“I’m having a great time as mayor,” said Annise Parker last week when she spoke to the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce. “I think we live in a great city,” she said, “but we just don’t brag enough.” Parker is the mayor of Houston and stated that Houston’s lack of a reputation to match its bountiful amenities was painful on a recent rip to New York City where she met with and was interviewed by dozens of journalists who knew little of Houston except that it is hot. “I was frustrated. These are opinion makers and many of them think we are a backwater city. We have a lot of big businesses here and are practically dominated with entrepreneurs.” As mayor for the last nine months, Parker has had her share of challenges: controversy in the Houston Fire Department which resulted in the resignation of the chief and naming of his replacement, the search for a new police chief and tight economic times. The City of Houston has had to adjust to the effects of the recession, decreased revenue and increased costs; the revenue shortfall is attributed mainly to lower sales tax revenues and downward adjusted property values. After her election, in January 2010, she promised to focus on the budget and she says she has lived up to that promise. In July, the City Council approved a $4.12 billion city budget; Parker described it as “austere” while speaking. She pointed out that it is $124 million below the budget for the previous year and represents the lowest spending plan since 2008. “I passed this budget without having to furlough or lay off any employees. I came from the controller’s office with a list of things I wanted to work on,” she said. Parker served as a Houston City council member for six years and then as Houston City Controller for six years before becoming mayor. Parker delineated four areas of strength for Houston’s economy: the oil and gas industry, the Port of Houston, the Texas Medical Center and NASA and the aerospace industry. “Those four sectors are linked to the world economy. Because of the great strength here, Houston was one of the last into the recession and one of the first out of it,” she said. Parker said she is against the offshore moratorium and that it costs the local oil and gas businesses more than $1 million a day. The big companies can weather the losses but the medium-sized and independent companies cannot, Parker said. The merger of Houston-based Continental Airlines with Chicago-based United Airlines does not seem to worry her much. “I think we will lose some top administrative positions but once we get the CEOs and their egos out of the room and let the accountants in, I think Houston and our economy will be very appealing. Our cost of living is a lot less than in Chicago plus we have room for commercial, cargo and passenger expansion and O’Hare doesn’t,” she said. Parker took a few questions from the audience. The water rates that were raised in April was due to several problems, she explained. “We were taking in $100 million less in revenue than costs. We had to balance that.” She also said there is an escalating clause in the new ordinance that will allow the city to raise the rates annually if needed. Houston is one of the only major US cities without a recycling program, a fact that Parker attributes to the low cost of land for garbage facilities and that there is no financial incentive to recycle. “I am an avid, and even a bit nutty, recycler. A program is coming,” she said. She spoke of the upcoming November election. While no one is on the ballot in November in a city race, Houstonians will be asked to vote on several propositions. Prop. 1 will ask voters to pass a drainage fee. “There is no other way to pay for drainage and Houston floods. Currently, we have to pump all the water our. We have a comprehensive drainage plan for the voters,” she said. Prop. 2 addresses an expansion of the City Council, adding two new seats. Each current district must give up 60,000 voters and the city will be redistricted for the first time in years. Prop. 3 is a citizen initiative dealing with red light cameras. Parker says she favors using more red light cameras as they are vastly less expensive when compared to using police officers. “I think we need more [cameras],” she gleefully said. The mayor may be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling her office at 713-837-0311.

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