Late in the afternoon on 9/13/22, my phone started blowing up. Frantic callers asked, “Are you watching Commissioners Court?” I wasn’t unfortunately. I was working on a post about the completion of a flood-mitigation project. But my priorities quickly changed when I learned that the three Democrats (Garcia, Ellis and Hidalgo) voted – as a block – to take take “no action” on 32 separate projects. Each will deprive residents of Precincts 3 and 4 of services.
The brazen no-action votes, led by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, were in retaliation for Republican commissioners walking out of a vote that would have allowed Democrats to increase taxes at a time when rising inflation makes larger tax bills doubly difficult.
A quarter of the no-action votes directly targeted residents. The other three-quarters target companies that provide services that benefit residents, such as engineering companies that improve drainage.
Targeted items included residents’ community center wellness classes, maintenance, flood-rescue equipment, roadway improvements and drainage projects.
Violating Historical Norms
By agreement and tradition, historically, Harris County Commissioners do not interfere with each others’ business. So this sets a dangerous precedent in which one party weaponizes its majority to punish the opposition’s constituents. Here’s what happened.
Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle boycotted the meeting so that the Court would not have sufficient votes to raise taxes. In retaliation, Commissioner Adrian Garcia, aided by Commissioner Rodney Ellis and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, pulled dozens of Precinct 3 and 4 items from the agenda.
Commissioner Ramsey said in a press release that, “This is retaliation against Harris County residents at its lowest level. It punishes residents because they disagree about having a responsible fiscal budget. It’s childish and embarrassing for the Court and Harris County.”
Ramsey and Cagle have tried for several months to engage their Democratic counterparts in substantive budget discussions with little luck. The Democrats even rammed through a $1.2 billion bond proposal with no details except for a lopsided allocation plan that gave about 40% more to Democratic precincts.
Previously, Commissioners have agreed to respect the boundaries of one another’s precincts. “Today’s action is the latest example of Precinct 3 residents being stripped of services by the current Court,” said Ramsey.
Ramsey’s allusion to “latest” referred to a redistricting plan that left Ramsey with 47% of the county’s unincorporated area to maintain with only 25% of the budget.
During redistricting, Garcia also tried to shift $191 million from Precinct 3’s Cedar Bayou flood-bond budget to areas within his newly redrawn precinct.
Ramsey’s Rebuttal to Dire Dem Predictions
At one point Lina Hidalgo threatened a government shutdown. “If we don’t adopt a budget today, there would be government shutdown in essence,” she said at 35:40 into the 5-hour video.
Said Ramsey, “Judge Hidalgo and others would have you believe that since there was not a quorum at today’s Commissioners Court, the budget will fail. In reality, the lack of a quorum simply means that the maximum tax rate allowed by law – without voter consent – cannot be implemented. Instead, a smaller budget will be adopted.”
The difference between the two budgets is $100 million. Out of a $2.2 billion budget, that’s 4.5%.
Hidalgo counters that the extra money is needed for more “officers.” According to Ramsey, she referenced investigators and detention officers, “yet didn’t mention adding one patrol officer” who could combat street crime.
Hidalgo also threatened that if the maximum budget and tax rate aren’t passed, 180 flood projects that “…affect the lives of every single resident in Harris County” will be jeopardized. But the bond pays for those projects, and the difference between the two budgets for flood control is only $14 million. That’s .6% of the HCFCD’s budget. And Commissioners Ramsey and Cagle volunteered $7 million each from their precinct budgets to make up the difference.
Finally, Judge Hidalgo asserted that not passing the Voter-Approved-Rate budget instead of the No-New-Revenue budget would dramatically affect the Harris Health System. The difference between the two budgets is less than 2%. And Ramsey points out that many of the Health System’s requests are for capital investments which are not even a part of these budgets at all.
On-Call Engineering Contracts Delayed by Dems
So which projects did Dems pull from the agenda? Let’s start with retainer fees for on-call engineering in Precincts 3 and 4. The numbers below refer to agenda items. See full descriptions here.
- #43 Pape-Dawson Consulting Engineers, Inc. for Precinct 3
- #44 Volkert, Inc. for Precinct 3
- #45 Cascade Civil Services, LLC for Precinct 3
- #49 HVJ Associates, Inc. for Precinct 4
- #52 Eneval, LLC for Precinct 4
- #53 Volkert, Inc. for Precinct 4
Engineering Contracts for Specific Projects Also Delayed
In addition, the Dems agreed to delay approval of engineering contracts or contract amendments for specific projects in Precincts 3 and 4..
- #51 Request to amend a contract Isani Consultants, L.P. for Professional Engineering Services relating to Stuebner Airline Road Segment C in Precinct 3.
- #55 Approval of a contract with Edminster, Hinshaw, Russ and Associates, Inc. d/b/a EHRA to develop a Master Plan for improvements to Burnett Bayland Park in Precinct 4.
- #67 Approval of an amendment to a contract with Huitt-Zollars, Inc. for improvements to Atascocita Area Trails Phase 2 in Precinct 3.
- #76 Approval of Interlocal Agreement with City of Tomball to construct improvements to Nabors Parkway between Highway 249 and Holderrieth Road in Precinct 4.
- #114 Approval of a contract with HNTB Corporation for engineering and landscape architecture services for a Road and Drainage Master Plan, Precinct 4.
For unknown reasons, the Dems also voted to pull the following from the agenda:
- #119 Request for approval to change the names of several projects in Precinct 3.
Delaying Release or Retention of Financial Surety
The following motions relating to approval of the release or retention of financial surety from developers were also taken off the agenda.
- #123 Grand Oaks Section 9 in Precinct 4.
- #124 Breckenridge West Section 7 in Precinct 3.
- #125 Breckenridge West Section 10 in Precinct 3.
- #126 Bridge Creek Section 2 in Precinct 3.
- #127 Bridgeland Creek Parkway in Precinct 4.
- #128 Bridgeland Sec 44 in Precinct 3.
- #129 Bridgeland streets in Precinct 4.
- #131 Groves Section 35 in Precinct 3.
- #132 Groves Section 36 in Precinct 3.
- #133 Newport Section 7 Partial Replat #3 in Precinct 3.
- #134 Newport Section 7 Partial Replat #4 in Precinct 3.
- #135 Windrow Section 3 in Precinct 4.
Delaying/Denying Services Directly Affecting Public
The items that most directly and immediately affect residents include the following. Garcia, Hidalgo and Ellis took each off the agenda.
- #155 Approval to negotiate an agreement for surveying as needed in Precinct 3.
- #160 Approval to convert Sam Houston Tollway Segment #3 in Precincts 3 and 4 to an all-electronic roadway.
- #278 Approval to construct pedestrian trails along a drainage ditch of Brays Bayou under Addicks Clodine Road Bridge in Precinct 3.
- #291 Renewal of 1-year contract for exercise classes in Precinct 3.
- #342 Approval to bid reinforced concrete pipe, saddle inlets and related items for Precinct 4.
- #343 Approval to bid asphalt roadway rehabilitation for the Western Trails Subdivision in Precinct 3.
- #351 Approval to bid airboat and trailer purchases for Precinct 3.
- #352 Approval to bid passenger buses for Precinct 3.
Most Troubling Item Cancelled, Not Just Delayed
#351 is especially concerning because the airboats would presumably be used for rescue operations during flooding…something the Lake Houston Area remembers all too well. The Dems outright cancelled that; they didn’t just delay it.
Watch the meeting and form your own opinions. Apocalyptic predictions take up the first three hours and fifty minutes. Garcia then starts listing the agenda items he wants to kill or take off the agenda.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/14/22
1842 Days since Hurricane Harvey