According to the published agenda for the June 29 meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court, Hidalgo has called for discussion and a possible vote on the creation of a county administrator position.
Under the current structure, voters in each of the county’s four precincts elect a commissioner to represent them on the court, while the judge is elected in a county-wide vote. Each commissioner administers services and projects in his or her precinct and answers directly to the voters.
Hidalgo’s plan would realign all county departments and services under the authority of an appointed county administrator. She argues that this structure will streamline procedures and promote efficiency, but opponents are calling the move yet another attempt to add bureaucracy and distance from voters in the state’s largest county.
“This is beyond a power grab. Harris County, we have a problem,” said former Super Neighborhood President and well-known Houston activist Tomaro Bell.
During a Sunday morning discussion with Greg Groogan on Fox 26, Bell lambasted Hidalgo and others on the court for what she said is a third attempt to give more authority to the county judge. The first came in a proposal from Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) to prevent communities from contracting with the county’s constables for extra patrols, a measure that failed after a bipartisan public outcry in March of 2020.
Secondly, Bell cited the controversial move to create an elections administrator, which she points out stripped authority away from two elected black women, Ann Harris Bennet and Teneshia Hudspeth, who had won races for voter registrar and county clerk.
“If this goes through, the infrastructure money that’s going to come…your area, your commissioner that you elected, won’t get to say a damn thing, because this executive administrator will have total power.”
“This is voter suppression,” exclaimed Bell.
Former Kemah Mayor Bill King said he thought the level of government closest to the people is “the most efficient and most responsive.”
Hidalgo’s proposal stems from recommendations made by the controversial PFM Consulting Group. Contracted to study the county and paid more than $5 million to date for services, PFM has advocated for the county to move beyond a focus on infrastructure to embrace greater responsibility for ensuring “equity” and to address “systemic racism and systemic bias.”
The group’s managing director David Eichenthal, who is heavily involved in the Harris County study and recommendations, also advocates for defunding police.
Even Hidalgo supporter Tony Diaz, host of Latino Politics and News, expressed concern that portions of the discussion of a potential county administrator would be conducted in executive session not open to the public.
“It seems like this should be public for many reasons,” said Diaz, who noted the proposed county administrator would have an initial budget of $2 million per year.
Both of the court’s Republican commissioners, Tom Ramsey (Pct. 3) and Jack Cagle (Pct. 4) have expressed concern over the move.
In a public letter, Ramsey argued that increased bureaucracy does not add to efficiency, and he urged residents to contact both the county judge and their precinct’s commissioner.
Cagle too has requested public input prior to Tuesday’s meeting and has published contact information as well as instructions on how to sign up to address the court during the public comment period.
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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.