Representatives from the City of Houston Planning & Development, along with Mayor Annise Parker and District D City Council Member Wanda Adams, fielded questions and comments from approximately 250 Houstonians, as the first of 10 redistricting town halls got underway last Thursday evening. The City Planning & Development website invited individuals to “attend and comment at any convenient meeting”, so after attending & commenting at the District D meeting I’ll share some observations.
Handicapped Accessibility: The District D town hall was held at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in the Brown Auditorium Theatre of the Law Building. Although the MFAH website identifies this area of the Museum as wheelchair accessible , it struck me as a truly handicapped inaccessible venue for giving public comment. Once inside the theatre, Houstonians with disabilities were restricted to the back wall of the theatre due to the steep stairs and stadium seating nature of this venue. To give public comment, one woman had to rely on another meeting attendee to bring the microphone from the microphone stand almost halfway down the rows to her seat against the back wall. Even District I City Council Member James Rodriguez, acknowledged by Mayor Parker as “on crutches”, was restricted to sitting in the last row of permanent seats inside the theatre.
No witness cards for public comment: I attended both the November 20th redistricting hearing at the University of Houston and the February 18th Senate Redistricting meeting in Austin. The public was asked to complete and sign a witness card at these two hearings. In contrast, the District D town hall used no witness cards; a smart move for officials who might wish to thwart enterprising citizens from requesting copies of the cards (and the contact information on them) via an Open Records Request.
Mayor Parker invited the public to speak, yet she interrupted the public when they did speak. Mayor Parker asked attendees to limit their remarks or questions to three minutes. Ninety seconds into my comment, I was interrupted by Mayor Parker when she asked me what voting precinct I live in. I continued my statement though after answering her question and letting her make a comment.
Super Neighborhood List. Five or so citizens, myself included, suggested the City consider the use of the Department of Planning & Developments Super Neighborhood List to the greatest extent possible. Section 3 (d) of the City Resolution No 2011-1 does stipulate “communities of interest should be maintained in a Council District, and attempts should be made to maintain neighborhoods”. My own community, currently divided across two City Council districts, would be unified into one if the Super Neighborhood Map was used for the reconfiguration of the Council District boundaries.
You won’t see a map. The town hall agenda covered an introduction by the Council Member and Mayor, a short 12 minute video, introduction of key staff including the City Attorney, followed by public comment and closing remarks. The District D town hall started on time (6:30 pm) and wrapped up on time. (8:00 pm)
Lastly, how difficult would it have been for someone in City leadership to bring an American flag to the theatre so we could stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance?
If these observations are examples of how the City planned, developed and executed on a town hall how in the world are they going to plan, develop and execute on the redrawing of the Council boundaries in a manner we can all have confidence in?
Maybe some City leaders are focusing too much on keeping their job versus focusing on actually doing their job.