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Volume 22


Issue Number 1


Newsletter published for City of Houston employees

Life-saving success

BARC reaches historic live release rate

Around the City . . . . . Page 2 - 15 Extra Milers . . . . . . Page 6 Hats Off . . . . . . . . . . Page 7 Houston Heritage . . . . . . . Page 12 Day on the Job . . . . . Page 13


Bit of Fun . . . . . . . . . . Page 16

More than skin deep

Angels in the Terminals

Prison Break Tattoos has become a popular destination for first responders who want a permanent reminder of their public service pride.

Spend a day on the job with Ella Ghica and the airport volunteers who offer personal attention to 50 million travelers.

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Photos courtesy of BARC and Elise Marrion

BARC’s 90-for-90 initiative saves thousands of animals By Elise Rambaud Marrion

Twas the week before Christmas, And BARC was bursting at the seams. More than 630 animals were stirring, So staff and volunteers rallied the teams. The kennels were full, Facilities beyond capacity, But 400 animals were adopted Through hard work and tenacity. This heartwarming holiday story stamped the weekend of Dec. 15-18 as one for the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care record books. What could have been an overcrowding crisis turned into a happy ending for the 400 animals adopted in just four days. Rows of empty cages and smiling staff represented a hard-won victory, but it was just one part of BARC’s three-month historic “90-for-90” achievement. Over the course of 90 days, BARC took in an average of 98 animals per day, and still managed to reach a 91.5 percent cumulative live release rate. The live release rate is the percentage of animals placed into homes and safe environments. That includes adoptions, animals returned to owners, transfers to rescue organizations, and trap, neuter and release programs. “This incredible achievement is all thanks to the staff, volunteers, rescue partners, donors and supporters across the community that united to help make this dream a reality,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Following the successful effort to reach a 90-percent live release rate in November 2015, BARC decided to take an even bigger leap in 2016 by pushing the envelope and expanding the time frame from

one month to three. They took the challenge and it paid off. What a great accomplishment for BARC and for the City of Houston as a whole.” BARC Deputy Assistant Director Ashtyn Rivet attributes the success to improved adoption efforts and facilities, increasing off-site adoption events, building relationships with rescue organizations and volunteers, increased sponsorships, and raising visibility on social media and in the community. “These initiatives have built a lot of momentum and support from the Houston community,” Rivet said. “You can see the positive trajectory on our annual live release. We finished 2016 with an 80.4 percent live release rate, compared to 74 in 2015, 63 percent in 2014 and 51 percent in 2013.” Essential to that equation are the BARC employees, Rivet said. “We have built a team of BARC employees who truly care about what they’re doing, who come to work with saving animals as their top priority,” she said. “When we went into crisis mode before Christmas, our employees didn’t blink an eye. They stepped up, ready to do whatever it took to make sure those animals got into forever homes,” Rivet said.

“Our customer service representatives would stay late to complete adoptions. Our animal care technicians were cleaning far more than a normal day would require. Our outreach employees were sending out emails, calls, social media, doing everything they could to network our animals,” she said. “Animal enforcement officers did their part to make sure we got the number of animals down to a manageable amount. Every single BARC employee was working on all cylinders, and our volunteers came out in droves to help.” Christina Stowe, shown at left, is an animal care technician at the Adoption Center. “We are always are working hard to do our best, but the 90-for-90 program was a source of extra motivation. It gave us a concrete number to work towards, something to picture. It was a really ambitious goal, but I was impressed with the plan BARC had in place,” Stowe said. “When there are that many animals and visitors coming in and out of the shelter, I learned a lot about how

to keep the animals happy and reduce stress during period of high activity. For those animals, we try to spend extra time, give extra treats, give more enrichment, creative quiet space, or even cover the kennel with blankets for a short period of time,” Stowe said. Rivet said BARC will sustain the 90-for-90 momentum and work toward a sustainable model for maintaining high live release rates. Sponsorships and donations make reaching that goal easier. Thanks to financial support from City Council members Karla Cisneros, Steve Le and Brenda Stardig, BARC now has a second mobile adoption trailer. The average cost to prepare an animal for adoption is about $120, but a sponsorship from Proler Southwest/Sims Metal Management will enable BARC to continue year-round specials like $5 adoptions on Waggy Wednesdays. “The success of 90-for-90 really taught us what it takes to achieve such a challenging goal,” Rivet said. “We’re going to take those things and continue to expand programs that are working, such as offsite adoption events, adoption specials, maintaining and building rescue partnerships. “We’re doing all these live release programs, but we are also trying to reduce the number of animals coming in,” she said. “We’ve ramped up our spay and neuter programs. It’s the longterm solution to reduce the number of homeless pets in Houston. We’re always looking for opportunities to provide more services and resources to Houstonians to become responsible pet owners.”

A look at the 90-for-90 numbers, November 2016–January 2017: Total intake of animals: 6,096 Adoptions: 2,743 Transfer to rescue organizations: 2,113 Stray cats trapped, neutered and released: 434 Lost pets returned to owner: 240 Animals placed with foster homes: 809 Monthly live release rate: November: 91.1 percent December: 92 percent January: 91.3 percent Annual live release rates: 2013: 51 percent 2014: 63 percent 2015: 74 percent 2016: 80.4 percent

City employees are eligible for a 30 percent discount on BARC adoptions and pet wellness services.

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BARC employees celebrate empty kennels after adopting 400 animals in one December weekend. The mobile adoption trailer helped BARC meet their goal by increase offsite adoptions events.



Meet your newly appointed department leaders Art Acevedo

Chief, Houston Police Department Art Acevedo was sworn in as chief of the Houston Police Department (HPD) on Nov. 30, 2016. Acevedo leads a department of 5,200 sworn law enforcement officers and 1,200 civilian support personnel with an annual general fund budget of $825 million. The first Hispanic man to lead HPD, Acevedo brings a unique understanding to the concerns of the diverse communities in the City of Houston. Born in Cuba, he was 4 years old when he migrated to the United States with his family in 1968. Acevedo believes good communication is vital for a successful community and steadily works to strengthen the bond between the community and its police department. A proponent of community policing, Chief Acevedo refers to the proven practice as “relational policing,” an opportunity to forge a relationship with each resident an officer comes in contact with. Acevedo grew up in California and earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of La Verne in California. Acevedo began his law enforcement career in 1986 as field patrol officer in East Los Angeles with the California Highway Patrol. He rose through the ranks and was named Chief of the California Highway Patrol in 2005. Acevedo most recently served nine years as Chief of the Austin Police Department.

Lisa Kent

Chief Information Officer, Houston Information Technology Services Lisa Kent was appointed as the city’s chief information officer on Oct. 5, 2016, after serving as interim CIO since August 2016. Kent formerly served as chief technology officer/deputy director for the Houston Airport System. In her current role, Kent supervises a team of 215 employees who develop and support the technology the city uses to communicate with the public, including the city website. In her role at the Houston Airport System, Kent installed what was recognized at the time as the second fastest airport Wi-Fi in the nation. She was a finalist for the 2013 Information Technology Leadership Award for technological advancement. Kent obtained $17 million in federal funding for the Transportation Security Administration Advanced Surveillance Program. She managed an $18 million technology budget and oversaw technology to support $3 billion capital improvement program. Kent has held previous positions with St. Luke’s Hospital, Harris County Hospital District, Nissan North America Inc., and Nortel/Bell Northern Research, Inc. She has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee.

Judge Elaine Marshall, Presiding Judge and Director, Municipal Courts Department

Judge Elaine Marshall was appointed as Presiding Judge of the Municipal Courts Department on Dec. 7, 2016. She was first appointed a municipal court judge in 1987. She served as an associate presiding judge in 2014. Before to joining city government, Marshall served as an adjunct professor of law at Texas Southern University and as an assistant Harris County district attorney. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and earned a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Texas at Austin.

Tom McCasland

Director, Housing and Community Development Department Before working for the City of Houston, Tom McCasland served as the CEO of Harris County Housing Authority. In this role he implemented policies to ensure transparency and public accountability, and her also resolved multiple federal investigations related to waste, fraud and abuse that preceded his tenure. His efforts ultimately guided the housing authority back from the brink of bankruptcy, reducing operating expenses by nearly 50 percent, improved services to clients, and increasing salaries for the housing authority’s lowest paid employees. He maximized limited taxpayer dollars by prioritizing affordable housing funds for Harris County’s neediest residents such as homeless schoolchildren, homeless veterans and seniors living in poverty. McCasland worked with the Houston Parks Board on successful legislation, funding mechanisms and grant applications related to a $500 million expansion of linear parks and trails along Harris County’s 10 major bayous. He previously served as the director of research for the gubernatorial campaign of former Houston Mayor Bill White and provided general counsel services to local government entities while practicing law at the Vinson & Elkins law firm. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Hobe Sound Bible College, a master’s degree from Baylor University and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Yale Law School.

Samuel Peña

Chief, Houston Fire Department Samuel Peña was sworn into office on Dec. 19, 2016. Peña has been a member of the American Fire Service for 22 years. He was chosen as Fire Chief for his extensive experience in both medical and firefighting fields. He began his career as a firefighter with the El Paso Fire Department in 1994. He rose through the ranks serving as a paramedic, media spokesman, advanced medical coordinator, a member of the Combined Search and Rescue Team, Hazardous Materials & Special Rescue Task Force, and served as the training chief for the El Paso Fire Academy. Peña has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Texas at El Paso. A veteran, Peña served four years as an air-control specialist with the U.S. Air Force.

Karun Sreerama

Director, Public Works and Engineering The Houston City Council confirmed Karun Sreerama as the Director of the Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering on April 3. Sreerama is a 28-year veteran engineer who has extensive experience managing multi-million dollar capital projects across the U.S. and abroad. He is a registered professional engineer and holds a doctorate in civil engineering as well as a master’s degree in business administration. Sreerama comes to the city from ESPA Corporation where he served as president and CEO. Under his leadership, the firm secured contracts with the Harris County Hospital District, Harris County Toll Road Authority, the City of Houston, Pearland, Missouri City, Rice University, the University of Houston, Houston Independent School District, Aldine Independent School District and the Texas Department of Transportation. Before joining ESPA, Sreerama was senior vice president and chief engineer for Professional Service Industries Inc.

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Two hazards, one solution: City crews attack illegal dumpsites and mosquito havens it only takes a bottle cap of water for mosquitoes to breed, imagine what could happen in the standing water collected inside 40,000 illegally dumped tires. Mosquitoes are an inevitable part of the Houston ecosystem, and in certain parts of town, illegal dumping has become part of the landscape. Combine that with a wet spring and summer, and you have ideal mosquito breeding conditions. As of January 2017, the 36 confirmed cases of Zika in Harris County were contracted internationally, but Mayor Sylvester Turner said local transmission is a real possibility in Houston. The city invested time and resources into a single solution that prevents both the spread of Zika and attacks illegal dumping simultaneously. Mayor Turner and the Solid Waste Department launched a series of weekend heavy trash sweeps to clean up dumpsites in districts A, B, D, H, I and K in the spring of 2016. Since then, crews have collected an estimated 40,000 tires and 5,000 tons of debris, according to the Solid Waste Management Department. “Crews were out every weekend removing tires and other junk dumped in our neighborhoods,” Turner said. “We’ve been lucky that we have not seen any Zika infections due to local transmission. However, I believe it is a just a matter of time.” City Savvy and City Council Member Karla Cisneros spent a Saturday

More than an eyesore, illegal dumping is a safety, health and environmental hazard. According to the Environmental Protection Agency:

Health hazards:

By Elise Rambaud Marrion


Hazards of illegal dumping:

morning back in October, visiting illegal dumpsites in District H. “District H is one of the hotspots for illegal dumping,” Cisneros said. “We have a large number of tire shops and a large number of illegal dumpsites. I have a heat map in my office that shows the problem, and it looks like the scan of a heart attack. You can see the intense colors, and the frequency and number of sites. “Mayor Turner and City Council are very committed to do what we can to address Zika,” Cisneros said. “We know illegally dumped tires are a big part of the problem, and Mayor Turner has departments looking at everything we can do address it.” Cisneros said low-income areas are a target for illegal dumping and are at a greater risk for Zika exposure. “It’s obvious that we see a lot of dumpsites in lowincome areas, but unfortunately, a lot of homes and apartments in proximity to dumpsites may not have air conditioning, proper weather stripping, insulation, window screens or the common ways to keep mosquitoes out of your home. People may not have the resources to protect themselves,” Cisneros said.

Source of the problem Illegal dumping is nothing new in Houston, and it’s usually no accident, says SWM Deputy Assistant Director Derek Mebane. “Occasionally, people are just putting heavy trash out for pickup on the wrong day. Most of the time, they know it’s illegal and they just don’t care,” Mebane said. “And once one person dumps trash on a particular site, others will follow.” Both Mebane and Cisneros said the motivation for illegal dumping ranges from avoiding fees and documentation for proper disposal, to simply not wanting to follow the rules or go to a neighborhood depository during business hours. “Despite all the ways the city offers to recycle and dispose of trash legally, illegal dumping is often the worst near the neighborhood depositories. It’s like they get halfway there, and decide they’ve gone far enough. Many of the dumpers do so within three miles of their own home,” Cisneros said. “There seems to be a culture of acceptance. When you live on


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Mosquitoes can multiply 100 times faster than normal in the warm, stagnant water inside tire casings. Mosquitoes can spread severe illness including Zika virus, malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and more. Exposed garbage is a habitat for rodents, insects and snakes. Hantavirus is spread through contact with rodent urine and droppings. Dumpsites are easily accessible to children, who can be bitten by snakes and animals, injured by sharp, rusty objects or even trapped inside abandoned appliances such as refrigerators or dryers.

Environmental hazards: Fire: Dumpsites are prone to fire from spilled combustible chemicals, paper products and tires, which are difficult to extinguish. Flooding: Illegal dumping blocks ravines, creeks, culverts and drainage basins, restricting the flow of storm water and causing flooding. Contamination: Runoff from dumpsites containing chemicals can leach into the soil, contaminate the ground and surface water.

You can help: Eliminate all standing water from your property Remove all trash because mosquitoes can breed in areas as small as a water bottle Empty water from discarded tires and separate them from the rest of your junk waste pile at the curb to allow the SWMD employees to properly sort the materials Report illegal dumping sites by calling 3-1-1

Council Member Karla Cisneros helps Solid Waste Management employees clean up illegal dumpsites and prevent mosquito breeding in District H.

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Utilize one of the six Neighborhood Depository/Recycling Centers listed below to dispose of heavy trash if you miss the collection date in your neighborhood: North - 9003 N Main; Northwest - 14400 Sommermeyer; Northeast - 5565 Kirkpatrick; Southeast - 2240 Central Street; South - 5100 Sunbeam; Southwest - 10785 SW Freeway.



Public service is more than skin deep at Prison Break Tattoos By Elise Rambaud Marrion


first glance, the heavy iron bars, warning signs and barbed wire threaten to keep visitors out. But once you’re buzzed past the gates of Prison Break Tattoos, Sergeant Bryan “B.K.” Klevens welcomes you like part of the family. Klevens, a 23-year veteran of the Houston Police Department, took an abandoned dirt-floor tire shop on Washington Avenue and transformed it into a law enforcement-themed tattoo studio in 2013. Prison Break is open to the public, but the studio draws a distinctive community united by a calling to public service. Careers in law enforcement, emergency services and the armed forces are more than just a job, Klevens said. They produce corresponding experiences that forge lifelong bonds and leave indelible marks on those who serve. Klevens’ studio offers a welcoming atmosphere to first responders seeking to permanently capture that sentiment with tattoos that are more than skin deep. “Every tattoo tells a story, and it’s not uncommon for first responders to get inked to show pride in our profession or pay tribute to those who died on the job,” said Klevens, whose arms are inked to the wrist. Among the skulls and other traditional designs, Klevens said his most significant tattoos are his late sister’s name and a Star of David with a thin blue line. The thin blue line is a symbol that shows support for law enforcement and represents the line between chaos and order, Klevens said. Firefighters use similar symbolism with a thin red line. Prison Break has inked numerous HPD officers and HFD firefighters, including the late Capt. William Dowling. The word is out about Prison Break in the law enforcement community, and Klevens said people from all around the country and Canada have visited the studio. Prison Break artists also created memorial tattoos for family members of Dallas and Baton Rouge police shooting victims. HPD officer Michael Bates works in a special operations unit for crowd control. He and his wife got tattoos at Prison Break with thin blue line symbolism. “I heard about B.K. through social media, and I immediately knew he was part of the brothers in blue,” Bates said. “I come from a family with a long history of law enforcement and military service, so my badge may be a symbol of my profession, but that thin blue line is a symbol of my family,” he said. “One time, I was on the front line of an anti-police protest, where about 100 officers stood against 2,000 angry protestors,” Bates said. “That was the very real example of a thin blue line,

where a single line of police were the only thing holding back the crowd from escalating.” Opening a tattoo studio was in part inspired by Klevens’ misgivings and previous personal experiences in tattoo studios. “With all the recent anti-police sentiment, a lot of first responders don’t always feel comfortable to walk in off the street to just any studio and request something like a St. Michael, the patron saint of law enforcement, unless you know an artist personally,” he said. “The artists here understand the culture; they know the symbolism.” “As a police officer, I have to operate everything to the letter of the law. You know this place is going to be safe and your artist is going to be vetted personally by an officer of the law. We give people the peace of mind knowing they have an immaculately clean environment, and there is no backroom shady dealings.” Klevens isn’t shy about promoting his studio. He’s one of the only tattoo proprietors in Houston with television ads. Prison Break has also garnered attention from local, state and national media, including Texas Monthly Magazine, Houstonia Magazine, KHOU Channel 11, the Houston Chronicle and The Houston Press named Prison Break on its 2016 list of 20 Best Tattoo Parlors in Houston. Klevens donates a portion of the tattoo profits to organizations like the 100 Club and he gives generously to individuals in uniform. “Sure, I’m on TV with ads like Mattress Mack, but I’m not just doing this for myself. The more business I do, the more I can give back,” Klevens said. “I love what I’m doing with the city, and I have no immediate plans to retire. I’m very careful to balance my police work and this business so they don’t overlap. They are both very fulfilling and give me a sense of accomplishment.” HPD Officer Monica Fortson started visiting Prison Break to cover an old tattoo, but she has gone back to the studio for two other original tattoos. Fortson referred her parents and brother to the studio as well. “Sarge looks rough and tough, but he’s really a teddy bear. He cares so much and does so much for the law enforcement family,” Fortson said of Klevens. “And he doesn’t do it for the recognition. He gives out Police Lives Matter wrist bands, picks up restaurant tabs, and even leaves money anonymously on the vehicles of first responders who are struggling financially.” Prison Break also taps into Klevens’ creative side. Though he is an artist at heart, Klevens entrusts the actual

tattooing to his staff of four full-time, experienced artists. As a graduate of the Houston High School for Performing and Visual Arts, Klevens got an early education about theater and the value of setting the stage. Before changing his major to criminal justice, Klevens studied theater at Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas State University). He channels his experience in the arts into the studio’s décor. In addition to the prison bars, the studio is decked out with prison-related murals, law enforcement mannequins, memorabilia, tribute signs, an authentic prison bunk bed and a replica electric chair. “This entire place is like a movie set; it’s all tongue-in-cheek theater,” Klevens said. “I even built a fake electric chair that gives you a harmless zap. I’ve created a destination that people will remember and still talk about months later. You would be surprised. City employees will come in here with their families in here just to look around. Everyone is welcome. We totally cater to the kids with stickers, thin blue line cookies and temporary tattoos.”

Shown at top: HPD Sergeant Bryan Klevens poses with the electric chair replica he built for his law enforcement-themed tattoo studio. Shown above: A few samples of firstresponder tattoos created at Prison Break Tattoos. Klevens frequently gives out cookies with inspirational phrases to first responders. All photos of tattoos courtesy of Prison Break Tattoos.

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PWE and BARC join forces to rescue dog from sewer A 3-year-old dog was rescued Jan. 11 by City of Houston employees after surviving a 20-foot fall and possibly several days at the bottom of a sanitary sewer manhole. Steven Gee, Public Works and Engineering managing engineer, assembled a crew and called BARC Animal Shelter’s animal enforcement team to help rescue the wet and hungry dog. The team performed an emergency confined space entry and lowered a crew member down the manhole to retrieve the dog. They carefully placed a blanket over him to keep him calm and the dog ate several spoons full of dog food while he waited to be lifted out. “He didn’t bark or try to bite, and seemed thankful to be in the Animal Control truck,” said Gee. “We gave him a blanket, clean water and some dog food on his trip to BARC”. BARC named the pointer-mix Julian, but the rescue crew nicknamed him Sewer Sam. The Public Works team adopted Julian from BARC and plan to make him their new mascot. “We are so excited to see Julian become a member of the Public Works team,” said Ashtyn Rivet, BARC Marketing and Outreach Manager. “Julian’s story is yet another reminder that city Departments work together to impact lives - canine, feline and human.” HTV segment makes powerful impact on Marini family Marcello Marini, proprietor of Empanada House, wrote to Mayor Turner to thank HTV for featuring a news segment about his family’s business. “Our family thanks you, and especially the executive producers of HTV the municipal channel. We would like to say a special thanks to the professional producers and photographers, Mariana Oyanguren and Cheryl Presley for the wonderful segment on our life story as the Marini Family,” he wrote. “We feel so proud to be a part of this great nation and community,” Marini wrote. “We have spent more than 40 years working in Houston, as a small business serving the locals and out-oftown customers with our unique and exquisite food: Empanadas. The segment the municipal channel aired of our family’s history has had a very immense impact in our lives and the lives of our future generation. Thank you.”

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Richard Perez looks out for PWE crew heat safety Grace Kilgore, a Public Works and Engineering safety representative, recognized PWE Maintenance Section Chief Richard Perez for his dedication to the Traffic Operations safety culture. “When temperatures reached 90 degrees and City of Houston workers had to work in the hottest period of the day, Mr. Perez made sure that everyone was issued cooling hats with neck shades to prevent employees from heat stress,” Kilgore wrote. HPD officers renew resident’s trust in mankind Sheraton Oaks resident Annette Fuller gave the highest praise for Houston Police Department officers who responded to her 911 call after she was assaulted and robbed at her home. Responding to the incident were Officers J. Conley, R. Gillham, K. Hodge and Sergeant R. Musick. The assailant knocked Fuller to the ground, stole her purse, phone, keys and her vehicle. “Your diligent officers spotted my car on the way to my home, where he had stopped to get gas, trying to use my credit card. He was arrested on the spot with my car and my purse,” Fuller wrote. “Everything that was stolen was returned to me. To me, this was a miracle. “I am now the biggest fan of the Houston Police Department. Your handling of the case meant the world to me, as you might imagine,” Fuller wrote. “After being assaulted, the police helped me regain my faith, my footing and my trust in mankind. That is the highest compliment possible. I send to

you my deepest gratitude. Your tireless, often unnoticed work is immensely appreciated.” Traffic Operations deserves feather in their hat for job well done Houston Resident Ruben Rivera called 311 to express his appreciation for the work the Traffic Operations Signal Branch performed near Jefferson Elementary School. “I am very appreciative that the school zone light has made it safe for parents and their children to cross the streets,” Rivera said. “I was very concerned about the many cars that would fly down the street. They deserve a feather in their hat for a job well done. Thank you so much.” The work at 300 Cavalcade Street and 4800 Fulton Street was supervised by Hector Trevino and performed by Jose Martinez and Reginald Robinson. Resident praises Leo Bourgeois as a true gem Randy Smith has experienced persistent problems with a water main in front of his townhouse for more than five years, but instead of complaining, Smith wrote to praise Public Works and Engineering Deputy Assistant Director Leo Bourgeois. “Over the past 5-6 years, I have dealt with multiple problems with the city water main in front of my townhouse. On each such occasion, I was most fortunate to be put in the great care of with Mr. Bourgeois,” Smith said. “His Leo Bourgeois professionalism, responsiveness, kindness, patience and sense of responsibility are of the very highest caliber. In fact, I cannot think of any other person whom I have been

served by in any capacity who is in the same league as Mr. Bourgeois. “I wish I could hire him away from the city, but don’t think he would be interested in sitting in a dimly lit room pushing papers for me all day, every day! He is a true gem and I hope he has been promoted and allowed to lead, mentor and influence lots of other people. Thank you for Leo Bourgeois and thank you, Leo.” Belgium Ambassador thanks Deanea Leflore for successful economic visit After a Belgian economic delegation visit to Houston, Dirk Wouters, Ambassador of Belgium, wrote a letter to thank Deanea Leflore, chief of protocol for the Mayor’s Office of Trade and International Affairs. Headed by Princess Astrid of Belgium, the delegation represented more than 100 Belgian companies and comprised 240 business delegates and officials. “Many people on both Belgian and Texas sides have worked relentlessly to make this Belgian Economic Mission a success. Your contribution Deanea Leflore has been very valuable to us and we are grateful for your assistance, your energy and above all, your friendship,” Wouters wrote. “As I have said on several occasions during the mission itself: this collective effort will not be a ‘one shot’, but the beginning and deepening of a strong bond of friendship and cooperation.”


HATS OFF Houston Airport System earns Marketer of the Year award The Houston Chapter of the American Marketing Association named the Houston Airport System as Marketer of the Year in the transportation category at the AMA Houston awards ceremony in October. AMA Houston is the area’s premier professional marketing organization and is the largest AMA Chapter in North America. Initiatives designed to create a change in culture and a more customer-focused approach overall landed the Houston Airport System the Best in Category recognition. HAS worked with UKbased auditors Skytrax on a week-long in-depth audit of both George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport and used the results to develop a multi-year plan to attain five stars at both facilities. HAS provides the second-fastest airport Wi-Fi in the United States and unveiled a new website built around airport journeys of passengers (arrive, depart, connect, pick-up and drop-off). It also worked to improve the functionality and appearance of its in-airport interactive kiosks, including interactive maps. The efforts produced a four-star rating for Hobby Airport by Skytrax — one of only three airports in the United States with a four-star rating — and the new website saw a better than 500 percent increase in new users, a nearly 500 percent increase in sessions, and a nearly 200 percent increase in page views. Mobile users skyrocketed from 49 percent to 72 percent of total users, and the new website’s social mediasavvy approach elicited a more than 300 percent increase in traffic from social media referrals. HPL’s Roosevelt Weeks earns prestigious public service award Roosevelt Weeks, deputy director for the Houston Public Library, was named among the nation’s top 10 librarians by the American Library Association. Weeks was selected from more than 1,000 nominations to earn the organization’s “I Love My Librarian Award,” which has been bestowed to 90 librarians nationwide since 2008. Weeks and the other librarians were honored at an award ceremony held in New York City. Each received a monetary prize. Weeks was recognized for motivating the HPL organization to toward innovation. “The I Love My Librarian Award is an incredible opportunity to acknowledge librarians as experts and valuable resources, essential to the success of their libraries and communities,” said Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association. “As highly educated

professionals, librarians are providing library constituents with the tools and knowledge they need to grow and thrive in today’s changing information landscape. The fact that these nominations come from the people they serve gives us heartfelt testimony to the powerful impact librarians make every day through their work and commitment to their profession.” Lee & Joe Jamail Skatepark named among 15 best skateparks nationwide The Lee & Joe Jamail Skatepark has been chosen as one of the best skateparks in the country by Best of AmericanTowns. Best of AmericanTowns selected 15 skateparks as their top choices in skateparks for enthusiasts to visit. “The Houston Parks and Recreation Department is particularly proud of this fine facility,” said Joe Turner, former director, Houston Parks and Recreation Department. “It is gratifying to know that its excellence is recognized by people around the nation.” Built in 2008, the Lee & Joe Jamail Skatepark was the first world-class, inground skatepark in the Houston area. The 30,000-square-foot facility offers a variety of skate experiences in Buffalo Bayou Park, with a spectacular view of downtown Houston skyscrapers. Its layout is the work of the design firm Grindline. The list of top 15skateparks in the U.S. can be found on line at bestskateparks. org. HR Communications earns 15 MarCom awards The Human Resources communications division received 15 awards in the 2016 MarCom Awards for various employee communications including publications, newsletters, websites, campaigns, and the MS 150 Jersey design. The MarCom Awards is an international creative competition for individuals and companies involved in the concept, writing, design of print, visual, audio and web materials and programs. The national competition draws more than 6,000 entries ranging from individual freelancers to Fortune 500 companies including corporate marketing and communications departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, design shops, production companies and freelancers. HR Communications earned the following 2016 awards: Platinum Awards: Team: Combined Municipal Campaign 2017 Team: Benefits Pulse Issue 2-2016 Lucha Morales: “Beating Back Diabetes,” feature article, Benefits Pulse Heidi Bane: Benefits Pulse Issue 1-2016, Design Gold Awards: Team: Win for Life Wellness 2016-107 Campaign Team: Open Enrollment 2016 Benefits Campaign Leslie Denton-Roach: Win For Life


City Savvy is on the hunt for the city’s most fascinating jobs and the hardest working public servants for our “Day on the Job” feature stories. Nominate yourself or a colleague. Send your suggestions to Elise Marrion at

Wellness Brochure Elise Rambaud Marrion: “HFSA provides safety net for medical expenses,” internal newsletter, Benefits Pulse Elise Rambaud Marrion: “ThyroidNature’s Control Center,” feature article, Benefits Pulse Elise Rambaud Marrion: “Turnaround Houston gives job seekers an extreme career makeover,” feature article, City Savvy Nichole Robinson: CMC Website Heidi Bane: MS150 cycling team jersey 2016 Honorable Mentions: Lucha Morales: “Communities unite to help neighbors weather storms,” feature article, CMC Tribute Lucha Morales: HR Newsletter Heidi Bane: City Savvy Issue 1-2016, design Finance Department Grants Management team improves grant findings Finance Department Deputy Assistant Director Gloria Moreno tipped her hat to the Grants Management team for improved performance. “The city has received zero grant findings in the FY2016 Single Audit Report,” Moreno wrote. “In 2006, the city had received a record high of 16 grant findings. Since that time, the team worked steadily to reduce findings through improved internal controls and updating administrative procedures. My team is also charged with increasing grant revenues and ensuring that city departments do not compete against each other for federal or state funding.” Team members pictured from left to right are: Leslie Williamson, Isis Mathoslah, Crystal Nickerson, Arif Rasheed, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Yvonne Logerman, Gloria Moreno, Beverly McFarlin, Rita Villazana and Kiran Chandu. Fleet Management ranked sixth in the nation Government Fleet magazine and the American Public Works Association (APWA) ranked City of Houston as sixth in the nation in Leading Fleets for 2016. The awards program, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, recognizes operations that are performing at a high level, particularly in fleet leadership, competitiveness and efficiency, planning for the future, and overcoming challenges. Leading Fleets represent the best in the industry. “It is quite an honor to be recognized for all the hard work our staff puts in everyday to ensure that the City’s nearly 12,000 vehicles and equipment are working properly and efficiently,” said Victor Ayres, Director of the Fleet Management Department. “We truly

have some of the best employees in the industry and they are the key to our success.” The Fleet Management Department was created in 2011 by consolidating all fleet operations into one central department. The department has over 350 employees and 25 maintenance facilities across the city with a combined municipal fleet of approximately 12,000 units. The department is responsible for asset management, maintenance and repairs, fueling services, vehicle acquisitions and dispositions, alternative fuel vehicle planning and implementation and the citywide shared motor pool program, FleetShare. Texas General Land Office recognizes HCDD for hurricane revitalization program Cynthia Hudson, grant manager, of the Texas General Land Office in the area of community development and revitalization, presented Houston Housing and Community Development Director Tom McCasland with a certificate of recognition for the city’s extraordinary efforts in the completion of the Texas General Land Office Hurricane Ike Community Development Revitalization Program - Round 1. The $21.8 million grant assisted 132,560 Texans. DON special projects crew earns applause from Settegast residents DON Senior Staff Analyst Alvin Byrd recently called attention to the hard work that the special projects team does every day, making the most of available equipment to abate tons of trash dumped illegally in our neighborhoods. “Allow me to isolate and laser in on one particular job,” Byrd said. “When DON is made aware of a violation, we respond appropriately. This job on Feb. 3 at 7900 Woodlyn and N. Wayside in the Settegast neighborhood was where a small amount of debris quickly became a mountain of debris, including building materials, tires and loads of dirt. Inspector Willie Brooks and crew members responded, as we always do, cleaning up the mess to the smiles, cheers and applause of nearby residents. I highly recommend that this particular crew be recognized for their hard work and professionalism. Our hats off to Willie Brooks and his crew.” Our hats off to Willie Brooks and his crew.

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Bravo winners inspire hope and solidarity in community By Lucha Morales


ravo winners don’t hesitate to take action when it comes to answering the call for service in their community. They enjoy giving back. And they don’t do it for recognition. They do it to help those who can’t help themselves. It’s a striking quality that stands out, and it’s why these eight employees each earned a 2016 Bravo award.

Connie Fuentes

Supervisor, Solid Waste Management For nearly three decades, Connie Fuentes has let her passion for public service guide her volunteerism in the community. “I have a serving heart,” said Fuentes, a supervisor for the Solid Waste Management

Department’s Northeast Service Center. Her dedication to public service and volunteerism earned her a Bravo award. “She got her start when she was in high school when she did a project on how to clean up the city,” said Council Member Karla Cisneros. “It inspired her to seek out a career in what she’s doing now.” Best known for her advocacy of a clean city, Fuentes spends her days connecting residents and small-business owners with essential solid waste removal services. But Fuentes’ interaction with residents doesn’t end when she clocks out for the day. “She attends civic association meetings, assists with Spanish-speaking media interviews and knocks on residents’ doors to provide guidance about correct trash placement,” said Irma Reyes, a public information officer for Solid Waste. Coinciding with her public service career, Fuentes has spent 26 years volunteering at Sagemeont Church in southeast Houston, transporting parishioners to and from services, helping in the children’s ministry, and serving special needs children in the Special Friends Bible Study Program. “I enjoy serving the citizens of Houston,” Fuentes said.

Karen Franklin

Special Projects Coordinator, Housing and Community Development Department Since 1991, Karen Franklin has helped mentor and lead more than 50,000 youth. And she’s done it through the World Youth Foundation, a nonprofit organization that mentors and equips low-income youths with life, leadership, and workforce skills. “For myself, its truly an amazing honor to follow in the footsteps of our leaders,” said Franklin, a special projects coordinator in the Housing and Community Development Department. Franklin, who founded the World Youth Foundation organization and serves as its chief executive officer, received a Bravo award for going above and beyond in her service and community volunteerism. “The World Youth Foundation helped me understand times can be difficult,” said Victor Lewis, a 2015 WYF Youth Ambassador, whose father passed away when he was 16 years old. “Through the organization, I was able to understand my purpose,” Lewis said. “They introduced me to internships with congressmen, congresswomen, and the city of Houston.” And Franklins’ day-to-day service for the city helps to ensure compliance of the city’s Pay or Play Program and contract compliance for the city’s Minority, Women, and Small Business Enterprise Program. “At work, Karen strives for efficiency while conducting her duties,” said Dean Torreros-Carter, a division manger in the Housing Department. “She contributes her time and life to those in need and those around her.”

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Marty Haley

Senior Mechanical Inspector, Occupancy Division, Public Works & Engineering While thousands of families opened gifts on Christmas morning, Marty Haley put on his clown suit. A volunteer Shriner clown, Haley delivers gifts to children at local

Shriner hospitals on Christmas morning. “A lot of these kids come from poor families,” said Haley, a senior mechanical inspector for the Public Works and Engineering Department’s occupancy division. “Someone has to step up and do what’s necessary to see this kids are taken care of.” Haley’s compassion for children shines through in all his volunteer efforts. A member of the Masonic Lodge, Haley has helped raise more than $40,000 in scholarship funds for local youth through a scholarship program he helped to launch. “There was a boy who lives in Santa Fe, a good kid with good grades” Haley said. “Family circumstance weren’t going to allow him to go to college,” he said. “I found a scholarship program where I could raise money and get the foundation to match the money,” Haley said. “We raised enough money to get him to college. “He graduated last year and he’s a teacher in Texas City now,” Haley said. “He’s the reason I put the scholarship program together.” Haley also motivates second- through fifth-graders with his Take the Time to Read program, which gives bikes to top readers. Last year, Haley helped organize donations for the Fantastic Teeth Club, providing free dental kits to more than 500 first-graders. And he urges others to get involved. “Find a local cause that you can be passionate about and step in,” Haley said. “See what you can do.” Haley is currently raising money for children living with cerebral palsy and autistic children in Galveston and Brazoria counties.

Veronica Hernandez Senior Community Liaison, Department of Neighborhoods

Giving back is a family tradition that started with Veronica Hernandez’s father. “I remember in kindergarten he gave someone a room in our house to stay until they could find a job and place to stay,” said Hernandez, a senior community liaison for the Department of Neighborhoods. “My father was always helping with food or clothes for others in need,” she said. “I learned from that experience.” Now, Hernandez is carrying on her father’s tradition of giving back through her role with the city and her volunteerism. Her day-to-day efforts have helped hundreds of residents receive basic needs and necessities. Veronica translates for Spanish-speaking residents and helps them apply for assistance in times of disaster. “Being able to the help fill out forms, connect people to different resources, translate for people, and assist those can’t read or write is really satisfying,” Hernandez said. Hernandez also coordinates public safety efforts to reduce crime and assists with community revitalization projects. Since 1997, Hernandez has volunteered with the Hispanic Ministers Against Crime, helping to organize food donations during the holiday seasons. “Go to the different community centers and start volunteering,” Hernandez said. “There are a lot of different organizations that need assistance. You just have to have the passion to do it,” she said.

AROUND THE CITY Lakeisha Henderson Graduate engineer, Public Works and Engineering

Giving students a glimpse of college life can help them learn what to expect during their first year of college. It’s an experience Lakeisha Henderson values, and it’s one she helps coordinate twice a year for more

than 300 aspiring college students. “It makes me feel fulfilled,” said Henderson, a graduate engineer for the Public Works and Engineering Department. A youth and education advocate, Henderson volunteers 20 hours a week for the Houston Area Urban League Young Professionals, a nonprofit organization that makes a positive impact through outreach programs, service and advocacy. As the community outreach co-chair for HAUL, Henderson helps coordinate the Young Professional University Program, a one-day outreach program in the fall and spring. “The program helps prepare youth for their first year in college,” Henderson said. “Even if I’m just able to speak to one kid, I feel like I’ve made a difference. “When I was younger, I had different individuals that helped me,” Henderson said. “As I grew older. I wanted to give back in that way.” Now, Henderson gives back to her community through her volunteerism and fulfills her passion for pubic service through her work for the city. “She is an exemplary employee,” said Choyce Morrow, a supervising engineer for Public Works flood plain management division. “She constantly demonstrates outstanding performance and her job knowledge makes her a great resource for our staff.” After the devastating Memorial Day flood of 2015, and most recently, the 2016 Tax Day Flood, Henderson worked tirelessly to help residents affected by the floods. “She spent a great deal of time helping to connect residents to resources for their recovery efforts,” said Morrow, who has worked with Henderson for the past two years. “She has a great deal of empathy for the citizens and is very compassionate,” Morrow said. Henderson also gives her time to Bread of Life, the Houston AIDS Walk, Mia’s Closet Back-to-School Bash, and the Buddies, Books and Brunch program. “You have to picture yourself in their shoes,” said Henderson. “Then it becomes easier for you to have an open heart and give back. You can be a huge part in changing someone’s life,” she said.

Miguel Leija

Community Liaison, Houston Health Department Miguel Leija is a people’s champion for the Magnolia Service Center In Houston’s East End, Miguel Leija helps residents fill out citizenship forms. An immigration advocate, Leija coordinated efforts for the Mexican Consulate to provide mobile services at the Magnolia MSC. “They provide assistance with passports, consular IDs, birth certificates, legal help, and medical and health testing and referrals,” said Leija, the community liaison for Houston Health Department’s Magnolia MSC. “It makes it very accessible to people in the community.” Since 2015, Leija’s efforts have helped more than 5,000 people embark on a path to citizenship. “Seeing people being helped is what is more satisfying,” said Leija of his work with the city. But when Leija clocks out at the end of the day, he doesn’t leave his goodwill in the office. Instead, he devotes time to Conversando Entre Amigas, a nonprofit organization that helps women rebuild their lives after leaving abusive relationships. “I liked what they were doing,” said Leija, who also sits on the organization’s board. “I thought it was something we could bring to the Magnolia MSC. “I’ve seen aunts and sisters of mine go through it,” Leija said. “I helped them get back on their feet and get counseling. Not a lot of people have access to that kind of assistance.” Conversando Entre Amigas provides motivational workshops, job training, prevention programs and psychological services to women in need. “What he does is very important,” said Magdalena Galindo, founder and director of Conversando Entre Amigas. “We never had anyone help us facilitate these things at the center,” said Galindo of Leija’s efforts to help the organization hold classes, counseling, and workshops at the center. To further help the organization, Leija assists with fundraising events. In 2016, Leija and the organization’s collective efforts raised $10,000 to offset costs of providing workshops, counseling and classes to women in need. “I enjoy doing outreach, ensuring people have required documents, setting rooms and appointments and helping with marketing of the events,” Leija said. Miguel also sits on the board of Air Alliance Houston, which aims to ensure air quality for Houstonians. As a certified psychologist, Leija also provides pro-bono counseling services to families in need. “Pick an issue you care about and call that organization,” he said. “That’s what I did.”


Scott Shaunfield

Senior Captain, Houston Fire Department The loss of life is a terrible tragedy. And when firefighters experience tragedy in the line of duty or in their day-to-day lives, Scott Shaunfield steps in to offer guidance and support. “I know what it’s like to need that support,” said Shaunfield of his volunteer work as team coordinator for the Houston Fire Department’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team. “I have been on the giving and receiving side,” Shaunfield said. Shaunfield’s role within the CSIM team ensures his fellow firefighters, first responders and their families receive vital services during critical times. “We see how important it is to take care of each other,” said Shaunfield of the volunteer members of the CISM team. “We want to help our fellow firefighters and coworkers.” A 20-year veteran of the HFD, Shaunfield has spent 18 years volunteering on the CISM team, serving as the team coordinator for the last seven of those years. “I’ve always enjoyed being involved with people,” he said. “When I found the opportunity to help other firefighters, it just really felt closer to home. “I think in order to sustain any kind of volunteerism you have to appreciate the reward that comes from giving to others without expecting a reward,” he said. “Being able to work as a firefighter and as a paramedic and help others in the community is something I value.”

Karen Williams

Assistant Director, Administrative Services Division, Municipal Courts
Department Like her fellow Bravo award winners, Karen Williams serves her community in many ways. “I try to impact somebody else’s life in a positive way,” said Williams, an assistant director of the Municipal Courts Department’s administration services division. “Whether it’s speaking to a class, mentoring a student, or donating something.” Williams’ service and dedication to her community earned a Bravo award. Her passion for service extends to many community groups in need. Since 2004, Williams has donated $12,000 in scholarships to help local youth reach their educational goals. But her volunteerism doesn’t end there. Williams helps to organize Project Cradle, an annual education and wellness event for unwed pregnant teens. “Had it not been for Ms. Williams using her time, talent and resources, an event of this magnitude would not have been possible,” said Gwendoly Goins, a communications officer and government liaison for Municipal Courts. “Each participant received a large bag of donations that included formula, diapers, bottles, clothes and other infant necessities.” Williams also teaches financial literacy classes, serves as the Women’s Wednesday Night Ministry Instructor at New Light Church, and brings her uplifting spirit to the city, where she has earned praise from her co-workers. “Ms. Williams definitely manages to ensure the needs of her staff are met,” said Goins. “Whether it’s leadership development, employee morale, or just having the tools necessary to do the job.” As president of the Houston Chapter of the Gamma Phi Sigma sorority, she leads annual efforts to address community needs. “A lot of time we think it’s not going to be enough, it’s too small and the donation or time doesn’t matter, but it does,” Williams said. “The smallest rocks still have a ripple effect.” Starting in May 2017, visit to read about 2017 Bravo Award winners.

The 2017 Bravo Award winners were recognized at the May 2 City Council meeting. Log on to to learn more about this year’s winners. The 2017 Bravo Award winners were recognized at the May 2 City Council meeting. Learn more about this year’s winners. 2017 - Issue 1



Terence O’Neill helps international community feel at home in Houston Photo by Thomas Shea

By Elise Rambaud Marrion


a city where one in four residents was born outside the United States, keeping a finger on the pulse of our diverse population is a critical task for Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston. With the immigration debate heating up in Washington, many Houstonians are looking to City Hall for reassurance that Houston is going to remain the welcoming city it has always been. So, these days, Terence O’Neill is a busy man. As director of the Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities, O’Neill is Mayor Turner’s go-to guy for gauging the sentiments and needs of Houston’s international community. O’Neill is charged with leading the city’s official welcome wagon. It’s a job that requires deep ties to the community, introducing innovative programs and the ability to listen — really listen to residents. The Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities recently underwent a name change. Previously known as the Office of International Communities, it rebranded in December to focus on the mission of serving immigrant and refugee communities. “We are a clearing house where we provide information and service referrals. For example, if a recently arrived refugee calls and needs assistance finding a job, housing, or access to English as a Second Language courses, we can point

him or her in the right direction and give referrals for those services,” O’Neill said. “We don’t provide funding, but instead serve as the arm, the eyes and ears into to the community,” he said. “When someone brings a concern to our attention, we share it with the mayor, and we provide advice on policy recommendations that have previously made a positive impact on issues like language access programs, human trafficking and wage theft.” O’Neill recently collaborated with a task force of business, community, cultural, faith and educational organizations to devise the Welcoming Houston strategic plan, a list of 50 recommendations presented to Mayor Turner. Other welcoming initiatives include posting multi-lingual welcome signs in city buildings, airports and at the convention center as well as a resource website for new Americans to access language assistance, city and social services or report hate crimes. In January, Mayor Turner joined mayors nationwide to declare his support for refugee and immigrant communities.

“Houston has always been and will continue to be a welcoming city. Our diversity is an asset and our strength. And as your mayor, I represent every Houstonian,” Turner said. “In this city we shall love, respect and appreciate everyone regardless of their differences and we shall do it peacefully. In this city, we don’t build walls; we build relationships. We don’t separate families; we value them. We don’t hate; we love.” Many in the community have expressed thanks for the mayor’s strong position. “I’ve had several hundred emails and phone calls from people thanking the mayor for taking a stand,” O’Neill said. “It showed me that there is such a diversity of Houstonians who see the bigger picture. People just get it; people see that we are a city where you come to work hard, pursue your dreams and contribute to the economic engine that is Houston. Let’s move on; let Houston be Houston. “I’ve heard from folks who are fearful of all the recent anti-immigration rhetoric. But I’ve also talked to people who aren’t intimidated,” O’Neill said. “It says a lot about the immigrant communities and the challenges they

have overcome, and it’s admirable to see that courage. We’ve seen activists and the community getting together for peaceful demonstrations, saying whether we are Muslim, Christian or Jewish, black, white, Asian or Hispanic, we are here supporting each other. And I think that’s what so great about Houston.” Going forward, O’Neill said the Office of New Americans will continue to seek opportunities for community engagement. One initiative includes expanding the iSpeak Houston or language access program, translating portions of the city website into five languages, and launching a series of public service announcements on local television and radio that promote Houston as a welcoming and friendly city to all people. The office hosts community events such as the Citizenship Forum that provides free citizenship application assistance with access to a free immigration attorney consultation. Future annual events include World Refugee Day festivities in June and National Citizenship month in November. They will continue to partner with cultural organizations to create art exhibits and performances that showcase the talents and educate Houstonians about the cultures of local immigrant and refugee communities.

Immigrants in Houston: Foreign-born residents contributed $116.5 billion to the Houston region’s Gross Domestic Product and spent $31.8 billion in 2014. While foreign-born residents make up one-quarter of the overall population, they comprise 32 percent of the employed labor force and 42 percent of the self-employed labor force. Foreign-born residents in Houston are twice more likely to own a business than their U.S.-born counterparts. Statewide data shows that immigrants made up nearly 17 percent of the population and contributed $29.1 billion in taxes, comprising roughly 17 percent of the state’s total share in 2014. That same year, immigrants earned $118.7 billion, about 16.8 percent of all earnings in the state. Source: Partnership for New American Economy

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Terence O’Neill meets with Bala Balachandran of the Planning Department to discuss how analyzing city demographic data can further Houston’s mission to be a welcoming city.






Women’s March brings record-setting crowds to City Hall By Elise Rambaud Marrion


ity Hall and Hermann Square set the stage for a peaceful gathering of more than 22,000 people participating in the Houston Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 21. The crowd has been described as the largest public assembly in the city’s history. The event, organized by the Houston chapter of the League of Women Voters, was an official sister event to the National Women’s March on Washington. An estimated 3 million people attended similar marches in the United States, and more than 670 marches were held worldwide, according to an independent count conducted by crowd scientists Jeremy Pressman of the University of Connecticut and Erica Chenoweth of the University of Denver. The Austin march was planned months in advance, but Houston’s event was planned in only 11 days and still drew record crowds. The march was not an official city event, but city employees were instrumental in the permitting process and protecting public safety. HPD officers were on the scene on foot, horseback and watching above from helicopters. “Twenty-thousand-plus peaceful folks at City Hall. I’m proud of the Houston Police men and women working to protect the First Amendment and our community,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo posted on Twitter.

“Helping our community exercise their rights is a fundamental duty our men and women are honored to perform and take very seriously,” Acevedo added. Marchers voiced their support of causes ranging from women’s rights, equal pay, paid maternity leave, religious and racial tolerance, freedom of the press, marriage equality, climate change and more. Participants cheered, openly thanked and took pictures with police officers on duty. HPD Lt. Randy Upton told Houstonia Magazine that he was impressed with the overall tone of the march. No arrests were made. “As always, we take these large crowds seriously,” Upton said. “This is a model protest. For a crowd this large, I couldn’t be more proud to live in this city.” City officials including Mayor Sylvester Turner, City Council Member Ellen Cohen and City Council Member

Amanda Edwards addressed the crowd. “What a beautiful sight to see all of you out here this afternoon. It reflects the diversity of our city. I am so proud to be a Houstonian and I am so proud to be standing with you today at City Hall. There is no other city in our country that is more diverse than the City of Houston. And quite frankly, I would not have it any other way,” Turner said. “There is no room for hate in our city. There is no room for hate in this state. There is no room for hate in our country. I am so very grateful that you are standing here, you are lifting your voices and that you are saying that we are one big community.” Both Edwards and Cohen reminded the

crowd that the best way to affect change is to get involved in the political process. “I see thousands of people united and ready to stand for justice,” Edwards said. “Our call to action begins now to stay engaged, stay informed and continue to fight and unite. I stand here not disappointed; I stand here not afraid. I stand here encouraged, optimistic and excited about what will come from this very group right here.” Cohen gave historical perspective on the fight for equality. “It’s been nearly 100 years since our grandmothers were standing here fighting for the right to vote and to be seen as equal in the eyes of the government. So how in the hell is it that we’re standing here so many years later still fighting just to hang on to the same rights?” Cohen said. “How can we stop this cycle of insanity? We can run for public office at the local level. You can get passionate about a progressive female candidate and help her get elected,” Cohen said. “Of the 16 Houston City Council members, only four are women. Representation at the local, state and federal level is absolutely critical, because if you’re not at the table, you’re one the menu!”

5 7 Houstonians attending the Houston March for Women shared their photos from the event. Photo by (1) Krista Keen (2) Olivier Clerc (3) Olivier Clerc (4) Elise Marrion (5) Olivier Clerc (6) Micha Humpton (7) Elizabeth Holubec


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Cramer the friendly ghost keeps watch over Julia Ideson Building By Lucha Morales


the second floor of the Julia Ideson Building, the faint sound of violin music has been heard, echoing voices have spooked librarians, and unexplainable cold spots in the building have left both staff and patrons puzzled. Along with housing collections of rare books, historic documents and old photographs, the Julia Ideson Building is also believed to be the home of Jacob Frank Cramer, an 80-year-old ghost. With its Spanish renaissance style and beautiful grounds, the Julia Ideson Building remains a popular spot for downtown visitors. Home to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, it was the first archival branch of the Houston Public Library and was named after Julia Ideson, the city’s first professional librarian who served from 1903-1945. Houston Public Library held their annual Scream In for local youth ages 10-15 at the Central Library last October. The event included a host of activities, a costume contest and a ghost walk of the Julia Ideson Building. More than 50 kids attended this year’s Scream In, and bravely toured the Julia Ideson Building, where the ghost legend of Jacob Frank Cramer was born. “He was an interesting man,” said Laney McAdow, manager for the Houston Metropolitan Research

Center located inside the Julia Ideson Building. As the caretaker, Cramer took up residence in the library’s basement. Cramer began his City of Houston career in 1904 at the now defunct Carnegie Library. Cramer later joined the staff at the Julia Ideson Building when it opened in 1926. Cramer spent the next 10 years working as the night watchman, gardener, and handyman before dying in 1936 at 79, as reported in his death certificate. Yet, an obituary post from the Houston Posts states he died at 63. The birth of a legend Despite the contradicting information surrounding the date of Cramer’s death, his dedication to the job became clear in the following years when library staff began to report unusual activity in the building. Believed to be a friendly man, Cramer played the violin and owned a German Shepard named Petey, according to Julia Ideson staff members.

Both library staff and library patrons have reported hearing violin music and the clicking of a dog’s toenails in the halls of the building, says McAdow. “One of our library patrons came to my desk and told me that he was in the John Stuabs conference room,” said Gwendolyn Parker, an administrative associate who works at the Julia Ideson Building front desk. “The patron said he turned his head and saw a dog,” she said. “When he turned back around the dog was gone.” It was the first time a library patron told Parker about seeing a dog. But it wasn’t the first time she had experienced or heard of unusual occurrences in the building. “When I first started, every once in awhile the elevators doors would open on their own,” said Parker, who has spent the last four years working at the Julia Ideson Building. “Cleaning staff has reported that faucets in the fourth floor restrooms come on by themselves,” she said.

Voices in the stacks “We have a lot of our old rare books on the second floor of a closed stack area,” McAdow said. “A volunteer was inventorying a children’s book collection from the turn of the century.” “She had taken a book off the shelf and opened it when she heard from behind her a child’s voice say, ‘hello,’” she said. “[The volunteer] said it sounded like someone was talking through a tunnel.” “She stopped working on the collection because of it,” McAdow said. Other times librarians have reported that sheet music would be boxed up in storage and the next morning it would be scattered like someone had gone through it, says McAdow. Most recently, McAdow experienced something herself. “We were in a meeting room doing an interview and it got so cold,” she said. “Everything is really controlled in the building because of the collections, so that was unusual.” “It happened the same day of the man who reported seeing a dog on the third floor,” McAdow said. To learn more about the Julia Ideson Building or to schedule a tour, visit

Parks flourished under Joe Turner’s leadership Photo courtesy of HPARD

Joe Turner served as director of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department since 2004. Rick Dewees, assistant director over the city’s signature parks programs, shared some parting sentiments about Turner’s retirement in March 2017. hile Parks and Recreation Department Director Joe Turner completed his final days with the city and the department, he continued to receive congratulations on his accomplishments during his 13-year tenure along with regrets from many who wish he could stay longer.


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Joe served with three mayors and worked with scores of Houston City Council Members and other department directors with his own brand of humor and down-home style. To advance the interests of our parks, he has coordinated projects, programs and events with nonprofit organizations, other government agencies and individual donors and served on state and national boards. The results of his efforts are too numerous to list, but special mention should be made regarding his role in facilitating improvements to signature facilities including Hermann Park, Memorial Park, Buffalo Bayou Park, Emancipation Park, Bayou Greenways

2020, Project Brays and Lake Houston Wilderness Park. Park maintenance has always been a passion for him, resulting in his organizing the parks team to get the most for our resources including contributions from outside city budget — from the great signature parks organizations to the neighborhood adopt- a -park programs and any other group that could be found to help. Joe has shown his stubborn devotion to our city as he worked toward these accomplishments tirelessly and consistently, many times into the night and weekends. But there is something more important to him, and that is his family.

Joe plans to spend more time with them in their new home in the Texas Hill Country and on his other passion, auto racing. Joe is the proud father of a member of the Penske Racing Team that won the Indy 500 in 2015, and has another son, daughter, three grandchildren to spoil, and his wife, Lynda, to keep him busy. With his combination of enthusiasm and work ethic, Joe has touched the lives of many thousands of Houstonians and he will be missed by his staff and the many friends he’s made here over the years. - By Rick Dewees

Assistant Director, Houston Parks and Recreation Department



Airport volunteers give travelers valuable face time By Elise Rambaud Marrion


echnology may promise every convenience in the palm of our hands, but Ella Ghica says nothing can replace face-to-face customer service. Ghica, who has worked at Bush Intercontinental Airport for 23 years, manages a team of 108 volunteers who offer personal attention to 50 million customers who visit IAH each year. “You see stressed travelers fumbling with their phones, searching the monitors for flights, or looking lost, and then you see their smile of relief when they find a friendly face to answer a question quickly,” Ghica said. “There’s no such thing as a typical day at the airport, and the volunteers are well trained and prepared,” she said. “I call them my angels in the terminals. I cannot tell you how many airport customers who cannot thank us enough for their service.” One morning in October, Ghica traversed the IAH terminals, her arms laden with papers, planners and a volunteer envelope that reads, “Ask me. I can help.” Rushing between meetings, she stopped at the information booths to check in with volunteers on duty, to whom she delivers a few treats. “I can’t remember the lyrics to my favorite songs, but I can tell you all about Susan, I know Frank’s favorite snacks, I know whose back is hurting, and who is traveling,” Ghica said. Volunteers staff four information booths in terminals A and C, international arrivals and between terminals D and E. Ghica’s crew can’t just be well intentioned; they have to be well informed. Volunteers field questions ranging about flight arrivals and departures, baggage claim, rental cars, security, facilities, restaurants, attractions around Houston and more. “You need to know your stuff and know it well. Customers are usually in a rush, and they are not always in the best mood,” Ghica said. Bud Henderson said volunteering breaks the routine of retirement. “This is my escape from reality. You just never know what’s going to happen,” Henderson said. “Meeting and helping new people every day — it’s the only place you can practice psychology without a license.” Volunteers occasionally receive odd requests that require creative solutions or quick action. One customer was worried about getting her brother’s cremated remains through security. Another man needed advice on how

to pick up a shipment of deer antlers from the airport agriculture office. One international visitor was trapped in the airport for several days because his host family never showed up, and he had no money for accommodations or a return flight. Ghica said many travelers need an emergency change of clothes, so she brings extra clothes from her own closet to give away. “The customers certainly keep you on your toes and keep your mind sharp,” Henderson said. “About 80 percent of the people we help are grateful and pleasant. Another 10 percent are so happy, they gush so much that you almost can’t stand it. And the last 10 percent haven’t had a good day since 1981, so don’t bother trying to convince them otherwise. Nothing you can do or say will make them happy.” Ghica said she relates to many of the international travelers who cross her path. She is originally from the Transylvania region of Romania, and then lived in Vienna, Austria, before arriving in the United States in 1990. She speaks fluent Romanian, German, Hungarian and Yugoslavian, a valuable skill in airport customer service, she said. “My office is in the same terminal where I arrived in the U.S.,” Ghica said. “It was literally the first place I saw when I landed on American soil. I never dreamed I would spend my days working here.” That was before her evolution from reluctant transplant to deep-rooted Texan. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t like Houston at first,” Ghica said. “It was so hot, and I was afraid of the big flying cockroaches. I cried almost every day and told my husband I wanted to go back to Austria or Romania. Then I got a job at the airport, and this is my home now. These volunteers have the opportunity to make the first impression on first-time Houston visitors, and I’m proud to train them to be Houston ambassadors.” Susan Barrow, who has volunteered at IAH for six years, credits Ghica with the growth and strength of the program. “Working with Ella is such a privilege,” Barrow said. “She is organized, patient, high energy, positive and Houston friendly. She strives to do the best and inspires the volunteers to do the same. The interaction with Ella, the other volunteers and the customers makes this meaningful and worth your time. I’m genuinely excited to come here in the morning, and happily exhausted

when I go home.” Ghica continually looks for new ways to improve customer service. She said she finds inspiration and best practices by volunteering for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and events at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. Ghica also encourages airport volunteers to broaden the ways they can help by attending informational events on topics ranging from Super Bowl volunteer training to human trafficking. “Whenever there is a new training for employees, I always ask if my volunteers can participate,” Ghica said. “The volunteers can add 108 more sets of eyes and ears around the airport. They need to know what to look for and how to report suspicious activity.” In addition to overseeing the volunteers, Ghica helps organize

Houston Airport System’s fundraising efforts for the city’s Combined Municipal Campaign. She supports the Harmony in the Air program, where local musicians perform live in the airports. She’s also involved in the Aviation Club for high school students interested in aviation careers, and Wings for All events that prepare children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families for air travel. “The more I do, the more I learn, the better asset I can be to the airport and the more job satisfaction I have,” Ghica said. “This job has made me more appreciative of life at all stages. Most of the volunteers are retired, and I admire them so much. I see that life doesn’t have to slow down after retirement. It’s so humbling and inspirational. They push me to be better.”

Shown above: Airport volunteers Michelle Wall, Lyn and Hutch Hutchings stand on the IAH tarmac with Ella Ghica. Photo courtesy of Ella Ghica. Other volunteers pictured: Susan Barrow, Ernie Thomas, Bud Henderson, Billie Grode and Didi Jordan.

To be an airport volunteer, you must: Be at least 18 years old; Be available to work four-hour shifts once a week (schedules are flexible); Have basic computer and Internet navigation skills; Pass a 10-year background check to be admitted to secure areas of the airport. Learn more at 2017 - Issue 1



Mayor Turner thanks employees for generous CMC participation E

ach year, the Combined Municipal Campaign inspires employees to exercise their social responsibility and give back to the community. The 2017 “Compassion in Action” CMC wrapped Nov. 1, and city employees raised just over $750,000 for more than 700 nonprofit organizations registered with the campaign. “Giving back is such a rewarding feeling,” said Jennifer Cobb, CMC chair. “Just like we are called to public service, the folks behind the nonprofits registered with the CMC are also called to serve and need our assistance.” Every employee donation – made through payroll deduction, one-time donation, or participating in department fundraisers – helps CMC agencies fulfill their missions. Mayor Sylvester Turner thanked employees for their generosity during a recognition breakfast for CMC coordinators and employees who contribute 1 percent or more of their annual salary. “What I have come to realize as a mayor for a short period of time, is that at the City of Houston, we have some outstanding employees who are generous and giving, who would go over and above, and for that I want to say thank you,” Turner said. “Thank you for looking beyond your own needs, for looking beyond yourself and recognizing that there are many others who are less fortunate than ourselves. Thank you for joining in to make their lives a little better. That’s who we are, that’s what we do, and I certainly appreciate it. Let’s keep it going.”


CONTINUED from Page 4

a street where everyone is doing it, it becomes the way things are.” On that morning, Cisneros, Mebane and his crew cleaned up a District H ditch that showed a cross section of commonly discarded items such as broken furniture, mattresses, old televisions, boxes, cans, bottles, buckets with murky water, tree waste, building materials and tires, lots of tires. It’s a reflection of dumpsites citywide. According to the SWM website, more than 24 million scrap tires are discarded in Texas every year. It costs the city $1 million annually to collect and dispose of illegally dumped tires. Deputy Director Anthony Bowie said fighting illegal dumping, specifically scrap tires, is a moving target. “It seems like we clean up an area, just to find it trashed again. We have received a lot of support for neighborhoods, but dumping just moves from one area to the next,” Bowie said. “The dumpers probably know our collection schedule better than we do. It’s kind of like a

2017 - Issue 1

chase. We collect it, and in two or three week, they put it right back.” Solutions In January 2016, the Scrap Tire Ordinance went into effect requiring all scrap tire generators and transporters to register and obtain annual city permits. After the grace period expired, the city began cracking down on illegal scrap tire organizations with hefty fines. Deputy Director Anthony Bowie said fines are a deterrent, especially to the “mom and pop” small tire businesses. The city has also installed cameras at known dumping sites, but identifying and tracking illegal dumpers is challenging. “Cameras have been helpful in some cases, but dumping usually occurs between midnight and 6 a.m., so we don’t get the clearest images,” Bowie said. “We’re looking for license plates, the vehicle make and model, but dumpers often use vehicles they don’t own, so they can’t be traced.” That’s where the Saturday crews

come in. Mebane said the weekend runs increase visibility in the community and create opportunities to educate residents who may be away from home during weekday collection schedules. “We see people step out of their homes when we are cleaning up the ditches, and every chance we get, we try to educate residents about the proper time and locations for heavy trash disposal,” Mebane said. Bowie and Mebane said mosquito breeding and weekend collections slowed down in the colder months, but SWM stayed on top of dumpsite cleanup. “This is still Houston, we don’t get a lot of cold snaps, and the mosquito populations don’t need much to multiply,” Mebane said. “It slows down a little in the dead of winter, but we were still out there because illegal dumping actually increases during the holiday season. People dump old TVs and other electronics after Black Friday sales and don’t wait for heavy trash pickup.” All illegal dumping/Zika sweeps are

conducted in addition to the regular collection schedule, with the existing staff and with the existing fleet of trucks, Mebane said. Schedules are planned carefully, as employees who work Saturday shifts earn overtime. Bowie said the continuation of the program will be contingent upon funding. Zika abatement efforts for the year will cost the city an estimated $3.6 million this year, according to the Mayor’s Office. The only source of funding has been a $1.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Zika surveillance, testing and prevention. “We have repeatedly asked the state for financial help, but those requests have gone unanswered,” Turner said. “With some extra money, we could increase collection frequency beyond the weekends, establish additional drop-off locations for heavy trash and develop and distribute more informational materials.”



Don’t let your dinner sink our sewers By Elise Rambaud Marrion


inner is done and its time to clean up. Your next move could cost the city big bucks to clean up clogged pipes. “If every Houston resident puts just one tablespoon of cooking grease down the sink each week for one year, you would have 500,000 gallons of grease, or enough to fill an Olympic-sized pool,” said Bill Goloby. If you think that sounds disgusting, you should see it in person,said Goloby, who works in the Public Works and Engineering Wastewater Operations. He leads the Corral the Grease public education program that works to reverse bad disposal habits among Houstonians. According to the Corral the Grease website, used cooking grease dumped down kitchen drains solidifies and accumulates inside the pipes, eventually restricting free flow of raw sewage on its way to the wastewater treatment plant. This overloads the collections system, causing sewage to overflow into streets, yards and storm ditches, eventually polluting the bayous and Galveston Bay. “Putting meat scraps and cooking grease down the disposal is not worth the convenience. It costs the City of Houston tens of thousands of dollars every month to clean out sewer pipes, can cost the resident hundreds of dollars for

plumbing services, and disrupts traffic when our trucks have to come out and clean the sewers.” Common enemies to our sewer system include: cooking grease and oil meat fats shortening, butter and margarine coffee grounds and filters paper towels baby diapers feminine hygiene products hair chewing gum plastics Goloby gives community presentations about the hazards of improper disposal of fat, oil and grease, and says residents are frequently surprised to hear that their daily habits can impact the city’s sewer system. “Some people know better, but they don’t think that a little bacon grease can hurt. Lots of folks think that chasing the grease with hot, soapy water will solve the problem,” Goloby said. “That just chases it further down the pipe. It’s better to just collect the grease in a can or container and throw it away. It’s all going to end up in the landfill one way or another even if Public Works has to clean it out of the blocked pipes.”

Recycle used cooking oil from deep fryers at these locations: North Environmental Service Center 5614 Neches Street Facility Hours: Second Thursday of each month – 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. South Environmental Service Center 11500 S. Post Oak Rd. Facility Hours: Tuesdays and Wednesdays - 9 a.m. to 3: p.m.
Second Saturday of each month – 9 a.m. to 1p.m.

Westpark Consumer Recycling Center 5900 Westpark Phone: 713-837-0311

TIPS ON HOW TO PREVENT FAT, OIL AND GREASE FROM GOING DOWN YOUR KITCHEN SINK: Do not pour grease products down sinks or toilets. Pour liquid oils and grease into cans, heat resistant bags or containers. When full of grease, seal and throw away the bag or container with your trash. Scrape fats, grease and food from plates and cooking utensils into the trash. Use basket strainers in sinks to catch food particles and empty them into the trash. Remember, garbage disposals are not effective for disposing of fat, oil and grease. When fat, oil and grease is warm in the sink, it floats, but it solidifies in pipes when it cools. In plumbing and sewer pipes, fat oils and grease can block the normal flow of sewage in the pipe.

Hours: Monday through Saturday – 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Running hot tap water will not float grease in the sewer pipe. That’s because the water cools as it flows down the pipe, so that the grease remains solid.

Private Service Centers: Houston Biodiesel 1138 W. 20th Street Phone: 713-222-0832

If you live in the City of Houston, register to receive a free Corral the Grease reusable lid for cans used to collect household cooking grease at https://services.publicworks.

Hours: Monday through Friday – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

2017 - Issue 1


Houston Happenings Follow City Savvy’s Lucha Morales as she explores city milestones, festive events and much more on Houston Happenings, a Savvy news video series detailing the pulse of the city. Look for our Savvy monthly emails, or subscribe to our YouTube channel, HR Houston, and watch all our videos.


Stephanie Knopee, ARA Fancy seeing you here.

Julian Duran, ARA

Juana Melendez, HHD




Jerrel Geisler, PWE Is this what they mean by Fast and Furryous?


City Savvy is published by the City of Houston Human Resources Department. 611 Walker, 4A Houston, Texas 77002 832-393-6132

The Team



By Paul Beckman


As you can see, we have some of the hardest working employees. Most of them work themselves to death.


Carlos Del Toro, FMD Y’all go ahead. I’m going to mail in my absentee voting card.



At last, re-leaf from this Houston heat.

Scan QR code with your smartphone.

Mark Rudkin, HAS Keep your distance. I think this one has Zika.




Beckheads Caption Contest

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Publications Manager Leslie Denton-Roach

Human Resources Director Jane Cheeks

Managing Editor Elise Rambaud Marrion

Deputy Directors Teri Germany-Haddad Andrew Vasquez

Reporters Jennifer Cobb Elise Rambaud Marrion Lucha Morales David Smith

Assistant Director Charles Smith Deputy Assistant Director Nicole Hare-Everline

Designer Heidi Bane

Got story ideas? Email Elise Marrion at or call 832-393-6132

City Savvy Issue 1 - 2017  

City of Houston Employee News

City Savvy Issue 1 - 2017  

City of Houston Employee News