May 03, 2008
Mincberg goes after Emmett on ethics

Remember how I said the County Judge race would be high-profile? And so it is.

The Democratic candidate for chief of Harris County government criticized the Republican incumbent's approach to ethics reform Friday in a demonstration of how Democrats plan to wage campaigns from multiple angles well ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

Democrat David Mincberg focused on the fact that an ethics task force appointed by County Judge Ed Emmett is considering recommending the establishment of a county ethics board to monitor government officials' conduct.

"Having Harris County investigate its own ethical problems is a bit like bringing in the foxes to guard the hen house," Mincberg wrote to the news media. "We need an independent board of ethics free of politics. We need real reform, now more than ever."


The Democrat said that unlike Emmett, he would appoint a panel of experts to investigate all Harris County government real estate deals to determine if executives gain county contracts by contributing to the campaigns of elected officials.

Two-and-a-half months ago, Emmett appointed a task force to recommend ethics reforms in three months. The task force was created in response to scandals in county government such as the one that led to District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal's resignation after the disclosure of lurid material and campaign communications on his county government computer.

Couple of points here: One, Mincberg is taking a more direct approach by focusing on conflicts of interest in real estate deals - he first called for this back in March. Emmett is taking the tried-and-true path of appointing a task force, which will eventually write a report, whose recommendations may or may not be adopted. You either have faith in this kind of effort and the person spearheading it, or you don't.

As for the matter of who monitors the county's ethics, it's a question of independence. It's not impossible for a county-appointed board to be insulated from interference from the folks they'd be watchdogging, but it has to be set up that way from the beginning, or you're wasting your time. And as anyone who's ever observed the Texas Ethics Commission can tell you, if there isn't an enforcement mechanism that has real teeth to it, it will quickly become a joke. If the consequences for violating ethics standards are inconsequential, don't even bother going through the motions. It'll just breed cynicism.

On a tangential matter:

Also this week, Mincberg criticized Emmett over the county's unsuccessful legal strategies -- in a case related to the Rosenthal scandal -- in which the county must pay more than $1.4 million in fees to the opposing side's lawyers.

I've got both of Mincberg's press releases beneath the fold if you're interested. I'll note here that this same criticism can, and really should, be leveled at County Attorney Mike Stafford as well, since the defense of the Ibarra lawsuit was his responsibility. Emmett probably doesn't bear as much of the blame for holding Stafford accountable for his decisions as former Judge Robert Eckels, given how long that lawsuit had been litigated, but Emmett's the man in charge now, so the buck stops with him.

Mincberg calls for an Independent Ethics Board

Emmett wants internal board to keep business as usual in Harris County.

Houston, Texas, May 2nd, 2008 -- In March, David Mincberg called for an independent, outside investigation of all Harris County's real estate deals over the last decade. The only response from the current Harris County Leadership - we can police ourselves. Now Emmett is considering creating an internal ethics board.

"After all that has happened in Harris County - the indictments, convictions, and pay-to-play deals, it is clear we need more than an ethics task force," said David Mincberg. "It's typical that the leadership of Harris County's call for ethical conversion coincides with the upcoming election cycle. Having Harris County investigate its own ethical problems is a bit like bringing in the foxes to guard the henhouse. We need an independent Board of Ethics free of politics. We need real reform. Now, more than ever."

Federal Judge Questions Harris County Leadership

Emmett's lackluster leadership cost Harris County taxpayers at least $5.4 million ... and counting.

Houston, Texas, May 1st, 2008 -- On Tuesday, Federal District Judge Kenneth Hoyt faulted Harris County for refusing to settle the Ibarras case, even though its own legal experts were telling them it was in the county's best interest. In his decision Judge Hoyt talked about "the absence of leadership in the handling of Harris County's business" and ruled that Harris County must pay an addition $1.4 million in lawyers fees to Ibarras attorneys. That's on top of the $1.7 million the county paid to the Ibarra brothers.

"A Federal Judge is telling Ed Emmett that business as usual needs to come to an end in Harris County," said David Mincberg. "At a time when Harris County government is facing political scandals, indictments, ethics violations, and resignations, the last thing we need is a lack of leadership. What we don't need is more wasteful spending."

The Ibarra brothers sued Harris County in 2004 after their civil rights were violated when sheriff's deputies stormed their house and arrested them after they filmed a raid on the next door property. Harris County used 26 attorneys on the Ibarras case costing taxpayers nearly $2.3 million in billable hours. According to Judge Hoyt, two to four attorneys would have been "more than sufficient."

"Harris County taxpayers deserve a County Judge who provides leadership and doesn't mismanage their money," Mincberg concluded. "As a successful businessman, not a career politician, I know how to run things honestly and efficiently. I have created jobs, opportunity, growth, and success. I'll bring that same hands-on approach to Harris County government."

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 03, 2008 to Election 2008
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