NAACP hosts dinner conversation with Houston officials

A mayor, a commissioner, and a senator walked into a dinner. What followed was exactly what NAACP Houston Branch hoped would occur when they organized their first "Quarterly Conversational Series" event.

County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Senator Borris Miles took part Thursday night in the town hall-style forum at HCC's West Loop Campus auditorium.

The evening is the first in a four-part series hosted by NAACP Houston Branch.

"Often what happens," explained NAACP Houston Branch President James M. Douglas, "is people get elected – it doesn't matter whether it's Mayor, County Commissioner or State Senator – and the people don't believe they can touch them and get their viewpoint over to them."

When it comes to the topics Mayor Turner anticipated for the evening, he said, "you'd be surprised. It's not the big things. It's things happening on their neighborhood that are impacting where they live."

Before hundreds of guests, the panel responded to such topics as the HISD recaputure vote, flooding, minority business development, city pensions, education, and state legislation.

The night kicked off with education. Douglas praised Mayor Turner for his focus on improving Houston's public education. The Mayor emphasized his belief that the school system and city must move in the same direction to ensure growth on both sides. While he clarified he is not trying to be anyone's superintendent, he points to the need for a strong young workforce as motivation to support education.

Next up was criminal justice as Douglas asked the commissioner to discuss his views.

"Criminal justice is the civil rights of our era," Commissioner Ellis said enthusiastically to the crowd. He spoke of the size of the justice system and resulting costs. He says it's the city and county's job to keep people from falling into the system.

The question portion of the night kicked off with flooding. Commissioner Ellis points out how, in a growing city like Houston, more development means fewer places for drainage. He discussed the need for mass transit and a willing as citizens to pay for solutions. Mayor Turner reminds the crowd that flooding cannot be eliminated so much as mitigated.

The second question led to discussion of the city's disparity study, which Mayor Turner says is in the works. He says he is always looking at participation and diversity in city contracts.

Senator Borris Miles arrived later in the evening and quickly joined the panel, calling this years legislative session the most turbulent in a long time. He shared updates from session, voicing disappointment with many of the votes which passed this week.

The evening continued with questions and answers. The speakers swapped memories of their young life in Houston alongside anecdotes for the various topics on hand.

The next NAACP Houston Branch "Quarterly Conversational Series" event will take place in June.