Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Houston Council Candidate Noel Freeman Reponds To This Blog

Blogger’s Note—Last week I made a post about Houston City Council Candidate Noel Freeman. Please click here to read that post. Mr. Freeman is running for at-large place #4. Here is his campaign web home.

Mr. Freeman has been kind enough to respond to the questions I asked in my post. He has even highlighted my questions in bold lettering. What I like most about Mr. Freeman’s reply is his very first line where he says “Thank you for the wonderful post about me.”  These are the words of a great statesperson. I’d liken the insight involved  with such words to De Gaulle’s decision to grant independence to Algeria. ( Above–De Gaulle)

At some point soon I will comment on what Mr. Freeman has had to say. At the moment though my in-laws are in town and we’re going to the art museum.  

Mr. Freeman’s reply—

Thank you for the wonderful post about me. I enjoyed meeting you, and wish I had been able to dedicate time to responding to your questions earlier. Be warned, my post is a long one.

I have worked for in the Public Works Department for nearly five years and have been dedicated to resolving problems and making our City work better for my fellow Houstonians. Simply put, I’m not running to just get elected to something; I’m running to make a difference in the way our City operates and to make a positive impact on the lives of others and to build a stronger future for our City.

Every candidate has their stump speech, sound bites and usual rhetoric, but many of them don’t have the extensive knowledge of how our City functions on a daily basis or the experience getting results across our City’s government that I do.

With that, I will get to your questions.

“What will he do to make the Democratic party in Houston more responsive to the needs and hopes of all Houstonians?”

Let me start by saying that I really do appreciate the officially non-partisan nature of our elections for City Council. There are so many issues that transcend political party affiliation, and I intend to be a strong representative of all Houstonians, not just Democrats.

However, I think that the Democratic Party here in Houston has struggled for a very long time with getting certain parts of its base out to vote. The demographics of those who vote do not reflect the demographics of the City as a whole. I want to work with the party to find new ways to engage communities with historically low voter turnout and get them engaged in the political process. We have to take ownership of our future, and the only way to do that is to be actively engaged in the process.

“Houston is a Democratic city. Many council races this year will be fought out between Democrats. I’d like to know what Mr. Freeman sees as the role of the Democratic Party in Houston.”

I have to respectfully disagree here. While Democrats currently fill all city-wide elected positions, we still have several very strongly Republican Council districts. I would say Houston is a Democratic-leaning city.

I believe it is important that the Democratic Party in Houston work not only toward advancing its principles, but also toward finding a productive middle ground in those areas that won’t be turning blue any time soon. We learned a lot from the “tyranny of the majority” in recent years, and we owe it to all Houstonians not to do the same thing with the power that the Democratic Party has gained, especially in County seats.

I also think Democrats can work toward building strong bi-partisan relationships that make our City work better. Just look at Anne Clutterbuck – she is tremendously popular among Democrats, and I know a lot of Democrats who would love to see her run for Congress. Bottom line – we have to work with what we can realistically get, and we just won’t get some parts of the City for a long time.

“What does Mr. Freeman see as undone in our city?”

This is quite the can of worms. In the interest of keeping this relatively short, I will touch on just a few issues.

First, I think we need to strengthen our economic base by attracting new industries. Everyone knows we are the energy capital of the world, but we cannot let the energy industry have a strangle-holdon our economy. Remember all that talk about making the Dome into a movie studio? It highlighted the fact that we haven’t taken advantage of the huge potential for a strong film and television industry. Film & television is only one exampleof so many different industries we need to attract. If we can attract them effectively, we will not be so dependent on the energy industry’s ups and downs, and we will have a much more diverse array of jobs available.

Secondly, we need to look at real ways to strengthen the future our communities. There is a balance to be struck between preserving our history and heritage and developing (or re-developing) for the future. Without some degree of redevelopment, our communities will fade away and die. We have to keep them fresh and attractive but still respect our heritage. That having been said, we have to keep in mind that just because it’s old doesn’t always mean it should be saved, and just because we can build it doesn’t always mean we should.

Personally, I think mixed-use development will be the future of the inner loop as density continues to increase, and deed restrictions along with form-based codes are still our best means of preserving predictability for our communities. I also support public-private partnerships for shared-use structured parking in some of the most vulnerable communities that face increasing density (i.e. Washington Corridor, etc.).

Finally, we have failed our public infrastructure. We could spend the entire budget on infrastructure projects and still not be up to where we should be. Sadly, every time the budget gets tight, water, sewer, street and drainage projects are always the first to get put on hold, and our capital improvement program (CIP) is not sufficient to meet the needs of what we have to do. I support creating a separate funding program for our most pressing infrastructure projects, especially drainage (which is $3 BILLION behind, by the way). We have to dedicate the funding and lock it in for 10 years – beyond term limits so that the funding can’t get stolen away to other projects.

“There are people in our city who are not on the agenda at City Hall. What will Mr. Freeman do to get them on the agenda?”

Houston has the strongest strong-mayor system of government of any major city in the nation. I actually wrote a paper about it in grad school because it is so unique. The reality is that our Mayor controls EVERYTHING on the agenda, meaning the only voice Houstonians really have on the agenda if they disagree with it is the ‘no’ vote of their district Council Member. This form of government tends to make our direct representation very weak, especially for the minority.

We need stronger representation in government, and we can do that by allowing Council to add items to the agenda. I have proposed that Council be allowed to add items to the agenda if both a majority of at-large Council Members and a majority of district Council Members request the item be added. By doing so, Houstonians will have a stronger, more direct voice in the agenda. As it stands today, all fourteen Council Members could want an item placed on the agenda and the Mayor could simply say “no” and be done with it.

April 7, 2009 - Posted by | Houston, Politics | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] asked him a few questions about his campaign and vision for the city. Noel’s responses are here, and they’re worth reading. Check it […]

    Pingback by Neil talks to Noel « Off the Kuff | April 15, 2009

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