Diversity on Display: Mayor Turner Making City Hall Look Like its Citizens

In March 2015, the Forward Times visited with Mayor Annise Parker, who was on her third and final term, and asked her about the importance of putting together a diverse group of department leaders and an executive team that truly reflect the culturally-diverse population of the city of Houston. At the time of the interview, several candidates had expressed interest in running for the city’s top spot at City Hall, so her views on what it took to ensure the city had the best people serving in key leadership roles, but also leaders who reflected the diverse population of the city of Houston was important to consider, especially with the diversity she displayed.

In the March 2015 article entitled, “Who’ll Follow the Leader? Will Houston’s Next Mayor Take Diversity as Serious as Our Current One?,” Mayor Parker emphatically stated that “no one is fit to serve as the mayor of Houston if they don’t understand that the city’s workforce needs to look like the city population.”

Fast forward to December 2016, Houston now has a new mayor, who has been on the job almost a year now, and the city is beginning to look a lot more like the city of Houston from top to bottom, as it relates to the diverse demographics that make up the city.

On December 12, 2015, Mayor Sylvester Turner became the 62nd mayor of Houston, and since taking office he has had to make some critical decisions about key city personnel, through having to evaluate the existing leadership team he inherited from his predecessor, and by assessing a diverse pool of the best and brightest candidates that aligned with his vision for the city of Houston.

In July 2016, Mayor Turner sent out a tweet highlighting the diversity of Houston that read:

“Welcome to #Houston, the most #diverse city in #America. New posters up at City Hall and the airports.”

Mayor Turner was of course tweeting about the 60 welcome signs that were being placed at various city landmarks, such as the airports, libraries and George R. Brown Convention center.

As mayor of the 4th largest city in the United States, making bold decisions to ensure diversity is an exciting thing for many, and a hard pill to swallow for others. Truth is, Houston is truly a melting pot of diversity, and Mayor Turner seems to have a strong commitment to see that diversity reflected as it relates to key city personnel and amongst the various city departments.

In speaking with the Houston Forward Times (HFT), Mayor Turner gave insight on why diversity is important to him when he took on the reigns as mayor of Houston.

“I like to surround myself with industry experts who are effective and reflective of my community,” said Mayor Turner. “Our transition team looked for members who could fit into our fast-paced and productive environment and who were advocates of ‘Complete Communities.”

Mayor Turner stated that this week, he and his team reaffirmed the City’s commitment to being a diverse, inclusive and welcoming city with the creation of the Office of New Americans and making sure that that same diversity is reflected in his department heads and executive staff.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Compliance Office, ‘diversity’ is defined as “human qualities that are different from our own and those of groups to which we belong; but that are manifested in other individuals and groups. Dimensions of diversity include but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, work experience, and job classification.”

According to a Joint Report Analyzing Census Data from 1990, 2000, and 2010 by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas called The Racial/Ethnic Diversity of The Houston Region, With Small Declines in Segregation, they found that the Houston metropolitan region was “becoming more diverse” from 1990 to 2010, and that “the balance between the four major racial/ethnic groups” had increased.

With the influx of immigrants and other races moving into the Greater Houston area, the demographics since the 1990 Census have changed, and Houston has seen its population move from a majority White city, to now being a majority-minority city in 2016. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Houston had a population of nearly 2.1 million people, with the racial breakdown of the city in 2010 being White, not Hispanic or Latino (25.6%); Black or African American (23.7%); Hispanic or Latino (43.8%); Asian (6.0%) and Other (0.9%). The city of Houston does not look the same today as it did over 20 years ago.

If you look at the department heads and executive staff being appointed and assembled at City Hall, it is clear that Mayor Turner is being deliberate about making sure the city of Houston’s leadership team reflects the overall demographics of the city of Houston.

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Mayor Turner has made several changes and has added new people to his team, including:

           -Announcing last month that the city of Houston’s police and fire departments would be under new leadership, with two Hispanic males – Art Acevedo, 52, of Austin and Samuel Peña, 47, of El Paso – taking on the roles of Houston police chief and fire department chief, respectively.

-Selecting C. J. Messiah to be the interim director of the General Services Department (GSD), effective November 12, 2016

-Appointing TaKasha L. Francis as director of the Department of Neighborhoods on March 25, 2016

-Announcing his selection of Ronald C. Lewis as the new city attorney, after a competitive search of about 30 applicants who went through the selection process coordinated by a panel comprised of local lawyers. He began work as city attorney on May 2, 2016

-Selecting Judge Elaine Marshall to be the new presiding judge of Houston Municipal Courts

-Removing the interim tag and selecting Tom McCasland to be the permanent director of the Department of Housing and Community Development

Other existing department heads and executive staff that Mayor Turner has chosen to remain on his team include:

-Victor Ayres, Director, Fleet Management Department

-Jane Cheeks, Director, Human Resources Department

-Mario C. Diaz, Director, Aviation, Houston Airport Systems

-Kelly Dowe, Director, Finance Department

-Harry J. Hayes, Director, Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD)

-Lisa Kent, Director Houston Information Technology Services (HITS)

-Rhea Brown Lawson, Director, Houston Public Library

-Dale A. Rudick, P.E., Director, Public Works and Engineering

-Joe Turner, Director, Houston Parks and Recreation Department

-Patrick Walsh, P.E., Director, Planning and Development Department

-Stephen L. Williams, Director, Houston Health Department

-Carlecia D. Wright, Director, Office of Business Opportunity

-Tina Paez, Director, Administration and Regulatory Affairs

-Dr. David Persse, M.D., Director, Emergency Medical Services

-Anna Russell, City Secretary

“The best thing about the diversity of our team is that we can see the world through different lenses and still find the best possible solution for the City,” said Mayor Turner. “I’m proud of our team.”

All of these departments impact Houston taxpayers and businesses in some way, shape, form or fashion, so it is important that any mayor makes the diversity of their department heads; the departments they serve; and the executive staff that work at City Hall, a major priority.

As it relates to ensuring diversity is a major priority, Mayor Turner seems to have gotten off on the right foot in his first year as mayor of Houston, and should be recognized for his efforts.

To learn more about the City of Houston Department Directors and their staff, please visit http://www.houstontx.gov/departments.html, and to learn more about the Mayor’s Executive team, please visit http://www.houstontx.gov/mayor/divisionsanddirectors.html.