When Annise Parker took over the mayor’s office, she already had 12 years experience as city councilmember and controller. Still, she says her new job has brought new surprises and challenges. Right off the bat, she had to deal with proposed major cuts to NASA funding.
“And a lot of my time and energy had to be devoted to working with the local congressional delegation, which, united, did a great job, I must say. And a couple of trips to Washington to lobby for NASA funding.”
Not too long after that came the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and, with it, the moratorium on offshore drilling. Since the moratorium affected more than a dozen firms in Houston, Mayor Parker had to spend even more time in D.C. And then Continental Airlines announced its intentions to merge with United, and move its headquarters from Houston to Chicago.
“We immediately had to go into negotiation mode — ‘what do we keep?’ So those are the kinds of things that make the job interesting, though.”
Parker says having to confront issues that made national news didn’t distract her from local matters. She says one of her most significant accomplishments of the year was working with city council to raise water rates to better reflect how much it costs to have an adequate supply.
“I didn’t want to continue to spend general fund dollars, tax dollars, on something that should be an enterprise fund. So we passed a complete reform of our water/sewer system, and the rate structure — a lot of heavy lifting, a big piece of political work, and it will have impact for generations.”
Parker is also proud of the passage of Proposition 1. It establishes a water bill surcharge to repair streets and drainage systems. She says it’ll take the first half of 2011 to negotiate who will pay into the fund. She’s adamantly against exempting schools, churches, and other non-profit organizations.
“You start exempting, homeowners’ price shoots up. Because it’s a zero-sum game. The voters said you have to set a fee structure so it adds up to $125 million. My pledge to the taxpayers is to bring something that is neutral. You pay what you contribute to the flooding problem. But, it may not end up at the other end of the process once it goes through council.”
That battle could be a tough one, because Parker admits her relationship with some councilmembers isn’t what it could be.
“I’m very goal-oriented. I don’t schmooze. I’m not much on chit-chat. And I don’t tend to slow down to let other people catch up. And I have to do more of that.”
She recently appointed a director of council relations to improve communication between her and the council. And that will be essential in the coming year. Because she and the council will have to finalize a budget, redistrict the city, add two new councilmember seats, and start tackling the city’s pension system — which is underfunded by more than four billion dollars. And, on top of that, Mayor Parker will have to start campaigning for a second term in a few months