Houston Mayor

Why You Should Care About The Houston City Controller’s Race

Houston’s City Controller serves as an independent watchdog over the city’s finances.

Chris Brown and Bill Frazer photos
Chris Brown and Bill Frazer. (Both photos are from their campaigns)

Turns out the city controller is the second most powerful position in Houston’s government. But in recent years the role of city controller has taken a quiet back seat to the administration.

Rice University’s Mark Jones says that’s because of who is currently in office.

“Ronald Green, the occupant of the position of controller for the past six years, has, at least for the past four to five years, been largely silent in part due to some personal, legal and public relations difficulties he’s experienced,” said Jones, who is a fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute.

But Jones says with a new controller coming in, there’s an opportunity for the position to regain its prominence as an independent watchdog over the city’s finances. 

University of Houston Political Science Professor Richard Murray agrees.

“They don’t have executive power, that’s hugely concentrated in the office of the mayor that controls the city agenda, makes up the budget. But they have the sort of negative power of being able to review how the city is being run, how money is being spent. And sometimes they emerge as a very clear critic of the administration,” said Murray.

The controller can also perform audits and even block the certification of funds for the city budget. 

And the position can be a stepping stone to higher office. Sylvia Garcia went from controller to Harris County Commissioner, and then on to the state Senate. Kathy Whitmire and Annise Parker both used the position to become mayor. And Jones says the race for controller comes at a particularly critical time for Houston.

“City finances are at the forefront of the debate over Houston’s future, be it the revenue cap, the rain tax, or the pension crisis. Therefore the controller will play an extra and prominent role during the next few years in terms of helping the city sort out in which direction it’s going to go in all three of those issues,” Jones said.

The two candidates in the run-off are Chris Brown and Bill Frazer

Brown has worked for the city for eleven years, and is currently the chief deputy controller. Frazer is a longtime accountant who came close to beating incumbent Ron Green two years ago.

The run-off election is December 12th.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Newscaster

Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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