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Council reappoints Metro's Garcia, approves Susman actuarial malpractice suit

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Metro Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia and Board member Diann Lewter listen as Council Member Bad Bradford levels criticism at Houston City Council July 16 2014
Metro Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia and Board member Diann Lewter listen as Council Member Bad Bradford levels criticism at Houston City Council July 16 2014
Marc Pembroke
Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia and member Diann Lewter July 16 2014
Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia and member Diann Lewter July 16 2014
photo by Marc Pembroke

On Wednesday July 16, Houston City Council had a relatively short meeting with nearly unanimous votes on all issues. Mayor Parker made a brief report on the humanitarian crisis of children crossing the Mexican border. She stated that the federal policy is to relocate the children in facilities designed for that purpose, and since none are available in Houston, none of the new arrivals will be moved here.

The Council appointed members of the Boards of Directors of the Brays Oaks Management District, the Independent Police Oversight Board, the Metropolitan Transit Authority Board, the Midtown Development Authority, and the Miller Theatre Advisory Board. While all appointees were approved, Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia was sternly criticized by Council Member Brad Bradford for failing to meet with him on one occasion in November and for declining to meet with two branches of a large civic association. But other council members praised Garcia and the work of Metro under Garcia's leadership, and even Bradford joined in voting to confirm.

The Council voted on 30 routine matters including accepting work for completed projects, approving future contracts, hearing a presentation on Parks and Recreation standards of care for youth programs, and rescinding the historical designation of a church. Section 6-5 of the Code of Ordinances was amended to designate the City of Houston as Caretaker for animals received at B.A.R.C immediately upon intake. The change was necessary because of an amendment of Section 573.20 of the Texas Administrative Code governing veterinarian practices. Only the designated caretaker to administer vaccinations and other treatment. Without the change, new animals received at B.A.R.C would have to wait 3 days before being treated, which could result in spreading infections and other diseases.

The longest debate of the day concerned an agreement for $970,000 to retain Susman Godfrey, LLP, as council for an actuarial malpractice suit against Towers, Watson & Co. (f/n/a) Towers Perrin Associated. Towers Watson was the firm that advised the City of Houston on the Houston Fire Department's Relief and Retirement Fund years ago under the Brown administration. The firm underestimated the city's cost of the fund by more than half, resulting in higher payments of $100-$150 million. While the Council agreed with City Attorney Feldman's view that Susman Godfrey is the best qualified firm for the work, some, including Council Members Bradford, Green, and Davis, insisted that there should have been more assurances of participation n the litigation by local minority firms. However, Mr. Feldman explained that the Susman firm has had an exemplary record of hiring minorities. On the other hand, actuarial malpractice is a highly specialized area of law which occurs only under limited circumstances. All of the recent cases have dealt with public pension funds, and the Susman firm successfully pursued a well-publicized case in Milwaukee. As with other professional service contracts, it is not clear how divisible the work will be or to what extend local firms will be need to be subcontracted. The contract was approved with only Council member Davis voting “no.”

Mayor Parker started her press conference with an update on the new policy on the sale of properties seized for delinquent taxes called “strike-offs” as well as further remarks on immigration and issues arising from Council actions.