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Spring 2014


Volume 18


Number 1


Quarterly newsletter published for city of Houston employees

A new model to end

homelessness By Elise Rambaud Marrion


he city of Houston spends more than $100 million each year to provide city services for Houston’s chronically homeless including EMS/fire and police response, community health and mental health services, jail bookings, public park cleanup and municipal court expenses. It is a pervasive issue that requires the collaboration of nearly every department and thousands of employees fanning across the city. In short — helping Houston’s homeless takes “all hands on deck.” The city’s new comprehensive regional plan to end chronic homelessness in Houston by 2016 includes creating 2,500 units of permanent supportive housing. Since January 2012, more than 1,200 PSH units have been created, and a significant number of PSH units will become available in 2014. In late November, Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston Housing Authority said that in two years the city would add 1,000 units of permanent housing for homeless Houstonians by using $100 million in federal vouchers. The vouchers, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will pay for apartments and on-site supportive services for about 200 high-risk homeless people. “The vouchers require that recipients devote 30 percent of their income toward rent, but when you are homeless and have no income, 30 percent of zero is zero,” said Mandy Chapman Semple, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives. “Many homeless people don’t know they are eligible for benefits,” Semple said. “Supportive services can determine their eligibility, and they can contribute as they access their benefits.” A new direction Homeless housing options in Houston CONTINUED on Page 6

Around the City . . . . . . Page 2 Day on the Job . . . . . . . . Page 5 Inside Houston . . . . . . Page 7 Heritage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 10


Hats Off . . . . . . . . . Page 12

Women fight fires too

Animals thrown a lifeline

Women make up just 2.9 percent of the Houston Fire Department’s force. A new HFD program is trying to bring more females into the pipeline. And there are some takers out there.

Ingenious new BARC programs save homeless animals and control the population.

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02 AROUND THE CITY Bethel remains a beacon in Freedmen’s Town By David Smith


arly morning sun streams through multi-colored glass panes painting part of Bethel Park in pastel hues. Fringed in fresh sod and newly planted landscaping, Bethel is one of Houston’s most serenely colorful parks. It is also one of the city’s newest parks. Contractor crews put the finishing touches on it and it opened to the public in December. But Bethel is much more than a new park: it is a link to Houston history, a surviving piece of an evolving urban area, an echo from an early African-American neighborhood bouncing off the walls of the new apartments and townhouses. Bethel Park is the core of Freedmen’s Town. On a cold night in 2005 when the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church burned, this new park would’ve been unimaginable. Built in the late 1800s, the church had brick and mortar walls, but most of the interior was wood. That fueled the fire and resulted in a near total loss of the structure. The front and side walls remained standing and were braced to prevent imminent collapse. The vision, resourcefulness and determination of some residents and history advocates prevented eventual collapse. The congregation had relocated before the fire, and some wanted to raze the church building. But in spring 2009, Bethel pastor Robert. O. Robertson wanted to sell the property. The city negotiated the purchase, which was paid with Fourth Ward tax increment reimbursement zone funds. Transforming the burned remains of a sacred space to a use that would honor

The park project maintained the character and spirit of the historic church. New brick benches reminiscent of church pews are aligned in the footprint of the old sanctuary. The brick walls were braced and reinforced to preserve the exterior appearance of the church building. Photos by David Smith.

Spring 2014

its place in the community now seemed possible. Vanessa Sampson, executive director of the Fourth Ward Redevelopment Authority, said maintaining some remnant of this church was vital. It was the cornerstone of Freedmen’s Town since the Rev. Jack Yates founded Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in the late 1800s. “Our charge was historical preservation,” Sampson said. “In the African-American community, the church serves as a place where everything originates — from the sacred to civil rights, voting, everything.” But commercial redevelopment has invaded Freedmen’s Town and the surrounding area, and it is now virtually impossible to distinguish the neighborhood’s footprint, Sampson said. Although the character of the area is irrevocably altered, it is important to save the symbols that preserve history and remind everyone of what came before. “It is important to preserve some type of identity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. We had a moral obligation to preserve the church to retell the story,” Sampson said. The park space retains some of the spirit of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church origins, Sampson said. “It’s a nice place for meditation. I am very proud of the outcome.” She’s not alone. Houston Parks and Recreation Director Joe Turner said preserving the church was a priority that reached all the way to City Hall. “The mayor is dedicated to making improvements in the Fourth Ward,” he said. “We knew we needed to hang on to this.

Morning sunlight picks up pastel hues as it pours through translucent panels, reminders of Bethel Baptist’s stained-glass windows that were lost during the 2005 fire. It is one of many thoughtful features that make the park a special place in the historic Fourth Ward Freedmen’s Town neighborhood.

It’s a piece of history. It was important to keep this property and tie it to others that tell the history of the community.” With the portion of the church exterior that could be reinforced and saved now sturdy, the rest of the park space has been landscaped and lighted. Panels attached to the walls will describe the history and significance of the church. The nearly $4 million cost came from funds provided through the Fourth Ward TIRZ 14, Sampson said. Human Resources Director Omar Reid, who joined the effort to explore ways to save the church structure, said the city and TIRZ partnership was a natural fit. A TIRZ channels tax revenue from

a district into projects that preserve a neighborhood’s history and character, said Reid, who is also president of the redevelopment authority. Projects can include historical preservation, affordable housing or infrastructure improvements. Fourth Ward community leaders, city, state and national officials also worked to make the park project a success. “The historical significance and value to the community is tremendous,” he said. “That was absolutely the goal, and we had to do it quickly because had the walls that were braced up come down, there would’ve been no opportunity to do what we wanted.”



Blazing trails and fighting fires Female firefighters spark unique recruiting efforts

By Lucha Morales


ristin Kim Lowe carried fire hoses Dressed in full firefighter gear, charged with water around tight participants rotated through catching corners, ran upstairs in a fog-filled a hydrant, where the cadets learned to building and lifted 35-foot ladders until connect a fire hose line to a hydrant; her shoulders and back almost give out. ladders, teaching the girls to position wall Lowe, a teacher, was trading in her school ladders for climbing, and advancing a hose books for fire boots. line, which taught the girls techniques for Four months ago, Lowe, who is 5 feet 3 advancing a fire hose charged with water inches tall and weighs 115 pounds, left her through mock doorways. job as a sixth-grade English and reading But for camp participant and Deer Park teacher and enrolled in the city’s Firefighter high school senior Jamylethe Rocha, two Trainee Academy Class. And while it’s not evolutions made a lasting impression. always easy, she looks forward to the 10“I really enjoyed doing forcible entry,” hour days that are helping her work toward said Rocha, describing learning how to her career goal. open doors with a sledgehammer and a “It comes down to helping people,” halligan, a special tool used by fire and said Lowe, a 2013 Bravo Houston fire police to pry open doors. “Knowing you school cadet, who will become the city’s are able to open a door means you can save first female Asian firefighter when she a life,” she said. graduates in five months. “They really loved hitting that forcible But one year after Lowe graduates, 50 entry,” Kent said. “Then, near the end of percent of the city’s 107 women firefighters the day, they were dispatched to make a will be eligible for retirement, potentially shift house fire that used a fog simulator,” lowering their numbers — now just 2.9 Kent said. percent of the force. Rocha said responding to the house fire The Houston Fire Department’s Youth helped her envision what it means to be a Fire Ops Program seeks to change that. The firefighter. program takes an innovative approach to “The last part, when we put everything recruiting the city’s together and next generation of not being able women firefighters. to see anything, “We are looking we were at the program as a experiencing long-range recruiting what they do,” tool to target low she said. numbers of diverse “It’s a good groups,” said Beda experience, so Kent, HFD assistant you can know chief. “Right now our early what you number for females think you are is quite low, so that’s going to go our target.” through if you HFD Assistant Chief Beda Kent The program, decide to be a funded by a grant from the Houston firefighter, said Rocha, whose father, Livestock Show and Rodeo, will teach Alfred, recommended she try the program participants about basic firefighting skills after learning of it on the news. and duties. The first camp in October had “He told me I should try it,” she said. 11 girls and women from sophomore, Chief Kent believes the program’s junior and high school seniors to a college training can teach HFD’s core values: bound 26-year-old, said Kent, who has safety, reliability, teamwork, dedication been with Fire for 20 years. and bravery. But teamwork seemed to be a keynote Getting to know firefighting during the all-day camp. Before rotating through five fire “None of the evolutions can be done school training evolutions, or exercises, without working together,” Kent said. “It participants of the all-day camp learned requires a team to accomplish our basic about expectations. goals.” “We talk about safety,” Kent said. “We Lowe, who volunteered to help during want to demonstrate and instill safety, one the camp, understands the importance of of our core values.”

working as a team. “There is comradery among classmates,” she said. “ I want to do my best because I don’t want to put their lives at risk.” And firefighter Laura Saveedra agreed. “We don’t work by ourselves as firefighters,” said Saveedra, who has been with Fire for 19 years and also helped organize the camp. “The core of what we do is teamwork.” “And it’s not just about firefighting,” Saveedra said. “Eighty percent of our calls are EMS related.” All firefighters go through EMS training, she said. The camp is the first of its kind to be organized by HFD. And firefighter Christina Hernandez, who helped Chief Kent pull the program together in just three weeks, saw how it affected the participants. “We could see some of them transforming from the morning to the afternoon,” she said. “It was so rewarding.” “Even if they were intimidated by the physical stuff, we let them know they can grow into being a firefighter,” Hernandez said. The road to fire school When prospective participants commit to the program, they have plenty of help getting started. “Depending on where they are, we let them know individually what they need to do to get to their first day of fire school,” Kent said. “It starts with the civil service exam.” Kent, Saveedra and Hernandez will keep in touch with the participants. They will mentor them through the process, get them connected with the different HR recruiting events, and let them know what they need to do to prepare for the civil service exam, Kent said. Rocha, who will graduate in May 2014, plans to enroll in one of San Jacinto College’s Emergency Medical Technology certification programs and eventually apply

Kristin Kim Lowe, top photo, stands among the men in her Houston Fire Department training group, as they listen to an instructor. Two women cadets from the city’s 2013 Bravo Firefighter Trainee Academy class learn how to lay fire hoses during a training exercise, above, and then reload the hose onto a fire engine, bottom photo, after deploying it for firefighter training. Photos by David Smith.

to fire school. Doing things not everyone will do takes drive, she said. Kent believes the program can help inspire youth to help communities. “Whether they become a firefighter or not, we want to let them know it’s not just about them, but also about giving,” Kent said. “It’s what we try to open their eyes to.”

Spring 2014

04 AROUND THE CITY New BARC programs bite away at problems By Paul Beckman


onah was having a whale of a time. The homeless puppy collected head pats, snuggles and lipstick smudging kisses from well-wishers in the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control parking lot. Then it was time to hit the road. Jonah, 50 other dogs and four cats filled two vans bound for Colorado, where the demand for pets is as high as the Rocky Mountains. And with Houston’s homeless pet population exceeding 800,000 by BARC estimates, the city has plenty to spare. BARC and Rescued Pet Movement Inc., a nonprofit animal rescue group, launched a new program this fall that transports animals like Jonah to no-kill rescue groups, adopters and fosterers in Colorado. “Believe it or not, there are a lot of places that don’t have enough dogs,” said Greg Damianoff, director of BARC. “So when they get there, people are waiting. We’re working on all kinds of things. We have new stuff going on at BARC.” And the “new stuff” isn’t just feel-good window dressing. The programs are game changers that will not only help control the homeless animal population but will give many a second chance, said BARC representatives.

Working in a pack Solving Houston’s homeless pet problem won’t be easy. And BARC can’t do it alone. In 2013 BARC took in 24,200 homeless dogs and cats. Successful current programs like adoption events, returns to owners, and transfers have increased BARC’s live release numbers. Still, with a shelter capacity of about 550 animals, BARC has been forced to euthanize just under half of the animals it takes in. So, new programs that involve organizations like Rescued Pets Movement keep BARC’s live release rates climbing by

freeing more space and putting animals in places where the demand is high. Groups like Spay-Neuter Assistance Program, Inc. and Friends for Life are key players in BARC’s spay and neuter efforts. “One of the things that we’re going to continue to work toward is the development of additional external partners that can help us do things, like the Rescued Pet Movement,” said Christopher Newport, chief of staff in the Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department. “Because if you look at Austin and the success they’ve had in increasing their live release rate, that’s what happened there.” Newport said RPM’s weekly pet transports to Colorado reduce the number of animals under BARC’s care by 10 percent. Cindy Perini, RPM’s president and co-founder, said her group plans to take at least 50 animals a week from BARC. Colorado is an ideal destination because longstanding spay and neuter laws and the colder climate keep the dog population low, and the demand high. In the first three months of the animal transport program, 648 animals, including Jonah, have been moved. “We can make a huge, huge dent (in Houston’s homeless pet population),” Perini said. “I’m super excited about it. BARC’s been critical too because they stepped in and partnered with us.” And the partnership is a two-way street. Perini said BARC not only gives them access to the animals, but it helps find corporate donors, provides health certificates and supplies bedding. Establishing a beachhead Spay and neuter efforts to control overpopulation are nothing new. But BARC’s strategy is. The Healthy Pets, Healthy Streets program started in

Jonah heads to the van that will take him from Houston to Colorado. Photo by Paul Beckman.

July 2013 is what Newport calls “a geographically targeted spay and neuter effort.” Rather than spread a thin layer of resources across the entire city, BARC is targeting one problem area at a time. Once success is achieved in an area, the efforts expand to neighboring ones. “People have been trying to do broadbased spay-neuter campaigns in a region or city for a long time,” Newport said. “And God bless everyone doing it. It just really hasn’t had an impact. We still have an overpopulation problem, right? We try to create a beachhead where you try to gain control over one area and then you expand.” First, BARC reviewed cases for stray animal complaints to identify areas with the most acute problems, Newport said. Then they researched outreach infrastructure like churches, civic associations, and schools, organizations that could help them. An area just north of downtown with 300 houses was the first target. “We drew a boundary around it and said, ‘OK, we’re going to try to get every animal inside the boundary either spayed or neutered,’” Newport said. “It’s going really, really well. We’ve been in the first target area since July and we’ve spayed or neutered over 160 dogs and cats.” Each pet that participates receives a rabies vaccination, a one-year city license, a microchip with lifetime registration and flea treatment.

A bright future for puppy love As the new programs take hold, BARC is taking note of the results, Newport said. Proof that the programs are making a difference will let them proceed on a bigger scale. The programs also require money. So donations and increased funding are an important part of the equation. For example, each Colorado trip that RPM makes costs $2,500. This covers pet supplies, veterinary services and the transportation. “These are programs that work, so let’s support them,” Newport said. Jonah already knows they work. A family living just outside of Colorado Springs adopted him only two weeks after his Houston departure. With two dogs already in the family, 10-year-old Dana Randolph had to plead with her parents for the puppy. “I explained he was like me,” Dana said. “I had been in foster care and adopted too when I was very small. I just knew we belonged together.” In addition to a caring family, Jonah also got a new name. “I re-named him Webster, because he’s so smart,” Dana said. “I am doing everything I promised — he is all mine. I feed him. I clean up after him. He is almost completely potty trained, too. Webster is playful, happy and loved very much. He has a forever home like me, and he is my soul mate!”

A forever home for Jonah — aka Webster When a homeless puppy named Jonah was transported from Houston to Colorado he was adopted by 10-year-old Dana Randolph and her parents. Dana wrote to City Savvy about the experience and what Jonah (renamed Webster) means to her. Other than removing some sections because of space limitation, the letter is unedited. Written by Dana Randolph age 10


ur Family lives in the Mountains just West of Colorado Springs, on 2 ½ acres that backs to the Natural Forest and alongside a trail head! On the Saturday after Thanksgiving we had set out to do some Christmas shopping including  buying presents for our 2 dogs at home, ‘Harley’ a Lab-Bassador mix (also a rescue from Houston) and ‘Tustin’ a Lab, they both belong to my Dad.  I had already made my Santa list and on top of the list I wanted my own puppy. I love animals more than anything! Last year I had wished for Santa to turn me into a Dog! My mom assured me that would not happen and she was right. This year being a bit older I decided I really just wanted my own puppy!  We arrived at the Pet Smart store and the sign was up at the front door! ‘ADOP-

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TIONS TODAY”!! I was so excited I wanted to run straight to the adoption area. I begged my Mom to just let me look. After what seemed like an eternity of begging, she walked me to the back of the store where the adoption center was set up. With every step my Mom reminded me there would be no adopting & that we have enough pets to love at home. Once we arrived in the adopting area I looked up & saw a small kennel on a table next to the women that were working the adoption center. Inside the kennel was Jonah, he was so small, all alone, fuzzy and cute. I didn’t have to beg long for Mom to allow me to hold him. Mom, said, “don’t get attached, we can’t take him home”! The moment I held him, I knew I had to have him. I begged, I pleaded, I promised I would do everything for this puppy. My

Mom just kept saying “no”. I even took a firm stance and declared to everyone in ear shot that I would not leave the store (ever) without this puppy and I meant it! My Mom finally won out, insisting I put Jonah back in the kennel and tried to reason with me. I couldn’t believe I had to walk away. I couldn’t help the tears that followed. I normally don’t act badly and I have never, ever demanded anything. I just couldn’t help it, I cried and cried, begging for the puppy. I felt I couldn’t just walk away from him. When my Mom asked why this meant so much to me and why all the drama, I told her he was my soul mate, I could just feel it! I explained he was like me, I had been in Foster care and Adopted too when I was very small. I just knew Jonah and I belonged together. Mom

just looked at me and said okay let’s find daddy. We found my dad and Mom asked him to go see Jonah. After a brief discussion between Mom and Dad, they said Jonah could be my Christmas present! I was so happy, I started sobbing again, this time with joy. I renamed him Webster, because he is so smart! We now both have a forever home and a life time to play together. I am doing everything I promised, he is all mine. I feed him, I clean up after him, he is almost completely potty trained too. Webster is playful, happy and loved very much. He has a forever home just like me and he is my soul mate!



Solid Waste Management driver talks trash By Elise Rambaud Marrion


Trash Tips:

hat do old sofas, televisions, toilets and roller skates have in common? These once cherished objects have fallen out of favor to become curbside castoffs, waiting to be picked up by Solid Waste Management employees. Every heavy trash load tells a story, and the men and women who collect heavy trash have more than a few tales to tell. After only two years with the city, trailer truck driver Lester “Tweety” Taylor is seldom surprised at what people throw away. From almost-new bicycles and appliances to newborn kittens in boxes and snakes slithering from stacks of tires, Taylor has seen it all. The workday starts before dawn at 6:30 a.m. Before setting out on the route, the drivers complete a detailed safety and maintenance checklist that includes tires, air pressure, fluids, lights, windshield wipers and more. They congregate in teams for the “tailgate meeting” to discuss safety concerns and receive route assignments for the day. Taylor, who was raised on a farm, prefers to rise early and arrive at the truck yard with time to spare for his inspections. A sticker on the truck door reads, “This equipment pays your salary. Take care of it.” And Taylor obliges. Though he could be considered a rookie among solid waste drivers, at 57 years old he has spent more hours and miles behind the wheel of a big rig than most of his colleagues. A former “tanker yanker,” or oil tanker driver, Taylor said driving a garbage truck is preferable to life on the road. “This job is gravy compared to working the farm or long-haul driving,” Taylor said. “I have no complaints. I like the regular hours, the good benefits, and the people I work with are a joy to be around.” On the route, heavy trash collectors often

work in trios — two trailer truck drivers and one rear-steer cherry-picker operator. The cherry picker scoops refuse into the trailer trucks until they are full. After the first truck leaves for the depository, the other truck is on site to keep the operation going. On one recent shift, Taylor teamed up with driver Delton O’Veal and operator Leslie Porter. Taylor gets out of his truck at nearly every stop to arrange the trash for the cherry picker. He gave high praise for Porter’s cherry picker precision. “I try to move the trash so we don’t damage grass, light poles or mailboxes, but I don’t have to do much for Porter. He’s like a surgeon with the cherry picker,” Taylor said. “It’s important for drivers to get out of the truck and see the trash up close. One time we picked up a box from a curb and a cat dashed out of the box. We looked inside and there was a litter of brand new kittens that could have been killed.” Another time, a resident was convinced her cat was in the truck, so O’Veal had to climb on top of the trash heap to search for the cat. The search came up empty, so it likely ran away, O’Veal said. In general, collecting heavy trash isn’t as malodorous as collecting household garbage, until the driver has to empty his load at the depository or “dump.” “It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it,” Taylor said. “I’m used to it. But I won’t lie: the odor (at the dump) can get loud. That odor is so loud it will talk to you.” Drivers have to be alert and observant because the neighborhood can present challenges, including low-hanging tree limbs and electrical wires, parked cars, children running into the street, unleashed dogs, and “scavengers,” the people who sort through loads for finds. Taylor has also seen his share of impatient motorists and irate residents.

Lester “Tweety” Taylor has been driving a truck for most of his life, but he has been with a City of Houston Solid Waste Management crew collecting city garbage for only two years. He and his co-workers are seldom surprised at what they find people have put out at the curb for disposal. Photos by Elise Marrion.

“People are always in a hurry to get the tags still on it. He returned after work nowhere fast. Sometimes citizens get angry and found it still there, so he took it home that we are blocking the road, but we are and found the grill to be in perfect working just trying to do our job safely,” Taylor said condition — after removing the wasp nest. after a car drove over the curb and on the It’s all part of a job in which Taylor takes sidewalk to get around the crew. “They will great pride. honk, call you every name in the book and “I feel a sense of accomplishment at the show you that certain finger.” end of the day, and I know what we do is an You can learn a great deal about a important part of keeping the city clean,” neighborhood just by what homeowners he said. “Without us, what would Houston throw away. In neighborhoods with aging look like?” residents, curbs sport decrepit high chairs, toys and twin mattresses, Taylor said. It’s evident when people are moving in or moving on, doing spring cleaning, and even when a resident has died. This time of year, it’s in with the new and out with the old. Houstonians who shopped holiday sales set out their old TVs and furniture. Occasionally there is some treasure among the trash. Though drivers are prohibited from keeping anything they collect during city business hours, they can set items aside From left, Lester “Tweety” Taylor, Leslie Porter, to retrieve after hours. Taylor and Delton O’Veal work as a trash collecting team. said he found a new grill with

Junk waste is collected during even months: February, April, June, August, October and December. Residents may place up to four tires at the curb for collection during junk waste months. Sheet rock and any broken glass must be bagged.

Tree waste is collected during odd numbered months: January, March, May July, September and November. Tree waste may be collected during junk waste months, but junk waste will not be collected on tree waste months.

Appliances containing refrigerant must have a tag certifying that a qualified technician has removed refrigerant. Household hazardous waste such as latex paint, batteries, oil and antifreeze cannot be left for curbside collection.

Tree waste and junk waste should be placed adjacent to the front curb in a location easily accessible to the collection vehicle before 7 a.m. on the scheduled collection day. Tree waste and junk waste should not be stacked under low overhead electrical wires or other cabling, signs, or mailboxes; next to fences or posts; or on top of water meters, gas meters, fire hydrants, or other exposed utility components. Materials should not be placed in the street, on the sidewalk, or other right-of-way, or in any manner which would interfere with pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

Spring 2014


Freddie Johnson’s story Housing gives once homeless man new hope.

By Elise Rambaud Marrion


magine spending 20 years living in abandoned cars, parking garages, and vermin-infested squatter apartments, while battling a drug addiction. Imagine fiercely guarding your few possessions, always looking over your shoulder and constantly fearing for your safety. It’s enough to make just about anyone lose hope — anyone but Freddie Johnson. At age 65, Johnson doesn’t have to imagine. He is haunted by memories of two decades of homelessness and addiction. But now Johnson is among nearly 8,000 low-income and formerly homeless Houstonians who have gained a new outlook on life at New Hope Housing Inc. Since 1993, the nonprofit organization has provided affordable, permanent housing and supportive services for Houston’s most vulnerable residents. Today, Johnson wakes up in his clean, safe, modern efficiency apartment at New Hope’s 2424 Sakowitz property. Little things matter the most: a private bathroom, his refrigerator with his food inside, access to cable television, computer classes and the Internet, peaceful outdoor

spaces and his favorite spot in the library. His apartment has a lock, and Johnson has the only key. He even has a mailbox, something he learned to live without for 20 years. At one time, it seemed like Johnson had it all. “I was born and raised in the Fifth Ward, but I got out, went into the Army, fought in Vietnam and went straight to work. I came home, got married, had three kids and a house in the suburbs. Life was great until I introduced myself to crack cocaine,” Johnson said. Ironically, Johnson was first exposed to the highly addictive drug when he was trying to be a good Samaritan. “I would come back to the neighborhood to see my mother, and I would drive around and see the young men standing on the corner doing nothing. So I stopped and ask these guys if they would like to play on a softball team. To this day, I don’t know why I started hanging out with people I would not normally associate with. I tried crack once, and I was instantly hooked. I had never used drugs, not even in Vietnam,

and I rarely even drank alcohol.” His life unraveled in front him, Johnson said. He lost his job, and left his family thinking he would return once he kicked the habit. But that never happened. Johnson was convicted for drug possession and a few other offenses, making it even more difficult for him to find work. He finally found the strength to get clean when he participated in Harris County’s Success Through Addiction Recovery Drug Court. “After abusing that drug for so long, I was so weak that it was hard to get up in the morning. I wanted to quit so bad, I was praying for intervention from anywhere,” Johnson said. “At STAR court, my judge was Devon Anderson.” Anderson, who is now the Harris County district attorney, asked him what he needed to get back on track, Johnson said. “Nobody ever bothered asking me that before. I said all I want is a safe place to live and a chance at a job. I will always be grateful.” After going through drug rehab, Johnson

said he bounced around to a few different places and programs and worked a few jobs until he found his New Hope home in 2010. “It was so nice to see green grass,” he said. “It felt like home. In other places I lived, there was nothing but concrete. I have a small room here I call my cubby hole, but it’s mine.” He is beginning to shed the shame and regret of his past to rebuild his life with dignity, Johnson said. He has reconnected with his children who come to visit him. Living independently is important, he said. He pays his rent on time using Social Security retirement, and he has developed a sense of pride and ownership. When and if he needs help, social services are there for Johnson and the other residents. “I’m not in a nice suburb anymore, but I’m OK with that. I don’t dwell on the things I lost,” Johnson said. “I’m six years clean, and I will never use drugs again. I’m 65 years old and I’m happy.”

Eichenbaum said. In similar programs across the country, HUD records show that more than 80 percent of tenants in PSH units stay off the streets for more than one year.

“The city of Houston has invested more than $20 million in projects for New Hope Housing, and there is a reason for that,” Mayor Parker said. “We believe that their management, construction, quality, environmental sensitivity and access to high-quality social services contribute to positive projects that will be of great value to residents, neighborhoods and the city for a long time to come.” New Hope’s residents include the formerly homeless, those with physical and cognitive disabilities, the elderly, veterans, those overcoming substance abuse and the working poor — the majority of whom earn less than $13,000 a year. Residents pay about $450 per month including utilities for clean, safe, modern efficiency apartments that resemble what most college students only dream their dormitory room could be. Residents typically pay rent using wages from part-

time jobs, Social Security retirement and disability benefits, and subsidized housing vouchers. New Hope also partners with agencies that provide supportive services to residents including Star of Hope, the Salvation Army, Mental Health and Mental Retardation Association of Harris County, Houston Housing Authority, Harmony House, SEARCH, Harris Health System, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Semple said that New Hope Housing is contributing to the city’s new plan because they are willing to open a number of their units for the chronically homeless and include more robust services by using more service partners. Joy Horak-Brown, New Hope Housing executive director, said providing shelter alone will not solve homelessness. A comprehensive approach offers the best way to cure it. “If we are going to participate in elevating a life, it takes more than a roof and four walls,” Horak-Brown said. “It takes having on-site help including case management, mental health care, financial management, life skills training and many more services. Anyone, regardless of income or social status, should have a place they would be proud to call home.”

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currently range from emergency housing at shelters to transitional housing and finally permanent housing. But for those with the most urgent needs, the city has a new model. “We are creating housing for individuals who have been living on the streets for a year or more, who have one or more significant disabling conditions, and who have immediate need of intensive support,” Semple said. “These are people for whom no other level of intervention would be sufficient to stabilize their lives.” In addition to living on the street for at least a year, these people are also struggling with long-term problems such as addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, and other serious issues that require more substantial care. “This is a new direction for the city,” said Marc Eichenbaum, public information officer for Housing and Community Development. “It’s a housing-first concept. Once you can get someone in a stable living environment and give supportive services, their lives can begin to stabilize. Having both together greatly increases chances of success. “While there will always be a need for other housing options, the PSH model will be the most effective long-term solution for those who need the most help,”

Spring 2014

Part of the solution The city has partnered with organizations offering similar housing options for years, but the big difference in this PSH concept is the extensive level of support services that will be available on site. The new model will involve a significant increase in social and financial support. One such partner is New Hope Housing, a nonprofit organization that offers independent living to Houstonians on limited incomes. New Hope has seven properties that offer nearly 1,000 high-quality single room apartments. New Hope also plans a mid-December opening for Rittenhouse, a new 160-unit apartment community near Interstate 45 and Stuebner Airline.



Essay and poster contest educate youth about public service careers By Elise Rambaud Marrion


rom an early age, children are asked what they want to be when they grow up. Popular careers including nurse, police officer, veterinarian and firefighter share a common thread: they and hundreds more can be found at the city of Houston, and they all exist to serve others. Public Service Recognition Week, observed nationwide during the first full week in May, recognizes and identifies the important contributions that public employees make. On a more personal level, this is a chance for city employees to show their children and young relatives what they do and why they do it. The Human Resources Department hosts two PSRW events — a poster contest for children and relatives of city employees and a scholarship essay contest for greater Houston high school seniors.

PSRW poster contest The PSRW poster contest builds children’s knowledge of municipal careers by encouraging them to illustrate what job they would want to do as a city employee. It also brings families together through art.

Last year, Julius Guidry, a maintenance supervisor in Public Works and Engineering’s drinking water division, encouraged his 5-year-old son, Justin, to enter the contest. The young Guidry placed second in his age group. His poster featured a scuba diver swimming among jellyfish and octopi as he tested the water quality and told people not to litter. “Justin loves to draw everything, every day,” Guidry said. “I learned about the poster contest through employee email. It was fun for us to talk about the different jobs at the city and to see how he used his imagination in the poster. We appreciated that he was recognized for his poster, and we enjoyed the prize of tickets to the zoo, the Children’s Museum and other gift cards.” Anyone ages 5 to 18 with a parent or relative who works for the city can participate in the contest. Using any medium, the contestant must draw him or herself as a city employee on the job. Entries must be turned in to Nichole Robinson, 611 Walker, by 5 p.m. on April 18. First, second and third prizes will be awarded in each age

group, and a recognition ceremony for winners will be held in early May. PSRW essay contest The PSRW essay contest lets students learn about public service careers, practice their writing skills, and earn up to $2,000 for college. Last year, Nancy Viera, a senior at Pasadena Memorial High School won the $2,000 scholarship first prize with her entry, “If I were a Gang Prevention Unit Officer, what a difference I would make.” Viera used her scholarship to pay for her first year at Sam Houston State University where she is studying criminal justice. What began as a class assignment in Eve Emmons’ English class made a significant impact on her college plans. “I always knew that I wanted to help troubled youth lead better lives, but the research I did for the essay contest helped open my eyes to different careers and possible degree plans at various schools,” Viera said. “The scholarship relieved the expense of college for me and my family. It helped pay for books and living on campus, and I am so grateful to the city of Houston.”

Students choose a city job that interests them and write a 500-word essay on: “If I Were a (insert city career), What a Difference I Would Make.” Essays must be submitted online by Monday, March 24. Judging is based on organization and presentation, creativity, proper spelling, grammar and punctuation, and adherence to contest rules. Students are encouraged to interview one or more city employees working in the job they chose to write about. Awards include a $2,000 scholarship for first place, a $1,000 scholarship for second place, a $600 scholarship for third place, a $400 scholarship for fourth place and a $300 scholarship for fifth place. An additional $350 will be awarded to the school of the first place winner, and $350 will be awarded to the school with the most entries in the final round of judging. Recognition ceremony for winners will be held on May 8. For more information about the PSRW poster contest, contact Nichole Robinson at 832-393-6130. Contact Elise Marrion about the essay contest at 832-393-6132.

Employees’ children eligible for $2,000 college scholarship By Elise Rambaud Marrion


arents of a college-bound child often experience jaw-dropping tuition sticker shock. Now, imagine multiplying that by three. A few years ago, Feroz Ismaily had three children in college, and his youngest daughter, Mehwish, had her heart set on Stanford University. Ismaily, a managing engineer for the aviation department, was elated and relieved when he saw a flier for a City of Houston Employees Children’s Scholarship. The $2,000 scholarship Mehwish received in 2007 helped cover expenses during her first year at Stanford. She graduated and is now attending medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Since 2007, the city has awarded college scholarships to nearly 150 employees’ children or dependents. Another 20

scholarships will be up for grabs during the application period, Feb. 1-April 1. “We recognize that college tuition prices have increased dramatically over the last 10 years,” said Mark Cueva, director of educational initiatives in the mayor’s office. “College isn’t an easy financial obligation for students and parents, so we like to help employees’ families when we can. On a citywide level, it is important to invest in your workforce.” The application is administered through Scholarship Management Services to ensure an unbiased process. City employees do not evaluate entries, Cueva said. Between 150 and 300 applicants vie for 20 scholarships each year. Ten students who will attend a four-year university will be awarded a one-time $2,000 scholarship, while 10 students who will attend a two-year college will receive

a one-time $1,000 scholarship. Recipients are selected on their academic record, work experience, demonstrated leadership, participation in school and community activities, honors, a statement of goals and aspirations, unusual personal or family circumstances, and an outside appraisal. Financial need is not considered. Erik Dunn, a division manager with Municipal Courts, encouraged his son, Christian, to apply last year. Christian was awarded a $2,000 scholarship and is now studying business at the University of Houston. Dunn first heard about the scholarship through an email sent to employees. “When you put the words ‘money for college’ in an email subject line, you bet I’m going to read it,” Dunn said. “The scholarship was really beneficial, especially in that first semester when we

Jonathan Howard, son of Assistant City Attorney Arva Howard, was a recipient of the scholarship for employees’ children.

weren’t exactly sure how much to budget.” Assistant City Attorney Arva Howard’s son, Jonathan, received a scholarship in 2008. Since then, Jonathan graduated from Morehouse College. He was senior class president, earned a degree in business management and is the assistant director of development at Texas Children’s Hospital. “I’m very grateful for the scholarship,” Jonathan said. “It sends a message that the city supports us and wants Houston families to do well. That’s part of what made me want to come back home to find a job.”

Spring 2014


Hermann Park celebrates a century By Lucha Morales


estled among 445 acres of dedicated land, Hermann Parks’ McGovern Lake is the setting of a scene that has been played thousands of times over the years. A scene of families gathered at the water’s edge feeding mallard ducks, bass fish and red-eared slider turtles that circle back and forth in the deep green water. “Six million people visit the park each year,” said Doreen Stoller, executive director of Hermann Park Conservancy. But 2014 will be different, she said. Hermann Park turns 100, and that is worth celebrating. Visitors will get more than the everyday attractions offered at the park, the Houston Zoo, the golf course and the Museum of Natural Science. “We wanted to have a yearlong series of celebrations that a lot of people can be part of,” she said of the park’s ongoing Centennial Celebration. “For a park that is as loved, varied and rich as Hermann Park, you can’t capture 100 years in any one event or project.” Events include the upcoming Art in the Park, a series of contemporary art installations displayed throughout the park’s 445 acres. “The No. 1 word when we were selecting the various artists was delight,” Stoller said. “A lot of people who come to visit the park will not think about going to

museums, so this will be their exposure to incredible works of arts.” On Jan. 7 and 8, artist Patrick Dougherty, with the help of volunteers, harvested and bundled saplings. From Jan. 8 through Jan. 24, they will create an original giant sapling sculpture to be displayed near McGovern Lake. “Hopefully, my sculpture will stir imaginations and evoke strong feelings,” said Dougherty, whose sculptures have been on display in the U.S., Korea and Australia. “Like all public art, it will aim to give people something to think about and talk about.” Established by Friends of Hermann Park in 1992, the Hermann Park Conservancy developed a master plan to restore the deteriorating park and to fill gaps in funding and maintenance. “In 1997, the master plan was accepted by City Council,” Stoller said. “All the park improvements we do are consistent with the goals of the master plan.” Board members wanted to celebrate four themes during the centennial: the

The Hermann Park train has become a family favorite, but the park predates it by many years. Established 100 years ago, events have been scheduled throughout 2014 to celebrate the park’s centennial. Center: The Sam Houston bronze statue dedicated in 1925 rests at the Grand Gateway entrance to Hermann Park. Right Top: Rendering of the proposed Cherie Flores Garden Pavilion. Illustration courtesy of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Right Bottom: Rendering of the Rose Garden to be included in the Centennial Gardens, which are set to open in October 2104. Illustration courtesy of Hoerr Schaudt and White Oak Studio.

Spring 2014

park’s history and design and community and family. “We wanted to celebrate the pieces of the park that have historical importance,” Stoller said. A major part of the celebration is the renovation of the Grand Gateway, the park’s historic main entrance, and the grand opening of the McGovern Centennial Gardens Oct. 18, 2014. “It will effectively let us complete 20

years of working on the master plan to restore the park,” Stoller said. Since the conservancy started, more than $100 million has been donated to help with construction projects, park maintenance, and stewardship, Stoller said.

“The park has been a part of so many family memories over generations,” she said. “We have people who rode the train as children now taking their grandchildren to ride the train.” People like Howard Batt, who took his children to enjoy train rides and the zoo. Batt, whose children are now grown, is a park volunteer. “I spend two hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning weeding plant beds in Hermann Park’s Japanese Gardens,” he said. “Its so beautiful. I love keeping it pristine so when people walk through they enjoy it like I do.” Stoller attributes the park’s success to a miracle of community engagement. “We have hundreds of donors every year who not only give money but are also members of the conservancy, allowing us to organize more than 20,000 hours a year of volunteer time,” Stoller said. “Whether you’re taking the train through the park, or walking from artwork to artwork, our hope is that people will take the time to see parts of the park they haven’t seen and celebrate the entire park, not just one piece,” she said of the park’s centennial celebration. “We hope that families will make a really special memory in a park they love.”



Brenda Scott has worked with the city of Houston for 25 years, rising to the position of deputy assistant director of Housing and Community Development. But her position as the pastor of a local church is on another plane.

Brenda Scott answers to

HIGHER CALLING By Elise Rambaud Marrion


renda Scott describes her life as a moving train that stops in the most unexpected places. That’s because she has relinquished control and lets faith guide her journey to a higher calling. This “let go and let God” approach must be working, because Scott has found considerable success in both her personal and professional lives. Scott, who has worked at the city of Houston for 25 years, began her career as a legal assistant in 1988 and is now the deputy assistant director of Housing and Community Development. Practiced at walking the tightrope of work-life balance, Scott has also earned a master of divinity degree and serves as the pastor of Mt. Calvary African Methodist Episcopal Church in northwest Houston. Meanwhile, she’s earning a doctorate in ministry degree specializing in urban ministry at Southern Methodist University. To top it off, she also writes music and poetry, has contributed to an online ministry magazine, paints portraits, hosted a radio show, participated in television ministry programs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and has three books in the works. “I’m a church girl. I grew up in the church. It’s been a part of my life all my life, no matter where I have been in my transformational process,” Scott said. “I have been in some low places, but church was always my refuge. It became ingrained in my life process.” Barbara Pierce, senior assistant city attorney, who hired Scott has developed a close friendship with her over the last two decades. “I have seen Brenda grow tremendously in her professional and spiritual lives, and it has been


a joy to see her evolve,” Pierce said. “Brenda doesn’t have to tell you about her life in ministry because you can see it in the way she carries herself and how she serves others. I’m a better person for having known her. I always say that I want to be like her when I grow up even though we are the same age.” Although she has tried to slow down and simplify her life, Scott said she always felt

Don’t ever tell God what you’re not going to do. Every time I try to say no, God shows me a way to say yes.” - BRENDA SCOTT

compelled to keep going. “After I completed my denomination’s ministerial institute, I said I was done,” Scott said. “I didn’t plan on earning my master’s degree. Don’t ever tell God what you’re not going to do. Every time I try to say no, God shows me a way to say yes. I prayed: ‘If this is God’s divine plan for me to go to the next level, open a door and show me how to finance it.’ “Seven days later, I got a call from my pastor who encouraged me to apply to Inspire Women, an organization that invests in women in ministry. They gave me a scholarship, and in 2012, I graduated with highest honors.” Scott’s professional, educational and spiritual development has seen setbacks. While working full time and going to school, Scott

oversaw the treatment of her mother’s declining health. “My mother supported me in my ministry. There are still many differing perceptions about women in ministry, and sometimes you don’t get treated all that well,” she said. “But my mother saw those gifts and graces in me from the time I was a little girl, so she was my cheerleader. I don’t know how I made it when she passed away, but my training as a pastor helped me immensely.” Leading the double life of two professions is easier when the jobs bear some similarities, Scott said. “The two roles have so many parallels. I am called to lead, teach, counsel and develop people and communities in my job at the city and as a pastor,” Scott said. The discipline she learned in her career helped make her a better student, Scott said, and conversely, her studies have influenced her approach to various situations at work. “Religious education is not just about religion. We learn about psychology, sociology and leadership, so you can understand others and how to engage people. I apply all of those things to my work at the city,” Scott said. “My skill set as a student is enhanced because I have kept up with technology through my work. I can easily prepare reports and presentations for school because I do it every day at work.” As for the future, Scott said she tries to keep an open mind.

Spring 2014


Iconic Astrodome launched Houston to new heights By Paul Beckman




.S. Secret Service officials wanted reassurance. With President George H. W. Bush set to arrive in Houston for the 1992 Republican National Convention, a safety concern gnawed at them. The perceived danger didn’t come from an assassin, but from the venue itself - the Astrodome. Convention organizers wanted to hang 100 tons of lights, speakers, a giant curtain and other equipment from the dome roof. All of it would be above the heads of the president and thousands of convention attendees. “The Secret Service came and interviewed me a couple of times to make sure that the roof wasn’t going to collapse,” said Narendra Gosain, an engineer at Walter P. Moore, the structural design firm that worked on the original Astrodome. Gosain, backed by an exhaustive study of the roof structure, convinced them it would hold. Still, RNC officials wanted Gosain at the convention with an eye on the roof and walkie-talkie in hand. Just in case. But the Astrodome, no stranger to big events, held fast during the convention. Today, it’s the 48-year-old Astrodome that faces potential danger. Pushed

into the shadows by Houston’s newer stadiums, demolition of the first domed, air-conditioned stadium is a real possibility. But if the iconic Astrodome goes down, some say it will take a sizeable chunk of Houston’s history, image and reputation with it.

From cow town to Space City Even as Texas’ largest city, the Houston that Roy Hofheinz led as mayor from 1953 – A crowd gathered at the Harris County Domed Stadium’s groundbreaking ceremony on Jan. 3, 1962. County officials chose 1955 rarely grabbed to pose with Colt .45s rather than shovels. a national spotlight. “The biggest and his business partners brought a major event that put Houston on the map just league baseball team to town, and voters prior to the 1960s was the opening of the approved bonds to build his brain child - a Shamrock Hotel (in 1949),” Texas historian domed stadium. and author Mike Vance said. “That was a A baseball fan, Hofheinz knew the big Hollywood moment with all these stars misery of sitting through Houston’s sticky mingling with all the wealthy wildcatters. heat to watch a game. Creating a more That’s really the reputation we had – as an comfortable atmosphere was an idea he oil town and as a cattle town.”

1965 April 9

But by the early 1960s, Houston was poised to take a giant leap forward. And Hofheinz provided the trampoline. He

First Baseball Game Astros-Yankees exhibition game (attended by President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson)

April 9

First home run, Mickey Mantle off Turk Farrell, Astros-Yankees exhibition game.

Dec. 17

First artist concert, Judy Garland and the Supremes

1966 July


Jan. 20

Jan. 8-9

“Game of the Century” University of Houston defeated UCLA first college basketball game set in a domed stadium. Attendance of 52,693 stood as record for college basketball until 2003.

Evel Knievel jumped 13 cars two nights in a row, attracting combined attendance of more than 100,000.


Sept. 9

Houston Oilers became first professional football team to play in a domed stadium. Oilers moved to the Astrodome from Rice Stadium. First game was a 26-21 loss to Kansas City Chiefs (attendance 45,083).


Nov. 14

Elvis Presley gave six concert performances, set attendance record with combined attendance of about 200,000.

Spring 2014

Nuts and bolts When the Astrodome opened in 1965, it became the first domed, air-conditioned,


Installation of AstroTurf artificial grass completed, replacing original playing surface of Bermuda grass. Muhammad Ali knocked out Cleveland Williams in a heavyweight title bout.

supposedly picked up in Rome, Italy, while visiting the Coliseum. “While there, he saw some renderings of what the Coliseum really looked like at one time,” Gosain said. “There was this canopy … stretched over the seating area to protect spectators from the elements.” Hofheinz may have borrowed from the Romans, but the stadium he envisioned looked futuristic. “About the same time that Judge Hofheinz started floating the idea for a stadium was about the same time that NASA was locating here,” Vance said. “That created the whole space city persona.” But the dome wasn’t just about baseball. Hofheinz saw it as the epicenter of entertainment. “It was just a different outlook,” Vance said. “The judge wanted the circus in there. He wanted everything going on in the Astrodome and actively sought things like heavyweight championship prize fights. Muhammad Ali fought there three or four times.”


Sept. 20

Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in straight sets in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match.

1986 Oct. 15

The National League Championship Series ended when the Houston Astros lost a 16-inning Game 6 to the eventual World Series champion New York Mets, 7-6. At the time, it was the longest postseason game in history. 

HERITAGE multiuse stadium in the world. Called the Harris County Domed Stadium, the massive circular concrete and steel building sprawls across 9.14 acres and matches the height of a 20-story hotel. “There’s no question in my mind that the two most recognizable buildings in Texas are easily the Alamo and the Astrodome,” Vance said. And it was also built to last. Before construction, meticulous planning and evaluation went into the design. For example, with hurricanes always a possibility, a smaller scale model was put through a wind tunnel test. Engineers even accounted for the impact of sonic booms created by supersonic aircraft. “Remember this is the 1960s. There was a thought that in the future we would have a lot of supersonic jets flying over the town,” Gosain said. The building wasn’t unique just on the outside. The dome originally sported clear skylights so natural grass could grow in the sunshine. But when the glare affected the ball players, the clear skylights were replaced with translucent ones. “But then the grass died, and Astroturf was developed,” Gosain said. The Astrodome’s luxury boxes were a first for stadiums and set a trend still followed today. “Luxury boxes have become a staple everywhere,” Vance said. “Good luck getting even a high school stadium built without private boxes.” Comedian Bob Hope once said of the Astrodome, “If they had a maternity ward and a cemetery, you’d never have to leave!” Hofheinz almost didn’t. “He had a residence there,” Gosain said. “He could be seen riding in a golf cart dressed up in his dressing gown in the morning sometimes. It was his vision. It was his baby.” He also had a luxurious bar with a magical twist. “It has some kind of inclined counter,” Gosain said. “He was well known to invite a few of his friends, mix drinks for them and slide one down the countertop. Just when people thought it was going to spill on their lap, he had some kind of magnetic button that could make it stop right in front of his guest.” Dome alone Despite the dome’s iconic standing, its main tenants abandoned it for newer stadiums. The Oilers left town in the mid-1990s. The Astros started playing


The Astrodome was the home of the Astros and the site of innovative sports venue features like the scoreboard with video pyrotechnics and snorting bulls. At the left, the dome looms behind former Houston mayor Roy Hofheinz, who dreamed up the idea of a covered stadium.

Photos courtesy of Reliant Park.

downtown, and in 2003 the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo went next door to Reliant Stadium. The Astrodome had one last shining moment in 2005 when it was used to temporarily shelter thousands of people fleeing Hurricane Katrina’s destruction in Louisiana. Empty and idle, the Astrodome waits for a direction from Harris County. In November, voters rejected a proposal for the county to issue up to $217 million in bonds to convert the dome into a multipurpose exhibition center. Joe Stinebaker, the communication director at the Harris County judge’s office, said if the referendum had passed, each house valued at $200,000 would see annual taxes increase by $8.


Astrodome seating expanded by 10,000.

The Harris County Sports and Convention Center is the landlord of Reliant Park, which includes the Astrodome. Kevin Hoffman, HCSCC deputy executive director, said even with the old stadium idle, annual maintenance and insurance run between $1.5 million and $2.5 million. Work around the dome and maintaining utilities are part of the cost. “The electricity for Reliant Arena is actually fed through the dome,” Hoffman said. “So we have to maintain the utilities associated with the building... And it’s used quite a bit because of rodeo, concerts, car shows, things of that nature.“ No clear future for the dome and the cost just to keep it afloat have moved some to consider demolition. Both Vance and Gosain said that would



Dec. 15

Houston Oilers play their last game at the Astrodome before moving to Tennessee, a 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals (attendance 15,131).

Aug. 17-20

The 1992 Republican National Convention took place in the Astrodome where U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle were nominated for re-election.

1999 Oct. 3


Astros played final regular season game at the Astrodome, clinching NL Central Division with a 9-4 win over the L.A. Dodgers.

Feb. 26

Tejano superstar Selena sets Astrodome attendance record of almost 67,000 for a concert during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It was the third year in a row she performed to increasingly huge crowds (57,894 in 1993 and 60,081 in 1994).

Oct. 9

Astros played final game in the Astrodome, eliminated from the playoffs by the Atlanta Braves. ®

be a mistake. The iconic building’s unique historical, architectural and engineering qualities make it worth saving. “(Tearing it down) would make us the laughing stock of anybody connected with history or architecture around the world,” Vance said. “It’s the most important building we’ve ever had. People here don’t seem to realize what we have as much as people elsewhere realize what we have.” As time passes, the Astrodome’s chances of survival grow slimmer. But it’s not over yet. After all, the Astrodome has been underestimated before.

2005 Sept. 2005

The Astrodome housed thousands of New Orleans and South Louisiana residents evacuated after Hurricane Katrina and the floodwall failures flooded the city and region causing a mass exodus.

2013 Nov. 5

A $217-million bond issue proposed to renovate and convert the Astrodome into a modern multipurpose facility. Failure of the measure at the ballot box left fate of the iconic structure up in the air, with demolition a possibility.

November, December

Some of the Astrodome features such as seats, lockers and turnstiles are sold off to the public to raise money for safety projects around the dome.

Spring 2014


HATS OFF We are very proud to announce that driver Sergio Almaguer from Southeast placed 2nd in the SWANA’s international competition. Congratulations! Congratulations also go out to Shannon Emanuel from Depositories for competing at the international level. DON’s Office of Education is a US2020 city competition finalist The City of Houston, represented by lead applicant DON Office of Education Initiatives, has been named among 13 finalists in the 2014 US2020 City Competition. Up to five winning cities will share nearly $1 million to bolster Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) mentoring for girls, lowincome youth and students of color.


the world of the city of Houston’s communications division. The MarCom Awards for marketing and communications professionals has cited work by the communications division in 16 categories, including the Combined Municipal Campaign website and special event marketing; the City Savvy, Benefits Pulse and Human Resources Department newsletters; and individual writing and design projects. The CMC earned two platinum awards, the highest level MarCom gives. One was in the category for nonprofit websites, the other for Marketing/ Promo Campaign/Special Event. The communications division also received gold awards in five categories and honorable mention in six categories. The MarCom Awards is a competition for individuals, companies or organizations involved in the concept, writing and design of print, visual, audio and web materials and programs. More than 6,000 total submissions came from corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, PR firms, design shops, and production companies ranging in size from media conglomerates and Fortune 50 companies to individual freelancers.

Communications division earns 16 MarCom awards Judges for a leading international marketing and communications contest think




By Paul Beckman


Sergio Almaguer places Second in international driving competition Every year, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) hosts a truck ROAD-E-O competition that tests drivers’ knowledge, professionalism and driving skills through a series of tests. Drivers must place in the local and state contests before advancing to the international level.

Planning department receives urban development award The Planning Department received the Current Planning Award for the Urban Houston Framework from the Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association. The award is based on an outstanding ordinance, program or process directed to the implementation of a plan. The Urban Houston Framework is a study intended to guide the development of vibrant life, work and play environments, specifically urban centers. Through a series of dialogues with the public and industry professionals on the city’s growth, the Framework resulted in recommended policies, tools and incentives to encourage responsible, sustainable development while preserving the character of existing neighborhoods. To read the full report, go to www.

Aviation magazine names Houston’s Mario Diaz 2013’s top large airport system director Mario Diaz, director of aviation for the Houston Airport System, has been named the top aviation director in the nation for large airports in 2013 by aviation industry publication Airport Revenue News. “ARN is honored to recognize Mario’s achievements and energetic brand of leadership,” said Ramon Lo, editorial director for ARN. “The three airports under his purview are certainly benefitting from his experience working for some of the busiest airports in the United States.” Diaz was to be featured on the cover of the December 2013/January 2104 double-issue of ARN, with a feature interview inside. He will be presented the award March 4 at the ARN Awards Show on the final night of the ARN 2014 Revenue Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Fla. Airport Revenue News, a division of Urban Expositions, is a monthly trade magazine that covers revenuegenerating issues affecting the airport industry.

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 Annise Parker

Publications Manager Leslie Denton-Roach

Designer Heidi Bane

Human Resources Director Omar Reid

Managing Editor David Smith

Deputy Directors Ramiro Cano Jane Cheeks

Reporters Paul Beckman Elise Rambaud Marrion Lucha Morales

Editorial Board Sandra Jackson Stephanie Farris Sandra Fernandez Jedediah Greenfield Bob Nowak Blanca Quezada Lester Whiteing Darian Ward Alvin Wright

Assistant Director Gerri Walker Helaine Rumaner

Illustrator Paul Beckman

City Savvy - Spring 2014  

City of Houston Employee News

City Savvy - Spring 2014  

City of Houston Employee News