2007 News


Superintendent says group's paid advertisement was misleading

By ANNETTE BAIRD Chronicle Correspondent

Oct. 29, 2007, 1:37PM

A recently formed ad hoc group calling themselves "Taxpayers for Responsible Spending" says the Spring Branch school district's $597 million bond proposal is bloated, wasteful and affects everyone's pocket book, even those 65 and over.

Joe Yarbrough, who formed the group and spent $2,700 of his own money on a full page ad in the Oct. 25 Houston Chronicle decrying the bond, believes the proposal to rebuild 12 elementary schools at a cost $249.1 million is unnecessary. He said some of those schools, such as Frostwood and Wilchester, had renovations and additions under the $250 million 1999 bond.

"They're duplicating what they said they would do in the 1993 and 1999 bonds, and they're piling debt on top of debt," Yarbrough said.

Superintendent Duncan Klussmann said the ad was misleading in that the schools will not be facing the "wrecking ball" and that Yarbrough's tactics "border on blackmail."

Klussmann said the 12 schools - Spring Branch, Housman, Ridgecrest, Pine Shadows, Valley Oaks, Hollibrook, Shadow Oaks, Frostwood, Edgewood, Westwood, Meadow Wood and Wilchester - would cost almost as much to renovate. New structures, such as gymnasiums, classrooms and multi-purpose rooms built with 1999 bond money will remain intact.

Of Yarbrough's tactics, Klussmann referred to an Oct. 5 e-mail he received from Yarbrough saying he wouldn't oppose the bond if the district diverted funds to the Ag Science building.

"I'm not going to put one person above all the community members who worked to put this together," Klussmann said.

Klussmann said the bond proposal has been two years in the making, is entirely necessary, well thought out and has wide community input and support.

"Ours is a long-term approach for addressing facilities needs, which is why this bond issue is at the dollar amount that it's at," Klussmann said.

Public opposition to the bond appears to be spotty compared to the tidal wave of support, expressed at recent school board meetings and by the more than 650 endorsements the group "Vote Yes Spring Branch ISD Bond Election" have collected.

"The size of the bond is a function of the district's needs," said Barry Abrams, who served on the 65-member bond advisory committee and helped organize "Vote Yes."

"We can't defer making this investment. This is an opportune time for taxpayers."

Memorial resident Franklin Olson believes the bond is necessary and an investment in the future.

"My wife and I we consider this bond issue to be our legacy," said Olson, a member of The Metropolitan Organization, which has endorsed the bond. "We want the community to be strong, which means having strong schools."

Yarbrough and a handful of others aren't convinced.

Yarbrough, 75, contends that even though homeowners 65 and older will have their property taxes frozen, they still will be paying for the bond through the cost of doing business in the district.

"Businesses will pass on the tax increase to consumers," he said.

The bond proposal recommends a property tax increase of 6.95 cents per $100 assessed value, with the exception of homeowners 65 and older or disabled with homestead exemption.

Charles Latimer, owner of Shadow Oaks Drive In grocery store, and Gene Frazier, owner of the Spring Branch area Wholesale Restaurant Supply, worry about the size of the bond and the effect it has on all taxpayers.

"If my taxes go up, I will have to pass on the increase to consumers," Latimer said.

Frazier agrees many district facilities need renovating, but doesn't agree schools should be torn down and replaced.

"More money doesn't make better schools," said Frazier, adding that his children received an excellent education at Spring Branch Elementary and Cornerstone Academy, both housed in two of the district's oldest buildings.

The bond proposal, which will come before voters Nov. 6, also includes $260.1 million for upgrades, including electrical, plumbing, air-conditioning and heating systems and maintenance at all other campuses; $66.8 million for new classrooms and upgrades for safety, security, technology and science labs; and $21.1 million for contingencies such as construction cost overruns and the cost of selling the bonds.




Group sought training for HPD in dealing with the mentally ill

By JENNIFER RADCLIFFE and CYNTHIA LEONOR GARZA Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle


Oct. 8, 2007, 1:10AM


Mayor Bill White resisted a call by a broad-based community organization to support an incentive pay program for police officers specially trained to deal with the mentally ill during a Sunday forum with city and school elected officials, leaders and candidates.

The Metropolitan Organization's request to provide $150 per month incentive pay would encourage Houston Police Department officers to become Crisis Intervention Team specialists and comes in light of four shooting deaths over the past year of mentally ill residents by HPD officers. HPD has been criticized for its handling of those crisis situations.

The group, which hosted the forum, also asked for increased training for 911 operators to help them identify when crisis-intervention trained officers are needed.

"Our HPD officers are some of the best compensated in the country," White said, adding that he doesn't think the incentive pay is necessary, but that if needed, it would be considered.

Crisis training should be "mandatory for those who come out of the cadet training," White said. About 700 officers have the training but only about 380 are on patrol, he said.

Councilmember Adrian Garcia echoed the mayor's opposition. "I don't think you need to pay officers to do that," Garcia said.

More than 20 city and school elected officials and candidates, including Houston ISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, attended the meeting designed to gauge the officials' and candidates' commitment to supporting TMO's agenda.

The group - composed of congregations, schools and other institutions - asked candidates a slate of yes-or-no questions. Each candidate was given a very limited time to answer. Candidates were not allowed to campaign, and the audience was not allowed to boo. About 300 people attended the meeting at Trinity United Methodist Church.

City officials and candidates were also asked whether they supported increasing city employees' pay to a "living wage," removing abandoned houses and developing affordable housing.

Despite gaining support on their issues from the seven candidates vying for the two open seats on the HISD school board, TMO leaders said the organization cannot support the district's $805 million bond measure.

"We're just extremely unhappy with the process," TMO member Terri Parris said. "It was a painful and prayerful decision."

While students need new buildings, leaders of the grass-roots groups critical of the bond said HISD leaders should have consulted with the community before unveiling the bond package.

Five of the seven HISD candidates said they are also against the bond. Only District II candidate Reginald Adams and District IV candidate Paula Harris said they will support the proposal to build 24 schools and renovate 134 others.

Opposing the bond "is the popular thing to do right now," Adams said. "The facts will prove that this bond is in the best interest of students and the city."

Several African-American leaders have spoken out against the bond, saying their communities are being short-changed. But the bond has gained some ground in the last two weeks, earning endorsements from LULAC, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Houston Partnership.

Saavedra told the crowd that he will hold public meetings before he consolidates schools - a major sticking point of some bond critics.

Saavedra and the candidates also agreed to support TMO's other issues, which include reducing principal turnover at some of HISD's troubled schools and lobbying to end high-stakes standardized testing.

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By JONAH DYCUS, Herald Staff Writer

September 21, 2007

Houston- Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo delivered a keynote address to local faith leaders during a symposium for clergy hosted by The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), Sept. 5. TMO focuses on helping working citizens form leadership qualities through activism and promoting grassroots advocacy.

The public square meeting took place at St. Cyril of Alexandria Church in west Houston.

"One of the great merits of the (TMO) model is that they are in the neighborhoods, empowering people to speak for themselves, training them and raising them up to be leaders in their community," said Deacon Sam Dunning, the archdiocesan director of the Office of Peace and Justice and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Deacon Dunning attended the TMO meeting. "The whole idea of trying to solve problems as close to the source as possible is certainly in accord with the social teachings of the Church."

During his presentation, the archbishop commented on how he has seen such on-going efforts substantially help those in the labor force. "You can't grow up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania without being aware of the worker question, since the whole history of that (was based upon) the Church's involvement with unions, its involvement with the organization of workers. There was intense interest of the Catholic Church with that question," Archbishop DiNardo said to the assembly, which included members of Protestant denominations and the Jewish faith.

The archbishop also outlines some of the principles of Catholic social teaching, citing Pope John Paul II's tireless dedication in "always remembering the human person."

"The human person is the basis of our understanding of social doctrine. We see each individual... is made in the image and likeness of God. All human beings are equal, and all human beings are distinctive," Archbishop DiNardo said. "With Catholic thinking, because we deal with the human person, we are particularly sensitive in our faith tradition to the beginnings and ends in the life of a human person. This is not to say that the other parts of the life of a human person are not integrally important... but for us, the beginnings and the ends are the most vulnerable."

Reflecting on the numerous issues TMO seeks to resolve, Deacon Dunning says there is much common ground shared by the various ministers in attendance.

"I am always moved that we share that basic prophetic impetus that drives us," he observed. "One of the advantages of organizing in the communities in addition to being close to the problem is that you are close to the people who are suffering through the problem. As Christians, we have an opportunity, a great blessing, to be Jesus to others, but also to see Jesus in others who are suffering and walk in solidarity with them."

By bringing clergy together from many different faith traditions, "it highlights our commonality," says Deacon Dunning. "I think the more solidified and unified the religious community can be around social concerns, the more powerful we are."

He applauds the efforts of Catholics on the parish level in aiding their brothers and sisters in need. "I am sure (representatives of other faiths) have their own respective degrees of pride, but I am very proud of the strenght and volume of the Catholic voice in these various efforts, "Deacon Dunning said. "The Catholic Church has been there from the beginning. We have had a great impact on TMO, as they had a great impact on us."

Harmonizing the various sectors for justice is vital to those affected by such actions, says Archbishop DiNardo.

"TMO (members) can come together and work on these issues that have their interest, whether it is by faith, culture or needs... They can work together and align with the city and ocassionally challenge it for the common good of a given neighborhood," he stated. "Working in such ways does help us understand the meaning of working for the common good. I don't think the common good is something that stands out there as a formality- it is something that is realized as people gather together as human persons who are to be infinitely respected."

The archbishop encouraged his fellow clergy to remain open and receptive as they are challenged to support grassroots movements in their communities. "Sometimes, if you have a religious point of view, people say that is purely private. But in the United States, you look at what our founding fathers say in the Constitution.... just because one has a religious faith, does not mean that religious faith is purely private," Archbishop DiNardo explained. "Religious faith has had profound public resonances in our country and elsewhere."

Complementing the work of the clergy working through TMO, Archbishop DiNardo encourages them to carry on and not shy away from the public stage. "I think it is important to make our presence shown."



Leaders, clergy say he didn't do business forms, shouldn't criticize those re-enrolling

By GARY SCHARRER Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau


April 12, 2007, 1:52AM


AUSTIN - Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst drew fire Wednesday from several clergy members and leaders of a community action group who said they have lost patience with him on funding the Children's Health Insurance Program.

It is hypocritical for Dewhurst, they said, to dismiss low-income families' concerns about signing CHIP re-enrollment forms every six months when Dewhurst himself has failed to properly fill out basic business forms affecting some of his business interests.

"We don't have patience with the lieutenant governor who doesn't understand the problems that affect working families of Texas. He says he supports our children, but he hasn't lived up to it," said the Rev. Kevin Collins, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Houston and a leader with The Metropolitan Organization.

Dewhurst said he has always "been a strong supporter of children," with Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo calling him a "champion for children."

The Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations, which includes the TMO, wants lawmakers to spend the extra $78 million to return CHIP to 12-month eligibility instead of six months, something the House budget bill already has done. The program's enrollment period shrank four years ago when lawmakers cut the program back as a money-saving measure.

Many families do not re-enroll every six months, which drops children from coverage. Dewhurst has said most Texans don't have much sympathy "for someone that can't fill out a two-page application every six months."

The Democrat-supported Lone Star Project in Washington reported this week that Dewhurst failed to file necessary forms at least six times in recent years for companies that he owned or controlled.

"It's certainly an important thing for the leader of the Texas Senate to be as punctual as the poor people that he expects to be punctual," Collins said. "And, of course, he's probably got several lawyers who can do this for him whereas the poor people of Texas have to do this all by themselves. It's a shame. He's out of touch."

Meeting later with reporters, Dewhurst said he would not respond "to any political attack in this forum. If folks want to attack me politically, they can wait until (the election in) 2010."

Dewhurst sent a letter later in the day to the organization criticizing leaders for "politicizing this issue," but inviting them to meet with him "to discuss your concerns and ideas."

He said he's always been interested in providing health insurance to all CHIP children who qualify.

He considers both six- and 12-month enrollment periods artificial time frames.

Some variation of a continuous verification system, which would provide uninterrupted coverage for children in families who qualify, is something Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick have discussed, Dewhurst said.

Currently, 325,000 children are covered under CHIP, a federal-state health insurance program for children of the working poor. But the program does not cover about 375,000 CHIP-eligible children.

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By KRISTEN MACK Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

June 21, 2007, 11:57PM


A budget is a moral document, as Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell liked to say. It is a clear indication of an institution's priorities.

The budget passed by Houston City Council on Wednesday also tells us a lot about Mayor Bill White.

This budget, his fourth since taking office and more than any up until now, reflects him and his aspirations for higher office.

White will no doubt point to an increase in public safety funding. For the first time, the city has devoted more than
$1 billion to public safety spending for the police, fire and municipal court departments.

But any mayor would have been obligated to meet those fixed costs, largely associated with personnel. Spending more money does not mean problems are being solved, particularly the city's violent crime. And council members still contend that it is not clear how the police department is allocating resources.

The mayor also will highlight a reduction in the property tax rate, which he has passed every year since taking office. But the rollback is meaningless. It translates into a $1.25 annual savings for property with a $100,000 assessed value - that won't buy a Happy Meal.

Building it into the budget gives cover to conservative council members who have promised to reduce taxes and it avoids extensive debate at the table.

While the mayor supported the nominal tax decrease, he was raising fees elsewhere. White was counting on a trash fee, what the city called a "waste-reduction fee," that would guarantee money for some solid waste services, including recycling.

Council, however, nixed that plan, eliminating the creation of a dedicated fund and calling for public hearings should the city consider it in the future. It's not likely that it will.

The Metropolitan Organization came out against the fee, calling it regressive and dubbing it a de facto tax. Fees hurt poor people most, because everyone would pay the same cost and they affect those with the least ability to pay.

Council members, meanwhile, continue to acquiesce to the mayor, making few significant changes during the budget process, their one opportunity a year to influence the city's agenda. By the end of Wednesday, many members were tabling their amendments, rather than bringing them up for discussion.

While there is little wiggle room in a city budget, White has been in office long enough to make his own stamp on the city and budget.

White continues to play it safe. He went out of his way not to offend and to build consensus, which led to an unambitious budget. It lacks an overriding mission.

Part of that is because White, who is a micromanager, appears to be out of new ideas. His most significant policy initiative was Safe Clear, a mandatory towing ordinance, that went into effect more than two years ago.

White also lacks an organization. It's never been clear who he seeks input from or turns to for advice. What's becoming increasingly clear is that the mayor is so concerned with image, he's reluctant to take a risk - with the recent exception of his initiative to regulate out-of-city polluters. But he appears to be backing away from that, instead waiting on the Greater Houston Partnership to come up with a proposal.

This budget is merely a reflection of how he plans to campaign, as a tax cutter who has made public safety his top priority.


Campaign notebook

Mikal Watts, who is exploring a run for U.S. Senate, crept into state Rep. Rick Noriega's backyard Tuesday. Noriega is the only elected official among several Democrats considering a potential challenge to Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn.


During his daytrip to Houston, Watts, a San Antonio trial lawyer, hosted fundraisers and attempted to shore up support for his all-but-certain campaign.

"He appears to be doing all the right things," said Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who met with Watts. "I'm not ready to make a decision about his candidacy, but he's got a good grasp on the issues and he's done his homework on Harris County."

Watts' campaign was tight-lipped about who he met with, saying only that he had a "broad spectrum" of meetings. Watts, 39, has already pumped $3.8 million into his campaign, equal to Cornyn's cash on hand. Watts, who formed an exploratory committee earlier this month, donated $1.9 million to his exploratory committee and lent it another $1.9 million.

Another frequently mentioned candidate is former Comptroller John Sharp. Dallas lawyer Emil Reichstadt also is looking at running. Houston lawyer Barbara Ann Radnofsky, the 2006 Democratic Senate nominee against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, has not ruled out taking on Cornyn, but she is eyeing the attorney general's race in 2010.

Watts has until June 30 to raise money before campaign finance reports are due. It will be a reliable indicator of how viable his campaign is, even though he will have only had a month to tap contributors.

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