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Interview with: Frank Mann
Date: March 25, 1975
Archive Number: OH 117.1 and 117.2
I: (00:05) March 25, 1975. Interview with Councilman Frank Mann. Mr. Mann, I’d like to find out how you got launched into government—politics.
FM: Well, I guess my interest in politics began at a very young age hearing my folks talk back as early as the ‘20s, 1922. It really started before that. I was about 9 years old when Governor Ferguson was removed from office by impeachment and Governor Hobby became a war time governor. Of course, my parents were always involved in civic matters and we were busy making trench candles and she was involved in lots of church work and civic work. We had an old Model-T Ford and we didn’t have driver’s licenses in those days so it was my job and pleasure to drive these various groups over to what we used to call the old T.B. Hospital. They’d throw in all kind of old rags and bandages for the patients over there. They didn’t have these long operations and things like that. And taking the church groups out to the old folk’s home and then just being involved with the family. Then I remember back then that what is now Jensen Drive used to be old Clark Street Road and my father, right at the turn of the century, built 5 rent houses for Mr. Jensen over on Clark Street Road and he was one of the casualties in World War I. I knew my mother was very active in having Clark Street Road named after this Jensen boy that was killed in World War I.
Then I remember the Klan fight and I’d hear my parents talking about it and they were anti-Klan. They were very interested in the election of Johnny Crooker who has since passed away. —and fight in the Klan. I think he was running for County Attorney at that time, or District Attorney. Also Oscar Holcombe ran on an anti-Klan ticket. He was a very young aggressive Mayor. One of the first things he wanted to do and it had caused a—quite a few city officials were the operation of the schools.
I remember going through school, one of my school teachers, I thought was very partial to the students whose fathers and mothers happened to be precinct judges. I think politics was very well involved in the whole community and he knew that even though you might be running the city on a fair keel that the people in the school system could probably elect you or defeat you. And I think that he was one of the prime movers towards getting the independent school districts created and separating them from city government. I think you’ll find that all over Texas now contrary to what you have up in some of the eastern cities, Austin and places like that, where the city government is still trying to run the schools.
(04:35) Holcombe got that separated but at the same time he brought on another thing that was very political. Some of the Houston doctors who had acquired some of the old medical equipment out at the old Camp Logan after World War I started a municipal hospital, free hospital, and they prevailed upon Oscar, Mayor Holcombe, to take them over. We started out with our municipal hospital and there never was, contrary to the belief of lots of people, there never was any written agreement between the city and the county that they’d participate in part of the cost. They built Jeff Davis Hospital over behind the old S. P. Depot. I think they finally got that built in about 1925. The operation there and some of the scandals about people stealing the medical supplies and replacing them with sugar pills and things like that and naming the Mayor’s people as superintendent over there caused the defeat of, or materially affected, the city administration at that time even though we had some county participation in the cost on a more or less just as they cared to basis.
Following that hospital scam, the costs of, as you know, we later built a new Jeff Davis over on what is now Allen Freeway and we got the county to participate to about a third. Our budget then was about $5 million or $6 million and it had become so burdensome on the city that we finally, after 2 or 3 attempts, got the—to create a hospital district with separate taxing powers.
I: What year was that?
FM: That was about 10 years ago; I forget just what year it was. It was under the first part of the Welch administration. They have a hospital district now and their budget is way up there around $30 million. Of course, medical costs and everything have increased and they’re still operating the old Jeff Davis Hospital on Allen Freeway as a more or less, I think it’s mostly a trinity. They might only have some of the psychiatric wards over there, or did the last time I was over there on the grounds.
(07:48) Well, anyway, we got the hospital out of our hair, you might say, and it’s a separate district and has separate taxing powers. The Board is appointed by the Harris County Commissions. They select them, and the City has nothing to do with it. That Board—saying all our city employees are farmers, and I was Farm Commissioner.
I: What year was that?
FM: In 1939. Part of that time I’d served in the 45th Legislature in 1937 and ’39. One of the reasons I served, I was a young lawyer and I had represented quite a few truck drivers. In those days you couldn’t haul but 7,000 pounds on a truck whether it was a Model-T with only the brake and a transmission or whether it was a big 10-ton and I was fighting lots of these truck cases. The railroads had just about had everybody, section heads and everybody, deputized. They’d go out on the roads and stop trucks and they’d claim they were going to run the trucks off the highway within 2 or 3 years. I didn’t like the situation so I ran for the legislature and tried to get some safety requirements for trucks and also the load limit raised. I did get it out on the floor on a minority report. I remember we got, I think, it was 54 or 57 votes for it. But the following year after getting this thing started in the legislature, and Lee Manual ran for governor and there was nobody, none of the big corporations or anybody, the railroads or anybody like that supporting him. We got him committed that he would try to raise the load limit on trucks and with his push in the following legislature we did get it raised, I think it was 7,000 up to about 14,000. Since then it’s been raised about 16,000 per axle. I remember I had some bills in the legislature to improve their lights and other safety items on trucks but they were all defeated because of the railroad lobby. They didn’t want trucks on the road and they didn’t want them safe. I told Joe Stedham then, who was the chairman of all these different railroad brotherhoods, that instead of fighting these truckers and fighting this thing that if he’d go out and have his bylaws changed and take in truck drivers it would be one of the largest unions in the world, I thought, in the next 20 years. Joe later, before he died, told me, he said he wished he’d have taken my advice because now Teamsters are about one of the largest unions in the country, especially as far as transportation is concerned.
I: Was that a major issue then?
FM: Oh, yes. It was a very major issue. Railroads and everybody they could get. They were against trucks. But the farmers and the people that didn’t live on railroads wanted to have some way to haul their products to market and not have to depend on the railroads because they had a monopoly on all that hauling. That was a real hot issue.
(12:02) During the time I was in the legislature I became acquainted with the plight of the fireman and police. They were getting $148 a month and the previous legislature had increased their salary to a base of $150. The one fireman called it dry, they would call it your diet case, sued the city and won. I ran for Fire Commissioner. I thought there was lots of waste going on in the purchase of equipment, fire hose, one thing and another, and I ran and was elected. Mayor Welch was agitated at the time and he didn’t want the State legislature to run city government and he took the stand that each fireman would have to sue the city individually. I took the stand that one case proved that we were liable and I finally sold the controller on it at that time. He refused to give the Mayor a certificate of what the incomes would be unless he included in his budget an amount to pay the firemen and police $150 a month plus their back pay that had accumulated and amounted to, oh, I think, around a quarter of a million dollars back in those days, but it was a real sizable sum.
We did finally get that worked out but I think his fight against that, giving them what the legislature said they were entitled to, and a few other things, was one of the things that caused his defeat by Pickett. Pickett and I—I didn’t think much of Pickett’s budget-making ability and I fought him on his budget and he was successful. About my second term and Pickett’s first term, the war had broken out. I was Director of Fire Defense for Houston and Harris County and we had the best-trained civilian firefighters probably in the United States, so the government said, and we thought. We were very proud of them. All of our men went through the regular training as regular firemen and we had, oh, 5,000. We had so many that were trained that I went with a group of firemen to New York Fire School. They had sent some men over to observe the firemen of Coventry, England, and the techniques necessary to fight the magnesium bomb and the thermic bomb that we were defended with. We came back with all that training and, of course, set up training classes. All my folks had been in some kind of war or another and I figured, well, I was 32 years old and if I didn’t get enlisted when I went over then I would get in one.
I: You didn’t want to miss out on it. [laughs]
FM: I know. I had a little time getting in the Army. I was exempt as being a city official, exempt being Director of Fire Defense with Houston and Harris County, was married and a truckload of children. I finally had gone in there with some church being that I was in charge of some of the old buildings and we had moved those to this new City Hall and we had left the refueling stations to use our old City Hall and I had them closed down as a fire hazard and I let it be known that one of the reasons was because they wouldn’t accept me in the Army as a private. I told them on the Commission I’d rather go in as a private and work my way up so they finally let me in. I resigned my office in June of 1942. I was the last elected Fire Commissioner. The following election that fall they went to the City Manager form of government and Mr. Pickett, of course, was defeated when he ran for re-election. I think he only got about 1,500 votes.
I: Let me ask you this. Was one of the major issues during his administration the utilities? He was trying to lower utilities and he clashed with power, light, and telephone?
FM: No. We all wanted lower utilities because the utilities, based on the fair value rate, and the Houston lighting company had voluntarily lowered its rates before. We did get them in here and the bid was on my motion. There were a couple of, the majority, of the commissioners at the time it was called, we had a water commissioner, a fire commissioner, a street and bridge, land, and tax. We did work out a settlement on it and we heard there were some efforts going on behind the scenes at that time that the Mayor’s office may lay off of them if certain things were done, so we stopped that real quick. We worked out a settlement for lowering of these rates. The matter is, just like now, in the inflation deal. We thought because of the deflation, the depression, see, we were just kind of out of the depression. That was before the defense effort really got under way. So we fixed the situation in reverse now, where the companies want a raise because of inflation prices.
(19:05) About that time, Brown & Root was always more or less supporting Holcombe. They had the garbage contract with Houston. That was one of the things Mr. Pickett ran on was getting rid of Brown & Root and taking over the garbage collection on contract. I think our cost was about $500,000 and the first year the city took it over I think it went to about $1,500,000. Furthermore, Brown & Root had offered to build a canal to bring Colorado River water into Houston for about $13 million, and charge the same rate. It would be paid off, I forget what it was, 10 or 15 years; and then the city would own that water right. Well, Pickett opposed that and about that time the defense effort started and Brown & Root, I think it was George Brown, made the statement that as far as the garbage contract was concerned they were getting plenty of defense work and he didn’t want to do business with a demagogue. Houston took over the garbage contract and then costs increased about 3 to 1.
In addition to that, this deal to bring the water in from the Colorado River was dead because Pickett opposed it. They tried to revive it after the war and after we got rid of the City Manager form of government, about ’46 or ’47, after the war was over. But by that time all the water on the Colorado River had been appropriated or expropriated so there wasn’t any water left for us to take.
I: What were his reasons for opposing it?
FM: Well, he didn’t like Brown & Root. He ran against Brown & Root and the influence they were supposed to have had over Oscar Holcombe. The whole thing about it, and I had left and there wasn’t anybody to push it. And when I got back it was too later. The water was gone. This water could have been taken up back where Columbus is and flow it into Houston. That old railroad—they used to call it a spaghetti railroad—an Italian engineer built it and they had a lot of Italian words along it—but it followed the landfall of the elevation and except for fluming this ditch, I’d say concrete-lined ditch, it would have flowed about 300,000,000 gallons a day into Houston. It would’ve been a gravity flow. You’d pick it up out of the Colorado River and put it into your clarification plant and turn it into your flume, and it would flow by gravity right into an area right above where Memorial Park is now. There’s a ridge that runs up from Texas City and Galveston that they could put a flue down that ridge and connect in, I forget just where the connection would probably have been made, up around Sealy, I think, where the dividing lines are the drainage from Buffalo Bayou and the Brazos River. It would be on this of the Brazos River, I’d say around Katy, it could’ve then flowed right on down to Texas City. And Galveston was having trouble with salt water infiltration because of the lowering of the water table and they had to move their wells back to where Alta Loma is now. I think that’s where their wells are now. I could taste the salt in their water way back there in the ‘30s. Nevertheless, we finally, we had, too, an engineering report showing that we could not built a dam on the San Jacinto River because of the underground river that flows under the river that we see on the surface. But these tests were taken down around Magnolia where Magnolia Gardens is. Later they moved there up the river to where the present dam is and found that they really didn’t have a ground river at all. They had a good clay base to build a dam. So the dam was eventually built there and that’s where we’re getting most of our water supply now.
(23:47) The Trinity River was—the Brazos River, because of the salt creek—they’ve got a salt river up the Brazos there and that water has quite a bit of salt in it. And the Trinity River was considered too muddy. The EPA restrictions are that theoretically you can’t even use Trinity River water. It has too many suspended solids in it. It shows how strict some of their things are and how unrealistic some of their rules are, but nevertheless, we are bringing Trinity River water in. But it’s messed some of these, you might say, to use it they have to purify the river water before they use it for industrial purposes.
I: Were these issues that you just mentioned mostly responsible for Picket’s poor showing in the re-election?
FM: Oh, I think his poor showing for re-election was his stand on this garbage thing and the increased costs there and his fights on these other things. And I think his general lack of knowledge of municipal government and following people like Oscar Holcombe that knew government real well. The people were just disgusted with the whole city setup and that’s why we went to a city manager form of government. And they got sick and tired of that during the war, too. Looking back over these different forms of government, the commission form of government or the council form of government, strong mayor form of government and studying government from all their old pantograph machines and Walker machine up in New York and the Big Bill machine in Chicago—all of them are a little bit different forms of government.
I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not really the type of government that you’ve got, it’s the type of people you’ve got in government because we have shown that. I know that after the war and Holcombe came back into government, and then later he was succeeded by, I forgot who came in, I think it was Hoffheinz who served a term and a half, Roy Hoffheinz, and then later Oscar came back. Then Cutrer and then I think in the last, say, 20 years we’ve been blessed with good Christian males that didn’t want any kind of vice in our town and have seen to it to their Police Chiefs that we didn’t have any. I’m not sure, but when Buster Kerman officed he got all the bookies out of town. I think it proved one thing, that as far crime is concerned you can’t compromise with it to any extent. Back in the old days, it was a very common thing for you to let a few crap games, you might say, and gambling joints, run a little bit kind of under, but at the same time they were turning in lots of good leads to the Police Department. They’d see some fellow come in there that was kind of new that didn’t work or anything and had a big roll of money and was spending money like it was going out of style, new pair of shoes, well they’d usually give the police a description of him and they’d pick him up away from his place because they didn’t want to pick him up in it because it would get known that they were turning in somebody and they’d expose lots of leads. The Police Department cleared up lots of burglaries and robberies and things like that. But that system isn’t used much any more. I think all of them had their informants but at the same time you can’t let them go out here and operate illegally. But you do have some informing.
(28:52) Getting back to the Fire Commission—after I served in the legislature and Fire Commissioner, I got civil service installed for the Fire Department. It was just a lift service up to that time. There were wholesale firings in the Fire Department, anywhere from 100 to 175 men were fired every time a new Fire Commissioner came in and I ended the wholesale firing and intensified our fire schooling. And then I talked Holcombe into creating a school for the police in 1939. I think in 1939 there were only still about 6 over at the Police Department. We have a reunion every year—the Class of ’39.
I: You talked him into—
FM: Yeah, I suggested it to him that we ought to have training because they were all asking me when I was going to start laying some people off in the Fire Department so they could follow suit and put some of their friends in there. I told them there wasn’t going to be any laying off in the Fire Department and that we were going to end this wholesale firing. I told the men I didn’t care how they got their job, whether it was through politics or ability, they were all going to the training school. In those days they had lots of times if they’d fire men and pick up a man out on the street and employ him as a chauffeur. He wouldn’t know how to pump water; somebody else would have to do that but he was getting the pay for it. So we actually installed civil service and ended this wholesale firing. We fought for better working conditions for the men and we were going right along and doing pretty good. And then the war came along and I left.
(30:48) I came back successfully in politics. I ran for councilman but at that time, councilmen were largely elected on the plurality vote. If you ever got in office it was mighty near impossible for you to get out. They’ve changed that and made it a majority vote. Well, I went to the legislature again in ’57, 20 years later and the 55th Legislature and then, again, resigned after 1 term and waited and ran for council and was elected in—took office in 1960—and was elected in ’59. I’ve been serving continuously since that time.
Back in 1942, I started to try to get an insurance policy for the City employees to get them out of Jeff Davis Hospital. I worked on it and then, of course, when I left the issue died. When I came back I worked on it under Contreras’s administration but some of the committee members wanted to let these different companies bid their policies. Well, I knew right away from past experience that each company has a different policy which carried, of course, a different kind of a theme. I came to the conclusion that the only way to solve this problem was to write our own policy and then let these companies bid on it because each one of their policies were all different. We worked on that during Contreras’s administration and when Mayor Welch came in, I let him know what my problem was and what I wanted to do. He gave me a committee that I felt I could work with good and they followed my lead. I got Mr. Rickson here and he was the one that Mrs. Hobby had called from Washington to set up the National insurance under H.E.W. and he had been president of the Hospitalization Insurance Association and was, I guess, one of the most knowledgeable men I ever met on insurance. After we gotten them the number of City employees and everything else, they could tell you in a second how much it would cost you. They raised hospital benefits $1 and any other changes. Finally, in ’65 under Mayor Welch, we had insurance of about $1,000. Since then we have continued to improve that insurance where instead of paying $12 a day we’re now paying $36 a day base, and on major medical another $9; $45 a day on hospital benefits. And we have a $10,000 life insurance for the employees. It was $1,000 and we got that up to $10,000. A man could pay $8.21 extra and take his wife in. He has $10,000 life insurance coming and his spouse is insured for $2,000 and each child for $1,000. He carries his children—$12.00 for his children regardless of how many he has. That’s a total of $13.33 that he pays. The City then is picking up the balance which is over $5.5 million. We’ve also got Major Medical with a limit of $50,000 on it. The employee pays 20% and insurance covers 80%. We have, I think, one of the best insurance policies for city employees of any. We’re competitive with all of our big firms. We actually compete with them. We have major firms—we have to compete with Exxon, Shell, and all the large companies.
I: (35:48) Who brought most of the opposition against the insurance originally?
FM: Well, it originated—it really wasn’t too much opposition. These local agents wanted their company to have it. It was an impossible situation because each one of them would have a different policy with different benefits. Of course, every time you change benefits you change the claim. So you’re confused here. You’re paying different companies; all of them have a little bit of different wording in their policy and all of them have a different premium. So I saw that there wasn’t any possibility of—there was no way you could get them together. When we got through writing this policy, we had the local Blue Cross actuary on this committee and Mr. Ritz and they came up with this City of Houston policy. When we got through with it they said they couldn’t even bid on it themselves. They wouldn’t be able to bid on it because of their company policies. We put out bids and Republic got it. Republic National Life got it. Since then we’ve had some premium changes and we’ve had, as I said, we’ve added Major Medical and we’ve added this insurance, $10,000 life insurance, $2,000 for your spouse, $1,000 for each child. We’ve just made some giant strides in insurance. And now the city employee can go to any hospital of his choice without having to go out to J.D. It used to be everything had to go out to J.D.
I: (37:36) Why did it take so long to pass this?
FM: Well, it just takes a—nobody would bid anything on it from the time I left and went in the Army until I got back and got back on the Council. And then we had this year and a half or 2 year in passing it, you might say, because of these insurance companies wanting to haggard on a basis of—they wanted their policy considered as they had written it and as I said before they were all—each of them had different benefits and, of course, there were different premiums so it would be hard—Council, we might take the lowest bid, but we’re also getting the lowest benefits. So, seeing this, I, as I said before, I made the decision, I said let’s do our own policy, basic policy, what we could afford to pay at that time which was a very small amount, as I say, it’s gone up to $5.5 million, but we got our foot in door. Now our City employees can go to any hospital of their choice and have the doctor of their choice. I think that means a lot. So, anyway, we did have to build that insurance policy. I think, as I said before, I think it’s comparable to anything the large companies offer as a fringe benefit. Employees are taking consideration of the fringe benefits when they go to work for a company.
I: I’d like to turn for a moment to your effort to work in the Mayor’s race in 1946.
FM: I came back after the war and in my last election I got more votes than anybody had ever gotten, even all over the county, Harris County. I got 1,000 more votes than Roosevelt. And I had a really good standing. In the meantime, though, while I was gone, of course, Holcombe was still here and he had decided to run for Mayor and had been making lots of plans. Jesse Jones had done some research on him and found that he had never been elected without the support of the Houston Chronicle and Jones was up in Austin, I mean Washington, and he had been moved out of his cabinet HOL, Homeowner’s Loan appropriation position and he was staying in Washington. I understood that he was going to stay in Washington, and I got into this race. Well, he came back to Houston and he and Holcombe evidently had gotten together. I saw then that I didn’t have a chance and I was approached about withdrawing from the race but I just told them flatly that I couldn’t—I saw that I couldn’t win it without all this groundwork that had been going on while I was in the service, and also the support from the papers that Holcombe had lined up while I was gone—I saw I couldn’t get that. But I couldn’t afford to withdraw from the race because of the fact that I had at that time, or right before that, Kenneth Camp had announced for Congressman and he withdrew because of an arthritic back condition. There was lots of talk around town that he was bought off and I knew he wasn’t but it does start talk and I just decided I was going to have to maybe hit somebody in the mouth if they said anything like that and I wasn’t going to retire from the race. So I stayed in there but I see the handwriting on the wall.
I: (42:05) What were the issues?
FM: The men that supported me in the next race, the next year, I relieved them from any political allegiance to me and they got on Holcombe’s ticket and he was elected. One of them was Russ Weber with the County Attorney. When I got elected I appointed Russ Weber as my Fire Marshall. He was going to law school and he stayed in law school and got his law license and then he ran and he got elected. Then Marquette, who was a carpenter, at that time I had brought him in as the Fire Department carpenter. That was a new position to go around and fix up some of these filling stations. We didn’t have a fire station; we didn’t have air conditioning and all the screens had broken out and had been allowed to deteriorate. And Marquette ran on that ticket and was elected to Council from District E. Later Marquette was in the building business and was rather successful. Russ Weber is County Attorney.
I: What were some of the major issues that you had to deal with in this campaign? Were there any issues or was it simply sort of a pre-presumed—
FM: There was a kind of a thing here of some rival issues about attitude toward City employees and things like that. I don’t want to be degrading to Oscar Holcombe. I think he was a great Mayor and one of our great leaders and probably even though he made lots of enemies, he ran the city. He would often say that he was elected Mayor, and he was going to run. He wasn’t going to let these pressures against anybody else run it for him. The question over, after so many years, a lot of issues build up a certain pocket of enemies. For those that you do things for that you think might help you, they forget about it the next day and were wondering why you didn’t do it the day before. They forget that real quick. However, the man that doesn’t get everything he wants, he remembers that and he forgets about all the other things and you can go vote for him on 10 issues and against their wishes on 1, and they hold out against you the rest of their lives. [laughs] So politics is a very funny thing.
I: (45:11) Some people have said that Holcombe managed his staff as the only real political machine in Houston. Do you think he had a political machine?
FM: Well, yes, in a way, you establish a political machine by, well, we didn’t have civil service then and he had lots of good lawyer supporters and, as I say, he was very aggressive and very knowledgeable. Holcombe was a good, clean Christian man. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t chew. And he didn’t curse. I think about the worst word I’ve heard him say is “Dad-burn-it.” [laughs] In fact, they accused Holcombe one time of being in some—gambling and I remember he demanded to be tried by a jury of Baptist ministers and they went into these—
FM: Yeah. And they went into this charge and found out it was absolutely unfounded. There was a lot of things that went on back there. I remember when the Monteith campaign came up. Monteith had gone down to, I think, celebrate the opening of the, right before the election, the opening of the, I think it was the bridge at Brownwood. They got him in a picture down there with—he was down there and later he came on back to campaign in there to the opening of some kind of deal with the Farmer’s Market. We had opened it—had been torn down. We were by the old Hamshell business and he had on one of these Mexican hats and they superimposed a photograph of him with this Farmer’s Day Queen and 3 or 4 other girls and then they had it labeled that it was one of escorts when they opened the bridge. [laughed] That came out about 3—it was before the campaign. That picture was later proven to be superimposing 1 picture over another. Lots of things like that happened in that campaign. I remember Monteith said he would pave Lyons Avenue and Holcombe said that we couldn’t pave it; that until it was drained and Monteith said it could be and he had it paved. It was a canal, you might say, water from curb to curb for years until we finally got it drained by a company; a big sewer, I think, goes down Sakowitz Street to drain it into Buffalo Bayou. We have another one out on Kress now to drain Denver Harbor because there’s a rise. The old roads in the city were on rises and there’s a big rise. There’s always a bluff running across the bayou in most places and old-timers use those high roads because they drain quickly and they wouldn’t bog down their wagons. Along that section we had the—there were 3—you might say we had the highest part is Clinton Drive. And then we go a little bit swamp land, and then the next rise is Market Street Road, and the next rise is Wallaceville Road. The next rise is old Libby Road. Well, that high flat between them is where Wynnewood Yards is. And you start on Wynnewood Yards and try to drain down into Buffalo Bayou, except in those natural ditches, well, then you don’t have to go around 25 to 27 feet deep to get under these ridges. And that’s one reason that you might say that a lot of the blacks are settled out there because that land was, with our costs and the dirt-moving equipment we had in those days, was mighty near—and they were in the lower income bracket and naturally they bought land out there to build their homes and they suffered from poor drainage and our—to some extent. Same thing we have in the Third Ward area. That’s a big flat back in there between downtown Houston all across Dowling on over to about Scott Street. If you’re going to get that drainage it’s going to take lots of money and we have spent lots of money and actually continue to spend money on it.
I: (50:16) Let me ask you a question here with changes in the way campaigns are run. Are there any significant changes in the way campaigns are operated and run now as opposed to in the earlier years?
FM: Oh, yes. Great change has come. You have to appeal to the people through mass media now. Back then we didn’t have television. I remember on my first campaign I didn’t have the endorsement of—when I ran against Mr. Holland for the legislature. There never had been a legislative candidate defeated that had the support of the Houston papers and they all supported him. I didn’t have any organized support but I walked the streets. Houston was much smaller then. I think we had a population of about 365,000. I covered every building in Houston from the top floor down to the basement and all the little 2 and 3 story buildings. I was recovering from a case of pneumonia and I was just about of breath. You walk 3 or 4 flights of stairs and then you have to wait for a few minutes to get your breath and then start coming down. But I think I handed everybody in Houston a card. Then I worked the different avenues. I went into the places of business up and down one side of Main and down the other; one side of Harrisburg Road and down the other; and Houston Avenue and North Main; Western Avenue; wherever there were businesses. I went out to see the bread truck drivers early in the morning when they were delivering bread; the milk truck drivers; people delivering milk in those days. I made all the shifts at the industrial plants and all that personal contact.
(52:27) But it’s impossible to do that nowadays. I made this coverage and was elected by a very narrow margin, I’ll say that. After that time, as I say, if you didn’t have the support of the newspaper you just didn’t have a chance. But since then that’s been reversed, as you well know, I think people are doing lots more of their own reading. But the newspaper’s endorsements used to be that that was it. We had these hand cards we’d post and placards and things like that. I remember on the last night of the election I had a 3-station hookup; there were 3 big stations in Houston—radio stations—KPRC, KTRH, and KXYZ. That 3-station hookup cost $45. I met my brother down on the corner of the Texas State Hotel that night and we only had $17.50 between us, so we get a lot of time out. Before that time, though, Pappy Self, who later went to work in the Fire Department, had a little band and he had 1 hour on KXYZ called the Blue Ridge Playboys. He had that hour and every radio in Houston was tuned to that, and I knew Pappy and I’d go up to the station and if he hadn’t sold all of his time on that program to help pay for it, and whatever they got over what they had to pay the station was their money. If they didn’t have the time sold, well, Pappy would let me get on the radio so you might say I had the first hilly-billy band. You know Dave McFarland, that next year, with his band, I think that’s got him elected. And Jerry Sala used the same method to get elected Railroad Commissioner. And then that period played out and I don’t think anybody’s had a hilly-billy band since then. But I think I had the first hilly-billy band. I had the slogan, Mann’s the Man, and I got a wire from Jerry Mann when he ran for Attorney General. He just said, “Sorry, Cuz, but I’ve adopted your campaign slogan.” He used it statewide: “Mann’s the Man,” and he was elected to Attorney General. If there’s any kinship between us it’s very distant, about 14 places removed. Jerry was known as the Little Red Arrow of SMU, as you might know. He was a very good football player.
(55:14) But now you have to go with mass media for this simple reason. Out of all the people in Houston, in those days we had poll taxes, and I think there’s more people now registered to vote percentage-wise than there was then. But in those days you say 1 out of 6 had a poll tax and only, say, 2 out those 6 were voters. So you would be talking to, say, 1 out of 6, and then that divided by another 1/6, well, you can very easily see that you talk to 20 people and probably only 1 of them would be voting. So you had to cover a lot of ground and you still do, even with the mass media—radio and TV, newspaper coverage, and billboards. It’s hard to make your—we used to have—we had a rally right here on the, when I was running for the legislature, where the City Hall is now situated, and this whole block was covered; both of these lots, including the block where the reflection pool is now. Ferguson was here to speak. There was a large crowd but we didn’t have very much competition. We didn’t have any competition because the radio people would out to the rally. The civic clubs were not well attended, but now you take a civic club meeting that is scheduled for 7 o’clock on Friday night, you can just blow them out of the water because they’re at the—Sanford and Son. You get to competing with Gunsmoke and a few things like that. [laughs] People would rather sit at home and listen to the radio than go out to some civic club meeting. So you have to depend on mass media, I think.
I: During this period, did you observe that charges of voting irregularities and things like that were more prevalent than now? Has that changed any?
FM: No, not too much. There’s always some that complain, especially from people that lose. But I think that the voter irregularities go and come. I think one of the main things, and I tried to get a bill through the house when I was there, that when you went in to vote that you sign the voter register like you do on a bond issue, rather than just let them look at it and stamp your thing. I’d like for them to have to sign and then let poll watchers contest if they don’t think the signatures match and have it decided right then and there on the spot some way or another whether there are 2 and make them identify themselves rather than just going in and—see, I can go in with your poll tax and hand it to you or your voter registration. They just check it off, stamp it on the back and you go vote. There’s no effort to make them identify the signature. I think that would be one of the biggest things right now, but I couldn’t even get that in before the committee. They didn’t want any part of it, especially those boys down around the valley. They didn’t want that on there at all. But I think identification—a voter ought to present identification that he is the man voting rather than have somebody else to vote in his turn. Let them sign the books and then you can check to if it’s theirs. I think that would be one of the best steps we could do to keep people from voting somebody else’s voter registration.
I: (59:52) I’d like to move on to an area that deals with City and County relations. I think it was in 1948 that you favored a merger of City and County departments?
FM: Yes, sir.
I: Could you tell me something about that?
FM: We’d run into quite a few stumps on it because of the difference systems of government that we have and we’re trying to work out something now. They’ve got a big full legislative session on tax collection. Instead of having every one of these little water districts and cities have their own assessing and collecting—all different types of evaluations that if you had 1 man in charge of all it and had the same valuation applied to the school district, city, or county or hospital district, flood control, or flood commission or what it might be—I think it would give you a more uniform assessment of value. But people are scared of it where they don’t need the money in some of these little municipalities, you’ve got a low local rating, but the school board then comes in and has a different valuation. You’ve got lots of problems there. You’ve got to work out—in the Health Department and our city employees are under civil service, number 1. Number 2, they have these insurance benefits I was talking to you about.
Over in the County, I think they have finally created some kind of insurance over there but how are you going to mail them and what are you going to do about these likes that these employees have? Seniority? The civil service system? Over there, they don’t have the civil service and by the time they elected a new commissioner who appoints his own men, the County Judge does, too. Also, there, the Tax Assessor and Collector is elected and ours is appointed. Many of these cities have appointed men. There’s just so many little ramifications that’s going to have to be worked out. It’s a pretty difficult scheme to try to lay a foundation to where they can be worked out.
I: Was there some particular issue at that time in ’48 which led you to take this position? Was there some critical problem?
FM: Well, it wasn’t a critical problem as far as we get into problems. It was just a matter of any school boy can tell—why have 3 different men, 3 different offices, and 3 different sets that the taxpayers have to pay for? [sirens drowning out Mr. Mann’s voice] Why can’t it be appraised and that valuation be used by the county for the county taxes, the school taxes and the city taxes? We do have appraising and collecting for the School Board now. The Houston Independent School District … They pay about half of our cost to our tax department. We collect all their taxes. When you get your tax statement every year it includes the School District taxes which is how we do it on the City taxes. Of course, they raise their rate and we set out to bill some and then we get banged for raising the tax rates. And it’s actually a raise in the school tax. They raised the assessment ratio from, I think it was, now I forget what they had, we had 40% and I think they finally went up to 63 cents. They can’t go higher than the City goes unless they have … I’m trying to get that law changed. But I do see there’s nicer ways to—anybody can see it there, and I think that we ought to direct in terms of turnout, eventually, I hope I eventually see the day when all the taxes and all the evaluations in Harris County will be set by one office and all the tax relations and the money divvied up and the expense can be divided between all the people sharing in the—the same thing in the Health Department. A fly doesn’t know or a mad dog doesn’t know where the city limit line is and I think the Health Department ought to be at least county-wide. These mosquitoes certainly don’t know where the city limit line is and I think our mosquito control and rabies control and things like that should be a county-wide situation. But then again if the county takes it over what are they going to do about our old employees that’s been working multi-years—these civil service rights and all that? So we are going to have to put some kind of … before we can meld those departments together and protect the rights of those employees.
I: (1:05:30) While we’re on the subject of taxes, I’d like to ask you a question dealing with the assessment rate for businesses in Houston. Some critics have charged that the City has not been charging the proper rate on businesses and that they’re getting off easy at the—
FM: Well, you were talking about the rate—the rate is the same to everybody regardless of whether you are commercial or a home or anything else. But it’s an assessment—the evaluation—that they’re complaining about. We necessarily have to follow the market. Under the law we’re supposed to set the fair market value and put that on the tax role. The fair market value is determined by what people buy and sell for; their compulsion to sell and their compulsion to buy just arms length transactions. And until we can develop a sale value in an area and we always follow the market usually 2 or 3 years late. Take mine, for instance, I bought a home out there for $12,500. The original cost was $15,000. I paid $12,500 for it and now they’ve got me on the tax rolls at $20,000. But there are other people in that area that have paid even more for homes and we don’t set those values. The people set it by that, but we have to develop those sales now. Furthermore, we are one of the states that don’t require you to disclose the true purchase price so we have a hard time establishing this market price. I think the time will probably come when you will have to disclose that, however, property people say that that’s infringement of their private business and other things. So the papers usually go with the tax. Over at the County office to be recorded—the County Clerk’s office—they say $10 and other valued consideration. Now, then we have to seek out and do a little gumshoe work and find out how much cash the man paid down—actual cash. It says $10 and other valued consideration. We go to the mortgage companies and they usually file their mortgage and we will find out that he probably took a $30,000 mortgage on it and then we find out that on many they decide that they have to have 80% down payment. Well, we know that this $30,000 only represents 80%, however, and this property in Houston, the values have gone crazy. Well, it’s beyond anybody’s prediction. Nobody could predict it. Anybody who had any money could have been a millionaire now. All property has gone up but to determine how much we have to have some concrete evidence to base our appraisals on and actually work out a subdivision necessarily. We try to keep up with all the new subdivisions and trust the inflation increased value on others where there’s very few sales and it takes lots of research to keep up with the market. So we lag behind the market 2 or 3 years.
(1:09:12) Now on the other hand, because people won’t assess their market on a rising market, that’s just not good business sense. If we’ve got you on the tax roll for $12,000, let’s say, for a home you bought out here and that whole area has increased and your neighbor and everybody else in there holds a $25,000, you’re not going to come down here and say, Hey change my taxes. All this property in my neighborhood has gone up. So we have to go in there and log all these sales and raise you. Then when we do we have to double your taxes, sometimes triple it, and you raise the Devil about it, but at the same time, in a way you can look at it, you’ve gotten by for 3 or 4 years, maybe 6 or 7 years, as the market went up, without being increased each year. And we can increase it each year just cross the board in our imagination. We have to actually develop the market value.
Now, if this market declines, you can bet your bottom dollar that each one of those people will come down and assess their property, which they’re supposed to do each year. Of course, if you don’t assess it, then the tax collector assesses it. Unless that year has been re-evaluated, he just assesses for what it was last year. That’s why these previous years show that we’re running between 35% and 40% of where we should be up there at 63%. I can show you every day where a man bought a place for $10,000 and sold it for $20,000 but it stays on the tax rolls for $10,000 because we haven’t a revalue since. But as I said, the market falls and they’ll be down here saying, say I bought this house for $25,000 and they’re only selling for $10,000 out in that area now. You’ll be down here wanting a reduction and you will file. And you will protest it if they don’t give you a cut. So we’re up against that and, of course, this disclosure of what you actually paid for it.
Then another thing a lot of people don’t understand. Everybody—‘A’ will buy property from ‘B’ and take his deed and go down and file it with the County Clerk, but ‘B’ doesn’t go upstairs into the Assessor’s office and, downstairs, the Assessor’s office is, and say, hey change this property from ‘A’ to ‘B.’ I’ve just bought it. And then he comes over to the City and someone doesn’t come to the City so we continue to send the tax statements out to ‘A’ because that’s how it appears on our records. And sometimes ‘A’ doesn’t even—he says, well I don’t own that land any more. And he throws it in the wastebasket. The next thing you know they search it out and find out why he hasn’t paid it and he says, well I sold that to ‘B’ some time ago. So ‘B’ is faced with a, maybe, 2 year delinquency plus the penalty and interest on it. So if there was some way that we could have a law passed that either the County Clerk would have to send notices to each taxing jurisdiction where that land is associated with and let them change their record. Or either just go on like it is.
I: (1:12:48) What about businesses? Are they assessed in the same manner?
FM: Oh, yes, sir. They assess in the same manner and they have a method of assessment on their inventories, markups, and all that. We take their records in many instances and if there’s a record that they have been going on long, like on most businesses, they take inventory at the first of the year. We see what the inventory is and if they’ve been operating for years on their financial status showing a value of 40% of the goods on retail—and that’s what it usually runs—40% if the rest of it is a markup. That’s why you can say a lot of the time you see sales at 50% off and things like that. They can go 50% and 60% off on lots of things because their inventory is only costing them a certain amount. Of course, there’s no rule ahead and all that is really all there is to it to see where that business makes a profit. Then on these big buildings we know exactly what they’re costing them when they’re taking out their building permit so they’re the first to go on the payroll. In fact, if you make a financial—of city services, the homeowner actually doesn’t pay his own way. Often the cost of your zoo, your parks, your garbage pickup, and police and fire, and all that—if it wasn’t for the taxpaying paid by, let’s pick out one and say Hughes Tool Company—all their machinery and plant out there runs into lots of money. Telephone is up in the millions of dollars. They benefit, the employees benefit from our zoo, our library, schools—I mean, not schools because that’s under a different tax structure—but there’s just so many of those people that do pay a high tax but don’t directly participate. Well, let’s say, Shell Oil Company can’t go to the zoo. The Shell Oil Company can’t go to the library. And Shell Oil Company has its own security. Shell Oil Company in the Channel installation has their own fire protection. They don’t even like for the Fire Department to come in there. We might squirt some water on the wrong tank and blow up the whole thing. [laughs] But their tax certainly helps us support government. It’s a benefit for their employees you might say because part of their tax payment does pay for all these outside things.
(1:15:28) I know one time back there during the Depression, Monteith, I think, one of the things caused his defeat. He turned the lights off, the street lights off, to save money and tried to go … and the banks wouldn’t let him and they put a 10 cent charge on out at the zoo. That defeated him. I remember when Oscar Holcombe came back and defeated Monteith they had a picture of Elizabeth, his daughter, who is now married and has children—Elizabeth, they had a picture of her when she was a little girl pulling the switch turning the street lights back on. As I say, Holcombe knew the City government and knew the financing and he worked out a way to do it.
I: While we’re still on the subject of taxes—that seems to be a subject dear to our hearts this time of the year—I’d like to turn to 1956 when you took a stand for limiting U. S. tax take from the local government.
FM: That was when I was in the Legislature and we had to graduate former taxes and they had, since the Revenue Act of ’42, there was lots of graduations made in that tax for war purposes. It never was scaled back down. I just thought at that time that if you take over 25% of a man’s income it would maybe he kind of loses his incentive. I know lots of employees now that work only 9 months of the year after they make a certain—so much that would go to the government—they just knock off and go fishing. They work 9 months on account of this graduated income tax. But I think certainly the income tax is the fairest tax we have. If you make it, you ought to pay it. I think the sale tax is the most aggressive tax we have. You pay a tax whether you’re making it or not. If I go buy a loaf of bread, not bread or food items, but some article that I really need, the man that sells it to me might have bought it for 50 cents and is selling it for a dollar, and I’m paying in 4 cents tax. Now another man might have bought that same item for 90 cents and sold it for a dollar, and I’m still paying the 4 cent tax. Of course, on his, on account of what his overhead is, he spends some on income tax on it, but income is the fairest tax. I think it is. Now we have to have a tax on wealth. That’s the ad valorem tax that we’ve talked about here that we would assess this property on to encourage just a basic tax. That’s a tax on wealth. Sales tax is on the right to do business. Transaction tax, you might say. And your income tax is on your earning ability.
(1:18:45) But getting back to your ad valorem tax, we have to have, and it’s always been my feeling that you should only have a big enough, large enough, ad valorem tax. Then you’ve got the income tax to encourage people to use their property to the best and highest use. In other words, if we didn’t we’d have vast acreages right here in the City of Houston paying nothing. By putting an ad valorem tax on them it encourages them to build something on it and put it into productive use and if they don’t, well, it would be better that you put it to good use and then they will, of course, be able to pay the tax.
I: (1:19:41) Beginning 2nd session with Councilman Frank Mann. April 3, 1975.
FM: This episode I mentioned was in the about mid-30s during a very hot race at the time. We had what we call a commissioner form of government. There had been an area of town that had wanted fire hydrants, fire protection. But the mains weren’t large enough to connect fire hydrants to, so it necessitated the course of putting down some larger mains and the city just didn’t have the money. To satisfy this group the city crews out and under someone’s direction drilled holes and set the fire plugs into those holes. They were, of course, never put on the Fire Department’s list of live plugs but it satisfied the neighborhood just to see the plugs were there. And then, of course, that administration carried that areas very solidly after the election and they had to pick up the plugs and put them back in inventory.
I: What administration was that?
FM: That was—I forget who the Water Commissioner is. Lots of people are under the false impression the Fire Department has a duty of putting in plugs—fire hydrants. They do not. It’s the Water Department that puts them in and then when they become live, the line has been tested, chlorinated, and etc., then the Fire Department is given notice that the plug is there and serviceable.
I: I’d like to—from the ’30s—now move rapidly to the more recent times and discuss with you one of the issues that occurred not very long ago—1972, I believe, dealing with the budget powers of the Mayor. At that time you were concerned that Mayor Welch had too much power in this regard. The newspapers, however, didn’t go into much detail about it and I was wondering if you might fill in for us.
FM: Here’s the thing about it—the duties of the City Council are not just attending these meetings here but it is to go into the background of all the things that come before us. Also we have sat on the Equalization Board and hear rate cases. It’s become a full time job. The Mayor, in our form of government, as you probably recall tracing back we adopted a Commission form of government which, by the way, was established and began as a result of the hurricane in Galveston in 1900 where it wiped out some 7,000 people and everything was in disorder.
A group of citizens got together and elected a man, kind of selected him, in charge to get things moving. He was the mayor and he was in charge of the police and cutting down vandalism and things like that, and trying to keep order. He commissioned a person, just like I’d say, “Well, here, you take over and get all our streets cleared up and get these bridges in over these gullies, one thing and another, and I’m commissioning you to do that. So you’re Street and Bridge Commissioner.” And, “I’m commissioning you over here, another man, to go out here and get all these water mains fixed up and try to get us some fresh water in here, and you’re Water Commissioner.” And another man, “You go over here and try to get all the records you can find that weren’t destroyed by the storm and get this property listed and get these people back on the tax rolls, so you’re Land and Tax Commissioner.” And another man named to organize crews and to establish bucket brigades, or whatever they had to have, to fight fire; and he was Fire Commissioner. And that commission form of government was adopted by Houston. Later on we got rid of the old ward system where people were elected Alderman from each ward.
It did very well. It all comes back to what my position is, that it’s the type of people you’ve got in office and not really the form of government, as long as the people have a right to vote and elect those people. We followed that to about the mid-30s and then we got a quasi-commission, where they were numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4. But the mayor assigned them those same duties. I was the last elected Fire Commissioner and I resigned in ’42 to join the Army. At that time the City Manager form of government came in but everybody got sick of it and in about ’47 after the war was over, they changed it back to—all they did was take all the powers of the City Manager and they gave them to the Mayor, so he’s very powerful right now, probably one of the most powerful mayor forms of government there is in the United States.
(1:26:06) That power can be used according to who, again, you’ve got in office. I think that Council has surrendered lots of its power in budget-making by adopting lump sum budgets rather than line budgets, because it gives even more power to the Mayor in transferring funds from one division to another and raising certain employees and probably using others that might be deserving without any consideration.
I: Have there been any changes in that regard later since during Mayor Hoffheinz administration?
FM: No. This time here I asked for a line budget. We got a very skimpy description of it. We got a little bit more information but we only got it a few days before the budget was actually passed and I don’t think anybody had a chance to really study it. It’s just an informational sheet. It doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not binding. So I think by not going into a line budget that Council really doesn’t know where the money is being spent. That’s the reason I voted against it in this last instance. I think that some of that power should be regained by Council.
Another interesting thing that’s happened to me politics is that I get quite a few requests for information on my background and schooling and things like that. I leave the colleges and things blank and then they write back and say I must have made some mistake or overlooked this, and they want to know what school I graduated from, etc., so I have to write back and just say, “Well, it was just the school of hard knocks.” I was transferred from the Lee School over to what we used to call, on the north side now, Marshall. Because of the lack of school room space, they didn’t have these little temporary buildings like we do now, so I was over there going to school half a day and working 12 hours a night out at the Houston Textile Mill, 11 hours a night; I was out there till 12:00. I’d sleep in class and one thing and another, and I couldn’t pull my job very well and things were bad. During the Depression my father was a carpenter and he wasn’t working half the time, so I just left home and got out on my own and went down on the border where they were building a pipeline from around what we called the Zapata Field, to Monterrey. I worked on that pipeline back toward Houston; the First Natural Gas Company of Houston. I worked with it up to Three Rivers. And then I worked at a machine shop and learned my machinist trade at the Border Founding Machine Company down at Laredo and Miranda City and at Benavidez. I had pipeline experience, machinist period, and then I started rough necking out on wells. In those days 4,000 or 5,000 feet was a very deep well. I then went and made the border boom in the panhandle and came back to Houston. All this time I was reading and studying everything I could. I started wanting to be an engineer but, not having had trigonometry and things like that it was kind of rough.
(1:30:43) I started studying law and went to two different law schools in Houston. I went to the old South Texas Law School. During that time I was working for the telephone company cutting over to Taylor Exchange and Hadley Exchange automatic. After we cut over one exchange to the other there was some delay and layoff and I quit, or the job played out, really. I couldn’t pay my dues at that law school so I continued to study law by going to the law library in between times hunting for jobs. Well, later I worked for Hughes Tool Company on the third shift so I’d get a penny more an hour; I think I got 42 cents an hour. I worked from 11:00 to 7:00 and then started with the Houston Law School and attended there about a year.
I: What year was this?
FM: In ’28 and ’29, 1930, 1931. I left Hughes Tool Company and went over to Ford because they were paying $7.00 a day. They started you off at 5 hours a day which was real high pay in those days. And if you stayed as long as 30 days you got up to $7.00 or either they fired you. And I stayed there till they made a changeover from the Model-A to the V-8 and I had to quit this other law school. So I really graduated from neither one of them, but I did get a letter from lawyers that I knew that I had studied law in their offices and a librarian who I’d become very well acquainted with, a Mr. Nesbitt. On the basis of that, the Bar Committee, Examination Committee, let me take the examination. So I really have no degree in anything. I later took my accounting license out. I studied accounting, too. And I’ve got my law degree and my accounting degree but I don’t have any diplomas of any school.
(1:33:28) I think that a man can really apply himself in the study of law or most any other thing and if he is really determined and studies and reads everything he can get on the art or the subject or the profession and learn just about as much as far as his mind is concerned as he can in college. Lots of people are pushed through college or sent to college by, I think, lots of families just to get them out from under their feet. They expect the college to not only discipline them but to try to educate them, but if a man doesn’t want the education and he goes up there just because he’s getting out from under his family’s feet, well, he may come out of there for a diploma or a degree, or whatever you want to call it, but not really be too well trained. Of course, there’s a difference in, I’d say, in the medical world because I think that the man actually has to go through operations and learn the use of his hands and, of course, his knowledge, too, that he gets through book learning.
I’ve enjoyed politics. I don’t know why I stayed in it. I was out of it for a while after I got back from the Army and I had a home paid for and 2 Cadillac automobiles and some property. The political bug bit me again and I went back in the Legislature in ’57, 20 years later and then served 1 term, retired undefeated, and turned around and got back on the City Council. Since then I’ve had to sell some property. It doesn’t pay much, but, I don’t know, it just gets in your blood. I guess it’s just something like dope. I practice criminal law; I’ve been practicing law since 1932. That makes 43 years of practice now, doesn’t it? Let’s see—43 years.
I: That’s quite a record.
FM: And you can talk to some of these people that are hooked and they will admit that they’ve ruined their lives, their credit, lost a lot of their friends, they’re a disgrace to the family. And they’ll admit all that and know it’s bad, but when they leave your law office, you know they’re headed for the first place they can get a shot of something. So it gets into your blood and, I don’t know, you feel like you’re part of the community and you want to help it grow, and it’s a growing city. I don’t believe that I would want to serve or be in office in a town that was dead or that wasn’t growing and nothing to do; such as Philadelphia was before the urban renewal program. There hadn’t been a major start in Philadelphia in 20 years before the urban renewal matter came along. They have party politics there on the City level, and the Republicans get in they have to put some of their friends to work. And then the Democrats come in; they can’t fire the Republicans because of Civil Service, so they have to put some of their friends to work. So they end up with about 3 to 1 police that we have; and 3 to 1 firemen that we have; and 3 to 1 street and bridge workers we have; and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time, as far as law enforcement is concerned, their arrest records and solving a crime records is no better than ours, with 1/3 the men. And their fire department is no better than ours as far as fire loss is concerned. So it’s not always the number of people you’ve got working in certain departments that says whether or not you’re going to have a low fire loss or a low crime rate, it’s the effectiveness of those departments charged with fighting crime and fire.
I: (1:38:12) Since we’re on the subject of the operation of city government, I was wondering if you could—I’m sure the question has come to many person’s minds—how does the City Council operate behind the scenes? How are ordinances passed and formulated? How is policy made? What is your role? What is the role of the City Councilman?
FM: Well, these departments have all been set up—the Charter defined the duties and responsibilities of these different departments. Of course we have nothing to do with them carrying out those duties. We have no executive power. In fact, we had one Mayor in the past—I’d rather not mention his name—wrote a letter out to all the department heads and employees not to speak to Councilmen; not to discuss any problem with them, which was his prerogative because they worked under him. But we usually get good cooperation if we have our people calling us in; we can’t order any department head or any workman to do anything. But we do bring the problems to their attention and try to get some response and get something done. We send lots of them through the Mayor’s office asking them if they possibly can to give us some special consideration. We get around 30 or 40 calls a day on such matters—water leaks, sewer overflowing, chug holes, and things like that. All we can do is refer them to the departments responsible for those.
There has been a lot of criticism about the strong mayor form of government. Some of the Councilmen thought about trying to get some of these administrative duties, but I say, again, that the people can look to this one man and if they like the way he’s carrying on things, well, City business, re-elect him; if not, defeat him. Of course, lots of times he’ll bring other people on Council down in defeat with him. If the people would separate our duties and separate our responsibilities in going to the polls, I don’t think a diamond will affect—just shouldn’t happen at the polls. I think each man ought to be judged on his own actions on City Council.
(1:41:04) The thing is very clearly designed and there’s lots of people talking about a Charter change, but as I can see it, most of it is just a hell of a change for changes sake. It was never pointed out to me one thing that the City should be able to do—should do—to help this City that can’t be done under the present Charter.
I: How important is the leadership role of the Mayor in the City Council in conducting business?
FM: He brings the matters to City Council; explains why he needs this power, this action, or this contract, or why this contract—we send lots of them back for further information—one thing and another. And he has a vote on City Council. Seems like every politician likes to get a little bit more power. As far as I’m concerned, on Council, I’m willing to leave it like it is. I say this, that if you try to light up these powers you’re going to end up with, instead of one Mayor running the City, you’re going to have about 8 little mayors up here as Councilman trying to run the City. I’ll be calling some department head out here, let’s say in street and bridge, telling them to go ahead and fix certain potholes in one street, and another Councilman will tell him to fix them on another street, and they won’t know which one to fix. I think it has to be headed up that way. Working for 8 different bosses with some power, I think would cause lots of confusion.
I: What kind of leader was Mayor Welch? Was he strong? Did he manage to bring some direction to the City Council?
FM: Oh, yes. I think we’ve been blessed for the most part with a very fine mayor. Mayor Holcombe was a mighty fine mayor. He was elected mayor by the people and he said he was going to run the City and he did. He was a great leader and had a great vision for the City of Houston, In fact, lots of people would write the mayor from out of town, and they still do, about Houston, where it’s growing, and where they should buy land, and things like that. I remember the mayor said to buy anything between here and the Brazos River and you’ll become rich. I think he might’ve said from the San Jacinto to the Brazos River; but nevertheless.
(1:43:51) As far as Louie Welch is concerned, I think he is one of the most astute students of government that I have served under. He studied the Charter back and forth, he studied government, he was a student of government, and the record speaks for itself. He was elected for 5 consecutive terms. Now Oscar served off and on many terms from ’22 up to about in the ‘50s, but they weren’t consecutive terms. But when you can go in here and take this flak for 10 years straight and you’re going to make enemies which will remember you the rest of your life, but if you do something good for somebody they forget it the next day and when you are doing it they wonder why you didn’t do it yesterday instead of today. That’s the way politics goes. I think that’s a credit to him having served 5 straight terms. Mayor Cutrer was a good man. He had no one appointed his first term at all. We have been blessed with men, I think, that have Houston at heart. We have good news coverage. There’s not anything going on under-handed that we know of; and when we do, we bring it out in the light. Our Council meetings are covered very closely by the news media, all forms of news media. There’s newsmen up here on the Council floor asking Councilmen about different matters every day. They’re searching and probing and everything and I think it helps keep everybody in order and it’s a very fine thing. As you probably noticed when you came in, there were a couple of newsmen in the hall. They’re waiting to probably interview me on some matter to see how I feel about this or that. Our contracts are let, as I say, by very strict specifications. We expect them to follow the specifications without having to pay off any inspectors. We’ve had occasion or 2 of that happening and it’s been brought to light and the situation corrected by dismissing those malefactors. I think this openness of City government is good for the City. It’s the only way to run a City.
I: One of the more recent and probably one of the most serious issues has been in the Fire Department. They had a Fire Department probe, as you recall. You were somewhat upset, I believe, by the position of the Mayor and you made a statement that you’d lost confidence in the Mayor in that particular area dealing with the Fire Department. I was wondering if you might explain what you meant by that?
FM: (1:47:17) Well, that was in the early part of Fred Hoffheinz’ regime and it was unfortunate. I’ve always, being a former Fire Commissioner, kind of treat the Fire Department as one my children, you might say, and I want them to have the best equipment, the best training, and everything you have. The fact is, I ended the wholesale firing in the Fire Department, established Civil Service, and stepped up the training school when I was Fire Commissioner back in ’39, ’40, ’41, and ’42.
In this instance over there, I think the Fire Department union head, Joe Perrine, had been using the Fire Department union and got himself elected president and got some bylaws changed to perpetuate himself in office, more or less. He was using that office for politics to try to get himself appointed Chief. He fought Welch because Welch wouldn’t appoint him Chief and he had to find somebody. He campaigned heavily for Fred Hoffheinz and expected to be appointed Chief as part of it. Since then he has given up his job over there after he wasn’t appointed Chief. I don’t know exactly what he’s doing now. I understand he’s probably some sort of a safety officer. But, nevertheless, I just hope that in the future the union office is not overuse by someone over there to benefit himself. There were orders going out from the Mayor’s office, I think, trying to run the Fire Department into this direction by Perrine. Then he tried to bring Hunter in here, who had resigned and taken his retirement, and appoint him Chief. Well, under the law, you can’t come back in after a certain length of time in the department unless you come in as the lowest grade. Hunter went out with a certain amount of severance pay and he was going to come back and pay that severance pay back and then come back in at a very high salary. He could have stayed 6 months and retired again and got a percentage of this high salary plus, instead of say $6,000 or $7,000 in severance pay, he would have benefited himself by $6,000 or $7,000 by getting more severance pay based on the higher rate that he was being paid as Chief at the time he resigned.
I: Do you see a similar problem in the Police Department?
FM: No. The Mayor appointed Chief Linn and I think they’re all trying to do a good job. I didn’t like some of Linn’s procedures. I didn’t like the idea of him calling some of his men in for a confidential conversation and telling them it was in all confidence and then taping them. I don’t believe in operating that way at all. I believe if you’re on tape like I am today you ought to know it. I don’t believe in this bugging and stuff and tricking people or setting up a man so—I just don’t believe that practice and I think he has seen the error of his ways. I don’t think he’ll do it again.
(1:51:34) As far as this information file over being made public, it’s been kept for years by the Police Department. The information is exchanged by departments all over the country to let us know who is coming into town, what Mafia group, or whatever it might be, agitators. And now we’re cut off from that practice because we made these files public. They were supposed to be kept entirely confidentially. Of course, the names of lots of people not charged with crime will be in those files. Barbara Jordan, our Congresswoman, was mentioned as her name being in the file. It was in there simply for the reason that, I think in at least one instance she asked for security protection during a speech she was making because worry was out that the Klan was going to try to interfere with the meeting. Of course, that goes in the file that these officers were assigned to that and they say who all was there and was there to prevent any kind of trouble and her name would be in the file. Those people that attended that rally were known as activitists or whatever you want to call them. And that’s how lots of names like that do get in the file. Then if we see shows of these certain people following these different rallies, and one thing and another, we can always look out for them to protect the candidate or protect the general public, as far as that’s concerned, and their right to express their opinions without being molested or tampered with by…
(end of tape OH 117_01)
(beginning of tape OH 117_02)
I: (00:01) One of the interesting questions that comes to my mind concerning the tapes that we just talked about—what was the purpose of it? What did he do with the tapes?
FM: I don’t know what he did with them. I understood that he turned them over to the Grand Jury in connection with—the Federal Grand Jury—in connection with some supposedly wire tapping that had gone on in the past in helping trap some of these dope peddlers and organized crime members. Under Court order, or however you get them, I think it’s a good idea if we can get them off the street. As far as I’m concerned, I’d give a dope supplier or peddler, I think we’d end it pretty quickly if we’d just give them the death sentence because they cause many deaths. They cause as many deaths, I think, as hijackers or even motorists. Hooking people on drugs, they’re ruining their mind, their lives, causing lots of deaths. I think if they’d do it like they do in some of the—in China—when they catch a dope peddler they just have them kneel down and shoot them in the head, and that’s it. And they don’t have any dope peddling over there; very little.
I: That would kill it.
FM: That will. That’ll wipe it out.
I: (01:26) There was one issue that I want to talk to you for a few moments about that attracted a great deal of attention. That was the debate over the former City Controller, Mr. Oakes. There was some controversy about how he had invested the City funds that were not receiving the proper interest that they should have been receiving and the City lost money. Can you tell me something about that?
FM: I was on a committee to study that and we finally—Oakes was very conservative in that there were certain banks that he thought were stronger than other banks. He was using his best judgment in that matter. The individual is insured up to about $40,000 on his individual deposit. But when you’re dealing with millions you do have to be careful in case there is a collapse of a bank and the City could lose lots of money. So there were good points and bad points to it but, nevertheless, we changed the policy. We used to have a policy of about 7 or 8, I think, of the largest banks that agreed to participate in City financing and they all operated with the Union National Bank being agent for them. Like, we had to borrow a million dollars to tide us over till the tax elections came in. This million dollars was borrowed from this one bank but they in turn farmed out part of that loan to each bank. I remember in one instance we borrowed a million dollars for 1 day and I went with Comptroller Mansell at that time down to Mr. Ferrell at the National Bank to pay it back the next day and make transfers. We didn’t carry a million dollars in cash, of course, with us, but made it back. Mr. Ferrell was rather perturbed by the fact that one of these banks would cause—they would farm these loans out according to the capitalization of each bank—and one of these banks for its trouble and placing its money under, you might say, the blanket of this City loan, I think their portion of the interest for that one day was 43 cents.
I: (04:09) Are you satisfied with the way the present controller is conducting the business?
FM: Oh, yes. I’ve been satisfied with the way all of them have been conducting the business. This is, really, a glorified bookkeeping job. We appropriate a hundred dollars for a certain object, for a certain thing, whether it’s a salary or equipment or supplies, and that department is allowed to spend that hundred dollars and when they get over it, he just turns it down. Period. At the end of the year, if the departments only spend $85 or let’s say in this last instance $87.20, it would leave him $12.03. Then we have a surplus, we call it, at the end of the year of $12.00. In this last year we had a $12.7 million surplus, but that was because of these unexpended funds and other funds that came in over and above what was estimated. That’s where your surplus comes in. It’s really not a surplus; it’s mostly unexpended balances and money that came in that wasn’t budgeted because our estimate of revenues is on the conservative side.
We started this conservatism back in the Depression because let’s say our tax elections were, just say $50 million, this year. And the Depression comes along and we budgeted $50 million based on last year’s income. If we had predicted a $2 million growth and budgeted $52 million, we might even have trouble bringing in the $50 million—people not paying their taxes. So you’d have to curtail City expenses to a great extent. So we always budget on the, used to be, on last year’s actual collections, what they were. But now Welch started appropriating on the average payment which would be about 98%. However this last year, because lots of people didn’t pay their taxes the year before but come in and paid them this year, plus they were delinquent, we collected 101% of the tax. It doesn’t mean that somebody paid in advance. It means they caught up on some of their arrear. Now we always have a delinquent tax roll, say, $5 million or $6 million—maybe $10 million. But you say, well, that $10 million builds up from year to year. First thing you know everybody—in 10 years people would owe $100 million. But that isn’t the way it works. This year you may not pay your tax for some reason or another. Let’s say you got a pretty high tax bill, say $10,000, and you decide that you’re not going to pay it because you can use it out here buying this piece of property and maybe return a fat profit, a good profit, and you’ll pay your tax next year. So that’s what you do. You don’t pay this year. So you are delinquent, say, $10,000, or whatever your tax is. So you pay your $10,000 and your regular tax the following year. But in the next year, I’m in the same position you were the year before so I don’t pay my $10,000 until the next year. But yours has replaced mine, see, so this is not accumulating deficit; accumulating delinquency, I’d rather say. It is an in and out proposition. So you have to take an average. Our average collections during the Depression, I think, dropped down to about 87%. That was pretty low. And now our collection is around 98%. If we have a Depression again and the homeowners just can’t pay their tax and have to put it off a year hoping they’ll find a job and one thing and another, we don’t have that kind of thing and we have to have some sponge in there because the City cannot operate in the red.
I: (08:46) How long would the City tolerate delinquent taxes?
FM: Well, on commercial things like that, we can usually get a tax lien on them, but on homestead where there’s, say, a widow or a widowed living homestead, we don’t foreclose on anybody—or throw them out of their home. They’re usually elderly people on a fixed income. We just let the taxes accumulate with the interest, and then when that passes from them to their heirs, their heirs have to pay the tax to take the property. In many instances the heirs, the children of people that have got life estates, I mean where the property is deeded to them with the parents probably holding life estate, are paying the taxes for their mothers or fathers on property they will inherit or has been assigned to them. But we don’t ever go in and throw anybody out of their homestead because it will eventually be paid.
Now, sometimes we lose a little money. Somebody, say, doesn’t pay their taxes for 20 years out here plus the interest plus the principal on a little homestead that probably cost them, say, $3,000 in some part of town that hasn’t grown, you might say the depressed area; and the taxes plus the interest and principal just about equals the value of the property. But that is very seldom. I would say it would be 1 out of 1,000, because of the inflation and the growth of Houston.
I: I think most people have the impression that if they don’t pay their City taxes the house will be auctioned off.
FM: In some states it’s like that, and the tax collector’s job is a very juicy political plum in some places because the tax collector and assessor gets a percentage. That’s his way he gets his livelihood and he’ll come right out and sell your furniture out of your house or do anything he can to get his money and get his percentage. That’s the way it is in some of your eastern and Midwest states, as I understand it, but we don’t have it here in Texas. As you know, in Texas reform, we have a kind of blended system in our laws. Part of it is some of the old Napoleonic Code of French law; we’ve got part of Old English law; and part from Spanish law. One thing we did was exempted the homestead except for the improvements and the cost of it and the taxes. We don’t go in there and take a man’s homestead until—when it’s sold, that new buyer has to pay the taxes to clear his title. If he doesn’t he takes a tax lien and it’s no longer a homestead and at that time we can move in. So we don’t lose anything along there. In fact, we get some pretty good interest—better than if we’d invested in these banks that we were talking about a while ago.
I: (12:34) That’s reassuring to know—won’t get thrown out of the house. I’d like to go on to some issues that were just decided by the voters in the election of a couple weeks ago in the propositions. One of them was on collective bargaining for firemen. How do you view that?
FM: Well, I stayed neutral in the thing. I believe this—the firemen and the police or other City employee representatives—we have an open door policy with them. They can come in with any problem they want to. We decided we’ve got to weigh the load on the taxpayers and the amount of money they are getting. That’s what the people elected us for and I think that we’ve been trying to give them all a fair shake as far as our taxpayers are concerned. I know the taxpayers want them to be paid a fair and reasonable salary and have good equipment, but there’s limits to it. We just can’t give them everything they ask. They think they’d do better by having some other bargaining. And people thought otherwise. They thought that we were handling it right by a 2 to 1 margin. So we’ll continue to have our open door policy and do everything that we can to improve these departments in law enforcement, fire protection, public works, and those things within our limits of our income.
I: (14:09) Do you think collective bargaining would be disruptive?
FM: It could be. It’s according to who, again, you have in office.
I: But you’re not really opposed to it?
FM: Well, I think under our direct system of contacting the people and the way we have depended on them, I think they’re just about as well off one way or the other. I’ve seen times in the past where collective bargaining—I’d like to have seen them then when they were given very little thought to Fire Department or Police Department and, as I say, when I came into office and they didn’t have very good Civil Service—it was just lip service and wholesale firing—100 or 135 men. And they were being paid $138 a month and we got them up to $150. At that time, Mr. Holcombe said he wasn’t going to pay them. He was going to make each one of them go to court. And a dry case went to court and I prevailed upon the comptroller at that time not to issue a certificate of income so we could make a budget until the Mayor agreed to include in his budget the back pay for all these firemen that they were entitled to. That was included in the budget and we did pay them their $12.00 a month differential to some quarter of a million dollars, and that was lots of money back in ’39. But we got it for them. Since then—since I’ve been in office—in ’60 we have more than tripled the payment of the firemen. I think they were getting about $340 or $360 and now they’re getting around—it was $340 or $360 a month—and I think now they’re getting around, well, they’re starting firemen at school. Now, we’re putting him through school and paying him while he’s going to school; and getting them right out of high school and never having had any responsibilities at all, and train them and putting them in the job and we’re paying them $811, I think, a month now while we’re training them. And then after they come permanently on the payroll they jump up immediately to where, after 3 years, a man is making around $13,000 a year which is darn good pay for a person. Of course, their hours are long but at the same time they get to sleep on the job. Many of them hold outside jobs.
I: The next question may be somewhat unfair, but I’ll take my changes. That deals with the proposition with regard to raising the salary of City Councilmen.
FM: (16:56) I think definitely the Councilmen deserve a raise. When I first served we were getting $300 a month and the department heads were getting about $300 a month, but we couldn’t get them. We couldn’t get a City Attorney or Police Chief, things like that; we thought they ought to deserve more. We didn’t want to pay them more than the Councilmen got. So we raised our car allowance to about $50 or $60 a month. That didn’t suffice. We were paying other City employees only $30 or $40. Then we finally raised our car allowance to $100 a month, making us take in about $400 a month. We just couldn’t stay up with the department heads. And now our department heads, while we’re still getting this $300 a month, our department heads are getting around—well, let’s say we’re getting $3,600 a year, and they’re getting $42,000 a year. So it’s just one of those things. What goes on in the mind of the voters, I haven’t been able to fully determine even though I used to think I knew a lot about politics. But I think a man might start off to the polls figuring on giving the Council more money. We’re up there on this job, most of us, actually work 7 days a week trying to keep up with all these reports. The City is a big operation. It’s really hard on a man to make a living on an outside job; now this little old thing we started in—a part time job—what does part time mean? It doesn’t mean you can’t do anything but work on City matters. You can’t go fishing. You can’t go hunting. You can’t do anything but just say it was full time. Now, this part time provision was put in there at the time we went back to the strong mayor form of government, mainly for the purpose that those men serving on the Council could have some kind of outside business without being criticized, and that’s the whole thing about it. The County Commissioners don’t have a part time job in there, but the financial statement filed by Mr. Barry showed that he was taking in some $7,000 or $8,000 a year as an instructor out at St. Thomas. So surely are you going to call that a part time job over there?
I: Well, Mr. Mann—
FM: Getting back to that voter—the taxpayer—he might figure well those men are working hard up there. They don’t just attend the Council meeting; they’ve got to study all these reports during their week days. Like, I’m up here today, Thursday, making this thing and I’ve got my desk cluttered up here with letters that need to be answered, reports that need to be studied, and information to be gained on these items before I can make any kind of a vote. But this voter might start off from home thinking, “Well, yes, I’m going to give them fellows a raise.” And on the way there he hits a big chug hole and maybe blows out a tire, and he gets up there behind that curtain and he says, “I’ll get that son of a gun.” And he’ll vote “no.” Or that day or the day before or the week before, the garbage man might have been a new crew and they didn’t pick up his garbage, and maybe a can split on them and spilled in the street and they didn’t pick it up, or maybe he’s been stuffing his garbage can so full and packing it down that the garbage men have to bump it pretty hard to get the garbage out of it and they bent up his can, his new can, and he’s made about it. Just all those little old things coming to mind, and I think that’s one way of getting back at people. You know, even though we’re talking about not to do it, there’s always in a man’s mind, how am I going to get back at somebody. I think it is wrong.
I: (21:08) Do you think a lot of voters have the misconception that City Council use their position indirectly to help them in their own business? Sort of free advertisement or such things?
FM: No, sir. I don’t think so because I talked to my law partner very long and seriously about it when I told him I thought I wanted to get back into politics. And he says, “Well, God sakes, Frank. Don’t do it.” He said, “You’re doing well now.” And he said, “Right now we take in $2,000 or $3,000 a year representing people for City Council and the department heads and we’ll lose all that business.” In addition to that, me as a lawyer, people call me after they’ve hired someone else asking me about what their lawyer is doing. And I have to tell them, “Well, talk to the lawyer about it.” They look at you as a politician rather than a lawyer. So it doesn’t help your law practice a darn bit. I’ve had people tell me, say, “Well, you know, when so-and-so passed away I sure wanted you to handle the estate but I figured you were so busy up at City Council you wouldn’t be able to.” And you’ve been representing these people all your life. So it absolutely does not help your law practice and I don’t think it helps you in any other kind of business. Some of these men on Council have a real estate license and they’re in the real estate business, but they can’t handle anything concerning the City of Houston. Then a man might have some property he wants listed and he says, “Well, I don’t want to list with his son so he’s up on City Council and he won’t be able to call his clients and get around and try to sell the property. He’ll hire somebody else. Right on down the line. I don’t see—I don’t know of anybody on Council today that’s going to benefit by holding the job up there as far as their private business is concerned.
I: (23:24) That certainly would satisfy the curiosity of those that may wonder about that. I’m glad we got around to discussing that.
FM: Well, I don’t know of anybody that benefits. I think there may have been a case back here a while back where a man withheld a vote or didn’t vote until certain stock transactions were made favoring him to some extent, and that, of course, was exposed by the public and he left office. But you it just doesn’t happen—you just can’t do it. It’s not right to try to use your influence. I’ve turned down lots of law cases that I thought might be detrimental to the City or where the City might become involved because of it. As it is now, my old clients, I have to refer them to other lawyers because I’m afraid that for the benefit of my client that my continuity of thought on their case might be broken up by this City business and I might not be rendering them my best efforts because of that interruption. That’s the reason I always get somebody on the case with me, even on workman’s compensation or personal injury or sued or contracts or whatever it might be. So that one man at least can be giving this case his entire thought and continuity of thought and not being interrupted; like, today if I had to file a motion in court and you want this interview, or let’s say it was yesterday and I had to be in court on a show cause order, I’d have to miss Council meeting so I always get someone in to take my place in those things and do as much work as I can on the case so I’ll be justified in collecting some of the fee. If I didn’t, I couldn’t possibly get along with just $300 a month. Of course, it’s a little bit easier on me now. My children are raised and all married and one thing; it’s just my wife and I and we make both ends meet and have a little money coming in, a very little, and we have a little income from money I’ve loaned to some of kinfolks and a savings account, and that’s about it.
I: Well, in closing, perhaps a proper question would be to ask you, what do you see the prospects for Houston in the next decade or so? What problems or—
FM: (25:59) Well, I believe we are going to continue to grow. We’re not hemmed in by mountains on one side and the Gulf on the other—the sea on the other side like Los Angeles. We’re just unlimited growth. Flat land, you might say, here. We’re going to continue to have mass transit problems and lots of problems of new sewers and new sewer lines. We’re building a sewer and water plant and City services for a town the size of Waco every 2 years. It’s going to put a strain on us until that growth slows down or levels out. It’s just like this—if you’re married and let’s say you had a baby the first year you were married and that child grows up a little bit and you want a room for it. So you build an extra room on your house and you’re already paying for your house payment. And lo and behold here comes another child with a different sex and you decide it needs a room. So now you’re paying 3 mortgages and it does put you in a financial bind. In the meantime, the family car is worn out and you have to buy a new car. And your income isn’t keeping up. It’ll eventually pay out. That’s why I believe so much in bond issues. Lots of people say, why don’t you get on a cash basis? Well, the thing about it, if we saved up enough cash to improve a certain street or build a bridge over a certain gully or bayou, by the time we saved that money up—let’s say it would take us 20 years to save it up. By the time we saved it up these 20 years you’ve been paying taxes and your money has been put in the pot and you haven’t been getting any services for it. At the end of that 20 years, you’ve probably died or passed along according to what age you are. Now those 20 years you’ve done without that improvement and the bridge now will cost 3 times as much. So we have to continue saving. We never would be able to save and still maintain your private services. So what we do is issue a bond and your tax money pays a service charge on that bond and you get your street built and your bridge built and you’re using it all the time you’re paying it off. Same way on a home. I don’t think you could save up enough money paying rent or doing something to save up enough money to go out here and buy a home for cash. What you do is obligate yourself. That’s the same way as a bond—obligation. Buy the house and while you’re using it you’re paying for it.
I: (29:09) Are there any areas that I didn’t cover that you want to mention before we conclude the interview?
FM: None in particular. I think the City of Houston has got a great future for it. And I believe with the type of people we’ve been electing to office it will continue to grow. I don’t think any one man can stop it. I want to say that at this time that I think Houston is very blessed with its public, civic-minded citizens. Fort Worth had its Damon Carter, Galveston had its Moody’s and Levy’s and a few like that. But if you start naming in Houston, you’re bound to leave out somebody. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the country that I know of. Take George Hermann coming here as a woodcutter. He cut wood to bring in to Houston for firewood and his employees would come in on Saturday nights and get arrested and he’d have to come in Monday with a wagon and load them all up out of City jail and take them out to work. He got tired of that so he gave us what we call the reflection pool. One of the restrictions on the deed is any homeless person or a traveler or vagrant can sit out there in that park free from arrest. George would send 2 or 3, you might see, collectors, or bouncers, into town Saturday night and if any of his men got drunk they drug them over there to where the reflection pool is and then Sunday he’d send a wagon out and pick them all up rather than have to wait until Monday to get them out of jail.
(30:58) And he gave us Hermann Park. With that came Hermann Hospital. Well, that was one man way back there. Then William Morris Rice for Rice Institute. That endowment and that vast property he gave us out there is one of the finest institutes in the country. That’s just way back there. Then come on down to a little bit later after World War I when Hermann Park was abandoned. It was Camp Logan. We didn’t have the money to buy it, but the Hoggs bought it and saved it for us and we bought it from the Hoggs when we did have the money. So we got a big park out there, some 1,500 acres. They also put on River Oaks, one of the finest residential sections in the country, Mrs. Hogg did. I think Hugh Potter was their manager. There are contributions to the City from Jesse Jones and the Houston Foundation, the work that they have done. Mrs. Fondren and her great help to the Methodist Hospital. The most modern equipment in the world, if we needed to have that hospital, she has been saying that they’ve got it. But you don’t hear anything about it in the paper. Hugh Roy Cullen gives big gifts—The University of Houston. One time I remember he gave $4.5 million to be divided up between 4 or 5 of our hospitals here. People like that. The dedication of Tom Ball to get the Houston Ship Channel built. We’ve got a little town out here named after him. I know I missed more names. George Brown and the endowments they have made. And the Andersons of Anderson Clayton—contributions they have made. Instead of just having one, we’ve got hundreds. I just named a few of them. Others are important and maybe more important that I’ve missed, but you just can’t count them. There’s no way that you can go back and count them. You’d just have to count lots of people. Houston has been blessed with those people who have come in, made their money here, have liked Houston and have contributed to these different things that make it a better town.
I: (33:52) On that positive note, I think it’s a good place to conclude.
FM: Thank you.
I: On behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, I want to thank you for the time you’ve taken to cooperate with us.
FM: Thank you very much.
(end of tape)