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January 11th, 2022:

Interview with Ann Williams

Ann Williams

We continue with our series of interviews for the Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 primary race. Today’s candidate is Ann Williams, who has served on the Alief ISD Board of Trustees since 2007 and is currently serving as that Board’s President; she has held that position for the past seven years. Williams works in information technology and has an MBA to go along with a bachelor’s degree in IT. She also serves as the President of the Texas Caucus Black School Board Members. Please note, there were a couple of times when the Zoom session froze for a few seconds. I apologize for the glitches. Here’s the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Kelley Andrews

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Kelley Andrews

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Kelley Andrews and I am the Presiding Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Court 6 is a misdemeanor court, so we hear cases that involve offenses that can potentially lead to county jail sentences. Assault, DWI, DWI 2nd, Assault Family Violence, Animal Cruelty, Criminal Mischief, Criminal Trespass, and Thefts up to $2500 are some examples of the cases that are heard in misdemeanor courts.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

Since being elected and taking the bench in January 2019 I, along with my colleagues, immediately began working on bail reform. The O’Donnell lawsuit that was costing the county excessive amounts of legal fees was dismissed, we worked, and continue to work, together to change and create local rules that affect bail reform, so that no one is left in custody, or feels forced to enter a plea, simply because they can not afford to get out of jail. I helped create and preside over the misdemeanor Mental Health Court and I represent the misdemeanor courts on the Harris County Mental Health Standing Committee. As presiding Judge of Court 6, I have focused on addressing the underlying conditions that factor into a person entering into the criminal justice system. Conditions such as mental health issues, substance abuse and addiction, housing and educational insecurity, and health care. I tailor conditions of bond and community supervision to the individual person, so that those conditions address the underlying issues that landed that person in criminal trouble in the first place. It has been my experience in the last 14 years that I have worked in the area of criminal law, as both an attorney and now a judge, that addressing these issues can truly help people to get out of the criminal justice system permanently. Every single person that comes into Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6 is treated with respect, dignity and compassion.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I would like to continue with the work that I have started, begin to work with some of the other agencies and judges involved in the criminal justice system on developing some community outreach that shows people the courts can be places to get help and work to help put people in need of services in contact with those services, and I’d like to expand the Mental Health Court, so that I am able to help more people in this area.

5. Why is this race important?

Misdemeanor courts are one area of the criminal justice system where you have a real shot at helping someone to turn their life around because it is often the first time an adult ever has contact with the criminal justice system. Helping people work towards getting out of the criminal justice system helps the person, and it also helps the community. Judges need real experience in the area of law that their courts preside over in order to help people make these types of changes. Experience facilitates alternative dispositions in the criminal arena because with that experience comes a real time working knowledge of options available under the law, of resources currently available in Harris County, relationships with the attorneys, agencies, and departments that work within the criminal justice system and are necessary to help effectuate the desired outcome.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I truly care about my job and the people that find themselves in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6. I believe in criminal justice reform and work every day with the goal of getting the people that find themselves in criminal trouble out of the criminal justice system permanently because helping them do that helps the entire community.

Feds halt Harvey relief funds over GLO error

The continuing saga.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday halted the distribution of $1.95 billion in aid awarded to Texas after Hurricane Harvey because it said the state has failed to send the federal agency required paperwork detailing its plans to spend it.

The delay is the latest in a series of hold-ups; almost four years after Congress approved $4.3 billion in HUD aid for Texas, about half of it remains unallocated.

HUD said in a statement its formal action gives the Texas General Land Office 45 days to submit the missing document, which the agency said is an analysis explaining how the state’s proposed list of disaster mitigation projects helps the most vulnerable residents.

“We look forward to receiving and reviewing Texas’s submission of the additional information needed for approval,” the HUD statement said. “We are hopeful that Texas will take the steps needed to begin much-needed, forward-looking mitigation projects in the state.”

The decision prevents Texas from distributing $1.2 billion in flood mitigation grants to local governments it had selected through a funding competition, as well as $750 million to Harris County, which was awarded nothing from that contest.

HUD in 2020 signed off on the GLO’s plan for the funding competition, which selected 81 projects, and said it welcomed the subsequent proposal for Harris County. The agency on Friday, however, said moving forward with those plans depends on whether GLO provides the missing report.

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she looked forward to GLO completing the paperwork. She said county staff are prepared to answer any questions from HUD about how its planned projects will help vulnerable residents. Hidalgo still is hoping for additional aid.

“This $750 million is a start, but more is needed since Harris County and the city of Houston took over 50 percent of the damage from Hurricane Harvey, and because millions of residents remain vulnerable to natural disasters,” Hidalgo said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner raised the same point about the unequal distribution of aid. He said he was pleased with HUD’s action Friday, and awaits the response from the Land Office.

We’ve been down this road before. The reason this is a problem for the GLO, and why they reacted so bitterly to HUD’s letter, is that they don’t have a good explanation for why they did the funding formula that they did. It was designed to screw the big Democratic cities and counties in favor of the rural Republican counties. That’s not the explanation HUD is looking for, so here we are. Tune in later in February to see how they try to wriggle out of it.

Back to Code Red

Hopefully not for too long.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Monday moved the county again to its highest COVID-19 threat level, her office said.

The announcement should be old hat for Hidalgo, who has moved to Level Red each of the past three calendar years.

“Unfortunately, today we find ourselves crossing a threshold we don’t want to cross,” Hidalgo said at Booker Elementary School in Spring ISD. “We are in the midst of another COVID-10 tsunami.”

She cited an explosion of new COVID-19 cases. She expounded on the dangers of the new Omicron variant. She pointed out that virus hospitalizations are increasing at a higher rate than ever.

Twenty-one months into the pandemic, a question looms: How many people are still listening?

Schools are back in session. Restaurants, bars, theatres and sports arenas are open to capacity. There are no county- or state-wide mask rules. Moving to Level Red does not change any of that; instead, it urges unvaccinated residents to stay home and avoid unnecessary contact with others. The decree is not enforceable.

[…]

Hidalgo has made warning the public about COVID-19 central to her messaging since the pandemic reached Texas in March 2020. For more than a year, she and county public health officials have cajoled, implored, exhorted, implored, advised, recommended, begged and even bribed residents to get vaccinated.

Hidalgo tried to remain optimistic, reasoning that getting more residents inoculated is the way to retreat from Level Red and never return.

“We can break that habit,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t want this always to be bad news.”

Growth of the county’s rate of vaccinated residents has slowed significantly. It now stands at 59.8 percent, up just 3.3 percent since before Thanksgiving. At this rate, 70 percent county of county residents would not be vaccinated until July.

See here for the previous time the threat level was raised. It’s a fair question whether anyone is still listening. I never really stopped wearing masks for indoor things like grocery shopping and ordering at restaurants – I eat outside if at all possible – but now I’m wearing KN95s instead of cloth masks. In my observation, we’re nowhere close to the levels of mask wearing we had a year ago, and few places are doing much about it. I guess we’re going to got for a low-rent version of herd immunity, at least for the short term. Better hope that the “milder” part of this strain holds up. More here from the Chron.