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June 18th, 2009:

Keller hearing moved to San Antonio

It had been scheduled to be in Austin, but now it’s been moved to San Antonio.

State District Judge David Berchelmann Jr., who was chosen by the Texas Supreme Court to preside over Keller’s trial, will use his downtown San Antonio courtroom for the proceedings — set to begin Aug. 17 and expected to last a week or longer.

The special trial was moved from Austin by agreement between Chip Babcock, Keller’s lawyer, and Mike McKetta, the lawyer representing the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.


Also this week, the commission filed amended charges against Keller. The new document beefs up the charges by claiming Keller violated two additional canons of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct:

  1. Canon 3C(1): Requiring judges to diligently and promptly discharge administrative responsibilities without bias or prejudice and to cooperate with other judges and court officials in the administration of court business.
  2. Canon 3C(2): Requiring judges to ensure that court staff and officials observe the standards of diligence that apply to judges.

The amended charges also accuse Keller of violating the Texas Government Code against “willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of a judge’s duties.” Section 33.001(b) also bans the “unjustifiable failure to timely execute the business of the court.”

The Texas Moratorium Network, which had filed one of the original complaints against Keller back in 2007, has more. It’s not really clear to me why the hearing was moved, but I suppose it doesn’t matter that much – it’s not any harder to get to San Antonio than it is to get to Austin. Had it been moved to Dalhart or some such, that would have been different. In any event, I’m curious about the amended charges. Is this a sign that the commission intends to be tougher on her, or is it more likely to be a technicality? Any lawyers out there, I’d love to hear from you on this. Thanks.

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.

Another Mayoral wants Hurtt out

It’s just Roy, so it’s not like this materially affects Chief Harold Hurtt’s status, but still.

“We want police officers to stay,” said Harris County Department of Education Trustee Roy Morales, one of five candidates who talked about crime and other issues at a Houston West Chamber of Commerce forum Tuesday. “They’re dissatisfied right now because of Chief Hurtt and his policies. Under my administration, we will look for a new police chief. We will have a new strategy that will allow these police officers to be part of the process. We will have the strategy of prevention and deterrence rather than reaction.”

Morales’ call for Hurtt’s ouster echoed one by City Controller Annise Parker at an event earlier this month when she said Hurtt has been “ineffective.”

“I don’t believe he’s really ever integrated himself into the larger Houston community,” Parker said in an interview. “Public safety is so essential to everything we do, and we have to have a chief that has his fingers on the pulse of the city.”

Parker said the next chief should come from within the Houston Police Department.

We heard about Parker’s opinion of Chief Hurtt last week. I don’t know what will happen to Chief Hurtt after the election, but I do know he won’t be headed to San Francisco, at least not for a job.

Although the other candidates have stopped short of calling for Hurtt’s departure, all have made public safety a focal point of their campaigns, often calling for similar reforms: more coordination among police agencies and a better use of technology.

On Monday, City Councilman Peter Brown unveiled a proposal that would return the city’s crime-fighting strategy to many of the neighborhood-oriented tactics put in place by former police chief and Mayor Lee Brown. Former City Attorney Gene Locke also has called for such strategies, which often involve developing community ties and neighborhood-tailored strategies for preventing crime.

I received a press release from Council Member Brown about this, which I’ve reproduced beneath the fold. I understand that Chief Hurtt isn’t particularly popular, but given that Houston’s crime rate is down during his tenure, I have to wonder about the efficacy of changing tactics back to what they were before he arrived. Obviously, this is going to be a function of what the next police chief wants to do, which I suppose is a signal that neither Brown nor Locke intends to keep Hurtt around, either. I’d like a fuller understanding of where the candidates think Chief Hurtt has fallen short, and where they think HPD has done so. Anyway, you can see more from Brown here, from Locke here, from Parker here, and from Morales here.


“Texas Democrats’ First Truly Statewide Campaign of the 21st Century”

Go read Phillip’s analysis of the Bill White campaign and its effective and extensive use of social media. Good stuff, with lots to think about.

Solar on the special agenda?

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said Tuesday that he’s put in a request for several measures, including a bill to improve accountability at member-owned utilities, to be part of an upcoming special legislative session.

Fraser said he understands the governor’s office is hoping for a quick “get-in, get-out” special session of about three days to push through sunset bills to keep several key state agencies operating.

But the special session could go beyond that plan.


[M]embers are submitting requests in the case the call is expanded, especially in light of the chubbing at the end of the session that killed several measures.

Among those, the co-op bill and a solar energy initiative bill could be on the list, he said.

“Yes, I have made the request,” Fraser said Tuesday.

On the one hand, I’d love to see these measures, which had passed without major opposition – SB545, the solar bill, passed the Senate on a 25-5 vote, and was passed out of the House committee on a 7-1 vote – get another chance. As Citizen Sarah notes, this may be our last chance to keep Texas from losing out on big opportunities in the solar market to other states. On the other hand, the farther away we get from the original, announced concept of a “get in, get out” session, the more likely that crap like voter ID will be resurrected. I don’t know how to evaluate that possibility right now, but I’m wary of it.

Trash day

You may have received a notice from the City of Houston that your trash collection day has changed. Here’s the email I got:

In continuing efforts to improve service and maximize taxpayer dollars, we have re-routed select areas in North Houston for Automated Garbage Collection and Yard Trimmings Collection. The purpose of the re-route is to balance routes for more efficient and speedy service. The new service days will become effective Monday, June 29th, 2009.

We thank you for your assistance in this transition. Please remind your neighbors if you don’t see their garbage carts out on the new service day. Your Recycling as well as your Tree Waste/Junk Waste day will not be changing.

We have prepared and mailed information to homes in North Houston who will have a new service day. You may also view the “North Re-Route” page on our website and review the service days in your area. Only areas detailed on this map were affected by the change of schedule.

For additional information, visit our website at, or call the City of Houston Customer Service line 3-1-1.

The full map is here, and among other things it tells me that my new trash day will be Thursday. I think this calls for a video:

How many people do you think will forget this change during the first week, and how long do you think it will take for everyone to get into the new habit?