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Harris County
News Release
Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Commissioners unanimously approve initiatives introduced by County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Aiming to Bring Greater Transparency, Accountability for Flood Relief Spending

Harris County, Texas - Judge Lina Hidalgo quickly set the tone for a new way of doing business in Harris County, stating that the court meetings should be adapted to fit the needs of the community.

“As the body in charge of prioritizing billions of dollars of funds each year, we at the Commissioners Court need to make sure we are accessible to the community,” said Judge Hidalgo.

Judge Hidalgo signaled that she’s open to exploring changing the location, agenda, length and frequency of the meetings to encourage greater participation. Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the discussion as part of Talking Transition: Harris County, a civic engagement program that launches on January 15 with a county-wide survey.

Judge Hidalgo also introduced four initiatives to bring equity and community input into the decision-making process for how billions of dollars in flood recovery funds are spent.  

“There’s a critical need for clarity and input on how tax dollars are being spent on Hurricane Harvey relief and other flooding issues,” said Judge Hidalgo. “I’ve made a commitment to spend the funds in the smartest way possible and in a way that doesn’t leave the community wondering what happened or whether they had a voice in the process.”

Judge Hidalgo tasked the County Attorney and Flood Control District with designing parameters that will make equity one of the deciding factors in prioritizing flood control funds. She also requested that the departments reform the Flood Control District Task Force to make it an avenue for meaningful public input for flood control fund investment decisions.

Finally, she tasked the county with designing a dashboard that provides clarity on funding streams, ongoing projects, and projected projects, so the community can understand where, why, and when, flood recovery projects are getting underway. Given community unrest after plans were announced to close the Ardmore bridge as part of a flood control initiative, Judge Hidalgo is also asking that Flood Control present a detailed process for public engagement as specific projects move to implementation.

The first Commissioners Court meeting of the year, which lasted over 6 hours, also included  a public hearing on voting centers. Voting centers enable registered voters to cast their ballot at one of several locations around the County, a move that many voting rights advocates say could make voting more convenient for more people and increase voter turnout.

“Voting is the bedrock of our democracy.  We should help eligible citizens to cast their vote without any unnecessary barriers. Voting centers make it easier for people to vote at any location - the one closest to work, or school, or the gym - as opposed to one that may be inconvenient to reach during polling hours on election day,” Judge Hidalgo stated. “That said, we also have to make sure any changes to our voting process are made thoughtfully and with community input. We requested authorization for public hearings to thoroughly review this proposal, and to hear from civic groups that represent communities that have been traditionally underrepresented.”

Judge Hidalgo also partnered with Commissioner Adrian Garcia to request a formal impact study that would allow Harris County to collaborate with the 311 service system operated by the City of Houston.

“Often, the County Judge’s office receives questions from constituents who don’t know who to call. We should make the reporting process as easy as possible to ensure the communication process is convenient and streamlined,” Judge Hidalgo said.

Judge Hidalgo enthusiastically supported Commissioner Garcia’s motions to raise pay for County employees to $15 an hour and to review employee handbooks to ensure they adequately protect County employees from harassment and discrimination.

“I applaud Commissioner Garcia for raising these two critically important issues. Our County employees deserve a liveable wage. Moreover, harassment and discrimination have no place in any workplace, particularly in a community as vibrant as Harris County,” Judge Hidalgo said.

Judge Hidalgo also voted for the county to file an amicus brief in various federal lawsuits in which local jurisdictions are opposing the placement of a question on the 2020 Census asking for a person’s citizenship status. “Nationally $800 billion in funding is determined by Census counts. The only responsible position for a County Judge to take is one that gets everyone counted. We can't afford to have questions that decrease participation.”

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