Houston, Texas

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Houston, Texas
Seal of Houston.jpg
General information
Annise Parker.jpg
Mayor:Annise Parker
Last mayoral election:2013
Next mayoral election:2015
Last city council election:2013
Next city council election:2015
City council seats:16
2015 FY Budget:$5.2 billion
City website
Composition data
Population in 2013:2.1 million
Gender:49.8% Female
Race:White 50.5%
White Not-Hispanic 25.6%
African American 23.7%
Asian 6.0%
Native American 0.7%
Pacific Islander 0.1%
Two or More 3.3%
Ethnicity:Hispanic 43.8%
Unemployment:6.2%
Median household income:$44,648
High school graduation rate:74.8%
College graduation rate:28.7%
Related Houston offices
Texas Congressional Delegation
Texas State Legislature
Texas state executive offices
Houston is a city in Texas and the county seat of Harris County. Houston is the economic center of the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area. As of 2013, its population was 2.1 million, making Houston the fourth-largest city in the United States.[1]

City government

See also: Mayor-council government

The city of Houston utilizes a "strong mayor" and city council system. In this form of municipal government, the city council serves as the city's primary legislative body while the mayor serves as the city's chief executive.[2]

Mayor

The mayor serves as the city's chief executive and is responsible for proposing a budget, signing legislation into law, appointing departmental directors and overseeing the city's day-to-day operations. The mayor also represents the city on the state, national and international levels. A somewhat unique characteristic of Houston's mayor is that he or she presides over city council meetings and possesses the right to cast a vote along with the rest of the council. This is typically a feature reserved for "weak-mayor" governments or council-manager systems. Annise Parker is the current Mayor of Houston.[2][3]

City council

The Houston City Council is the city's primary legislative body. It is responsible for adopting the city budget, approving mayoral appointees, levying taxes and making or amending city laws, policies and ordinances.[2][4]

Membership

The Houston City Council is made up of sixteen members. Five members are elected at-large, while the other eleven are elected by the city's eleven districts, which can be seen on the map below.[4] See here for a current list of council members.

Council committees

The Houston City Council features seven standing committees, which focus on individual policy and legislative issues. Generally, the drafting of city legislation begins with the committees.[5] A current list of Houston City Council committees can be found here.

Boards and commissions

A series of advisory boards and commissions that are made up of non-elected citizens, whom city council members have appointed and approved, advises the Houston City Council. The roles of these boards and commissions are to review, debate and comment upon city policies and legislation and to make recommendations to the city council.[6] For a full list of Houston city boards and commissions, see here.

Districts map

Below is a map of Houston's eleven council districts that is current as of 2015. Districts are listed as A through K and each one is required by the Houston City Charter to be roughly equal in population. In accordance with the city charter, the city council holds responsibility for determining district boundaries. The council investigates the sizes and boundaries of each district following general municipal elections to determine if changes need to be made.[7]

Houston Districts.jpg

Elections

2015

See also: Houston, Texas municipal elections, 2015

The city of Houston, Texas, will hold elections for mayor and city council on November 3, 2015. The filing deadline for candidates wishing to run in this election is August 24, 2015. All 16 city council seats are up for election.[8]

Budget

The city's budget process operates by Fiscal Years running from July 1 to June 30 of the next year. Fiscal Years are named by the year in which they end, not when they begin. The budgeting process begins with city departments submitting their individual budgets to the Finance Department. The Finance Department then meets with the departments to discuss what items get incorporated to the Mayor's budget. After approval by the Mayor, the City Council reviews the budget and holds public hearings. Once accepted by the City Council, the budget is officially adopted.[9]

2015

Houston's approved budget for fiscal year 2015 totals $5.2 billion. The budget provides new funding for road repairs, the training of police officers and firefights and addresses a shortfall in the city's pension plan.[10][11]

2014

Houston's approved budget for fiscal year 2014 totaled $4.9 billion. It included a new public safety radio project, a separate fund for an independent crime lab, $2.5 million for infrastructure maintenance and $600,000 for additional financial controls and auditing. "I believe this budget proposal builds upon the progress of the last 3.5 years. We've cut waste, made city departments more efficient and balanced every budget without raising taxes. We have gone from necessary budget cutbacks and staff layoffs to sustainable economic growth," Mayor Annise Parker said.[12]

Contact information

Office of the City Secretary
900 Bagby, Public Level
Houston, TX 77002
Phone: 832-393-1100
Email: citysecretary@houstontx.gov

Office of the Mayor
901 Bagby
Houston, TX 77002
Phone: 713-837-0311
Email: mayor@houstontx.gov

Lobbying

Federal Lobbying Issues, 2013
Reports Issues
4 Aviation, Airlines & Airports
4 Fed Budget & Appropriations
4 Law Enforcement & Crime
4 Science & Technology
4 Transportation
3 Energy & Nuclear Power
2 Consumer Product Safety
See also: Texas Municipal League members list

Houston pays membership dues to the Texas Municipal League, a government sector lobbying association. In 2013, Houston's federal lobbying related expenses amounted to approximately $280,000.[13] The issues for which the city filed in 2013, as well as the number of reports, can be seen in the box to the right. The issues column lists the generic issues that lobbyists working for local governments are required by law to disclose on quarterly federal disclosure forms.[14][15] The reports column gives the number of reports lobbyists filed in regards to each generic issue. To learn more about the details of the specific issues for which Houston filed reports, read the federal disclosure forms by clicking the "Issues" links in the box below.


Ballot measures

See also: Harris County, Texas ballot measures

The city of Houston is in Harris County. A list of ballot measures in Harris County is available here.

Initiative process

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in Texas

Population as of the July 2011 census update: 2,145,146.[16] Houston is a charter city. Signature requirement is 15% of the total vote cast at the Democratic Primary for the nomination of Mayor and Commissioners, next preceding the filing of said petition. File petitions with the city secretary. The council shall either pass such ordinance or resolution without alteration, or submit it to the popular vote at a special election, which must be held within 30 days after the date of the ordering thereof; provided, however, that if any other municipal election is to be held within 60 days after the filing of the petition said proposed ordinance or resolution shall be submitted without alteration to be voted upon at such election. (note: On 11/6/2012 Houston will vote on a charter amendment that could change/clarify the initiative process)

DocumentIcon.jpg Houston Charter, Art. VII(b)

Issues in the city

HERO

In May 2014, with Mayor Annise Parker’s backing, Houston passed an ordinance in an eleven-to-six vote known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender "in city employment, city services, city contracting practices, housing, public accommodations, and private employment."[17] The ordinance exempted religious institutions and organizations from compliance. Violators could face a maximum fine of up to $5000.00.[18]

Shortly thereafter, opponents of HERO drafted a petition and began gathering signatures to add a ballot measure to the November 2014 ballot to repeal the ordinance. While city law requires 17,296 signatures from registered Houston voters for a measure to make it onto the ballot, opponents of HERO presented approximately 50,000 signatures to the Houston City Secretary’s Office in early July.[19] The City Attorney’s Office, however, ruled many of the signatures invalid and dismissed the petition. In reaction, the groups pushing for the repeal filed suit against the city.[20]

Subpoenas

Attorneys representing the city of Houston responded to the lawsuit by issuing subpoenas for the sermons of five local pastors, who are not party to the lawsuit against the city but were involved with gathering signatures for the repeal measure.[20][21] The subpoenas requested, amongst other things, "all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity."[22]

The subpoenas attracted national attention. Several public figures and media outlets called them attacks on religious liberty. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, for example, said, "the City of Houston’s subpoenas demanding that pastors provide the government with copies of their sermons is both shocking and shameful. For far too long, the federal government has led an assault against religious liberty, and now, sadly, my hometown of Houston is joining the fight. This is wrong. It’s unbefitting of Texans, and it’s un-American."[23] In a similar vein, Breitbart.com covered the story with the headline: "Religious Liberty under attack as City of Houston subpoenas Church Summons."[24]

Houston City Attorney David Feldman, on the other hand, defended the subpoenas, saying, "We’re certainly entitled to inquire about the communications that took place in the churches regarding the ordinance and the petitions because that’s where they chose to do it. It’s relevant to know what representations and instructions were given regarding these petitions."[21] Carlos Maza of MediaMatters.org echoed Feldman, saying, "claims that religious liberty should keep the pastors' public addresses secret ignores the fact that subpoenas of parties relevant to a lawsuit are a typical part of the legal discovery process."[25]

Initially, Mayor Parker, too, argued that the subpoenas were fully justified. In a tweet from October 15, 2014, she said, "If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?"[20] But two days later, she called the original language of the subpoenas "broad" and noted, "We don't need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston, and it was never the intention of the city of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners. We don't want their sermons, we want the instructions on the petition process. That's always what we wanted and, again, they knew that's what we wanted because that's the subject of the lawsuit."[26]

In mid-October, at Parker’s urging, the city narrowed the language and scope of the subpoenas by removing the word "sermons" and requesting documents and/or materials relevant to the gathering of signatures only.[27][28] This was followed by Parker's decision to drop the subpoenas entirely on October 29, 2014.[29]

Trial

The lawsuit went to trial on January 19, 2015.[21]

Feldman announced on December 19, 2014, his plans to resign from his position as Houston City Attorney shortly before the trial began. He said that the primary reason for his resignation was a desire to return to private practice. He also noted, however, that his decision to resign was related to the lawsuit as well, saying, "Being on the outside, I'm going to be a lot freer to tell the story and to explain it to people and to debunk the myth. There's also the question of the process that was followed. These guys are saying we somehow interfered and didn't have the right do it. I need to explain what it means to be city attorney and the ethical obligation I have to the city to make sure the ordinance is enforced." As reported by the Houston Chronicle, Feldman noted, too, that if he testified in the trial as the City Attorney, it would prohibit other attorneys from the city's legal department from serving as counsel for the city.[30]

On February 13, 2015, a jury issued a verdict saying that while the petitions did not contain instances of fraud, they did contain forgeries and instances of failure to follow proper procedure. District Judge Robert Schaffer then initiated a recounting process to determine whether or not opponents of HERO had gathered enough valid signatures to satisfy the 17,296 threshold.

Following the verdict in February, both sides claimed victory. A definitive answer, however, did not emerge until Judge Schaffer's ruling on April 17, 2015, when he determined that the opponents of the ordinance had not gathered enough valid signatures.[31][32]

Website evaluation

Grade2.pngA-
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.[33]
    • Meeting information is archived to 2004.
  • Administration
    • Administrative officials are listed with their contact information.[34]
  • Budget
    • The current budget is published.[35]
    • Budgets are archived to 2004.
  • Audits
    • Audit reports are posted.[36]
    • Audits are archived to 2002.
  • Permits and zoning
    • Building permits are available. Houston does not have zoning.[37][38]
  • Contracts
    • Information on contracts is available.[39]
    • Open bids are posted.[40]
    • Awarded bids are posted.[41]
  • Public records
  • Taxes
    • Property tax rates are available.[43]

The bad

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

See also

BP-Initials-UPDATED.png
Suggest a link

External links

References

  1. United States Census Bureau, "American Fact Finder," accessed April 29, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 City of Houston, "About City Government," accessed on October 29, 2014
  3. City of Houston, "Office of the Mayor," accessed on October 29, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 City of Houston, "City Council," accessed on October 29, 2014
  5. City of Houston, "Committees," accessed on October 29, 2014
  6. City of Houston, "Boards and Commissions," accessed on October 29, 2014
  7. Houston City Charter, "Art. 5 Sec 3," accessed on April 7, 2015
  8. Harris County, "Important 2015 Election Dates," accessed January 12, 2015
  9. City of Houston, "Operating Budget Process," accessed April 29, 2014
  10. Click 2 Houston, "City council passes $5.2 billion budget," August 6, 2014
  11. City of Houston, "2015 Budget Highlights," accessed on January 27, 2015
  12. yourhoustonnews.com, "Mayor: Proposed 2014 city of Houston budget focuses on the future," May 17, 2013
  13. Open Secrets, "City of Houston, TX," accessed on November 11, 2014
  14. U.S. House of Representatives: Office of the Clerk, "Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance," accessed on November 11, 2014
  15. Open Secrets, "Methodology," accessed on November 11, 2014
  16. US Census, "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Texas: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011," accessed on October 30, 2014
  17. The Houston Chronicle, "Council passes equal right ordinance," May 28, 2014
  18. City of Houston, "Equal Rights Ordinance," accessed on December 11, 2014
  19. Houston Chronicle, "Equal rights law opponents deliver signatures seeking repeal," July 3, 2014
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Vox, "Houston Mayor scales back controversial subpoena of local pastors’ sermons," October 16, 2014
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Washington Post, "Houston subpoenas pastors’ sermons in gay rights ordinance case," October 15, 2014
  22. Alliance Defending Freedom Media, "Woodfill Subpoena Request 2014-44974," accessed on December 11, 2014
  23. CBS Houston, "Cruz: 'Government has no Business asking Pastors to turn over Sermons," October 16, 2014
  24. Breitbart.com, "Religious Liberty under attack as City of Houston subpoenas Church Summons," October 15, 2014
  25. Media Matters, "No, The City Of Houston Isn't Bullying Anti-Gay Pastors - This Is Basic Lawyering," October 16, 2014
  26. NPR, "Houston Narrows The Scope Of Controversial Subpoena Of Pastors' Sermons," October 17, 2014
  27. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named npr
  28. Houston Chronicle, "Mayor Parker revises, narrows sermon subpoena request," October 17, 2014
  29. Houston Chronicle, "Mayor's decision to drop subpoenas fails to quell criticism," October 29, 2014
  30. Houston Chronicle, "City attorney cites equal rights ordinance in decision to resign," December 19, 2014
  31. Houston Chronicle, "After mixed verdict, city confident judge in HERO suit will rule in its favor," February 13, 2015
  32. ABC13, "Judge Rules in Favor of City on Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance," April 17, 2015
  33. City of Houston, "Meetings," accessed August 6, 2014
  34. City of Houston, "Administration," accessed August 6, 2014
  35. City of Houston, "Budget," accessed August 6, 2014
  36. City of Houston, "Audits," accessed August 6, 2014
  37. City of Houston, "Permits," accessed August 6, 2014
  38. City of Houston, "Zoning," accessed August 6, 2014
  39. City of Houston, "Bids and Contracts," accessed August 6, 2014
  40. City of Houston, "Bids," accessed August 6, 2014
  41. City of Houston, "Awarded Bids," accessed August 6, 2014
  42. City of Houston, "Records request," accessed August 6, 2014
  43. City of Houston, "Property Tax Rate," accessed August 6, 2014