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TMC Names New Government Affairs Manager: Michelle Queen

March 20, 2018

Press Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: Lindsey Geeslin, Executive Director

lindsey@texasmasonrycouncil.org or (254) 300-4544

(Waco, TX – March 20, 2018)  The Texas Masonry Council (TMC), a state-wide leader existing to advance the masonry industry in Texas is beyond pleased to announce the hiring of Michelle Queen as its newest staff member.  Ms. Queen joined the TMC in March 2018 in the capacity of Government Affairs Manager for the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  In her role with TMC, she will oversee all aspects of the Masonry Planning Policy (MPP) program in the Dallas/Ft. Worth regions as well as help the TMC team facilitate the execution of the 2018 strategic plan.  The plan includes advocacy goals of expanding our local MPP efforts in conjunction re-engaging our membership and committee.

Bringing with her over six years of private planning and graphic design experience working with municipalities in the Houston-Galveston region and throughout Texas, Michelle will be an immediate asset to the masonry community.  Michelle has a well-rounded understanding of municipal planning needs and development practices; before joining TMC, Michelle was a private sector consultant for planning-architecture-engineering firms in Houston where she played a lead role in conducting research and analysis, developing public engagement activities, and designing the presentation of information/documentation. She also has experience working on corridor studies, special area plans, visioning/strategic planning, community engagement, GIS mapping, urban design, 3D rendering, and strategic planning.

Michelle has hit the ground running and says, "I am honored to be joining TMC as the DFW Government Relations Manager and feel blessed to be working with such passionate individuals. The TMC team has a clear vision for the future of our organization and the creativity to develop innovative approaches and outside-the-box strategies to get us there. I look forward to using my experience and skills to promote the masonry industry and give back to our members and communities across Texas. Thanks and Gig 'Em!"

While working with these firms, Michelle worked as a staff planner for the cities of Frisco and Pearland where she learned how to conduct permitting reviews, draft development ordinances, and communicate with developers, contractors, and the public. Michelle has experience in the development and interpretation of regulations, but more importantly she understands the implications and importance of implementation through policies.

A native of Dallas, Texas, Michelle holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Design, as well as a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning (Certificate in Transportation and Urban Design) from Texas A&M University. When she is not working, Michelle enjoys spending time outside (camping/hiking), listening to the blues, reading, doing yoga, painting, and playing with her two mutts.

“After a thorough search to round out the TMC team, it is with much anticipation we make the announcement of Michelle’s arrival” said TMC executive director, Lindsey Geeslin. “Michelle brings enthusiasm, passion and a wealth of knowledge that abounds our efforts to create more masonry market share.”  


TMC Names New Government Affairs Manager: Angie Cervantes

January 02, 2018

Press Release

Press Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: Lindsey Geeslin, Executive Director

lindsey@texasmasonrycouncil.org or (254) 300-4544

(Waco, TX – January 02, 2018)  The Texas Masonry Council (TMC), a state-wide leader existing to advance the masonry industry in Texas is beyond pleased to announce the hiring of Angie Cervantes as its newest staff member.  Ms. Cervantes joined the TMC in November 2017 in the capacity of Government Affairs Manager for the Austin/San Antonio area.  In her role with TMC, she will oversee all aspects of the Masonry Planning Policy (MPP) program in the Austin/San Antonio regions as well as help the TMC team facilitate the execution of the 2018 strategic plan.  The plan includes advocacy goals of expanding our local MPP efforts in conjunction with monitoring state and local legislation that impact our efforts. 

A native of Eagle Pass, Texas, Angie comes to the TMC with a deep policy background of over a decade of experience in political affairs and public policy, proving to be an immediate asset to our team and strategic plan.  Angie holds a BA in Government and English from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Angie is an avid fan of Longhorn sports, running, yoga, and cooking. She resides in Austin with her husband James. 

 "I am thrilled to join the TMC team as its Regional Affairs Manager for the Central Texas area.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that our members are hard working, smart, and just all around good people.  I am looking forward to using my experience and contacts to promote their industry!"

Prior to joining the TMC, Angie served as a Policy Analyst for the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee and as Deputy Committee Director for the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. During this time, she advised Senator John Carona on, and developed an expertise in, the areas of: transportation, occupational regulation, alcohol regulation, energy, telecommunications, and workforce issues. Following her time in public service, Angie spent three years working for a small lobby firm where she represented various associations, counties, and business groups, helping them achieve their legislative goals.   

“I couldn’t be more pleased with this announcement – she is an absolute asset to our team,” said TMC executive director, Lindsey Geeslin. “Angie brings an integrated skill set with a hands-on approach to public policy and strategy.”


Governor Abbott Proclaims Texas Masonry Construction Week

July 31, 2016

Governor Greg Abbott is encouraging all Texans to learn more about masonry construction by proclaiming July 31-August 6, 2016 as Texas Masonry Construction Week.   The proclamation mentions that Texas has a long history of building with high-quality masonry materials such as brick, block, and stone.  Some of the most iconic historical structures in Texas, the United States, and the world were constructed with masonry materials.  Examples in Texas include the Alamo, the State Capitol, and the San Jacinto Monument.

The Texas Masonry Council (TMC) is holding its annual convention during Texas Masonry Construction Week.  TMC's Executive Director, Lindsey Geeslin, said, "This proclamation is huge and shows that masonry is in demand in Texas.  Everyone in our organization is thankful and excited about this recognition."   TMC's Government Relations Specialist, Kelly Sadler, worked with the Governor's office on the proclamation and was instrumental in getting this opportunity to the Governor.

Over 250 masonry ordinances are in place currently in Texas.  To learn more about TMC or masonry ordinances visit texasmasonrycouncil.org or masonryordinance.com.  

 


Masonry Firewall Code Changes a Top Priority for TMC

March 29, 2016

By: Tony Topping

Fire safe construction for multi-family apartments, hotels, dorms, assisted living facilities and other uses has become a much talked about topic because of the number of large, dangerous fires throughout the country.  The Texas Masonry Council is taking an active role in educating local officials about fire safe construction and advocating for changes to local codes that will lead to safer and stronger buildings.

The Triad Approach of: Detection, Suppression, and Containment, are the three main components of effective fire protection.  We do a good job with the first two components in modern construction.  Building codes now require or greatly incentivize smoke detectors and sprinkling systems.  However, fire fighters will tell you that effective fire protection must have all three components. 

The true issue arises when we consider how much more combustible modern construction materials can be.  According to Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the combination of light weight wood construction and furniture constructed with synthetic materials allows modern residences to burn eight times faster than those built just a few decades ago.  Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison echoed that sentiment in comments to the Houston City Council when he said “fires move faster today because of construction materials and even experienced firefighters can be victims…”

For that reason, the third component of fire protection, containment, has become all the more important.  Unfortunately, fire containment has not been addressed adequately in building codes.  When we think of fire walls we typically imagine thick masonry walls that simply do not burn.  But, many do not realize that building codes now allow for any number of materials to be used in the construction of modern fire walls – including wood and gypsum board.  The reality echoed by in the trenches fire fighters is that non-masonry materials do little to prevent the spread of fires.  They do however testify that true masonry firewalls prevent the spread of fires in real life situations.

Massive apartment fires throughout the country in 2014 and 2015 proved that business as usual is too risky for the lives of residents and fire personnel.  There have been a variety of attempts at the national building code level to require total masonry construction in uses such as apartments, hotels and dormitories. Most recently fire departments, fire unions and other building professionals organized in New Jersey to call for masonry fire walls in future apartment construction.  The pressure caused at least one developer to promise more fire safe construction – including masonry fire walls – in future projects.

Other jurisdictions, such as the state of Kentucky, have been able to make a small but important change to Section 706.3 of the International Building Code.  The change requires the material in fire walls to be “masonry or concrete” rather than simply “non-combustible.”

The Texas Masonry Council has worked for the past year to seek similar changes in Texas cities.  Our initial efforts with the previous mayor’s administration in Houston proved unsuccessful.  TMC worked hand in hand with the Houston Fireman’s Union to push for a code change requiring masonry firewalls.  Although we were unsuccessful on our first try it was a tremendous learning experience.  The newly elected Mayor Sylvester Turner has indicated a great desire to work with the union in general and specifically on fire safety issues. 

In addition to continuing our efforts with the new administration in Houston, TMC plans to actively promote masonry fire walls in across the entire state city by city.  But, changing building codes is a huge political undertaking.  It will never succeed with just one person knocking on the doors of local politicians.  We need the industry to always remember to promote the advantages of masonry construction.  Never pass on an opportunity to talk to fire officials, city officials and even developers about the importance of safe, effective masonry firewalls.  Most importantly, when you do find someone that is interested in championing the idea in a local area put TMC in contact with them.



Marek: Employers' practice of misclassifying workers cheat all of us 

January 31, 2015

By: Stan Marek

I love the construction industry, and I speak from experience when telling you it has to be saved from itself. Since 1938, our family business has helped build the monuments of this city and this state. More important, our companies - like many others over the past 75 years - have helped tens of thousands of hard-working Americans enjoy an honorable blue-collar, middle-class standard of living. But, now our middle class is threatened like never before.

When I graduated from Texas A&M University in 1969, after serving my active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, I joined the local carpenters union as a drywall mechanic. Wages and benefits were very good and it was indeed a quality, middle-class occupation. The non-union tradespeople enjoyed the same kind of lifestyle. We all received good hourly pay, overtime, worker's compensation insurance protection and had employment taxes deducted and paid. There was a bond between company and worker. We worked hard to keep our jobs secure. If our company did well, we would be provided for. And, we were.

Fast forward to today and my, how things have changed.

Many construction companies now look for ways to avoid having employees altogether. They don't want a bond between company and worker. The truth is they want as few strings as possible because having employees on the books means having to shell out for hourly pay, overtime, benefits, workers' comp, payroll taxes, compliance with employment laws and the possibility of being audited by the federal government to verify the immigration status of workers.

So what do they do?

In our industry, as in others, many companies "misclassify" their employees, which means they pretend their workers are "independent subcontractors" when by law they meet the definition of an employee. This practice allows those companies to get a pass on all the obligations of an employer, most of which protect the worker. Without employees, there are no minimum wage and overtime laws to abide by. There are no benefits like medical insurance, vacation and paid holidays. There is no workers' compensation insurance or jurisdiction from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect the worker. Taxes on labor are not withheld and sent to our federal government. The unemployment trust fund in Texas is dwindling as a direct result. And now that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, its employer mandates give companies even more incentive to unload their workers into the underground economy.

As taxpayers, we all suffer while the working man and woman take the brunt of it.

A bipartisan Texas House Committee report recently said, "A misclassifying employer compromises free markets through unfair competition and promulgates lawlessness." The panel noted that the Texas Workforce Commission found more than 60,000 workers had been misclassified in 2013, resulting in $8.6 million in unpaid taxes. I believe those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Keep in mind that the Workforce Commission can only identify a portion of what's really happening because the agency has limited resources.

It is already illegal to misclassify employees, but companies do it anyway because government enforcement and self-policing by the industry are sorely missing.

The elephant in the room is that many of these same workers lack legal status. Most began working under a traditional employer-employee relationship. But as immigration enforcement actions, which came as workplace raids under President Bush and now audits of employee-eligibility verification forms (I-9s) under President Obama, removed them from the rolls of legitimate employers, they migrated to the independent-contractor model.

You may think that when immigration audits identify illegal workers they are then deported. That's not true at all. The employer is simply required to terminate them. It seems they are rarely deported in those circumstances. So, many end up working for unscrupulous employers who call them independent contractors knowing the workers are unlikely to seek legal recourse.

Contractors who abide by the law cannot compete against those who use the independent-contractor business model. Those who cheat on their taxes in this fashion can underbid ethical contractors by as much as about 35 percent. While the cheaters get the contracts, middle-class jobs are falling by the wayside.

There is no doubt the federal government, including lawmakers from both parties, has failed us so far on immigration reform and other underlying issues facing our shrinking middle class. But there is time to turn the corner. Government action, however, is not sufficient.

Marek is president and CEO of the Marek Family of Companies, a specialty subcontractor based in Houston.


TMC Hires New Government Relations Specialist

May 2014

The Texas Masonry Council is pleased to announce the hiring of Mr. Tony Topping as its newest staff member.  Mr. Topping will serve in the capacity of Government Relations Specialist for the greater Houston area.  In his new role with TMC he will oversee all aspects of the Masonry Planning Policy program in the Houston area.  Tony comes to TMC with a wealth of knowledge in municipal planning and government relations having served the past 7 years as a City Council employee within the walls of Houston City Hall.  

Most recently Tony serves served as Houston Council Member Brenda Stardig's Agenda Director. Prior to joining Council Member Stardig’s staff in November 2013, Tony served as Chief of Staff to former Council Member Al Hoang where he oversaw all the day to day operations of the council office.  His first City Council position in Houston was with former Houston Council Member Peter Brown where he assisted with a wide range of planning and development policy issues, and set the agenda for the Sustainable Growth Committee, which Council Member Brown chaired.

Tony also previously served as a city planner for the city of Missouri City. As a city planner he handled platting and architecture reviews, rezoning cases, and other planning policy issues. Tony earned a bachelor's degree in political science as well as a master's degree in urban planning from Texas A&M University.  Tony is married to the lovely Kerri Topping and they will be purchasing a brick home in The Woodlands in May. 

“We are most fortunate to have someone with Tony’s pedigree in the Houston Market promoting masonry”, said TMC Chairman, Romeo Collazo.  “Houston may be the most important construction market in the country.  Tony will be very valuable as we attempt to change the City of Houston building code so that in the future it will would require the construction of masonry fire walls in new multifamily and commercial construction.  We hope everyone will welcome Tony on board with enthusiasm and encouragement.”