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Interview with: Johnny Goyan
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: March 4, 1975
Archive Number: OH 204.1
LM: Perhaps we could begin by giving a brief background. How did you first get interested in politics?
JG: Well, Lewis, I think it goes back to the days when I was a student at the University of Houston, pre-World War II. I was very interested in campus politics. I’d run for offices, president of the freshman class, sophomore class. I had a good friend on the campus who has been my lifelong friend since we went to college together named Jack Valenti. He and I would always run for something to be on the student council. I think that spilled over into public service when I graduated from college. I graduated in 1947, after spending some time in the Air Force, and came back and got my degree after serving in the Air Force.
(01:11) I graduated in 1947, was president of the student body at that time and went into business in about 1957, some 10 years after I graduated. I, like so many people, disliked what I saw on the local scene, and so I decided to run for city council. I ran against an incumbent who I see frequently, and we’re good friends. In a two-man race, I was fortunate enough, or maybe unfortunate enough, to get elected. I’ve been running for city council ever since, and I guess it’s something that you become addicted to. I’ve been fortunate again, or unfortunate, as the case might be, to be elected each time since 1957.
LM: You mentioned that you became interested in politics and the more you got involved when you saw things you disliked?
LM: Can you explain to me more about this?
JG: Yes, there were a few mild scandals going on where one of the councilmen at that time, as I recall, had a very strong conflict of interest. He had bought some barns that made him roughly $100,000 after an annexation program took place. This was discovered later. There was an impeachment hearing. He was never impeached because it takes two-thirds or six votes out of the entire city council, including the mayor, to impeach a man. I’m not mentioning names because this is—I don’t think—really doesn’t mean much right now. The man I ran against voted not to impeach, and this was an issue. It was an issue and it was an issue apparently that the public liked because they backed my stand, and I was elected.
I think the motivation for most people in politics—other than those who just want to serve—there’s a motivation that makes someone want to run because they’re unhappy. Most people vote, for instance—or this is what I’ve found—because they’re unhappy. They don’t vote because they’re happy. A happy group of people go fishing and golfing because they like what’s going on, but you get them mad—you get the masses mad—and they will go to the polls, not to vote for but to vote against. In a two-man race, those who vote against is tantamount to voting for. Even though you probably don’t know the guy’s name, you’re voting for, but you know the guy’s name you’re voting against. As a byproduct of being unhappy and voting against, you pick up votes that way.
I think that’s what perhaps happened in my case in 1957, although I did have quite a backing from University of Houston alumni. I don’t know how strong it might have been, but I know that they probably backed me.
LM: Are there any other particular segments of the population which supported you?
JG: Yes, my first race, I was interviewed by a group called the Harris County Council of Organizations. I had never heard of this group before, but they were very strong. It’s the black group. They interviewed me.
I might digress a bit and go back to the days in 1953, after serving as alumni director upon graduation from the University of Houston. As alumni director of the university, Roy Hofheinz, who was then mayor, sent Jack Valenti—and his name will crop up in our interview because he’s my best friend. He sent Jack Valenti to talk to me about coming to work for the city as a department head in the traffic court, and so I accepted that job and had some smattering of background in public service as a city department head.
(05:22) In that capacity, I was told two things: don’t fix any tickets— Actually, I was told three things: don’t fix any tickets, which was very simple because I wouldn’t know how to at that time, nor would I know now. Listen and learn, which I’m always doing, even now I’m trying, and number three, treat everybody equal because they’re all taxpayers. Well, that was very simple because I didn’t know any other way to treat people other than equal.
It so happened that during that department head stint that I had some three years that black attorneys would come into the office to talk over their problems. When they would come in, I would always greet them just like I would anybody because they’re people and friends of mine, although I didn’t know them perhaps. I’d say, “Have a seat. Let’s try to work out your problem.” We’d try to work it out, and during the process of my learning, and so when I was interviewed by the Harris County Council, there were a couple of attorneys in the group. They were most cordial to me and said, “We know you, Mr. Goyan. You treat people friendly and nice,” and I got their backing, and—knock on wood—I’ve had their backing ever since.
I would say that that probably very well could have turned the election for me because I won by some 12,000 votes, I believe, 44,000 to 31,000, maybe 13,000 votes, if my math is correct. I think that there probably would’ve been that many black citizens voting. I got like 99 some odd percent of their vote, which I’m most grateful for it today.
LM: I suppose then over the years, there really hasn’t been a major shift in your base of support?
JG: (07:16) No, there hasn’t, Lewis. I’ve always managed to win without a runoff. I was unopposed one year. The last term I ran, I had three opponents, and I think the public—and I never say, “I got a certain number of votes.” The public gave me like 60%, 62%—I forget what it was—out of a four-man, or in this case, a three-man-and-one-woman race.
In politics, I’ve often said—and I want to say this for the record—that “a man is only as strong as his friends want him to be.” That’s true in anything, whether you’re running a filling station or running a drive-in grocery store. You’re only as successful as the people are who come in to patronize you, or in my case, who go to the polls and vote for me. You’re not self-sustaining. You’re dependent upon and most grateful for the support you get, and I am and have been and will always be as long as my name is on the ballot for anything.
LM: How does one go about financing a campaign for city councilman?
JG: Well, let me go back to the first time that I ran, and then I’ll—sort of—bring it up-to-date. The first time that I ran, I really didn’t know many people. I knew a man named R. E. Bob Smith who was, in my opinion, one of great men of our day. He did a lot for Houston, along with many others, but I’m specifically talking about him because he gave me the encouragement necessary to run for office. He said, “I think you ought to do it. I think you ought to get in there, and I want to help you,” and he did help me. He knocked on a few doors for me. My friend, again, Jack Valenti, had a lot of friends in town and he opened doors for me.
You’d go around and you’d meet people, and they’d wonder who this guy Johnny Goyan is, right? I’m kind of right out of college, which I wasn’t but it just seemed that I was right out of college with no background at all in politics. I met people and they would help me, but I spent that time and I didn’t have any money in those days. With the economy the way it is now, I don’t have any now, but I spent—I guess—around $1,400 of my own money in that race and won it.
Now, the way you finance your campaigns now—when you’ve been in politics as long as I have, you meet a lot of people. A lot of people know who you are. They either hate your guts or like you. I like to think that more people like me than hate my guts. You don’t always vote to satisfy everybody, but I’ve found this—if you’re honest with people and tell them in advance that “I can’t support you on this issue,” then they might get unhappy with you, but they won’t hate you for it because you’ve told them. If you tell them you’re going to help them, “I’m going to support you on this,” and when it comes time and the pressure is built up and you vote against what you told them, then you’ve really made an enemy.
The basic support you get through the years are people that you’ve met. They’re people that think that you’re doing what you’re doing for the betterment of the community. They think that more of your votes are for progress than against progress, and I think this is where you get your support. I’ve been fortunate enough—and I’ll say this for the record, although I won’t give names—but, for instance, last year—I have always since my first campaign, I’ve always sent money back. I didn’t need it all. This past year, I got checks in—and I would say—totaling some oh, maybe $4,300 from people that I really—they came late. The guy that came in first, I spent his on billboards, but the guys that came late, or women that came in late, I just would send them back with a nice letter thanking them.
(11:35) It’s amazing too is that it kind of scares you in a way because I saw a man downtown one day, and he had sent me $100, and I mailed it back with nice letter of thanks. I didn’t need it. He said to me, he said, “Johnny, gosh, did you need more? If you need more than $100, why didn’t you tell me?” Then I said, “But I didn’t need more,” and then I said, “Did you think that—” and I said, “Level with me. Do you think this was a put-down that I was trying to extract more than $100 from you?” He said, “Well, Johnny, we’ve known each other,” and I said, “Now, come on, level with me.” He said, “Well, the way the letter was worded, it made me wonder.”
Then I got to thinking, “My God, maybe I sent a $500 check. Maybe I sent a $50 check. Maybe I sent a $2,500 check to somebody.” I thought, “Have I got all of them mad at me. Do all of them think that?” It scared me. Until this day, I don’t know because I didn’t write follow-up letters saying, “Hey, if you didn’t interpret the first letter right, here’s what I really meant.” I’ve been worried about that. I’m obviously still worried or I wouldn’t have mentioned it on your interview here.
LM: Many people have the belief that companies or individuals with large amounts of money to invest in a campaign will approach a councilman or other politician and candidly try to pressure him to support their view. Have you ever had any experiences like that?
JG: Lewis, to answer your question, the way you worded it, I’m going to have to go around in circles to answer your question, because you used the word pressure. People that know you—and I guess I have as many who have never contributed to my campaign as those who have contributed to my campaign, who come in with special problems. Yes, they will come back—and that’s what we’re here for—to tell us about their problems, to indoctrinate us into the situation that they’re faced with, and to ask for help. I’ll be very honest with you, as I would with anybody, I have so many hours in a day and if somebody if I know real well calls me, I will probably return their call much quicker than I will a name that I do not recognize. It’s a basic thing.
Anybody that says differently, I’ll say is a liar. Nobody takes their calls and stacks them as to the time they came in and says, “Well, down here is Senator Jack Oog, but there’s 40 calls ahead of his, and I’m going to answer those first, although I don’t know any of the 40 people.” I’m going to answer Senator Oog’s call or I’m going to answer Jack Valenti’s call or I’m going to answer the mayor’s call or I’m going to answer the man that has been my friend for years and has always been the first in with a political contribution who might have asked me for favors or might not have asked me for favors, but I’m going to call him first?
(14:56) To answer about any pressures, I would say that many times we’ll get calls from people who have problems that say, “Here’s my situation. When it comes up, I sure hope you can vote for it.” My question is always to them, “What is the recommendation going to be from the department head?” Invariably, they’ll say, “They’re probably just going to recommend it.” I’ll say, “No problem,” because I’m a man who believes that the city of Houston is run by the mayor and his department heads because the department head is the man or woman who is versed in that department much better than I.
My claim to fame, or whatever you might want to call it, is that I got more votes than my opponent. Now that doesn’t make me smarter in the law. It doesn’t make me smarter in public works or public health, fire, or police. I didn’t get a sudden halo because I got more votes than my opponent that says, “You, Mr. Goyan, are a very brilliant man, and you know all there is to know about the police department.” I don’t know anything about the police department, as compared to the man that I voted to confirm as chef, be it the police department or the legal department, the man that I voted to confirm as the head of the legal department.
I rely heavily on the department head, and if his recommendation comes as something, then I’m going to put my stamp of approval on it. I might ask a question or two about it, but I’m generally going to put my stamp of approval on whether it’s for or against the man that asked me to give him some help, because this is the man that’s responsible for running that department and help running the city. I’m just a member of the board of directors who sit there and rely heavily on the men in the field or the women.
LM: You touched on the matter of running the city, the mayor, and the department heads. Going on to the city council, how does it organize its business? How does it affect policy?
JG: The city council affects policy in this regard. In the police department, the fire department, I don’t think we affect policy, although we have one councilman who used to be a fire commissioner, a good friend of mine, who knows probably more about the fire department than all of the other councilmen put together because he was a fire commissioner many years ago. I don’t think that we as councilmen affect policy too much. I think we have a voice if we dislike something, but as far as planning for that department, since I’ve been here, I don’t know of any plans that have been made by the councilman to uproot which is in existence in a given department and replace it with what we think is the best.
(18:12) Now, there might have been meetings without me and they have done this, although I would’ve heard about it. I don’t think goes on. I believe that policy matters are very, very infrequent. I’m trying to think of a case in point, and I can’t think of one. The next interview you have, they might give you ten. You’d say, “What happened to Goyan? Where was he on it?” but I can’t think of them right now, Lewis.
LM: You served under three mayors?
JG: Yes, Lewis Cutrer came in 1958, and I was sworn in with him. He was in for 6 years. Then Mayor Welch or Louie Welch, a former councilman, was elected and served 5 terms, 10 years. Now, with Fred Hofheinz is in his first term, so three mayors.
LM: I wonder if you could give us an overview of the leadership qualities of these men?
JG: I would say that—going back to Lewis Cutrer—and I’ve got to point this out that Lewis Cutrer came in. He was a former city attorney, so he had some experience. He came in with six new councilmen who had never served before. That made the mayor and six councilmen brand new to join up with councilman Louis Welch and councilman Lee McLamore. You see, it was sort of a sweeping out of the old. I’d say, we sort of learned together. I think at that time, it was probably a very good move. I think it worked out very well for the city in retrospect. I didn’t know then, but I think it was good. What I might be saying now is that maybe we ought to sweep them all out again? That might be good periodically.
(20:14) At that time, I think the sweeping out took place because of some of the things that were actually going on at city hall. The impeachment process I spoke of, some of the things that had been going on that—they were not earthshaking—but they were—I think the public might not have been as close to city hall as perhaps they should’ve been. They were probably being ignored somewhat, in retrospect. Lewis Cutrer came in, and I would say we had a learning process of maybe a short while, trying to find out what we ought to be doing and how we ought to do it. I’m sure he doesn’t analyze that way, but this is the way that I as a councilman analyze it.
I would say that those were good years, in that I think a lot of things were done in the way of race relations that were done without marches on city hall. I think perhaps what happened during those 6 years might have kept the city from being another Detroit perhaps, or another—I’m trying to think—a Newark or where they really had problems, people demanding and threatening. We didn’t have that.
Let me explain what I’m talking about. As I recall, during that period of time our parks, for instance, were not completely integrated. Like swimming pools were not integrated. Lewis Cutrer very quietly, without any fanfare, without there being a march on city hall, said that everybody swims in the swimming pool. If they’re citizens, they all swim in the pool, and we’re going to do this. Restaurants were not open. City hall cafeteria was not open to blacks, not because there was a law against it. It just wasn’t done. Restaurants—there was a meeting of the restaurant people along with leaders, including the mayor. Nope, nope, you’ll check back, and you’ll never find anything in the newspapers about this. You’ll never find any headlines. It was just done.
The city hall cafeteria—I want to give you some humor on that—the city hall cafeteria opened up to the blacks. Just about every day there was a man who came to have lunch there in a nice suit, a businessman. I don’t know his name, but the fact that they sold food to that man kept a number of people—and I’m going to mention the department—kept a number of people, especially in the tax department—from going to have lunch. They would go downtown, and the cafeteria sustained a tremendous loss during that period of time.
I had a friend—and I’m going to mention a name in this case—named Ellis Allen, who was the head of the tax department. He would call me, and I would be talking to Frank Russell who still runs the cafeteria. I’d say, “Frank, who’s boycotting you from the tax department?” He’d give me a name—and I won’t mention names in this instance—but he’d give me a name. I’d call Ellis and I’d say, “Oh, so-and-so is boycotting?” Ellis would call the man in—or maybe it’s a woman—and say, I need your help on something concerning the tax department.
(24:20) They would talk to him a little while and the phone would ring and Ellis would finally say, “Let’s get out of here. Let’s go downstairs and have a cup of coffee, so I can really talk and get away from this damn phone.” Well, they wouldn’t tell his boss they were not going to go to the cafeteria because they’re boycotting it, so he would come down with them and they’d have a cup of coffee, and he brought her back. He’d call and say, “Who else?” I’d say, “We got so-and-so and so-and-so.” He’d say, “Well.” I don’t think they ever knew what he was doing, but he started bringing them back, see, bringing them back gradually, because they found that the food was too high downtown. It was too far to walk. They had to stand up and it wasn’t as convenient.
I think they were actually looking for an excuse to come back. My friend Ellis Allen found the excuse, but these are some of the things that happened during the Lewis Cutrer administration that you don’t talk about in public, and I don’t think you wave the banner and say, “By golly, we love blacks. Come into restaurants in the city,” because now, in 1975 you say, “Well, why in the hell didn’t they go in 1950 or ’40 or ’30 or ’20?” It just seems like a very stupid and narrow-minded thing, but these things happen.
Going back a little bit to when I worked for Roy Hofheinz, and the reason I got the black endorsement, and it’s such a stupid thing. The reason I got the black endorsement because when the blacks would come into my office, I’d say, “Hi.” I’d shake hands and, “Have a seat.” My predecessor, who made it very easy for me to get the black endorsement, if they got into his office, they stood up at his desk. He never shook hands. He never asked them to have a seat.
LM: Very cold.
JG: This was an easy act to follow, very easy. Now, that’s Lewis Cutrer. All right, now your question about—?
LM: It was the overview. What type of leadership did these men provide?
JG: Now, in the case of Louie Welch, you’ve got—you know—Louie Welch was elected. I might say this because I’ve told Louie this publicly. I never was a fan of Louie Welch as mayor. I thought he was not heavy enough for mayor. I don’t why. I just said, “This man—he’s a good councilman, but he’s not—he doesn’t have what it takes to be mayor of Houston.” I’m saying this because I’ve eaten those words, very happily eaten those words because Louie probably came into city hall has one of the best equipped men in the history of our city—and I haven’t lived that long—but I don’t know of anybody who can say that he wasn’t well equipped to be mayor of Houston.
The fact that he broke a record of five consecutive victories after having lost twice for mayor, once for county judge, and once for something else—no, I think he lost three times for mayor before he ever got elected. The fact that he got elected five times, which no man in the Houston, including Oscar Holcombe, had ever—Oscar Holcombe was a mayor of Houston 11 times, 11 terms, but never 5 in a row. Louie Welch did, and I think that more or less helps me eat my words of the fact that the public and I as an individual, began watching him and backing him and liking him and realizing that this man was a leader, was a good leader, was a humorous, intelligent, hard working.
(28:19) All the things that you want to put into a leader, he had them, except one thing. His height—he was a short man. So many times short people have a way of having to prove themselves, or the public acceptance have to be a little bit better than the guy who is 6 foot 1, handsome, and all that sort of thing. Again, I go back to my friend Valenti who is about the size of Louie, and both of them are dynamic people and highly intelligent people. Louie, in my opinion, would get more work out of the city. Things would not pile on his desk. He would sign the contracts for men to go to work, for bidders who bid jobs, to do it on the least amount of cost to the city. Sometimes mayors would be prone to let them pile up. Not Louie, he would sign them and get them to work.
In the field of civil rights, I don’t know what Louie did, but he was very conscious of this as having been a councilman. I would say that the building programs in our city probably took on a greater importance and more building took place under Louie Welch than any other mayor in the history of the city. Now, I don’t think that Louie was primarily responsible, but I think the leadership that he provided and having been elected president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which very seldom do we have a man that achieves that—Louie achieved it—that he was well respected throughout the nation by other mayors. I think that’s probably why he’s where he is now with the chamber of commerce, because he made such great contacts. As far as the leadership, I would say he was one of our great leaders. Any more specific on say, Louie?
LM: No, perhaps the influence he exerted on council members?
JG: Well, I think we all respected Louie. I did. Remember this—I went in not as an adversary, not as an adversary, because I told him that—he always knew in advance what I was going to do. In fact, I said one time, I said, “Louie, some day I want to vote for you for something higher than a councilman, but you’ve never run for mayor at a time that I could support you.” I remember he called me one time and he said—it was when he was in a runoff—and Lewis Cutrer did not make the runoff. He called me and said, “Johnny, I’m going to remind you of something you said,” and he reminded me that I said I wanted to vote for something besides councilman. He said, “I just want to ask you if this is going to be the time?” I said, “Louie, there’s no way you’re going to blow this one.”
(31:34) He said, “Johnny, that’s not what I asked you. I’m asking you if you can feel comfortable voting for me this time.” I said, “Louie, now I’m not going to come out and back you. I’m not going to make any speeches for you,” and he said, “Johnny,” and Louie has a very great sense of humor. He said, “Johnny, you’re not listening. I didn’t ask you for any of those things. I just asked you if you could vote this one time for me for mayor?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “That’s all I want to know.” I got to thinking, now here’s a guy that I’ve never backed, but he remembered I said once and he took time out to call me for one stinking vote, and he remembered this.
Well, you have to admire a guy who will remember something like that. Most people are prone to say, “To hell with him. He’s never backed me. To hell with him.”—but not Louie. This shows that he—I saw him that day as a much bigger man than I had ever envisioned him to be. I’m sure that he didn’t it to impress me. He didn’t do it for any other reason than he just remembered something I said, and I said, “Louie, you got it.”
Now, getting back to our present mayor, I have known—okay, about our present mayor, Fred Hofheinz. I have known Fred since—I guess he was 11 or 12 years old, having worked for his father. When Fred ran for mayor against Louie about 3 years ago, I was for Louie. In fact, the first time that I’d ever voted for Louie Welch instead of a Hofheinz, because in the past Louie had run against Roy Hofheinz, his father, twice. I had always voted for his father.
A year ago, when Fred decided to run again, and Dick Gutley (??) ran, my colleague from council, Dick—I had worked little league with him. We’d been together on the city council. I thought Dick was highly qualified, so Dick had my vote, not my support. I didn’t make any speeches for anybody, because I had my own problems. Sometimes you make a speech for somebody and you’re hurting them because they say, “Ah, who does he think he is? I was fine until he...,” so you never know, but I did do this. I did tell Fred during the campaign, I said, “Fred, I just want you to know I’ve got one vote, and it’s going to go to Gutley. I want you to know this in advance, so if you get elected you will know that whenever I tell you something, I’m going to be honest with you.”
(34:35) He said, “Well, I figured that.” He said, “You know—I didn’t put any pressure on you last time with Louie. I knew you were for Louie.” I said, “That’s right,” and I told him this in advance. Fred, I think appreciated it because we’d been close. I didn’t do anything to hurt him. I didn’t say any bad things about him. I didn’t even try to get my family to try to vote my way. I think that every person is for themselves. We’re not campaigning for anybody. I didn’t ask him if he was going to vote for me because that’s his business. I just felt more comfortable telling him in advance what I was going to do so that we could work better together if the time came for us to work together.
I am going back now to your original question, I have been impressed with Fred, very honestly. I have seen more maturity in Fred Hofheinz than I ever imagined. I knew he was a highly intelligent man, but being highly intelligent and running the sixth largest city in America are two things. I mean—they’re just two things. One of the things that have impressed me about Fred Hofheinz is the fact that when he first got elected, he had to do some things that were unpopular. He had to recommend sewer and water increases. Louie had recommended this before he left office with council, and I remember that council decided to hold it off until the next group comes in, whoever it might be, knowing Louie was going to leave because he was not a candidate, so we did that.
Fred came in and had to do it. He did it without whimpering. He got with the engineers to explain to us what the problems of the city were, and we backed him. The majority backed him. Another thing I liked that he did—he took firm stand in the sick-out, the fire department’s sick-out. He took a very firm stand in that, which I appreciated because he could’ve been wishy-washy if the fireman backed him. The union backed him very strongly, so he could’ve taken a very passive attitude and said, “Well, boys will be boys,” or that type, but he didn’t. He took a damn tough stand, and I like that.
LM: What about this business with the police department now, Chief Lynn and the detective he brought in?
JG: Well, Chief Lynn—and I backed his appointment of Chief Lynn—and he’s backing his chief, which I think he has to do. If I’d appointed somebody and they weren’t really stealing and so forth, I’d back him. I might have a concern, but I’d back him because you have to. I can’t fault him. In fact, I think this is a show of strength, the fact that the council, including myself, have been critical of these tapings that the Chief did without the knowledge of his subordinates. To me, I think that’s wrong. I don’t care how you slice it or what you call it or what your motives are. To tape somebody without their knowledge and turn that tape over to a third party, and I’m going to use a word that probably nobody else will use on your tape—it’s chicken shit! That’s the only two words I can think of that’s apropos to a situation like that.
(38:23) I think there’s a feeling of strength with the mayor. “We’re not bowing,” he says to the council, instead of saying, “Well, you shouldn’t have done that, so we’re going to go ahead, and we’re going to let him off and get somebody else.” I can’t fault Fred at all. I think the chief has stuck his and the mayor’s neck out pretty far on this CID file, whatever it might have in it. Unless something drastic takes place because of that file, I think the chief has subjected the mayor to some embarrassment. I think the mayor has to do what he did, and that’s to back his chief.
LM: Second session, March 11, 1975. In one of your previous campaigns, an opponent made the statement that there are too many men who have real estate interests that are city councilman. He indicated that there was some interest between being a city councilman and having an interest in land development and such. Is this in part true or is it coincidental that many men who have run for office have been involved in real estate?
JG: I think—of course, I can only speak for myself, and that is that I am a real estate broker, and was prior to be elected to the city council, so that came first. It’s like the chicken and the egg, which came first? Well, my broker’s license came first. I was a developer, or part of a group that developed some land in Galveston County, Texas, which had no bearing at all in Houston, Texas. You hear these stories, and even I before I was elected to city council, I always had the impression that councilmen knew what was going on before anybody else perhaps in real estate. I found that to be completely untrue.
Everything that we do over here in the way of passing ordinances and department head recommendations—the impetus comes from the department head rather than a city councilman. Now, that doesn’t mean that I as an individual count not go out and buy a piece of land and have it bought in somebody else’s names, sit on the council and vote to pave a road, pave a street, put water lines in, that type of thing, based on the department head’s recommendation. If I did and I were caught, I would be hung up at the courthouse in public view because there’s really no need for that. If a person owns property or has an interest in a piece of land or maybe his company does, it’s a very simple matter to get up and walk out and to make it known.
I’m going to cite some examples of Lewis Cutrer when he was mayor. He owned some stock in the light company. Anything that came up about the light company business, Lewis Cutrer would excuse himself and make it known. He probably was not a major stockholder in the light company. He probably had a few shares of stock. He in turn sold those shares, so that he in turn could sit as mayor of Houston in a great hearing as a completely unbiased individual.
(42:11) I don’t know—of course, when you’re running for office, naturally your opponent is going to find it, and he’s not going to say nice things about you. He’s not going to say, “This is a great man,” and urge everybody to vote for him. They’re going to pick on the weak points. If real estate happens to be the point that he thinks is the weak point that he can generate some interest voter-wise, then he’d be stupid not to generate that or go into it. Anything that I’ve owned, which has been very little, I’ve always had in my name, and I’ve always made it known that I had it in my name. Many times I’ve been hit in the newspapers—not many times, but a couple of times—about my one holding that I have, but they’ve never been able to say it was discovered that, and when asked, go un-admitted, because it’s always been on top of the table. I’ve always excused myself from any vote on anything that pertained to anything in which I have an interest.
LM: I don’t think the remarks were—it may have been, but in the context that I read it, it was simply aimed at the city council in general.
JG: Well, a lot of people were running for political office last time and the time before who were real estate people. I can think roughly of about five different people.
LM: I think that’s what the remark pertained to.
JG: Actually, none of them were elected, the five that I’m thinking of. I’m not thinking of incumbents. Now, I’m thinking about those who were running for office. I think that someone did mention that, “Why are all the real estate people running for office?” It could be that they knew that real estate was going to get bad. They needed the $300 a month salary, but nobody mentioned that.
LM: I’d like to move on to some of the issues that you’ve been involved in, particularly pollution control. You played a prominent role in trying to get anti-pollution laws passed, and I’d like to ask you now, after years of being involved in it, how successful has been the fight for anti-pollution measures?
JG: Well, Lewis, it’s been somewhat successful. I’ve got to make this statement that Houston, at the time I became interested in pollution control—and believe me, I wasn’t born as an anti-litterer or anti-pollution man. These things come about through evolution on the subject of litter, and this ties right in with pollution. I’d been known years ago to throw tin cans out of a car, a Kleenex out of a car, because nobody told me that I shouldn’t do it. Until I realized and I read a story, and my friend Bob Smith was a man who would walk downtown and if he saw a cigarette wrapper on the street, he would pick it up and put it in his suit pocket or his white coat until he got back to his office and dropped it in a receptacle.
(45:23) I was friend of his and I noticed this, and I thought, “My God, if a multi-millionaire could stop and pick something up off of the street, the least I could do is not throw it on the street.” I didn’t tell him that, but you learn these things. Now, on the subject of pollution control, it dawned on me a number of years ago, as it did a lot of us, who suddenly realized that this thing that goes up in the air that is dark and cloudy and murky in color, had to settle somewhere. Does it settle in Africa? Does it settle in the sea? It settles right here among us. That which we create goes somewhere else if the wind is blowing and settles somewhere else.
My wife has asthma and my two children have asthma, and so I guess I got a little interested in pollution control because of their situation. My wife couldn’t sleep at night, and my sons would have it and would be home from school for three or four days, maybe a week. I think this is the motivation that I had. I think most of us are motivated by things that hit us personally, unless someone brings it up to us and says, “Hey, you ought to get on this issue. It’s a good issue. It’s a good political issue.” My answers to the pollution—I guess—came about for selfish reasons that my family was involved.
LM: Those are good reasons.
JG: I can’t think of a better one. There might be a conflict of interest, but I think it’s a good conflict of interest.
LM: It’s one of the best reasons you can have.
JG: We’ve come a short way, but we’ve got a long way to go, because it took us 125 years, roughly, to get in the position that we were when I discovered that pollution was not a good word—is a bad thing. You just don’t turn it around overnight or in a year, or 2 years, or 3 years. It’s an evolutionary process that has to be done. It’s going to be a slow process, but nevertheless, I don’t think it will take 125 years to get back to where we were 125 years ago. I hope not.
LM: Are there any pieces of legislation in this regard passed that you feel is really significant in accomplishing your objectives?
JG: In pollution?
LM: In pollution.
JG: Yes, and that is when the city was given power to—and I’m trying to think of the sequence—but the legislature was active in a bill sponsored by Chris Cole that I was critical of because I didn’t think he was strong enough. I think because of my criticism—I went to see Chris. I love him. He’s a great man, and I have great admiration for Chris Cole. It looked like that Chris and I were fighting each other, and we really were not. He took a poke at me, and I did not take a poke at him because I’ve got great admiration for him. I went up to see him in Austin and visited with him and told him my reasons that I thought it ought to be tougher, and I think that because of that meeting, a few changes were made. It was probably not as tough as I wanted it to be, but maybe I was trying to be too tough at the time.
(48:55) We’ve been given—I’m going to say we, the city—has been given the power to institute law suits and I think that this has been good, because what’s to keep a man from speeding or not stopping at a stop sign? He knows it’s dangerous, but unless he’s given a ticket, unless it goes on his insurance record where he has to pay a premium, he’s not going to do it. The same thing in the field of pollution—you’ve got industries who might not be able to go fast enough, or maybe actually some of them are dragging their feet. The majority of them are trying to comply with the law. Those who are dragging their feet must be penalized somewhat.
The great penalty I think is not necessarily the fine that’s imposed on them, but I think the fact that when the fine is imposed and the city has the power to institute lawsuits that the bad press they get in the news media. Nobody likes their company name or their individual name in newsprint saying they were fined for being dirty. Nobody likes that, so I think the fact that the city was given the power to institute lawsuits and have been able to do that, and the fact that those who don’t comply get their names in the paper, where prior to that they would not have because there was no law against polluting the air. I think we’ve come a pretty good way in this respect.
Also, something which I’ve been interested in and which finally has come to pass, and that is the purchase of a helicopter for the health department. Now, I don’t know how to fly a helicopter, and I wouldn’t know how to sample bad air, but I do know that other cities have had it and apparently, they’ve worked out very well. Our health department director, Dr. Randle, checked into it a number of years ago and made the recommendation that you have a helicopter to spot polluters and they probably can’t take air samples, but they can spot them and land and file them if they’re just violating the law by muddying up the weather, and even in the ship channel.
(51:13) I made a trip in a helicopter. It must have been 8, 10 years ago, when I first thought about this thing. I was told by some layman that the ship channel was so filthy that how could you tell if more filth was going into it? That was a good point, so I went up in a helicopter, and it’s very easy to spot it now. You don’t know whether it’s more filth going into it, but you know that there’s something that’s a different color, and it’s not white or clear like water going into it.
We have the right now to go into industries at any reasonable time and check them to see what they’re actually discharging in the water, what they’re discharging in the air. It’s something we did not have prior to the time that we set up an industrial district. Now, this industrial district—I was on the committee that recommended the contract with the industrial district. Now, what this means is that the industry along the ship channel were not paying any sort of city tax, nothing.
LM: That’s amazing.
JG: No tax at all—and those of us on the council didn’t realize that they weren’t paying any taxes. Really, I didn’t know it until Mayor West made his speech one day, and in his speech he said, “If the industries don’t clean up, we’re going to annex them.” Well, this shocked all of us on the council because we did not know that they were immune from city taxes. We had a committee setup of three members of council. Councilman Elliott, Bill Elliott who was councilman then, Councilman Ford, and myself, and met with members of industry, and John T. Jones, Jr. was chairman.
We set up a situation where each industry would sign a contract with the city rather than be annexed, because if you’re annexed, you have to start paying immediately city taxes. This would wreck a lot of industries. They could not conform that quickly, so we set up this industrial district where they signed a contract with the city and the city—it was a pretty tough contract on the field of keeping your air clean. What we did, we phased them in each year. I believe it was a 7-year phase-in or 8-year phase-in—I forget which—I think 7, where they would pay 1/7th of what their city taxes would’ve been that year. The next year they would pay 2/7ths and on up to where they would pay the full amount. They’re paying the full amount now, the same taxes that they would have been paying had they been in the city limits of Houston through this contract. That was another great move for us in pollution control, and also bringing more tax revenue into the city of Houston.
LM: I’d be interested in knowing what your original proposals were when you presented them to Chris Cole.
JG: Well, I believe there was in particular that left out the word smell. It had sight. It had just most of the things that you would look at for pollution control, but smell. We thought of this because of all people, Chris, who is handicapped in having been a war veteran and lost the sight of his eyes, and smell was a very important thing. Smell—to me—is probably a great polluter. Your eyes might burn, and that’s pollution. I’m a non-smoker, so naturally, smell to me is really uppermost, because when I say smell, if you came in here with loaded down—well, not you, but some girl came in loaded down with some sort of very expensive perfume and it was an overabundance of that perfume, and it just got my nostrils.
(55:27) Well—to me—that would be a form of pollution, and so this is what we stressed, and I think that this has finally been put in—how do you judge. It’s a tough thing to judge what smell is injurious to your health. Well, I guess anything that’s nauseating to you. If you have to make a case in court, it might be tough, but the fact that it was left out for this. Also, as I recall, the first draft of the bill said that your cases had to be tried in Travis County, which was Austin, Texas. Well, Austin doesn’t have pollution.
You can leave Houston on a bad day, where the pollution is hovering over the city, and you fly to Austin and you look down and you see all the pollution, but you get around Smithville—it goes as far as Columbus sometimes or LaGrange toward Austin—and you look down and the air is clear. You have to try—you know—Austin, Texas with a jury of Austin people, and you’re talking about pollution, and they’ve just come in and they want to get through, so they go out and play golf in the sun. It’s kind of tough to make a case. This is one of the things that I believe the first draft had it that you had to have it in Travis County, and that disturbed them who made the trip up there to talk to Chris.
LM: Was that deleted after this?
JG: I think it was. It was changed reading, because we have our trials here. Our cases come before the courts right here in the county in which it happens.
LM: How did your own proposals affect industry? Was it any different than Chris Cole’s?
JG: No, now I think what we did now—and I can only speak—let me speak on the industrial district of which we, the city, has complete control over and above the state. We imposed tougher standards than the state had imposed on others. We had a big council chamber filled with people representing those industries. They tried to kill it at the last minute, saying it was unconstitutional because it was not fair to have a tougher standard in Houston than you would throughout the state. I argued that we needed a tougher standard in Houston because we have more pollution here in Houston than we in do in Stanford, Texas or Pasco or El Paso, or some of the other cities that don’t have the industrial area that we have.
(58:11) When I got through with my presentation, which was very short, but I had headlines of the papers. I’d hold them up where there was a 50-car smashup on Gulf freeway due to smog. Well, I didn’t write it. It was in the Chronicle, and so I presented this. There was one councilman absent, and when the vote was taken, it was 7 to 1 to adopt the industrial district as is. The one lone vote against was from a man who is not now in council, and he came to me afterwards and he said, “Johnny, I just want to tell you why I voted no. I think we ought to annex them right now.” Well, that was unfair, in my opinion.
If I came to you and said, “Look, your house has got gold under it, so therefore we’re going to assess you. We’re going to quadruple or ten times your taxes.” “But I can’t get the gold out. It’s going to take me awhile to find somebody that knows how to dig for gold.” Well, so if I phase you in over a period of 10 years, you might be able to survive. Well, that’s what I wanted to do with the industries because the industries have made Houston great. Just because they’re polluting and we’ve let them pollute all these years, then I couldn’t see going in there right now and annexing them and making them pay 100% of the city taxes and maybe forcing them out of business or going to court and not doing anything. What we did—the industrial district came about and they all signed except one group. They were taken to court, and they finally signed.
LM: Was there much pressure from industry on your other members?
JG: Well, pressure to this extent—the attorneys representing them would come by and see us. In fact, one attorney who was also attorney for the corporation that I was an officer in—our own private company that we had at the time—came to see me, and he’s a good friend and a guy that I love and respect and everything, but I wore another hat and I just said, “I can’t go with it. I just can’t go this route.” He didn’t say, “Well, look, we’re—.” He’s an intelligent man, and a highly respected man in the community, and he didn’t say, “Well, look, hell, I’m your attorney for your company, God damn.” Nothing like that—he did nothing like that. He came to me as a councilman. I responded as a councilman, and then our other private business never entered into it, but there was—I say pressure. There was no pressure other than contact by attorneys representing the industries. That’s done all the time.
LM: I was just wondering if there was a concerted effort to organize a campaign to—?
JG: (61:22) No, but they did this. They did this. They contacted all councilmen and when they left—and I’m quoting from one of the newspapers because they wrote the story up the next day. One of the men who left the meeting said, “What happened? I thought we had five votes.” The reporter who wrote the story, said, “What five votes did you think you had?” The man turned red and walked away. He was one of the attorneys, but apparently they had been talking to some of the councilmen about not having a tougher standard in the city than you would in the state. Of course, they didn’t win on that point. They tried, but they didn’t win.
LM: What type of cooperation did the city receive from the county or have they received?
JG: Now, let’s talk about one man, in particular, and that’s Dr. Quebedeaux who is the Harris County Pollution Control director. Dr. Quebedeaux—and I’ve said this publicly, so if he ever hears this he will know what I’m saying—Dr. Quebedeaux is a guy that a lot of people disliked. They think he runs rough shod and does a poor job of maybe public relations and that type of thing. I used to—when Dr. Quebedeaux would come to the city council and tell us that we were polluting a body of water—and the city is the great polluter in the county, as you know—I would take the attitude that what’s this meddlesome guy coming over here for? What business is it of his? I took that attitude, and I think most of us did. I took it for a long time. I said, “That damn troublemaker, son of a bitch is coming over again. Why doesn’t he stay at the county?”
Then all of a sudden, it dawned on me—you know—I got interested watching and looking—that this guy is just trying to make the air better for all of us. I got to listening to him, and I’ve told him everything I’ve told you on tape here, I’ve told him to his face. Like I told him at a banquet one night that they were honoring him, and I said that I felt this way about him, but I have to say that the man opened my eyes to the subject that we didn’t have clean air. As far as the help from the county, I would say through Dr. Quebedeaux making some of us aware, me in particular, that there is a problem with pollution that we had some cooperation.
Let me go a little further, and I’d like for you to try this, Lewis, sometime. If you see something—and this is one of my real pet peeves—probably you don’t even have it written down—but the Harris County takes in about 80% of all their income from those of us who live within the proper limits of the city of Houston. I defy you to call on a weekend if there’s a pollution problem or you smell something bad or you see some smoke, to the county pollution office. They’re listed it the paper—and say there’s a terrible smell out here. “Where do you live?” You give them the address and they’ll say, “Is it in the city or county?”
Now, I’ve done this when I couldn’t get our city people on the phone on a weekend. It’s only because they were out, because we do have them around the clock. I’d say, “I live in the county. I live in Houston.” “Oh, well, you’ll have to call the Houston.” He’s a young guy over there, so you can’t argue with him. I said, “But I thought Houston was in Harris County?” He said, “Well, no, but you have a pollution control director.” Now, if you lived in Bellaire or you lived in Tomball or Hufsmith or La Porte, they would take your call, or if you lived outside of any incorporated area they would take your call and do something.
(66:01) I say the city of Houston is getting took by Harris County because we’re not—and this is off on another subject, but I want to talk about it anyway before I forget it—and that is the fact that—as I said earlier—that the county takes in 80% of all of their income from the corporate limits of the city of Houston. How much of that money is ever spent back in the corporate limits of Houston? They’ll spend it in Bellaire where the signs say, “Lower taxes, live in Bellaire. Lower taxes than in West University Place. Live in West University Place and lower taxes.”
What I’m saying is that we in Houston, Texas, subsidize many of the streets and sewers and so forth that the county spends to extend say, a street through a village. Houston gets to the village, and the village doesn’t have any money. Houston owns past the village. Houston can do it, but Houston doesn’t go in and spend their own money, so they might hold up a project. Here we go, we got a nice long, wide street going this way, and then it comes down to this, and then it gets wide on out, so the county won’t buy just the standoffish deal. They’ll come in and pay for this, and so I think these are unfair as hell. I don’t know what we’re ever going to be able to do about it other than needle and hopefully ask the legislature to try to get some county revenue funds.
LM: This brings me to a question I was going to ask you a little later, but I think it would be appropriate now. In the past, you’ve indicated some form of metropolitan government.
JG: No, I really haven’t.
JG: I have advocated the—and I think it will come to that. I think eventually some day in the distant future it will come to that—but I’ve advocated that many of our duplicating services be joined together. Number one, for instance, is this tax. We duplicate to that service. The county generally takes our rendition of what the city has and so forth, but there would be no reason why we could not—there’s one, in particular, I think the tax department can be joined together and the county and the city. Maybe the city could render the taxes. The county could collect them or vice versa, so there wouldn’t be a duplication.
(69:05) There’s also a duplication in I think the police that might come about some day. I don’t know when, but it makes sense that Houston is getting so big that there could be a consolidation of the two, and perhaps in the pollution control department, because pollution knows no bounds at all. It doesn’t stop at a county line or a certain man’s district. It goes where it wants to go. I think some of these things could come about, and I think rightly they should, but the impetus must come from somebody other than the county commissioners or the city council, because who is going to say how it is setup and who is going to run it. You got a lot of problems. Each has their own pet little deal going for them, and I think it’s going to have to come from a group of citizens who say this is what we need, and be strong enough to get whatever the necessary means to implement it.
LM: You have no definite plan in mind for that?
JG: We’ve talked about it, but it’s not gotten off the ground.
LM: Is there more opposition from the county than from the city?
JG: Lewis, I’ve only talked about it and advocated it, but where do you go as a councilman? You have to get a resolution going, and then you hope somebody outside of either entity says, “That’s a great idea. The chamber of commerce will sponsor this. We think it’s great,” but nobody’s really come forward and said, “Hey, let’s get on with it.” It hasn’t been that big of a problem, apparently. Things are done because of hurt, I’d say. If you’re hurting, somebody hurts you, and then you’re motivated to do something. Well, nobody is being hurt. You can say, “Well, the taxpayers could save a lot of money,” but that’s not a motivation. If you’re going to say that it’s going to cost you more money, that’s a motivation, but if they say that they can save you, it’s not a motivation.
LM: Discussing taxes on businesses and industry when preparing for the research on the interview, I noted that there had been criticisms in the past that many of the businesses in Houston were not being taxed, or if they were, it was so minute that it was insignificant. What can be done about this? Is this fair?
JG: Well, you can hear criticism a lot, but the best thing to do is make it known to a public official and find out. For instance, if XYZ corporation is paying x number of dollars in taxes, and his next door neighbor, some other corporation, ABC corporation, is paying less, and they’re the same size building and so forth, there ought to be an answer. I think that whoever brings that up ought to go to the tax department and check it out.
(72:30) For instance, I’ve sat on the tax board of equalization every other year for many years. We hear this. We hear this. A person comes in and says, “My taxes are x number of dollars, but my neighbor down the street, I understand, is only paying x number of dollars.” We said, “You neighbor down the street—it’s a public record. Let’s find out.” We’ll bring the file in and say, “Yes, as the case might be, they are paying x number of dollars. They’re paying less than you.” “Well, I don’t see why. They’ve got the same type of house and everything, so let’s check the house.” It might be they have 300, 250 square feet less than their neighbor. Well, it looked like the same type of house, and based on that they are paying less, you see.
There’s an answer to these things, and I’m not saying that the answer is always in favor of the city. Sometimes the city—the city is not like the pope. The city is not infallible. We make mistakes, we individually and we collectively and the city as a department, just like any corporation. No one is immune from goofing up, making a mistake or two. The mistake you make is when you say that you never made a mistake. I make a lot of them. I’m probably making one right here talking to you on tape, but that would come out later. (laughs)
Whenever anyone says that they are paying more than the other guy, it’s all public record. They can go down to the tax department and find out exactly what the other guy is paying. If there is a discrepancy, one of two things will happen. The city will say, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” and boost the taxes up on the other guy, or drop them down. It could be a mistake either way, if there is—in fact—a mistake. In many cases, there might not be a mistake. They just think that they’ve got the same size industry or the same size house. They might find that they don’t.
LM: It used to be past policy, according to critics again, that the city used low tax assessments on industry to attract them to the city as a means to bring them here, better jobs, more jobs, and so on. Is this a policy now?
JG: (75:01) I don’t think. I don’t know when that was a policy other than in the industrial district concept. I don’t know how they judge industry as far as taxes are concerned, but I do know that if an industry that’s been here 20 years and they’re paying on the basis of something else and a new industry comes in, that industry would not be given a tax-free ride just because they’re coming in because they cannot do it by law. Taxes must be equal in the eyes of the person rendering that service to the city, and that is the tax assessor who goes out and looks at it.
LM: Are we likely to see any relief for small homeowners and property owners in the tax assessment department?
JG: No, because again, you would have by state law, you would be violating a state law. If you said that everybody under $5,000 a year income don’t have to pay any taxes on their house. Everybody under $10,000 only pays x number of dollars. You can’t do that. It has to be based on what is called fair market. Fair market means that you have a piece of land and a house, what a willing buyer would buy from you, a willing seller. Not if you’re hurting and have to get out of town and so you’ll sell for x number of dollars, which might be $3,000 less than the real value. Just because a person picked up a bargain, his taxes would not be based on that bargain but would be based on the higher level of fair market based on other sales in the area. If you pay the premium for it, like Ken Schnitzer paid a half a million dollars for one house in his Greenway Plaza area because he had to have that one outstanding house. He paid a half a million dollars for a 6,500 and 35-foot piece of land with a $20,000 house on it. Well, now you wouldn’t tax him a half a million dollars on that piece of land, because that’s not fair market. He was buying under duress. He had to have that, so he paid a premium for it.
LM: I’d like to talk to you for a few moments about the recent bus strike. How well did the mayor handle that situation?
JG: I think that he handled it the only way that any mayor could’ve handled it. You had a situation where by law the city could not get involved, because we have a contract. When we bought the bus company, the city has a contract, but the city honored the contract that was in existence with the bus drivers’ union. If the mayor injected himself into it, it was strictly management as the bus company and labor, the union. By law the mayor couldn’t even call him to his office, as he might have done and as I did when I was mayor pro temp and Mayor Welch was out of the country.
We had an impending bus strike, but that was before the city ownership was involved. It was private industry, and I called them in the office not to tell them what to do, but to get them to talk to each other. The mayor couldn’t even do that now because it’s a different setup, because the city owns the buses and the city could not do it under law. It was really a—and I don’t think people really understand this. I think Mayor Prep has gotten some criticism about it, and it’s unjustified because any man sitting in that chair did—Johnny Goyan, Dick Gutley or Mayor Hofheinz, they had to react the same way.
LM: What about plans for a mass transient system? Is that likely to become a reality in the near future?
JG: (79:48) It’s going to have to, Lewis, but I don’t think it’s going to come about as fast as most of us would like, and let me tell you why I say that. Naturally, I’m glad this is not going to be—because it’s just defeating the purpose for which we’re working. Again, I go back to the motivation of people. What is the motivation to vote? Most people vote because they’re mad and they want to vote against somebody. They don’t vote because Johnny is a good guy and we got to vote for ‘ol Johnny. If it’s a pretty day, “Oh, Johnny will get in. Oh, Johnny has been there awhile. He’s a good man. Let’s go fishing.” If they hate ‘ol Johnny, they’re going to go and they’re going to vote against somebody.
The same way in mass transient, in my opinion, and that is that the time you’re really going to have mass transient people involved in it is a time when it’s going to take them an hour and a half to get home. It’s going to be hot and their cars are going to spew and they’re going to have to be pushed off the side of the road. That’s when you’re going to get people motivated and what it’s going to mean is it’s going to mean that the guy that’s in office, they’ll probably vote the bastard out because he hasn’t done anything about it, you see? But he hasn’t had the people’s vote to get it done.
I think that the fact that we’ve got enough freeways now to get us home and in a reasonable amount of time and we have a lot of easterners move in who are used to driving for an hour and a half to get home. If they get clogged up on the southwest freeway a couple of days a week, they’re not going to get acclimated to our system because they’re still acclimated to their old system. They’re going to say, “Man, this is great.” Well, those of us who are native Houstonians and are bitching and moaning and, “Boy, what service. That was held up today.” We’re not really motivated to do something until we are hit like the people up in the east are, just bumper to bumper to bumper, and being inconvenienced to the point that well, we’re going to do something even if it costs us money. I don’t think we’re at that point yet.
LM: The rising gasoline prices may be the—?
JG: It could because, again, that would hurt, you hurt. That would hurt. That would make people mad. That would make people conscious of our problems. If we go along paying under 50 cents a gallon, and having a few inconveniences and then the heart of the deal comes up again or whatever they might bring up, and you get some ads in the paper about people who are against it saying, “We can’t have this.” People are prone to say, “Well, the status quo is all right. Let’s don’t take on anything new. Let’s just see what happens.” They’re going to see what happens, until they’re inconvenienced.
(82:54) The best time to vote for flood control bond issue is not on a sunny day. It’s when they have to swim to the polls. That’s the best time. If you ever have a flood control bond issue on the ballot during the rainy season, you got it made. If you have it during the dry season, you don’t have it made. I’m as guilty as the next guy. We put off getting our taxes together unless we’re going to get a refund and then we work like hell to get it in because you want to get the refund. Otherwise, we drag our feet and think of other things that have to be done. We’re all guilty. I’m not saying that—I’m putting myself in the category of being a human being. We’re all that way. That mass transient is something that we got to have, but we have to be inconvenienced to want it, in my opinion.
LM: I’d like to turn attention now to developments in the fire department. They’re pushing for a collective bargaining ordinance. Will this hurt the city in any way, or will it benefit?
JG: You bet it will hurt the city, in my opinion, again. It will hurt the city bad. I think the recent situation you’ve had up east in cities that do have collective bargaining, and it’s easy to say, “Well, there’s no strike. You can’t strike. There won’t be any strikes,” but we had a strike here recently. We had a strike in the city of Houston in the fire department. Now, they can call it any damn thing they want to call it, but when a group of men get together and say, “By God, we’re just going to be sick today,” that’s a strike. We’d have a strike on the city council if we just decided none of us would come up here. It would be a strike, and we’d get probably more publicity than the fireman did on their sick-out.
I think it’s the worst thing in the world to have—and I’m speaking as a city councilman and as a citizen of Houston—to have collective bargaining for any group of city employees, and because every 2 years we have an election. If the public or the fire department or the police department or any department don’t like the way we’re operating, then every 2 years they can say, “Hey, let’s get rid of that guy,” but they’ve had good communication. You notice the police department is not asking for collective bargaining. It’s the fire department.
I think that comes about because the fire department—and I’m not knocking the fire department when I say this. I’m stating what I think to be a fact. The firemen and the ambulance division, when you want a fire put out, they’re the greatest guys in the world, but there’s not as many fires as there are crimes. The firemen sit around and wait for a fire. You don’t go start a fire to put it out. You wait. While they’re waiting around—and firemen have told me this—they’re sitting around and they’re bitching.
(85:04) Why, I was in the service in World War II. Why did they keep us busy? When we weren’t doing something, they had us picking up cigarette butts or policing the area, picking up little straws, anything and it used to make us mad. “God damn, why are they—or you’d be sleeping.” We didn’t get together and bitch. We bitched while we were doing something. I say—the fire department tells me because they don’t have anything to do during the day and they’re sitting around and they’re idle. They’re bitching.
Kids do it in school. They get around bitching. If enough of them bitch, they take off with the school, and what do they do with it when they get it? Like a dog catching a car, what is he going to do with it when he catches it? I think that’s one of the problems with the fire versus the police, because the police are scattered and they’re moving. They got two in a car, and they’re moving. They don’t have six or seven or eight of them sitting around and waiting for something to happen and bitching about how bad things are.
LM: Could it be also that the fire department is more unionized?
JG: Oh, sure.
LM: In other words, is this just merely a local episode, or is this—?
JG: (87:29) No, it’s a pattern throughout the nation, where firemen have more time on their hands and when you have time on your hands you can unite a lot easier than if you don’t have that time on your hands, very easy. It’s much easier in the fire department to go talk to eight or nine people collectively in an area, in a station, than it is to go talk to the policemen because the policemen are gone. They’re not sitting around waiting for crime. They go out and look for it. We might have to get the firemen to go out and look for fires because you can’t do that. It’s just the makeup of the department.