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Ethics reform is hard

It’s been a long and winding road for ethics reform in Harris County, and it isn’t getting any easier.

Harris County Commissioner’s Court next week will consider a series of ethics reforms aimed at increasing accountability for and disclosure of the flow of money through government.

The proposals, which County Judge Ed Emmett placed on next week’s agenda, are weaker than a series of changes recommended last year and include the voluntary registration of lobbyists and the formation of an ethics advisory board. They follow months of delay on ethics reform, which had been a centerpiece of Emmett’s election campaign last year.

It remained unclear Wednesday whether the measures will receive enough support from Commissioner’s Court.

Commissioner Jerry Eversole questioned whether the measures cover any territory the Texas Ethics Commission does not already address. Eversole has been criticized for questionable campaign spending and a history of vague disclosures.

“I have had my problems, but my problems are getting worked out,” he said. “This is putting something into the air that doesn’t need to be put there because the majority of Harris County government has been good.”

Just so we’re all clear, this is the guy who said last year that he expects to be busted by the FBI. I wonder how that’s progressing, by the way. Anybody hearing anything on that?

One recommendation, which would limit the ability of elected officials and department heads from profiting from county connections after joining the private sector, was the subject of a bill sought by Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.

The so-called “revolving door” restriction, which would require former county employees to wait two years before lobbying the county or benefiting from contracts they worked on as employees, was approved by the Legislature. Barring a veto by Gov. Rick Perry, the bill will become law in September.

Garcia said she would have liked to have seen other measures taken to Austin.

“I fully expected the ethics package to be pursued in Austin, but the judge made his decision,” Garcia said. “But I also really think some of these things we can phase in.”

Emmett said the other measures were not pushed in the last legislative session because the county chose to focus on other targets.

“I tend to deal in the art of the possible,” he said. “I have a limited number of things that can be pursued at one time.”

Given the reception Judge Emmett is getting from Commissioners Eversole and Radack, perhaps this was the best that could be done. Assuming that it does, in fact, get done. If it doesn’t, what will Emmett campaign on next year? Somehow I don’t see him promising to work to replace Commissioners who aren’t on board with this.

UPDATE: Texas Watchdog has more.

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  1. […] Perry’s statement about the veto. This was the “revolving door” bill aimed at restricting Harris County employees from doing county business after leaving government employ. So much for Ed Emmett’s ethics reform plan. Got anything to […]

  2. […] I’m feeling a little sympathetic to Judge Emmett right about now. Maybe he should consider working to replace Commissioners who aren’t on board with him. If Jerry Eversole really is out of the picture […]

  3. […] to believe Eversole had objected to County Judge Ed Emmett’s modest reforms on the grounds that what the TEC already required […]