"The Chamber of Commerce doesn't
mind organization at the local level if
it's involved with things like beautifi-
cation," says Cortes, who feels that the
Chamber is the city's 'Shadow Government.' "But it doesn't want neighborhoods to get together to ask questions
about flooding or what kind of police
department the city has."
TMO, which operates at a budget of
$100,000 annually, is organized into
nine clusters in different geographical
areas of the city. An executive committee
composed of members from each cluster
is the group's decision-making body. All
decisions are made by TMO members
with the staff advising and providing the
organizational footwork. Most churches
joined the coalition as part of their
church development programs to expand
congregations and develop church leadership.
At TMO, emphasis is placed on
"natural leaders"-PTA presidents,
teachers, or neighborhood leaders. "I
have personally learned to articulate
my thoughts better," says Helen Coogan,
a member of St. Theresa's Church off
Memorial Drive who led a successful
TMO drive to clean up a Weingarten's
store on Washington Dr. "We used to shy
away from dealing directly with authorities or would work through a friend of
a friend. We're not dealing that way
"It's hard to get people to accept
the fact that they know as much as elected officials do," explains Cortes. "They
tend to see people in power as authority.
If they disapprove of things, they think
the official is right."
In its community education, TMO uses
two intertwined methods. Weekly scriptural study workshops taught by the
staff are based on the Biblical writings
of St. Paul, St. Matthew and Corinthians which emphasize reaching out and
helping people. The second are workshops about specific community topics
which concern residents, like the Hardy
A recent workshop on Houston's
Community Development Program provided a history of the federal program,
Houston's success in implementing it,
examples of how the program has worked
elsewhere, and what area residents could
do to make it more effective for them.
"What do you want to do about Community Development? It's up to you,"
says Cortes to a group of about 20
TMO members meeting at St. Peter
Claver Church in northeast Houston's
Settegast area. The concensus was to
form a Community Development task
Once a task force is underway, it calls
public meetings with area officials who
have jurisdiction over the subject, whether flood control, police protection or
chemical pollution. The task force
develops a list of the most pertinent
questions related to the issue for their
Beatrice Quintero lays it on the line.
area, prints a meeting agenda for participants, and proceeds to formally ask the
officials the questions one by one.
"We have only a certain amount of
time to get the information," says
Zukero. "We can't waste time with super-
The crisp business-like format of TMO
meetings, which always end as promptly
on schedule as they begin, is part of the
accountability aspect of their efforts.
For instance, the group is never publicly
on first name basis with politicians even
if they're as closely allied with TMO as
City Councilman Dale Gorczynski who
has participated in IAF training.
"We want to establish respect for
boundaries," says Cortes. "Public officials often try to destroy boundaries. They
ask people to trust them, to consider
them friends, so that they don't have to
answer anything too specific or put anything in writing. Informality violates
The TMO staff also sometimes recommends that members watch newspaper
reporters on Meet the Press to perfect
persistence in asking questions.
As effective as TMO is becoming,
both staff and members insist that they
want no political power in and of itself,
but for the betterment of Houston as a
place to live. Unlike San Antonio's COPS
program, Houston's TMO is multi-racial
and multi-denominational with leaders
from Protestant and Jewish congregations as well as Roman Catholic churches.
As a result of the cluster strategy, church
members are traveling around the city
to attend meetings in neighborhoods
they've never seen or heard of before.
"It's almost like TMO is tying the
city together," says Zukero, who traveled recently into the Fifth Ward to attend a meeting at St. Ambrose Church.
Almost all TMO 'members say the
strength of TMO lies in its formation
within the churches. "We will all come
and go," says Zukero, "but the churches
and communities will stay."
The church base of TMO also affords
a defense against criticism as being self-
serving. Its roots lie with Houston citizens who have a deep historical commitment to improving humankind's lot in
life. And Houston, even with its growing non-commital urbanity, comprises
much of its identity from religious virtue,
fundamental and otherwise. TMO is
simply taking care of the city's own.
UPDATE: On August 26th, Harris
County's Commissioners Court convened
again and voted to support the study for
the Hardy Toll Road. The reversal came
about after Judge Jon Lindsay, absent
during the first vote, issued a release
endorsing completion of the toll road
study. Also on the agenda for that
meeting were four requests from the
county engineers office for authorization to begin negotiations with engineers concerning widening of the Hardy
Street right of way off FM 1960, preliminary roadway plans for grade separation along Hardy Street, road tests for
Old Hummel Road which runs parallel to
Hardy, an authorization for Southern
Bell to install buried cable lines along
City Councilman Dale Gorczynski
said the court changed its mind after
"being heavily pressured by highway
people and Chamber of Commerce
people. Studies have a way of becoming
reality very soon," said Gorcynski. "This
is a thinly veiled attempt to breathe life
into a dead corpse."
Brian McCann of the TMO Hardy Toll
Road Task Force said that "commissioners owed the public an explanation
of why they switched their vote."
Lindsay retaliated by saying that the
TMO was using the issue "to the detriment of the entire community for their
own political gain. It's narrow-minded
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