Criminal JusticeLocal NewsTaxes & SpendingHidalgo Booed Exiting Meeting Where GOP Commissioners Continue Boycott of Tax Increase

Hundreds of citizens and law enforcement officers signed up to speak, but Hidalgo adjourned the commissioners court early, saying she needed rest.
October 11, 2022
For the third time this year, an attempt to pass a Harris County tax increase proposal has been thwarted by Republicans boycotting a meeting of the commissioners court.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) and Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) have been pushing a tax increase that would add an estimated $257 million to county revenues, but state law requires a quorum of four members present to approve such increases.

Since September 14, Commissioners Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) and Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) have boycotted meetings that would have included the proposed tax increase and correlating budget. Ramsey indicated he would only support the increase if 200 new officers were hired for patrols in light of the county’s dramatic increase in crime, but Hidalgo and the court’s Democrats have resisted adding officers to anything other than the county’s troubled jail system.

On Tuesday, prior to the meeting, hundreds of law enforcement officers stood outside the county building with a sign reading “Stop Defunding.” Multiple officers joined Constable Mark Herman in the meeting room preparing to address commissioners on ongoing disputes over funding of law enforcement in the county.

Photo from the office of Constable Mark Herman.

After gaveling the meeting to order nearly 30 minutes late, Hidalgo said she had been to the emergency room twice last week for food poisoning and a reaction to antibiotics, and was then diagnosed with an ovarian cyst. She, therefore, needed more rest and would not be remaining to hear from those who signed up to speak.

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“I want to acknowledge the law enforcement officers that are here,” said Hidalgo. “Part of the reason I came against doctor’s orders was in the hope that one of my colleagues would show up and we’d be able to pass the budget to be able to fund 8.25 percent in raises, to be able to fund $100 million in prosecutors in constables and police officers and also our hospital system.”

During Hidalgo’s final comments, a man waiting to speak exclaimed, “This is a joke.” As she left the dais, many in the room booed while a few offered applause.

Although Ellis and Garcia said they would stay to hear speakers after Hidalgo left, the two took up resolutions and invited guests to sit at the dais for pictures before allowing those signed up to speak. Most of those who had been waiting left angry and vowed to return for the next meeting.

The last person Ellis permitted to speak was Ray Hunt of the Houston Police Officers Union, who urged commissioners to increase funding for law enforcement agencies in the county. The union has endorsed Hidalgo’s Republican opponent Alexandra del Moral Mealer for county judge and has shared photos of Hidalgo attending local Communist Party events.

Before Hidalgo’s exit, commissioners approved selected items from the 327 on the day’s agenda, but did not take up a request from District Attorney Kim Ogg for discussion and possible action “to properly fund Harris County Law Enforcement agencies,” including the district attorney and constables offices, and to “support public safety” by “responding to calls for service, solving crimes, and arresting and prosecuting repeat violent offenders.”

Ogg had been expected to speak, but after Hidalgo adjourned the meeting early, most of those signed up to address the court left.

The court’s Democrats also declined to take up most items requested by Ramsey and Cagle, including a request for discussion of another crash of JWEB, the county’s criminal justice computer network, last Friday. During the outage, law enforcement officers were unable to check the criminal histories of suspects and prevented from returning to patrol while waiting to book suspects into the jail, and court dockets were halted for several hours.

Last week, Cagle announced he would be willing to negotiate a compromise with the court’s Democrats if Hidalgo would call a special session to discuss the issue. Garcia emphatically rejected the offer, calling Cagle’s proposal “not serious” and stating that “there are many questions about his numbers that need to be answered.”

Tuesday morning, Ramsey released a video explaining his position on the budget and accused Garcia of lying about budget negotiations.

“Commissioner Garcia stated, and I quote, that he had scheduled a meeting with me that was canceled at the last minute,” said Ramsey. “That’s not the truth. It never happened, and we never even had a meeting scheduled to cancel.”

Republican nominee for Commissioner Precinct 2 Jack Morman, also a former commissioner, took to social media to say Garcia shutting down law enforcement officers waiting to speak was “shameful.”

Without the necessary quorum to approve the tax increase, the county will default to a no-new-revenue rate that would not increase property owners’ tax bills but would allow the county to collect an additional $72 million from new properties.

Hidalgo has asserted that unless commissioners pass a tax increase, there will be cuts to law enforcement budgets and the hospital system will operate at a deficit of $45 million.

Herman told The Texan that he, Ogg, and hundreds of police officers would return to the next commissioners court meeting to address law enforcement funding.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) also called for those who had hoped to address the court to return for the next meeting in two weeks.

Hidalgo has refused to debate Mealer so far, and while an August poll of 195 voters gave Hidalgo a sizable lead, the most recently published poll showed Mealer up by 4 points. The county’s handling of crime continues to be a top election year issue.

Update: On Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Ramsey issued the following statement: “I am disappointed by the lack of leadership coming from Judge Hidalgo to get this resolved. She has yet to respond to Commissioner Cagle’s request for a special meeting, and concluded today’s meeting without a plan on how to handle the budget proposals.”

“Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Ellis and Garcia continue to retaliate against Precinct 3 and 4 constituents for their wishes of a more fiscally responsible budget. Keeping our projects off the consent agenda are not actions of people who want to compromise. Punishing constituents and withholding payments to contractors that are unrelated to our budget and tax discussions are out of line, unprofessional, and flat out wrong.”


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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a regional 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.