Timing Of Vote For BARC's "Change Agent" Contract Surprises Some, Like Councilmembers

Silly fuckin' us.

We thought that when a Houston City Councilman says something, we're supposed to take him at his word. But sometimes we forget that this is Houston, and things are done a little differently.

At the August 3 Human Services Committee meeting on Gerry Fusco's BARC contract, Councilman and Committee Chair Jarvis Johnson said he wanted to hear a progress report from Fusco on September 14, before his contract went to the full council for a vote. But Hair Balls has received many concerned e-mails from folks who were surprised to see that Fusco's contract is now on the August 19 agenda. See, people who had tuned into news reports on the contract were under the impression that they had another month to wait to see how things were going before they, if they wanted to, could tell their council members how they felt on the issue.

So we asked Frank Michel, Mayor Bill White's communications director, if he knew what happened, since "everyone" seemed to think it wouldn't be on tomorrow's agenda.

Here's what he told us:

We're not exactly sure where the Sept. 14 date came from and who "everyone" is, but we are pretty much on the schedule we've had from the first. Mr. Fusco is more than three weeks into a six-week purchase order and if we wait till Sept. 14 there would be a lapse when either his work would have to stop or he wouldn't be getting paid. We have planned to put it on this week allowing for a possible tag week by the council and Council Member Johnson's committee meeting is scheduled for Aug. 31, if council wanted the option to send it to that committee. Then it could be voted on as late as Sept. 2.

We informed that when we said "everyone," we didn't mean everyone in Houston -- just those people who tuned into the media reports that stated the vote wouldn't come until after September 14. So that would just be people who read Hair Balls, the Chron, local TV news, and local blogs.

And when we called some council members to see if they knew why it was added to tomorrow's agenda, Councilwoman Jolanda Jones's assistant told us that Jones was "shocked" to see it on there. So apparently Jones is one of those foolish folks who thought that, when her committee set a September 14th date, that it actually meant something. 

We're hearing from some folks who are already in favor of hiring Fusco, and they don't have a problem with the vote taking place tomorrow. But some folks who are on the fence, or who have made up their minds against hiring Fusco, are concerned about what they perceive as a change in plans.

We haven't heard back from Johnson, so we don't know if he just simply misspoke when he said September 14....and if every other council member there just went along, assuming he knew what he was talking about. But it seems that, on a hot-button issue like this, clear communication would be key.

So when the Mayor's spokesman doesn't even realize that a council committee held a three-and-a-half-hour meeting on this topic two weeks ago and declared publicly that it wanted to hear more before the item went to a vote, it's a bit troubling. We wonder if this is the best way to run an efficient, responsible, transparent, ethical city government.

But then again, what the fuck do we know? We're used to thinking officials should be taken at the word -- now we know better. Now we know that Houston officials know what's in our best interest, and they'll decide what they want to decide, and it's not our job to question them. Because the only thing that comes out of that is democracy -- and really, who besides the public benefits from that?

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