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County Commissioners

Meeting notes - July 14, 2009

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PUBLIC MEETING NOTES

Harris County Commissioners Court
July 14, 2009, 10 am

Meeting agenda

Houston Tomorrow publishes notes from public meetings to help local governments in their mission to provide transparency and to allow a greater pool of citizens to participate in important policy discussions. These notes are not official meeting minutes, nor do they necessarily record every agenda item.

Note: The Commissioners Court covers a wide variety of topics. Questions or comments regarding agenda items are discussed during the meeting, and some items may be removed. At the end the commissioners vote on the agenda as a whole.

The Harris County Commissioners Court, at the request of the County Attorney, formally expressed its support of a joint US-Canada application for an Emissions Control Area for the coastlines of the US and Canada. According to Environment News Service, the two countries requested the designation from the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) in March, becoming the first two countries to do so. The Emissions Control Area would limit emissions from ships within 200 miles of either country’s shores. IMO will begin reviewing the application this month and a ruling could be issued next year. According to an analysis performed by both countries starting in 2006, the designation would save 8,400 American and Canadian lives each year by 2020 and avoid 3.4 million respiratory ailments while increasing shipping costs by just three percent. The county commissioners insisted that the resolution include Harris County’s stature not just as one of the country’s largest ports, but as one of the country’s largest counties as well.

In other action, Commissioners Court approved the creation of Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to examine jail overcrowding issues, with the council to be comprised of 11 elected officials in accordance with a set of recommendations provided in June by the Justice Management Institute. Three speakers showed up to support the measure, although two representing the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association asked that the council include a representative of the Criminal Defense Bar. The general counsel for Attorney General Patricia Lykos spoke in favor of limiting membership to elected officials, noting that council committees could bring in outside experts for assistance.

The commissioners approved a resolution honoring Dr. Max Castillo upon his retirement from 17 years as president of the University of Houston-Downtown. Castillo said that seventeen years ago, UH-Downtown catered mostly to people living and working downtown, but that its draw has expanded, and now 48 percent of its students live outside Beltway 8. The Court also recognized the Houston Texans for giving discounts to Harris County employees for a preseason football game.

At the end of the meeting, a speaker from the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts in northern Harris County spoke about the museum’s success in its first year of operation. He said it drew 17,500 visitors in its first year, while the average draw for similarly-sized museums is 15,000 visitors per year. He thanked the commissioners for their support, noting that it is the only fine arts museum in Harris County outside the Museum District. The museum is working closely with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Two speakers requested more sheriff patrols, saying that their area falls into a jurisdictional “black hole.” The speakers live in southeast Houston near Beltway 8 and Pearland, but they say that 911 calls are misdirected because neither the City of Houston, Pearland, nor Harris County claim jurisdiction. There are some sheriff’s patrols, they said, but the deputies have said that they are there exclusively to protect infrastructure, not the citizens or private property. Crime has been rising significantly in the area, they said, leading to widespread fear.

Another speaker demanded that the Harris County Flood Control District clean up a ditch clogged with debris from Hurricane Ike. The commissioners and several county officials said that the Flood Control District does not have jurisdiction over that ditch, and that previous efforts to obtain jurisdiction had been thwarted by one or two hold-outs in the area. A final speaker said that police officers should be trained to take poisoned people to the emergency room instead of to jail, after her adult son was arrested after drinking antifreeze and died in jail. She said that her son’s vital signs were still normal when he was arrested, but that he told officers that he had consumed poison.

Previous County Commissioners notes (June 23, 2009)

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