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June 7th, 2006:

Eversole jumps on the Treasurer abolishment bandwagon

County Commissioner Jerry Eversole has joined the list of people calling for the abolishment of the County Treasurer’s office.

Commissioner Jerry Eversole asked County Attorney Mike Stafford what steps the county needs to take “to set in motion the action of doing away with the office.”

Eversole also asked budget officer Dick Raycraft to study how the county might redeploy the office’s staff and what other departments might be able to take over its duties.

“Now would be a good time to look at it,” Eversole said. “The important thing is to let it be known what we wish to do while the office is not occupied.”

Abolishing the office requires a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment, which first must be approved by the state Legislature. A local lawmaker said he will sponsor the constitutional amendment legislation necessary to start that process if the county wants to.

“I’m interested in helping Commissioners Court do away with it, if they think there is a cost savings to be had here,” said state Sen. Kyle Janek, who sponsored a similar measure for Fort Bend County during the 2005 regular session. Although the Fort Bend treasurer and other county officials supported the measure, it failed because of opposition from treasurers in other counties, Janek said.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said she supports Eversole’s request for a study while the office is vacant. “This is a position that may have met its time,” Garcia said. “If the office’s responsibilities can be absorbed, there is a cost savings and it increases efficiencies, there’s no reason not to do it.”

Commissioners asked for the reports from Stafford and Raycraft before the next regular Commissioners Court meeting on June 20.

At this point, all four members of the Harris County Commissioner’s Court are either in favor of abolishment, or at least not opposed to it – Steve Radack didn’t espouse a position in the story of his spat with Orlando Sanchez, but he did say that abolishment “will be seriously considered by a majority of the members of Commissioners Court”. That’s close enough for me.

It’s true that in terms of potential savings among county offices of questionable value, the Harris County Sports Authority is clearly the fatter target. But the Treasurer’s office is basically a no-brainer. It’s the definition of low-hanging fruit, and all the stars are aligning for its abolishment. I’d guess that successfully eliminating this office and demonstrating that there are no bad side effects to doing so would bolster the case for the anti-Sports Authority folks, since there’d be a success to point to. This isn’t an either-or choice, but one can be done more quickly and with less resistance than the other. At least, that’s how I see it.

New boss for Harris County Sports Authority

Meet the new boss of the Harris County Sports Authority.

The sports authority’s board voted unanimously to hire Janis Schmees as its executive director. She was given the mandate of bringing more events to the city – even though the operators of Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and Reliant Park shoulder most of that burden.

Schmees said she will focus on attracting track and field and other Olympic events as the city gears up to make a bid for the 2016 Olympics. She also will try to bring in youth soccer tournaments and other minor events that attract people to venues and put people in hotel rooms.

“We are going to look at all sporting events, (minor) events as well as big ones,” she said.

[…]

County Judge Robert Eckels, Commissioner Steve Radack and state Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, have called for scaling back or eliminating the sports authority. They contend that the sports authority fulfilled its mission by building Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and Toyota Center.

Now all it does is make payments on about $1 billion in bonds issued to build the venues, Eckels said earlier this year. That could be done more cheaply, perhaps by county employees already tasked with paying off bonds, he has said. The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and venue operators – the Astros, Texans and Rockets – could handle marketing, Eckels has said.

But Joseph Slovacek, a member of the sports authority’s board, said the authority’s future is not just in the county’s hands. The Legislature would have to approve dismantling an organization that it allowed to be created. In addition, the authority is needed to repay bonds because bond firms made deals with the authority, not the county.

We’ll get back to the subject of just what exactly it is the Sports Authority does in a moment. As reported yesterday, the choice of Ms. Schmees was perhaps about more than just her qualifications for the job.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, Commissioner Steve Radack and others have pushed for scaling back or eliminating the sports authority now that the sports facilities have been built.

But Eckels knows Schmees, having worked with her on a foreign trade mission, and supports her hire, [Sports Authority chair Billy] Burge said.

Pretty neat trick blunting Eckels’ opposition to the Authority by hiring someone he likes, I must say. Today’s story doesn’t have a direct quote from Judge Eckels, so I can’t say whether or not it’s destined to work. But you do have to salute the effort.

There is still the question of just what exactly it is the Sports Authority is supposed to do now that it’s original mission of shepherding the new stadium projects through the political process is essentially done. blogHouston has been beating that drum for awhile now. I’m undecided on the question of whether or not the Authority should be disbanded, but I’m certainly in favor of having a public discussion on the topic. And if there is value in having this thing, then let’s update and more clearly define what its purpose is, what power it has, and under what conditions (if any) its mission should be considered to be accomplished.

Noriega on immigration

The following is from the subscription-only Rio Grande Guardian, sent to me in email.

Noriega: Reject GOP’s divisive platform on immigration

CORPUS CHRISTI – A Democratic lawmaker from Houston has told young Latinos to reject the “divisive approach” signaled by the Republican Party of Texas in a new three-page immigration policy paper adopted this week.

Rep. Rick Noriega was keynote speaker at a Texas LULAC Young Adults luncheon on Saturday. The event was part of Texas LULAC’s state convention.

“The GOP has adopted a gratuitous document that shows no tolerance. As Texans we are better than that,” Noriega told the Guardian, after his speech.

The rest is beneath the fold. Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time.

(more…)

Mapchangers

Mark Warner’s Forward Together PAC is having a little online competition.

The 2006 elections will be an opportunity for Democrats. For the first time in many years, Democrats have a strong chance to win majorities in both houses of Congress. Forward Together PAC has already contributed to more than 50 campaigns in more than 30 states. Now we are opening up the process.

You can help us choose the next group of candidates we’ll support. We are looking for fresh faces with fresh ideas – and for solutions-oriented Democrats with a focus on the future – candidates who will help us change the political map. Which candidates are you supporting? Register below and tell us who your Map Changers are!

The first round of voting runs through June 13. The top votegetters thee will advance to a second round (voting from June 14-25), where the top ten will receive a $5K contribution from the PAC. Finally, there will be a third election (June 26-July 4)to determine two final winners, each of whom will get a fundraiser thrown by Gov. Warner.

I got email about this from the David Harris campaign. He’d be a fine choice for this, but I should note that many other Democratic Congressional candidates from Texas are also in the running. Check it out and cast a ballot – it’d be awesome to bring a little national support to some of our contenders here.

Bell to speak at stem cell summit

From a Chris Bell press release:

Texas Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Chris Bell will participate in a roundtable discussion during the second annual national stem cell policy and advocacy summit at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California Sunday, June 11. The summit, hosted by the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics and the Genetics Policy Institute (GPI), will bring together the nation’s top scientists, policy makers, and patient advocates to discuss the status of stem cell research in the United States and policy to ensure this lifesaving research.

“Very few candidates for public office are as knowledgeable and passionate about stem cell research as Chris Bell,” said Bernard Siegel, Executive Director of GPI and a leading legal expert in regenerative medicine. “If Texas is to remain a leader in basic life sciences research and biotechnology, it must have leaders who understand the profound impact of stem cell research on the future of medicine in the 21st Century. Chris Bell is resolutely on the side of patients and cures. We are very proud to have him as a speaker at the summit.”

More at the Bell blog.

Chet’s chances

I confess to being nervous about Rep. Chet Edwards‘ re-election chances. He’s in a really red district (66.3% Republican in 2004, according to the SOS redistricting reports), he narrowly beat a flawed candidate, and with fewer high-profile races this year, he ought to command a bigger focus from the state GOP.

On the other hand, Edwards is as sharp as they come, his current opponent is a newcomer to the district and lags far behind in fundraising, and as we know, 2006 is sure to be a less hostile electoral climate for Dems in Texas. For what it’s worth, all of the national forecaster types are currently rating this race as either Lean Democrat or Democrat Favored, and not putting it in their list of most hotly contested seats. Nate has the rundown, plus a brief email response from Edwards’ opponent Van Taylor, whom he interviewed back in May. I’ll be worried about this one till the polls close, but I’m not as worried as I thought I’d be. Let’s hope I stay that way.