Interviews

MARK SLOAN

Mark Sloan is the Emergency Management Coordinator for the Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, appointed to the position by County Judge Ed Emmett in July 2008. He is also the Director of the Harris County Citizen Corps, an innovative and award-winning citizen preparedness initiative. During the Hurricane Katrina relief effort at the Astrodome, Mark was assigned to the Unified Command to coordinate the volunteers who helped over 65,000 evacuees from New Orleans. He was soon after recognized for his efforts by ABC World News as “Person of the Week.” He began with Harris County in 2002 as the Homeland Security Special Projects Manager.


HOUSTON WOMAN: What are the responsibilities of your office?

MARK SLOAN: Our office is responsible for the planning and preparation for various hazards, risks and threats that we have throughout Harris County. It’s also responsible for the preparedness measures for public awareness as well as … coordination of the response to any of those potential risks and threats.

HW: What is your office’s role in hurricane preparedness?

SLOAN: Our primary role in hurricane preparedness is to make sure that our partner agencies understand their roles and their responsibilities … that we cover our primary focus of life safety – not only that of the responders but of the general public as well...to build relationships and partnerships with the 34 cities within Harris County and the literally 100-plus different law enforcement agencies and 54 fire departments … and the four-plus million residents that reside here, to make sure they understand their roles in surviving whatever the Gulf may bring our way.

HW: What can we expect this hurricane season and are there any special preparations now underway?

SLOAN: I would say there are no special preparations that are taking place. There are many predictions that go on throughout the year. People might say there will be 30 storms, or five. It doesn’t matter to us. What’s most important is that we’re prepared.

It’s the one storm that impacts us. I’ll challenge people to name the storm before (Hurricane) Ike or after Ike. Tell me the storm that happened after Rita. No one really cares. It’s the one that impacts us that we have personalized, that we have to be prepared for.

They say it’s going to be a busy season. Every season is a busy season in the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. As the public reads this, I think it’s important that they are prepared for that one storm. It doesn’t matter if it starts with A or with W. If it hits us, we want everyone to survive.

HW: What makes your job challenging?

SLOAN: What makes my job exciting is the people that work in our office … they’re truly dedicated to make sure that plans are in place and the partnerships exist to be able to make our community a model for the nation.

The best way to describe the activity (of the office) would be to take your favorite sports team. You watch them practice and play and they make it to the playoffs ... That’s what we plan for; that’s what we prepare for. There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation … it’s how you manage stress and the game. So it’s at that level that we plan and prepare, exercise and drill with our partners. So when that disaster is imminent, we are at the highest level we can possibly be. That is what our response agencies demand of us, it’s what our elected officials expect of us, but most importantly, it’s what the public deserves.

HW: How did Hurricane Ike two years ago affect your approach to storm related preparations and response?

SLOAN: Every storm always makes us look at what we accomplished and what we can do better … what are we doing before, how do we make the public more aware, how well did they react to the situation. And did they understand the risks and threats to their own lives and property, and did they take appropriate actions?

And if our messages are good, how do we become better at it? How do we work with a very diverse community in which we live? Harris County and our region has numerous languages; dealing with our special needs populations … how do we make sure that we reach out to four million people on a regular basis so they understand those potential risks? What is it we’re doing afterwards in the recovery process? How do we improve our communications not only locally, but also with the state and our Federal partners?

So it’s an ongoing process… We’ll never have another Hurricane Ike or Tropical Storm Alison. Will we have the same type of effects or impacts? Sure. But it’s always different and we have to learn and adapt to those situations.

HW: What are some of the lessons learned from Hurricane Ike?

SLOAN: Some of the lessons include being able to communicate quickly and effectively to our partners.

As Hurricane Ike was approaching us, it was constantly changing directions and each direction change caused a reaction. It’s the ability to stay out in front of things, looking at how the phased evacuation took place, yes we moved a great deal out of harm’s way, out of the surge zone. But our window of opportunity quickly closed as the storm was changing its course and made us reevaluate some of the timelines that we need to make.

It also gave us an opportunity to review the impacts of what we saw during Hurricane Rita and contra-flow, and not having it implemented soon enough and causing traffic backups, and did we need it during Hurricane Ike? Because the public reacted quickly and effectively, contra-flow was not needed...

HW: What can Houstonians do to prepare for hurricanes?

SLOAN: First and foremost is staying informed; making sure you understand what our risks and threats are. Knowing where you live and knowing whether or not you need to evacuate from the surge zone or just hunker down. And if you are evacuating, what do I need to take with me? What are the pertinent items such as medications, copies of insurance or titles? Things that we don’t always think about, because we’ll grab snacks and food.

Making sure we have preparations for a pet, and this goes for those who decide to stay. Non-perishable foods. What am I going to do without power for seven to fourteen days, as we saw during Hurricane Ike, or longer…?

The important part of being prepared is first and foremost understanding the risks and the threats and realizing they are real, and as a resident of our community, that you have a responsibility to take care of yourself, your family and your property. If you do those simple things, we’ll all survive the event.

SUSAN BULKELEY BUTLER

Susan Bulkeley Butler is the founder and CEO of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders and the author of two books, “Become the CEO of You” and “Women Count.” She was hired as the first woman professional at Arthur Andersen in 1965, and in 1979 went on to be named the first woman partner at the firm (subsequently known as Andersen Consulting and is now Accenture).

HOUSTON WOMAN: Please tell our readers a bit about your book, “Women Count.”

SUSAN BULKELEY BUTLER: “Women Count” is a call to action for all women.  It is my manifesto for breaking down the last barriers women have in business and society. My purpose is to have women join the conversation, find their passion and  realize the ways, through the eyes of others, they can make the world a better place for themselves and other women (and men).  I believe I am bringing other authors’ voices together with my passion to present how we women have gotten to where we are today, how we need to work together to bring “equality in sight” in this next decade and, by doing this, how we can make the world a better place for everyone.  And, provide an approach for making this change happen. 

HW: The subtitle of your book, “Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World,” is a bold one. What changes are you suggesting?

BUTLER: August 26, 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the right to vote for women, my vision is a world where women’s skills, strengths and experiences  are more important than ever before. Women and men are partners in changing the world. Ideally, we see significant movement toward “all people are created equal.”   

HW: Where do we most need to see change happen? 

BUTLER: Change needs to happen in two ways — from the top-down and from the bottom-up of an organization. Leaders need to strive to have the most qualified people on their teams, which include both women and men, in nearly equal percentages.  For instance, when I ask someone about the percentage of women in their organizations they may well say, over 51 percent.

Then, when I ask about women in senior leadership positions, it is usually a very small percentage of the team, maybe only one woman. And if there are women (in those positions), they are usually in human resources, marketing and finance. Women, as well as men, need to be groomed to be leaders at all levels, including at the very top leadership positions.

HW: What are the first steps to increase the numbers?

BUTLER: The first step is to begin the conversation.  We need to get women excited about making change happen and to believe  they can do it. I ask women, “If you would change the world what would you do?” The passion of the young women who started Campus Mentors for Kids was to change the world for under-represented children. They started this organization to get young children excited about going to college, and then help them figure out how to get into college. Lives of “zillions” of people are being changed by this program. Second, women need to do more to get more women to the top of organizations. We need to support one another, develop and promote women on our own teams, be their advocates and help them get the visibility they need to become leaders. We need to fill the pipe-line of qualified women partnering with men to change the world to be a better place. We need to be woven into the fabric and culture of every organization. And, it starts with us filling the pipeline to the top.
 

HW: Why is now a good time to begin this change?

BUTLER: There is really no better time than now. Women make up nearly 50 percent of the workforce and are in 18 percent of the top leadership positions. More than 50 percent of the col-lege graduates  are women who have undergraduate and graduate degrees. Women are making 95 percent of the financial decisions, and four out of 10 moms are the primary breadwinner.

Leadership opportunities are growing every day. Men are becoming more involved with their families, and women have more freedom to pursue their interests in careers, public service, philanthropy and many other areas.Conversations over the past two years have included this question:  “Would we be in the current economic situation if there had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters, instead of just Lehman Brotherers?  One answer is that with more “sisters,” we would have reduced the corrosive gambling culture that dominated the trading room. It has been reported that with more women leaders, businesses would be less ego-driven, more responsible and more cautious. Women are better communicators, better listeners and [generally] better consensus-builders. The decisions...made would be different.

HW: How can women who are not in the workforce help bring about global equality?

BUTLER: All women need to be engaged in the “Decade for Women,”  to further enhance equality for women. This is not only for  women in business, public service or philanthropy, but for all of us. [We need] to ensure our daughters and granddaughters have the same opportunities as anybody else. Some would say the women of today are completing what Susan B. Anthony and the National Woman’s Suffrage Association thought they were getting when women got the right to vote — equality for all women.

HW: What do you mean when you say this is the “Decade for Women?”

BUTLER: Beginning with the launch of “Women Count”  on August 26, 2010, conversations will begin…conversations with men and women who will change the world.  People will see the impact of women on themselves and on other women — hopefully around the world.  This is the decade when women will continue to “on purpose”  make change happen for themselves, for their communities and for their daughters and granddaughters. 

JUDGE JAY KARAHAN

Judge Jay Karahan

 

Judge Jay Karahan is in his second term as judge of Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law No. 8, one of 15 county criminal courts with county-wide jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases like driving while intoxicated (DWI), certain family violence offenses, possession of drugs, theft, etc. with a one-year confinement maximum penalty.

Houston Woman: What sentences can you impose for those convicted in your court?

Judge Jay Karahan: Most sentences are plea bargained between the defendant and the state. Many first offenders receive probated sentences, also called community supervision. Some defendants elect not to accept probation offers and accept jail and/or fine sentences. A straight probation results in a final conviction; deferred adjudication probation, if successfully completed, results in the dismissal of the charge. Recently, the DA’s Office began offering pre-trial       diversion probations in certain cases (assault and weapons cases are excluded) involving first-time offenders without criminal histories. If they are successful, their cases are dismissed and can be expunged. Community supervision is a useful disposition track for those defendants who have the potential and desire to learn from their mistakes and find new ways of making better life choices.  They are required to work, support dependents, complete their education and undergo substance abuse, alcohol, consumer credit and anger counseling as the case requires. Many repeat offenders are typically given jail sentences and fines. The court can also suspend driver’s licenses after DWI, drug possession and highway racing convictions.

HW: Tell us about the family violence cases filed in your court. 

Judge Karahan: Several sessions ago, the Texas Legislature recognized that violence between family members was increasing and that our justice system could address family violence by charging the defendant with more than a standard assault. A person commits the offense of assault if he/she intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another.

“Bodily injury” is defined as physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition. This is a Class A misdemeanor with a one-year maximum jail sentence. If the case presents “serious bodily injury” - bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, felony aggravated assault can be charged and prosecuted in the district courts and, upon conviction, sentenced up to life imprisonment.

The Texas Legislature defines “family members” broadly and includes spouses, persons living together in a household, people in dating relationships, roommates and other family relationships like siblings, parents, children and collateral relatives. The DA can charge either a standard assault or family violence assault in any of these situations. However, if the DA files the family violence assault charge and the defendant is either convicted or placed on probation, there are collateral consequences.  

For example, if the defendant was previously convicted or received deferred adjudication for assault-family violence, the charge is a 3rd degree felony carrying 2-10 years in prison or probation of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
 
Last year, in response to an increase in choking and attempted strangulation cases, the Texas Legislature amended the assault statutes to provide increased penalties for defendants convicted of “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by blocking the person’s nose or mouth.” This now is a 3rd degree felony carrying 2-10 years in prison or up to 10 years probation and a maximum fine of $10,000. If the current family member victim alleges strangling, and any previous family violence conviction exists, then the offense is a 2nd degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison or 10 years probation and a maximum $10,000 fine.

HW: Can the courts do anything to protect complainants while the case is pending?

Judge Karahan: Yes. On motion of the state and a factual basis, a county criminal court-at-law or district court judge can enter Emergency Protective Orders to bar the accused from making threats directly or through third parties, going near the residence or place of employment of protected individuals and/or their children and their schools, stalking the protected individual and possessing firearms - unless the accused is a peace officer whose employment requires use of a firearm. This is a temporary order lasting 61 days. A violation of that order is chargeable as a new Class A misdemeanor offense with up to a one-year jail sentence upon conviction.  

HW: What conditions can you set after placing a defendant on probation for a misdemeanor family assault?

Judge Karahan: In nearly every case, the probationer must complete a batterer’s intervention program that includes anger management counseling. If the defendant and complainant are still in relationship, the court may require family counseling and/or parenting classes. Other standard conditions are a $100 fee paid to Family Violence Services, community service, drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation and, if the parties are no longer in relationship, no-contact conditions. In some cases, up to 30 days confinement may be required.

HW: How have the courts evolved in addressing family violence since you’ve been practicing law?

Judge Karahan: In 1980, I was a law school intern in the DA’s Office where I worked at the citizen’s complaint desk. Some complainants would file charges at the complaint desk and later come back to request dismissal of charges. The courts often dismissed these charges on state’s motion after complainants signed non-prosecution affidavits. Many of these same complainants returned later to file new assault charges against the same offender, and in some cases, complainants were unable to return due to hospitalization or worse. Since then, victims’ advocates have lobbied lawmakers and raised community awareness. Those efforts resulted in formation of specialized prosecution divisions and additional community support through women’s/family shelters. Today, law enforcement is more prone to arrest and charge a person accused of family violence when it is apparent to the officer that an offense was likely committed — and the courts are seeing more of these cases through to final disposition.  Today, because of recent appellate opinions, a complainant’s decision to drop the case is not necessarily a bar to successful prosecution. In those cases, the court can receive into evidence certain statements made during 911 calls and initial police interventions without the complainant’s appearance in court. The courts’ goal is to provide a fair place to try these cases to verdict, impose jail sentences when warranted and to provide effective supervision and rehabilitation of defendants who were otherwise convicted and placed into community supervision.

TONI LAWRENCE

Toni Lawrence 

 

Toni Lawrence has just completed her third and final term as a member of the Houston City Council, representing District A. She was honored in January with the Paul Hilbert Award by the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce and as Citizen of the Year by the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce. Recently, we chatted with Lawrence about her work on City Council, what she’s doing now and her plans for the future.

 

HOUSTON WOMAN: What motivated your first run for City Council?

TONI LAWRENCE: I never really planned to run for an office as I enjoyed working behind the scenes and getting good people elected to national, state and local offices...I was born in Houston and have lived in northwest Houston all of my life. I love this great city and was passionate about improving the quality of life for neighborhoods and businesses. Tough issues, such as flooding, business incentives, tax cuts and streamlining the permitting process for developers, needed to be prioritized. After looking at the candidates who had declared to run for the District A seat in 2003, many constituents asked me to run...they felt I was better qualified with my business and neighborhood background. After talking with my family and realizing the needs, I declared my candidacy. In 2003, I was elected District A council member without a run-off.

HW: Did you take office with a list of ‘wanna dos’ or high-priority agenda items?”

LAWRENCE: I remember meeting with Mayor White before our swearing in ceremony and presenting him with a single- spaced, double-column, two- page list of specific items I felt needed to be changed for city government to continue to grow and prosper. Every one of those items was accomplished in my six years due to outstanding directors and a “can do” attitude of city employees.

HW: Looking back at your service on Council, what are you most proud of? 

LAWRENCE: With Houston being a non-zone city it is sometimes hard to get developers, businesses and neighborhoods to work together. In order to have a thriving community, working together has to happen to have good schools and a community that everyone is proud to live in. Leading the charge to get businesses to help purchase park land and improving the present parks has made a big difference in many areas of District A.  Better and new park space have brought home owners back to the District and cut crime.I am proud of the Flooding Ordinance that was passed and yet more still needs to be considered to help protect existing businesses and neighborhoods equally.Ordinances like the Multi-family, Open Space/Green Space, Massage Parlor, Dumpster Screening, Game Rooms, Dangerous Dog, Historical Preservation, Convenience Store, Alley Ordinance, Itinerant Vendor, Parking in Yards and Large Vehicle Parking Limits in Residential Neighborhood Ordinances stand out the most in creating better places to live and work. 

HW: Which goal of yours wasn’t reached during your years on City Council that you wish had been? 

LAWRENCE: There are three areas of city government I wish had been prioritized differently.
   1) I wish the City of Houston and Harris County had been able to partner more on issues.       Improvements were made over past administrations but more needs to be accomplished in this area for better government regionally. I hope the next administration will continue to look at possibilities such as a regional Crime Lab, more regional flood planning, and sharing of resources, such as libraries, law enforcement and parks.
   2) I was disappointed that 287g, a recognized federal immigration jail policy, successful in Harris County, was not incorporated in the City of Houston’s immigration policies. We have to know if there are people living in Houston who have committed heinous crimes in other countries.
   3) Due to court decisions and working with small businesses throughout our city, I was hoping that our MWBE Program would have evolved into a Small Business Office to help all small businesses succeed. 

HW: What was the biggest lesson you had to learn when you first took office?

LAWRENCE: Getting to know 3,000+ employees and their capabilities was very challenging. Then, communicating how the neighborhood or business perceived the work to be done was also challenging. The truism,“Be careful what you wish for, for it may come true,” had to be dealt with when roads were torn up and entrances changed.

HW: Was it difficult to be in the public eye all the time? Did it affect your family?


LAWRENCE: My parents taught me to always be thoughtful of others and your actions speak louder than your words. Your name is something very precious, be sure that it is as good when you come home as it was when you left. Having a life in the public eye never really affected me. I think you should always act in a Christian way and treat people as you would want to be treated.

HW: Any advice for other women who try to juggle the responsibilities of family and a very demanding job?

LAWRENCE: Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” We are all very busy...juggling acts are the way of life for busy people. We have to always trust our passion and heart and have confidence that things will work out for the best — even if they aren’t what we envisioned. Failure has a purpose in our life’s plan, but we should never give up! 

HW: Do you think you would like to once again seek public office?

LAWRENCE: I have learned to never say “never,” but this last month has been very rewarding getting back to working with various 501(C)3 charities. The rodeo is only one month away, and the Swine Committee and the International Committee have been time consuming. I now have more time to give to the Executive Board of Crime Stoppers and as a board member of the Houston Tennis Association. A new Boy Scouts district has been created, and I have been asked to sit on its board too….My husband is enjoying home-cooked dinners again, so for now my life is good just as it is. I’m honored to be making a difference in young children’s lives.

ADRIANA HIGGINS

Dr. Adriana M. Higgins joined the Susan G. Komen Houston Affiliate team in October 2007 and became its executive director in August 2008. She has several years experience in educational administration, major gift development, fund raising and planned giving. Higgins served as Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving for the Houston Zoo and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Planned Giving Council of Houston. Before her career change to Institutional Advancement, she served as Director of Admissions at both the University of Houston and Texas A&M Galveston and has held several adjunct professor positions.


HOUSTON WOMAN: The big race was just a couple of days ago, so naturally we are wondering what you and the staffers at the Komen Houston Affiliate are doing about now. Breathing sighs of relief?

Adriana Higgins: Yes, definitely, we’re doing a lot of exhaling! Everything went off beautifully, and once again Houstonians showed up in force to support the fight against breast cancer. We couldn’t be happier about how all worked out. But, there is also a lot of cleaning up to do and debriefing — discussing what went well and what could be improved. We are also very busy thanking people for all their support. 

HW: Just how many individuals participated in the Houston race this year?

Higgins: Gratefully, more than 32,000 registered and participated  in the race on October 3rd —making it our biggest yet. And, of that number, more than 4,000 registered for the 5K Competitive Run.

HW: Speaking of the competitive run, I’m assuming that brings interesting challenges, as well, for you and your staff?

Higgins: Yes, it does! The race is certified by USA Track & Field, and it’s our job to make sure the track and everything else is right for the runners. The runners are timed, and their times recorded. Participants are amateurs, but for some their times are very important to them. 

HW: What was the fund-raising goal of the 2009 race? 

Higgins: Our goal was $3 million, and so far, the pledges are north of $2 million. Those who haven’t pledged but want to can do still do so — up until November 15  — either online or by mailing in a check. 

HW: Many businesses and nonprofits have been impacted adversely by the current economic conditions. How has the economy affected the Houston Affiliate’s efforts?

Higgins: Yes, we too have been impacted by the economy, particularly in the area of corporate sponsorships. Some small businesses that usually support the Komen Race for the Cure were not able to do so this year, and others have had to cut back on the amount of support they can give. And, some large corporations have not been able to participate at the level they have previously.

HW: What about your grassroots support? That seems to have held up well.

Higgins: Yes, you are right. Grassroots support is still strong – very, very strong. So many Houstonians have been impacted by breast cancer, and so many want to do their part to help find the cure and help those being treated now. 

HW: The event included a special Survivor Path for breast cancer survivors. Could you tell our readers about that?

Higgins: We had a different finish line for breast cancer survivors. We wanted survivors to feel triumphant as they crossed the finish line, and we hope that was accomplished. Volunteers and survivors made the Survivor Path exceptional by gathering at the end of the decorated path to cheer each survivor on as she entered the path and approached the finish line. It’s important that everyone battling the disease knows that there is a family of survivors hoping, praying and cheering for them. The feedback we received was that the Survivor Path leading up to the finish line was extraordinary.  

HW: The Houston Affiliate awards more than $3 million in grants each year?

Higgins: Yes, that’s right. Since 1991, the Komen Houston Affiliate has been granting funds to local non-profit organizations for breast cancer education, screening and treatment efforts. Programs are funded based on the Community Profile, which identifies the greatest needs in our seven-county service area. The Komen Houston Affiliate's granting efforts have grown from $43,000 in 1991 to more than $3.4 million in 2008. The Houston Affiliate’s Grants Program is funded by 75 percent of the net income of the Affiliate. I invite your readers to go to our website (www.komen-houston.org) to see a list of the 2009-10 recipients. There are 18 of them; all doing great work.




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