January 12, 2008
The sheriff's new home

Well, the good news for the local GOP is that there don't seem to be any new bombshells in L'Affaire Rosenthal today, just a routine request for a leave of absence by Kelly Siegler so she can campaign. The bad news is that this is on the air instead.

Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas faces tough questions from 13 Undercover about his ranch house in the country and who helped design it.


The 80 acre Thomas Ranch, according to county tax records, is worth $1.1 million. A brand new, nearly 3,500 square foot stone house with an expensive metal roof sits in the shade of live oak trees valued at more than half a million dollars.


You know who helped with the design of some the sheriff's ranch house? It was Leroy Hermes. The architecture firm he founded now has the contract to design the new 1,100 bed county jail off Atascosita Road. A jail project the sheriff plays a role in approving.

"I'm sure I agreed to it, but I don't recall whether I signed off on it, I just don't recall," he said.
Thomas says Hermes volunteered to help redesign the sheriffs house plans to avoid removing huge live oak trees on the property.

"He doesn't design houses, he designs buildings," Thomas said. "It's a hobby and he said he'd be honored if he could help, I said ok."

I asked how much that would cost in the private sector.

"I have no idea," he responded.

The sheriff says the offer was made from one good friend to another, not because of the county business Hermes' firm would eventually solicit.

"This has nothing to do with any contracts with Harris County," Thomas said.

Thomas says he's been friends with Hermes 15 years.

"Leroy is a good friend, he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart, I don't think there was anything more to it than that," Thomas told us.


Last year Hermes architects got the new jail job.

I told him to tell the voters why they don't have a right know how much he paid on the house.

"That's something that's private between Leroy and I," Thomas said.

But Thomas claims he did pay.

"This was thousands, right," I asked.

"Yeah," Thomas responded.

"You paid him thousands of dollars?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said again.

"But you won't tell us how much," I asked.

"No," he responded.

"So it's possible you got a better deal than Joe Six Pack would have gotten," I asked.

"Possible," he said.

The new jail had to get the ok of the commissioner of Precinct 4, Jerry Eversole.

What a small world. Plans show Leroy Hermes stamp on the design plans for Eversole's new home in the Heights. The commissioner won't tell the public how much he paid either.

Now it's questions about the sheriff's house.

"Do you see this is as much a problem," I asked Thomas.

He said no.

Sweet. There's video there as well, or you can go to Greg's place if you want to avoid the annoying popups. And remember, as I've said before, Rosenthal's problems stem from a lawsuit in which he is accused of helping Sheriff Thomas cover up some malfeasance. We're in for a long cycle of this stuff, and I daresay we haven't seen the full casualty list yet. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 12, 2008 to Local politics

Incidentally (and Dolcefino's story doesn't mention this, probably because it weakens the story a bit) Leroy Hermes no longer running Hermes Architects: he retired and sold to a new set of partners. So maybe the the house design is just a personal favor. Also worth noting: Hermes does relatively little government work. Their bread and butter is retail centers, which they are very good at, and where the owners are spending their own money, not the taxpayers'.

But the fact that the county hires architecture firms which happen to have PACs which happen to make major contributions to the elected officials who approve those contracts is a real story. And it's not limited to one firm.

Hiring good design firms for county work matters. Architecture affects everyone who uses that building. Well designed buildings function better, adapt better over time, and make the people who work in them and use them happier and more productive. If we hire firms based on donations, not based on qualifications, we sell ourselves short.

Posted by: Christof Spieler on January 12, 2008 10:03 AM

I cannot wait to see more killer residential designs from Hermes Architects.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on January 12, 2008 1:19 PM