands of our trees simply because they won’t survive the stress of the drought.  I can’t imagine losing thousands more trees, or possibly an entire section of one of our beautiful parks, simply because we failed to protect them from fire.”

“We have seen wildfire tragedies all across our great state this past week.  Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by them,” saidHoustonParksand Recreation Director Joe Turner.  “With HPD’s assistance, we made an aerial fly-over of our park system on Wednesday to assess the condition of our urban forest and get a clearer understanding of what we as a city were facing due to this unprecedented drought.  As a result of that assessment and the predictions we’re hearing about the drought and the wildfire situations all across our state, we decided it is necessary to temporarily ban the use of barbeque pits and grills in all City of Houston Parks.”

The temporary ban on barbeque pits will remain in effect until further notice.  Signage notifying the public about the ban will be placed in the parks.  To allow for a period of public education, warnings will be issued to violators until City Council adopts a permanent enforcement mechanism next week.

“The City of Houston has seen more that its share of grass and woodland fires, with 160 fires since the beginning of September, compared to nine the same time last year,” reported Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison.  “The Houston Fire Department is reminding citizens to be extra vigilant in activities that can lead to accidental fires, including the use of barbeques at home and smoking materials. We join Mayor Parker and HPARD in recognizing that our citizens can have the greatest positive impact on the safety of our parks by foregoing the use of barbeque grills right now.”

HFD recommends the following safety tips during this drought:

Barbeque Safety

  • Portable barbecue pits, charcoal grills and other open-flame cooking devices outside of a building should not be operated on combustible balconies or located within 10 feet of combustible walls or roofs or other combustible materials.
  • When igniting the barbecue charcoal, use a charcoal lighter, not gasoline. Gasoline can flash violently in and around the pit causing serious injuries to anyone in the area of the flash. A fire extinguisher or charged garden hose should be handy while the fire is burning. Check the pit frequently to ensure that it is okay.
  • Hot ash and coals from barbecue pits and charcoal burners should be placed in a non-combustible container until cooled or thoroughly saturated with water, before being disposed.

 Open Flames

  • The City ofHouston Fire Codeprohibits all open-burning within theHoustoncity limits at all times.  The burn ban in unincorporated areas ofHarrisCountyalso prohibits any outdoor open-burning, including the burning of: a bonfire, rubbish fire, campfire, trench fire, or other fire in an outdoor location when not contained.

 Vehicles, Trailers and Tools

  • Park vehicles so that the exhaust system does not come in contact with dry grass, leaves, or weeds.
  • Adjust the safety chains on trailers to ensure they don’t drag and create sparks that can cause roadside starts.
  • Keep lawn mowers and agricultural equipment in proper working condition and avoid rocks and other materials which might cause a spark.
  • Do not weld or cut without a spotter, a water source and a shovel.
  • Notify the electric power company when dead trees or overhanging limbs endanger the electric wires.  The wires may touch each other or the ground, causing sparks that start fires.

Cigarettes or Other Smoking Materials

  • Another cause of accidental fires is carelessly discarded cigarettes or other smoking materials.  They can smolder for hours and should be completely doused with water before being discarded in a safe manner, rather than tossed out a window or on the ground.
  • Texas’ arson law includes felony punishment for anyone whose cigarette recklessly sets fire to a building or injures anyone.  Arson is a second-degree felony in Texas, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but if a person is hurt or killed or if the fire involves a church, arson is a first-degree felony, carrying possible punishment of up to life in prison.

Houstonians Celebrate City’s 175th Birthday
August 28, 2011

It was hotter than a firecracker on Sunday, but that didn’t stop dozens of people from attending the City of Houston’s Birthday bash.

After all, what would Houston be without the heat and humidity?
KPRC Photographer Mike Rank

Houston is 175 years old this year. Instead of hosting the traditional Mayor’s Gala, the city decided to try something different.

You can learn more about the other festivities planned to mark the city’s birthday:

http://www.houston175.org/about.html

The celebration was held at the historic Market Square Park in the heart of downtown. The event included a jazz performance by students from the High School for Performing Arts, clowns, caricatures and cupcakes.

Mayor Annise Parker, city councilman James Rodriguez and The Downtown Management District’s Bob Eury gave the crowd a brief history lesson about the Allen Brothers and their desire to build their dream town.

Mayor Annise Parker and Councilman James Rodriguez

You can read more about the founding of Houston here http://www.houstonhistory.com/legacy/history6c.htm

Peter Brown

Mayor Parker Endorsed By Some of Houston’s Prominent Leaders
August 18, 2011


Barbara Bush Endorses Annise Parker

Former First Lady is joined by prominent

Houston business and community leaders

A group of prominent Houstonians led by Former First Lady Barbara Bush today announced their endorsement of Mayor Annise Parker for re-election.

“Annise Parker is a strong non-partisan leader,” said Mrs. Bush. “Annise is willing to make the tough choices necessary to lead Houston through these challenging economic times. She is laying the foundation for a strong financial future for Houston. And Annise has been particularly supportive of family literacy, which is close to my heart. Annise Parker has my vote on November 8.”

“I am very grateful for Mrs. Bush’s endorsement,” Mayor Parker said. “We are blessed to have Former First Lady Barbara Bush and Former President George Bush call Houston home.”

Mrs. Bush is one of many community and business leaders announcing their endorsement of Mayor Parker today. Among other supporters are: Bob Borochoff; Penny and John Butler; Franci and Jim Crane; Mindy Hildebrand; Bert Keller; Larry Kellner; Nancy and Rich Kinder; Sara and Bill Morgan; Bobbie and John Nau; Katie and Patrick Oxford; Phoebe and Bobby Tudor; Donna and Tony Vallone; Diane Webb; Ronald Woliver; and Fred Zeidman.

Sprint or AT&T? Decision Day For The City of Houston
July 19, 2011

It’s the kind of  issue that rarely gets big headlines or becomes the lead story on the evening news.

However,  Houston Mayor Annise Parker and city council members are on the brink of making a major decision that will have a huge impact on emergency communications for the city and your pocketbook.

The issue is a proposed new and lucrative wireless communications contract.

The choices are Sprint and AT&T, both well-respected companies.

The company that is chosen will provide everything from phones, radio dispatch and emergency communications for the city during hurricane season or other potential disasters.

Mayor Parker supports Sprint, because she believes it will deliver faster and more reliable service, including emergency communications,  at a $3 Million costs savings to taxpayers.

To drive home the point, Sprint parked its ERT truck outside City Hall this week.

However,  some council members support AT&T.

AT&T  is also being pushed by the CWA, Communications Workers of America.

There is also a bit of controversy surrounding this decision.  Earlier this month, Mayor Parker’s campaign treasurer, David Arpin, was hired by Sprint to lobby city hall on its behalf.

Mayor Parker replaced Arpin as her campaign treasurer and insisted he would not influence her decision. 

 

 

City of Houston Seeks Permission to Appeal Red Light Camera Decision
July 6, 2011

BREAKING:

The city of Houston has decided to appeal the red light camera decision and turn on red light cameras TODAY while the legal issues continue.

Mayor Annise Parker released the statement below. It is followed by a statement from American Traffic Solutions, the camera company.

City of Houston Seeks Permission to Appeal Red Light Camera Decision

Mayor Annise Parker today announced that the City will attempt to appeal a recent court ruling invalidating last fall’s vote on red-light cameras. In the meantime, the red-light cameras will be turned back on today. Ticket issuance will resume after a short period of equipment testing.“This is a difficult decision,” said Mayor Parker. “I have a responsibility to represent the interests of the voters, but I also have a responsibility to abide by the judge’s ruling. The City just went through a very painful budget process in which nearly 750 employees were laid off and park, library and health services were cut back. We simply don’t have the millions they claim we would owe for violating the court decision and our contractual obligation to American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Therefore, I have decided the fiscally-prudent path to take is to turn the cameras back on while also seeking a second chance for the voters in the courts.”Mayor Parker emphasized the safety measures provided by the red-light camera program. ATS and the City are initiating a study to make sure the cameras are placed at the city’s most dangerous intersections. As a result of this review, some cameras may be moved from their current locations to intersections with higher accident rates upon completion of this review.In June, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled last November’s red-light camera referendum violated the City Charter and should not have been placed on the ballot. The ruling was based on a charter provision that mandates any challenge of a city ordinance by referendum must occur within 30 days of passage of the ordinance. City Council adopted an ordinance initiating the use of red-light cameras in 2004. Opponents did not mount their ballot challenge until 2010.

The district court decision is an interlocutory ruling. As such, the City must first ask Judge Hughes for permission to appeal to the U.S.5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Permission is also required from the appellate court.

“It is not the prerogative of City Council to decide which laws it wants to follow,” Parker said. “We had no choice in putting the referendum on the ballot last fall. However, we do have the ability to settle this question for future City Councils and the public.”

STATEMENT FROM ATS:

In accordance with Mayor Parker’s announcement, ATS is working to immediately reactivate and fully functionalize Houston’s red light safety cameras. We look forward to resuming work with the city on this important public safety initiative. As we have seen over the course of the last several years, Houston’s red light safety program has been successful in changing driver behavior, reducing collisions and ultimately saving lives. – James Tuton ATS President & CEO