Plaudits for Houston government
Governing magazine has announced its 2007 public officials of the year, and Mayor White is among the winners. Here is an excerpt from the announcement:
White, a former business executive with no previous experience in elected office, is a cool pragmatist who wants results rather than excuses. Key to his success is that he embraces his rivals as much as he does strangers. The Democratic mayor appointed Republicans to chair key council committees, clearing the way for much of his agenda and proving that good government is also the best politics. White won reelection in 2005 with a staggering 91 percent of the vote and this month is a shoo-in to win a third and, because of term limits, final term.
White, 53, is not the most charismatic big-city mayor around today. He's not on a crusade to take over the schools, bust up the bureaucracy or build expensive sports stadiums. Rather, he looks for definable problems with serious consequences and then figures out how best to use the power of his office to solve them. Two of White's biggest coups include shoring up the pension systems for city employees and police officers, and signing a labor deal with the city's firefighters, who had been without a contract for five years. White tries not to focus on more than four or five priorities at a time, he says, "because successful organizations, like successful people, can't optimize everything at the same time."
Elsewhere, City Journal's Nicole Gelinas recently praised Houston's Katrina efforts (led by Mayor White and former-County Judge Robert Eckels):
In the aftermath of the California wildfires, pundits have compared how government officials sheltered refugees at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium with how they sheltered Hurricane Katrina refugees at New Orleans’s Superdome in 2005. But the two disasters are so different that such comparisons aren’t illuminating....
A much more relevant comparison is between New Orleans’s handling of Katrina evacuees and Houston’s handling of Katrina evacuees. Just days after Katrina flooded New Orleans, the state of Texas, and Houston in particular, welcomed the very same people who had been languishing in the Superdome to the Houston Astrodome and other venues. Moving quickly to take in more than 25,000 people who had been stewing in the Superdome’s filth, dark, and danger—as well as 40,000 others in need of public shelter—Texas’s state and local officials rose to the occasion, confronting a disaster for which they had never planned, a disaster that didn’t affect them directly until they chose to take on the responsibility. Houston maintained an environment of safety and security at the Astrodome, showing that a competent, flexible government with access to basic resources like electricity, modern medications, and an adequate police presence can meet the needs of any population. It doesn’t detract from California’s competence in handling wildfire evacuees to say that its performance at Qualcomm unlocked no secret new formula for adequate government performance. Houston provided the same good example two years ago.
We sometimes disagree with Mayor White's priorities and proposals, but there is no disputing that he has restored a level of competence and collegiality to City Hall that was sorely lacking during the Lee Brown reign of error.