Category Archives: Harris County

Is Splitting Jail From Sheriff A Prelude To Privatization?

That’s what came to mind when I read Commissioner Steve Radack had floated the idea of separating the management of Harris County Jail from the Sheriff–whomever it may be.

A revolutionary idea is being pitched that would reshape the law enforcement agency by removing the troubled jail from the sheriff’s responsibilities. One county commissioner is leading the charge to create a new jail administrator who would answer to Commissioners Court rather than the sheriff.

Privatization is not a new idea in Harris County as Radack floated that idea a few years ago.

One thing is for sure, running a jail is a challenging job, especially when one inherits a bad situation that includes a bad internal culture. If a hired county employee as jail administrator is the outcome, there must be a complete culture change at the jail–a culture that allowed employees up and down the jail management hierarchy to lock up a mentally ill man in his own excrement and trash. Frankly, as the debate over law enforcement treatment of people continues, there is obviously some push-back to any change from law enforcement and their fans.

Of course, if the hired hand turns out to be a jail management contract to a private corporation, then that would be a useful political tool for blame if there are ever any future problems. If one company messes up, there is always another to pick up where the other left off. There is enough campaign money in officeholder accounts to make this happen, this much is obvious.

When one other commissioner is talking about “saving money” with this notion, my alarms go off. What do they want to cut? Will mental health and health care be farmed off to some private company that is probably a subsidiary of a private prison corporation?

Obviously, State Law still has jails under the Sheriff and this will be hard to change in the near future. A hired jail administrator may be a good idea if it comes with work toward a culture change within the ranks. But I’m pretty sure this isn’t part of the plan.

Obviously, county citizens need to keep an eye on the Commissioners Court.

The Price of Ramen Noodles Is Too Damn High!

Update After the Oberg Story: Did you know that it would take 6.8 million packages (at 25 cents each commissary price) of ramen noodles to pay the Harris County consultant who has saved the Jail money? No, this info was not in Oberg’s report, not that there was much of anything else.

ABC13’s Ted Oberg is doing a story on a no-bid contract that the Sheriff has given to a consulting firm. According to the Sheriff in one of ABC13s ads promoting the report, the consultant has saved the county a lot of money.

One thing I noticed from ABC13’s teaser is that the money paid to the consultant comes from profits from the jail commissary. So, that means that the overpriced ramen noodles, cupcakes, sodas, and other items bought by the inmates is paying for it. That’s a lot of ramen noodles eaten and no tax dollars wasted, at least at first glance.

I have to wonder if there’s a story to this. I would think the bigger story is that the price of ramen noodles is too damn high. Either that, or it’s sweeps week for the local news.

We shall see.

UPDATE:  The HCSO/Sheriff Adrian Garcia released this statement on the savings to taxpayers over the years.

When Sheriff Adrian Garcia took office in 2009, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office was overspending its budget by about $58 million annually. In fact the agency had balanced its yearly budget only once in a decade.

In 2015, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office has come in under the budget allocated by Commissioners Court for the fourth consecutive fiscal year.

Fiscal Year 2015, as it was known in county government, ended Feb. 28. After allowing for all accounts to settle from the previous budget year, the HCSO is celebrating another year of successful budget discipline.

“Keeping the people of Harris County safe is our top job,” Sheriff Adrian Garcia said. “Safeguarding public funds and protecting the pocket books of tax payers is a close second.”

“We are keeping the lid on crime for the 1.7 million people in the unincorporated areas of the county while keeping the door shut against monstrous budget deficits,” the sheriff added. “We accomplish this on the front lines with deputies on patrol and in the back offices where employees with business backgrounds eliminate financial waste.”

Some of the biggest savings have come from drastic reductions in overtime pay to staff the county jail, inmate rehabilitation programs that reduce repeat crimes, management of supply contracts and wider use of generic medications for ill inmates.

In the previous three years, budget savings allowed the Sheriff’s Office to put more deputies on patrol. About 90% of the $422 million budget for FY15 was allocated for law enforcement payroll.

“We’ll continue to work with Commissioners Court and other stakeholders to make sure we have the resources to preserve Harris County as a safe place that people choose every day as the place where they want to live, work and raise a family.”

TONIGHT at 6PM: LatinoTalk TV’s Election Recap

Tonight, November 12, 2012 at 6pm. LatinoTalkTV Show! Election Recap! Join us LIVE & Call in to participate. Watch online or on television:

  • Comcast 17
  • AT&T U-verse 99
  • TVMax 95
  • Sudden Link 99
  • Phonoscope 75

DosCentavos will be there, too!

Emmett to Isaac Evacuees: Hunker Elsewhere!

Can’t say I’m too shocked, but it’s true. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has told folks coming this way because of Isaac that they are not welcome, according to a KPRC report.

“To take people from one dangerous area and bring them to another dangerous area, another hurricane zone really doesn’t make sense,” said Emmett.

That’s the reason? Because according to the forecasts, it ain’t hitting Houston. How about a little more honesty, like, “We don’t want you here,” or “We’ve cut our budgets to a point where we can’t even help our own people,” or…I can go on.

Well, the Houston SPCA is accepting four-legged evacuees.

(Houston SPCA) August 28, 2012.  These little evacuees, fleeing Tropical Storm Isaac, arrived at the Houston SPCA in the middle of the night from the St. Bernard Parish Animal Control Center in Louisiana.

They and all their friends will be up for adoption today!  Doors open at 11 am!

I guess there will be agreement with Emmett from a cross-section of folks. I understand the fear of crime and the “drain” on social services aspect of it, but when it comes to helping people, I think Houston is a lot better than this. If we are worried about the “drain” and the crime, then we need to decide if our local budgets are indeed moral documents that ensure we are ready for these kinds of situations.

Something to discuss, because it’s bound to occur again.

Harris County Latinos on the Ballot

Someone asked me about the Latino line-up on the 2012 ballot, so, I figured I’d make a post with a list of them–at least from the Democratic side of things. So, here we go (incumbents in bold):

Mario V. Gallegos, Jr. – Texas Senate District 6

Armando Walle – Texas House, District 140

Ana Hernandez-Luna – Texas House, District 143

Mary Ann Perez – Texas House, District 144

Carol Alvarado – Texas House, District 145

Jessica Farrar – Texas House, District 148

Julia Maldonado – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 8

Michael Gomez – Judge, 129th District

Josefina Rendon – Judge, 165th District

Ruben Guerrero – Judge, 174th District

David L. Mendoza – Judge, 178th District

Adrian Garcia  – Sheriff

Jo Ann Delgado – JP Pct 2 – 1

Richard Vara – JP Pct 6 – 1

Chris Diaz – Constable Pct 2

Victor Trevino – Constable Pct 6

Silvia Mintz – County School Trustee Pos 4, Pct 3

And if anyone else asks about other political parties, I will say there are four Spanish-surnames on the “right-wing” of the ballot. And if I counted correctly, there are also three running “green.”

This answers questions from a few readers regarding the number of Latinos on the ballot. Enjoy!

Houston, We Have A Run-Off!

Today is the Democratic Primary Run-Off Election Day! Polls are open until 7PM. Find your location on the site.

As of Friday’s early voting tally, less than 20,000 Dems had voted around the County, including over 7,000 returned ballots-by-mail. I won’t bother with any predictions, but I know the campaigns are pulling out all the stops to get their voters out.


The secret is out! I voted for Jamaal Smith for HD-137 and I’ve supported him since he told me he was in it to win it. What has been a very low turnout race, despite some good ground game from all of the candidates, reminds me that my Texas House District needs a lot of help when it comes to civic engagement. And not just registering voters and getting them to the polls. But actually getting them involved in their neighborhoods. And this includes the 80% of people who reside in apartments. I think Jamaal is the candidate who can best be a catalyst for increased excitement and activity, so I urge folks to support him.

In the race for the Dem nomination for U.S. Senate, it has become very important for folks to support Paul Sadler. Unfortunately, Sadler’s lack of fundraising has not been a big help. If anything, the whole “name” thing blamed for support of Sadler’s opponent has left me a bit freaked out. Anyway, VOTE SADLER! You’ll thank me later.

If you reside in Constable Precinct 1, please vote for Cindy Vara-Leija. Over the last half a year, I’ve gotten to know Cindy and she’s real. Cindy is someone whose feet are on the ground and knows how to serve the people in a precinct she has already served for three decades. She has run a hard-fought campaign against a well-funded opponent, and we all know the best campaigns run on people-power. So, support Cindy Vara-Leija!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m rooting for Erica S. Lee for Harris County Department of Education, Pos. 6 (Pct. 1). Erica is highly qualified as a former educator, but mostly as someone who is policy-savvy. Erica would be an amazing advocate for kids, and we need her, along with Diane Trautman and Silvia Mintz, on the November ballot to drive our message home.

So, VOTE! Make your voices heard! And make a difference. Your vote really does matter.

I don’t think I’ll make it to any of the celebrations tonight, but Congrats to all those I support for running some good campaigns. Heck, congrats to all those I don’t support, too!

What A Great Idea: An Independent Crime Lab

Houston Mayor Annise Parker made the proposal today to create an independent crime lab to serve HPD and perhaps other crime-fighting entities. The slide show is an interesting one which gives us a clearer picture.

As outlined by Parker, City Attorney David Feldmanand chief development officer Andy Icken, the seven members of the board could not be removed by City Council except for intentional misconduct. They envision the board would include a representative from the Innocence Project, the legal team nationally renowned for its work in exonerating the wrongfully convicted. Feldman said Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheckcalled him and told him he thought it was an excellent idea.

“I clearly prefer to have our forensics sciences not under the influence of police, prosecution or politics,” Parker said.

Sounds reasonable to me, but not to my Council Member, who seems to have a lock ’em up no matter what attitude about this. Because lives are in the balance in some of the worst crimes, some balance on the independent board is indeed called for, so, I’ll  just chalk it up to typical right-wing electioneering on the part of Mike Sullivan. So much for keeping politics out of this, right?

Anyway, the cost of something like this obviously is on our minds. The current cost of $23 million to run this kind of operation sounds about right, but the start-up costs would definitely be a concern. Ensuring there is no duplication of services offered by the County’s facility is one solution; however, if the County isn’t willing to step up and help create this kind of facility (the county is mandated by law to report to the Commissioner’s Court, apparently) then that’s a problem, too.

There’s a solution somewhere–a practical one, rather than a political one. Unfortunately, when different political ideologies are in charge of things, these clashes will happen. In this case, I prefer the Mayor’s plan.

Update:  Thanks to Kuff for catching this nugget of hope:

County Judge Ed Emmett said that although the city and county are on separate tracks right now, Parker’s proposal ultimately could make it easier for the two governments to come together.

“By having the LGC, it opens up more options for how the city can approach forensic science, including partnering with the Institute of Forensic Sciences,” Emmett said.

Re-Committing To Voter Registration

There’s no doubt that 2012 is weighing heavily on our minds. With Republican-led voter suppression efforts becoming law around the country, the intent of these efforts is obvious. It’s what we don’t see that we should be worried about, according to my good friend Stan Merriman, who had this op-ed in the Chron.

The Harris County tax assessor-collector has re-created the equivalent of a regressive poll tax by maximizing the time and travel costs of voting. He forces most voters in Harris County to reapply over and over. He then decides whether to allow a citizen to remain on the registration rolls by a secretive purging operation that, even after the lawsuits by the Democratic Party mentioned in the Jan. 30 article, remains largely obscured from public scrutiny. No increase in the voter rolls for this dynamic and growing community is the result.

The Tax Office suspends or cancels voter registrations based on something like a credit check. The office calls it a live check; it sends personal identification information into a so-called “fusion center” and, from there, to where nobody will say. In any case, the unreliable information returned from various sources is used to disqualify or misdirect voters. This is not subject to audit and barely subject to appeal. You the voter just show up at the polls to discover when it is too late to do anything about it that you are not qualified to vote. Just making a simple change of address is difficult and risks cancellation. Voter registration in Harris County is really a lifetime reregistration process costing millions their right to vote and the county millions of dollars.

Many believe new voter identification rules will suppress turnout, but whatever effect they may have is dwarfed by the huge voter suppression caused by our registration process.

There are solutions.

He goes on to give some simple, common sense solutions, so read the rest of the article.

Meanwhile, a voter group has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas for some of these practices.

The latest lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Texas courts names Texas Secretary of StateHope Andrade and takes aim at the state’s new mandatory training for all volunteer registrars – in which almost anyone who handles a voter’s application as part of a registration drive has to complete training before he or she can be “deputized” to operate in any Texas county. A spokesman for Andrade refused comment.

Population growth in Texas exceeds most other states, while many voter registration rolls throughout the state remain stagnant. As of January, 12.9 million Texans had registered to vote -up just 2 percent from January 2008.

There’s no doubt that this is all part of a pattern to suppress voting opportunities for Texans across the political spectrum. Through some spies, I’m hearing of other things that may be launched soon to cut folks off the rolls. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this in the near to not-so-distant future.

More than ever, voter registration will play a major role in the 2012 elections. It’s time to recommit to ensuring Texans remain on the rolls.

It’s time to “true the democracy,” don’t you think?

Stay connected!

Redistricting on the Radio on Tuesday

Internet radio, that is.

While “The Commish” tends to the redistricting case regarding the Harris County Commissioner’s Court re-draw this week, I will be the “stand-in” on “This Week With Sylvia Garcia” on Tuesday, November 15 at 10 A.M on

We’ll have the usual cast of VIPs, including State Rep. Ana Hernandez-Luna with the State Report; Congressman Gene Green with the Federal Report; and the Chisme of the Week with Yolanda Black Navarro. The feature segment will be all about the challenges to Republican redistricting–Congressional, State Senate, State Rep., SBOE. Also, we are hoping for a call from The Commish with an update about the local case from the Courthouse.

Of course, because of all of the shenanigans on redistricting, there have been some changes to Primary filing periods, so we’ll have a special guest calling in, Demetria Nelson-McNaulty, who will be providing a clearer picture. If you’re interested in running for office in 2012, this will be a good time to listen to some great information.

Again, 10AM on

I Am A Constituent Without Representation

No, this isn’t a redistricting post. I lost my County Commissioner today (well, October 1)! Pct. 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole resigned today in a move that most think is because of a plea deal with the Feds (Kuff has a link to that).

Frankly, I’ve been trying to get rid of him since 2002–as a voter and as a volunteer on the last campaign that tried to unseat him. In a commissioner’s precinct that has been strongly Republican, well, that is tough to do. And, in one way or another, incumbency does have its privileges advantages.

Eventually, we really don’t know what is to become of Precinct 4. An attempt was made by Harris County’s redistricting consultants to make Precinct 4 a little bit more Hispanic, thus, making it more of a Hispanic “influence” precinct, but at the cost of the Hispanic opportunity precinct (Precinct 2). Whether the lawsuit against the County’s redistricting lines is successful or not, Precinct 4 is becoming a lot more…colorful.

Meanwhile, Judge Ed Emmett will now get to replace Eversole. I guess the bigger question is:  Who’s interested? Certainly, there is a shortlist of Republicans who have been salivating at the thought of Eversole’s resignation. So, I would hope Judge Emmett does the right thing by appointing someone interested in serving the people, rather than serving a political party platform.

Anyway, although it should be a debate for the constituents of Precinct 4 in which to participate, it will ultimately be one for Republican Commissioners and GOP insiders. So, I guess I’ll just wait for the decision.

For Democrats, there is always the next election–if we dare run against the appointee.