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December 24th, 2009:

Night Before Christmas video break

I’ve embedded this before, but it’s worth running again because it just rocks:

Now go get your kerchief and cap ready for that long winter’s nap.

Chron raises questions about Al Hoang’s residency and campaign finance reports

The main question I have is why is this story just being published now, on Christmas Eve, and not before either of the elections?

Houston City Councilman-elect Al Hoang and his wife claimed homestead exemptions on two separate homes, according to public records that also raise questions about whether Hoang meets the city’s residency requirements.


In addition, Hoang’s campaign finance reports filed prior to the Nov. 3 election and Dec. 12 runoff fail to include certain required elements, including the dates of donations and the occupations of donors who gave more than $500 in a reporting period. The omissions are so numerous that it is impossible to determine whether donations were reported multiple times or exceeded legal limits.

I’ll point out that I noted various incongruities on Hoang’s finance reports, such as the lack of dates and the double-reporting of expenses as in kind donations, on November 2 and again on December 9. I didn’t go into a great deal of detail because I didn’t have the time or the resources to dig deeper. But surely these issues were known beforehand. And Greg brought up the matter of Hoang’s residency in a post dated December 11, though it was actually published on the 13th. So again I ask, why are we just now reading about this in the Chron? Isn’t this something that ought to have been aired before the election?

A city ordinance requires candidates for district council positions to live in the district for a year prior to the election. When he filed for office Aug. 18, Hoang listed his address as 4403 Bugle, in District F, and signed a notarized statement saying he had lived in the district for 13 months.

Harris County Appraisal District records show that Hoang purchased the home on March 3. Voter registration records show he was registered at an address in District G until September, and his registration at the Bugle address took effect Oct. 16 — less than three weeks before the election.

Hoang claims a homestead exemption for the house on Bugle, records show. Hoang’s wife, Hang Nguyen, also claims a homestead exemption on a house listed in her name in Pearland, according to Brazoria County Appraisal District records. Hoang and his wife owned the home jointly until March 5, 2008, when he transferred the deed to her, the records show.

This is the same basic situation that sunk Jack Christie’s candidacy in 2007. Like Christie, I presume Hoang will eventually have to fork over some dough to make up for the extra homestead exemption. I presume the DA will not bring charges, since that sort of prosecution never seems to happen. What I want to know is, if all this is true, how can he be sworn in as the District F Council Member? What’s the point of a residency statute if it can be so easily flouted? I’ve said before and I’ll say again, residency isn’t that big an issue for me. If people want to elect someone who doesn’t live where they do to represent them, that’s their choice. But that’s assuming they know that about the candidate in question, which may or may not be the case here, and given that we have a law about this, then surely we ought to draw a line somewhere. Is there a remedy in the ordinance for this, or is it simply a matter of Hoang paying up on his taxes? If the latter is all that there is, then what’s the point of the residency requirement?

UPDATE: Martha has more.

HCDE moves to eject Wolfe

The strange saga of Harris County Department of Education Trustee Michael Wolfe takes another weird turn.

The Harris County Board of Education has voted to begin legal proceedings to kick Trustee Michael Wolfe off the board.

Fellow trustee Jim Henley said the movement to oust Wolfe is based on his numerous absences and Wolfe’s “lack of acting in the best interests of the department.”

The board considered removing Wolfe for incompetence last year, but Wolfe appealed for a second chance and pledged to adhere to a list of ethical practices.

Henley said Wolfe has violated that pledge and continues to miss meetings without informing the board ahead of time of his absences — or explaining them afterward.

Board members voted 6-0 Monday night to seek Wolfe’s ouster from the $72-a-year position.

Again, I can’t summarize this bizarre situation with just a link or two, so browse here to bring yourself up to speed. And if this wasn’t weird enough, consider this:

Despite having three years left on his term as the Position 3 at-large trustee, Wolfe has filed to run in the March primary election against Board President Angie Chesnut for the Precinct 2 seat.

Fun fact: Wolfe defeated Andrew Burks for that seat in 2006. Yes, he’d be moving from a countywide position to a district position if he wins that race against Chesnut. There’s a reason for that, which I’ll get to in a minute. I sent an email to Jim Henley to clarify a couple of points that were not clear to me from the story. According to Henley, the way the removal process will work is that the HCDE’s attorney will drawn up a petition for removal and submit it for board approval at the regular board meeting in January. If the board then approves the petition it will go to a civil trial with six jurors, and their verdict will determine Wolfe’s fate. However, even if they wind up removing him, if he then wins the Position 3 election, he would be eligible to serve again. Clever of him, no? Of course, given that Wolfe recruited a couple of fellow travelers to (successfully) primary two of his Republican colleagues last year, it’s likely also the case that he’s doing this in part out of spite. So all in all, just another day at the office for Michael Wolfe.

Federal court rules for TDP in voting machine case

I’m a little surprised by this.

A three-judge panel has ruled that Dallas County election officials violated federal law when they did not inform the Department of Justice about changes in the way straight-party votes are counted on electronic voting machines.

The judges determined that the county did not get proper approval from the Department of Justice to use the county’s current machines. They granted an injunction requested by the Texas Democratic Party to halt use of the machines in Dallas until they get Justice Department clearance.

The ruling stems from a federal lawsuit filed by the party last year after a close recount favored the Republican candidate in a crucial statehouse race. Democrat Bob Romano lost the District 105 race in Dallas to incumbent Linda Harper-Brown by 19 votes.

The Texas Democratic Party sued Dallas County, claiming that election officials here failed to notify Justice Department officials about “emphasis” votes that don’t get counted when people vote straight-party on electronic machines.

I’m surprised because I’d forgotten that there was still a suit pending. The last word I had recall on this was of a TDP-filed lawsuit that had been tossed, with no further appeals pending. But that suit dealt only with the HD105 recount; there was a second suit filed that was about the larger issue of the machines in general. I still say that the matter isn’t that confusing, at least based on my own eSlate experience last year, but it’s certainly plausible to me that a change in the interface could have been made in Dallas without all the proper legal hoops being jumped through. And there is room to make it more clear to a voter what is happening when they act this way, to really avoid any confusion. I’m not sure how this might affect Harris County next year, but it’s something to watch out for. A statement from the TDP regarding the ruling is beneath the fold.


Earle explains why he picked Lite Guv

Ronnie Earle talks to the Trib about why he decided to run for Lieutenant Governor when all the previous speculation had been centered on Governor or Attorney General.

Earle, who retired at the end of 2008 after over three decades as a DA, says he spent most of the last year enjoying his retirement, but ultimately felt compelled to run. “I see policies being enacted at the Capitol that endanger our children and grandchildren,” he says.

He places a lot of emphasis the importance of cooperation, which will likely be a major campaign theme. “Effective law enforcement and effective government means teaming up, “ Earle says. “You have to have a high level of cooperation among various federal, state, and local agencies and go after the problem together.”

He credits inter-agency cooperation for lowering Austin’s murder rate from 41 murders in 1991 to 23 in 2008. Earle intends to bring this cooperative spirit to state government, which he believes is currently somewhat lacking. “Right now, I’m not sure if the right hand and the left hand even know each other,” he says.

They’ve got an audio clip here if you want to hear more. What he says is reasonable enough, and I look forward to hearing more from him even as I wait to see if any other candidates get into the race. Looking through my archives, I find one time Earle specifically addressed what office he might like to run for since he first expressed his interest in running. He talked about running for Governor, and his vision seems to have been fairly similar to what it is now. That ought to make it easier for him to explain why he chose a different path in the end.

Another food stamp lawsuit

Back in August, a federal lawsuit was filed over the interminable delays that food stamp applicants face in Texas getting their forms processed. That suit was dismissed in October by Judge Sam Sparks on the grounds that the federal law didn’t allow for suits, so now the same lawyers as before have refiled in state court.

The suit, filed in state district court in Travis County, asked that the Health and Human Services Commission be ordered to comply with the rules, which require decisions on non-emergency food stamp applications to be made within 30 days.

Last month, the commission processed about 58 percent of applications statewide on time – in North Texas, it was 41 percent.

“Some of these people have been waiting for six months. It’s ridiculous,” said Robert Doggett, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin. “We’re asking for a judge to order the department to make these decisions timely.”

We’ll see if they have any better luck there. You can read more about the food stamps saga here.