Connecting state and local government leaders

Houston to Lose 40,000 Jobs?; Rochester Police Surveilling Phones With 'Military-Grade' Device

Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas


Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Philadelphia police drop education requirement; ‘union-related extortion’ suspected in Boston; and Oklahoma Republicans target abortion doctors.

JOBS | The economic forecast in Houston isn’t sunny. The free-fall of prices and production in the oil industry is having an impact on the broader economy. “I hope you didn’t come looking for a lot of good news today,” said an economist at the University of Houston, in a gathering of 800 business people. Gilmer predicts that 40,000 net jobs will be lost in the city in 2017, drawing comparisons between this oil crash and the last major energy industry bust in the 1980s. “This has come harder and faster than anything we have seen before, in terms of damage to the American oil industry,” Gilmer said. He doesn’t expect the industry will ever return to the number of jobs it once had. [Houston Chronicle]

SURVEILLANCE | Local police have used a device that masquerades as a cellphone tower to gain access mobile data since 2011, paying more than $200,000 for the StingRay. "Even though StingRays are military-grade technology often touted as a counterterrorism tool, grant documents show that the Rochester Police Department obtained the StingRay technology to perform everyday law enforcement activity, such as keeping track of people they thought might be in gangs," reported the New York Civil Liberties Union. Privacy advocates argue the tech violates the constitutional protection from unreasonable searches. [Democrat & Chronicle]

POLICE | Staffing in the Philadelphia Police Department is at a 22-year low as retirements continue to outpace hiring. In response, the department is doing away with a mandatory college credit policy that was implemented by former Commissioner Charles Ramsay and is considered a best practice by many localities. Police Commissioner Richard Ross hopes that loosening the hiring requirements will boost applications and alleviate the 400-officer shortage. "Look, I have my reservations on going backwards on the education requirement, I'll be honest with you," Ross said. "But my first concern is the safety of the people who live and visit and work in this city." [Newsworks]

EXTORTION | The city’s director of tourism, sports and entertainment was arrested by federal authorities Thursday on suspicion of “union-related extortion.” Kenneth Brissette is accused of forcing the Boston Calling music festival to hire union stagehands by withholding city permits and could face up to 20 years in prison. A second city employee may have also been involved. Mayor Marty Walsh said he was “deeply concerned about today’s news.” [The Boston Globe]

ABORTIONS | Doctors in the Sooner State will face a felony charge and up to three years in prison for performing an abortion, should a bill passed by the legislature be signed into law by the governor. The first-of-its-kind legislation would also bar offenders from obtaining or renewing their medical license in Oklahoma. Gov. Mary Fallin is an anti-abortion Republican. Abortion rights activists intend to challenge the constitutionality of the bill immediately, if it becomes law. [The Associated Press via PVI-TV]

WORKFORCE | At a time of scrutiny over “bad actors” in the state workforce, House Speaker Kevin Cotter is proposing a constitutional amendment that would make it easier to fire government employees. Cotter said the initiative is “not a direct response to Flint.” Those opposed to the proposal contend that it’s not too difficult to fire Michigan state workers for various reason. “People get fired here every day in different departments,” said a legislative liaison for UAW Local 6000, which represents 17,300 unionized civil servants. “It’s hogwash that you can’t get rid of a poorly performing state employee.” The proposal would require a two-thirds majority of both chambers and approval of voters on a statewide ballot to pass. [The Detroit News]

INFRASTRUCTURE | More than 200 residents from neighborhoods surrounding the Highway 520 bridge have registered noise complaints about the new metal expansion joints. One resident of Medina described the noise of cars driving over these joints as being “absolutely penetrating” and said the sound has “destroyed quality of life.” Having cost $4.6 billion, the newly opened 520 corridor is meant to have the most up-to-date sound-muffling features—grooved pavement, miles of noise walls and steel plating on the bridge’s underside. Medina Deputy Mayor Sheree Wen even went so far as to measure the decibel levels of the bridge sounds, which she said peaked at more than double the maximum specified by county and city ordinances. [The Seattle Times]

TRAVEL | TSA’s head will visit the O’Hare and Midway International Airports on Friday to investigate atypically long lines and waits—sometimes three hours. In response, 58 TSA agents were sent to Chicago to help and about 100 part-time workers made full-time. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin suggested eliminating checked baggage fees to encourage passengers to stop boarding with cumbersome luggage, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel hiring private contractors for security screenings. For its part, TSA blamed staffing shortages and increased passengers. [WGN-TV]

WATER | Less than a day after California announced it would be rolling back the statewide water conservation rules, a rogue sprinkler on the edge of Dolores Park was seen dumping large amounts of water on the sidewalk and road, largely missing the grass it was meant to irrigate. Moving forward, California water mandates will no longer be made at the state level. Instead, regional providers will be setting their own restrictions based on usage. Hopefully the errant sprinkler won’t make too much of a dent. [San Francisco Chronicle]

TOURISM | Mayor Bob Buckhorn will be captured during a “capabilities demonstration” in a mock warzone, as part of the International Special Operations Forces week conference next week. Twenty-nine commandos from 15 countries will “assault” enemy positions on military vehicles and rescue “hostages” by land and sea around the Tampa Convention Center during the exercise, intended to showcase how different forces can work together to accomplish the most difficult mission soldiers can undertake. Don’t worry, Buckhorn is scripted to be saved. [Tampa Bay Times]