Welcome to The Knox Report – January 2021

Life Despite COVID-19  

Many of you have noticed the monthly Knox Report has been suspended, primarily due to the overwhelming amount of information related to COVID-19.  I felt like everyone was hyper-focused on the COVID-19 virus and that additional comments and articles surrounding it would not be beneficial.  As we move into 2021, I am hopeful we will all begin moving toward a more normal environment.
A few thoughts about COVID-19…
Our city leaders, and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, have done an extraordinary job of frightening the American people.  Both parties have played on their constituents’ emotional and sympathetic responses and have paid little attention to providing a balanced and reasoned look at COVID-19.  I am in no way minimizing the impact of COVID-19.  I want to be clear; I believe this disease is, without a doubt, a serious problem.  However, I do not recognize it as a “crisis.”
We should all be balancing our responses by examining the problem and focusing our attention on vulnerable populations, encouraging everyone to be mindful of good hygienic practices, and honestly reporting the disease’s true impact.  For example, as of the first week of 2021, out of the more than 7,051,000 people who reside in the nine-county region serviced by the Texas Medical Center, 7,010,694 persons who may or may not have tested positive, have not required medical attention due to COVID-19. Looking at the broader perspective of the problem, we are likely to have a more reasonable response than if we focused solely on hospitalizations and deaths. Providing accurate, comprehensive information promotes reasonable and rational decision making by governments and individuals. That is all I have to say on this subject.
The remainder of this newsletter focuses on the highlights of what your city government accomplished while distracted with COVID-19.  These highlights are by no means exhaustive, but I think they are representative of a functioning government during this time.  Hopefully, we will reinstate the monthly Knox Report starting with the February issue.  
Happy New Year, everyone!  
City Council Member Mike Knox, At-Large Position 1
900 Bagby St., First Floor | Houston, TX 77002
(832) 393-3014 | Atlarge1@houstontx.gov

Property Tax Increase

Council approved the Mayor’s property tax increase on a 13-4 vote for the 2020 tax year. I opposed the Mayor’s tax increase along with three of my colleagues. The Mayor’s property tax increase will increase the average homeowner’s property tax bill by approximately $41. Although the tax rate was slightly reduced by 1.07% (from $0.56792 to $0.56184 per $100 of taxable value), with the increased property appraisals, the overall net effect is a tax increase. 
I opposed this measure because the government has shut down many Houston businesses and residents have taken a hit to their bank accounts. Once again, the government will confiscate more of your money.

COH Sustainability Office

With increased government spending, Council approved the Mayor’s proposal to establish another government office by creating the Sustainability Office. I opposed this item along with two of my council colleagues. This new office will consist of 5 staff members with a budget of $626,753 and will implement the Mayor’s “climate action plan” to educate the public and private sectors regarding best practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop policies and procedures to guide city departments. The Mayor is indicating his support for a “greener” Houston by expanding government, while many Houstonians have lost their jobs.

City of Houston 5-Year CIP

Council approved the City’s 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP calls for spending $9.2 billion during the five-year period between 2021 and 2025. Projects included in the plan are Fire Department facilities, Health Centers, Libraries, Police Department facilities, Solid Waste facilities, Storm Drainage projects, Street & Traffic projects, Wastewater projects, and Airport System projects. Please be mindful that this plan is a rolling five-year plan, and quite often due to fiscal constraints, planned projects may get pushed out to later years. For more detailed information about the plan, visit www.houstontx.gov/cip.

Small Contractors Rotation Program

In February of 2019, Council approved the expansion of the Small Contractors Rotation Program. This program began as a pilot two years ago to enable small construction contractors to compete for City business while also strengthening their ability to obtain financing and bonding. The pilot program began with nine contractors being awarded over 260 contracts totaling nearly $4.5 million. Since then, two of the contractors have grown and become prime contractors. Small business is the backbone of our local economy, and the City has assisted these local small firms to grow and flourish.

Human Trafficking Ordinance

In April last year, Council approved a Human Trafficking ordinance that requires employees of local hotels and motels to receive annual training to be on the lookout for indicators of human trafficking. The Administration has been working for several years with the local Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston to arrive at a workable solution to respond to the human trafficking situation in the City.

Increased Transparency for Elected Officials

Following my complaint to the city’s Inspector General in 2019, council approved a change in the city’s ordinance to the financial disclosure requirements. Last year, an elected Houston city official sold a piece of property that was purchased with city funds. Unbeknownst to my council colleagues and me, council was not informed that this property was owned by an elected city official. Even though the city official followed state law, the city ordinance was lacking in notification requirements to city council which ultimately decides whether a property is bought and sold. With this change in the city’s ordinance, elected city officials are now required to notify city council about ownership in a property prior to council voting on whether to purchase or sell the property.

Homeless Outreach

Council approved spending $5 million in federal dollars to collaborate with the Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services. This program helps homeless individuals with severe mental health issues. The Center will contain 108 beds for individuals providing medical, rehabilitative, and respite programs.

LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse

Council approved designating the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 60 Clubhouse as a Protected Historic Landmark. The property located at 3004 Bagby was purchased in 1955 and would become known as the Council 60 Clubhouse. This building gave LULAC a home base from which to advocate for equal social, economic, and political rights for Mexican Americans in Houston. Since 2013, the building has sat vacant due to a backlog of deferred maintenance. The building recently underwent stabilization and will undergo rehabilitation following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

Houston Police Department

Council approved the purchases of the following equipment/apparatus to assist in keeping our city safe. These purchases were funded either by Federal Funds, Grants from the State of Texas, or FEMA.
  • 35 Foot Interceptor Boat and Trailer to be utilized by the HPD Air and Marine Division to patrol the Houston Ship Channel (Federal)
  • Replacement Bomb Squad vehicle. This will replace their existing vehicle and be used to respond to emergency call-outs, investigations, and/or threats regarding explosives. (Federal)
  • 22 Patrol Units to add to the existing HPD fleet. (FEMA)
  • A new helicopter with hoisting capabilities to assist in efforts to enhance disaster response, combat gangs, criminal activity, and terrorism. (State of Texas)

Houston Fire Department

Council approved the purchases of the following equipment/apparatus to assist in keeping our community safe. These purchases were funded either by Federal Funds, Grants from the State of Texas, or FEMA.
  • 4 Pumper Fire Engines (FEMA)
  • 37 Specialized washing machines in order to thoroughly clean firefighter gear. Each of the city’s 93 Fire Stations will be equipped.
  • Heavy-Duty Rescue Trailer to be utilized by the HFD Technical Rescue Team to store, transport, and deploy heavy rescue equipment. (Federal)
  • Aerial Ladder Truck to replace a current truck that has exceeded its lifespan.
  • Thermal Imaging Cameras to detect heat signatures enabling firefighters to locate and rescue individuals in extremely low visibility conditions such as darkness and smoke. I am proud to have designated a portion of my council office budget to pay for these life-saving devices.
  • 9 Pumper Trucks, 1 Cascade Truck, 3 Aerial Ladder Trucks, 1 Booster Truck, and 3 Response Command Trucks. These various trucks will replace existing units and are part of a multi-year effort to replace HFD’s aging fleet of first responder vehicles.

Houston Public Works

Council approved the purchases of $11.5 million worth of trucks for the Public Works Department that consist of aerial lifts, dump trucks, pick-up trucks, and other various vehicles that will replace decade-old trucks that are in current use by the department. No funds from the drainage fee were used to purchase the trucks.

Roadway Improvements

January 8th
Council approved spending an additional $3.5 million to an $8.8 million contract to perform panel replacements on our roadways. Panel replacements are a cost-effective way to improve concrete streets. A typical section of a panel is 12 feet by 20 feet.
February 26th
Council approved a $17 million project to reconstruct the streets and replace storm sewers and water lines in the Briarmeadow neighborhood. Construction for this project started in the summer of 2020 and is moving along well. Some residents have reported that their street has already been reconstructed.
March 25th
I, along with three of my council colleagues, opposed a program to relieve police officers from investigating in person a vehicle crash on our local freeways. This new program authorizes firefighters to perform investigative duties for vehicle crashes on Houston’s freeways. I believe this program will further pile more duties upon our overworked firefighters. This item passed by a vote of 11-4.
September 9th
Council approved spending $1,750,249 to repair and replace the perimeter walkways at Hermann Square and City Hall. These renovations include constructing accessible ramps at each of the four corners, replacement of sidewalk pavers, new granite around trees, and tree and pedestrian lighting replacement. Private donations are also expected to provide funding for the improvements at Hermann Square.
September 30th
Council approved spending $3 million to pay for asphalt overlay services for roadways throughout the city. This city contract is one of many for overlay services as the total dollar amount is divided up into several contracts to allow more contractors to bid.
October 14th
I, along with one of my colleagues, opposed the Administration’s plan to ticket vehicles parked in a bike lane even if the bike lane is delineated just by a stripe. This overreach will further burden Houstonians with over-regulation and additional ticket fines. I believe that bicyclists and motorists should not share the same traffic lanes. When there is an accident, it usually does not turn out well. Bicyclists should be on separated lanes and trails along bayous and parks. Mixing bicyclists with automobiles is a dangerous proposition.

Park / Library Improvements

January 8th
Council approved two Memorandums of Agreement between the City and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to accept $2 million in state funds to be used for improvements to Keith-Wiess Park and Melrose Park. Thanks to State Representative Armando Walle for including these funds in the state budget.
January 29th
Council approved a contract to provide pre-construction services for the new Westbury Library. The City intends to build a new Westbury Library to replace both the Meyer Neighborhood Library, which remains closed due to damages sustained during Hurricane Harvey, and the Frank Express Library which operates out of leased space.
February 26th
Council approved a $1.1 million contract for renovations around the old clubhouse at Hermann Park. The work consists of new curbs, concrete drives, sidewalks, parking lots, trails, water and sanitary lines, plumbing connections and detention. $1 million was provided by the Woodlands Regional Participation Fund.
July 15th
Council approved a final payment of $7.2 million for the renovation of the Robinson Westchase Neighborhood Library located at 3223 Wilcrest Drive in southwest Houston. Money to renovate this building was provided by voter-approved library bonds.
September 9th
Council approved spending $450,000 to repair the Kashmere Gardens Neighborhood Library. This money will go towards stabilizing the structural foundation, re-route roof drains, and restore finishes including flooring and painting.
September 16th
Council approved spending $13,700 to repair Looscan Library from damage sustained during Hurricane Harvey. The City intends to seek reimbursement from FEMA.
September 23rd
Council approved spending $375,000 over five years of General Fund dollars to provide “free” music videos and music for library users. I opposed this agenda item due to the City’s budgetary challenges, and the fact that generally much of this music inventory is already available free to the public. I was joined in opposition by one of my council colleagues.
October 21st
Council unanimously approved an increase in golf greens fees at Memorial Park for Non-Residents of Houston. Thanks to a commitment of $34 million by the Astros Foundation, many renovations have taken place at Memorial Park including a new Memorial Park golf course, new driving range, tennis courts, croquet courts, clubhouse, and education facility, and the Houston Open will be played there the first week of November. Many of the greatest professional golfers will be playing. For years, numerous Houstonians have complained about the challenge of playing golf at Memorial Park due to the high demand. With this change, Non-Residents will be limited to 10% of the rounds and an increase in green fees. The increased green fees will be earmarked for maintenance of the course and park. This change will not affect Houstonians.
October 28th
Council approved a long-term lease agreement with Houston First and the Hermann Park Conservancy. The Hermann Park Conservancy intends to invest $5.4 million to renovate and restore the historic golf Clubhouse at Hermann Park and the adjacent parking lots. Once completed, HPC will operate and maintain the Clubhouse as a special events venue for rent to the public and provide a portion of the revenue to the City.

Flood Improvements

May 6th
Council approved spending $17.4 million to reconstruct and reduce flooding on Kirkwood between Buffalo Bayou and Briar Forest. This project has been on the Capital Improvement Projects plan since 1998. Construction for this project has already begun and should be completed by the end of 2021. Once this project is completed, your vehicle will thank you.
May 27th
Council approved street and drainage projects located on Neuens Road between Gessner and Blalock and a project on Cullen Boulevard between North MacGregor Way and I-45. These two projects are a collaboration between the City and Harris County. The Neuens project contains $15.5 million from the City and $3.2 million from Harris County Commissioner Cagle. The Cullen project includes $4 million from the City and $15 million from Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. The Neuens project is a multi-year project consisting of 5 phases of which phase 1 has already begun.
September 2nd
Council approved purchasing three tracts of land for the Spellman Detention Basin Project. This project is located near the 6400 block of West Bellfort and adjacent to the Fondren Diversion Channel north of the Willow Waterhole. This detention basin has a proposed volume of 208 acre-feet which will help mitigate the flood risk to residents and business structures in the Willow Waterhole Bayou drainage area of the Brays Bayou watershed. The project will utilize funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
November 10th
Council approved an interlocal agreement to divide the costs among the City of Houston, METRO, and the Harris County Flood Control District to pay for an engineering study to improve the conveyance capacity of Langham Creek by modifying the Clay Road bridge over Langham Creek. The current span of the bridge does not adequately convey stormwater from the two-mile floodplain upstream of Clay Road into the downstream Addicks Reservoir contributing to upstream flooding in extreme events.