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Houston continues participation in diverse international development initiatives

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Houston City Council Member Jack Christie
Houston City Council Member Jack ChristieMarc Pembroke
Mayor Parker fields questions on Houston Fire Department Budget Feb 26 2014
Mayor Parker fields questions on Houston Fire Department Budget Feb 26 2014photo by Marc Pembroke

At the regular meeting of Houston City Council Wednesday Feb 26, Houston City Council moved forward on a wide range of international initiatives as well as domestic programs. Nothing on the agenda was controversial so there was no substantial debate, and only a few councilors raised questions for information purposes.

Most notably, the Houston Airport System will continue to participate as a member of the U.S. Travel Association for annual dues of $60,000 (item 1) and Airports Council International for annual dues f $145,000 (item 2). Both payments were made from the Enterprise Fund. Member airports network to share information on administrative matters, safety measures, and technological advances.

Houston's will be donating decommissioned Firefighting Bunker Gear equipment to its sister city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. (Item 3)

Locally, the City of Houston will purchase diesel firefighting vehicles at a cost of $1.718 million (item 10) Council Member Christie underscored the importance of changing the truck fleet to natural gas vehicles as soon as possible. The Parker administration also agrees with this policy, but the change requires building out adequate infrastructure, notably fueling stations, which involves an enormous cost. Several inquiries are under way, and Council Member Christie will sponsor a conference of regional public authorities and private sector providers in late March to discuss a possible public private partnerships approaches.

Finally, the council had to break a tie bid on proposals to provide telephone equipment. The traditional approach is to draw lots for each tied item. The city councilor sitting closest to the Secretary's right draws from an envelope in plain view of the public to assure that the process is open. In this case, since Council Member Costello was absent, Council Member Laster drew the lots. See items 48, Groups I and II.

Beyond the agenda items, several council members raised issues in the “pop off session” concerning new challenges in the city budget resulting from increased overtime and sick leave claims by Houston Firefighters. A number of sources have suggested that budget issues could lead to slower response times or other risks for public safety. The mayor and council members clarified questions.

Finances of the Fire Department also dominated the questions at the Mayor's Press Conference. Again the Mayor insisted that there are no immediate risks or compromises of public safety. Nevertheless, current negotiations with the Firefighters union for a new collective bargaining agreement and efforts to establish better rules to meet and confer with the Firefighters pension fund must be addressed to avoid more serious problems in future years.