Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Anne Clutterbuck - Houston City Council Speaks Up

Today, the City of Houston is feeling the consequences, well-intentioned at the time, of former Mayor Lanier. Before Mayor Parker, and Mayor White, and Mayor Brown, Mayor Lanier had a very serious crime problem in the city. His solution was to offer quite generous contracts for Police and Fire Department union members. Council member Anne Clutterbuck, District C, is thick into the weeds of the Houston city budget, with those very contracts causing havoc with the $4 billion dollar budget. Long term contracts limit ways to cut the budget.

A Houston fire fighter or police officer can retire after 20 years - sometimes as young as 40 years old - and is able to defer his or her retirement pension until regular retirement age, as a younger person would likely go into a second career. Some retirees can see up to 225% of their salary in retirement annually.

Houston has three unions to negotiate with for contract benefits. Some cities have lots more - like Chicago, with 67 unions for city employees. The problem is that the unions don't talk to each other and negotiations are separate. In order to solve the union contract problems now facing the city, the city has to go to the state legislature. Archaic but true. Currently there is not one member of the Houston delegation in the State House or Senate willing to sponsor that bill. Not one.

So, where are the newly elected GOP members swept in by Tea Party voters? Anyone?

Houston does have a AAA bond rating, which is a high rating that allows interest on debt to be lower. Clutterbuck sees a lack of focus on the budget in the mayor's office.

Anne Clutterbuck was mayor pro tem, a mostly ceremonial title, until she resigned. She no longer wanted that designation as it caused immediate and constant attacks on her from those in the mayor's office fearing her as a potential candidate for mayor herself.

Two important positions remain empty with no sight of filling them - that of the Finance Director and the Agenda Director. Long time Agenda Director and city hall legend Marty Stein resigned in January and her work was critical in keeping city council organized and functioning properly. Clutterbuck credits the mayor's leadership style of heavy delegation as a hindrance when staff lets personal agendas get in the way of operations.

Clutterbuck told an interesting personal story as it relates to serving on city council as a white female Republican. The only one currently serving, she was a target for the ACLU in a lawsuit. Though the city council always begins meetings with a prayer spoken by rotating members, the ACLU saw fit to only sue her. She declined the offer by the city for use of city attorneys - she is an attorney herself - and was represented by the Liberty Institute. The case went to federal court and Clutterbuck won. The federal court ratified the ability of city council to open with a prayer.

City council races are suppose to be non-partisan, but it soon becomes clear to the observer which party the candidate represents. Republicans are clearly outnumbered. Republican women in Houston are well represented by Anne Clutterbuck.

2 comments:

Kevin Whited said...

** In order to solve the union contract problems now facing the city, the city has to go to the state legislature. Archaic but true. Currently there is not one member of the Houston delegation in the State House or Senate willing to sponsor that bill. Not one. **

Perhaps I'm wrong, but it's my understanding that the legislature has largely been a rubberstamp over the years for any deal presented by municipalities and unions for their pensions.

Of course it's true that no state legislator is going to step in and try to take something away from a union when both sides agreed to the current deals (which, again, shines light on Lee Brown's dubious legacy -- he was not a good advocate for taxpayers in his deals with the unions), and I don't blame any legislator for that. That's never the way it's been done to my understanding.

The city, of course, would like leverage to renegotiate some of its bad deals, and it doesn't have great leverage right now, so I'm sure Mayor Parker would LOVE for some state legislator to stick his neck out, but that's not going to happen.

Maybe a referendum could give the city more leverage. Or perhaps a constitutional amendment as simple as requiring defined contribution plans (instead of the current defined benefit plans) moving forward.

Karen said...

Kevin,
Yeah. Good points, all. Clutterbuck said she sees the foundation being laid in the legisture now but no one is willing to act, maybe not now but maybe in next session. She was in full recognition that elected officials don't want to buck the unions or get in the fight with public service heroes.