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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.

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  1. Kevin Whited says:

    I’m undecided on the question of whether or not the Authority should be disbanded…

    It seems about as useful to continue funding so much overhead for this office as it does for the County Treasurer’s office, which you also favor abolishing.

    Maybe we just need to get them to threaten to appoint Orlando Sanchez to head the Sports Authority to get you on board? 😉

  2. Well, that would certainly be a clear indication that it’s jumped the shark.

    Like I said, I’m undecided. It’s very easy to see that the Treasurer’s office is a do-nothing. I’m less certain about what the Sports Authority is actually responsible for and what ramifications there may be to dismantle it, so I haven’t made up my mind about it. Do your best to convince me that you’re right and we’ll see what happens. Fair enough?