Why Can't They Be Friends?

Bill and Annise confront a City Hall curse

On the minus side: Both White and Parker are detail freaks with unspoken ambitions for higher office. Even in the rosy glow of their election triumphs, one can already discern some familiar fault lines that could lead to quakes and rifts between the erstwhile allies.

During her tenure as controller, Garcia fought with Brown over her office's conducting performance audits of his departments. City Attorney Anthony Hall advised the mayor that the audit concept infringed on his authority in Houston's strong-mayor form of government, and Brown rebuffed most of Garcia's initiatives. Parker pushed the issue in her own campaign, and audits could become an early sign of how she and White will get along.

White indicates he will be more flexible than Brown in bringing the controller into a management partnership.

"I think there is a role [for the controller] in what we call reliable management information systems that can be used by decision makers. And I know there may be some within the departments who will resist it."

White recalls how, during his tenure at the federal Energy Department, he used the agency's inspector general office to scour the bureaucracy for waste and inefficiencies.

"That is a big role where somebody's going to have to do it, and if we can use dedicated personnel at the Controller's Office to perform that useful function, that would be great for the city."

At first glance, Parker likes the idea.

"I think we may be thinking somewhat along the same lines," the incoming controller says. "I would like the opportunity to be used the way a good audit division of a major firm would be, where you're part of the team but everybody knows your integrity and independence are untouchable."

In the midst of all this happy talk there are a few warning notes.

"What I don't think there's a role for is somebody who just always goes in after the fact and offers criticism with no solutions," says White. "That is not part of the solution, to issue a press release to get their name in the paper…"

Parker sees her job as providing councilmembers with analysis and projections that may not always dovetail with the mayor's figures.

"Councilmembers want a controller that they can go to and say, 'The mayor has said that XYZ is going to happen. Do you think these are realistic revenue and expense numbers? Are there any other alternatives?'

"I want to also develop this relationship with council where I can say, 'Yeah, I think the mayor's right in this instance,' or 'Here are some alternatives they have not considered.' "

And at that point, where both sides begin issuing dueling documents and rival financial estimates, it could start sounding a lot like those contentious City Hall relationships of the past.

"I believe that the new mayor is a micromanager," says Parker. "I'm an information junkie…I'm coming in with the attitude that we'll be teammates with different roles, but if I have to step out and become referee or umpire, that's part of the controller too."

Insider recommendation: Keep that political marriage counselor handy for the next couple of years.

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