I sent questionnaires to nine of the 11 council candidates, and despite assurances from a couple of them that they would get right back to me with answers, only one has actually bothered to respond. That candidate is Andy Neill. I know I promised to publish the responses two days ago, but I was delaying hoping that like campaign finance reports, the other candidates were "just a little slow in filing the paperwork". Alas, that does not appear to be the case. Here is his response:
1. What is your position on Revenue Caps such as the recently gutted Prop1/Prop2 caps? Are they a good idea or a bad idea? Why?
I am a fan of Revenue Caps and I believe they are a great idea for several reasons most notably, that governments on principle should not be designed to operate at a hefty surplus of tax revenue. Fiscal responsibility among our municipalities will only come about when we adopt a “cost neutral” mindset of taxing and spending.
2. What is your position on appraisal caps? Good? Bad? Why?
I am also a fan of property appraisal caps as the majority of our citizens are living on fixed budgets, and tax appraisals caps allow people to plan down the road instead of wondering “This neighborhood is great, but can my family and I afford to live her next year ?”. I also believe this is a big issue with our Senior Citizen population who need to have some ability to plan and budget without having the shock of an exorbitant tax bill that could send them into a potentially bad situation. Affordable and stable housing is a HUGE issue as we look to accommodate the “Aging of America” with common sense and sound planning.
3. What is your position on the City of Houston's recent spate of "annexation for specific purpose" deals? Should areas to be annexed have a legal say in whether they are annexed or not? Should the city be able to "annex" an area and gain population headcount and sales tax revenue without giving those residents a vote?
I believe that the City should never be the one to instigate an annexation plan. I believe another town or municipality should be the catalyst for such an action, with a majority vote of said town’s residents on board prior to that being done.
4. The city currently appoints half of the METRO board. The county only appoints two of the ten. The remaining three are appointed by the "minor cities" such as Bellaire, West University, Huntwick etc. METRO's board has both taxation and condemnation authority but is not directly answerable to the voter. Is that the way it should be? or should the METRO board be an elected entity?
I would offer that some kind of pressure needs to be brought to bear on METRO in general. There seems to be too much red tape, and sluggishness in completing projects in a timely manner. I am also a big critic of the lack of enforcement of non-paying citizens riding the METRORAIL. As a downtown resident I have been on the rail more times than I can count, and I have NEVER seen an Usher, Guard, or Attendant ask to see my ticket or anyone else’s for that matter. I can only imagine how much revenue we are letting walk through the sliding doors of the rail cars everyday. Whether we add more localized controls by allowing voting for more members is the answer or not, I am not sure. I would be willing to try that or look at other creative ways to apply pressure and make the board more accountable.
5. HPD is faced with a massive manpower shortage. Recent statistics show that you are three times more likely to be murdered in Houston than in New York City. How would you address that?
I am on record on asking for the resignation of Police Chief Hurtt, and that is a cause that I would gladly champion as a member of Houston City Council. I would use the bully pulpit that this role provides to beat the drum for a resignation, as I believe we could see our crime rates come down with new leadership. I would defer to a new Police Chief’s creative problem solving, and law enforcement know-how to solve some of our persistent violent crime problems. I have never been a Police Officer nor have I been involved with Law Enforcement, but I would offer that a dynamic leader with fresh and creative policing methods (leveraging the latest technology, neighborhood watch programs, and more of a uniformed presence) could help us on our way.
6. Given the above situation, do you feel that now is the proper time for HPD to be cracking down on overtime abuse?
I feel very deeply for the HPD officers who are tasked with performing more duties for more hours per day because the city just doesn’t have the man power. I think the abuse of the overtime program is a sign of lack of respect towards the HPD power structure. The officers in question (again it’s a slim minority) feel no pressure not to violate the overtime boundaries because either no one is “minding the store” (i.e. there is not enough management oversight); or they do not fear being fired because there is such a dearth of officers in uniform.
7. What is your position on HPD's chase policy?
I believe in giving the police officers all the tools and training they need and then letting them proceed as their professional experience dictates. I believe Politicians should stay out of micromanaging the police on the street and focus on the Leadership’s accountability for crime as a whole.
8. What is your position on the city's sanctuary policy?
I believe in law and order first and foremost. If an illegal alien commits a crime, they should be turned over to the Federal entities to be dealt with according to our Federal policies and our Federal laws. If our Federal entities such as ICE (immigration and customs) do not respond or follow their own procedures, then we as citizens need to be made aware of the issues. Our HPD officers should not be afraid to ask questions of suspects, and there should be an ironclad process in place to have to hand illegal immigrants over to Federal authorities for processing. I am not a proponent of large citywide sweeps and round-ups (i.e. raiding day labor camps, construction sites, office complexes, etc.) but rather clearing out our jails and prisons of existing proven “criminal aliens” of which there are many. So in sum, I would rather spend our resources solving the illegal immigrant issue by dealing with those that come into our criminal justice system via their own misdeeds.
9. What is your position on HPD's TASER policy?
Again, I believe in giving the police officers all the tools and training they need and then letting them proceed as their professional experience dictates. I believe Politicians should stay out of micromanaging the police on the street and focus on the Leadership’s accountability for crime as a whole
10. In the wake of both TS Allison as well as 9/11/01, the city's communications systems have been cited as a major problem. The city cannot effectively communicate with police, fire, ambulance and other emergency personnel. The radio systems are old and falling apart and uncoordinated. The 911 call center has had repeated system failures. To date, little has been done beyond studying the problem. What would you do to fix this debacle?
This appears to be a serious problem, especially since we also live in the era of Homeland Security and Terrorism. I would encourage our City to get serious with an integrated communication plan, and upgrade the hardware and systems necessary to do the job. If outsourcing this task is the most cost effective way to obtain the latest and greatest technology and subject matter expertise to do this, then City should seriously consider it.
11. The city constantly complains that they do not have enough money to adequately staff and train HPD and HFD. The Mayor has canceled an entire HPD academy class and canceled the HPD overtime program in the Gulfton area. But yet the city continues to fund day labor sites, downtown real estate development, and is even funding an Afro-American History Museum. Many people are asking "Why is it that the city can afford to spend money on these things, but cannot adequately fund police and fire protection?" What is your position on this? Should the city focus on funding adequate police and fire protection first before spending money on programs that some people question the appropriateness of the city funding them to begin with? Is the current situation showing proper priorities? How would you change it?
My priorities are little bit different than the Mayor’s in that I believe that government’s primary responsibility is to protect it’s citizens. Everything else in the aforementioned question should be further down the priority list. However, I do believe that there are some complications that come into play such as: the availability for Federal funding for special or pet projects; availability of matching funds provided by private entities that would partner with the City to complete some of these pet projects; and the honoring of previous commitments made to the community. If the city promised the community a museum, labor center, etc.., several years ago during the CIP (capitol improvement project) process; the city needs to keep their word. If the question is “all things being equal” would I rather spend money on Law Enforcement or Fire Response teams verses financing other pet projects; then I would choose law enforcement and fire protection.
12. How well has the current police chief done his job?
I am on record on asking for the resignation of Police Chief Hurtt, and that is a cause that I would gladly champion as a member of Houston City Council.
13. How well has the mayor done his job?
I believe Mayor White should be viewed favorably for his deeds and his intent. I find my biggest point of contention is his refusal to acknowledge the flat-out lack of leadership provided by our current Police Chief, and the Head of HISD – where there is over a 40% dropout rate for student entering the 9th grade onwards. Mayor White seems to be consistent in his approach and his policies that he has put forth in past years on the job, so I do not fault him for his core beliefs since the people of Houston have consistently voiced their pleasure by re-electing him. In sum, I would just offer that I have different core beliefs than he does and would be quick on the trigger to jettison poor leaders in critical areas such as law enforcement and education.
14. Has the mayor overstepped his authority in attempting to impose pollution controls on industries that are not within the CoH? Is this a proper subject for the city to address or is this a federal issue?
I believe there are enough agencies and regulatory bodies that these employers have to deal with and whose policies they must adhere to already: OSHA, EPA, TCEQ, etc.. The Mayor in my opinion is not looking to police air quality as much as he is looking for a new revenue stream for the city. It is my contention that the City would essentially be looking to “double dip” and fine employers whom they believe are violating State laws, where these employers already face fines and sanctions from the State presently.
I want to thank Andy for his very timely response.