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Houston, Texas

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Houston Texas is a city in Harris County Texas. It is the fourth-largest city in the United States and the largest city in the state of Texas. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a population of 2.1 million people within an area of 579 square miles.[1] Houston is the seat of Harris County and the economic center of the Greater Houston metropolitan area—the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. with a population of approximately 6.1 million.[2]

Ballot measures

In 2010 there is a local ballot measure, Renew Houston, that would impose a fee in order to improve the city's drainage and streets. However, it's been revealed that the backers behind the initiative have received $12 million from the city projects in the past.[3]

Elected officials

City council

The City Council is the City's legislative body, with the power to enact and enforce all ordinances and resolutions. Nine Council Members are elected from districts and five are elected at-large, by all voters of the City.[4]

The fourteen members of Council, along with the Mayor, act only by ordinance, resolution or motion. They adopt and may alter the annual budget and confirm the Mayor's appointments. Council is responsible for the appropriation and issuance of bonds, the awarding of contracts and the approval of City expenditures over $50,000. Council may lease or dispose of the City's real estate and may levy assessments against property. Council determines its own rules of procedure, and its meetings are open to the public.[4]

Council Members are elected every two years, in odd-numbered years. Council Members are limited to serving three terms of two years each, with each term beginning on January 2 of the even-numbered year. Five Council Members are elected At-Large, or city-wide, while the other nine are elected to geographic districts of roughly the same proportion of population. According to the City Charter, once the population of the City of Houston exceeds 2.1 million, expected for the 2010 census, two more geographic council districts will be added.[4]

Mayor

The Mayor serves as the Executive Officer of the City. As the City's chief administrator and official representative, the Mayor is responsible for the general management of the City and for seeing that all laws and ordinances are enforced. Administrative duties include appointing, with Council approval, of department heads and persons serving on advisory boards.[5]

As Executive Officer, the Mayor administers oaths and signs all motions, resolutions and ordinances passed by City Council. The Mayor also serves a legislative function, presiding over City Council with voting privileges. The Mayor is responsible for advising Council of the City's financial condition and presents to Council an annual budget for approval.[5]

Mayor Annise Parker was fined $200 for violating campaign finance laws in 2008. The Texas Ethics Commission said she was guilty of omitting $1,630 in small expenses in her report and incorrectly describing an $83 sponsorship expense.[6]

Budget

2011 expenditures:[7]

FY2009
Actual
FY2010
Current Budget
FY2010
Estimate
FY2011
Budget
$3,754,280,983 $3,859,749,925 $3,833,000,586 $3,874,930,309

Travel agency

The city recently stopped using the Houston Travel Agency after Texas Watchdog revealed the wasteful spending of government officials using the agency, which adds $35 per ticket.[8]

Taxpayer-funded lobbying

See also: Texas Municipal League members list

Houston pays membership dues to the Texas Municipal League, a government sector lobbying association.

The city has paid Zuckert, Scoutt & Rasenberger $1.3 million over the past decade to lobby for the city's airport system.[9] This is part of the total $4 million the city has spent on lobbying since 2000, according to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics.[9] In 2010, the city decided to hire one lobbyist to represent both the airport system and city.

Emergency personnel

See also: Texas public pensions

Two members of the police department recently retired and then accepted jobs with the Inspector General. Some accused the officers of double dipping for receiving a public salary while still cashing in on their pensions.[10]

Public records

The city is being sued by Paul Kubosh, who says the city failed to provide information on its red light cameras. Kubosh claims that city gave only mass data, and not information about how many violation the cameras logged by month.[11] In the November 2010 election, the city overturned the red light camera program.[12]

Ethics reform

The city has proposed a new ethics policy which would further restrict high ranking officials from accepting outside work; would no longer allow attorney's to lobby city officials and would increase the lobbyist registration fee.[13]

Public employee salaries

See also: Houston employee salaries

Website evaluation

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Budget Y
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Meetings Y
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Elected Officials Y
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Administrative Officials Y
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Permits, zoning
{{{1}}}
Audits
{{{1}}}
Contracts
{{{1}}}
Lobbying N
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Public Records Y
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Local Taxes
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Transparency grading process

The good

  • Elected officials
    • The website for Houston Texas includes the names and contact information of all city council members.[4]
  • Meetings
    • Meeting information, including calendars, agendas and minutes are posted.[14]
    • Meeting information is archived to 2004.
  • Administration
    • Administrative officials are listed with their contact information.[15]
  • Budget
    • The current budget is published.[16]
    • Budgets are archived to 2004.
  • Audits
    • Audit reports are posted.[17]
    • Audits are archived to 2002.
  • Permits and zoning
    • Building permits are available. Houston does not have zoning.[18][19]
  • Contracts
    • Information on contracts is available.[20]
    • Open bids are posted.[21]
    • Awarded bids are posted.[22]
  • Public records
  • Taxes
    • Property tax rates are available.[24]

The bad

  • Lobbying
    • Information on taxpayer funded lobbying is not available.

External links

References