If you haven’t heard or read about it, Super Neighborhood 12, covering central and northwest Houston, along with the Garden Oaks Civic Club, announced they’ll hold a forum for the candidates running for mayor of Houston on Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m.
The mayoral forum, held at Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet, will include all the “major” candidates, including incumbent Sylvester Turner, Bill King, Tony Buzbee, Sue Lovell and Dwight Boykins. Some of the lesser known candidates, like Kendall Baker, Derrick Broze and Naofal Houjami also will be on stage.
Over my career in media, I’ve had the opportunity to host a number of these types of forums. And in a city this big, where there’s a forum nearly every other day, let’s not pretend this is some enormous deal that will shape the landscape of the entire mayoral election.
However, let’s not ignore the importance of the event and what it means to the people who live in the areas served by The Leader.
In something of a preview to Tuesday night’s forum (and a test to see if any of these mayoral candidates actually read The Leader), here are some of the topics we’re going to address:
First, and for as boring as the word may be, we need to talk about the infrastructure of the city of Houston. And by infrastructure, let’s eliminate the flooding concerns, because that’s a topic all its own. Instead, we need to hear from the candidates about the every-day concerns that impact our lives. We need to know about the plan for our roadways and the city’s role in promoting a better transportation system into and out of areas like ours.
Think about the major thoroughfares like Shepherd Drive and Ella Boulevard, and forget about the interstates. As developers buy vacant lots, and as retail and commercial companies fill our streets, we’re nearing a state of gridlock among many of the streets that get us that last mile home. The Heights, and Garden Oaks and Oak Forest weren’t designed to be miniature downtowns (minus 19th Street in the Heights – maybe). But as businesses flock to some of the deeper pockets in our communities, how will the city help us alleviate the burden and safety concerns of traffic?
Transportation is a tricky issue. Most times, city officials pass the buck to the Texas Department of Transportation, and rightfully so. However, the city pushes the buttons that put priority on projects, and our area of Houston needs to be a priority.
Here’s another tricky subject for Houston’s next mayor: Education. The Houston Independent School District remains at an arm’s length from city government, and that’s normally a good thing. Current Mayor Turner has virtually no control over what happens in HISD, because HISD has its own board, its own superintendent, and its own administration. But what happens at HISD has an enormous impact on the vibrancy, and future, of this city.
For the most part, Turner has stayed out of the HISD debate, and while that may be the politically astute thing to do, Houston’s mayor is more than just an executive. He or she should be the Chief Marketing Representative for our city, and I believe we need a mayor who will get more involved in the direction of this city’s educational system. We’ll discuss it at next week’s forum.
Another city-wide conversation we need to have now is about pensions, but not the police and firefighter discussions we’ve heard for the past decade. No, there’s another pension – the health care costs for retirees – that’s building into a crisis our next mayor can’t kick down the street. According to City Controller Chris Brown, this health care pension is growing at an average rate of $160 million per year, and if we don’t learn from the sins of our past, we’ll make the same mistake all over again.
The issue with this health care pension is that the retirees who have planned their lives around this benefit could very well lose it in the next decade, and the city of Houston can’t afford to punish people, yet again, who chose to work in civil service. These people came to work for the city expecting the benefits, and we’re once again looking at a political and municipal nightmare if we don’t address the issue now.
We’ll have other topics candidates will answer, including the flooding issues that pervade our conversations, the plan to widen I-45, and the catastrophe that has become recycling in the city of Houston.
As I work with Super Neighborhood 12 and the Garden Oaks Civic Club to host next week’s forum, I’d also love to know what questions you’d like to ask Houston’s next mayor. What issues are most important to the people who live in the neighborhoods of North Houston? Are you worried about public safety more than infrastructure? Are you interested in planning and development more than education?
If there’s a topic you’d like addressed in the Sept. 3 forum, I’d like to invite you to send me an email at the address below my column.
As Mark Klein, president of Super Neighborhood 12 said recently, “[We like to] show that neighborhoods here are engaged and will vote.”
If you don’t have questions, but you’re interested in the future of the city, I’d like to personally invite you to next week’s Mayoral Forum at Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet. I’ll make you a couple of promises if you’ll attend: You’ll have fun and you’ll learn something new.