Harris County Commissioners Court
May 5, 2009, 10 am
Houston Tomorrow publishes notes from public meetings to help local governments in their mission to provide transparency and to allow a greater pool of Houstonians to participate in important policy discussions. These notes are not official meeting minutes, nor do they 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.
Out of order items
The Harris County Commissioners Court approved four resolutions. The first recognized May as Older Americans Month, and the second recognized the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of the Greater Heights on May 15 and 16. The third recognized May 9 as the National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive Day, in which postal employees go door-to-door collecting canned foods while they deliver mail.
The final resolution declared the week of May 24-30 as Hurricane Preparedness Week, in preparation for the official start of hurricane season on June 1. A representative of the National Weather Service told the Court that in the event of a hurricane, a simple rule of thumb was to “run from the water and hide from the wind,” and that that approach had probably saved numerous lives during Hurricane Ike. County Judge Ed Emmett noted that a number of lessons had been learned from Hurricane Ike, and that while Commissioner Sylvia Garcia’s (Precinct 2) precinct contained most of the county’s shoreline, all of the precincts had been significantly affected by Hurricane Ike. Two weeks ago, the Commissioners Court appointed Garcia to the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) Hurricane Ike Recovery Committee.
Items e.1.b on page 5 and 17.a.22 on page 15 were withdrawn from the agenda. Item 5 on page 10 was referred to Management Services, and item 14.c on page 14 was held for two weeks by Commissioner Garcia. Item 18.a on page 17 was postponed until after a scheduled public hearing at the end of the meeting.
Judge Emmett asked several pointed questions regarding item c.6 on page 24, which he held two weeks earlier and which would extend an agreement with the Goodman Corporation to provide public transportation planning and consulting services for an additional year. Emmett asked what specific services Barry Goodman, president of the Goodman Corporation, provided, noting that Goodman charged the county $345 per hour for his time. Specifically, Emmett asked about a 10-hour workshop in January and 12 hours of “internal meetings” in December.
Turkel said that the meetings provided county officials with a much better understanding of the normal Federal Transit Administration expense reimbursement process, and that Goodman had introduced the officials to a number of key figures in Washington, D.C. Turkel and Commissioner Jerry Eversole (Precinct 4) said that while Goodman’s services were worth $12,000 last year, the county had obtained roughly $20 million as a result of his efforts. Emmett said it was “disingenuous” to say that the county would not have received those funds without Goodman’s help.
Commissioner Garcia said that Goodman had been instrumental in obtaining METRO’s approval in several instances when the agency had previously been blocking transit projects in outlying areas.
Commissioners El Franco Lee (Precinct 1) and Eversole told Judge Emmett he should have asked these questions earlier, especially since the contract was signed a year ago. Emmett said he asked the questions, but that the answers were insufficient and that Commissioner Garcia had not returned a phone call. According to Garcia, Emmett’s voicemail stated that the commissioners would talk about the issue on Tuesday and he did not ask her to return the call.
The Commissioners Court also conducted two public hearings. The first involved the method of distribution for Hurricane Ike disaster funds. Robin Border, mayor of Hilshire Village, spoke to thank the commissioners for their efforts and for assistance with emergency funding. The commissioners approved the method of distribution.
The second public hearing involved a stimulus-funded grant administered by the Department of Justice. The item had been discussed with some confusion two weeks ago. The City of Houston would apply for the $15.3 million grant, and through an interlocal agreement, Harris County would receive half of the money, or $7.65 million. The commissioners discussed how to allocate the funds, ultimately agreeing to direct $6.2 million toward computerizing inmate medical records, $613,000 for the Medical Examiner’s Office, $470,000 for the District Attorney’s Office, $200,000 for officer safety equipment for the Sheriff’s Office, and $184,000 for the Community Services Department.
Commissioner Garcia disagreed with the District Attorney’s request, which included uniforms and flashlights, saying the county had more pressing needs. She was overruled by the other four commissioners. The commissioners denied most of the requests from the Sheriff’s Office, which would have allocated most of the money toward leasing a helicopter, with just $1.5 million set aside for inmate medical records.
The Commissioners Court approved the agenda. Judge Emmett voted against the Goodman Corporation contract renewal, but it was approved by the other four commissioners.