June 22, 2005
Toll road followup

The Harris County Commissioners' Court did hear complaints about its stealth hearings on toll road plans, then went ahead and approved those plans anyway.

Art Storey, head of the county's Public Infrastructure Department, said the county has not given a green light to any new toll road projects, noting that all of them have been discussed publicly for years.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority's critics, he said, mistook the county's commitment to study the feasibility of building five toll roads or segments of toll roads for actual approval of the projects.

The court approved spending $192,000 to study five potential toll road projects on Beltway 8 East, Texas 288, the Grand Parkway, the Hardy Toll Road and Hempstead Road.

Robin Holzer, a member of the Citizens Transportation Coalition, told the court that residents didn't know the county was going ahead with the projects until it released its five-year capital improvements plan Friday. She couldn't get a copy of the plan until Monday, she said.

"A Harris County resident might get the impression you don't want them to participate in the toll road planning process," she said.

She and other speakers said the court should delay voting on the plan for 30 days.

Yeah, well, it's good to be the king. Or "czarina". Your choice.

Anyway. Anne has some more coverage. You can find some in-depth discussion at the CTC discussion forum. Finally, Rorschach has an open letter to AG Greg Abbott in which he asks for the following:

I would like a state website set up to act as a clearinghouse for public notifications such as hearing announcements and such searchable via zip code so that you don't have to worry about the notification being on a bulletin board in some county courthouse on the other side of town that nobody ever sees. Even better would be a voluntary sign-up system so that notices concerning specific zip codes would be automatically e-mailed to you. I would also like to see this clearinghouse show open record requests that are pending and whether they have been approved or denied and reason for denial.

I would like the notifications to be prompt and with enough forewarning that interested parties can attend or respond instead of being caught flat footed or worse, never even knowing the hearing has happened until too late to do anything about it. Ideally, hearing notices should be posted to the above proposed website at least 30 days in advance.

Seems reasonable to me. If anyone takes up his call to write AG Abbott and ask for something like this, please let me know if you get a response.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 22, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

As I read this, two issues come to mind.

Although I am not an attorney, it was my understanding that the state required Commissioners Court to meet at least once a week on Monday, but maybe the state requirements have changed recently. Sometimes our elected officials do not conduct county business in public for three week stretches.

It seems to me that more confusion and suspicion has arisen since this executive body in Harris County has cut down the frequency of their public meeting schedule, not only due to limiting public access to their elected officials, but also by compelling county departments to act, sometimes prematurely or in haste, to complete project timelines before they are fully prepared. The interdependency of project approvals require backtracking minor public deadlines to meet a major deadline, oftentimes there are not enough public Commissioners Court meetings before a major deadline to legally approve all the minor deadlines in their required order. When Commissioners Court does meet in public, an inordinate amount of time is spent discussing the challenge of meeting public deadlines within the remaining number of scheduled meeting times.

Shortcuts by departments demanded by all too infrequent public meeting schedules by Commissioners Court naturally arouse public suspicion.

The second issue is Rorschach's proposed clearinghouse for public notifications. That bulletin board description reminded me of how MUD elections are held. Has anyone ever read a notice for deadlines for perspective MUD candidates? I didn't think so.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on June 22, 2005 4:46 PM

Charles, last year there was an air quality permit hearing for a proposed asphalt plant that would have been less than a mile upwind of a local elementary school and less than two miles from Old Town Spring. Care to take a guess where the public notice was published? In the Houston Chronicle maybe? nope. In the 1960 Sun? nope. In the Conroe paper? nada. It was published in a CROSBY newspaper 40 miles away!
Needless to say, nobody from the Spring area showed up at the hearing. We didn't even find out about it until the public comment period was over and the state was about to issue the permit. Thankfully we managed a big enough stink (pardon the pun) to get the permitting process re-opened. When the company realised that there was going to be stiff opposition they withdrew the permit application. Look, Charles Kuffner and I disagree on a LOT of things. But I think just about everyone agrees that transparency in governance is a very good thing. There is an old saying that neither making Sausage nor the making of Laws should be a process that is watched, but I tell you, I'm not so interested in eating said sausage, and I feel similarly about said lawmaking.

Posted by: Rorschach on August 11, 2005 10:59 AM