The Ballad of Bert and Rob and Susan

Caught in a conservative council love triangle

"You need to keep your nose out of city business," Brown says of Polland. "This is a nonpartisan form of city government. If you're so concerned about tax rates, roll them back in the city where you pay your taxes; and that's Bellaire and not Houston."

In a faxed response to Houston Press inquiries, Polland denied sending Brown any message "directly or indirectly." If the mayor decides to support the rollback, "I would be happy to congratulate him for doing what is right," Polland said.

Council observers were mystified when Brown allowed the tax rollback proposal to go to a vote. Allies of the mayor on the council assumed Brown's team had made a deal for the support of the swing vote -- at-large Councilmember Carroll Robinson.

TV news cameras showed Susan standing by her man Bert after his DWI incident.
TV news cameras showed Susan standing by her man Bert after his DWI incident.

Brown says he was relying on a promise Robinson made to him after Brown's help in getting him elected. "He had said to me and other people as well that he would never be the eighth vote against me," explains Brown. "I took him for his word."

With the tax rollback balloting knotted at 7-7, Robinson's name was called. He sided with the Republicans on the council. And Brown got what he considers the first major defeat of his administration.

"I expect that when someone tells you something, they live up to their word," says Brown. "That's the way I was brought up. Your word is your bond."

Robinson denies ever promising Brown such unqualified support. "That would be illegal, silly, and that would give up any political leverage I had at this council table," says the councilman. "I'm not going to give up the one thing the voters gave me. I enjoy being the last vote on council."

The other Democrat voting for the rollback, Chris Bell, did not surprise the mayor. "As I can see right now, Bell's going around talking to different people figuring out whether he can get their support for mayor," comments Brown. "So I assume what he did was part of his bid to become the mayor next year."

Aside from forcing $16 million in cuts to the city budget, Brown contends the rollback vote could endanger the city's credit rating as well. "If that happens," he warns, "then we end up paying more money for the money we borrow. And that's going to have an impact on everybody in this city."

According to the mayor, the only way to return the city to nonpartisan politics is to get rid of the limit of three two-year terms. That forces officials to curry party favor in order to have political futures in state and federal partisan elections, Brown says.

"At some point we need to look at where we are and get councilmembers and the mayor four-year terms," argues Brown. "Two terms for eight years. Then you can lay out and come back again like in many other big cities. This is a big city, and it doesn't make sense running for office every two years."

As for Brown, the defeat against the rollback was a needed wake-up call to start personally taking his message to the media. After years of dismal press relations, in Goodrich he has apparently found a communications director who knows how to communicate, if he's willing to listen to her.

"People that meet him on a one-on-one basis find him quite funny and clever," says Goodrich. "Just like the public sees him as a talking head, it's good to have the media see him one-on-one and as a person."

Wonder why it took the Brown administration three years to figure that toughie out.

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