Conflicted on the Dome

Reliant_Astrodome_in_January_2014

EricEnfermero –

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Astrodome now looks slated for demolition. The Houston Texans and the Livestock Show & Rodeo have both endorsed a $66 Million plan to level the dome and replace the space with some sort of “green space.” The plan, which I recall hearing my friend Perry Dorrell (Brains & Eggs) discuss at length in the past, demolishes all but the outside skeleton of the dome, then fills in the depression with grass. Thus, an open air structure would stand that would pay tribute to the Astrodome while requiring minimal upkeep. It is a fitting tribute to the dome, though it is significantly more expensive than just paving over it.

As the astute will surely recall, a contentious fight erupted last year when a proposition was put on the ballot to spend over $200 Million renovating the dome into a modern convention center. Texpatriate wholeheartedly supported that proposal, but it ended up failing by a few percentage points. After that, some talk has occurred over designating the structure a landmark, though it is exceedingly unlikely this would actually prevent demolition if the powers-to-be truly wished for it. In the last few months, the Editorial Board has heatedly debated the prospect of another editorial on the topic (e.g., “Tear down the Dome!” or “Not yet, a desperate plea”), but there was not enough support one way or another to write anything.

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Commissioners’ salaries go up

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County Commissioners’ are discussing hiking the salaries of most county officials. The notable exceptions are the Judges with a local jurisdiction, whose salaries are tied to that of the District Judge, set by the State Legislature. Similarly tied is the salary of the County Judge.

However, the Constables, County Attorney, County Clerk, County Commissioners, County Treasurer, District Attorney, District Clerk, Sheriff and Tax Assessor-Collector will all receive modest increases in their salaries. When I say “modest,” I truly mean somewhat miniscule. For example, the County Commissioners accused of these nefariously dealing with regard to “voting themselves a raise” would simply see 11% hike, which would be near the top of the raises. Towards the low end, the District Clerk would only see his salary go up by little more than 5%.

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The Harris County GOP Chairman race

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett has endorsed Paul Simpson in his race for chairman of the Harris County GOP, against incumbent Jared Woodfill. Emmett, a Republican, is the highest ranking member of the county party, holding the de facto executive leadership role over Harris County.

The news was broken last night on Quorum Report, where it was also reported that Emmett had donated a generous $10,000.00 to Simpson’s campaign. As the astute may recall, this is Simpson’s –a local attorney– third bid against the incumbent chair. However, unlike a previous race, this year’s election simply features the two candidates, making Woodfill somewhat more vulnerable. Emmett blasted Woodfill as being out of touch and implicit in the recent losing streak of the party. Ronald Reagan would probably not be welcome in today’s Republican Party. I would like to see the base in Harris County to be 400,000, not 150,000,” Emmett says.

Today, Jared Woodfill hit back by announcing some big name supporters of his own. Two of the three Republican Harris County Commissioners (Jack Cagle and Jack Morman) endorsed Woodfill’s candidacy, as did both Emmett’s predecessor (Robert Eckels) and the Tax Assessor (Mike Sullivan). Given that Woodfill is the incumbent, it would be a waste of time to really dig in too deep as to why an officeholder might support him. Simply put, it is far safer to support an incumbent out of habit then warm up to the challenger (if [s]he wins) than to support the challenger then face a victorious incumbent.

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County panhandling ban?

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County Commissioners’ Court will soon consider a ban on panhandling in the middle of streets and intersections. Specifically, the proposed regulations would prohibit all “solicitation activities” from the middle of roads (including esplanades and medians), as well as impose a blanket prohibition on children panhandling.

These regulations would only apply to unincorporated areas of Harris County. The City of Houston already has a ban on such panhandling activities, though it is arguably more strict. Whereas Houston requiring all “fundraising groups” to obtain permits from the City, the draft County rules do not. Houston also maintains a broad exception for firefighters who seek to raise money for their charity Christmas fund.

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287g Reauthorized

The Houston Chronicle reports that the controversial 287(g) program used in the Harris County Jails will be extended for another two and a half years, following a unanimous vote of confidence from the Commissioners’ Court and strong campaigning from the Sheriff.

The program basically allows law enforcement to check those arrested of crimes for their immigration status, and then possibly turn them over to the Federal authorities (i.e., ICE, formerly known as INS). Supporters of the policy note that it roots out dangerous people who should be deported, while opponents allege that most of those deported are non-violent, and it presumes one is guilty until proven innocent.

287(g) in Harris County, which first reared its head during the tenure of Sheriff Tommy Thomas (a Republican), was introduced in 2008. Later that year, Thomas was defeated for re-election by Democrat Adrian Garcia. The next year, amid massive protests, the program was controversially reauthorized. Mostly because of the rather quiet nature of today’s reauthorization, there were no such protests this time. Part of this most likely stems from the different partisan composition of the Commissioner’s Court. Whereas the commissioners were, in 2009, split evenly, there are 3 Republicans and 1 Democrat today. This, of course, is because Sylvia Garcia was defeated for re-election in 2010 by Jack Morman. The elimination of Garcia, the only Hispanic on the court, probably made reauthorization easier, though Sheriff Adrian Garcia, an ardent supporter of the problem, is also a Hispanic Democrat.

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