Prioritizing Houston’s Public Safety

Two events have shaken the nation this past week. The events were different in nature, and while the causes might take a while yet to uncover, the underlying reminders could not be more glaring.

Boston, Massachusetts and West, Texas saw mayhem unfold, unexpectedly and quickly. In both instances, first responders played huge roles in aiding the wounded, the shaken and the scared. It also appears that some first responders did not escape harms way, for those brave souls we offer our thanks along with our prayers.

These facts cannot be lost on those of us in Houston. We are the nation’s fourth largest city. We are a city worthy of world class police and fire departments. This is not to say we do not have world class policemen and fire fighters right now, but we should have the highest of aspirations for these forces, and we should look to always maintain top status. Houston is a growing city, we have more and more people moving into the same geographic region on a daily basis. You do not have to spend much time on the roadways of Houston to know this is true. Safe, protected communities are good for the economy and good for future growth.

As Houston transitions from the fourth largest city to possibly the third, Houston must be prepared for the future. We must always make sure that we have plenty of personnel on the front lines ready to respond. We must insure that our front line public servants have the equipment and training they need to deliver the best possible results.

In tough times, we have to watch budgets and control spending. In tough times, pet projects should take a back seat to the most important functions of local, city government. We must prioritize the items before the city council; while the Mayor spent time making sure homeless people were not being fed by citizens, reducing spending was not on the agenda. While the council was implementing a new unconstitutional pole tax on local business patrons, they were cutting city revenue by hindering local business owners.

The events this week should remind us that we must make our best efforts to increase public safety and protect our community, because . . . .COMMUNITY COMES FIRST.

A Distraction is a Distraction is a Distraction

They are at it again. The Mayor has declared that she wants Houston to be the first major city to ban Texting while Driving.  Mayor Parker has declared that if the State fails to pass legislation, then she will take it into her own hands, and that of City Council.  Now before I rant about why this is just plain wrong, I want to make sure that the seriousness of the issue doesn’t get lost or that what I say doesn’t come across as insensitive.  As the recent Houston Chronicle article noted, 13% of 3,000 traffic fatalities could be blamed on texting while driving. That is roughly about 390 traffic fatalities that were preventable, but what about the other eighty-seven percent?

The strong and long arm of our city government again wants to turn an issue into a muscle match to dictate what and how you live your life.  If you remember last year, I was one of the biggest opponents of the feeding ordinance that made it illegal to feed more than 5 homeless people at a time on public property without first getting the  Mayor’s permission.  Many were confused why anyone would be opposed to the “coordination of feeding efforts,” but that was not the main source of the opposition.  It is about the local government going too far.  It is simple to say you should get permission from the City to feed people on Public property, but when will the “needing permission” stop?  If there were a rash of children getting hurt on public playgrounds, would the City then start requiring that prior to you playing on the Public playground you must first sign a waiver of liability and proof of insurance and file it with the Mayor’s Office?  Requiring individuals to get permission to use public property for feeding sets us up for this type of nonsense going forward all in the name of “Public Safety.”

Now the Mayor wants to use the same Public Safety cloak to again be everyone’s parent because you cannot care for yourself and you need her to save you. Making it illegal to text while driving is a bad idea for numerous reasons and City Council should not vote to support such a proposition.

The first reason is because making it illegal will not solve the problem of texting while driving, it will only increase revenue to the city for violators much like speeding does.  Getting a ticket is not a deterrent for individuals that speed, it only becomes a thought when an officer is within your purview.  The same will apply to the new proposed texting ban.  Second, under the color of law, all law must be applied equally and all protections applied equally.  So if it is illegal for an electronic apparatus to be used while driving, then that would mean that HPD could no longer search their in-car computers while driving as well. I don’t think the City or HPD is ready to make that move, so the texting ban must stand down as well.

The last, and most important reason, this proposed ban must fail is because like the feeding ordinance, once we let Big Sister regulate what we do while we are driving, then there  is no limit to where she will stop.  Texting while driving is a distraction, but so is eating a Whataburger with bacon, jalapeños and cheese while drinking a 44 oz. Dr. Pepper. If we make it illegal to perform one distraction, shouldn’t we ban all distractions, including changing the radio station, which in one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents or arguing with a co-rider, which is also in the top causes of motor vehicle accidents?

It is absurd to think that the local government can ban these types of things while we are driving, but if we allow the Mayor and City Council to pass an ordinance making it illegal to text while driving, then we are opening the door to allow them to ban anything that can distract us while driving.  A distraction is a distraction regardless of what it is, and we need to take ownership of our own actions and behaviors while we operate a motor vehicle. There are already laws on the books that allow for a citation for the unsafe operation of a motor vehicle as well as reckless driving. If a peace officer feels so inclined to pull someone over for erratic driving because of a distraction in their vehicle, then let them do so, but we do not need additional laws enacted as a money grab cloaked in public safety.

As technology advances, so will cars and mobile carriers to sync with each other to allow the safe operation of both. Let’s encourage these two industries to find a solution quicker rather than later to address the root cause and solve a problem, not profit from a sensitive subject.  When families get involved in the process and have an impact on business development that provides for true public safety, then that is when the community really thrives, and in my eyes . . . COMMUNITY COMES FIRST!

Unconstitutional Houston Poll Tax No Longer Needed

On June 29, 2012, Houston City Council took a bold step in infringing upon local businesses right to operate without being harassed, when they approved a $5-per-customer fee on strip clubs so the City could buy speedier lab work to end the crisis in the crime lab of the backlog of rape kits.  This week, Mayor Parker announced that a new plan has been created to end the backlog of untested rape kits that will have the crime lab operating without a backlog anywhere from 12-14 months.

This plan includes outsourcing the lab work to two outside labs that have extensive experience in reducing and eliminating backlog testing.  Whether these two companies are “Hire Houston First” worthy is a discussion for another day, but I will applaud the Mayor for making this move for a few reasons.

First and foremost, because rape victims and accusers will no longer have to wait an unreasonable amount of time for the justice system to provide results and give some certainty to their lives.  Second, the unconstitutional Poll Tax that was levied on strip clubs should now become obsolete and thus Council should repeal their June 2012 action so as not to continue to burden and harass an industry, where there were never any studies or data that showed a correlation between strip club patrons or strip clubs and rape.

This is not a “free the strip clubs” argument, but a pure business argument.  Houston is quickly becoming a sore spot and last resort location for the hospitality industry and the increasing taxes and fees on local businesses is the main reason.  Singling out this small community within the industry was a witch hunt from the beginning, and now that the funds to be used for the testing of the backlog kits are coming from grants that were funneled into the General Fund, there is no need for this pointless Poll Tax.  When asked whether or not the City would stop collecting the fee, there was not an affirmative answer, which is troublesome.  We cannot continue to allow legal businesses to take the brunt of an abusive tax and fee structure mandated by the City of Houston. Whether you support or oppose strip clubs or that industry, right is right and allowing local businesses to grow and prosper within the city is something that we must allow if we want to attract the business and entrepreneurial community to come racing back into the city instead remaining in the periphery of the city limits.

I look forward to seeing how this turns out both at the Council level as well as the Lawsuit level, as the City no longer has a reasonable or rational basis to implement and collect on the strip club fee.  Let’s give support to our local businesses and give them a chance to succeed by not allowing our Council to continue to burden them with excessive taxes and fees that have nothing to do with the safety of our community. Houston’s growth will not survive this type of regression, so let’s push forward with progress, because that is what will develop our neighborhoods, our roads, our communities and in my eyes. . . COMMUNITY COMES FIRST!