Part 1 – Cites

Cities are created by charter, like a corporation. Citizens form a city to provide services the private sector can’t efficiently provide on its own – water and sewer service, fire and police protection, parks and libraries, streets and bridges.

A city is a public services company that you own. The city council is your board of directors. In Houston, the mayor is your chief executive officer.

How does your company make decisions on your behalf?

Go to the Houston City Secretary’s website:

Each week (with a few exceptions), a Houston City Council meeting starts on Tuesday afternoon with something called “public session.” That’s where citizens take turns griping about potholes or police brutality for three minutes apiece. The stranger ones tend to go last.

Click on “Current City Council Agenda,” and you can see how the meeting is organized.

Click on “Archived Agendas and Minutes” and you can see what they’ve done at previous meetings.

Click on a date under “minutes” on any given two-day meeting and scroll down past the people griping about potholes… past the unhappy tow truck drivers… past the recognition of Mrs. Smith’s 2nd grade class for the poster they made for National Milk Week…. just past the part where “President Joseph Charles” is complaining that the city is conspiring with the mafia and space aliens to remove all of his internal organs with lasers. Shortly after that, you’ll see where they recess until Wednesday. Wednesday is when the important stuff starts.

Pick a real agenda item from a Wednesday session at least a few weeks ago, where the minutes are online (but not before July, 2015), something where they’re changing a city ordinance or spending a lot of money. Pick something where there was some council discussion, preferably some disagreement, and a recorded vote.

Write a 3-5 page college-level essay about the item, telling me what the item was about, who was for and against it, what happened, and what you think about it.

*** (Please find an item with enough information that gives you something to write about. Do NOT submit a three sentence essay that says they proposed buying some orange construction cones, everybody voted for it and you think it’s nice because safety is good. Find something where there was some disagreement, or at least some serious discussion. If you don’t see that, keep looking.)

Part 2 – Counties

Harris County Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday. Remember from your reading how counties are “general law” forms of government? They have much less rulemaking power than cities, and much less authority to spend money without specific approval from the governing body. When you look at a Commissioners Court agenda, it’s always surprising – at least to me – to see what is essentially the board of directors of a billion-dollar corporation voting on whether or not to pay sixty-three dollars to let some employee go to a seminar. But… rules are rules.

Go to the Harris County Commissioners Court website:

Pull up the current agenda.

See what I mean?

Write a short paragraph giving one example of an item on the Commissioners Court agenda that you would NOT find on the Houston City Council agenda, and explaining why it’s different from something you would find on a city council agenda.

Now for the fun part…

Part 3 – Property Tax Bills of the Rich and Famous

As you have noted in your reading, local government is funded largely by ad valorem (property) taxes. Property owners pay this tax based on the value of their property, which is determined by the Harris County Appraisal District.

Did you know you can look up any piece of property in Harris County on the HCAD website and see how much the county thinks its worth? Here’s the HCAD website:

Under “Record Search,” you can search by owner name, or by street address. Look up all of the following prominent Houstonians. For each, tell me

1.  Name and property address.

2.  Square footage of the “improvement” (that’s the house or condo – not the land that it’s on).

3.  The current appraised value of their combined land and improvement.

List of Houstonians;

A. Houston Astro Hall of Fame member Craig Biggio (under “current owner”) – 6520 Belmont St

B. Former Astros first baseman Lance Berkman – 5 Farnham Park Dr

C. Houston Texans owner Bob McNair – 1807 River Oaks

D. NBA Hall of Famer Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, 11635 Versailles Lakes LnE. Former United States President George Bush – 9 S West Oak DrF. Four-time Indianapolis 500 Winner A.J. Foyt, 3330 Del Monte DriveG. Former Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte, 2214 E. Lawther DrH. Former Astro pitcher Roger (W Roger) Clemens – 11535 Quail HollowI. Super Lawyer Joe Jamail – 3682 WillowickJ. Channel 13 Anchorman Dave Ward- 5403 Broad Oaks ParkK. Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker – 428 Westmoreland StreetL. Restaurant owner (Landry’s, etc) Tilman Fertitta – 3800 WillowickM. Restaurant owner (Pappasitos, etc.) Chris Pappas – 7 Patrick CtN. Criminal Defense Lawyer Rusty Hardin – 2740 Barbara LnO. Former New Jersey mob boss Vincent “Vinny Ocean” Palermo (witness protection program name “Vincent Cabella”) – 9105 Memorial Drive*** Submit this assignment in one Word file. Cite your sources.

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