Houston Voter Guide: City Council At-Large Position 4 candidates

With the exit of Amanda Edwards at the end of her term, the race for City Council At-Large Position 4 is wide open.

Community Impact Newspaper invited candidates to provide the responses below to help voters weigh their options.

Jennifer Laney and Christel Bastida did not respond to requests to participate. Javier Gonzalez could not be contacted as he did not provide a phone or email address to the city, and attempts to locate a contact for his campaign were unsuccessful.

All candidates are listed below in the order they will appear on the ballot. Responses may have been edited for length.

Ericka McCrutcheon
Occupation/experience: Business Owner- Commercial Gen Contracting & Remodeling; Realtor

Website: www.erickaforcitycouncil.com

What issues do you want to be a lead advocate on?
Public Safety, Flooding Mitigation, and Infrastructure

What role will you play in improving Houston's budgeting and fiscal planning?
To improve the budgeting and fiscal planning I will support a "Zero-Based" budgeting model for all Departments; recommend an outside auditing agency and full disclosure and transparency of all monetary records. Cut wasteful unnecessary spending and prioritize the essential business of the City.

What is your take on improving mobility in the city?
Improvements are already on the way throughout the City by TXDOT to improve our freeways. Considerations should be given to the private workforce to repair and rebuild our streets. I believe better progress can be made and at the same time create local jobs. Working on the traffic flow and congestion problems will require a collaborative effort with TXDOT, METRO, and the City. Synchronizing stop lights during the heaviest traffic times and staggering School start times, Business hours and using other innovative technologies and other modes of transportation can help ease the traffic burdens in Houston.

Tiko Hausman
Occupation/experience: Business Consultant,Government Procurement, 17 years

Website: www.tiko4houston.com

What issues do you want to be a lead advocate on?
Transparency in government contracting, advocate for small business and business sustainability.

What role will you play in improving Houston's budgeting and fiscal planning?
I will advocate for a transparent and fair contracting process. This can be accomplished by creating a non partisan city manager who will set the budget and contract requirements. This will provide the city with more competitive pricing on contracts and better oversight.

What is your take on improving mobility in the city?
As apparent with the METRO's public meetings for METRONext, citizens are still lacking the basics. For example, extended bus hours and routes, bus shelters for protection and access. That is why I support complete communities where the goal is to ensure that all neighborhoods have access to grocery stores, medical services and good schools. We must also improve our infrastructure so that citizens can walk or bike on sidewalks that aren't broken and uneven. METRO has a community connector service that can provide mobility options throughout connecting communities to avoid riders having to go all the way downtown to connect to get to their destination.

James "Joe" Joseph
Occupation/experience: I put people to work every day as an independent contractor and have over 20 years in management and my contributions to communities underscore my commitment to excellence, leadership. I am associate pastor of Lyons Unity MBC, and author of two books published internationally.

I established a strategic working partnership with Rice University Center for Civic Leadership through my non-profit, Neighborhood Enrichment Xchange, and serve on the Blue Ribbon Committee for Houston Community College NorthEast, am president of SuperNeighborhood #55, 5th Ward Civic Club, and Blocks Organizing Neighborhood Defense, established by former Houston Police Chief and Mayor, Lee Brown.

Website: www.JosephforHouston.com

What issues do you want to be a lead advocate on?
Transit-oriented development at Houston's High-Speed-Rail Hub is a key component to Houston future. Houston’s roads are the nation’s deadliest and out-of-control traffic will intensify without smart, transformative, mobility solutions​. I have 15 years of METRO management experience.

Infrastructure, Economic Development, Minority Contracting. Houston enable more people to participate in Houston’s prosperity and make Houston an incubator for investment and innovation.

Clean​, safe, complete neighborhoods.​ More responsive service delivery, deed restriction enforcement, and more police protection is needed so our seniors and children can feel safe.​ I led crime prevention efforts to get over 300 street lights turned on.

What role will you play in improving Houston's budgeting and fiscal planning?
Because Houston’s has had a structural budget deficit of at least $100 million for many years and the most significant financial hurdle still looms large, my strategic role will include:
*Proposing a statutory requirement for a financially sustainable, structurally-balanced, budget oversight where recurring revenues match or exceed recurring expenditures and to replenish reserves to address emergencies and periodic economic downturns.
*Protecting reforms to continue reduction of unfunded pension liabilities.
*Economic planning to grow a healthy fund balance, deliver high-quality services, makes vital investments in Houston’s infrastructure.

What is your take on improving mobility in the city?
METRONext’s bond package doubles ridership, increases access without tax increases, and favors much-needed transit improvements than obsolete-prone rail.

Without faster, safer, above-grade crossings, rail suffers as a vanity project from decreased ridership and risks employers exiting Houston’s congested core. I support METRO​N​ext Plan’s principal feature, Bus Rapid Transit, at one-third the cost/mile.

I promote:
*Transit-oriented development; Strategic partnerships boost Houston's High-Speed-Rail Hub’s role in a $1 trillion Super-economy with millions of people traveling between Houston and Dallas via 90-minute bullet train.
*Faster commutes from activity centers beyond 610.
*Fare elimination; increases mobility, ridership, and reduces congestion even for non-riders.

Nick Hellyar
Occupation/experience: I grew up in central Houston where I attended Lamar High School serving on the swim, tennis and academic decathlon teams. After attending the University of Houston, I got my first exposure to public service, working as a staff member for a Houston City Council Member and a member of the Texas Legislature. It was this work — attending civic club meetings, responding to resident requests and helping to deliver neighborhood level projects – that fostered my passion for constituent service and local government. I now own and operates a real estate business – The Hellyar Group, which focuses on buying and selling residential properties, rental placement, property management and investment.

Website: www.nickhellyar.com

What issues do you want to be a lead advocate on?
Roads, Public Safety, Flood Mitigation

What role will you play in improving Houston's budgeting and fiscal planning?
Having worked at City Hall, I understand the City's budgeting process and as a small business owner I have to manage budgets on a daily basis. Working to structurally balance the city's budget is critical to the economic solvency of Houston.

What is your take on improving mobility in the city?
This is a very important issue to me and I would be honored to serve on the TTI Committee (Transportation, Technology & Infrastructure Committee) once elected. Over the next 20-30 years, the city is going to add over 1 million people, so we know that density is coming. We must have a plan today to improve transit in the future. There must be a transit oriented plan put into place now to handle the mobility issues we will be facing in the future. There is not a silver bullet to deal with this issue, it will take a number of workable solutions to improve mobility.

Bill Baldwin
Occupation/experience: "I am the Broker/Owner of one of Houston’s Top 25 Residential Real Estate Firms in the City, and certainly one of the top 5 independent firms. I take pride in having built a trusted local brand, creating jobs for Houstonians (my twenty employees), and creating opportunities for Houston entrepreneurs (my sixty five sales associates). This has given me the experience of quite literally weathering storms and economic cycles, budgeting and finance, and taking corporate social responsibility seriously.

I also greatly enhanced this experience through my volunteer posts with the Houston Heights Association, an influential volunteer-led non-profit that where I served as President and Finance Chair for multiple terms. In this role, I watched us grow our prudent reserve substantially and create an impactful opportunity for revenue generation in our purchase and renovation of the former Houston Heights City Hall & Fire Station, a project that I managed. I was one of the longest serving board members in the history of the HHA, which serves as a mechanism for the 8,000 households in my neighborhood to improve their corner of the city and have their voices heard by working and organizing together. It has created a pocket of Houston that is now renowned for its exceptional quality of life, and I am proud to have left an indelible mark.

Finally, my work as the founder and lead volunteer of the Houston Relief Hub taught me how to harness resources and have an impact with no clear charge after Harvey. I was one of the very first volunteers to arrive at the George R. Brown Convention Center on the day after Harvey’s touchdown in Houston. I sprang into action there and, seeing the needs of the shelter met, decided it was incumbent upon me to bridge the gap between Houstonians who wanted to help and those who were at risk of falling through the cracks by forming the Harvey Relief Hub, which later became the Houston Relief Hub. The premise was to connect those affected by Harvey with resources and donations with those who wanted to help in any way. The operation was so successful, that “the Hub” became the official City of Houston delegation to relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Maria, California through the 2017-2018 wildfires, and many other disasters. The hub was reactivated most recently to assist those affected by the 2018-2019 Federal Government Shutdown and Barry in Louisiana.

Website: www.baldwinforhouston.com

What issues do you want to be a lead advocate on?
I want to continue to be Houston’s foremost advocate for equitable growth:
Promoting greater density and walkability in our urban core, including reducing or eliminating minimum parking requirements, reducing minimum build lines, promoting an active pedestrian realm, and preserving the public right-of-way.
Continuing to build flood resilience using all of the available tools but with the highest degree of outreach and accessibility to the average property owner.
Increasing accountability and transparency in the Local Government Corporations, including TIRZes, Management Districts, Houston First, and beyond.
Improving multi-modal transit throughout the City through the creation of a Department of Transportation and the full and transparent implementation of METRONext.

What role will you play in improving Houston's budgeting and fiscal planning?
I believe I am exceedingly prepared to play a pivotal role in the budgeting process. As the owner and operator of a successful local business for over 20 years, I bring proven experience from the private sector. In addition, I bring vast experience in non-profit finance operations. I will be blunt that I believe we must have a medium- and long-term plan in place to lift the Revenue Cap. We have been trying to do more with less, and we cannot become a world-class city, excel at the nuts and bolts of city services for our constituents, or keep our citizens safe without a little more breathing room in the budget.

What is your take on improving mobility in the city?
I believe in a multi-modal, multi-faceted approach that starts with sidewalks and walkability.

The Planning Commission should be utilized as a tool to promote an active pedestrian realm and urban density while we build the political will at City Hall to amend Chapter 42.

We must hold METRO to the highest degree of accountability and ensure that the Regional Transportation Plan in this Fall’s bond election is delivered with the highest degree of efficiency.

As one of the appointees to the City’s North Houston Highway Improvement Projects, I believe that even highway and large-scale infrastructure can be used to promote multimodality and walkability.

Jason Rowe
Occupation/experience: Small Business Attorney/ Business Owner

Website: www.roweforhouston.com

What issues do you want to be a lead advocate on?
Flooding/ Drainage, Crime Reduction, Education, Reforming the Permitting Process, Small Business Growth, and Ending Pay-to-Play Corruption at City Hall.

What role will you play in improving Houston's budgeting and fiscal planning?
End pay-to-play contract handouts and implement fair and transparent contracting practices, strongly oppose raising the revenue cap, implement and continue zero-based budgeting but in a manner that does not allow departments to automatically include all employees (as they currently may), and propose that any budget overages brought in by the City immediately go to pay down City debt and help ensure a secure financial future for Houston.

What is your take on improving mobility in the city?
Utilize the Metro bond to build efficient regional transportation that is cost-effective for the City as a whole, as well as on a per-rider basis.

Anthony Dolcefino
Occupation/experience: I am an investigative researcher at a media consulting firm. My job involves fighting City Hall for the release of public records, something they are notoriously secretive about. In these investigations, I am able to bring cases of corruption and mismanagement of tax dollars to the public’s attention. I previously worked in the Texas House of Representatives, gaining first-hand experience at the state’s legislative process. While attending the University of Texas at Austin, I was an outspoken political activist and hope to bring that fire to council as a watchdog for transparency and accountability to taxpayers.

Website: www.anthonydolcefino.com

What issues do you want to be a lead advocate on?
I will be a watchdog against corruption at City Hall. I will fight for bold ethics reforms, such as the creation of an independent inspector general, a ban on political contributions from contractors who do business with the city, and the release of a publicly-accessible, line-item list of every dollar and contract the city spends money on. These policies will allow for an end to pay-to-play practices and a restoration of the taxpayer right-to-know. I am also the boldest advocate in this race for Houston’s first responders, and will prioritize the immediate implementation of fair pay towards our firefighters.

What role will you play in improving Houston's budgeting and fiscal planning?
I am a proponent of a full-scale audit of every city department to account for the millions in wasted tax dollars each year. I will also fight for 100% of our drainage fee (not the current 50%) to be allocated towards its intended purpose: drainage projects. Through a combination of zero-based budgeting, line-item budget transparency, and an independent audit of City Hall, we can unlock millions in tax revenue that can be used to implement fair pay for our firefighters, prepare our bayous and drainage infrastructure for the next storm, and deliver on our mayor’s failed promise to fix potholes.

What is your take on improving mobility in the city?
There are simple fixes that politicians always talk about but never deliver on, such as the synchronization of lights. Fixing potholes and fast-tracking street construction (prioritizing major thoroughfares) will improve traffic flow. The current investments in transit do not increase mobility for the vast majority of Houstonians, with METRO spending billions in light-rail projects that few people ride. We have invested significantly in inner-city mobility, but finding innovative solutions for commuters is the real key to reducing traffic congestion. METRO should get honest with taxpayers about the ineffectiveness of their $3.5 billion MetroNext plan on the ballot this November.

Letitia Plummer
Occupation/experience: The diversity that Houston offers is familiar since I am the daughter of an immigrant mother (Yemen/Persian) and was raised in a culturally diverse household. This experience has prepared me to understand diversity and inclusion. My father is African American and obtained his Dental Degree from Harvard spending his career focused on serving the underserved community in healthcare. I have spent the last 20 years as a small business owner practicing in the public and private sectors of healthcare. My overall knowledge of creating access to a community healthcare, managing employees, balancing budgets and community service involvement has prepared me to represent Houstonians from an equitable perspective.

Website: www.plummerforhouston.com

What issues do you want to be a lead advocate on?
1. Equal access to compete communities (fair housing, economic development, eliminating food deserts, healthcare facilities, fire/police etc..) regardless of socio-economic or racial demographics.
2. Increased awareness, funding and education of health department programs that support the uninsured population.
3. Fair and equitable dissemination of Harvey relief funds to communities that are not thriving irrespective of property tax value or tax debt.
4. Transparency of funds that have been “earmarked” for specific needs ie. Drainage tax, garbage fees, infrastructure bonds etc., yet they are used for other unrelated projects.
5. Transportation supporting MetroNext, building a more innovative Houston with rail, road/bridges and the elimination of traffic.

What role will you play in improving Houston's budgeting and fiscal planning?
To improve Houston’s budget, we must amend the revenue cap ,monitor “ear-marked” dollars, hire a 3rd auditor and implement budget transparency. The revenue cap and poor spending inhibits the budget and expenditures. “Ear-marked” funds must be utilized for authorized projects voted on by our resident. A 3rd party auditor will allow the city to be evaluated independently. This management of funds will allow our residents to have confidence in how their tax dollars are being spent.

What is your take on improving mobility in the city?
Move away from the freeway system, create additional walkable spaces, Metro and Metro Rail should be free during business hours and freeways should be built in preparation for rail conversion. There should be a tax incentive for people that purchase eco-friendly cars and we need more park and ride access.

By Matt Dulin
Matt joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2018 and is the City Editor for Houston's Inner Loop editions.


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