“The job of Houston Mayor is complex. The City of Houston is a $5 billion corporation with 20,000 employees and we affect the lives of 2.2 million Houstonians in addition to several more million people every day in the greater Houston area.” Those were the opening words of Mayor Annise Parker to more than 100 participants attending the first of a series of mayoral candidate forums hosted by Lone Star College-Kingwood’s Center for Civic Engagement September 4. Parker spoke and answered questions for over an hour and a half and then remained in the area for individual discussions with those who wanted to speak with her directly. In her initial remarks, Parker described the Houston Mayor position, her accomplishments and what her priorities will be going forward, if reelected. “It is the strongest of the ‘strong mayor’ positions in the country, which means that when you think the city is going in the right direction, I get the credit, and when you think it is going in the wrong direction, I deserve the blame,” she said. Parker explained the mayor must always be looking at the big picture while at the same time being deeply involved in the day-to-day running of a very big organization. She pointed out with pride that when Houston faced the need for raising revenues, the voters supported her, even in the midst of a recession. “Houston passed tax increases because they knew we needed them,” she said. Parker said that one of the biggest issues that must be better addressed is homelessness in Houston. “We have reduced it by 25 percent but it has been reduced disproportionately among veterans. Last year from May to May we reduced the number by more than 500. For the first time we are really making progress, but there are still 8,500 homeless and 2,500 of them are chronically homeless. I absolutely believe we can reduce that number substantially over the next two years, ” Parker said. Another pressing issue, according to Parker, is how to better handle Houston’s incarceration requirements at the downtown Harris County Jail. She explained that Houston is the last big city in Texas to have a jail. Jails are usually handled as a county-only function. She noted that the November election will include a proposed bond issue by Harris County, which has been working closely with the City of Houston, to build a new processing center to greatly improve the handling of prisoners from the City of Houston. That project, combined with a reduction of up 10,000 prisoners a year jailed for public intoxication who will be processed through Houston’s Center for Sobriety, will result in real improvements to the Harris County Jail operation.   Parker also raised the issue that Houston is now a major human trafficking center and must be more aggressively addressed. “Some of it is the sex trade, some is trafficking in human labor, but it is all really modern-day slavery,” she said as she explained that Senator [John] Cornyn is introducing federal legislation to better track and prosecute the people doing the trafficking and that the city is getting involved. “Today we announced September is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. As a city we are coming together on Tuesday, September 24th, with multiple events. Your own Diane Trautman, on the Harris County Board of Education, is going to have her event at 6:30 p.m. at the May Center on Wolf Road in Huffman,” said Parker. Following her presentation, Parker addressed a wide range of questions from the audience about everything from the city’s position on income inequality, public transportation and corporate tax breaks to the ability to control guns among protestors at demonstrations and downtown parking management. When asked about whether Houston could get more involved in using renewable energy, Parker responded, “I am ashamed that we have not been better at making sure you know this, but Houston is now the largest municipal purchaser of renewable energy in America.” She went on to explain that wind energy is the primary renewable energy purchased but that 50 percent of the total energy Houston now uses is renewable, including the natural gas powered Park & Ride fleets at the airports. Cutline: Houston Mayor Annise Parker speaks to attendees at Lone Star College - Kingwood’s first mayoral candidate forum. Photo by Bruce Olson

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