“We have to, have to, have to, get into these communities,” said Hidalgo.
At a previous commissioners court meeting on June 8 of this year, Hidalgo, along with Commissioners Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) and Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) approved hiring an outside group to conduct a “targeted vaccine outreach” to communities with lower vaccine participation rates in the county.
According to documents provided to commissioners during the August 10 meeting of commissioners court, the county will pay Elevate Strategies, LLC. $10,973,000 over the next 12 months to conduct the vaccine outreach efforts.
A Houston-based data analytics firm, Elevate Strategies was founded by Felicity Pereyra, who previously served as the deputy campaign manager for Garcia when he ran for mayor of Houston in 2015.
Pereyra also served as the analytics director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, and was the director of data for the Democratic National Committee for several years.
In 2019, Pereyra founded Elevate Strategies and touts her work with gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety and the Community Justice Action Fund, a group that publishes a policy guidebook on how to “reduce gun violence without policing communities.” Another client is international law firm Perkins Coie, which is known for commissioning the Steele Dossier and has been sanctioned by a U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel for filings related to a Texas straight-ticket voting lawsuit in 2020.
During Tuesday’s public meeting, Harris County resident Julia Swann asked why taxpayers would be funding efforts to go door to door to collect private health information. She also asked the court to reconsider hiring Elevate Strategies.
“They are not medical professionals; they are political consultants. They have no background in health science.”
Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) questioned county purchasing agent DeWight Dopslauf as to who was on the committee that vetted the Request For Procurement (RFP) process in selecting the vendor.
“It was members of the county judge’s office and public health [department],” answered Dopslauf.
“Did we have anybody from Precinct four?” asked Cagle.
Dopslauf explained that only individuals from the county judge’s office and the public health department, but also informed Cagle that the process and funding had already been approved and could not revisit the contract unless the commissioners court voted to do so.
Cagle noted he had voted against the expenditure back in June.
Hidalgo defended the hiring of the Democratic strategist.
“There is no lack of public health expertise in the county, we do have an issue in reaching the communities,” said Hidalgo. “So I wanted to make sure it went through a selection committee even though there was a sense of urgency.”
The Harris County contract with Elevate Strategies will cover a 12-month period with the possibility for three one-year renewals.
At $10.9 million, the Harris County contract dwarfs a similar outreach project in Fort Bend County where Commissioner KP George (D) pushed through a $345,000 contract to conduct vaccine outreach with NextWave Strategies, another Houston-based strategy group that Republican Fort Bend County Commissioner Andy Meyers called “a political operative.”
Last week, Hidalgo held a joint press conference with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to announce that she was moving the county’s COVID-19 threat level to “red,” or the highest possible level, and urged all but the fully vaccinated to remain home. She also blamed the unvaccinated for the surge in cases saying, “You’re the reason we’re here today.”
In a 3 to 2 party-line vote, commissioners also approved authorizing the county attorney to file a lawsuit against Governor Greg Abbott over executive order GA 38 which prohibits local officials from imposing mask mandates and other restrictions thought to inhibit the spread of coronavirus.
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Holly Hansen is a reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.