Revealed: How to Apply
Dec. 5, 2022
Heard around Houston town: Mayor Sylvester Turner is nominating a new slate to the dilapidated and nearly defunct Houston Parks Board.
We’re talking about the public board, a local government corporation (see also here), which for years has been violating the Open Meetings Act. This has happened because the twenty members of the public board were also (or mostly) board members of the larger private Houston Parks Board foundation. So when the private board met in private it often had a quorum of the public board, which violated the law.
We have been calling for a new public board for over two years now. Most major cities in Texas and around the country avoid this problem by having two separate parks boards or commissions for oversight of parks and fundraising: a public board and a supporting private foundation. A public board would generally be composed of community activists, ecologists, etc. and the private board would be composed of the money people: investors, real estate developers, philanthropists, etc.
No Public Outreach. Who Will The Mayor Nominate? How to Apply
It seems the mayor and city council are now attempting to remedy this problem. However, there has been no public announcement, no public outreach or communication about it. We confirmed that this was happening with the mayor’s director of boards and commissions, Olivia Lee. She recommended that anyone interested in joining the public board apply through the City’s boards and commissions website. Persuading your city council representative to recommend you also helps to become a member of the public board, according to Lee’s predecessor, Maria Montes.
At the moment there are 5 vacancies, 10 expired terms, and 5 terms about to expire on the 20-member public board. Apparently the mayor will nominate a new slate before the end of the year. Houston City Council must approve the nominations.
What Does the Public Parks Board Do?
Parks board members are appointed to three-year terms, though they can remain in their position until a new member is appointed. According to the board’s charter and bylaws (p. 2), the board is generally charged with acquiring or improving land and buildings for public parks, playgrounds, and museums; reviewing plans and advising the mayor and city council on expenditure of city funds and parks department matters, soliciting gifts of money or land, etc.
Other Cities Televise Parks Board Meetings
We learned about the plan to nominate a new slate at a rare public meeting of the public board early on a weekday morning in October. The meeting was held in a tiny room in a building on the grounds of the lovely 16-acre Wiess Park just west of Memorial Park at 300 N. Post Oak Lane. Only recently has the private board been posting notices of the public meetings on its website. (Previously a small printed notice was posted downtown on the bulletin board at City Hall shortly before a meeting.) But clearly the public board was not expecting members of the public on this workday. There was hardly space in the crowded room for board members to attend, much less anyone else.
Nevertheless it was an interesting meeting, with comments from Kenneth Allen, director of Houston’s Parks and Recreation Department, and from board members about the $60 million bond issue for city parks later approved by Houston voters, about nature preserves in city parks, about the lack of access to parks in denser residential areas, and other issues.
Let’s hope the new board will truly become a public board, transparent and responsive. Maybe even televise its meetings like they do in other cities.