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August 3rd, 2012:

Friday random ten: Going for the gold

Continuing the Olympics theme this week:

1. Band of Gold – Freda Payne
2. Gold – Emmylou Harris
3. Heart of Gold – Johnny Cash
4. Gold for Bread – Blitzen Trapper
5. Not Enough Gold In The World – Eddie From Ohio
6. Silver And Gold – U2
7. Silver Dew On The Blue Grass Tonight – Hot Club of Cowtown
8. Silver Dagger – Solas
9. Silver Rainbow – Genesis
10. Silver Tongue – Carolyn Wonderland and The Imperial Monkeys

For the record, I have no songs that contain the word “Bronze” in them. I was prepared to search for and include songs with the name of other metals in the title if I didn’t have enough Gold and Silver songs – brass, iron, steel, what have you – but as you can see I didn’t need to so I didn’t go looking for them.

Is it time for an election administrator?

Campos revives an old topic.

I think it is way past time to get an Election Administrator over at the County and take running the elections out of the hands of the ideologues and partisans. [County Judge Ed Emmett] and the County Commissioners need to do right and hand this function solely over to the professionals. The delays and the confusions from night before last and the major league screw-ups over the [HCDE] boundaries warrants a shift in who should be conducting elections in Harris County. Amateurism and Keystone Cops style handling of our precious votes is unacceptable.


It also takes way too long for the County to report results. The County Clerk explained to the Chron that Reliant (a County owned facility BTW) had provided them with “garbage” phone lines. When did they discover this? It would seem like they would have run checks on the equipment earlier in the day to make sure all systems were working. They apparently didn’t.

Running the elections, voter registration, and the drawing of precinct lines ought to be the function of one office – period – and this office should be run by a dedicated professional.

Here is what is also bothersome about the other night.

Some folks like the Constable Pct. 1 Zerick Guinn campaign supporters probably went home and to bed thinking that their 787 vote lead would hold up with just 6 precincts out. Two hours and 31 minutes later the County posted the final and “corrected” cumulative reports. Why didn’t they bother to send out a press release or notice out at the time to alert folks of the error since an outcome of a race was severely altered? Commentary isn’t a member of the press but I and others get frequent updates from the elections folks. Why didn’t they let us know? Was it cowardice?

It wasn’t until yesterday morning that some of us noticed the error and began to ask questions. By not immediately putting out a statement explaining the error, the folks running the election were not forthcoming. That’s the wrong message folks running the elections want to send to the public.

[Emmett] needs to step in and show leadership. Elections are the way too important for sloppiness, screw-ups, and passing the buck.

Judge Emmett first brought up the idea of an appointed Elections Administrator for Harris County in May of 2010. It was approved for study in June, was briefly mentioned in September, then fell off the radar after the election. I have no idea where this idea stands now, and as much of a pooch-screw as Tuesday’s election was, I remain at least somewhat skeptical of the idea. Nonetheless, it’s hard to see what the merits are of the current situation at this point. For sure, if there were ever a time to bring the idea up again, this is it.

Metro and UH make nice


Construction of a light-rail line that would cross University of Houston property can continue now that UH and Metro officials settled differences that threatened to delay the project.

UH announced in a statement Tuesday that university officials have agreed to allow the Metropolitan Transit Authority to start the next phase of construction of the southeast line along Wheeler Avenue. In exchange, Metro will address concerns involving access to UH’s facilities.

The Metro board has agreed to pay $1.5 million to take the steps included in the agreement, according to spokesman Jerome Gray.

“We have worked diligently together to reach an agreement,” UH President Renu Khator said in a statement. “We have come to a resolution that both the university and Metro are happy with and that is in the best interests of the community.”

See here and here for some background. Details are still a bit sketchy, but the Examiner has a little more.

According to the agreement, Metro will be able to do the initial infrastructure work for installation of the light-rail along Wheeler Avenue from Calhoun/Martin Luther King Jr. to a point east of the Scott Street intersection.

A use agreement on the UH property along Scott where most of the needed land is located is still pending, however.

“We have worked diligently together to reach an agreement,” said UH President Renu Khator. “We have come to a resolution that both the university and Metro are happy with and that is in the best interests of the community. We look forward to completion of the Metro line and to the continuation of our partnership.”

Metro has agreed to provide an alternative access road to ease traffic problems caused by the construction of the rail along Wheeler, Richard Bonnin, UH executive director of media relations, said. Additionally, he said, access issues caused by construction of the line near the university’s Child Care Center and Department of Public Safety are being addressed by the transit agency.

I’m just glad they got this done. One less thing to worry about.

Meanwhile, on a not really related but still important note, Metro is having a special board meeting today to pick a referendum for the ballot.

The METRO Board of Directors will meet at 9 A.M. on Friday, August 3, 2012 to select a referendum proposal regarding METRO’s General Mobility Program. The Board has been listening to public input for the past several months at meetings throughout the METRO service area. Based on that input, Board Members have presented six possible referendum proposals and will now select one to be presented to voters in November. After voting on a referendum proposal the board will reconvene on August 17, 2012 to approve the ballot language and call for an election.

WHEN: 9 A.M. on FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 2012
WHERE: Board Room, 1900 Main, Houston 77002 (Downtown Transit Ctr.)

For more about METRO’s 2012 General Mobility Program (GMP) Referendum Web page, click here.

The Chron story fills in some more details. Obviously, this is a big deal. I have no idea which way the Board is leaning, but I’ll say again that I favor Christof Spieler’s proposal, as a starting point if nothing else. Houston Tomorrow agrees with that assessment, and has sent this letter to the Metro board to express its support for the Spieler proposal. I hope it can build up a little momentum going into today’s meeting. Be that as it may, be there if you can. A joint statement from Houston Tomorrow and the CTC in favor of the Spieler proposal is beneath the fold.


We need more doctors and nurses

If the state of Texas ever expands Medicaid, or less likely does something on its own to improve access to health care for its residents, it’s going to have to confront a different problem: A persistent shortage of doctors and nurses.

As of May 2011, the demand for nurses in Texas exceeded the supply by 22,000. Members of the Texas Nursing Workforce Shortage Coalition, which includes about 100 medical centers and hospitals statewide, warned in a letter that “without stable, continued funding for nursing education, this gap will widen to 70,000” by 2020.

Physicians are hardly faring better. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimated that there was already a shortage of 7,400 physicians nationwide in 2008, and fully implemented health care reform would widen that shortage to more than 130,000 physicians by 2025.

Texas has a ratio of 165 doctors for every 100,000 residents. That falls far below the national average of 220 physicians for every 100,000 people, earning Texas the ranking of 42nd in the nation, he said.


Texas legislators reduced support for nursing education by $17 million, or 36 percent, during in 2011.

Physician students also have fallen victim to a tightening budget.

Never let it be said that there’s a problem our Legislature can’t make worse by cutting funding for it. That letter from the Texas Nursing Workforce Shortage Coalition can be found here. This problem isn’t limited to Texas, either. Part of the problem with doctors is specialization – as the story notes, there’s plenty of plastic surgeons and dermatologists, but far too few general practitioners, who tend to make a lot less money than their peers. It’s a complex problem and it’s going to take some creative thinking to tackle it.

Do July showers bring August hurricanes?

So we had a nice, wet, not too hot July that among other things help erase the drought in Harris County. What could possibly be bad about that? Increased risk of hurricanes, that’s what.

[Impact Weather forecaster Chris] Hebert studied the 20 wettest and 20 driest Julys on record for Houston and found a striking correlation with hurricane activity.

After 40 percent of the wettest Julys a major hurricane struck Texas or Louisiana during the remainder of that year’s hurricane season, Hebert said. But there were no major hurricane strikes after the driest Julys.

That’s in large part due to the location of the high – if it’s over southeast Texas, it’s going to steer storms away. If it’s not, prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

“This year it looks like the upper Gulf coast will be open for business as we enter the busiest part of hurricane season,” Hebert said.

It’s always something, isn’t it? The good news is that we’re likely to have a short hurricane season thanks to El Niño. But it only takes one to make it a bad hurricane season, which is now officially underway, regardless of duration. SciGuy has more.