InsideOut At City Hall: Addressing Atrocities
What do Darfur, saving the River Oaks Theatre, and electrical devices have in common?
The City of Houston is doing its part to make sure it cuts any economic ties to Sudan, target of world condemnation for genocide in Darfur. I intend to ensure that this remains the case as long as the killing continues in Darfur.
The City Controller’s Office has reviewed the city’s $2.3 billion in investments and found none in foreign firms doing business with Sudan. But the city’s portfolio, governed by state law and city ordinance, is fairly limited in scope. I recently sent memos to the city’s three pension fund directors requesting that they, too, not invest in firms that conduct business in Sudan.
Many public and private entities across the country, including the president and the state of Texas, have taken similar steps. The difficulty lies in determining the “degrees of separation” (to quote a current parlor game) required for divestment. While U.S. companies cannot directly do business with Sudan, some invest heavily in foreign firms, particularly Chinese oil companies, that do.
Memos were sent to the Houston Municipal Employees Pension system, the Houston Police Officers’ Pension System, and the Houston Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Fund asking them to review their portfolios and divest of anything with ties to Sudan. I cannot compel these independent entities to act, but I hope they will join this effort.
I have also begun to research my personal investment portfolio and encourage you to do the same.
Lest we forget, City Council took an official stand in 1986 against apartheid in South Africa. As was the case in 1986, we have a responsibility to do what we can to end atrocities in Darfur.
As I write this, another sad chapter opens in the city’s multi-volume edition of “Demolished Historic Buildings.” A developer has started removing beautiful oaks on the west side of the historic River Oaks Shopping Center near Shepherd and West Gray.
A shiny, brand-new architecturally “compatible” structure will replace one of the city’s few remaining beautiful Art Deco structures. The work begins despite public outcry, 25,000 names on a petition, and city efforts to declare both the Rivers Oaks and Alabama Theater sites (which Bookstop occupies) historic landmarks and provide tax incentives for historic preservation. The developer’s plans for the theater sites themselves have not been officially announced, but preservationists know they have challenging work ahead. I confess a personal interest. When I was a girl my mother worked in a second-floor office in that center.
Allow me to belabor the obvious. Great cities preserve and honor their history, their buildings and homes, beauty, and diversity. Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston. What would they be without an abundance of historic buildings and homes?
Unlike those cities, Houston is relatively new, experiencing most of its growth since WWII. We celebrate change and the new. But shouldn’t we value even more those few remnants of our past? Houston has lost hundreds of beautiful old homes and historic structures since the city was founded in 1836. We cannot afford to lose one more.
City Controller’s Office auditors are currently studying the Houston Police Department’s use of tasers. We are working with experts at the University of Houston and Sam Houston State University to review every use of tasers since the department began widespread use in 2004.
The comprehensive performance audit will include both a statistical analysis of the composite data and a review of individual incidents, from initial dispatch through final departmental review. Results of the audit will be available for public review when completed.
Annise Parker is the second-term city controller and the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal official in any of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Her website is www.houstoncontroller.org. Parker’s television program, Money Matters, airs Monday on the Municipal Channel (Comcast) at 2 and 8 a.m. and 2 and 8 p.m. The City Controller’s webpage is www.houston tx.gov/controller/index.html. To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an email to [email protected].