In his first few months as Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner has made a significant impact.
One of Mayor Turner’s roles as mayor is selecting the individuals to be a part of his staff and administration, who he believes will be the best fit to help him move Houston forward. Turner recently began that process by selecting two attorneys to fill two key roles at City Hall – a new city attorney and a director of one of his most challenged departments.
This past Tuesday, April 5, Mayor Turner held a news conference where he introduced attorney Ronald C. Lewis as his nomination for city attorney. The nomination for Lewis will be put before the members of Houston City Council for confirmation on April 20. Once confirmed, he will start work on May 2. Lewis will take over from current City Attorney Donna Edmundson, who Turner indicated will remain on board until the end of May to assist with the transition before she retires after having served the city of Houston for over 30 years.
“Donna has been a big help to me during these early days of my administration,” said Turner. “I want to thank her for being so willing to extend that assistance to Ronald as he comes on board.”
Turner stated that the city of Houston received more than 30 applicants for the position. After the field of applicants was short-listed to three finalists, Lewis was selected.
“I wanted a lawyer’s lawyer,” Turner said at the press conference. “I wanted someone who’s highly respected, with the ability to relate well to me, as well as city council and the general public. Ronald certainly fits the bill.”
At the press conference, Lewis stated that he was looking forward to serving in this new role.
“I look forward to this challenge, to the opportunity, and to working with the council and mayor,” said Lewis.
Lewis co-founded the law firm of Marshall & Lewis, LLP in 2006 with Diana Marshall. Prior to forming the firm, he served as an attorney at Baker Botts, LLP, where he became a partner in 1991. He graduated from Princeton University before attending Harvard Law School with honors in 1983. Lewis has been an extremely dedicated volunteer, having served as the Chairman of the Board for social service nonprofit Neighborhood Centers and of public policy advocacy nonprofit Texas Appleseed, as well as participating with many other groups.
Mayor Turner also recently made another critical administrative move.
This past Wednesday, March 30, members of the Houston city council voted to unanimously confirm Mayor Sylvester Turner’s appointment of local attorney TaKasha L. Francis as the new director of the Department of Neighborhoods. Francis replaces former director of the Department of Neighborhoods, Katye Tipton, who was relieved of her post a little over two weeks ago, after Mayor Turner received a myriad of complaints and expressed concerns from various Houston city council members and city staff about the way the department had been run.
In a letter written to the members of Houston City Council, Mayor Turner wrote, “Ms. Francis is an attorney and a natural and driven leader dedicated to producing results. She is highly committed to uplifting all neighborhoods within the City of Houston, and she will be equally committed to working with all city council members to resolve issues in their respective districts.”
The Department of Neighborhoods is still a fairly new department, having been created roughly five years ago by Turner’s predecessor, former Mayor Annise Parker.
According to the City of Houston’s website, the Department of Neighborhoods “is dedicated to improving quality of life in Houston neighborhoods through the delivery of services, innovative programs and strong community partnerships. The department combines the operations of seven divisions, serving as a centralized source of services designed to assist citizens with their concerns, resolve neighborhood issues and promote community-based civic engagement. The department’s programs and initiatives focus on city code enforcement and compliance, gang and juvenile delinquency prevention and public awareness, youth leadership development, volunteerism, international communities and the needs and concerns of people with disabilities.”
In addition to the seven divisions that make up the department, it also serves as a way for citizens to address and tackle noncriminal violations such as leaving inoperable vehicles on the street or allowing tires and trash to accumulate on someone’s land or property.
Mayor Turner has consistently talked about making significant changes at City Hall, particularly the Department of Neighborhoods, with the goal of dealing with dangerous eye-sores such as dilapidated buildings, overgrown lots and blighted neighborhoods. The appointment of Francis, in place of Tipton, marks the first major administrative change by Mayor Turner that signifies he is aggressively and seemingly moving in that direction.
To deal with the lack of efficiency and management issues, Mayor Turner appointed Francis and has expressed a desire to move back to a decentralized model and remove select divisions from the department so that they can focus more on enforcing neighborhood regulations and working closely with homeowners to resolve complaints.
Tackling citizen-reported issues and complaints, similar to the potholes that have plagued neighborhoods across Houston, has been a primary focus of Mayor Turner – clearing the city’s neighborhood services case backlog has been no different. Mayor Turner has indicated a plan to have a new website developed to track neighborhood services complaints, similar to the one that is currently being used for his pothole initiative.
Now that Mayor Turner has made his first major move to right the ship in the Department of Neighborhoods, it will be up to TaKasha L. Francis to carry out the mayor’s vision, fix the critical issues and manage the department in a more efficient manner.
Francis is a civil attorney who owns the Houston-based Francis Law Firm, specializing in family law, child support collection and enforcement, civil litigation & personal injury, criminal law and probate. Prior to that role, she served as a former Assistant Attorney General of Texas.