Efforts to clean up Harris County government appear to be on indefinite hold as any serious debate about ethics reform has been derailed for months by infighting and political gamesmanship.
Commissioners Court has yet to act on a slate of suggestions prepared by an ethics reform task force that County Judge Ed Emmett appointed as scandals involving his colleagues clouded his Republican primary campaign.
The most significant reforms would require legislative approval, but only one bill has been filed as the biennial session's end quickly approaches.
That legislation, which aims to block county officials from profiting from their connections after they enter the private sector, was drafted at the behest of Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and does not have the backing of the full court.
When asked why the reform package has gone nowhere, locally or in Austin, court members are quick to assign blame to someone else.
Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole said it is up to Emmett to bring the package up for a vote since he is the one who appointed the task force. He does not need court's permission to push his own bills in Austin as long as he does not claim he is speaking for the entire court, Radack added.
"If Emmett doesn't have the courage to place the proposals on the agenda, he shouldn't blame me because I would vote for anything constructive and beneficial to Harris County," Eversole said in a statement.
Ethics reform became a major theme of Emmett's campaign last year after Eversole came under fire for questionable campaign spending and former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned following the release of e-mails that included racist jokes, sexually explicit images, campaign materials and affectionate messages to his executive assistant.
Emmett promised on the campaign trail to push for legislation authorizing Harris County to establish a board to investigate ethics complaints, to require lobbyists to register and to close the revolving door. He acknowledged, however, he has done little lobbying on the measure since Commissioner El Franco Lee twice referred the package to the County Attorney's Office for comparisons between current law and the recommendations.
County Attorney Vince Ryan submitted his final report in February. The court took no action, and the package has not reappeared on the agenda.
Failing to adopt the reforms he touted could provide ammunition to a Republican primary challenger in 2010, when Emmett faces running again for his first full four-year term.
Garcia said she agrees with every element of Emmett's package and would like to add campaign contribution limits and strengthen other financial reporting requirements.
She said she was the under the impression the court supported her revolving-door bill when she took it to [State Sen. Mario] Gallegos, a Houston Democrat.
She said she did not find out that Radack opposed the bill until Thursday night, minutes before she was supposed to testify about the measure before a Senate committee.
Radack said he would support the bill if it was amended to block city officials from remaining in office while running for a county post. Garcia remained Houston's city controller while she ran for her current seat in 2002.