We will elect a new Tax Assessor-Collector next year.
Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett, a second-term Democrat, announced last week she will not seek re-election in 2024. She will continue to lead Harris County’s voter registration process through the upcoming presidential cycle, though a string of absences from recent election administration events raise questions about her performance on the job.
Bennett won the job in 2016 after defeating Republican incumbent Mike Sullivan. While managing property tax collections and vehicle registration, she has navigated significant changes in her office: losing oversight of the county’s voter registration process in 2020, then regaining those responsibilities just weeks ago.
Bennett wrote in a public letter last week that her decision was made “with a heavy heart” and “after careful consideration.” She attributed her departure to her desire to focus on her family and her health.
Prior to regaining her voter registration duties, Bennett sat on the five-member Harris County elections commission, the group that oversaw hiring the elections administrator. She never attended one of the meetings in person, instead joining the meetings virtually.
Bennett was absent from a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting in late August that included a public discussion of the election transition process. While County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth attended the meeting, gave a brief update to members of Commissioners Court and answered reporters’ questions, Bennett sent a deputy instead.
Wendy Caesar, chief deputy at the tax assessor-collector’s office, explained Bennett’s absence to reporters: “Ms. Bennett’s an elected official. If she’s not here, I’m her chief deputy, and she’s asked me to come here. I cannot divulge where Ms. Bennett is, but I’m here as her chief.”
She also missed a joint news conference her office hosted with the county clerk to answer questions about the transition when the law abolishing the elections administrator went into effect on Sept. 1. Bennett’s director of communications, Laura Smith, told reporters Bennett was unable to attend because she had a family member in critical care.
Bennett did not attend a meeting on her department’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Sept. 7 either. No reason for her absence was given.
Though Bennett will be in charge of voter registration and maintaining Harris County’s voter rolls during the high-stakes 2024 presidential election cycle, she did not respond to questions from the Chronicle about her numerous absences. Bennett turned down an interview request from the Chronicle, then declined to answer questions about whether she has worked from the office over the past year or plans to do so next year.
Mike Doyle, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, said he hasn’t seen Bennett since her last virtual appearance at the elections commission in May, but her office has experienced staff who know what they’re doing.
“There’s no reason to believe that the professionals in the office are not fully capable of handling what they’re assigned to do,” Doyle said.
You can see a copy of her letter herre. I have no personal knowledge of the situation, but it sounds consistent with someone who is having health issues. Whatever the case, I wish her all the best. Harris County’s voter registration numbers have steadily increased on her watch so I don’t have any complaints about that, but I will be very interested to hear from potential successors what their plans are to continue increasing the rolls, deal with interference from the state, and what they thought about the Elections Administrator’s office. As the story notes, there are no known candidates at this time but I would expect that to change soon.