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December 27th, 2019:

Federal lawsuit filed against Precinct 2 Constable over campaign practices

Hoo boy.

Chris Diaz

Nearly a dozen former employees and high-ranking officials are suing Precinct 2 Constable Chris Diaz, alleging that the elected Harris County lawman required deputies and command staff to help with his reelection campaign and retaliated against them with demotions and terminations if they refused.

The wide-ranging accusations in the 33-page federal suit paint a picture of a troubled office, where campaign donors were allegedly given preference in promotions, and anyone who cooperated with state investigators could expect to be punished.

“He’s just running Precinct 2 like it was his own campaign,” said attorney Scott Poerschke, who is representing the former employees. “He’s conditioning employment upon service of his campaign and any time that is challenged in any way, then those employees are retaliated against.”

Poerschke said the plaintiffs fall into two main categories: people who supported election challenger Jerry Garcia and people who helped out with a Texas Rangers probe into overtime claims and the possible misappropriation of Hurricane Harvey donations.

Neither Diaz nor his wife – Jacinto City Mayor Ana Diaz, who the plaintiffs accused of helping with her husband’s retaliation efforts – responded Tuesday to the Chronicle’s request for comment. A spokesman for the Harris County Attorney’s Office said the office was aware of and reviewing the litigation, but did not offer comment on it.

Even before the latest lawsuit, the constable was already the target of a whistleblower claim filed earlier this year in state court earlier. But last week, his reelection efforts landed in the news over a different concern, after one challenger accused him of putting up a relative of the same name – another Jerry Garcia – as a ploy to confuse voters.

See here for the “two Jerry Garcias” story, which I would have blogged about separately had it not been subsumed by this story. You can read the Chron article for details; I’m going to wait to see what happens at trial before making any firm conclusions, since I was not aware of any of this before now. On a broader level, is it maybe time to think about getting rid of the elected office of Constable all together? We have a pretty damn spotty record with Constables in Harris County, from Perry Wooten to Jack Abercia to Victor Trevino to Ron Hickman, and maybe allegedly now Chris Diaz. Someone make the case that elected Constables are still a good idea in the 21st century, as opposed to just absorbing the office into the Sheriff’s department. I’m going to need to hear it, because I’m not sure I see it. Campos has more.

Bus service in new places

This is a good first step, which I hope begets a second step.

Harris County has extended bus service to Channelview, Cloverleaf and Sheldon, using $3.8 million in Hurricane Harvey disaster recovery money to jump-start the new routes.

Service started Dec. 2, quickly getting about 500 riders in the second week along roughly 65 miles of new service.

“When you have that freedom to ride a bus, that opens up so many more services to you,” said Daphne Lamelle, executive director of the Harris County Community Services Department.

The need is especially pronounced in eastern Harris County after Harvey led to the loss of thousands of cars and trucks, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said Wednesday as he and other county officials dedicated the five new routes.

“We don’t think about these things until we need them,” Garcia said, lamenting the need for cars in rangy parts of the county.

[…]

Future money to operate the service will come from federal sources, doled out locally by the Houston Galveston Area Council, said Ken Fickes, transit services director for Harris County.

The new county service operates every 30, 60 or 90 minutes, depending on the route, and many connect to Metro at the Mesa Transit Center along Tidwell and along Uvalde at Woodforest Boulevard.

Transfers to Metro, at least for the foreseeable future, will be free, said Metro Vice-chairman Jim Robinson, who represents Harris County on the transit agency board.

“We have pulled out all the stops to make this a going thing,” Robinson said of the desire to extend transit to more places.

You can view the routes for existing and new bus services here. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t realized any of this existed. I knew that Metro’s service area did not include some number of non-Houston cities within Harris County, and many of those cities are in the eastern part of the county, I just either didn’t know or had forgotten that the county provided some limited transit service for them. I guess I have mostly thought of this in terms of transit-less Pasadena, which remains a stubborn island of car-only transportation.

Commissioner Garcia and Metro are both interested in extending Metro’s services out to these cities – I touched on this in my recent interview with Metro Chair Carrin Patman, though again I was more Pasadena-focused than I might have been – which is a great idea and something that will require both legislative action and local voter approval, to add a penny to their sales tax rate. That means that even in a best-case scenario, we’re talking at least two years for such a thing to happen. The main thing to do to facilitate that in the meantime is get as many people as possible using the service, and making the case to everyone else in those cities that it benefits them as well even if they’re not riding those buses. And please, do bring Pasadena into this – there’s really no reason why Metro’s service doesn’t include all of Harris County. Houston Public Media has more.