There are political changes afoot that could radically affect county services including flood-mitigation, just as the equity prioritization framework did. Perhaps the most important meeting of Harris County Commissioners Court in a decade will take place during rush hour on Thursday afternoon when few people can watch. With only three days of public notice, commissioners will consider redistricting proposals, including one by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis dubbed the “Ellis Plan.” The changes could be profound, long-lasting and far-reaching.
The Ellis Plan being put forward by Democrats would massively shift precinct boundaries to create another Democratic precinct. Democrats now hold a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. That means Ellis’ plan will likely be adopted and create a 4-1 majority.
Inner city neighborhoods would likely benefit at the expense of outlying unincorporated areas that make up the county’s primary service area. Municipalities, such as the City of Houston are supposed to take care of their own infrastructure and services.
Changes Recommended by Ellis and Democrats
Ellis’ Plan would increase the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court. Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia barely won a hotly contested election last time by only 4,000 votes and is up for re-election next year. Republicans considered his seat the most vulnerable to recapture.
But Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis who won election by a wide margin last time appears to be “giving” part of his surplus to Garcia to shore up Garcia’s re-election chances.
The Ellis Plan also shrinks Republican Tom Ramsey’s Precinct 3 to leave him largely with Democratic voters. The rest of Ramsey’s precinct would go to Republican Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4, which would approximately double in size – and go deeper red – but leave Republicans with one less seat on Commissioners Court.
Thus, even if Judge Lina Hidalgo loses her next election, Democrats would still likely command a majority of Commissioners Court.
Current and Proposed Maps
Here is the current map.
Below is Ellis’ proposed map.
That’s because earlier this year, Commissioners Court voted unanimously to distribute Road and Bridge funds equally to each precinct. But if Precinct 4 virtually doubles in geographic size – as it apparently will – that leaves Commissioner Cagle with half the dollars per square mile…in the fastest developing parts of the county.
Cutting Humble in Half
The Ellis Plan would also cut the City of Humble in half. That would make it harder for Humble to coordinate its drainage efforts with the county because Humble would have to work with two county commissioners, not just one. It would also give Cagle responsibility for the flood-prone areas near the San Jacinto River while Ellis would take areas on higher ground that need fewer drainage dollars.
Reaction by Garcia Challenger
John Manlove, former mayor of Pasadena, who has already announced a run against Garcia in Precinct 2, believes that the proposed redistricting loses sight of the county’s core mission – to provide services and infrastructure in unincorporated areas.
Said Manlove, “Under the proposed redistricting plan, Commissioner Cagle’s equal share of the Road and Bridge Fund would have to cover twice as much territory. Cagle’s constituents would, in essence, be underfunded, while those in other precincts would be overfunded relative to Precinct 4.”
It is not yet clear whether the Ellis plan meets constitutional requirements. Nor is it clear whether any of the plans under consideration would survive a legal challenge. Detail in the published maps is insufficient to tell. Nor does the surprise meeting give the public sufficient time to absorb and analyze impacts of the proposed changes.
For More Information
To Attend/View Meeting or Make Public Comment
Those who attend the meeting in-person may make comments by signing up to speak in the Commissioners Courtroom before 4 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, 2021, when the meeting begins.
Those who attend virtually may comment by signing up to speak no later than 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, 2021, at https://appearancerequest.harriscountytx.gov/.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/18/2021
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