Houston Voter Guide 2019: Mayoral candidates

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Voters in Houston will see 12 candidates running for mayor on the ballot this November, including incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner. Community Impact Newspaper submitted questions to each candidate about city finances, ethics and infrastructure. All candidates after the incumbent are listed in the order they will appear on the ballot.

Responses may have been edited for length.

Candidates Demetria Smith, Victoria Romero and Johnny Taylor did not respond to requests by the Community Impact Newspaper deadline.

Incumbent: Sylvester Turner

Website: www.SylvesterTurner.com

Occupation/Experience: Mayor of Houston. I am the only candidate for mayor with 30 years of experience getting things done. I led our city through Hurricane Harvey, won billions of dollars for recovery, fixed more than 273,000 potholes, and cut violent crime by ten percent. I’ve expanded municipal investments in renewable energy and led the winning bid to host the World Petroleum Congress in 2020. Today, I’m delivering big flood protection projects and neighborhood drainage fixes, bringing thousands of new jobs to Houston, and putting more cops on the street to increase police patrols and keep our families safe.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
Our firefighters deserve a raise, but it must be one that the city can afford. When the courts declared Proposition B unconstitutional, I immediately invited the firefighters union to negotiate with the city through the collective bargaining process. I want to move forward. Let’s get this done.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?
We have made tremendous progress. I led the effort to reform our pension system for city employees that was costing taxpayers $1 million per day. We’ve cut our unfunded pension liability in half: from $8.2 billion to $4 billion. I’ve balanced four tough budgets without layoffs or significant service cuts. And after Hurricane Harvey walloped our city budget, we are taking steps to address the structural budget imbalance. Starting next year, the city will move to a zero-based budgeting model that requires every expense to be justified.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
We’re always working to improve transparency – the foundation of accountability. For example, www.houstonpotholes.org tracks every citizen-reported pothole and reports our progress in real time. More than 99% are being filled by the next business day. My administration takes ethics very seriously, making sure to follow the letter and the spirit of all laws. My opponents have made a cottage industry of launching attacks without any basis in fact or law to advance their own political campaigns. It’s time for a serious conversation about the best laws and policies for Houston – one that takes place outside political season.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?
We are moving on all fronts. We’ve secured billions of dollars in federal funds to improve critical infrastructure, toughened Houston’s building codes and made investments to help the Flood Control District widen Brays Bayou, build new water detention basins, add more gates to Lake Houston and fix more than 200 flooding hotspots in neighborhoods throughout the city. But our biggest obstacle is the federal government. Only weeks ago did FEMA award the first set of grants for large-scale flood mitigation projects. And only weeks ago did HUD authorize the use of $4.3 billion appropriated by Congress for Texas flood mitigation.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?
As mayor, it is my job to address all our serious challenges. I represent more than 2.3 million people – every Houstonian is important to me and each has his or her urgent priorities. These are all important, and I am not inclined to leave any of these off the list or rank one above the other: flooding and drainage; jobs and economic development; public safety; street conditions and traffic; public transportation; infrastructure, neighborhoods and equitable distribution of projects; diversity, economic inequality and making the city work for all Houstonians; and the city budget.

Naoufal Houjami

Website: www.houjamiformayor.com

Occupation/experience: Proud Houstonian Entrepreneur, Author, Politician, US National Security Strategist, Member of Center for Strategic & international Studies (CSIS) Washington D.C, Extensive International Experience -Africa, Europe, Mideast-, Master in Strategy & Risk Management, Inventor, Composer, Volunteer, Husband & Father of 4 kids born and raised in Houston.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
The current Mayor did not respect and Honor the will of the Voters by filing his motion to declare it Not Valid. It does not matter if it is good or bad, what is matter is the respect and obey our democratic system, and a Mayor is Public Servant who must Honor the will of the Majority of Voters. The Current Mayor lost his Credibility by not honoring the vote. Any Mayor is a Public Servant not CEO! If i am Elected i will honor the proposition B and will Make sure the Police Force + Firefighters are both Very Happy.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?
My 11 Plan Keys of Strategic Actions = Solutions To All Majors Problems of the city of Houston. INVESTING to cover all the coming 5 years deficits, Not by rising Taxes & Cutting Jobs. I have been All over the world in Rich Countries and Poor Countries, and i am very familiar with All their budget models. Our City is a very Rich City, i will bring prosperity to All of us. I will also implement a performance measurement system for All the departments of the city of Houston, to improve transparency and ethical practices, especially on how the budget is spent!

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
The Mayor as a position has too much power. In my Plan Of Action, Solution is to lower the abuse of power by any Mayor. Creation of a General Manager of the city of Houston. He’s not going to be elected but appointed, hired. And If he doesn’t do his job, he gets fired. 35% Power to Mayor + %35 Power to City Council + %30 Power To City General Manager.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?
1- Improving the storm drainage system’s capability to handle sheet flow and reducing the amount and speed in which water is added into the system.
2- Inform and educate All Houstonians about the climate change and How to reduce Greenhouse Gases to combat not just air pollution but the Pollution in General.
3- Create Grants and Financial Rewards for Businesses and General Public to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
4- Invest on better green infrastructure to help reduce flooding in our city.
5-. Use new technologies to build more levees high capacity and stronger.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?
My 1st key of my plan of action for affordable housing for the majority of Houston: ” Creation of the mortgage payment assistant program (MPAP)” for middle-class and low income working Houstonians. It will pay up to %45 of the total mortgage monthly payments, it will stabilize the financial situation of more than 100,000 Houstonians families and give them a fair share, an opportunity to stand against gentrification & Inequality.

Roy J. Vasquez

Website: www.royvasquezformayor.com

Occupation/experience: Education Director at a hospital company.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
I’d like to start from scratch with the firefighters regarding pay negotiations. Let’s change the mindset from a dispute to a negotiation. We know, that as a city, we want our brave firefighters to be paid. I’d work with them, rather than fight them, to look at where we can pull from and help them get the money they deserve.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?
I am supportive of the pension reform plan Mayor Turner helped enact. I would try to keep this plan in place and continue to reduce government spending.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
The mayor can help establish a new Code of Conduct for the city and require annual refresher training. We can also permanently hire an outside auditor/investigator and have the findings available to the public through the website and presented by the mayor at town halls.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?

We would need minimal flood recovery if we can help prevent/reduce flood loss. Let’s work on improving our drainage infrastructure (updating existing systems, new reservoirs, holding tanks, permeable pavements, tunnels, etc). The problem is water rushes into our city and then has a hard time leaving. Anything we can do in this area will help or the problem will continue to get worse. As for improving recovery, the city needs to (and feels the pressure to) get to our people quicker for aid, both financially and physically…We need a dedicated team and process to deal with these situations.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?

Improving our homeless situation. We cannot have our fellow humans on the streets; we have to look out for our people and get as many as we can off the streets. We want to lead in this area, but we have to catch up first. We can follow the lead of other cities that have enacted programs to help their homeless populations, like Oklahoma City who created a newspaper/editorial that provides significant income for the homeless and low-income populations in the city or Nashville who has a shower truck that comes by for their homeless population.

Kendall Baker

Website: www.bakerforhouston.com

Occupation/experience: Pastor Kendall Baker, D Div, 25 years of city of Houston management experience namely created and managed the 311 Help and Information Center which involved heavy community outreach for all city services, hiring, training, budget, working directly with 3 mayors, supervised the 911 emergency services. City retiree. Business owner. Lifetime community activist and organizer.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
Pay them and never again have a personality conflict play out on the public stage. This could have been settled four years ago. I would leverage their unique pension brilliance to their own benefit and for the benefit of taxpayers.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?
Through various means of spending control including zero based budgeting, cease using funds target for one purpose to another purpose, implement advice given from your financial staff and internal audits. Stop the growing liability with retirees health right away. End pay to play and review/restructure contract awarding process.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
Online access to all legally available information. Weekly updates on news that addresses critical budget issues. Change the culture of giving the company line, excluding private individual information, be forthcoming in difficult times. Lift restrictions on citizen watchdog committees. Legal has to stop the practice of using the Texas AG to delay the release of open records requests.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?
Pay citizens up front for damages and recover city’s budget as you receive it. Learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them. Increase cleaning, maintenance and repairs to existing storm drains and ditches, repair broken storm drains, more water retentions, require new construction to pay for drainage upgrades, however, cease to allow large construction projects ( i.e. high rises) in some areas.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?
Beginning with the budget, I would brainstorm with the city controller and director of finance to review and renew the way the city conducts its business overall. What it all boils down to is how the city handles its money.

Derrick Broze

Website: www.derrickbroze.com

Occupation/experience: Journalist, activist, author, and public speaker

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
I am proposing that the city put several programs up for a vote so the people of Houston can decide whether or not they would like to cut certain programs to pay the firefighters. These programs include ending the Drug War in Houston, ending police surveillance, a moratorium on the current controversial 5g technology roll out, ending no knock raids, and other programs.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?
Cut programs from the budget (listed above), begin actually practicing fiscal responsibility.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
As a journalist and an activist I understand firsthand the lack of transparency and the ongoing corruption at City Hall. As a Mayor I plan to completely audit the police department, the City Hall budget and staff, as well as other departments. The culture of corruption has to be rooted out from the bottom to the top.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?
I think Houstonians need to acknowledge the fact that we live in a city which is below sea level and if the extreme weather continues as predicted Houston will likely not be a sustainable place to live in the coming years. In the mean time, I am calling for cleaning out the bayous, planting hemp, bamboo and other quick growing crops along the bayou to help with erosion and flooding.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?
I would immediately end the “anti-food sharing ordinance”, initiate a moratorium on 5g (and a public comment period, environmental impact assessment, and independent health study), immediately cease arrests of non-violent drug users, and audit the police department surveillance tools. I am here to transform the city NOT continue policies which amount to more of the same.

Sue Lovell

Website: www.suelovellformayor.com

Occupation/experience: Three-term City Council Member

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
There are two avenues are resolving this issue: the Mayor can go to the collective bargaining table and reach an agreement on pay raises, or the Mayor can quit ignoring the will of the voters who supported Proposition B and implement the citizen-driven petition.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?
The city is taking in significantly more revenue than it did in the Parker administration, yet we’re still running a budget deficit because of how much we’re spending. We simply have to figure out how to cut spending and get back to delivering core city services.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
First, you should always lead by example. I believe we should go back to having only certain time periods in which you could raise campaign funds instead of being able to raise money all the time. I also believe in the Freedom of Information Act and if records or emails are requested, that request should be filled as soon as possible in the spirit of transparency.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?
The city can’t do this alone – it has to be done with a regional approach and cooperation to be successful. I believe there should be a permanent regional flooding council that constantly looks for ways for the city, Harris County, and the surrounding counties can cooperate with each other to keep people safe.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?
Immediately coming up with a plan to deal with the city’s traffic problem. My first step would be simply synchronizing the traffic lights. Second, weekly meetings with the Public Works Director and Traffic Engineer to make sure projects don’t restrict traffic flow. Third, meet with business leaders to coordinate staggered employee start times and remote work so there are fewer cars on the road at the busiest commuting times. Fourth, expand the Mobility Unit to clear stalled cars off the roads. Fifth, direct METRO to install more bus stop shelters and benches to encourage people to use public transportation.

Bill King

Website: www.billforhouston.com

Occupation/experience: I have 40 years of experience building businesses and I have been studying the issues and problems Houston faces for a decade. I have looked down in our sewers. I have visited with the homeless. I have read every city audit and budget for the last ten years or more. And I am the only candidate who has put forth workable solutions for our flooding problems. There has never been a person who has walked through the doors of the mayor’s office better prepared to begin leading from Day One.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
I have a good relationship with fire union leadership and believe I can resolve the current dispute with good faith negotiations. The union has repeatedly offered to phase in Prop B over three to five years. At an estimated cost of $100 million, that is $20 million per year on a five-year phase-in. That amount can easily be absorbed with revenue growth and the anticipated savings expected from a real zero-based budgeting process that I will implement. If negotiations were to fail, I would agree to binding arbitration, which should have happened two years ago.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?
City revenues have grown by half a billion dollars in the last four years. We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. I will fix this by implementing zero-based budgeting, starting at zero and analyzing every function based on need and cost. By the way, Sylvester Turner promised to do this four years ago. He broke that promise and, as a result, the city recorded its largest operating budget deficit ever last year.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
We need a mayor who works for us, not special interests. My ethics reform plan safeguards against corruption and includes creation of a truly independent Office of Inspector General, campaign finance reforms, a new bid process, an online database of all contracts and expanded access to public information. The campaign finance rules limit contributions from contractors and vendors to $500 per year and prohibit contributions from appointees to city boards and strip club owners. As mayor, I will close my campaign account and only reopen it if, and when, I run for re-election. Read my ethics plan at www.billkingblog.com

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?
The current administration concedes we are no better prepared for another storm than we were two years ago when Hurricane Harvey brought Houston to its knees. I am the only candidate with a comprehensive plan to mitigate future flooding and improve our pre- and post-flood response. This begins by stopping the diversion of city drainage fees. Every year, approximately $55 million that is supposed to be used for drainage is being spent on other things. I will stop this and invest all of the drainage fees on drainage projects, so homes and businesses are better protected from flooding.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?
We must fix city finances. Just imagine a Houston where families don’t go to bed on a stormy night worried their homes will flood, where the streets are in good shape, where police respond when called and where the trash isn’t rotting in our driveways. We can have this Houston, but it is going to require new leadership with the background and experience to correct the mismanagement and irresponsible spending of the last four years. You have my promise that I will go to work every day and do my best to provide that leadership.

Tony Buzbee

Website: www.tonybuzbeeformayor.com

Occupation/experience: Attorney, Owner of the Buzbee Law Firm.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
To start, we need a third-party, independent audit of the budget. This audit will include the budgets of all TIRZ’s, Enterprise and other dedicated funds, as well as the General fund. Next, we will conduct process audits to ensure the city is functioning in the most efficient and productive way. Lastly, I will implement zero-based budgeting. We cannot, and will not, continue to spend money we don’t have.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
Actions speak louder than words, which is why I’m not taking campaign donations. I will not be beholden to special interest groups or campaign donors once I am in office. In regard to transparency, there is a complete lack of it at City Hall. We should know where every penny is spent. When I’m mayor, we will have metrics that every resident can review to see how the city is doing in real time. We will make every department transparent–everyone should be able to see what is being spent, what it is being spent on, and how we are performing.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?
It’s impossible to answer this question in 100 words or less. Setting aside the specific issues that are unique to some parts of the city, we face three distinct threats from flooding – storm surge, river flooding, and sheet flow (the technical name for street flooding.) While we aren’t going to be able to fix the problems overnight, the city can work together with the business community to achieve long term improvement in short order.Please visit my website to read my full, extensive plan to address flooding.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?
The city is broken. We have to stop the campaign money that is corrupting our government where the contracts are given to the same people, time after time. That’s job one.

Dwight Boykins

Website: www.dwightboykinsformayor.com

Occupation/Experience: I’m currently the City Council Member for District D. My past occupation has been in consulting. I was born and raised in the South Union neighborhood, where I learned the values of family, humility, and respect from my community Elders…I have made senior citizens a priority in my district, creating my Senior Minor Home Repair program…I have partnered with H-E-B to get three grocery stores in my district to tackle the food desert issues. The creation of The Second Chance Program was to address my experience encountering residents that have made past mistakes but need a helping hand.

How can the city resolve the ongoing pay dispute with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association?
Zero based budgeting would be a start because it helps truly understand the wasteful spending of various City Departments. I truly believe we have the money to pay City employees a fair wage… When the voters first approved pay parity the current administration stated it would cost over 100 Million Dollars…yet during negotiations it was stated the city didn’t have the 60+ Million Dollars necessary to give fire fighters their earned raise. This administration has intentionally hidden or overstated the budget impact and after overturning the will of the voters is estimated to have 300+ Million dollar fund balance.

How can the city address its growing unfunded liabilities and structural budget deficit?
We must institute zero-based budgeting in our city and rein in these TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) that have long out served their purposes. It is too often that money is simply found or unused and sent back because it wasn’t spent in a timely manner. The city of Houston receives millions of dollars in CDBG funding and various increments that can be used to support city services.

What role can the mayor play in improving transparency and ethical practices in city government?
The City’s Management team will be held accountable to standards of frequent reporting on performance, financial, compliance and other factors that our citizens demand to be informed about. Houston needs to understand that the City is here to better serve residents and it’s doing that by properly prioritizing the city’s issues…I truly believe it is about the “tone at the top” and I hold myself to high ethical standards, as a God-fearing man… It starts with communication to all city employees of what I expect from city employees and companies or individuals that the city contracts with.

How can the city improve flood recovery and resiliency efforts?
Flood control should be addressed by focusing on these three functions simultaneously, flood mitigation on new infrastructure, improvement to existing infrastructure, and consistent and sufficient maintenance of all waterways. I don’t believe the City is doing the best job regarding maintenance, such as continuously dredging and removing debris from inlets and drains that slow down the process of water resending. New and improved infrastructure must incorporate designs that support the Rebuild Houston/ Build Houston Forward strategies. Furthermore, the City of Houston must partner with Harris County Flood Control and FEMA and ensuring the flood maps and flooding data are up-to-date.

What would be your most urgent priority if elected?
Implementing Zero-Based budgeting will help us face our second issue that of Improving and Enhancing the City’s aging infrastructure. Specifically, we need to respond immediately to Flood Control concerns in areas like mine in Sagemont…The Boykins Administration will work with our community and business partners to expedite real [Hurricane Harvey] recovery. While every concern is valid Public Safety & Crime Reduction must stay as our primary issue. I will increase the number of Public Safety Officers and build stronger relationships in the community…I will actively support raising the revenue cap to increase the number of officers on our streets.

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.
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