The Way the Wind Blows
(First in a five part series)
Citizens of Sharpstown must have confidence that elected officials will listen and work in their best interests. In the case of Mike Laster’s representation of Sharpstown at City Hall, disappointment and the status quo might best describe the situation. After over dozen years of neighborhood involvement, and in his fourth year on City Council, Mike simply will not or cannot make the choices and provide the leadership we need. His tenure has been one long, ongoing, political calculation, pointedly marked by abstentions, complaints, and imperceptible result. It’s time for a change and waiting another two years for term limits to replace our District J leadership is too long.
As I begin this installment series on an important topic, it’s critical to make this giant disclaimer: While from my view, my opinion on this matter is widely shared across the Sharpstown neighborhood, I speak only for myself in my role as registered voter and Citizen. Also, for all those that may want to simply deduce some motive, that I am simply positioning myself as a candidate, you could not be more wrong. With a young family, little league baseball, a local business, and community issues that need much attention, my time is best spent here in Sharpstown. I may well be the first in a long line of SCA Presidents with no plan to obtain a seat around the horseshoe at 901 Bagby. It would be foolish to completely rule out any future option, but at this time I do not have any such plans to do so.
My intent and hope with this series is that it will help encourage a motivated, community focused, alternative candidate to run for the District J seat. That person(s) exists in District J and we need to find them. Mike Laster is vulnerable and politically weak, a candidate that even a mediocre opponent can beat. His electoral support in Sharpstown and across the District has been at its’ best lukewarm, with barely a few thousand votes electing him in 2011 and again in 2013. The only path to victory for him, and I’ve crunched the numbers precinct by precinct and block by block, is to be unopposed. We cannot let that happen.
Results Matter: Nice Guy Persona Not Enough to Earn My Vote
Most voters, including this one, will mention that Mike is a “nice guy”, or that he has worked in the community for years, implying that this perhaps provides some type of excuse for thin results or is some entitlement to elected office. To draw that conclusion is biased, dead wrong analysis, one that leads to years of inaction and missed opportunities.
Today, with a District J official that has been in a leadership role for such a long time, the only real measure of value is to determine what has been accomplished. Such leaders of an organization, whether private or public, can write checks and claim victory, but the measuring point is not dollars budgeted or spent. These poster-size check announcements look impressive but are just easy sound bites. On the other hand, with all the serious, chronic issues we have faced, all I can seem to identify is a speed hump installed here or there, and an effort to reduce heavy trash violations. On the big issues of commercial (auto dealer) activity, dangerous abandoned homes, blighted slum apartments, neighborhood blight including parking on the grass, or broken streets, poor drainage, and area wide crime, there simply isn’t much to show.
But what really causes me to take pause is an ongoing pattern of not including the neighborhood in the policy process, of moving forward on projects with serious implications to home values and safety, with no concern for what residents think. It’s hard to give an opinion when you don’t even know what has been proposed, much less approved. The latest example was the idea to merge the Sharpstown and Gulfton Management Districts, one that would have easily sailed by without any knowledge of the assessment payers, much less residential property owners and occupants. We learned about the draft legislation from St. Rep. Gene Wu, not from our council member.
Taking no view, sniffing the wind of political calculation, trying not to annoy a single voter, this is Mike Laster’s hallmark, and a major reason why little to nothing has been accomplished.
It’s important to know that District council members are given much latitude and input by the Mayor to shape the boards of these districts. Indeed, his campaign treasurer and key fundraiser is the Chairman of the Sharpstown District. We know that Mike was notified very early in the process but for some reason defers the responsibility to inform us by telling the contract manager to “gather feedback from the constituencies and stakeholders,” while declining to take any position in support or opposition. Taking no view, sniffing the wind of political calculation, trying not to annoy a single voter, this is Mike Laster’s hallmark, and a major reason why little to nothing has been accomplished.
Within days of his no position letter, but after the proposal was announced to SCA members and Sharpstown residents, he announces that he has “heard from my constituents and reviewed the issue of the proposed consolidation…” and declares he is not in support of “this State Legislation”. This doesn’t mean he won’t support a Gulfton or combined Gulfton – Sharpstown District, but alas there is an election in the fall, and it wouldn’t be smart to publicly take any side.
As a voter I simply wonder why he didn’t give us a fair opportunity to participate, as it was certainly Sharpstown business when he testified in Austin back in 2005 in support of creating the District. He did so as SCA President no less. Today, it’s easier to just do things behind closed doors and keep those pesky voters out of the loop. This is exactly what was done when section two homes were annexed into TIRZ No. 20, at the request of HBU for some type of now rejected commercial project. He didn’t tell us then, and he didn’t tell us now, and that in my view is unacceptable.
Over the next week or so, through a five part series, I will chronicle what I have observed as a front row viewer and participant. I’ll start with the barely avoided collapse of the SCA, which was on financial fumes and essentially became insolvent under his watch. Next, we’ll look back at the Sharpstown Mall lawsuit and attempted insider deal, the inability of the TIRZ or District to maintain city owned improvements, and of course the immaculate annexation of section two homes. More recently we’ll look into his complete support of the administration on the new animal ordinance that absent our efforts, could have easily resulted in unlimited dogs at a residential property. The new $1 Million District J Service Fund will, with almost no surprise, reveal ineffective expenditures at a time we cannot even fill potholes or investigate burglaries. Finally we’ll review the behind the scenes efforts to create a so-called “social services corridor”, which could expand the Gulfton area from Rice Blvd to Fondren at the PlazAmericas Mall.
Remember, this is the council member who could not or would not name a single street in Sharpstown that he felt needed to be placed on the City’s Capital Improvement Plan, remarking that they’re all important. If you can’t identify the problem, there can be no fix. Stay tuned!