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Volume 21


Issue Number 2


Newsletter published for City of Houston employees

Greener than you think:

100 years of parks

Photos courtesy of the Houston Parks & Recreation Department

Around the City . . . . . Page 2 - 12 Extra Milers . . . . . . Page 6 Hats Off . . . . . . . . . . Page 7 Day on the Job . . . . . Page 13 Houston Heritage . . . . . . . Page 14


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

Travelers’ best friend

Champion for recycling

Bush Intercontinental Airport recruits four-legged friends for a dog therapy program to ease the minds of travelers. Page 12

Pay a visit to Chris Ford at the Environmental Service CenterSouth, and don’t forget to bring those old paint cans in your garage. Page 13


Photos courtesy of the Houston Parks & Recreation Department

Houston celebrates a century of parks By Elise Rambaud Marrion


ouston may be known for skyscrapers, sprawling miles of freeways, strip centers and suburbs, but there’s much more to the city’s true nature and character. Zoom out on the map, and you’ll see quite a bit of green – the parks that transform communities and enhance the quality of life. With 371 city parks, you could visit a different park every day of the year. Mayor Sam Brashear established Houston’s first municipal park, Sam Houston Park, in 1899. More than a century later, Brashear’s long-range vision to preserve green space in Houston continues to be valued as the Houston Parks and Recreation Department celebrates its centennial anniversary. Created March 15, 1916, the Department of Public Parks comprised 750 acres of Sam Houston and Hermann parks combined. Today, the parks system covers more than 38,000 acres. In March, Mayor Sylvester Turner congratulated HPARD for 100 years of service to the city and issued a proclamation naming the department’s anniversary date, March 15, 2016, as Houston Parks and Recreation

Department Day. Parks are still a priority to the city, a sentiment that was reaffirmed by Mayor Turner at a centennial celebration at the McGovern Centennial Gardens in March. At a time when the mayor, City Council and department leaders were looking for ways to resolve the budgetary shortfall, Turner was committed to supporting city parks. “There are two areas that I am not cutting. One is the libraries. And we are not making any major reductions in respect to our parks. I think we will short ourselves if we don’t continue to invest in our parks in a very real way,” Turner said. “As we look at where we have come over the first 100 years, I ask that you imagine where we will be 100 years from now, and what kind of future we are giving to future Houstonians,” Turner said. “And let it be said that we value the tall buildings, but we also recognize that the landscape around those tall buildings is equally important. If we build and provide the green space for our kids and families, not only are we doing something for recreation, but we will establish some healthy minds and healthy

attitudes as well. We will give people the opportunity to grow up and say we are Houston proud.” Turner’s support of parks dates back to his childhood in Acres Homes, the neighborhood where he still lives. During his career as a state representative, Turner raised funds to renovate his neighborhood park, the former West Little York Park, which was renamed Sylvester Turner Park in 2006. The recent restoration of Hermann, Buffalo Bayou and Memorial parks is turning heads around the state and nation. A Texas Monthly article chronicled how Houston parks are becoming the model of what is possible when public and private sectors work together. In early March, the Cultural Landscape Foundation convened 1,300 nationwide landscape planners for the “Houston Transformation Conference,” to study how the city is reinventing its landscape. “I’m proud to have great historic parks in District I like Sam Houston and Gus Wortham golf course, which is the oldest golf course in Texas,” said Councilman Robert Gallegos. “It’s exciting to be celebrating 100 years, and to know that the nation is looking at us in regards

to our green space. I can’t tell you the number of articles I have read that cities are looking at us as a leader.” And another restoration project, Gragg Park, a 47.96 acre park behind HPARD headquarters at 2999 South Wayside, celebrated its grand reopening on Oct. 1. Restoration projects include the construction of a playground area with a modular unit with slides, decks, climbers, and plexipanels that cast colors on the ground, a net climber and swing unit, a play hill with decorative elephant statuary featuring the work of graffiti artist Gonzo247, shade structures, a picnic area, sportsfield, lighting, signage, parking expansion, trail work, fencing, landscaping and irrigation. “The Houston Parks and Recreation Department is very honored to have served as stewards of the city’s parks and green spaces for the past 100 years,” said Director Joe Turner. “We could not have reached this milestone without the hard work and dedication of all the employees who have worked at Parks for those many years. We appreciate each and every one of them and their years of service to the department and the city we serve.”

DID YOU KNOW? The City of Houston created what was known as the Department of Public Parks on March 15, 1916, five months before the U.S. government established the National Park Service. In 1899, the city purchased the KellumNoble house and its surrounding grounds to establish Sam Houston Park as the first municipal park. Market Square Park served as the home to four city halls before the current City Hall was built in 1939. The HPARD office building at Gragg Park was the headquarters for NASA during the Mercury program. Memorial Park was established on the former site of Camp Logan, a World War I U.S. Army training camp. In May 1924, the city took ownership of the land to be used as a “memorial” park, dedicated to the memory of soldiers who lost their lives serving in World War I.

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Originally purchased in 1872 as a site for Juneteenth celebrations, Emancipation Park has been managed by the city since 1918. Once a state park, the 5,000-acre Lake Houston Wilderness Park is the only city park that offers overnight camping, trails for hiking and biking, kayaking and horseback riding. Before the city purchased Woodland Park in the Heights in 1914, it was a private park called Highland Park. The park featured rides and a water slide, musicals, vaudeville, comedy and dramatic shows. Bethel Park sits on the site of the original Bethel Missionary Baptist Church founded by the Rev. Jack Yates in 1890 in historic Freedmen’s Town. At over 40,000 square feet, Buffalo Bayou Park’s Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark is one of the largest in Texas, and it was the first in-ground skatepark in Houston.

The HPARD system features six ADAaccessible playgrounds with adaptive equipment that provide a great place for children and families of all abilities to play together. Through the After-School Meal and Summer Food Service programs at Parks community centers, HPARD has been helping to alleviate childhood hunger by providing free snacks and meals to youth ages 1-18 since 1980. Olympian Zina Garrison, a three-time mixed doubles champion and a women’s doubles gold medalist at the 1988 Olympics, learned to play at John Wilkerson’s MacGregor Park Junior Tennis Program in the 1970s. The Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park provides year-round, free baseball and softball instruction to 2,500 local youth ages 7-17. Houston began with 750 acres of land and now maintains 37,859 acres of green space.

Baseball & Softball Fields


11 Urban Gardens Sites

180 Basketball Courts Tennis Courts

23 Gyms


60 Community Centers


15 Football/Rugby/Cricket/Lacrosse Fields

25 Water Spraygrounds

90 Soccer Fields

38 Pools

03 9 Dog Parks

143 Miles of Trails

226 Playgrounds

4 Nature Centers


Parks Golf Courses

6 Skate Parks


17 Volleyball Courts

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iSpeak program breaks down language barriers By Lucha Morales


orma Meadows doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, but that hasn’t stopped her from helping many Spanishspeaking customers who contact her about certifying their women, minority, disadvantaged or small business enterprises. “There’s been several instances when I’ve interacted with a limited English language proficiency customer, primarily one whose first language is Spanish,” said Meadows, an administrative

CITY OF HOUSTON LANGUAGE LINE City employees in need of an interpreter can call the City of Houston Language Line. They will need a client ID and their department code, which can be obtained from their department language coordinator. City of Houston Language Line: 832-393-3000 iSpeak City Employee Language Access Center is a dedicated portal of language access solutions and resources designed to help city employees help non-English speakers access city services and information. Visit ispeakhouston/
city_employee.html Google Translate App City employees can use the Google Translate App to help Non-English speakers. The app is available for download for android phones on Google Play and for iPhones in the iTunes App Store.

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specialist for the Office of Business Opportunity. “I’m not bilingual, so in these cases, I've had to reach out to one of my team members who is bilingual to provide assistance,” said Meadows. But then Meadows learned about iSpeak. Created in 2011 and administered by the Department of Neighborhoods, iSpeak is the city’s official language access program. Through iSpeak’s online City Employee Language Access Center, employees can help non-English speakers access city services and information. The iSpeak access center provides useful tools: a training video, language identification cards, department language access plans, Google Apps, and other resources, said Meadows. “It's available for all of us to utilize.” In Houston, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic and Urdu speakers ranked the highest among those who don’t speak English well, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. “Other cities started to create these language access plans,” said Terence O’ Neil, director of the Mayor’s International Office of Communities. “New York kind of started it. “We followed New York’s model and their executive order,” said O’Neill. “But then to strengthen it, we made it into an administrative procedure.” In 2014, then-Mayor Annise Parker implemented administrative procedure 2-11, which established policies for city departments to provide information about city services, programs and activities to residents and visitors with limited English. Now, iSpeak is gaining momentum. When Minal Patel Davis, special advisor to the mayor on human trafficking, needed translators for a human trafficking town hall meeting, O’Neill helped. “The entire city is under one contract

with MasterWord Services,” said O’Neill of the translation and interpretation firm the city uses for language access services. “When someone needs a translation done or interpretation for a town hall meeting, we now have a way to do it through this firm.” For now, only 11 departments have been identified as participants in the language access program, said O’Neill. If needed by other departments, they can use this service without contracting with a vendor. Over the past year, O’Neill has held several iSpeak training sessions for various city departments. “I go over the policy, view some videos, and then employees take a quiz,” he said. “My goal is to get all of the departments trained at least once and then do it every few years.” Along with providing information about city services to residents and visitors with limited English, AP 2-11 requires city departments that provide direct services to the public to select a language coordinator and create a language access plan. “As the business opportunity office’s language access coordinator, I'm responsible for the total oversight of the department's language access plan,” said Meadows, who has served as the coordinator for the past three years. “This includes ensuring compliance with AP 2-11 and proper implementation of the plan to ensure that OBO provides meaningful access to persons who don't speak English as their primary language and have limited ability to read, write, or understand the English language.” O’Neill encourages city employees to be aware of the city’s language resources to better help residents. Besides the iSpeak access center, there may be a person on staff who speaks that language, and you can also ask your language coordinator to contact the City of Houston Language Line, available 24 hours a day. “Employees can call 832-393-3000

and be connected to a live interpreter,” O’Neill said. “Employees will need the City of Houston client ID and their department code when using the interpretation option. They can get these from their language coordinators.” Another resource for employees is Google’s free translate app, which instantly offers speech translation in 40 languages and text translation in 26 languages. “You can choose all these different languages,” he said. “Let’s say you didn’t have access to the Language Hotline, and you didn’t know anyone else, you could use this app which is free. “We don’t invent these ideas,” O’Neill said. “These are responses to problems and needs in the community. “Our goal is to recommend policies that can help improve their lives and their interactions with the City of Houston,” he said. To learn more about iSpeak’s Houston City Employee Language Access Center and resources, log on to www.houstontx. gov/ispeakhouston/cityemployee.html. To schedule an iSpeak training on the essentials of language access, contact Terence O’Neill at Terence.ONeill@

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



Photos by Elise Marrion

Turnaround Houston gives hope and extreme career makeovers By Elise Rambaud Marrion


illiam Glasgow’s job prospects and confidence were running on empty when he walked into the Turnaround Houston Resource Fair on July 9. When he left the Hiram Clark MultiService Center, Glasgow had high hopes for the future, a resume and employment contacts in hand — and a fresh haircut. “It’s rough out there on the job market. People look down their nose at you because you have been incarcerated. Without programs like this, it feels almost impossible to find steady work,” said Glasgow, who was released from prison in March. “Turnaround Houston does a good job making sure you have what you need to get where you want to be. It’s the little things like a haircut that boost your confidence,” said Glasgow, who is also participating in the Houston Health Department’s Community Re-Entry Network Program. “This morning, I had a long ponytail going down my back, and now I feel the breeze. I’m feeling better about myself and I feel ready to take on the next step.” Launched in March, Turnaround Houston is Mayor Sylvester Turner’s initiative to remove employment barriers by connecting Houstonians with social services, job training, health and employment resources. Events were held in Sunnyside, Denver Harbor, Hiriam Clark, Kashmere Multi-Service Center and Acres Homes. “We are putting people in touch with the best opportunities to be independent, to take care of themselves and their families. We are reaching out to folks who might have just given up. They may need that second chance, or for whatever reason, just cannot find a job, and those who think folks have given up on them,” Mayor Turner said. “I want them to know that this city is not going to give up on any single person if you are willing and able, if you want it, and if you are willing to work for it.” The event this summer was the third in the series of comprehensive resource fairs that have attracted an estimated 800 job seekers. The fairs offer access to job training, resume writing, tattoo removal, social service agencies, educational institutions, counseling and interventions, career wardrobe, health screenings, free haircuts and more. Coordinated by the Office of Business Opportunities, numerous city departments and community

organizations participate in Turnaround Houston to offer information and services on the spot. Other partners include the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office, The Houston Health Department Community Re-Entry Network Program and Mental Health Services, Houston

Public Library, City of Houston Human Resources, Houston Area Urban League, SER Jobs for Progress, Houston Community College, Dress for Success, Career Gear, Franklin Beauty & Barber School, Workforce Solutions and more. Human Resources Director Jane Cheeks said Turnaround Houston embodies what public service is all about, and that she leaves Turnaround Houston events feeling inspired and proud of the work the city is doing in the community. “The success stories get me every time. I met a guy this morning who was out of work for a long time, but he found a job through one of the previous Turnaround Houston job fairs. He came back here today to thank everyone for helping him,” Cheeks said. “Programs like this show that the City of Houston cares, and that it’s not a dead end road. It gives them hope and a reason to continue.” The City of Houston is a secondchance employer and does not require job applicants to disclose criminal history until the interview stage. “The city wants to ensure all applicants have a fair process,” Cheeks said. “Any application that meets the minimum qualifications will be looked at and screened accordingly. There should be no worry that a prior offence will prohibit employment consideration.” That’s a relief for Houstonians like Polly Samples, who is rebuilding her life after serving time. “Last week I was released from prison,

so I’m here on re-entry,” Samples said. “This event has given me a lot of hope about my future. I found out about medical services, how I can get my blood pressure pills. I don’t want to go back to the career I used to have. I don’t want to go back in any way. There are career planning tools, and every step of the way I have found something I needed to build my new life. I’m becoming a new resident of Houston, so this was a really touching introduction to the city.” Samuel Joshua has experience working in warehouses, carpentry, scaffolding systems, driving a forklift, chemical plants and longshoreman work, but he is struggling to find work. One of his barriers, he said, is technology used in the employment process. “Everything is online,” Joshua said. “I have a cell phone, but I’m not really good with computers, email and going online. Jobs are posted online, and employers keep in contact with people through email. Today, they were helping me in the computer lab understand how to get a password and email address, how to send a resume and fill out online applications.” “I’m grateful for this program,” Joshua said. “Turnaround Houston is serving not only employment needs, but also social services. I sure needed a haircut. It’s also a way for you to meet new people,

talk with employers plus some schools offering training programs that a lot of us need.” Carlecia Wright, director of the Office of Business Opportunity, said interest in Turnaround Houston is growing from both sides, job seekers and employers and service providers. “Going into communities like Sunnyside, Acres Homes, South Park, has given me a different view point of what some of the needs are and how there are entrepreneur-minded individuals in these communities. And we need to make sure that we get there and provide these resources to them,” Wright said. “Ultimately we are looking at the next phase, how we grow and how we impact the folks who participate in Turnaround Houston. In January, we will be launching an eight-week entrepreneurship program for Turnaround participants who may have job, but who are looking for independence and financial freedom. We want to educate them about what that looks like.” For more information and to view a full schedule of Turnaround Houston events, visit turnaround or call the Office of Business Opportunities at 832-393-0600.

Mayor Turner’s new program, Turnaround Houston, connects Houstonians with health, social and educational services as well as career connections to find a foothold in the job market. Turnaround Houston Resource Fair guest William Glasgow (top left) prepares for his job search with a fresh new look courtesy of Franklin Barber School.

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Attorney credits HPD’s Tommy Carr for saving human trafficking victim Casey Wallace, a local attorney shared a detailed story with Mayor Turner about how Sergeant Tommy Carr, an officer in the HPD Vice Division, rescued an 18-year-old girl from human trafficking. Joy Tiles of Rogers, Ark., was abducted when she was on spring break in South Padre Island. Tiles was forced into prostitution and forced to perform in topless dance clubs against her will. Carr was able to rescue Tiles by analyzing recent photos of the victim and working with the local dance clubs to liberate her from her captives. Tiles has reunited with her family in Arkansas, and she graduated high school. “I can attest that a few years back, before the clubs and HPD began working together to fight this scourge of human trafficking, this would have never been possible, and Ms. Tiles would sadly have been another lost face in the underworld of sex trafficking. You truly have a star amongst the rank of the police department, and a man who genuinely cares for the lives he has been charged with protecting,” Wallace wrote. MCD’s Sebie Babers handles ticket with tact, attention to detail Nobody wants to get a ticket, but giving good customer service helps soften the blow. Houston resident Eric Sepp wrote to the Municipal Courts Department to thank Sebie Babers for going the extra mile. “I wanted to take a minute and say thanks to Sebie Babers for her proactive approach to handling my ticket. While it is not a large ticket or fine, Sebie was able to handle the issue promptly and assisted me,” Sepp said. “I believe this reflects on the quality of this employee. She is working the small cases with this type of attention to detail and ease. She understands the larger picture of what the City of Houston must accomplish to allow citizens and business to continue in an efficient and timely manner.” Officers Schrock and Barreto receive thanks for recovering stolen truck Mike Daugherty offered his gratitude to two Houston Police Department officers, Evan Schrock and Hector Barreto. The officers recovered Daugherty’s son’s stolen work truck and much of the equipment that was stolen from inside the truck. Through their investigation, the officers were able to make an arrest and secure a confession from the suspect. “I recently had the occasion to interface with several Houston police officers, and I could not be more impressed. They were professional, extremely competent and gave my family and me great confidence and a

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sense of security,” Daugherty wrote in a letter to Mayor Turner. “They all did a great job and promptly gained control and command of the situation. We were very pleased and felt secure in their capable hands. “I am very proud of the City of Houston and pleased that you are able to attract and retain young men and women of such character and ability,” Daugherty wrote. “They are a credit to your leadership. Please keep doing whatever you are doing. I believe the locals in the neighborhood were also impressed with their low key, professional demeanor. We certainly were.” Retired city employee applauds SWM employee Mario Barrera said he was proud to see a Solid Waste Management employee go the extra mile to collect oversized tree debris. “As a retired City of Houston employee, I am well aware that recognition of employees that do an exemplary job goes unnoticed or unreported. Three of my neighbors trimmed some trees and had placed the tree debris in four pretty good sized piles in front of their yards. Each pile was considerably more than normally is put out for pick up by weekly leaf and tree recycling. Nonetheless, your crew on the leaf and tree recycle truck #36716 picked it up. “Employee Joseph Baldock stopped in front of the pile next door to me at which time I spoke with them. I was impressed that he elected to pick up the debris which I felt was large enough to be picked up by the heavy trash equipment the following Tuesday. He easily could have passed them up. I would like to thank this fine gentlemen for doing an excellent job. He is truly an excellent example of the employees the City of Houston needs and deserves.” Public Works employee recovers purse lost in sewer Olivia Djibo was immensely grateful for assistance from city employees after her purse fell into the storm sewer near Discovery Green Park. Djibo called 311. Within two hours, a city employee arrived on the scene, removed the storm drain cover and retrieve her purse. “Yesterday, I never felt more proud to reside in Houston. I was enjoying Sunday morning with my twin babies and my husband. While loading the kids back into the car, my purse and all my belongings fell in

the sewer system,” Djibo wrote to Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I am still in shock and did not have time to catch the name of the technician who helped me. I just wanted to thank you and the city for all the work you do for us. I will never take it for granted,” she wrote. Temeka Doakes shares super powers at Kendall Neighborhood Library Sonyia Scott wrote to Houston Public Library to thank Temeka Doakes for helping her download e-books at the Kendall Neighborhood Library. “I witnessed customer service at its very best today. I was having trouble downloading the book to my Kindle, so I decided to go into the Kendall location to get help,” Scott wrote. “I had the pleasure of working with Temeka and discovered that she has super powers. She is nothing short of a guru at downloading applications, but she did this while single-handedly taking care of at least eight to 10 other customers at the same time,” Scott wrote. “I was amazed at how she kept her composure and resolved everyone’s issue. You have a new cheerleader, not only will I tell my friends and book club sisters, but this is the location that I will continue to visit. Legal Department employees brighten senior citizens’ day Martha Martinez Gomez, president of Navidad En El Barrio, wrote to Mayor Turner to commend Heather N. Cook, Jeffrey A. Lubritz and Susana G. Sosa, assistant city attorneys, for going above and beyond serving Houston senior citizens. Gomez expressed her appreciation for the employees’ help during a Young at Heart event for seniors on June 25. “Over 300 seniors enjoyed a day full of dancing, food, gifts, being served and treated like kings and queens. Each of your employees, along with their families and loved ones, worked hard ensuring that our seniors had a great day,” Gomez wrote. “In addition, we would like to recognize Heather Cook for joining our Board of Directors team. Please extend our appreciation and thank them for a job well done. You should be proud to have such devoted employees who represent our city extremely well. Thank you for your time and commitment to our city.” Finance Department clears up arts funding confusion Kathryn McNeil wrote to Mayor Sylvester Turner on behalf of Theater District Houston to thank Finance Director Kelly Dowe and his staff for explaining allocation of Hotel Occupancy Tax funds. Dowe arranged a meeting for McNeil and Finance Department staff members Tantri Emo and Lynn Phan. “Understanding Houston’s city budget

is an ongoing mystery. The different art organizations have been curious about the allocation of the Hotel Occupancy tax dollars,” McNeil wrote. “They were incredibly helpful and patient,” McNeil wrote about Emo and Phan. “Though the arts do not fall under the Department of Finance, Kelly went out of his way to accommodate Theater District Houston. I just want to compliment Kelly and his staff on their professionalism and helpfulness.” Parks lifeguards make memorable birthday surprise for special needs child Timothy Daponte wrote to Mayor Sylvester Turner to share a touching story about Houston Parks and Recreation Department lifeguards who made his son’s day. “All too often we hear stories disparaging public employees. My son, George is severely autistic and nonverbal. As part of his therapy, he swims regularly at the Memorial Park pool. One characteristic of autistic children is their inability to form social connections,” Daponte wrote. On the occasion of George’s 17th birthday, HPARD staff greeted him with a Happy Birthday sign and cupcakes. “George was able to make a connection and interact with the staff. Those members of the staff include Clancy Nelson, Laura Rodriguez, Mia Aldridge, Cayla Cloud. They are to be commended for taking the initiative and showing compassion for a special needs child. Special needs children and adults have always been accommodated by all of the staff at Memorial Park,” Daponte wrote. “The staff at Memorial Park has always been the paragons of professionalism. It is my understanding that these employees are seasonal employees. Every endeavor should be made by the city to retain these outstanding employees in some capacity. I would recommend these employees for any employment or educational opportunity for which they may otherwise be qualified.”


HATS OFF LIP class of 2016 completes intensive leadership training After eight months of interactive leadership training, intense discussions and practical applications to realworld workplace issues, 55 employees graduated from the City of Houston Leadership Institute Program (LIP) on May 23. The participants, who were nominated by their department, are considered the emerging leaders in their respective organizations. The executive management training program consisted of eight modules covering topics such as leadership foundations, the culture of change, emotional intelligence, ethics, communication, motivation and succession planning and more. LIP Class of 2016 graduates include: Erikah Abdu, GSD; Minerva Alba, HR; Patrick Atkins, HPL; Heidi Bane, HR; Avia Bank-Thomas, MCD; Carlos Barba, HPARD; Kallie Benes, HPL; Tony Bolar, HR; Phillip Buentello, HPARD; Juan Cabrera, GSD; Carlos Del Toro, FMD; Terrance Edmonson, HPARD; Chris Emeharole, HR; Monty English, HPARD; Martin Enriquez, MCD; Rose Estevez, HPARD; Pirooz Farhoomand, HCD; Edgar Fuentes, HPL; Ernest Fuentes, FMD; Joe Fuentez, DON; Marjorie Gonzalez, HPL; Paul Green, DON; Jesse Gutierrez, DON; Justin Hagendorf, HPARD; Earlmond Hammond, HPARD; Larry Holman, PWE; Marco Jones, GSD; Jocklynn Keville, HCD; Cedrick LaSane, HCD; Jose Lazo, PWE; Susana Leal, MCD; Renon Libunao, GSD; Paula Lichanpanit; Jenny Lin, HPARD; Latarsha Living, PWE; Elise Marrion, HR; Mark Norton, MCD; Meg Oswald, MCD; Christopher Perkins, OEM; Betsy Ramos, HR; Juvenal Robles, HPARD; Carla Rogers, MCD; Melissa Ryans, HPL; Sandra Sanchez, PWE; Aundrea Scales, HITS; Laura Serrano, HCD; Ketan Shah, FIN; Angela Simon, HCD; Kimesha Sonnier, HCD; Eric Spurgeon, HPARD; Twonda Thompson, HPARD; Donna Walker, FMD; Michael Walter, OEM and Khalin Washington, MCD. White House honors Houston for exemplary service to immigrant communities (with photo of Terrence with Obama and Biden) Houston’s Office of International Communities was recognized by the White House for its successful community partnerships designed to serve the city’s burgeoning immigrant and refugee population through programs promoting civic engagement, citizenship application assistance and language access. Terence O’Neilll, director of the Mayor’s Office of International Communities, was among individuals recognized by President Barack Obama for exemplary service to immigrant communities.

“The City of Houston is honored to be part of this growing movement which recognizes that welcoming all residents, including immigrants who have made this country their new home is the right thing to do, in line with the ideal of inclusiveness that we all value as Americans,” said Mayor Turner. “It is also smart economic policy for us to work as unified communities to build and maintain a strong economy and enhance our nation’s global competitive edge.” Honorees are part of the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign, a partnership of The White House Task Force on New Americans, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Welcoming America, a national nonprofit organization that encourages communities to engage in local immigrant integration efforts. President Barack Obama has called on these communities to build inclusive, welcoming communities that allow all residents to thrive and advance civic, economic and linguistic integration. Plan Houston wins IABC Bronze Quill Award Plan Houston won two Awards of Excellence from the International Association of Business Communicators Houston Chapter as part of its 2016 Bronze Quill Awards. Plan Houston was recognized for communication of a government program or project and for the website design. The Bronze Quill Awards recognized excellence in communications in the Houston area. Winning entries reflect the elite skill set necessary for successful campaigns. Suzy Hartgrove, now retired Public Affairs Manager of the Planning Department, accepted the awards on behalf of the city. Plan Houston is the city’s first general plan and was adopted last year. More information can be found at Public Utilities Division wins third place in statewide water competition The Public Works and Engineering Public utilities division recently competed in the Texas section of the American Water Works Association Conference. Gloria Guerra and Daryl Pope defeated several Texas competitors, earning third place in the TOP OPs (top operators) competition. “The City of Houston team made history and helped us earn not just statewide, but also nationwide recognition,” Guerra said. “For the first time, the City of Houston was able to win and bring home a very difficult achievement. After multiple decades of trying, and with much hard work, studying, even off duty, we were finally able to light up the board.”

Patrick Walsh renames customer service award after Mohdudul Huq At the Planning and Development Department’s 2016 employee recognition ceremony, Director Patrick Walsh presented the department’s inaugural Excellence in Customer Service Award to Mohdudul Huq. To acknowledge Huq’s outstanding customer service and dedication to the city over the past three decades, Walsh renamed the new award as the, “Huq Award” in his honor. The award honors employees who demonstrate an ability and willingness to work positively, respectfully, and effectively with others; significantly improve customer service or increase customer satisfaction in their area; manage changes in work priorities, procedures, and organization; and demonstrate exceptional ability to foster collaboration, communication and cooperation among colleagues and the community. HCCD’s Single-Family Home Reconstruction program receives national recognition Houston is one of four cities in the country to receive a 2016 HUD Secretary’s Housing and Community Design Award. HCDD’s single-family reconstruction program has been recognized as a national model by HUD for its innovative approach to affordable and accessible home design. The program was featured in The Journal of the American Institute of Architects. Noted for its extensive and innovative approach to community engagement, which included 13 community meetings and over 500 unduplicated participants, the single-family home reconstruction program resulted in the repair of 35 homes and the construction of another 240. New Director Tom McCasland expressed his dedication to maintaining this momentum. “I know first-hand the importance of affordable housing and the difference it makes. I am committed to utilizing our resources to attack the affordable housing issue,” McCasland said. Houston Fire Department earns international reaccreditation status The Houston Fire Department has received Reaccredited Agency status with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) for meeting the criteria established through the CFAI’s voluntary self-assessment and re-accreditation program. The Houston Fire Department is one of more than 200 agencies to achieve Internationally Accredited Agency status with the CFAI and the Center for Public Safety Excellence, Inc. (CPSE) “The Houston Fire Department


serves 2.2 million people within a 640 square mile area and is the largest accredited agency,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I am proud that HFD consistently achieves that status while utilizing strategic partnerships, innovation, best practices and shared sacrifice.” The CFAI process is voluntary, and provides an agency with an improvement model to assess their service delivery and performance internally and then works with a team of peers from other agencies to evaluate their completed self-assessment. HFD was first accredited by the CFAI on March 24, 2001, and has maintained accreditation status through the CFAI’s voluntary self-assessment and reaccreditation program conducted every five years. Through this self-assessment process, which included a review of 43 criteria and 253 performance indicators, HFD staff members evaluated the operations of the department, identified its strengths and weaknesses, and developed a plan to improve areas that needed to be addressed. Interim Fire Chief Rodney West said the Houston Fire Department’s achievement of Reaccredited Agency status, “demonstrates the commitment of the department to provide the highest quality of service to our community.” “We have also been able to use the Commission on Fire Accreditation International’s process as a proactive mechanism to plan the future of the Houston Fire Department and identify areas where we can improve on the quality of the services we provided,” said West. HR Communications earns four Houston Press Club Awards The Houston Press Club recognized HR Communications’ achievements in journalism and mass communication by awarding the team with four 2016 Lone Star Awards. The statewide competition is divided into categories for print, radio, television and internet journalism; student publications and broadcasts and public relations. Winners include: Leslie Denton-Roach Second Place, Public Relations Communicator of the Year Elise Rambaud Marrion Second Place, Public Relations Feature Article: Davis Leads City’s Fight Against Human Trafficking, City Savvy Lucha Morales Third Place, Public Relations Feature Article: Waiting to Inhale, Benefits Pulse Heidi Bane Third Place, Magazine Design

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ways the city goes



In January, the City of Houston landed the top spot on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Top 30 Local Government list of green power users and No. 6 on the national top 100 list. The city uses nearly 1 billion kilowatt hours of green power annually, which represents over 75 percent of its total power needs. Green power is zero-emissions electricity that is generated from environmentally preferable renewable resources. The city generates a small portion of renewable energy through solar panels on the Houston Permitting Center roof. Through an agreement with Reliant Energy, the city plans to increase green power consumption to more than 950,000 MWh of green power per year. Reliant estimates that is the equivalent needed to supply more than 87,000 residences each year.



The Green Building Resource Center, located in the Houston Permitting Center, provides educational resources for the public to learn about energy, water and green design and construction. Visitors can attend workshops, browse the showroom of green building displays and materials, purchase discounted compost bins and rain barrels, or see the rooftop that is watered with harvested rainwater and condensate from the building’s air conditioning. Steve Stelzer, program director, will even review building plans and offer cost and energy saving tips for your next home renovation project.

By Elise Rambaud Marrion

Spanning 655 square miles, the energy and resources required to serve a city the size of Houston are staggering. From fueling a fleet of 12,000 vehicles to maintaining more than 400 facilities, the work employees do every day could take a hefty toll on the environment. But it also creates the opportunity and the responsibility for the city to explore innovative ways to reduce its carbon footprint. And the city takes that responsibility seriously. From renewable energy to recycling and water conservation to community gardens, these green city programs show that little changes can make a big impact. Here are 10 ways the city goes green year-round:



The Fleet Management Department’s FleetShare program reduces emissions and saves fuel costs by providing a pool of cars for employees to use on the job. Employees can take the wheel of 27 electric Nissan Leaf cars, 15 Toyota Prius cars and 757 other hybrid vehicles as well, as an alternative fuel refuse truck, three propane-fueled Ford F Series trucks and 20 mowers.


In addition to our curbside recycling program, the Solid Waste Management Department and partner programs enable Houstonians to recycle everything from building supplies, mattresses and electronics to tires and Christmas trees. The Environmental Service Centers accept household items and chemicals that can’t be recycled or thrown away. Read more about the Environmental Service Centers on Page 13.

According to the Solid Waste Management Department, more than one-third of the waste in Houston landfills is construction and demolition materials that could be reused. The Building Material Reuse Warehouse keeps those materials out of landfills and gives them to nonprofit organizations.


On two wheels and four, the city is improving the way employees and all Houstonians get from point A to B by expanding the Bikeways Program and developing the Houston Bike Plan. Additional cycling programs include the bike share program, known as Houston B-share, Tour de Houston, the city BP MS 150 cycling team and Bike to Work Day. Employees who commute to downtown work sites also reduce emissions by taking advantage of city-subsidized Metro passes for employees.


The Houston Health Department Department’s community gardens get back to basics on going green with 11 community gardens around the city that grow fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. HHS also teaches five-week gardening classes, hosts community farmer’s markets and offers healthy cooking demonstrations.


You’re never too young to learn about saving water, so Public Works & Engineering created the WaterWorks Education Center to promote water education, conservation and stewardship. The center welcomes field trips and tours from Houstonians of all ages. They learn from interactive exhibits, demonstrations and hands-on activities exploring topics such as drinking water quality, pollution, watersheds and wetlands and water treatment and distribution.

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From office furniture to heavy duty vehicles past their prime, the city’s online Public Surplus Auction gives a second life and a new home to outdated items while generating revenue for the city.


Did you know that an elephant can eat more than 300 pounds of vegetation per day? The Browse Project, a joint effort between HPARD and the Houston Zoo, eliminates undesirable vegetation overgrowth in Hermann Park, and the zoo feeds it to the elephants. The park benefits from an improved forest habitat, and the elephants enjoy munching on fresh produce.



Photo by Alexis Hutch, My Brother’s Keeper Youth Council

My Brother’s Keeper helps youth solve tomorrow’s problems today By Elise Rambaud Marrion


t a time when racial tensions have escalated into multiple national tragedies, leaders across the country have called for healing interventions at the community level. The country needs restoration, not retaliation, and My Brother’s Keeper Houston is positioned to be part of the solution, said MBK Houston Executive Coordinator Noel Pinnock. MBK is a national movement launched by President Barack Obama in more than 250 communities in all 50 states to “address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color,” the White House website states. Former Mayor Annise Parker accepted the President’s challenge two years ago, appointing Director Stephen L. Williams and the Houston Health Department to lead the charge. “The attacks and senseless killings here in the United States and abroad bare no justification, and expose the chasm that continues to divide us. But as a nation, we can stand tethered to the notion that the very thing that breaks us can be used as a catalyst to mend us,” said Pinnock, who is a division manager in the Houston Health Department. Raising awareness isn’t enough, Pinnock said. Mending the divide requires systematic change that starts with youth, a universal commitment to mutual respect, and the collective efforts of the entire community. And that’s just a part of what MBK is working to achieve, Pinnock said. Since 2014, MBK Houston has developed a framework of health, social, education and employment interventions to ensure equal access to services, increase opportunities and remove barriers for at-risk youth. MBK projects span from forming youth justice councils to canvassing neighborhoods, improving adult and early childhood literacy, workforce development, ending the cycle of addiction and incarceration, improving interactions between youth and law enforcement, encouraging artistic expression, improving child nutrition and

immunizations and enhancing preschool to college readiness. The movement is gaining momentum and visibility as program staff and community partners work to make MBK a household name. As of now, MBK is focusing pilot programs on the Kashmere, Wheatley and Scarborough communities. These three Houston Independent School District feeder school patterns serve 20 elementary

schools, five middle schools, four high schools and more than 17,000 youth. “The way we are approaching this is the wave of the future,” said Houston Health Department Director Stephen Williams. “We are talking about turning around the lives and creating opportunities for boys and young men of color. We can no longer assume that we can tackle these monumental changes in our city without breaking down the silos. It takes public, private sector nonprofits volunteers to ante up. It’s not about how much money you have, but how much are you willing to invest and being willing to leverage your resources.” Several city departments have joined the roll call of major players helping to achieve these goals including Houston Public Library, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Human Resources and the Houston Police Department. “It’s important that we put our best foot forward as city employees,” Williams said. “Some of my proudest moments are when I’ve had people comment how committed and dedicated our employees are. Having worked in government a long time, I know that’s

true about city employees, but I think we can recognize that the average person in the community doesn’t always look at us like that. We have an opportunity to reverse that stereotype and show what we can do.” MBK Houston’s efforts have attracted nationwide attention, as Williams and other MBK representatives and partners were invited to Washington D.C. in June to share ideas and best practices with MBK programs in cities across the country. In August, MBK launched a multilevel early warning system/system of care pilot program at Bruce Elementary School, Fleming Middle School and Wheatley High School to identify students who need immediate support services such as caring adult enrichment programs, behavioral support, case management, emergency medical assistance, educational support and more. MBK is reaching out to students who demonstrate medical, emotional and social distress including those with excessive absences, disciplinary referrals and course failures, homeless, pregnant or teen parents.

My Brother’s Keeper fast facts: More than 75 percent of Houston’s male youth ages 10-24 are boys and young men of color. Black and Hispanic boys are more than two times more likely to live in poverty. Black boys are more than seven times more likely to have an encounter with law enforcement and more than two times more likely to have an out of school suspension. Hispanic boys are more than three times more likely to be uninsured.

What’s MBK been doing? Reached about 10,000 residents through door-to-door community outreach events. Hosted photography and performance art exhibit for MBK Youth Council members to show the community through their eyes. Assisted 344 youth obtain summer employment. Partnered with over 200 agencies and organizations. Introduced students to STEM jobs with a Coast Guard helicopter flyover. Organized 10 one-stop college fairs Recruited 100 reading volunteers to support school literacy programs and Read Across the Globe. Formed one of the city’s first inter-agency Youth Justice Council that brought together judicial, law enforcement, and juvenile probation leaders to the table to develop strategies to put an end to the prison pipeline.

Omowale Allen offers advice to MBK Youth Council member Steven Anderson on the eve of Anderson’s Wheately High School graduation.

Trained and certified 30 students as community health workers. Surveyed 100 residents to better understand their children’s early childhood education needs.

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Once interns, now leaders: Employees’ secrets to success By Elise Rambaud Marrion


he young men and women with fresh, eager faces nervously navigating City of Houston work sites are not hard to spot. They have become a familiar sight each summer as employees welcome interns to the city workforce. And for some city employees, every new group of summer interns evokes fond memories of the same first-day butterflies they experienced as interns years ago. “Providing internship opportunities is critical to our mission of growing our own workforce,” said Human Resources Director Jane Cheeks. “There is no better way to attract and retain talented employees than to give them that first foot in the door, and a backstage pass to see what public service is all about. “Internships are a win-win situation. We get to introduce prospective employees to the broad range of careers available at the city, and the interns can add valuable experience to their resume,” Cheeks said. “Many of our best and brightest employees started their careers as interns, and we are glad they chose to stay and pursue rewarding public service careers.” A few city employees who were once interns shared their experiences: Jesse Bounds Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Performance After earning a degree in political science in 2005, Jesse Bounds started his city career as an intern for the Mayor’s Office of Boards and Commissions under Mayor Bill White. Offered a permanent position as an operations

analyst four months later, Bounds was on the fast track to a career in public service. Bounds also served as assistant to White’s chief of staff and on Annise Parker’s transition team before accepting a job in the Finance Department. He is now leading the Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Performance. “I saw an internship in the Mayor’s Office as a great way to put my degree to good use and get into politics and public service,” Bounds said. “Right out of college, it was just cool to be so close to the action of City Hall, and to see everything I studied in school or read in the newspaper up close and personal. “Even after 10 years, that thrill hasn’t diminished at all. I’m still genuinely excited to wake up in the morning and go to work because I know what I’m doing will have a meaningful impact on the lives of Houstonians,” Bounds said. “My advice to current and future interns is to be empowered, to think big and to excel. Come in ready to learn and work hard; if you’re seeking job prospects, your hard work and willingness to learn and contribute will get you noticed.”

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Maria Irshad
 Assistant Director Administration and Regulatory Affairs Parking Management While studying journalism in college, Maria Irshad landed an internship in the Human Resources Department Communications Division in 1996. She wrote articles for the Benefits Pulse employee newsletter and worked on the Combined Municipal Campaign and Public Service Recognition Week events. “My internship opened my eyes to the career field of internal communications,” Irshad said. “I was a journalism major, so I was focused on just looking at newspapers and magazines. But I liked internal communications because it was all geared toward improving morale, getting the word out and creating a team environment. After I graduated, I ended up turning down a journalism job to work in internal communications in the energy industry.” The positive internship experience and the relationship she developed with her supervisor, Cyndy Sax, inspired Irshad to seek full-time employment with the city. “When I was interning with Cyndy Sax, we clicked instantly, so I kept in touch after I moved overseas. When we came back to Houston, I reached out to her. She had a position open as the CMC Coordinator, but she was very clear that I would have to fight for it because she had good candidates.” Irshad was offered the job and served as CMC Coordinator before moving on to the Municipal Courts Department and then ARA’s Parking Management division. It’s been 20 years since Irshad was an intern, but she said she still feels a special kinship with those who are just getting their foot in the door. “I always try to be positive and encouraging and ask for feedback from them,” Irshad said. “The last thing we want to do is have them just shredding documents the whole time; we want it to be a beneficial experience for them. We had some really good interns last summer. It was great to see how dedicated they were and how much they enjoyed coming in every day. It’s easy to lose that attitude, and I think the interns help bring it back to all of us.” Lloyd Joshua Sams
 Senior Public Health Investigator Houston Health Department Following in the public service footsteps of his parents, both city employees, Lloyd Joshua Sams started his first city internship while he was still in high school. Since 1995, he held internships and permanent positions

with Houston Information Technology Services, City Council, Mayors Bob Lanier and Lee Brown, Housing and Community Development, Solid Waste Management, ARA, and the Houston Health Department. He also worked on mayoral campaigns for Bill White, and for Mayor Tom Leppart in Dallas. In Austin, he worked for Sen. Rodney Ellis, and in Los Angeles County, he was an interpreter for the U.S. Embassy for Indonesia. A lifelong passion for languages and a little encouragement from Mayor Bob Lanier prompted Sams to learn Mandarin Chinese. Lanier asked his staff to learn a few introductory words of Mandarin to greet a delegation from China, but Sams took Lanier’s assignment to heart and kept learning until he was fluent. A self-described polyglot, Sams is fluent in English, Spanish, French, Russian and Mandarin. “I used my language skills every day as a health navigator for the Affordable Care Act, to connect people to HIV and health prevention services, for housing relocation during disasters, as a volunteer coordinator and a community liaison,” he said. “I love Houston; I’m enamored with the diversity it draws from all around the world, and that drives me to work in public service and to translate the good works and services we provide to so many people in need. “Every time I meet the new interns, often in the elevators, I ask them about their projects, and I eagerly tell them my story,” Sams said. “My advice is to ask questions and express interest, share your ideas and don’t be afraid to try something new. “If you are disappointed with your first assignments, don’t give up on the city or on public service. There is always something different to learn and do. Don’t just look at this like a summer job, think of it as a head start on a rewarding career.” Kimesha Sonnier Division Manager Housing and Community Development Kimesha Sonnier started her public service career as an intern at the Houston Airport System in the safety and environmental management division and has progressed through her 13year city career in different departments. Sonnier worked in the Public Works and Engineering wastewater operations, and now, in the Housing and Community Development Department. “When I first started

my career at the city, I was so excited to have found a place where I could be working in my field,” Sonnier said. “I was even more fortunate to have found an incredible mentor when I was an intern for Cathy Nicholson at HAS. I was blessed to have her in my corner. She steadily motivated me to achieve more. I learned so much from her leadership style.” When she meets new interns, Sonnier sees a little of herself and wants to share the lessons she learned on the job, Sonnier said. “I’ve always believed that the first impression is a lasting impression. Do things right the first time, and you won’t have to do it twice,” she said. “Always strive to do more, work in a timely manner, and don’t procrastinate because you don’t know what challenges tomorrow will hold.” Michael Walter Public Information Officer, Office of Emergency Management As part of his master’s degree in public service administration at Texas A&M, Michael Walter completed an internship at the Office of Emergency Management. During his internship, Walter helped enhance the OEM website and translated hurricane preparedness materials and evacuation plans into Spanish. After he completed his degree, Walter was offered a permanent position as an outreach coordinator. “Being able to jump right into an organization the size of Houston was an incredible opportunity. Most people have to work their way up from smaller cities,” Walter said. “My internship really put me ahead of the game. “I already had the lay of the land. I was able to tackle key issues and apply what I learned in my internship immediately without as much of a learning curve.” Walter coordinates the city’s emergency public information response efforts, including the Memorial Day Flood in 2015 and the Tax Day Floods in 2016. Walter also manages OEM’s intern program. “I advise interns to make the most of the experience, and make sure you seek out substantial projects that you can use on your resume. “There may be some routine tasks, but don’t leave the city with nothing to show for it. Be observant, self-motivated and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to offer your skills to help with projects that interest you.”



Meet our new directors

Department of Neighborhoods Director TaKasha Francis In March, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City Council confirmed the appointment of TaKasha L. Francis as director of the Department of Neighborhoods. A native Houstonian and graduate of Texas Southern University and the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, she previously served as State of Texas Assistant Attorney General in the Child Support Division. She also founded The Francis Firm P.C., a boutique law firm specializing in family law and civil litigation.

Q: A:

Please describe how your previous experience influences your approach to your current role.

The roles overlap because both are service oriented and help families, with direct interaction with the community we serve. As an Assistant Attorney General, I served Texas families by helping to ensure financial and medical support for the children of Texas. As the Director of Neighborhoods, the audience has expanded to include Houston communities and I help to ensure the quality of life is optimal for all residents, in all neighborhoods, by addressing issues in key areas. My previous experience influences my approach to serving as the director in several ways. I’m acclimated to a fast-paced environment where I have successfully juggled multiple priorities. I also interface with diverse groups of people on a regular basis, allowing me to cultivate and maintain great relationships. My legal background brings my analytical and organizational skills to the forefront, bringing structure to processes and adaptability.


You took the helm during a period of transition for the Department of Neighborhoods. What are the current challenges and what priorities are you tackling first?


Current challenges include educating the community on what the Department of Neighborhoods is responsible for and meeting the demand of our citizenry, particularly in our Inspections and Public Services Division. Some Houstonians don’t know who we are and/or what we do. Then there are some that mistakenly believe that the Department of Neighborhoods is responsible for every issue that arises in their neighborhoods. Therefore, we get a number of phone calls to address issues outside of our scope.

City Attorney Ronald Lewis

In May, Ronald Lewis replaced retiring City Attorney Donna Edmundson to lead the 130-member Legal Department. Over his 30-year career as a trial lawyer, Lewis handled complex cases for the energy, real estate, construction, financial and manufacturing industries. He earned an undergraduate degree at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and graduated with honors from Harvard University in 1983.




The city is operated by a diverse and friendly group of people. They care about Houston and its citizens and are willing to sacrifice for the good of the city. The diversity of city staff is unique in my personal experience.


You were a partner at Baker Botts, LLP, for more than 20 years, and then you started your own firm in 2006. What drew you to make the transition from the private sector to the city?


Houston faces great challenges. In this mayor, it has a man willing to accept the burden. With citizenship comes the duty to accept the responsibility for our civic well-being. Inspired by our mayor, I wanted to do my share.

Q: A:

Q: A:

How are you leading your employees through this transition, and what is your message to employees as they adjust to the changes?

I welcome and encourage their input on processes and strategy as we move forward. My message thus far has been that I understand they have endured much change before I arrived and concede it can be tiring. However, change is inevitable and isn’t always a bad thing. We are a team and will emerge greater, better and stronger on the other side of this transition.

What are the greatest strengths and what are some opportunities for growth in the Legal Department’s day-to-day operations?

Our practice areas are remarkably diverse. The breadth and depth of our practice is amazing but our bench is not deep. As a result, every lawyer and member of our team has the opportunity to exercise responsibility for issues that matter and affect Houstonians. In so doing, they can challenge themselves to grow professionally.

Human Resources Director Jane Cheeks

While each of our departments resolves specific concerns and works collaboratively to keep our neighborhoods beautiful, this can be frustrating for a resident who is unfamiliar with where to go to get their issues resolved. Therefore, we plan to ensure our communities know exactly where to go and what to do to, which improves responsiveness from all three of our departments. Another challenge for us is a shortage of inspectors to tackle the needs of our city. We have around 45 inspectors that are responsible for over 620 square miles and nearly 3 million people. Given these facts, my department has done a great job operating on such a deficit. However, it affects our responsiveness and overall productivity. We are working on ways to better utilize our current team by reviewing and revising current processes and considering unconventional methods to fill the gaps through programming. My priorities right now align with these current challenges.

What have you learned about the culture at the City of Houston over the last few months, and how does it differ from your previous

In February, Jane Cheeks was appointed as the interim director for the Human Resources Department. Mayor Turner and the City Council confirmed her as the new director of HR in July.

Q: A:

How has your journey within HR helped prepare you for your current role and how has it influenced your leadership style?

I believe heading the consolidation for the HR department fully prepared me for this role. Over the past six years in HR Operations, I’ve developed a sound understanding of the business of my colleagues, and I am now better able to serve them. See DIRECTORS on Page 12

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AROUND THE CITY Photos by Lucha Morals

IAH dog therapy program makes traveling fun for all Alliance of Therapy volunteer dog handler teams visit IAH once or twice a week. Each team is comprised of two handlers and at least two therapy dogs whose interaction with IAH customers helps ease stress. Since launching in March, IAH has increased its number of volunteer teams from seven to nine, which is good news for IAH travelers.

By Lucha Morales


ven frequent flyers can experience stress during their air travel. But Melanie Hartmann’s first trip through Bush Intercontinental Airport turned out to be a wag of a time thanks to Bush’s therapy dog program. “It was like a bundle of love,” said Hartman of her interactions with Giada, a therapy dog that visits travelers in Bush Intercontinental’s terminals and gates. Launched in March 2016, the program makes traveling more fun by letting people pet and interact with therapy dogs while waiting for their flights. “It’s not new to the industry,” said Ken Whittaker, manager of customer services for Bush. “Other airports have similar programs. “I saw it in action in Reno,” he said. “We were waiting for a departure. Flights were delayed, and people were getting excited about that, and a couple of these teams showed up and immediately the demeanor in the room changed. “People started smiling and petting the dogs,” he said. “It really diffused that situation very well.” In 2015, more than 43 million


passengers traveled through Bush , up by more than 4 percent from 2014. Whittaker, who has worked for the Houston Airport System for 27 years, hopes people traveling through IAH can now benefit from therapy dogs like Giada. And it seems to be working. “Everybody who walks up is smiling and petting the dogs,” Whittaker said. “Folks are thrilled to pet the dogs.” Partnering with Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national therapy dog registry, whose members are involved in volunteer animal assisted activities, Whittaker helps to schedule dogs based on their availability. “A lot of the owners have full-time jobs,” he said. “We’re working around those things.” “That’s why we’re using our social media feeds to get that out the day of their flights, so they know they’re going to be here.” Denise Perkins, who has volunteered as an Alliance of Therapy Dogs handler

program. Please ask before approaching or petting any animal.” Hartmann, the first-time Bush traveler, believes the program was a smart idea. “It’s really neat,” she said. “Mainly because the dogs bring out the happiness in people.” “That’s kind of what we’re looking for here,” Whittaker said. “To help people who may be stressed a little about travel or missing their own dog from home. They can have some interaction with these dogs and help smooth that out.” To find out when therapy dogs will be at Bush Intercontinental, check out their twitter page @iah. To learn more about Alliance of Therapy Dogs, log on to

CONTINUED from Page 11

One of my best leadership attributes is being responsive, and working in HR has allowed me to build on this quality. Being responsive assisted me in getting here and helped me gain the confidence of other directors and employees. I have always said I work from within, and I’m a firm believer in “knowing what was in order to change what is.” I am also of the belief that you can’t just say you’re approachable; you have to be approachable. People know they can approach me and they know that they have a voice.

Q: A:

for the past seven years, is happy the need for therapy dog programs is growing. “We are an organization that goes anywhere dogs are allowed to go,” she said. “Hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, schools, and rehabilitation facilities.” “People understand and realize dogs can provide benefits to people in ways they haven’t thought of before,” she said. “As they realize that, opportunities expand.” Whittaker is happy with the phenomenal responses, but encourages travelers to be aware of the difference between service dogs and therapy dogs. “We want to caution all travelers to be careful when approaching dogs in the airport,” he said. “Law enforcement dogs and service dogs are not part of this

What inspired your career in public service and how do you hope to inspire others within the city?

I moved here over 30 years ago because I wanted to become be a Houston Police Officer. In my early years, I was influenced by public service at school and at home with my father. He was always out there helping people. I was taught that it wasn’t about how much money you made, but rather about the fulfillment you get from your job. I inspire others by always trying to make people aware that service, here at the city, has to be something from within. I talk to young people who want to come work here and whose mothers and fathers have worked here. They realize it’s a good place to work. I believe HR does a good job with all of our youth programs to highlight what the city has to offer.

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What are your goals for HR and how do they support your longterm vision for the department? Also, how will those goals impact future programs and initiatives?


I want to strengthen our foundation by streamlining our processes and procedures. I believe that with an excellent foundation, we’ll be able to concentrate on our core services. Once those things are done, we can increase collaboration with departments, boost our analytics and achieve total transparency.


The city budget recently faced some financial challenges. How are you balancing those fiscal challenges and what types of actions are helping to ensure transparent financial progress?


The HR department will continue to align themselves with the Mayor’s “shared sacrifices” to identify cost efficiencies and savings. All of us will continue to do our jobs to the best of our abilities to ensure citizens continue to receive quality services. HR plays a critical role in the delivery of city services because we aid departments with their recruitment process to yield qualified employees who serve our citizens.




THE WHAT, WHEN AND WHERE OF HOUSTON RECYCLING What kind of recycling services does the city offer?

Photos by Lucha Morales

Making hazards history: Chris Ford tackles household waste

By Lucha Morales


eftover paint, pesticides and motor oil waste can wreak havoc on the environment and your health if not disposed of properly. But on the southwest side of Houston, Chris Ford is making environmental safety a priority by helping Houstonians dispose of common hazardous household waste. “It’s very important for City of Houston residents to know and be aware of the dangers regular household chemicals can cause in their home and in the landfills,” said Ford, an environmental investigator for the Solid Waste Department. With a background in hazardous materials emergency response and a bachelor’s degree in safety management, Ford is helping to reduce the city’s trash footprint. “Here at the environmental service center we collect hazardous household waste,” said Ford of the main function of the city’s South Post Oak Environmental Service Center. “We ship that waste out and dispose of it properly.” The ESC – South location is one of two centers the city operates that offer hazardous household waste drop-off locations. Two days a week on collection days, residents can drive through and drop off items. “They can bring chemicals such as pesticides, households chemicals, households cleaners, pool chemicals, e-waste as far as computers, printer cartridges and ink,” Ford said. “We ask that they have their chemicals and their hazardous household waste in their original containers, if not have them labeled, upright, in a box and not leaking,” he said. Last year, the ESC-South collected 1 million pounds of waste, with 30 percent of that waste being reused, according to the Solid Waste Department. Respecting the environment On collection days, Ford greets residents, unloads their cars, and sorts items. From time to time, he conducts acid tests on household chemicals to ensure they are sorted and stored correctly. “On a normal collection day, we’ll service about 100 residents within a time span from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., “ Ford said.

“When we do a mobile event,” he said. “We’ll do like 600 cars in four hours.” Ford’s charismatic work style keeps resident after resident smiling throughout collection days. When Ford’s not busy helping residents on collections days, he’s busy performing safety walks, giving tours of the facility, or helping his coworkers prepare items to be shipped out or reused. “We are generally packaging chemicals, drumming up chemicals, packing flammables, and getting things in order,” Ford said. Residents can also drop off items such as leftover paint to be reused, said Ford. Every Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., the ESC – South offers free reuse chemical and paint takeaway. He believes his role at the center helps residents take an active role in protecting our environment. “I help make residents more safety conscious, more responsible for recycling, and more environmentally conscious,” Ford said. Currently, the city operates six neighborhood depository and recycling centers, three city recycling centers, and a Reuse Warehouse that accepts excess building materials.

In a booming city like Houston, construction material accounts for 38 percent of the waste stream in the Houston area, according to the Solid Waste Department. Residents also benefit from a curbside recycling program that accepts plastics, paper, aluminum cans, cardboard and used motor oil. A tradition of service Ford’s passion for service is family tradition started by his father, Douglas Ford, who worked 31 years for the Public Works and Engineering Department as a water maintenance supervisor. “Growing up every morning I saw my dad get up and go to work in his city blues, “ Ford said. “He instilled that mentality of service. Service to your community and service to your city,” he said. Ford said working for the city helps him make a difference. “I’m helping to better my community, better my self, and provide for my family just like my father did for me.” To learn more about the city’s environmental service centers, recycling centers, or curbside recycling program visit

The Solid Waste Department provides various recycling services to Houston residents including hazardous waste collection at environmental service centers, curbside recycling, and free neighborhood depository recycling centers. Environmental Service Centers: ESC - SOUTH 11500 S. Post Oak Rd. Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Second Saturday of each month 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. ESC - NORTH 5614 Neches St. Second Thursday of each month 9 a.m. – 3 p.m

What items are accepted at the environmental service centers and neighborhood depository and recycling centers? Different items are accepted at each facility. Check the rules and guidelines for each center. View a full list of accepted items and drop-off guidelines at

Who can drop off items at the city’s environmental service centers and neighborhood depository and recycling centers? City of Houston residents can drop off accepted items at designated centers. Proof of residency must be provided including a recent water bill and current Texas Driver’s license. Non-Houston residential customers must purchase a voucher to utilize these services.

On collection days at the ESC- South location, you can find Chris Ford unloading paint cans, household chemicals, pesticides and other hazardous waste from residents’ cars. His work is helping to reduce city hazardous waste footprint, one paint can at a time.

2016 - Issue 2



A tradition of style: HPL hosts exhibit of ladies’ church hats By Jennifer Cobb


here was a time in history when African-American women working in domestic jobs wore the same uniform, stockings and shoes six days a week. But on the seventh day, for church, they dressed in their Sunday best. Churches became not only the cornerstone of the African-American community, but also a venue for AfricanAmerican women to break free from the weekday fashion monotony to show their fashion individuality. On Sundays, women wore bold, vibrant colors and smart skirts or dress suits topped off with beautiful, intricate church hats. Exploring and documenting this tradition of style was the “Sunday Go To Meeting: African-American Women and Church Hats in Houston,” an exhibit hosted at The African American Library at the Gregory School. The exhibit, which closed on Oct. 29, evoked memories for some, and introduced younger generations to fashionable trends of the past. “This exhibit was a celebration of the domestic engineers that have come before us, and the history of why African-American women wear hats to church,” said exhibit curator Danielle Wilson. The exhibit featured photos of AfricanAmerican women in church hats and also displayed authentic church hats donated from the private collections of AfricanAmerican women in Houston, including Janet Winkley, first lady of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church; Sheretta West of the Church Without Walls; the late Audrey Lawson, former first lady of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and her daughter, Melanie Lawson, news anchor at KTRK-TV channel 13. At the exhibit’s opening on May 28, many of the visitors were overheard discussing their personal connections to church hats, recalling family photos and events and sharing hat designs they’ve seen or worn before. “I’ve had a great interest in genealogy and in researching my family history,” said Florence K. Carter. “I found out that my grandmother was a seamstress, and I know that my mother made her own hats. “This exhibit was wonderful; the hats were in pristine condition. I could see examples of kinds of hats my mother made, especially the pill top. She made her own pill top hats, the kind that Jackie Kennedy popularized. I am building my own collection of my mother’s hats, but I don’t wear hats. You have to have that attitude, I believe, when you wear a church hat.”

Historical photos and a collection of vintage church hats were on display at “Sunday Go to Meeting: AfricanAmerican Women and Church Hats in Houston,” an exhibit hosted at the AfricanAmerican Library at the Gregory School. Photos by Elise Marrion

2016 - Issue 2


Old becomes new at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern


Photos by David Smith

By Elise Rambaud Marrion


n any sunny day, the east end of Buffalo Bayou Park is lively and energetic with music, events, cyclists, skaters and all manner of park patrons. But a few feet below the Brown Foundation Lawn is a space where sunlight is scarce and visitors speak in hushed voices. Inside the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern at the Water Works, light and sound offer echoes and reflections of the past. Described as a modern archeological find, the 90-yearold, decommissioned underground City of Houston drinking water reservoir has become one of the most unique attractions in Houston. In fact, there are few sights like it worldwide. The reservoir earned the cistern moniker because of its resemblance to ancient Roman cisterns, particularly the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Built in 1926, the Buffalo Bayou Cistern stored 15 million gallons of municipal drinking water for nearly 80 years until an irreparable leak prompted its closure in 2007. Now, only six inches of water remain in the structure that features 221 concrete columns and stretches 87,500 square feet, the size of 1 ½ football fields. Open to public tours since May, Houstonians and visitors are lining up and raving about the utilitarian structure that reveals an unexpected beauty in an unexpected place. Anne Olson, president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, said the cistern been praised by art and architecture experts as a must-see industrial space with infinite possibilities. Recognizing that potential, Buffalo Bayou Partnership took over control of the space from the City of Houston, and made public safety and code modifications through donations from the Brown Foundation. In December, the Partnership will host temporary light and sound art installations in the cistern. “Originally, we were looking to provide additional parking without taking up more green space in the park,” Olson said. “We knew there was huge underground space, but when our

consultants went down into the cistern, they were overwhelmed by what they saw. There was no way we were going to use it for a parking garage. “People suggested different ideas of what we could do, maybe even have a night club in there. We just loved the rawness of the space, so we didn’t want to intervene too much and destroy what was there,” Olson said.

Steve Parker, a Buffalo Bayou Partnership docent, gives historical tours of the cistern. In addition to its historical significance, Parker said light and sound are the cistern’s greatest assets. “Before the tour begins, I hear some skeptical comments. It’s a water storage tank, how interesting could that be?” Parker said. “But once we open the door, people gasp. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, some of the comments we hear when we open the door are that it’s aweinspiring. The view changes as you walk around the perimeter. The visual illusion created from the reflection of light on the water takes a few moments for people to realize that the cistern is not two stories. “When we say we plan to open the space for art exhibits, we don’t mean putting paintings on the walls,” Parker said. “I’ve seen some artists come and test out light installations, and that reflection is incredible. You won’t want to miss it.” Renowned sculptor Donald Lipski was

so moved by his first visit to the cistern that he created, “Down Periscope,” a permanent art installation that offers a view inside the structure from the park lawn above. “When I visited the park, I had an entirely different idea in mind for a sculpture,” Lipski said. “But then I learned about the cistern. I was able to descend into this mysterious, subterranean treasure. Its grandeur, utilitarian structure, symmetry and majesty astounded me.” The cistern’s size and concrete columns also create some unique acoustic qualities, Parker said, including a 17-second echo. “During the tours, people are usually so quiet, until we ask them to test the echo by screaming out in the dark void,” Parker said. “We have also had some musicians come in and ask to do concerts. This obviously wouldn’t work with a marching band or heavy metal band, but single voices and instruments work very well. We had one gentleman play cello and sing, and his performance was modulated to match the echo in the room.” Daniel Yuan, an environmental investigator in Public Works & Engineering Drinking Water Operations, is no stranger to water storage facilities. Yuan said he visited the cistern out of professional curiosity, but he was pleasantly surprised. “I honestly didn’t expect much out of the cistern as it was initially presented to me as a plain, if not boring underground

storage tank,” Yuan said. “Once I had a chance to visit the cistern and learn its history, the space takes on an austere beauty. I think Buffalo Bayou has done a fantastic job of finding a way to present the historic and aesthetic value of a once unseen, but incredibly functional part of Houston’s history. ” Tim and Graciella Kavulla attended Parker’s tour on September 15, and said they would recommend the cistern tour to friends and they would return with out-of-town visitors. Graciella Kavulla said photos of the cistern don’t compare to the complete experience. “Pictures do not do this place justice,” she said. “It’s really a first-hand experience. It’s one of those things, you don’t really get it until you go inside and see it, hear it and feel it for yourself.” Visitors come for the view, but Parker said they stay to hear the history. The tour provides a detailed overview of the challenges, innovations, and solutions that allowed the City of Houston to keep pace and anticipate the water needs of the growing city. In 1926, the cistern was ahead of its time, and served its purpose for an impressive eight decades. The cistern marked its place in Houston’s history as an innovation that provided clean drinking water for generations Houstonians, and now the cistern is finding new purpose and getting the accolades it so richly deserves.

About the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern Located at 105 Sabine Street Built in 1926 87,500 square feet or the size of 1.5 football fields 221, 25-foot tall, slender concrete columns span the space Held 15 million gallons of water when functioning at capacity

It took 6,000 cubic yards of concrete to build and 800,000 in reinforcing steel 17-second echo No children under the age of 9 Donald Lipski’s “Down Periscope” view of the cistern can be seen online at

8-inch thick concrete roof and 8– 18inch thick concrete side walls

Tours: Thursdays & Fridays 3 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. (last tour 6 p.m.)

Tickets are $2 per person Photo tours are $15 per person Free on Thursdays, but reservations are still required.

Saturdays & Sundays Tickets must be reserved online up to 2016 - Issue 2 60 days in advance at 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (last tour 4 p.m.)


Hey Cupid, hurry up and shoot him. My biological clock is ticking.

Mr. R. Acknid neglected to tell his new hires what the “Web-based” position really meant.



Andrea Little, HPL

Julius Guidry, PWE

Michelle Smith, MCD

These cutbacks at the city are horsing CRAZY!

So, this is what they meant by taking the bull by the horns.


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.

Chester Payne, HFD


Houston Happenings



Beckheads Caption Contest

Scan QR code with your smartphone.

Paul Fagin, ARA

Alex Haim, ARA

I guess Bob really had to split.

I don’t like the way that one is looking at me.


By Paul Beckman




By Paul Beckman



City Savvy is published quarterly by the city of Houston Human Resources Department.

The Team

611 Walker, 4A Houston, Texas 77002 832-393-6160

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Publications Manager Leslie Denton-Roach

Human Resources Director Jane Cheeks

Managing Editor Elise Rambaud Marrion

Got story ideas?

Deputy Directors Teri Germany-Haddad Andrew Vasquez

Reporters Jennifer Cobb Elise Rambaud Marrion Lucha Morales David Smith

Email Elise Marrion at or call 832-393-6132

Deputy Assistant Directors Charles Smith

Designer Heidi Bane

City Savvy Issue 2 - 2016  

City of Houston Employee News

City Savvy Issue 2 - 2016  

City of Houston Employee News