Amid the swirl of politics and elections, the city’s work does get done
by Annise D. Parker
Few people are fortunate enough to be paid for doing work they love. I believe I have raised the City Controller’s Office a notch or two. The office has a long and proud tradition dating back to 1903 when it was established amid financial scandal to serve as a check and balance to the mayor’s power. Controllers were appointed until 1915 when voters decided to make it an elected office. Kathy Whitmire (elected mayor in 1981), George Greanias, Sylvia Garcia (now county commissioner), and Leonel Castillo all served the city with distinction as recent city controllers.
Some of the credit for my contributions, both as city controller and council member, belongs to my outstanding staff. Despite relatively low pay, most city employees serve the public extremely well and care about making Houston the best city in the United States.
Audits. As city controller, I am proudest of the 100+ audits we performed or oversaw. This is our bread and butter. These ranged from comprehensive performance audits, such as the Houston Emergency Center and the 311 service, to smaller audits of cash handling and petty cash in departments. The Emergency Center audit alone identified more than $6 million in potential annual savings and efficiencies.
Most Houstonians may think the city just keeps money in a savings account earning a little interest. Fortunately, my office includes an outstanding treasury division that makes very safe investments as required by state law and oversees the city’s large bond sales. Through wise investments and refinancing city debt, this division alone saved the city tens of millions of dollars while consistently earning the city a top AAAf credit quality rating for the city’s General Investment Pool.
During my watch, the city converted its massive financial system to SAP, the industry standard. It was a particular challenge in my department because staff was already working overtime to help manage finances for the massive housing program for thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. They rose to the occasion in true Houston spirit. We also converted to a paperless payroll system, saving taxpayers almost $1 million a year.
Bank on Houston. One of my proudest achievements as city controller would have to be Bank on Houston. Modeled after a successful San Francisco effort, the city worked with banks and credit unions to help low-income Houstonians move into the financial mainstream with free or low-cost bank accounts. More than 20,000 Houstonians now enjoy bank accounts and save hundreds of dollars a year in check-cashing and bill-paying fees.
Voters also approved Proposition 3, my proposal to give the controller’s office clear authority to conduct audits, including comprehensive performance audits, without seeking mayoral approval. The City Controller’s Office also won a seat on the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System Board of Trustees (HMEPS), the first time the controller has had any oversight of the pension system. Helping corral the city’s complicated $4 billion budget, debts, and investments as city controller has been a real pleasure, and I will miss it. Thank you for all the votes of confidence.
Houston, we do indeed have a great city, and it will only get better if we all work together.
A candidate for Houston’s mayor in the December 12 run-off election, Annise D. Parker is Houston’s third-term city controller and one of the highest-ranking openly LGBT-elected municipal officials in the U.S. Her webpage is AnniseParker.com. To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an e-mail to [email protected].