Category Archives: Harris County

Where Is Houston on Police Reform?

There is a campaign for police reform called 8CantWait. They list eight reforms to police policy that could reduce police violence if fully put into place.

  • Bans Chokeholds and Strangleholds
  • Requires De-escalation
  • Requires Warning Before Shooting
  • Requires Exhausting Other Means Before Shooting
  • Duty to Intervene
  • Ban Shooting at Moving Vehicles
  • Has Use of Force Continuum
  • Requires Comprehensive Reporting

Those in bold are in place in Houston. Meaning, a police officer may intercede to prevent unnecessary use of force by a co-worker and be free to report it to a supervisor; a department has guidelines as to how much force can be used on a resisting subject; and reporting of gun use, whether it is pointing a gun at a person, intentional discharge not resulting in bodily injury, and accidental discharge resulting in injury of a person.

A report written on the subject of police use of force is quite compelling. First of all, African Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police than white counterparts. It’s a fact. Ultimately, police violence would not only be reduced with these policies in place, but the threat of violence to police officers would also be decreased.  But, what is most disturbing is the lack of advancement on this by police departments as on average, they only accept three of the eight proposed reforms.

If these reforms are not being pushed at the federal and state levels, it is up to cities and their politicians to step up. Here in Houston, At Large 4 Council Member Letitia Plummer offered up amendments to the City of Houston Budget that is currently being debated. (click image to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, this is leadership. And she’s on her first term. We have a term-limited mayor and council members who have yet to step up with solutions. But the people must let their own city council members know that they must support this amendment by calling them or e-mailing them. And telling them that these reforms are needed for the purpose of saving lives and improving community – police (and council) relations.

These are changes that have been promised for a long time in one form or another. When things are at their calmest is when they should be put in place. Our government should be proactive, but it is not. It is only after a murder-by-cop and direct action by the people that these changes are proposed. Hopefully, that will change.

If this is truly a lesson learned, then the changes that need to be made will be made. And soon.

Stop It With The Hero Worship

Too many people are going through this need for heroes. Everyone is a hero nowadays. I’m fine with farm workers (who feed us) and medical personnel (who have been fighting the COVID19 battle), but when it comes to talking heads and media hounds, I draw the line.

I thought the most annoying example was the Great White Hype Hope syndrome that many liberals are going through during the pandemic. Fauci, Cuomo, and even Newsom. (And I like Newsom.) They are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and in a Trump climate, but it’s nothing special that requires sainthood. As much as I defend and compliment our Latina County Judge, the same goes for her. They are doing their jobs despite the policies of the Abbotts and Trumps.

Then, George Lloyd was murdered and it became Jacob Frey and Gov Walz in Minnesota. Then it became any cop or police chief who joined a march or gave a symbolic kneel. Tear-filled speeches and symbolic gestures seem to grab and calm people; unfortunately, it only allows for more inaction. Distract and divert.

They’ve all made some pretty awful decisions, though. As far as big city mayors and police chiefs go, they literally attacked peaceful protesters (and reporters) with plastic bullets, tear gas, and horses. They were quick to blame the outsider, but I haven’t seen any of the white supremacists who are getting blamed being shot, gassed, or trampled. And when the sister of cop-murdered Houstonian Joe Campos Torres also gets arrested here in Houston, well, one wonders if something else is going at HPD.

Locally, Art Acevedo and local elected officials who have been elected and re-elected have had plenty of opportunity to push for criminal justice and policing reforms. Acevedo throws out some good lines and good hugs on camera, but where are the changes? Certainly, the death and police violence continues locally despite one of his underlings mouthing off on TV that Lloyd’s murder was in Minnesota and not here, so why protest here? As if Houstonians had no other reason to protest.

At the county level, there have been attempts at criminal justice and bail reform thanks to Judge Hidalgo, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia, and Sheriff Gonzalez. Unfortunately, they are stopped by Republicans at all levels. But they still try.

This is a conversation that must lead to actual effort and actual change and it must be had at all levels. We can’t take the attitude that if the votes aren’t there, then we must wait. If one doesn’t even try to change public opinion from the pulpit in which the voters placed them, then why even have them there?

But people buy into the hero worship because someone gives out a good image. We all want to feel the warm and fuzzies during a scary time. But, there comes a time when someone seen as a leader needs to act. And policing reforms need to happen. They’ve needed to happen since the promises began after the 1992 Rodney King beating. They’ve needed to happen throughout the history of the United States.

One would figure than in a Democratic majority city, with a Democratic majority city council that Houston PD would make the changes. Unfortunately, it would seem that kowtowing to the police union takes precedent over charges of police brutality. In reality, there is a dire need for leadership. The type of leadership that doesn’t only ask for the badges of bad cops, but that takes them away.

That we don’t have leadership at the top of the United States and Texas is obvious. But that doesn’t mean those who are on our side of the issue at other levels shrivel up and die and leave the rest of us to die. And certainly, diverting and distracting the people by making media-savvy moves is not a solution.

If your elected officials and law enforcement leaders aren’t in a room at this moment discussing how they will stop the law enforcement kill culture, change policing methods, enact real citizen review boards, reform a racist criminal justice system, and end a racist mass incarceration system, then, all the talk is just bullshit.

 

Christopher Hollins Named Interim County Clerk

Late last night, I got the message that the Harris County Commissioner’s Court appointed local lawyer and Texas Democratic Party Finance Chair Christopher Hollins to serve as interim Harris County Clerk.

The court voted 3-2 along party lines to approve Hollins. Five public speakers urged court members to choose Teneshia Hudspeth, Trautman’s chief deputy. County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Hollins’ pledge to serve only on an interim basis factored in their decision.

So, it will be up to the Party’s precinct chairs to select someone to be the nominee on the November 2020 ballot. Let the games begin.

Hollins, though, seems like candidate material. He served the Obama administration’s Office of Presidential Personnel as a legal intern before embarking on his career. No doubt, he has some Democratic bonafides considering his current position in the Party.

After navigating the local Party website, I finally found out how to find my precinct chair. Unfortunately, they want all my information before telling me who publicly signed up to run for the office (or got appointed later). Anyway, if you want to lobby your precinct chair, I guess this is how you can start.

 

Should Harris County Have An Independent Elections Administrator?

In case you haven’t heard, our County Clerk Diane Trautman has submitted her resignation effective end of month. The Harris County Commissioner’s Court is about to appoint an interim to serve while each political party’s precinct chairs will decide on a candidate who will run in November, 2020. In fact, the interim appointment is supposedly happening this week.

While my post about any replacement county clerk was mostly political, the conversation seems to have taken a turn toward the notion of appointing a non-partisan, professional elections administrator. Harris County is among the last large counties in Texas who still have an elected official running elections, while others have hired professionals to serve in this capacity. And it’s mostly worked and it’s taken the politics out of elections–mostly.

Kuff has more on this.

One of the concerns I had at the time was how do you remove an Elections Administrator if one proves to be not up to the task. The answer to that question, at least as articulated in that last link, appears to be “with a four-fifths majority of the election commission”, which concerns me as anything that requires a supermajority does.

Whether one removes the politics from elections, it’s still a government role so it will still reek of politics if it comes down to this kind of situation. Still, giving the role to a professional doesn’t sound like a bad idea. The policy, though, is still made by politicians and bad policy won’t change unless you get rid of bad politicians who do not support access to voting and increased voter education.

Still, nothing wrong with a discussion.

We still have an election in 2020 to replace Diane Trautman–or to appoint someone who will move forward from where Trautman leaves off. Either way, Commissioner’s Court will need to appoint someone who can run elections in a month and in a few months. I’m pretty sure creating a new elections agency will take more than just printing new signage for office doors and courthouse hallways. Maybe, even politics!

 

People Modeling Behavior Of Their Leaders

Some people get it; others do not. And some outright refuse to get it!

Yes, when it comes down to it, protesting not being able to get haircuts, not wearing masks in public, lashing out at government officials who ask groups to practice social distancing, racist comments toward elected officials, hosting parties with large groups of people, all of these can easily be chalked up to being decisions made by irresponsible individuals (and mobs). But to not see elected officials as the source of which this behavior is modeled is short-sighted. Whether we’re in a pandemic or not. But since we are in a pandemic…

Whether it is Trump and Greg Abbott (and other Texas leaders) forcing open the states and businesses and cancelling the requirement of masks, or whether it is Trump playing down the importance of access to COVID-19 testing (access to testing means better contact tracing), or whether it is Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton doing everything they can to stop local elected officials from enforcing rules and stay-at-home orders designed to keep us safe from COVID-19, people see these leaders’ decisions, actions, and behaviors and feel they have permission to do as their leaders do or say. Thankfully, some leaders will fight back.

A hospital in South Texas was denying patients COVID-19 testing, so the local officials have taken over ER operations at the hospital to ensure everyone who needs a test gets one. Apparently, person denied a test was later found to be COVID-19 positive, but only after infecting nine others in the town. So, even hospitals are acting like their elected officials at the top.

But there are more of us who have stayed home these last two months, those who haven’t traveled across the state to visit relatives or have fun, those who wear masks (and gloves) every time they leave the house for needed activities, those that have accepted the danger of being in large groups–even if it means forgoing seeing close family members–and have stayed home or at least played it safe by practicing physical distancing.

We do this to protect everyone else and also our own selves. It’s the responsible thing to do.  And we model our behavior based on the advice of medical experts and the elected officials who take the experts’ advice seriously. And those who risk themselves by volunteering at food drives and PPE giveaways also model their behavior after elected officials who have taken the lead in trying to provide for their communities.

And I’m not naive to think that bad decisions aren’t made at the local level. This move toward outdoor graduations or physically distanced indoor ones could be a disaster in the making, and Dallas is doing the right thing by sticking to virtual graduations. I don’t even like this business of drive-in theaters or the idea of drive-in concerts. The opportunity for stupid decisions is just too huge. But all this is pushed by local leaders who are egged on by state leaders.

So, do not tell me this is not a political thing. Do not tell me that the electoral choices we make nowadays are not a choice between life and death. If the Attorney General, Greg Abbott and Trump want to decrease access to your right to vote during this pandemic, while doing everything to endanger your lives, guess what? It’s political! It’s about power. And it’s as political as buying your love (or silence) for $1200 (of your money) in exchange for corporations and contractors receiving billions of dollars in tax giveaways (of your money).

Now is not the time to be blissful in ones willful ignorance.

County Clerk Diane Trautman To Resign

I’m saddened to read that our Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman has submitted her resignation effective end of May. She cites health concerns, her age, and how COVID-19 could threaten her and her family’s health in this regard.

Dr. Trautman has changed the way elections are run in Harris County. She has opened up access to voters. She has worked to make voting easier. And she finally started the process of replacing those outdated E-slates that should have been long-replaced during the republican years. Recently, she even stood up to the Attorney General to make the COVID-19 epidemic a good enough reason to order a ballot by mail in order to avoid election day crowds and the COVID spit clouds within them. She thought of making changes for the benefit of the people before she resigned for her own health. That counts for a lot.

I met Diane in 2004. I and my sister had opened up our Democratic Primary election day polling location in our neighborhood school. It still wasn’t cool for Democrats to challenge each other, or even stand up and run for a chance to take on the local republicans. So, it wasn’t all that busy in our republican Kingwood precinct. Out of nowhere, Diane shows up to volunteer for a few hours. While waiting for voters to trickle in, we talked process, resumes, and Democratic politics. I thought, this woman wants to run for something. Obviously, that was a good thing.

Soon, she’d make a run against Joe Crabb, the long-time right-wing state representative. Given her suburban living and suburban teaching and education administration experience, she had a lot of cross-party friends who supported her. Still, it’s tough to take on a republican in a republican district. It was a learning experience for Diane, but also for the rest of us who were trying to organize suburban Democrats–even if it was to provide a bottom line to our countywide numbers.

Diane did get elected to the Harris County Dept of Education Board, though. Because of her, many of us learned more about this taxing entity and how it helped school districts around the county, as well as students in need of specialized programs. And she fought valiantly against efforts by republicans to do away with the agency. It earned her more visibility to challenge a republican incumbent for County Clerk. And she won! And she worked.

Thanks, Dr. Trautman, for your service and friendship.

Back to central casting. The process calls for the County Commissioner’s court to name an interim County Clerk, and then the precinct chairs of each party will pick a candidate to run in November, 2020 with the winner completing the term and having to run for re-election in 2022.

I’m of the opinion that the Democratic majority on the Commissioner’s Court should make a strong appointment of someone who will be the incumbent, making it clear that there is no need for a possible free-for-all at the precinct chair level.

We elected our County Judge and our Commissioners, while most of us cannot even find a link on the Party website to find our own precinct chair so that we can lobby for whom we want them to vote. Either process is hardly democratic as the voters are left out of the process. I’d rather go with whom our top leaders choose and have the precinct chairs basically ratify it so we can move forward. Wishful thinking? Maybe.

Some may opine that appointing as interim one of the professionals already in the County Clerk’s office to run the 2020 election and be a placeholder while allowing a candidate chosen by the precinct chairs to run full-time is the solution. And that’s a good argument. But I think we should have a candidate who can show that they can do the professional and the political work, simultaneously. I think it’s more of a confidence builder for us voters when we see that our candidates can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Either way, we’ll see what happens. I already see suggestions on my Facebook feeds about who should run and about diversity on the ballot. There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate, but these things can take a turn for the ugly real quick. And that’s another reason why I’d like to see the Judge and Commissioners lead on this one.

INBOX: Harris County Tax Office COVID-19 Resources

Here’s a note from Ann Harris Bennett, our Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar.

I just wanted to remind you that due to the “Stay at Home Work Safe” order, the Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar office continues to be closed for in-person transactions; however, we continue to work hard for you and the residents of Harris County.

All three divisions (VehicleProperty Tax and Voter Registration) continue to process everything online and via mail.

>> Vehicle Registration
Note: Governor Abbott granted a temporary extension to obtain initial registration, renewal of registration, and renewal of a permanent disabled parking placard.

Online renewal registrations.
Questions: autotdmv@hctx.net.

>> Harris County Property Taxes 
In hopes to help ease property owners’ burdens during this critical time, I have announced a three-month extension of all 12-month delinquent property tax payments.

Questions and payments over the phone at 713-274-2273

In addition, the office will be conducting virtual property tax workshops to help you learn: how the property tax system works, how exemptions save you money, how to protest your property taxes, how your property taxes are calculated and options for avoiding delinquent taxes. Our first workshop was last Tuesday, and it was a complete success. Stay tune for our next virtual workshop

>> Voter Registration
While VDVR trainings and in-person voter registrations are on hold, we are encouraging folks to use our online services to register to vote and/or to update their voting registration address.

1. You can fill out an application online, print it and mail it

OR

2. You can request a pre-postaged paid application.

For more information, we have created a COVID19 list of FAQs for all three divisions to help you complete your necessary transactions while the Tax Office is closed.

Do Your Part and Report Violations of Greg Abbott’s Order

UPDATE 3:15pm – 5/4/2020 — ABC13 reports that during Day 1 of this reporting portal, over 450 businesses have been reported by your fellow Harris Countians for violating Greg Abbott’s order.


If you see violations of Greg Abbott’s order, make sure you report them. Harris County has provided a nifty form on which to report specifics. The form and other pertinent resources are located at ReadyHarris.

Unfortunately, we can’t report idiots not wearing masks, but if you see a violation of Greg Abbott’s “ReOpen Texas Phase 1,” then, by all means, do so.

This is about keeping Texans safe.

 

UPDATED 6:30PM – Hidalgo Updates Order – Harris County Face Covering Order Effective Today

UPDATE 6:30PM:  Judge Lina Hidalgo updated her order, stating:  “Harris County is the epicenter for the Covid-19 crisis in Texas and face coverings are one of the only weapons we have to stop the spread of the virus and reopen safely. We have a face covering order today and we’ll still have a face covering order tomorrow. In practical terms, the governor’s order doesn’t change much because, like every order we’ve issued so far, we’d made it clear that the priority was education. The fine was there as a signal of how vital mask wearing is, and in many ways, the community got that message. It’s been disappointing to see folks politicize public health, and I hope this means they’ll go back to focusing on health and safety instead of politics. As we have in the past, we will amend this order to conform with the governor’s.”

UPDATE 5PM:  Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his band of pendejos have ordered that some businesses be allowed to re-open at limited capacity, while also allowing face coverings to be optional. The order supercedes any pro-health order signed locally. Given that there is no enforcement of masks, I’m pretty sure there won’t be enforcement of “capacity” at businesses that do re-open.

We can call this one Greg Abbott’s COVID-for-ALL order.


The face covering order signed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo goes into effect today, 4/27 and lasts until 5/27. The Chron has a simplified graphic for what the order says. Follow it, and some of us civilians who want to flatten the curve won’t report you, photograph you, or take down your license plate number. Seriously!

And as the order states, the masks can be homemade. So, if you have an old t-shirt laying around, fashion it into something. You don’t need the fancy machine-made masks everyone (me, included) is showing off. Or, better yet, STAY HOME, so you don’t have to wear masks so often. That’s my plan.

You can also pick up masks at various locations around the county. (CLICK HERE)

((CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE))


Here’s something to consider:

It’s not the end of the world. And, it’s not the end of your personal rights. If anything, use of a mask in public places will likely prolong the amount of time you can live under the Bill of Rights and the privileges we enjoy as we all flatten the curve and, you know, not get sick.

For the whining complainers, if all you are doing is spreading untruths about constitutional law and pandemic cures, while peppering your comments with racist and misogynistic commentary about the County Judge, then, we really know your intent:  It’s to be a racist asshole. C’mon! It’s not like you’re a child who’s been thrown into a cage for no reason.

Everyone else, have a great day!

 

Local Republicans To Create COVID Spit Cloud in Downtown Houston

COVID Spit Clouds Matter!  [Original: LATimes]

Apparently, a local bigoted, hormone-shot giving, unelected chair of the Republican party is organizing the creation of Houston’s very own Right-Wing COVID spit cloud in Downtown as a response to County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s face covering order.

Apparently, these idiots want the right to get sick and then to make others sick during this pandemic by keeping their faces uncovered because they were told by a Latina Democrat to cover their faces, which, they say, is “socialism.” ((Reads comments on local news sites)) Yes, that’s what I gather from reading some of the badly spelled, idiotic, misogynistic, and bigoted comments on local news FB pages.

No need to debate these idiots. It’s a waste of time. Bottom line:  They’re dangerous. But they were dangerous before they wanted to form a COVID spit cloud, so, let’s not fool ourselves that masks are the only issue they have against Judge Hidalgo.

Just be warned of the dangers of walking into this right-wing COVID spit cloud that will appear at our county offices today. At this time, we haven’t been advised how long this spit cloud will linger in downtown after these mostly suburbanite and/or non-Harris County residents disperse. I am hoping the area is fumigated, or at least doused with some Fabuloso, after this threat to our health.