Candidates battle for financial control

Three candidates --‘ city council members Ronald Green, Pam Holm and M.J. Khan --‘ are vying’ for the office of Houston city controller, which is being vacated by Annise Parker, who is running for mayor.

The controller is the chief financial officer of the city, a position Parker has held since 2004.

During individual interviews, each candidate emphasized the importance of this sometimes-overlooked role and their plans if elected.

QUESTION: It has been reported that the city has a $100 million deficit. As controller, how would you balance the budget?

Ronald Green: We need to be more efficient in how we deliver services and utilize private sector management techniques. Through process reengineering in the City of Houston Municipal Courts, we were able to pick new judges (and) redesign the courts, making them more efficient so we can raise revenue and still deliver justice. We need to renegotiate some of our long-term contracts. One example of this is a renegotiated contract for the City of Houston solid waste transfer stations. The city owns the transfer stations, but we’re still operating under an old contract, where the city was being charged for use of the station as well as for picking up the trash at the station and hauling it to the landfill and a charge for dumping it at the landfill. We were able to renegotiate the contract, which will save $150 million over the next 13 years.

Pam Holm: I would do comprehensive reviews with each department and department director to look for ways to provide services more efficiently. There are a lot of embedded monies in the budget that not a lot of people know about. I would do process and performance audits as well as compliance audits.’

M.J. Khan: We are in a global economic crisis and the city is experiencing our share of economic hardships. I strongly believe that more than the budget problem, we have an efficiency problem. Wasted money can meet these budget shortfalls. I definitely don’t think we should cut any services or have any layoffs. One of my initiatives is called process reengineering. By using this, in October the city reported a savings (or recovery) of $13.2 million.

QUESTION: What would your top three priorities be as controller?

1. Weather the short-term financial storm. We have to look at this thing from a short-term and long-term perspective without sacrificing city services.
2. Renegotiate long-term contracts.
3. Renegotiate a lot of the debt we have out there. We have $2.3 billion in investments and $12 billion in debt.

1. I would make all of our records, expenditures and revenues apparent and visible for anyone to review because every penny we get comes out of someone’s pocket.
2. Auditing. The weakest part of the city is our efficiencies and coordination and communication. The left hand rarely knows what the right hand is doing.
3. I would make sure policymakers and taxpayers understand and have all of the information they need to make decisions.

1. Put all the city’s financial information online so that transparency is achieved.
2. Involve city employees. I would encourage city employees to report inefficiencies.
3. Enhance the auditing process. I would do process and performance audits to uncover inefficiencies.

QUESTION: How has your past experience prepared you to hold this office?

Green: My legal expertise coupled with my finance experience is what allows me to look at a contract, look at the financial and legal aspects of an issue. I am able to be hands-on and not have to pass things to anyone else.

Holm: I have experience with nonprofit organizations. In a small- business setting, I’ve managed programs and budgets and worked as a compliance analyst for a multimillion-dollar investment firm. Most importantly, I am chairman of the Pension Review Committee.

Khan: Controller is like the CFO of a large multinational corporation. The city is a $4 billion entity. You need expertise in finances, which is my biggest strength. I worked with large corporations, owned businesses, budgeted. I can look at numbers and quickly ascertain whether it passes the smell test.

QUESTION: What differentiates you from the other candidates?

Green: I am the only person elected citywide for the last six years. I chaired the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, which oversees a $4.1 billion budget. I am the only one with a law degree, and I have an MBA.

Holm: I am the one who watched over the budget and (have) been an independent strong voice. I am the only one who has been there full time with no distractions. I am the one who has built consensus and has a track record of working with citizens and being accountable.

Khan: My financial expertise, my proven record of already saving the city millions of dollars and my independence since as a City Council member; I never used public office for politics. My way of dealing with issues is to identify the problem, find the solution and work with people involved to better serve the City of Houston.

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