Judicial Q&A: Tanya Makany-Rivera

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I’m now doing this for some candidates in the May runoff who had not done a Q&A in March. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Tanya Makany-Rivera

Tanya Makany-Rivera

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Tanya Makany-Rivera and I am running for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1. I am in a run-off to be the Democratic nominee; the run-off will take place May 24, 2016.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice of the Peace Court is commonly referred to as the, “People’s Court”. The Justice of the Peace is a presiding officer of the justice court and small claims court. This court hears the following types of cases:

  • Traffic citations
  • Class C misdemeanors, cases punishable by fine only
  • Civil cases under $10,000
  • Small claims, in actions for the recovery of money, which cannot exceed $10,000
  • Landlord and tenant disputes, including evictions
  • Truancy cases
  • Civil processes, as well as arrest and search warrants can be issued by the justice of the peace
  • Performs marriage ceremonies and serves as ex officio notary of the precinct

The court also has administrative and financial duties concerning the keeping of records and fee and expense reports.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Justice of the Peace Courts are often the first place where the community interacts with the justice system. The JP Court is the only court where claimants and defendants are not appointed an attorney, and it is often our most vulnerable — the undocumented, the undereducated and low income families — who come through the doors. Those who cannot afford an attorney are left with no choice but to represent themselves. I am running for this seat because I want to make sure that everyone, regardless of their background, has a fair shot at justice and is treated with dignity and respect.

I also want to implement the latest technology to address and manage cases online and at their convenience rather than coming into the court room. For this, I will ensure that the County’s website is translated into multiple languages so that our customers can navigate online systems. I want to be a visible Justice of the Peace and work with our social service agencies to connect people to additional resources outside of the courtroom.

I have a passion for working with young people because as a mother of two young boys, I want to be proactive in creating opportunities for all of our young people to learn. In that same vein, I would like to create an internship program within the JP courts for those young people who are interested in obtaining work experience as well as learning more about entering a career of public service. I would also work to create a Teen Court that will work with the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office and our area high schools, so that youth are civically engaged at a young age.

The vast majority of those who come into the JP courts are African American and Latino. The Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1 court has never had a woman or person of color in this seat. It is time that our justice system better reflects the community it serves.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a public servant in the community I am seeking to serve for over 13 years. I started my career in the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office where I worked with youth from the Gulfton Community. I was the Program Manager for United Minds, a youth leadership program funded by Harris County Child Protective Services. It was here that I had an opportunity to engage with the City’s truancy courts as well develop relationships with law enforcement, school administrators and apartment complex owners.

I have also worked in Houston City Council as a Chief of Staff where I managed the office staff, helped create the District priorities and helped manage the City Council budget for our office. I spent time working in the State Legislature for the late Senator Mario Gallegos. I also have experience in the non-profit sector with Children at Risk and Neighborhood Centers. During my time at Children at Risk, I wrote a study on Juvenile Mental Health Courts and the benefits to prevention for juveniles struggling with mental illness as a means of prevention.

I have both my undergraduate and MBA degree from the University of Houston. As part of my current role with the City of Houston I am tasked with developing efficiencies within our department. I am also leading Mayor Turner’s Turnaround Houston initiative, which is focused on helping those who are unemployed, and who often have prior criminal histories, connect to social service agencies and employment. I would like to take this experience and a similar approach at the Justice of the Peace court, if elected. Although it may be unconventional, I believe these innovative solutions can help our community break the cycle of poverty.

In a nutshell, I am a proven leader who has the professional training and skills to ensure that the office is run efficiently, as well as on the- ground experience that informs my work. In my court, all people will be treated with dignity and respect and given a fair shot when entering the court room.

5. Why is this race important?

Local races matter, particularly positions such as the Justice of the Peace Courts which affect our day-to-day lives. The Justice of the Peace handles small claims, traffic tickets, truancy cases and other matters. It is important that we have someone who is an effective administrator, will work hard to ensure quality customer service, will be efficient with our tax dollars and will be visible in the community outside of the courtroom.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

We need an established Democratic leader with experience managing a team, one who can manage a budget and will provide constituents with quality customer service. I am asking for your support because I understand the needs of the community, I have the management experience that this office needs, and I will work hard every day to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

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