On Tuesday, 10/31/23, Harris County Commissioner’s court took no action on a request from Commissioner Tom Ramsey PE to abide by a pre-election promise to voters re: the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds. Ramsey could not even find a second for his motion on Agenda Item #418, which would guarantee the promised minimum of $220 million for Precinct 3.
During debate on the topic:
- Only one of the four Democrats on Commissioners Court agreed with the idea that “we need to deliver on what we say.”
- One confused the 2022 road and parks bond for the 2018 flood bond.
- Two claimed they had already spent their allocation; so they couldn’t re-allocate the money even if they wanted to (which they didn’t).
- One claimed “everybody” lost track of $110 million.
- Two claimed that allocating the money to poor areas was more important than an equal split or honoring promises.
When they talked about allocations to poor areas, they did not mention the percentage of county-maintained parks or roads in their precincts. Nor did they take into account the percentage of their precincts inside incorporated areas, such as the City of Houston. Municipalities are already responsible for maintaining roads and parks within their boundaries.
BEFORE the 2022 election, commissioners voted to allocate a minimum $220 million from the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds to each precinct. The county then trumpeted that promise in:
- Pre-election publicity
- Postings on county websites
- Speeches and handouts at community meetings.
Voters approved the bonds on the basis of that promise.
Then, in January 2023. shortly AFTER the election, the Democrats on commissioners court broke that promise. They voted to adopt a different formula that resulted in drastically less money than promised for Precinct 3, the only Republican-led precinct remaining in Harris County.
Precinct 3 received $187.5 million – $32.5 million less than promised.
Meanwhile, the Democrats voted to award themselves far more than Ramsey’s Precinct 3 which contains the highest percentage of unincorporated areas in the county.
|Precinct||Minimum Promised |
|Difference||% of Allocated $|
|One||$220 million||$269 million||$49 million MORE||27%|
|Two||$220 million||$293 million||$73 million MORE||30%|
|Three||$220 million||$188 million||$32 million LESS||19%|
|Four||$220 million||$239 million||$19 million MORE||24%|
The FTC calls this “bait-and-switch” advertising. It’s illegal. In a commercial context, intentionally advertising a product or service with the intent to lure customers in, only to then provide a different, less desirable offering is considered a deceptive trade practice and fraudulent. The FTC often forces companies caught in bait-and-switch schemes to refund money.
Ironically, had Precinct 3 voters realized the bait and switch, they could have defeated the bonds.
Was There Intent to Break the Promise?
In my opinion, it would be easy to prove intent in this case. Before the election, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia talked for months about how they wanted to apply so-called “equity” and “social vulnerability” factors to the distribution of proposed bond funds…without identifying projects or nailing down a formula.
Then on August 2, 2022, they relented and consented to a $220 million per precinct minimum. After voters approved the bonds and Lina Hidalgo won re-election, the Democrats changed the deal back. We got exactly what Ellis and Garcia argued for all along – an SVI-based formula that radically skewed the distribution of bond funds.
So, in the end, after redistricting (which packed more roads and parks into Precinct 3 than any other precinct), and after an election in which voters were deceived…
Some would say Democrats planned that all along.
What Democrats Said During Debate on Ramsey Motion
Precinct 4 Commissioner Leslie Briones
The newly elected Briones, a lawyer by trade, was not part of the pre-election promises. She said, “I agree fundamentally that we need to deliver on what we say and need to be transparent in doing so.” However, she later added that rectifying such situations is important … on a ‘go forward’ basis.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia
Garcia said, “In terms of Precinct 2, I’ll say that our projects have already been lit. So we’re already, you know, our funding is already committed. We got our project partnership commitments already out. And so the funding is already allocated and you know … I absolutely love leveraging equity. Otherwise I wouldn’t have the 30%, uh, the precinct to, uh, needs it because we’re down to the downstream side of five counties, not just Harris County. Um, and but I am open to seeing if there’s another way of, of getting there, because flooding is flooding regardless of its downstream side or wherever. But right now, of the allocation that I’ve got, my guys have already let that out the door. Yeah.”
Commissioner Garcia evidently confused the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds being discussed with the 2018 Flood Bond.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis
Ellis said, “Yeah, we’ve already committed our funds as well. And I would say that I’m strongly committed to SVI.” SVI means the CDC’s race-based Social Vulnerability Index as a means of allocating dollars.
County Judge Hidalgo
Judge Lina Hidalgo argued that the $220 million promise was based on faulty math. She said, “We hadn’t thought about … there’s overhead costs of $110 million. And I think that just literally nobody thought about it.”
Hidalgo narrowly won a hotly contested re-election bid on the same ballot as the bond, based in part on her assertion that she represented ALL the people of the county.
Could You Really Spend $562 Million in 10 Months?
With all of the County’s purchasing procedures, could you really spend (or at least commit) $562 million in ten months? That’s the total of Ellis’ and Garcia’s split.
Democrats didn’t approve the SVI-based allocation formula until earlier this year. Then you would have to study projects, rank them, advertise the projects, review qualifications of potential bidders, bid the projects, pick a winner, acquire right of way, sell bonds, and mobilize the projects.
That can take years. For instance, the Northpark Drive expansion project in Kingwood began in 2015 and won’t finish for another 2 or 3 years. And two miles of Loop 494 renovations have taken 4.5 years.
And, perhaps more important, how do you just forget about $110 million in overhead costs? I couldn’t follow the Budget Director’s attempted explanation on that one! Forgetting about $110 million in the private sector would get most people fired.
Think about these issues as you go to the polls and vote on new bond projects next Tuesday.
To see the entire Commissioners Court debate on Item #418, start at 2:30:21 into the video of Departments Part II of IV. The discussion lasts 20 minutes.
In the end, Ramsey, the only Republican, couldn’t even get a second for his motion, so the court took no action.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/4/2023
2258 Days since Hurricane Harvey