The elections for Mayor and City Controller are underway. Candidates have been working hard campaigning and talking to voters. At a technology forum held on October 8 located at the Houston Technology Center, candidates for City Controller voiced their opinions on the growing use of technology in the city and how they would utilize it. All 6 of the candidates came from reputable backgrounds. Using that to each of their advantage, candidates spoke about how technology can transform the City of Houston.
Jew Don Boney, Jr is a former city council member and worked as a Texas Staff Legislature for many years. He was appointed as Associate Director for the Mickey Leland Center of Peace at Texas Southern University. When asked about integrating the city’s IT infrastructure with the current staff and IT infrastructure, Boney disagreed with combining the two. “When I served on city council, I was so unimpressed with the city’s infrastructure and IT but I brought in own people so we built and maintained our own for the entire 6 years that I served as a member of city council.” As a result, he claimed to have had the most advanced IT infrastructure in the city.
Chris Brown is currently Deputy City Controller and has managed money in the private sector as well as city hall. When asked what plans he has to put the checkbook online, he answered “I feel like that was our first trick question because I feel like all of our candidates know and agree that our checkbook is online and I know for certain because I put it online. In 2011, I led the project team to put all of our payments and checks online.” Continuing on with making the checkbook viewing by date, vendor, and amount he said “I think in my 12 years of experience I can say this whole-heartedly. We don’t have money to do these projects right now. We’re facing huge financial challenges in the city… technology is going to be the vehicle that we create efficiencies to go forward but we have to take the cost of that into effect.”
Bill Frazer has been a CPA since 1975 and worked as an auditor for Ernst and Young for 5 years. He served as controller for several companies. When questioned about how he would educate the public on the collection and analysis of data, he answered “I’m a CPA and I was the past president of the Houston CPA Society and during my tenure I also chaired the technology committee which was responsible for continuing education to over 15,000 CPAs in the area, 1,000s of hours of continuing education including technology at the user level. Not Excel, not Word, just simple applications that can be used by all to serve the clients.”
Dwight Jefferson became a judge in 1995. From 2010 until 2015 he was appointed to the METRO board by Mayor Parker. When asked about transparency, he brought up a solution he came up with at METRO. “One thing that we did at Metro that was very helpful, both from the standpoint of transparency and getting input from the public in our processes was placing all of our board meetings online [in a] live stream.” He plans to implement this because the public would be able to go back to it later and see if they find things that are not properly addressed.
MJ Khan has an MBA from Rice University and served on the city council in the past. When asked about making the finances more transparent, he spoke from experience about how one aspect was not being reported. “When I was in the council, one of the things I noticed was that we have this huge unfunded liability that retirees have in 3.5 million dollars. And we were not even reporting that. So I asked why is that not part of the report? Luckily, I was able to convince my colleagues and it became part of it. So I think information sharing on a real time basis is crucial for citizens can see what is going on in our financial area.”
Carroll Robinson is an Associate Professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. He has served as the Houston Community College trustee and served on city council. He also voiced his opinion on increasing transparency. “Well one of the things I did with the available data is I ran a 10 year revenue forecast out on my Facebook, but I think the controller should do it not on an annual basis but on a monthly basis so we would avoid these situations …when you approve spending in one year and the compounding effect generates deficit problems. The careful controller ought to be for a different purpose than just releasing it at the end of the year.”
All the candidates used each of their previous experiences to their advantage. Early voting started on October 19, 2015 and will continue until the Mayoral election on November 3, 2015.