Those who watched Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, 8/2/22, soon realized they were in for some gripping political theater. The meeting started with a parade of 60 people making public comments. They took up more than three hours. It felt like the vast majority spoke in favor of Adrian Garcia’s proposed new $1.2 billion bond. And of those, the vast majority were Sheriff’s Deputies from a department Garcia once headed. Not one constable appeared.
The speakers may have been describing real needs. But if the needs were really that critical, why did the deputies never complain before? I find so many sudden and simultaneous complaints highly suspicious, as if someone orchestrated them.
But it wasn’t just the orchestration that raised questions about Garcia’s $1.2 billion bond proposal.
Conflicting cues throughout the day left me doubting and distrustful. The pieces just didn’t add up. The performers in this melodrama stumbled all over each other – for more than five hours in total if you include the debate time on Garcia’s bond motion.
- Neither Hidalgo, Ellis, Garcia, the County Administrator, nor Budget Director could actually name one project where the money would go, despite previous promises to at least compile a list of flagship projects.
- If needs are so glaring, compiling a list should be quick and easy.
- During the debate, it came out that much of the money from the 2015 bond program still has not been spent. That raised the question, “Why do we need another bond?”
- The County Administrator and Budget Director claimed the bond would not increase property tax rates. But they did not calculate the impact of skyrocketing valuations and their impact on the total cost of tax payments – at a time when personal income can’t keep pace with inflation and food banks can’t keep pace with demand.
- As if on cue, Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia repeatedly said the money would go to the “worst areas first.” But they refused to define “worst.”
- Neither Ellis nor Garcia mentioned the $1.25 billion collected by the City of Houston in drainage fees during the last decade or how their Precincts largely overlap with the City and other municipalities. The cities are supposed to foot the bill for drainage and street repairs within their boundaries. The County focuses on unincorporated areas.
Red “Equity” Flags
Ellis also spoke of the need to apply “equity” guidelines to Garcia’s new $1.2 billion bond proposal.
Ellis openly bragged that he had a behind-the-scenes agreement to define “equity” in the 2018 flood bond in a way that the flood-bond language did not disclose. That made one wonder whether the three Democrats would play similar word tricks with voters in this bond.
In the middle of all this, a consultant presented a compensation survey of county employees. Ellis and others suggested that “equity” guidelines should apply to low salaries and that the county should cap high salaries. No one ever addressed “pay for performance.”
The Court voted 3-2 to allocate $220 million from the bond to the two Republican-leaning precincts, leaving $380 million each for Garcia and Ellis.
Connecting a lot of dots in this rambling meeting, I started to feel that the $1.2 billion was Garcia’s attempt to secure a slush fund for political patronage workers, vendors, and pet projects that would shore up his re-election chances. Could that be why he pushed so hard to put this on the ballot this year rather than next?
Many Unanswered Questions
In a previous meeting, Garcia threatened to withhold money from Republican-leaning precincts if their commissioners did not support his bond.
- Why use such threats if you plan to distribute money fairly?
- And if you plan to distribute the money fairly, why not disclose the methodology?
- Why spring this on people two months before the election?
- What’s the resistance to identifying projects?
- How could you even determine the “worst” without a list of competing projects?
It would only take a few more months to put together a plan based on a list of needed projects. Then we could see what the actual costs were and vote on an appropriate amount of money.
Show Me the Costs and Benefits
In marketing, you always try to create a perception of value against which you sell. It appears Garcia, Ellis and Hidalgo have decided to bypass that step when selling this bond proposal.
I personally don’t plan to vote FOR another bond until I start seeing some benefit from the last two. Especially when there’s no guarantee how, where, or on what the money will be spent.
That’s the high price of admission to political theater.
Before I shell out that kind of money, I at least want to know what the play is about. Let’s slow this down and figure that out.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/7/22
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