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December 20th, 2009:

Weekend link dump for December 20

Nothing like a few days off around the holidays.

The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials Of All Time.

Not sure you’re all that fond of the 21st century? Here are some possible reasons why.

Is hand crafted content doomed? Spekaing for myself, no.

Even the Connecticut for Lieberman Party hates Joe Lieberman.

Rice University at a crossroads.

Defending Gary Kubiak. I basically agree with this.

He’s a lady.

I have to have one of these.

Multiple choice does not necessarily mean mutually exclusive.

Memories from the summer of crazy.

There’s a reason why cultural literacy is important.

It’s not clear to me why the national GOP thought that a GOP-branded URL shortener was something that we needed, but clearly I lack imagination. The results were predictable, and damn funny to boot.

I’m with Nate.

The 12 Days of HMNS. Day One: Snow science.

This was the subject of a Car Talk puzzler a year or so ago.

The Bloggess versus Canada. Canada loses.

The Photoshop Diet.

Congrats to Judge Al Bennett, the newly elected Administrative Judge for Harris County.

The Saint Arnold brewery is finally open for tours.

Three views of the Treasurer

Since posting this entry about the Democratic primary race for Harris County Treasurer and my views of that office, I’ve gotten some interesting feedback that I thought was worth sharing. First, if you go back to that post, you’ll see a comment from Chad Khan, one of the candidates, who says:

In 2006, Mr. Richard Garcia campaigned about abolishing the County Treasurer’s office and I supported his campaign. I still believe that the County Treasurer’s office has little use and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Once elected, I will attend every meeting of the County Commissioner’s court with the intent of serving as a watchdog for the taxpayer, which would include working to prove the ineffectiveness of the office. I believe the abolishment of the office must begin from within the office and I vow to work toward that end.

Speaking of Richard Garcia, he sent me the following email:

Charles,

Thank you once again for the kind words.

You & I have pretty much agreed on most issues. I believe that you would concurred that we need an up and down review of operations and offices to look at how to get the most bang for the taxpayer’s bucks. Business as usual needs to be uprooted. As a fellow father, we have priorities, however taxes (both obvious and hidden) take away from the available options to help our families. Doing away with an office that is no longer needed was my call to arms in the last two elections. Doing away with the office would send it to the dusty shelves of steno pools, typewriters and bag phones. I was proud of my campaign donation from Jack Cato’s wife–he was a good man and I was honoured to have attended his services. Jack really served Harris County and Houston well and history will rightfully look favourably at his life and service.

As it looks more apparent that Harris County will be a democratic favouring county–I would not feel comfortable in running for an office without the intentions of eliminating the unnecessary office. The # 2 in command has served the taxpayers well and she would continue running the office–and honestly, I believe she can institute efficiencies just as [Loren] Jackson had put in place at the [District] Clerk’s office.

I am so proud of everyone that helped my cause. A Republican blogger took heat for supporting the idea. My fellow county precinct chairs supported my position. Elected officials. I had spoken with representatives from the statewide county treasurers and informed them that my intention was only to focus on Harris County–not their county. Their plea to our County Commissioners office not to abolish the office resulted in all four County Commissioners supporting abolishing the office (see they can work together). The voters who almost made it possible and most importantly, my Mom–who has since passed away to join my Dad.

I wish Billy and Chad well; and anyone else who would care to put their toe in the political waters. Perhaps others will run, they will give voters choices and and as Marta Stewart says, “…and that’s a good thing”.

Have a joyous holiday season.

Your Friend,

Rich Garcia

And finally, a voice in support of a Treasurer’s office, from Wally Kronzer, who is a candidate for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 5:

I will not try to put my thoughts down in any great detail as it involves Texas history, county government, the Texas Legislature (the Texas Local Government Code), and ultimately, county power sharing. A thorough justification would take too long. I was once involved in a lawsuit involving a county treasurer, county auditor, and the commissioners court (not Harris County). There are good reasons for having an elected county treasurer that primarily boil down to checks and balances issues as to county finances. It is similar to why does company have a banker (the county treasurer) and an outside auditor (county auditor)?

Check the website for Texas Association of Counties description of the office of county treasurer: http://www.county.org/counties/desc_office/treasur.asp and county auditor: http://www.county.org/counties/desc_office/auditor.asp. At the county level the county treasurer has more involvement in the integrity of county investments, bonds, and retirement plans than most people imagine.

While this is not a fits-all-points comparison, but what if the City of Houston Controller was appointed instead of elected? Where would the checks and balances be in that situation (much less some of the great Houston political stories)? Texas may have eliminated the position of state treasurer and passed the duties on to the Texas comptroller. But an elected comptroller still oversees the finances. You could devise an elected county position to do the role of the county treasurer, but that role does not exist – nor is there any real interest in changing the status quo to do so. But, to put it bluntly, someone in the county checks and balances needs to be elected other than just the county commissioners.

The theoretical case certainly makes sense. In practice, can anyone claim that Orlando Sanchez is actually doing that job? Not as far as I can tell. That’s the reason why Richard Garcia’s argument has been compelling to me. I do plan to interview Chad Khan and Billy Briscoe, so we’ll see what their vision for the office and/or its elimination are. My thanks to all for the feedback.

Parker’s police plan in practice

I think we’re all reasonably familiar with the basics of Mayor-Elect Parker’s plan for the police force, which includes more and better coordination between the various local law enforcement agencies. This story, which perhaps ought to have been run before the election, analyzes some of the practicalities of the plan. There’s some good discussion in there, and I recommend you read the whole story, but for here I just want to note this one bit:

“It’s easy to say, but extraordinarily complicated if you try to do it. There are layers of issues,” said Professor Larry Hoover, director of the Police Resource Center at Sam Houston State University. “There are some very practical reasons why it isn’t done.”

Hoover said in addition to taking focus away from other police agencies’ core missions, the coordination of evidence when different agencies are involved in the same case could complicate prosecutions.

“Those special police agencies exist for a reason,“ he said. “They’re focused on those things for a reason, and they’re paid by another political entity to perform a special law enforcement function, and are not paid by the city of Houston.”

It may be that these other agencies’ funds do not come from the city of Houston budget, but they sure as heck do come in part from city of Houston tax dollars. And as noted before, as is the case with things like roads and parks, the city doesn’t get back nearly as much as it contributes. The good news is that it seems that once the issue of radio interoperability is resolved in 2012, there will be a lot more inter-agency coordination. As long as all the agencies in question are amenable to working with each other, which was something I discussed during the campaign, we all ought to get something out of this.

Strayhorn still talking about running

I almost don’t know what to say.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who was twice elected comptroller as a Republican and then ran a losing gubernatorial campaign as an independent, called Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie on Tuesday to discuss seeking the party’s nomination for comptroller.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray confirmed the conversation, which Strayhorn initiated. We don’t know much about what was said.

When I asked Gray whether the party would welcome Strayhorn as a candidate, she replied, “We will rely on our voters to consider each candidate’s record and decide if they have the Democratic credentials they want in a nominee. Our role is to run a fair primary.”

I can’t say I’m thrilled about this, but it’s starting to look like beggars and choosers time. We know we’re not getting Mike Villarreal. We know that the longer we go without hearing anything from a prospective candidate, the less likely it is we’ll hear from that person again (Ronnie Earle excepted), and I haven’t heard anything from Nick Lampson lately. So it may be Carole or nothing, and as long as we get Carole the sharp and effective critic of Rick Perry – you know, the 2003 model – and not Carole the inept and messageless candidate – you know, the 2006 model – she’s better than nothing. Hell, if she can put together a decent statement about how she’s returning to her roots after the Republican Party abandoned her, she could even be an asset. Yeah, I know, I know, but work with me here. At least she seems genuinely interested in running – all that self-promotional instinct has to go somewhere – and that does count for something.

Car inspections

Good question: What exactly are car inspections useful for?

Texas is one of 19 states left that require a periodic [vehicle] safety review – down from a peak of 31 states in the 1970s. The District of Columbia recently disbanded its inspection program because of high costs and a lack of evidence that the inspections saved lives.

There is no serious discussion about eliminating Texas’ program, which includes an emissions test in Dallas and some other locations.

But state officials and insurers acknowledge that more could be done to determine what the inspections are accomplishing.

“The state needs to start collecting data and establish a baseline,” said Jerry Johns, president of Southwest Insurance Information Service, an Austin-based industry trade group. “If it is not working, then abolish it. But we don’t think that would be the case.”

It’s a good story about something I doubt I’d ever thought about. One thing the inspections are good for is raising a bit of cash for the state. On balance, I have no problem with the inspection program, whatever it may actually accomplish, but I’d be happier if we got more serious about emissions testing. Maybe some day.