Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Jerry Eversole

Checking in with Ed Gonzalez

Also known as Harris County Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez will have a lot to do when he assumes the position of the county’s top cop in January.

He’ll have to rein in overtime pay, manage the Harris County jail population and win over the thousands of employees who backed his opponent in Tuesday’s election.

First, though, he plans to reactivate his peace officer’s license, which has been inactive since 2012.

“He will have to mail his application and pay a fee of $150 and take 40 hours of training including the basic state and federal law update,” said Gretchen Grigsby, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. “Texas law will give him two years to do that.”


The county’s third sheriff in the last two years, Gonzalez will now turn his attention to managing the office and a sometimes-scandal-prone jail of nearly 10,000 inmates. The move could bring yet another seismic shift among the highest echelons of the department’s command staff.

“I haven’t finalized in my mind yet any thoughts on who I might keep or might not keep or bring in or anything like that,” Gonzalez said.

He said he hoped to meet with Hickman soon to assess operations at the department and have a transition framework in place within a week or so.

Observers will also be watching to see how Gonzalez fulfills pledges he made during the campaign to bulk up jail diversion programs and fight crime more effectively.

With county budget talks beginning in March, Gonzalez will have just a few months to get up to speed on the internal workings of a department of more than 4,600 employees and budget of approximately $483 million.

Harris County Budget Officer William Jackson said he would be meeting with Gonzalez and other newly elected officials to guide them through the budget process after they take office in January.

“Commissioner’s Court only approves the budget as a single number at the top,” Jackson said, explaining that if Gonzalez had different priorities, he will have flexibility to shift funds within his budget.

Gonzalez will also have address approximately 300 vacancies within the department, which has contributed to a crunch in staffing in both patrol and detentions, and said he would not rule out re-implementing measures former Sheriff Adrian Garcia – Hickman’s predecessor – had used to try to address jail overcrowding or other issues at the sheriff’s office.

“Everything needs to be considered and be on the table,” Gonzalez said, noting that Hickman’s reforms had caused both jail and patrol overtime to spike. “All that needs to be looked at.”

Like Kim Ogg, Ed Gonzalez had a strong electoral showing, but it’s not clear to me that he got crossover votes. Comparing his result to the judicial races, there were fewer undervotes in his race, so I’d say he probably just retained more of the Democratic base vote than the judicial races did. That was more than enough for a strong victory, and is perhaps a more accurate picture of Democratic turnout in Harris County in 2016, but it’s a slightly different dynamic than it was for Ogg.

Also like Ogg, Gonzalez will have a lot of issues to address beginning on Day One. He won’t face the kind of turnover that Ogg will face, which means he’ll retain the institutional knowledge and experience that already exists, but it also means he’ll have to work with a number of people who didn’t support him, and he’ll have to implement changes for an institution that may not want to change. The biggest challenge he faces is with staffing, and the single best thing that could happen to him is for the DA and the courts to send fewer people to the jail for him to have to find space and oversight for. Ogg will help with that, but it will be on Gonzalez to try to persuade the misdemeanor court judges to work with him. He can also implement some policies to facilitate early release for inmates that earn it, as his predecessor Adrian Garcia had done.

He’s going to have to deal with the challenge of mental illness among the inmate population, and especially among the people who cycle in and out of the jail. The old saw about the jail being the biggest mental health facility in Texas remains true, and unfortunately the results of the national election will not only not offer any help on that score, it’s a virtual certainty to make it worse. Also not going to get any better will be issues with undocumented immigrants and a large community of voters who supported Gonzalez in the election but deplore the current processes for checking immigration status and handing over some offenders to ICE.

There are things Ed Gonzalez can do as Sheriff to enable his success, and there are things that are beyond his control that will affect his success, like whether the misdemeanor court judges continue to treat the jail’s capacity as essentially unlimited. One factor that I’m less sure how to evaluate will be Gonzalez’s relationship with Commissioner’s Court. Steve Radack and the now-departed Jerry Eversole were Adrian Garcia’s biggest antagonists. I expect Rodney Ellis will be a strong ally, but he’ll also expect results. It’s not in his control either, but the best thing that could happen to Gonzalez could be another Democratic sweep in Harris County in 2018, ushering in misdemeanor court judges who are willing to give personal recognizance bonds, and maybe a second ally on Commissioners Court. We’ll see what he can do with what he’s got until then. The Press has more.

RIP, El Franco Lee

The longest-serving and first African-American Harris County Commissioner passed away suddenly on Sunday.

El Franco Lee

El Franco Lee, Harris County’s first African-American commissioner and a popular mainstay in the political community, died Sunday morning of a heart attack. He was 66.

The Houston native served more than three decades as commissioner in Harris County’s Precinct 1, and though his official duties included the care of roads and parks, he was remembered most for his work through social programs for youth and seniors, helping extend access to health care and providing other services in traditionally poor inner-city neighborhoods.

“It’s a very sad day,” said Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack. “He made tens of thousands of people’s lives better. He was extremely interested in working with the community, and working with the poor and working with kids.”

Radack, who named a health care center in his Precinct 3 after Lee, noted his colleague “worked tirelessly” for the local hospital district. Lee was, for example, an instrumental supporter of the Baylor College of Medicine’s efforts to deploy satellite health care clinics at county-run facilities in the Fifth Ward, the Third Ward, Kashmere Gardens and other neighborhoods, said Peggy Smith, director of the Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic.

“He was a guardian angel. He would make it happen,” said Smith. “We worked side by side to make sure that not only was there a precinct business address but also that individuals who would never qualify for any health care would get the best care possible, and they would get it in his district, in his neighborhoods and in his facilities.”

In seven terms in Harris County government, Lee set up numerous partnerships between Precinct 1, nonprofits and other groups to create health and educational programs for seniors and youth in Harris County, including the county’s Street Olympics Program, which has expanded since 1986 into a myriad of programs that annually serve 10,000 in Harris County.

“Youth that might otherwise have a misspent summer break suddenly were given something to do,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. “That wasn’t part of his job: He just felt it was important. He was proudest of the informal things.”

I did not know Commissioner Lee, but he was a trailblazer and a giant in the local political scene. He will be greatly missed. I received multiple statements regarding his death, from Mayor Turner, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, his former colleague on the Court, Rep. Gene Green, and District Clerk Chris Daniel. My sincere condolences to Commissioner Lee’s family.

We can’t avoid this discussion, however:

Emmett will have to decide soon who will serve the remaining 12 months of Lee’s term. After that, for the term that begins in 2017, the question of who will serve in Lee’s stead becomes more complicated.

A primary vote is scheduled for March, but Lee was the only Democrat on the ballot for his position. Emmett said it is too late to reopen filing so the Democratic precinct chairs will gather, as early as June, to select a replacement candidate who will go on the ballot in the November election.

As you may recall, Judge Emmett got to select Jack Cagle as a replacement for Jerry Eversole back in 2011. That was a different situation in several regards, including the fact that Eversole had been re-elected less than a year before, while Commissioner Lee’s term expires at the end of this year. We are too close to the March primary for their to be a reopening of filing for Democratic hopefuls, so as noted the HCDP precinct chairs get to name a new nominee, as delineated in state law. I’m not sure if the Republicans now get to pick a candidate as well, not that it matters in Precinct 1; the Greens already have a candidate, not that that matters, either. Whoever the precinct chairs pick will be the next Commissioner, quite possibly for a long time. I suspect Judge Emmett will prefer to select a true interim Commissioner, who will not put himself or herself up for the nomination, but stranger things have happened, and I suppose once Judge Emmett makes his choice, that person can and will do what they want. As I am still catching up on a bunch of stuff, I have not heard any chatter about who might put themselves out there for the job, but I feel confident saying there will be much interest in it.

Eversole to seek Presidential pardon

For real.

Three years after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents and resigning his post as a Harris County commissioner to avoid further prosecution, Jerry Eversole is seeking a presidential pardon for his misdeeds.

In a letter sent to at least one of his supporters, lawyers for the disgraced Pct. 4 commissioner are asking for character affidavits that will accompany the eventual application to the Pardon Division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

“Jerry now intends to seek a pardon from the President of the United States,” according to the letter. “He is doing so with the support and encouragement of people who believe a pardon is appropriate.”


A letter dated March 13 asking for a positive recommendation for the former GOP commissioner was sent to lifelong Democrat and First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke, who said he plans to write a personal letter of support.

He said he was impressed that Eversole worked to help settle an acrimonious lawsuit between the county and Waste Management Inc. over industrial pollution in the San Jacinto River.

“I plan to ask for a pardon because of what he did after he was convicted,” O’Rourke said. “He really worked to bring us together.”

O’Rourke said Eversole relied on his long-standing relationship with the administration of Waste Management, which has a facility in Precinct 4, to help put together a settlement.

“He really thought it was not in the interest of Waste Management or Harris County to be at each other’s throats,” O’Rourke said.

As hard as I’ve been on Jerry Eversole, I don’t have a problem with him applying for a pardon. It’s his right to do so, and if he really did help facilitate that agreement with Waste Management, then good on him for it. I wouldn’t consider his application to be high priority – I’d put everyone with a felony conviction for drug possession ahead of him – but sure, go ahead and ask. The world needs more pardons.

From the “If at first you don’t succeed” files

Sometimes you have to try try again for 24 years to get what you want.

The road in question

It seems as if he never existed, but he certainly did.

For 24 years, Charles Hixon attended nearly every Harris County Commissioners Court meeting to complain about a drainage problem at his property in Huffman, delivering a speech that evolved only slightly.

But Hixon, 55, who briefly suspended his biweekly plea in 2002 when was trying to unseat his then-county commissioner, Jerry Eversole, has missed the last half-dozen meetings.

At the last one he attended in September, the room fell silent as the gadfly stepped to the speakers’ podium and deviated from his usual script, one that county regulars can recite from memory.

“I’d like to recognize Commissioner Morman for his activity on Palm Lane and encourage your activity to a successful completion,” Hixon told the five-member court. “But I don’t have really too much of an idea as to what you’re doing.”

At the previous meeting, Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman, who had just become Hixon’s commissioner after a long-awaited court ruling that altered precinct boundaries, promised his new constituent he would try to fix his problem. Crews had already been dispatched to the site, Morman told him.

They have since cleared and re-dug the overgrown ditches Hixon had said were “overburdened and do not drain,” installed neat, sturdy culverts in more than a dozen driveways and paved over the dirt and caliche road avoided by U.S. mail trucks and school buses. The work wrapped up early last month.

Hixon has not returned to court to say whether he’s satisfied or returned phone calls requesting comment.

Hixon has been a semi-regular commenter on this blog ever since I noted his then-quixotic attempt to get Commissioners Court to listen to him a decade ago. He finally got some traction on his epic quest in August when he got a new Commissioner.

Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman aims to free up Charles Hixon’s Tuesday mornings.

The Huffman resident has attended almost every Harris County Commissioners Court meeting for 24 years, delivering the same scripted speech – with minor variations – complaining of a drainage problem at his property in northeast Harris County.

Various officials throughout the years have attempted to mollify the most persistent of gadflies, now in his mid-50s, but most have determined that he could not be helped because his .69-acre lot, between Palm Drive and Cry Baby Lane, sits on a road that is not listed on the county road log, meaning the county is not responsible for maintaining it.

That changed on Tuesday, when the Commissioners Court – at the behest of Morman – voted to take on Palm Drive and its ditches, which Hixon contends “are overburdened and do not drain.”

Morman, of Precinct 2, became Hixon’s commissioner this month when new county precinct boundaries took effect after a long-awaited court ruling on redistricting.

When the first-term commissioner learned he would inherit the persistent constituent, he asked county staff to look into the problem.

“There is a grading issue and a drainage issue, so yeah, there’s a problem for not just this guy, but for all of his neighbors,” Morman said.

Not really clear why Morman decided this was a county issue when everyone else had concluded otherwise, but that’s all in the past. The road is paved, the drainage issue is resolved, and everyone appears to be happy. Commissioners Court meetings may never be the same.

Time for more information about Early To Rise

What Lisa Falkenberg says.

They’ve turned over more than 150,000 signatures in favor of putting an early education tax on the Harris County ballot in November. Now the folks behind the Early to Rise campaign need to turn over the details.

Actually, they should have turned them over a while ago. The well-meaning folks who signed the petition did so with only the vaguest notion that, somehow, they’d be helping kids, and our community. But some of us need a little more information.

The petition said only that it was authorizing the Harris County Department of Education to levy a tax of one penny per $100 of assessed home value “for early childhood education purposes to improve success of children in kindergarten and beyond.”

A fact sheet called the effort a “public/private partnership” that will provide training, assistance and equipment to preschool programs and parents. Clicking on “take a deeper look at the Early to Rise Plan” on the group’s website won’t get you any deeper. It gives the basics and a list of board members who would lead a newly formed nonprofit to administer the tax funds.

Those board members include respected community leaders such as James Calaway of the Center for Houston’s Future, former Houston first lady Andrea White and the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell. But their good names aren’t enough. We need a detailed proposal, in writing, that spells out how money will be distributed, to what kinds of operations, under what criteria? How many families will be helped? How many children? At what age?

Not to mention how will the board members be chosen, what kind of oversight will they be subject to, what kind of disclosures will they have to make to ensure that any conflicts of interest can come to light, what is the process to remove a board member that needs to be removed, etc etc etc. We know these answers for elected officials, and we know these answers for boards and whatnot that are appointed by elected officials. We know none of that for Early To Rise and the Harris County School Readiness Corporation. The American Prospect, which has a nice overview of Early To Rise and the story so far, suggests that they don’t really have a good answer to these questions.

The obvious concerns over handing the revenues to an unelected nonprofit board are not lost on the leaders of Early to Rise. However Jonathan Day, a former city councilman and one of the Early to Rise board members, argues this is much better than the alternative of letting the Harris County Department of Education administer the program, which would politicize the process. The Department of Education has had its share of political drama, including hiring a former county commissioner and convicted felon as its lobbyist. Day worries that by giving the Department of Education control over the process, childcare centers would get selected for the program based on political advantage rather than need. He says that’s already become a problem with charter schools. “We have some bad charter schools. Are we able to close ‘em down?” he says. “Every one of those charter schools has a bunch of defenders, [including] the state representative.” By putting the money in the hands of an unelected body, Day believes the program will avoid many of the same political problems. “You can to a very significant extent, avoid those kinds of results which are very damaging,” he says, and notes that the Department of Education would still have oversight.

Day was a City Attorney, not a City Council member, but never mind that. I don’t get making HCDE out to be nefarious, especially since this proposal isn’t going to go anywhere without HCDE’s support. I agree that the hiring of Jerry Eversole was a forehead-slapping move, but he was hired for the purpose of lobbying Commissioners Court to back off its efforts to get a bill passed to kill the HCDE. I personally wouldn’t touch Eversole with a ten-foot pole, but that is a role for which he is qualified. Most of the actual political drama on HCDE had to do with a faction that never numbered more than one or two that was on board with the kill-HCDE agenda. The biggest, and possibly sole, protagonist of this was Michael Wolfe, who was defeated in 2012. Outside of Wolfe, the drama level at HCDE has been remarkably low. Bringing up charter schools is a distraction, since they have nothing to do with any of this, and besides, the Lege passed a bill this past session that among other things will – in theory, at least – make it easier to shut down substandard charters. Finally, I can’t believe that Jonathan Day is naive enough to think that an unelected and not-selected-by-electeds board would be less subject to political pressure or less tempted by favoritism than any other board. This goes right back to the question of oversight and what the consequences are for misbehavior. We need to have some assurances that our tax dollars are being used appropriately. That is not too much to ask.

Back to Falkenberg:

Bob Sanborn, CEO of the nonprofit watchdog organization Children at Risk, says he shares many of [County Judge Ed] Emmett’s worries: “I don’t really trust the governing structure. I don’t trust the taxing entity it’s going through, and that becomes a little problematic. This whole idea of unelected boards – what happens when they change membership?”

At the same time, he said he told Emmett in a conversation a while back, “you know, in the end, if this is on the ballot, it’s pro-children and I have to support it.”

I think that’s where many of our hearts are. Now the folks at Early to Rise just have to persuade our minds.

Yeah, that’s where I am, too. But it’s a huge leap of faith, and it’s one none of us should have to make. We’ll know on Tuesday what the plan is for HCDE. I sure hope these concerns get addressed.

HCDE hires Eversole to lobby for them

From the Things That Make Me Do A Facepalm department: The HCDE has hired Jerry Eversole as a lobbyist. Yeah, that Jerry Eversole.

Eversole was taciturn in discussing his work Thursday, saying department of education officials approached him. His contract will pay $45,000, plus expenses, between Dec. 1, 2012, and Aug. 31, and calls for him to help raise awareness of the benefits of the department’s programs with local, state and federal officials.

“I have the right to work and make a living,” Eversole said. “And I’ll say that the person who has a problem with me is (County Judge) Ed Emmett. So, if you want comments about what’s wrong with me and about any of my convictions and why I was convicted, he seems to know everything, so you can call him. That’s really all I have to say.”

Emmett, through a spokesman, declined to respond to Eversole’s comments.

The department, which is governed by an elected board of trustees and is not part of Harris County government, also has hired lobbyists and former state representatives Rob Eissler, who was paid $10,125 in December and January, and Stan Schlueter, who was paid $6,125 in January. The department did not produce Eissler and Schlueter’s contracts by deadline.

Department Superintendent John Sawyer is on vacation until March 19 and unavailable for comment, spokeswoman Tammy Lanier said.

Board of trustees President Angie Chesnut said Sawyer was within his authority to make the hires but said she disagrees with the move.

“Had the decision been mine – and I do not speak for the board – I would not have done that,” she said. “And that’s no disrespect to Mr. Eversole. It’s just that I think it creates in the public’s mind a question that doesn’t need to surround HCDE. There most certainly must have been other alternatives.”

Ugh. Look, I have no problem with HCDE hiring someone to speak for their interests, which are currently being threatened. It makes sense to hire someone who knows the players and has a rapport with them. Engaging Rob Eissler was a good move. But geez, if you first reaction to the idea of hiring Jerry Eversole for this was something other than “You’ve got to be kidding”, then I suggest you get out more. Eversole may have the right qualifications – Steve Radack thought his hire was a smart move by HCDE, not that it was going to change his mind about abolishing it – but the optics of it are terrible, as KTRK’s lurid reporting should make clear. I’m sorry, but nothing good can come of this, and John Sawyer needs to have his head examined for even thinking of it. Finally, yes, Jerry, you have a right to earn a living. But that doesn’t mean that all options need to be open to you. Metro is hiring bus drivers – I suggest you look into that opportunity.

Constable Trevino’s day in court

It went about as you’d expect.

Constable Victor Trevino

Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino and his attorney said Tuesday they expect the longtime law enforcement officer to be cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with allegations he abused his official role and used charity donations for personal use.

“On behalf of my family and myself, I just want to thank the community for their overwhelming support and their prayers,” Trevino said after a brief court appearance Tuesday morning. “We’ve cooperated, and we’re going to continue to cooperate and see this through all the way.”


“We’re very eager for our day in court,” said attorney Chip Lewis. “It’s a sad day in the community when Constable Trevino’s good name has been sullied because of these charges, and we are very eager for the opportunity to vindicate him and return his good name.”

Trevino and Lewis did not answer questions as they left court, but reiterated that Trevino will not step down despite being indicted.

Well, Jerry Eversole expressed confidence that he would be cleared of all charges, too, so take all that for what it’s worth. I know nothing about this case beyond what has been reported, and I firmly believe in the presumption of innocence, I’m just saying that such pronouncements really don’t have much predictive value. It should also be noted that Eversole did not resign until after his original trial, which ended in a hung jury, a few weeks before he finally took a plea. I still think Constable Trevino should formally hand off the day to day operations of Precinct 6 to someone else in his office until this is resolved one way or another, but staying in office until then is not unusual. The story does not say, but the caption under the photo that goes with the story says that the case has been reset for January, so barring any surprises we’ll have to wait till then for the next update.

Jail privatization update

Grits, from about two weeks ago:

In a conference call last week with investors (see the transcript), Corrections Corporation of America said it expects to find out by next spring whether they will receive a contract to operate the Harris County Jail. Said President and CEO David Hininger:

The final update I wanted to give on the new business opportunities is here in Harris County. And just as a reminder, this is the opportunity to take over the entire jail system within Harris County. This is metropolitan Houston. This would be an opportunity to take over a system that has about 9,000 prisoners on any given day. We submitted our best and final for this procurement back in August of this year, and again we think probably later this year, probably early next year is when the county will make a decision on this requirement.

An institutional investor asked Hininger, “Could you describe – give us a little bit more color on Harris County? I kind of had thought that perhaps something might have – a decision might have been made in the fall, and wondering what, if anything, may have changed there?” He replied:

Yeah, good question, I would kind of relate it back to my earlier comment. We just have gotten a sense from our either existing partners or new partners that either opportunities, pending procurements, maybe decisions where they need to move forward on a requirement, a lot of those are just being deferred, either past the election or past the 1st of the year. There was obviously a lot of – everybody in the country was most focused on the national election, but there was a lot of elections going on at the state and local level.

And so, our sense is that we just had a period of time where a lot of decision-makers were sitting on their hands. So I would [say] Harris is probably in that category. And we think we’ve put forth a very compelling and comprehensive and competitive proposal to them, but our sense is probably now that we’re on the other side of the election, either later [this] year or early next year, we’ll see an action being taken by them.

Were Harris County Commissioners waiting for the elections to pass before moving forward on privatization? We’ll soon see. For those interested in (much) more detail, here’s the RFP to which CCA and its competitors are responding. Notably, most of the information the public has been getting on this back-room process has not come from county government but from corporate investor conference calls. That’s never a good sign.

See here and here for the background. I think we can all agree that any discussion about this needs to be held in the open, for all to hear and for all with a stake in the outcome – which is to say, all Harris County taxpayers – to be able to have their say about it. Towards that end, I made a few inquiries about this. County Judge Ed Emmett said this was the first he’d heard about this particular item in many months (the last update I have is from December of 2011, so that certainly tracks for me). He said that right now the RFP that Corrections Corporation of America and any other bidders submitted is being reviewed by the purchasing department, which will when ready present its findings for the Court to consider. At that time, they may or may not take any action, but Judge Emmett assured me that if there was to be anything further on it, that would all be done during open Court meetings as official agenda items.

I also spoke to Commissioner Radack, who characterized this as a very complex process and that the main thing he hoped to get out of it was some lessons about possible ways to be more efficient and save money. I suggested his description sounded somewhat like an audit to me, and he thought that was a reasonable analogy. He stressed that any review of corrections is multifaceted and can take a lot of time – he reminded me that the original proposal of a joint city/county jail facility was made when Bob Lanier was still Mayor – and that his primary goal was the learning opportunity. I did not get the impression he was seeking anything transformational. In fact, I’m reminded as I review the history of all this that the origin was in late 2010 when Radack and Jerry Eversole were complaining about the cost of outsourcing inmates to Louisiana. That was when Radack made his request for a study of ways to reduce costs at the jail, which turned into a formal RFP when then-Budget Director Dick Raycraft came back and said it was the only way to answer the question. And so here we are today, in an environment where inmates are no longer being outsourced and jail costs overall are already lower, awaiting that answer.

Finally, Sheriff Adrian Garcia sent me the following statement via email:

“The county purchasing and budget offices are still working on the request from Commissioners Court in the spring of 2011 to determine if allowing a private company to run the Harris County Jail would be cost-effective for the county and the taxpayers. The study continues.

“In the meantime, I will continue to build on the success that we have had over the last four years in which my staff and I have saved the taxpayers more than $60 million in the operation of the jail and other functions of the Sheriff’s Office, turning a gaping budget deficit into a surplus without degrading public safety or laying off employees. This accomplishment included using a combination of civilian staff and detention officers rather than deputies in some jail functions. Under my administration, the jail has been in full compliance with state standards and inmate deaths have declined. This is a true example of the taxpayers getting the best deal with the sheriff as the direct administrator of the jail.

“I am also mindful of Judge Emmett’s comment that no private detention company has run a jail system as big as ours, and of then-Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Adan Munoz’s comment that privatization of the jail is not advisable. Their comments also mirror those of sheriffs in other parts of the country who have seen how privatization experiments at county jails have actually cost communities more than when they were run by the sheriff.”

So there you have it. Obviously, this bears watching, and I will be very interested to see what report the purchasing and budget departments eventually make to the Court. In the meantime, I hope this helps shed a little light on what’s going on.

Eversole gets off easy

They did it all for these (Source: Wikipedia)

And so it ends.

The receiving line of well-wishers and smiling faces that came to life in the usually somber federal courtroom Wednesday was 10 years in the making.

Jerry Eversole, who fell from one of the highest perches in Harris County politics to land as an unemployed felon, shook hands, slapped backs and thanked supporters with deep sighs of relief: He was not going to prison.

The former Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner was sentenced Wednesday to three years of probation.

Eversole’s longtime friend and co-defendant, Mike Surface, also was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David Hittner to three years probation. Surface was fined $5,000.


Immediately after Hittner’s ruling, a jubilant Eversole hugged supporters and family members in the crowded courtroom.

“I’m very anxious to get the rest of my life started,” said Eversole, 68. He said dealing with the corruption trial “has been like towing an anchor.”

“We’re excited about waking up tomorrow and realizing I can go get a job – I can start doing things,” Eversole said. “I felt very useless the last few months.”


Sentencing guidelines had suggested both men faced six months of either incarceration or probation, or some combination of the two, as well as fines.

Both will be on probation for three years, during which time neither of the avid gun collectors will be able to buy or possess any of the antique Colt .45 pistols they amassed in combined collection worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Oh, the humanity. Whining works, kids. I don’t really have anything else to say about this.

Eversole and Surface whine for leniency

Stop, you’re breaking my heart.

Even after former Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole and real estate developer Michael Surface agreed to plea deals, their lawyers said prosecutors were trying to “criminalize” a 30-year friendship.

In letters filed Wednesday to the judge who will decide whether they will spend six months behind bars or on probation, the two spoke openly about the depth of their friendship and the deals that landed them in trouble.

“I’ve bought meals, paid for gas, bought him chaps and cowboy hats over the years among other things,” Eversole, 68, said. “We never kept a ledger.”

Both wrote of a friendship that began when Surface owned a mowing service and Eversole was president of the Humble Chamber of Commerce.

When Eversole first ran for commissioner 21 years ago, Surface was his unpaid campaign manager.

“He and I would meet at the Best Doughnuts in Humble at 5 a.m. to get coffee together and then would go to Metro Park and Rides to hand out information about me and my campaign for office,” Eversole said. “Mike and I remained close friends even as our lives and the world around us changed.”

It goes on and on from there. I personally think they should have skipped the letters and just done a video montage of how beautiful their friendship is, with a peppy single from the 60s as the soundtrack. Something like this, for example:

Okay, maybe without the romantic overtones, but you get the idea. It wouldn’t have been any less ridiculous, is all I’m saying.

Surface gets probation

Mike Surface, one of the developers implicated in the Jerry Eversole case and who pleaded guilty alongside Eversole to one count of filing a false income tax return, was given two years probation for his crime.

Prosecutors asked for a year of prison time, said Surface’s lawyer, Chip Lewis said. Department of Justice officials did not return a request for comment.

As part of his plea agreement, Surface will not be able to do business with the federal government, Harris County or the City of Houston for five years.

Seems awfully lenient to me, but whatever. All I can say is that if any government or elected official agrees to do business with him after those five years are up, it ought to trigger another investigation. Surface’s partner Andrew Schatte has yet to take a plea or go to trial. After what Eversole and Surface got, I don’t know why he wouldn’t seek a deal.

Commissioner Cagle

As predicted, the new County Commissioner is County Court Judge Jack Cagle.

“Cactus” Jack Cagle was named Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner this morning by County Judge Ed Emmett, ending two weeks of political intrigue that followed former Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s announcement that he would resign.

Eversole, who had represented the area since 1991, stepped down as part of a plea deal in a federal corruption case. He pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents on Friday.

Cagle has been a County Civil Court-at-Law judge since 2000.

I wasn’t expecting to like the choice, and I wasn’t disappointed. I have the same memory of Cagle that Larissa Lindsay does, and while that probably has no bearing on how he’ll be as a Commissioner, it’s still not something I’m going to forget. I’m not going to fixate on this – I’m fully aware that there were names on Judge Emmett’s list that I would have liked less – but for better or for worse, this is the first thing I’m going to think of when I hear the name Jack Cagle.

Anyway. I expect there will be a full-on primary for this seat in March – County Commissioner jobs don’t grow on trees, after all – and this also means that there will be one more Republican-held judgeship on the ballot next fall. I’m sure we’ll be hearing about candidates for each of these soon. Greg has more.

Eversole pleads out

Another saga comes to an end.

Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole pleaded guilty this morning in federal court to a felony charge of making a false statement to FBI agents.

The charge carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In exchange for the guilty plea and for Eversole’s announcement last week that he would resign from office, prosecutors dropped charges of conspiracy, bribery and two counts of filing false income tax statements.

The Department of Justice had alleged Eversole took nearly $100,000 in cash and gifts from co-defendant Mike Surface in exchange for steering lucrative county contracts to companies in which Surface had an interest.

A mistrial was declared in the case earlier this year following a hung jury. A retrial had been scheduled to begin next month. Throughout, Eversole had denied wrongdoing, and his attorneys have characterized the government’s corruption case as criminalizing a friendship.

“All the allegations by the government that he ever did anything improper in the conduct of his office were dismissed. Every single count, every single allegation that has to do with the performance of his office were dismissed today and they’re gone forever,” said Rusty Hardin, Eversole’s attorney. “There is nothing in his statement of facts that says he ever did anything in his office in return for anything or was influenced in any way.”

I suppose that means something, but whatever. All I can say is that it’s about time.

Surface also took a plea.

In a statement of facts read before the court, Surface admitted to giving Eversole gifts in an attempt to influence him. There was no such clause in Eversole’s statement of facts.


Surface pleaded guilty to one count of filing a false income tax return, which carries up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine. In exchange, conspiracy and bribery charges were dropped.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner accepted Eversole and Surface’s guilty pleas at 10:35 a.m. A sentencing date has been set for Jan. 4, 2012.

Federal sentencing guidelines place the sentence at between zero and six months for both men, served in any combination of incarceration, probation or home confinement Hittner chooses, said Andy Drumheller, an attorney for Eversole.

As part of the pleas, Eversole is barred from seeking elected or appointed office for 10 years; Surface is barred from seeking contracts with the city of Houston and Harris County for five years.

Later Friday, Surface also pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal agents in another public corruption trial; his lawyer Chip Lewis said the two pleas “are wired together.” Surface, along with codefendant Andrew Schatte, had been charged with conspiracy and mail fraud. Those charges against Surface have been dropped.

Good riddance and shame on both of them. We deserve better from our elected officials and those who do business with our government.

In other news, Judge Ed Emmett will announce Eversole’s successor on Monday morning. A list of potential recipients of the golden ticket are at that link. Whoever it is, I expect there’s a 100% chance he or she will face a contested primary next March. Nobody will have that much time to raise money, so it ought to be quite the scramble. Have sweet dreams over the weekend, y’all, because Monday all but one of you are going to wake up.

UPDATE: Robert Miller takes a guess at who the next Commissioner will be.

Evaluating Eversole

As we prepare to say good-bye and good riddance to Jerry Eversole, the Chron takes a look at what he has achieved in office and what his legacy might be.

After more than 20 years as a Harris County commissioner, Jerry Eversole is expected to leave office a felon, having announced his resignation last week as part of a plea deal that likely will see him plead guilty to lying to FBI agents four years ago.

In political circles, that may be Eversole’s legacy: forced from office by a corruption probe, accused – though not convicted – of funneling contracts to a friend’s companies in exchange for more than $100,000 in cash and gifts.

Some may see him as a caricature: A local politician accused of cronyism, with a penchant for charity golf tournaments, who so resembled Clint Eastwood he had to turn away autograph-seekers.

Many of Eversole’s constituents in north Harris County will not remember him that way, however.

They point to his beloved Spring Creek Greenway, a developing 12,000-acre park that, when completed, will run along 33 miles of creek from The Woodlands to Humble.

Eversole proudly said the land still looks as it did when the Akokisa Indians camped there.

“I regret that I won’t see it any further,” Eversole said. “It’s a tremendous project.”

In the end, Eversole’s legacy may be neither disgraced politician nor saintly conservationist. Those who know him describe him as an endearing but admittedly imperfect, old-fashioned, road-and-bridge commissioner.

If Jerry Eversole wants to be remembered as something other than a politician who was forced out of office by pleading guilty to a felony, then there needs to be something extraordinary in his record to balance that out. It’s nice that his employees thought he was a good boss who boosted morale, and it’s nice that his constituents felt like they could talk to him when they needed to, but those are hardly remarkable achievements. The construction of that park is certainly laudable, but building parks is something County Commissioners do. Unless there’s some evidence to suggest that Jerry Eversole and no one else could have gotten that done over the past 20 years, it doesn’t rise to that standard, either. There may be more to the Jerry Eversole story than what’s in this article, but I don’t see anything to distract from the fact that he’s about to become an ex-official because he got caught taking advantage of his position for his own personal gain.

Eversole expected to take a plea

I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone.

Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, who on Monday announced his resignation from office, is expected to plead guilty to one count of making a false statement to FBI agents in a federal court Sept. 30, sources said Wednesday.

A document filed with the court Wednesday afternoon set a “re-arraignment” court date for Eversole and his codefendant Mike Surface to appear before U.S. District Judge David Hittner at 10 a.m. that Friday.

Eversole’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, Surface’s attorney, Chip Lewis, and Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined comment.

“The fact that a re-arraignment has been set in this matter means he will be pleading guilty to the criminal information that was filed (Monday),” said former federal prosecutor Philip Hilder, who is not connected to the Eversole case.

“It is a confirmation that a plea deal has occurred and that a plea of guilty will be officially entered by the court to the charges contained in the criminal information.”

We’ll know soon enough. There was speculation that a plea was in the works from the beginning, so as I said this should be no surprise. It’s driven more by financial realities and risk aversion than any recognition of wrongdoing on Eversole’s part, but it all counts for the same in the end. It’s about time, that’s all I can really say.

Everybody loves Ed

Everybody who hopes to be appointed to Commissioners Court, anyway.

In the hours after [Commissioner Jerry] Eversole’s announcement [that he would resign as of October 1], hopeful appointees pressed the flesh with local Republican leaders and scrambled to see whether rivals were eligible to serve. Emmett’s phone rang endlessly.

In many cases, Emmett spokesman Joe Stinebaker said, there was little talk of the weather, the Astros’ miserable year or the impending birth of the judge’s eighth grandchild, born Tuesday morning.

“I’m interested,” the callers said. “Please appoint me.”


Emmett has two employees compiling biographies, résumés and letters of support for potential appointees. There were about 60 names in the pile as of Tuesday afternoon, Stinebaker said.

“I’ve been surprised at some of the names that have come forward,” Emmett said Monday. “But you do find out who lives in Precinct 4 real quick.”

Emmett plans to compile a short list by Monday, Stinebaker said. Emmett has said he will conduct interviews and make a selection by Oct. 1, after consulting with other members of Commissioners Court and the local Republican Party. Eversole is a Republican and the precinct is a conservative stronghold.

GOP insiders have compiled their own list of candidates, including State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, Judge R. Jack Cagle, Court Koenning, former Houston City Councilwoman Toni Lawrence, former University of Houston regent Lynden Rose, businessman Ben Streusand and Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan.

That sound you’ve been hearing is a whole lot of puckering up. I don’t envy Emmett the decision – there’s an awful lot of people who will be left unhappy by the choice he makes. There’s not anyone on that list above that has any real appeal to me, so my hope is that he ultimately picks someone Steve Radack doesn’t like. I can’t think of a better qualification than that. For a less snarky viewpoint, see Nancy Sims.

Eversole to resign


Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole has submitted his resignation, county officials said, effective Oct. 1.

Representatives in Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s office confirmed Eversole submitted his resignation shortly after 2 p.m. today.

Eversole represents about 1 million constituents in north and northeast Harris County, a post he has held since 1991.

A mistrial was declared in the commissioner’s corruption trial earlier this year. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in the second round of that trial in late October.

It’s hard to look at the timing of this and not think that there’s a shoe somewhere about to drop. Why that would happen for the retrial and not for the original I couldn’t say. And hey, I could be wrong about this. Maybe he just got tired of it all and wanted to retire to his ranch. Still, given how obnoxious Eversole acted while defending the Commissioners Court map that protected him from the voters, this sure does feel like it came from left field. What do you think?

Oh, and on a side note, Judge Ed Emmett gets to select Eversole’s replacement, as I learned a few months ago. The line to become Judge Emmett’s new bestest buddy forms to the left.

UPDATE: Ted Oberg fills in a few blanks.

It looks like the resignation may be connected to a plea deal in the criminal case. New indictments today drop bribery charges against Eversole, leaving only one count of lying to the FBI remaining. A new indictment against Surface accuses him only of lying on a tax return. Both indictments are still felonies.


Eversole said for a long time he had no interest in resigning and planned to fight. But campaign records show Eversole’s ability to pay for what had become a very pricy legal defense was pretty limited.

Eversole was using campaign funds, legal under Texas law, but after spending more than a million dollars on legal fees, Eversole had just $50,000 left to spend, according to his last report. The math was not in his favor.

So there you have it. Via PDiddie.

Commissioners Court approves its redistricting plan, DOJ approves city’s plan

Greg and Stace attended today’s Commissioners Court meeting, where to nobody’s surprise the slightly-less-but-still-retrogressive new redistricting plan was unanimously approved. And why shouldn’t it be? It took care of the main, if not the sole, purpose of the task, which was to protect the incumbents from the voters. Stace captured the following exchange, which says it all:

After East End neighborhood activist Elisa Gonzalez made the case for the alternative map (known as Guerra/Jara), Commissioner Jerry Eversole made Gonzalez point out where the four precincts were located because he “couldn’t see” the map.

Where was he going with this? Well, it turned out to be self-serving as he was making the point that he had been drawn out of Precinct 4 and placed in Precinct 2 (the Commissioner has chosen to reside far from his suburban constituents). So, he questioned Gonzalez about it being okay for him to be drawn out, to which Gonzalez stated that “whatever it takes” should be done to ensure representation. So, Eversole being Eversole asked:

“So I’m to give up my job to give you fair representation?”

Yes, it’s all about you, Jerry. Always has been, always will be. Now we get to see what the Justice Department thinks of this. Speaking of which, they formally approved the city’s plan, also to no one’s surprise. The city did pretty much everything right; the fact that no one has filed a suit speaks quite loudly about its success in this process. Nonetheless, DOJ preclearance was a necessary step, and now that it’s been done the election can go on without further complication.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story about county redistricting, in which Jack Morman does some whining and we learn that federal judge Vanessa Gilmore has scheduled a pretrial conference for Dec. 2 for the lawsuit that was filed last week.

Chron story on Harris County redistricting

County Commissioners are shocked and dismayed to learn that there are people who would question their ability to do whatever they want to do.

The county released an amended map on Friday, having gathered community input on the initial map at four public hearings.

Rodriguez and fellow plaintiff Rey Guerra said its changes were insufficient to stop their suit, however. The new map would put the Latino population in Precinct 2 at 58.2 percent, more than the initial map but less than current levels.

“This lawsuit makes no sense to me,” said Commissioner Steve Radack, who represents Precinct 3. “This is like suing a surgeon for malpractice before they even operate on you.”


Assistant County Attorney Doug Ray said the amended map “does reduce the amount of retrogression they’re complaining about.”

But it doesn’t eliminate it, which is the whole point of the lawsuit. It’s a rather curious admission to make, since it basically validates the plaintiffs’ arguments. And as for Radack, if the surgeon told you he was going to amputate your left leg when all you wanted was to have a boil lanced, I’m pretty sure you’d take action before he got the chance to do something to you that you didn’t want him to do.

The amended plan moves two precincts on the north edge of Kingwood that had been proposed for Precinct 2 back to Precinct 4, where they are today.

The map also moves five precincts in the Aldine area from the proposed Precinct 1 to the proposed Precinct 2. Five other precincts in the Aldine area would be split, with a portion going to Precinct 1 and a portion going to Precinct 2.

“If it meets Justice Department standards, it doesn’t matter who files suit — the Justice Department is who we have to satisfy,” said Commissioner Jerry Eversole, who represents Precinct 4.

All that’s being done here is to point out what needs to be done to ensure that the Justice Department is satisfied. It’s unfortunate that the Court refuses to recognize this, but some lessons just need to be learned the hard way. Greg has more.

UPDATE: The Chron editorializes against the Commissioners’ proposed map.

The alternative Commissioners Court map

Opponents of the proposed County Commissioners map have presented their version in the last public hearing on county redistricting.

Democrat Sylvia Garcia was Precinct 2 commissioner from 2002 until this year, having lost to Republican Jack Morman in last November’s elections. Garcia, State Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) and others helped draft the alternative map and organize opposition to the county consultants’ proposal.

That proposal, by attorney Gene Locke, of Andrews & Kurth, and Dick Murray, a University of Houston political scientist, adds a swath of reliably conservative northeast Harris County to Precinct 2. It also reduces the population of Hispanics in the precinct by about 3 percent from current levels.

Locke and Murray said the need to protect Precinct 1, a black opportunity district that shares a lengthy border with Precinct 2, forced Precinct 2 to add population to the north. Locke has said the Department of Justice will consider numerous factors in deciding whether the map complies with the Voting Rights Act, not just the 2010 Census data used to estimate current demographics in the precinct.

Greg has already shown that that’s not the case. The county’s map is about incumbent protection. Which I understand, but let’s not kid ourselves.

You can see the county’s proposed map here, and the Gallegos/Jara alternative map here. Incumbent protection is the big stumbling block.

Some political observers have questioned the political viability of this alternative, given that it draws Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole, a Heights resident, out of his district.

Eversole “lives in the inner city and represents a suburban district,” Jara said. “It’s pretty hard to protect him without bringing in a peninsula of some sort and to just basically grab his house.”

The alternative map also turfs Morman out of his precinct; he would wind up in Precinct 4. Precincts 2 and 4 are on the same election schedule, however, so in theory Morman could run for reelection in 2014 regardless.

The Gallegos/Jara map is quite a bit different from the current map, and from the county’s proposed map, which makes a fairly minimal set of changes. If it looks vaguely familiar, I’ll refer you back to Greg’s initial takes on a new map, which do a lot of similar things. You’ll note that if Jerry Eversole were to do everyone a favor and ride off into the sunset – or the federal pokey – most of these problems solve themselves. Morman can become Commissioner For Life in precinct 4, Latinos can regain the representation they deserve, and we all live happily ever after. This is not an intractable problem, and the county can save itself a lot of time and money in litigation costs if it grabs the obvious answer that’s right in front of its nose. Eversole can even stay on the Court till his term ends in 2014, assuming the next jury cooperates. What’s not to like?

Poor Jerry

I feel so, so sorry for him.

Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole has racked up $1.1 million in legal bills fighting a federal corruption probe in the past two years, nearly exhausting his campaign funds months before his case is to be retried.

Campaign finance reports show Eversole has $51,000 left in the bank after paying $1.1 million to defense lawyer Rusty Hardin’s firm. Eversole, a commissioner for 20 years, has raised just $60 this year and says he’s not sure how he will pay for his trial.

“I really and truly don’t have any idea what I’m going to do,” Eversole said. “I know I’m planning on going to trial on Oct. 24. By what means I’m going to pay for that, I don’t know.

“If I’m going to have to work the rest of my life to pay off Rusty Hardin, that’s what I’ll do.

“I don’t have a great deal of finances or, really, the ability to raise finances in the circumstances that I’m in,” Eversole continued.

Please. If he gets acquitted, he’ll have three more years as County Commissioner to raise whatever he needs. If he get convicted, money will be the least of his concerns. I don’t know whose sympathy he’s hoping to get with this story, but it won’t be mine.

Emmett goes after Raycraft

This will be fun to watch.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, spurred by revelations about former finance chief Edwin Harrison’s business practices and personal conduct, is calling for Harrison’s boss — longtime budget director Dick Raycraft — to produce a reorganization plan for his department and prepare for retirement.

In a meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board Thursday, Emmett unloaded a wide-ranging critique of the county system as managed by Raycraft, a 43-year county employee who has controlled the budget process for nearly two decades.

Emmett said Raycraft had proved “unwilling or unable” to police Harrison’s actions, even after being informed that Harrison liked to meet business associates at what he and friends dubbed the “North Office,” a strip club north of town.

“If you were his friend you got business. And ‘friend’ was defined as, did you do the things he wanted you to do,” Emmett said, noting that “numerous” financial professionals approached him with these concerns. “I would take that to Raycraft and say, ‘This isn’t right,’ and Dick would say, ‘Well, I’m told that he stopped that.’ ‘I’m told’ — that’s been the line all along.”

I have not followed the Edwin Harrison debacle – the revelations about him began at the end of the legislative session, and there’s only so many hours in the day – but it’s bad news. Here are some of the Chron stories about this:

Law firms repaying thousands to county Questionable travel expenses turn up in audits

Ex-financial chief retires amid probes Bond dealings questioned; man, wife also indicted in unrelated case

County in talks with bond sellers Brokers cited with overcharging on investments”

County ex-finance chief grabs FBI’s attention Team in town to investigate his investments HARRISON: Emmett glad FBI involved

ABUSE OF POWER Mai Tais and minibars – on your dime Uncovering Harris County’s losses took a whistleblower and two audits

You get the idea. Call me crazy here, but the idea that the boss of the employee who’d been doing all this stuff for more than five years might be held responsible for his lack of oversight seems perfectly reasonable. Apparently, it’s too much for the Commissioners to contemplate:

Other members of Commissioners Court responded coolly to the judge’s remarks.

“Emmett needs to understand he’s one of five,” Commissioner Jerry Eversole said. “As far as I know, there’s not another member on court that has problems with Dick Raycraft.”

Eversole and Commissioners El Franco Lee and Steve Radack said a closed executive session of Commissioners Court is the proper forum to discuss personnel matters.

“Edwin, obviously, was doing things very loosely. How much of that Raycraft knew, I have no idea,” Eversole said. “If the county judge … has had problems with Raycraft for a year and a half, why hasn’t he brought it up? If he’s got a problem, that’s what we’ve got Commissioners Court for.”

Radack said Raycraft, 71, has been open about his looming retirement and said it may make sense for a succession plan to be drafted. He added that Raycraft, whom he described as “an extremely honorable man,” did not need to do so as a result of Harrison’s actions.

“If (Emmett) has a case that he thinks he needs to make, he can put it on the agenda and attempt to make it. Let’s talk about it,” Radack said. “That’s the purpose of Commissioners Court.”

Seems like an awfully laid-back attitude to take about this. I’m sure everybody likes Dick Raycraft. I’ve never spoken to the man, but I’ve always had a positive impression of him from previous news stories. But c’mon, one of his direct employees is charged with allegedly bilking the county out of millions of dollars, and all the Commissioners can say is how their noses are out of joint because Ed Emmett talked about it out of school? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask why it is that Judge Emmett is the only member of the Court who seems to have a problem with Raycraft’s supervision of his office. Are the Commissioners not concerned about this, or are they just doing their usual diva act so that everyone is reminded who’s really the boss? Perhaps a little sense of urgency from them, to borrow a phrase from the business world, is in order here.

Meet the Harris County redistricting map

On the agenda yesterday at Commissioners Court – the long-awaited redistricting plan for County Commissioner precincts.

The proposal would bring significant changes to several precinct boundaries, seeking to make the populations in the four commissioners’ precincts roughly equal, as required by law, and based on the 2010 Census. The draft will be the subject of several public hearings in the coming weeks.

The map moves roughly 100,000 residents from two fast-growing precincts in the county’s west, north and northeast — represented by Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole – to two slower-growing precincts in the south and east – represented by Commissioners Jack Morman and El Franco Lee.


Richard Murray, a University of Houston political science professor and redistricting consultant, said the proposed changes would be the most sweeping the county had seen since the 1980 Census, after which Precinct 1 was redrawn as a black opportunity district. Lee has held the seat ever since.

Attorneys from Andrews Kurth also helped draft the map.

Radack’s Precinct 3 would remain the largest, with 1.04 million residents, down from 1.15 million; Lee’s Precinct 1 also would be home to 1.04 million people, up from about 940,000.

Eversole’s Precinct 4 would shrink to 1.02 million from 1.12 million. Morman’s Precinct 2 would remain the smallest, rising from about 883,000 to 991,395 under the proposed map.

The largest territory swap under the proposal would happen in northeast Harris County, where Morman would pick up the Atascocita area and land around Lake Houston from Eversole.

Greg puts the numbers into some perspective. You can see the map here – I’ve also uploaded a copy here in case that one gets moved. You can see the chart in the lower left as a Google spreadsheet here. Note that the second group of numbers are the Voting Age Population (VAP) numbers, which superficially make Morman’s Precinct 2 look like a Hispanic opportunity district, but keep in kind that the numbers that matter are the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) numbers, which will surely make Anglos the plurality, if not the outright majority, in Precinct 2. Given the addition of the Atascocita area, assume Precinct 2 has been made redder as well. I’m sure Greg will have those details soon enough.

In any event, there will be four public hearings, one in each precinct, at which you can register your feedback:

Monday, July 25, 6: 30 p.m. – East Harris County Activity Center (7340 Spencer Highway, Pasadena)
Thursday, July 28, 7 p.m. – Harris County Cavalcade Office (3815 Cavalcade St., Houston)
Friday July 29, 6 p.m. – Mangum-Howell Center (2500 Frick Road, Houston)
Monday, Aug. 1, 4:30 p.m. – Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center (1414 Wirt Road, Houston)

I presume some variant on this map will be adopted shortly thereafter. What do you think about this proposal?

Eversole and Surface to be tried together

There will be only one more trial relating to the Jerry Eversole case. We think, anyway.

Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole and developer Michael Surface, two longtime friends who exchanged more than $100,000 in trips and gifts, will be tried together for bribery in October, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner agreed with federal prosecutors that two more three-week trials would strain witnesses and resources, according to the order. Hittner’s decision reversed an earlier ruling severing the two men’s cases so Eversole could get a speedy trial last month. That jury deadlocked after a three-week trial on all four counts of corruption.


“This is not good for Eversole,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. “Because it results in an accumulation of evidence. The more defendants you have sitting in a courtroom, the worse it always looks.”

He noted that rejoining the cases is not surprising, and the original decision to separate is more unusual.

“Getting a severance motion granted is very, very difficult,” Corn said. “I think the reason the judge did it the first time was the timing of the trials was so disparate.”

Most of the first Eversole trial was about his friendship with Surface, so it’ll be interesting to see how the dynamic changes now that Surface will be there to respond as well. The main thing I’ll note here is that Commissioners Court will need to proceed with redistricting itself before it knows what Eversole’s fate is. I don’t know if their inclination is to draw a map that preserves a precinct for him or not. The point is they’ll have to make a choice instead of waiting to see if it will be made for them. Good luck with that.

Trying Eversole, take 2

The two sides in County Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s trial are planning for the sequel.

The biggest help to each side, seasoned trial lawyers said, are the jurors who sat through three weeks of testimony.

“I relied a lot on input from the jury,” former Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes said of his “few” hung juries. “That is really helpful because you could see whether you had particular personalities that caused the problem or whether evidence caused the problem.”


Jury foreman John Hopkins said the jury’s first vote, four days before a mistrial was declared, had four jurors solidly voting guilty.

Hopkins said he was “shocked” when Hardin rested without putting on a single witness, a scenario that is unlikely to happen again.

“Ultimately, I don’t think you’ll see the case presented that much differently from the government’s side,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. “But from the defense, you might actually see a defense this time.”

Other lawyers agreed that Eversole’s defense team would probably present a case in the retrial.

“It was pretty gutsy for Rusty to rest right behind the government, but he can’t do that again,” said defense attorney Kent Schaffer. “You’ve got to revamp your case, because I guarantee they are revamping theirs.”

Will he put Eversole on the stand? That’s what everyone will be wondering. No word yet on when Eversole 2.0 will debut – there will be a conference “in the coming weeks” to decide when to go at it again. I’ll say this much, I do not expect this to be resolved by a plea bargain, so another trial will be on its way. On a related note, Rick Casey points out that with a slight alteration of the jury, Eversole might have gotten a stronger result. There’s a lot for each side to think about and plan for as they go forward, that’s for sure.

Hung jury for Eversole

It’s the one outcome guaranteed to ensure that nobody is happy.

Federal prosecutors plan to retry their corruption case against Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole after a judge today declared a hung jury in the three-week trial on charges that he accepted bribes to steer millions of dollars in contracts to a developer.


John Pearson, the lead federal prosecutor, said he respected the jury’s decision, but confirmed that the U.S. Attorney’s office will retry the case.

Eversole was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of accepting a bribe and two counts of filing false income tax returns in 2003 and 2004.

A look at the jury’s votes on the charges against Eversole show how close he came to be convicted on at least two of the crimes.

On the conspiracy charge, five jurors found him guilty; seven not guilty.

On the bribery charge, 10 found him guilty; two not guilty.

On one of the false tax return charges, 10 ruled guilty; two not guilty. On the second charge, seven found him guilty; five not guilty.

Today’s mistrial marks the second time the county commissioner has avoided a conviction on criminal charges lodged against him.

I’m not surprised the feds will take another crack at him – they did come pretty close. I wonder if Eversole will be as insistent on getting the trial done in a speedy manner as before. One way or the other, we’ll have him to kick around for awhile longer.

Eversole rests his case without presenting one

You have to admire the guts, if nothing else.

In a move even his attorneys acknowledged was risky, Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s defense team rested Wednesday without calling a single witness after prosecutors ended more than two weeks of testimony alleging that he took bribes to steer real estate contracts to a developer.


“They’ve never shown any connection between the things Jerry and Michael Surface did together and any of Jerry’s official actions,” said defense lawyer Rusty Hardin. “The issue has always been: Did the people have a pre-existing relationship before the thing of value was given and the answer with Jerry and Mike Surface is that, clearly, they did.”

Hardin said it was the first time in his 37-year career that he has rested without putting on any defense.

“It’s the measure of two things: One is how much I hope I’m right and haven’t messed up, and the other is how certain I am they haven’t proved a case,” Hardin said. “If we’re wrong, we’ll find out when the jury comes back.”

Jurors are expected to return Friday for closing arguments. To find Eversole guilty, they will have to decide he intended to take the gifts as a bribe.

The gifts in question often ran into five figures. We should all have friends like Mike Surface. I have no clue how this will turn out, I’m just looking forward to seeing it.

Jury selection begins in Eversole trial

Get your popcorn popper fired up.

Jury selection begins this morning in the trial of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, who stands accused of accepting bribes from a friend and developer to whom he allegedly steered county contracts and appointments.

The trial, which Eversole demanded start as early as possible after his Dec. 21 indictment, could mark the beginning of the end of a more than three-year corruption investigation that has worn on the six-term commissioner and saddled him with scandal.

Or it could be the start of a lengthy legal battle, with up to 21 years in prison, $700,000 in fines and his political office at stake.

“These next five weeks are going to be very, very difficult, but I feel wonderful, I really do,” Eversole said. “My wife and I are optimistic. The main thing is, it’s started, and it’s going be over. This has been four years of our lives.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. The trial is starting a little later than we originally thought it would, but it is now officially on. Anyone want to take a guess as to what will happen? Swamplot has more.

Harris County minus one?

Despite essentially keeping up with the state growth rate, Harris County may lose a legislative seat in the next round of redistricting.

As Texas lawmakers turn their attention to the complex and contentious task of redrawing their own districts, that loss will set in motion a game of musical chairs to determine who has a place among the 150 House seats. That number does not change despite a 20 percent increase in population statewide, which means the kaleidoscope of voters each lawmaker represents will shift. Harris County is expected to go from 25 to 24 state House seats.

Legislative districts, redrawn every 10 years in the wake of federal census results, must be roughly the same size, somewhere near 167,637 people per district. Although Harris County is home to more people than in 2000, its growth lags behind such suburban areas as Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

Much of the redistricting process is a legalistic one involving adherence to federal law and state redistricting principles, said Trey Trainor, an Austin lawyer who advises Republicans on redistricting.

“From a political standpoint,” Trainor said, “it gets bloody when you start looking at population loss, and you have members of the Legislature who just don’t have the sheer numbers in their district, and you’ve got to go someplace else to get them. You start cutting into core constituencies of other members.”

In Harris County, the question is, who will be the odd man (or woman) out?

“It’s not necessarily that the seat goes away,” Trainor said, “but you’re going to end up with one or two incumbents in the same district having to run against each other, if they decide to do that. Of course, you know a lot of times what happens in these cases is somebody who’s been here awhile decides to retire and makes it easier on everybody else.”

A few thoughts:

Greg saw this coming months ago. The final Census totals put Harris County right on the knife’s edge of maintaining 25 seats, so I suppose it’s still possible that could happen. We still haven’t heard anything from those that are actually going to draw the maps, and dealmaking is always a possibility. I’m inclined to think that 24 is more likely than 25, however. Remember, for big counties like Harris state law forbids State Rep districts from crossing county boundaries, so sharing a district with Fort Bend or Montgomery is not an option.

– The story suggests that Republicans may target Rep. Scott Hochberg, the only Anglo Democrat currently serving in Harris County, for elimination. I say it’s far too early to write anyone’s political obituary. Hochberg was similarly drawn out of a district in 2001, but found a new home and won there. You just never know.

– Having said that, I might suggest that one person with a reason to be nervous is two-term State Rep. Ken Legler, whose district is centered in Pasadena. While the west, northwest, and north ends of Harris County grew like gangbusters, the eastern portion stagnated or shrunk; what growth there was out that way was mostly nonAnglo. It may be awfully hard to draw two sufficiently Republican districts with enough population out there to support both Legler and Rep. Wayne Smith, whose Baytown area is easily the redder. Again, you never know. My point is that there are a lot of moving parts to this, and you can’t affect one district without affecting all of them.

– Trainor is correct that sometimes these problems solve themselves via a member’s retirement, whether voluntary or not. Retirement isn’t the only way that a member may decide to free up a seat, however. There may be a different office available to them, for instance. Who do you suppose might become Ed Emmett’s bestest buddy in the event that Jerry Eversole gets convicted in his trial, which was actually supposed to begin this past week? Dwayne Bohac has been rumored to be interested in that job; I’m certain he’s not alone in that desire. Keep an eye on this.

– As we’ve seen, electoral results can differ greatly in Presidential and non-Presidential years. If nothing were changing this year, the most endangered incumbent in Harris County would be Jim Murphy, whose track record so far is winning in 2006 and 2010 and losing in 2008. As I said before, figuring out which electoral data to base the boundaries on will be extra challenging this time around, and could lead to some districts whose predisposition is dependent on the year.

All that and we haven’t even had the barest hint of a possible draft map yet. Just wait till that starts to happen. Greg and PDiddie have more.

Eversole’s trial set for February 22

Indicted County Commissioner Jerry Eversole got his wish for a speedy trial.

Eversole’s jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Thursday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge David Hittner is mixed news for the Eversole camp. Eversole’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in court this month that he repeatedly had counseled his client against a speedy trial because of the risk that his defense team would not be as prepared as it should be.

Hardin even had Eversole stand during a January hearing and asked him if he wanted to proceed quickly despite that risk, to which Eversole replied, “Absolutely.”

Eversole has said he wants to get the trial out of the way so he can get back to commissionering. You have to admire the confidence, I’ll say that much for him.

His co-defendant Michael Surface also got his wish:

Surface’s attorneys asked Hittner for a delay until October. Hittner has also granted that request.

Chip Lewis, an attorney for Surface, said he now will have adequate time to prepare his client’s defense. He also said the severance ruling was correct.

“All of these charges were very well-publicized before the indictment,” Lewis said. “The electorate saw fit to re-elect (Eversole). He is eager to illustrate his innocence and recognize that those voters’ confidence in him is well placed.”

Well, he was unopposed. And in the environment we just experienced, in the most Republican-friendly precinct in the county, he’d have beaten anyone who had opposed him by at least 30 points. So I don’t know that I’d draw too much of an inference from that.

We’re not getting rid of Jerry Eversole that easily

Federal indictments? Pshaw. Ain’t nuthin’ stopping Jerry Eversole.

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole on Tuesday declared that he will be acquitted of federal bribery charges in his upcoming trial and left open the possibility he will run for re-election again in 2014.

Speaking after his first Commissioners Court meeting since his federal indictment on Dec. 21, Eversole said his legal troubles will not prevent him from continuing to serve.

“It does not impede my job. I was elected to do a job as Harris County commissioner, and I will continue to do that job,” Eversole said.

In other words, he’s the same ol’ Jerry he’s always been. You know, I don’t think I can argue with that.

One might wonder if the local Rs would just as soon see Eversole hang up his cleats and call it a career. There’s no shortage of people who’d love to have his job. Plus, if someone presses the case that Harris County (estimated to be 39.8% Hispanic as of 2009, certain to be more so in the official 2010 numbers) ought to have a Hispanic opportunity seat on Commissioners Court, it’d likely make things easier if Eversole was the odd man out. Greg has provided two examples of what such a map might look like, with the former being a clear-cut 2R/2D map and the latter being 2R/1D, with a D-leaning swing seat.

But that’s not ol’ Jerry’s concern. He’ll keep on keeping on, raising money for his legal defense fund next campaign, and not worrying about such trivialities. That’s what made him the man he is today. In related news, Eversole wants to get his trial over with even though his attorney wants to take things a wee bit slower, and a group called the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice wants Eversole to resign. I daresay the Commissioner is more likely to get his wish than the Coalition is.

A brief history of Houston-based political corruption

Nice overview of the political crime scene.

Houston’s political landscape is littered with careers wrecked or damaged by allegations of wrongdoing, and for watchers of the political scene, the sight of [County Commissioner Jerry] Eversole in cuffs likely rekindled memories of fabled transgressors of yore.

“Brilab,” Sharpstown, former City Councilman Ben Reyes and former County Commissioner Bob Eckels — all conjure images of the fallibility of politicians under temptation.

Rice University political science chairman Mark Jones attributed some of the corruption that has tainted local politics to the “freewheeling culture” that pervades the city and state. There is such interaction between businessmen and politicians, he said, that it does not seem strange when an elected official is treated to dinner or lunch.

“Then golf,” Jones said. “Then a luxury suite at the game. Then paying off a mortgage. … It’s a slippery slope.”

I should note that the Bob Eckels mentioned above is not the County Judge that preceded Ed Emmett, but his father. Most of the names and cases cited in this story will be familiar to anyone who’s lived around here for awhile, but it’s a good refresher anyway.

The story was of course inspired by the recent woes of Jerry Eversole, to which Rick Casey added a nicely stinging assessment of Eversole’s claim that the feds were criminalizing his friendship with Mike Surface.

Eversole’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, says, “It is not against the law to be friends (or) to do mutual things on behalf of friends.”

They’re right. Which makes me blue.

My friends are nice guys and gals, mainly.

But they never take me on expense-paid golfing trips to Arizona and New Mexico. Or to Las Vegas. Or South Carolina. Or San Antonio. Or Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. Or Reno.

Nor do my friends buy me thousands of dollars worth of guns.

And the last time I bought a house, not a single friend gave me a cashier’s check for $63,000 to help pay for it.

What’s more, none of my friends chipped in $27,000 for the landscaping.

I can’t remember the last time a friend bought me a thousand-dollar suit.

It’s my fault, of course. I’m not that good a friend to them.

I’m not in a position to vote for multimillion dollar contracts for them, or to appoint them to sports authority boards and such.


Trying Eversole

The Chron wonders if the freshly-indicted Jerry Eversole can beat the rap.

That will depend on whether federal prosecutors can convince a jury that the gifts Surface gave Eversole and the actions the commissioner took that benefited Surface constitute conspiracy and bribery. The burden is on the prosecution to prove what legal observers variously call “a criminal state of mind” or “improper purpose.” In other words, that Eversole and Surface made a deal.

All the while, if Tuesday’s courthouse press conference pronouncements foreshadow a legal strategy, defense attorneys Rusty Hardin and Chip Lewis will be telling jurors that Eversole and Surface were motivated by affection, not avarice, and accusing the government of “criminalizing a 30-year friendship.”

“Bribery can be a little tricky to prove because it requires proof of a quid pro quo agreement,” said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. “It’s not enough to prove gifts on day one and then something that the public official does on day two. There has to be proof of that agreement.”

Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin sees a high bar to clear: “Gifts between personal friends, even if one is a public official that deals with a business that a friend has are not only permissible, they’re completely lawful. Tying any gift to any specific action is another problem that I see.”

I’m sure all of that is true. I can’t help but think, however, that many people (myself included) had spoken about how hard it would be for the prosecution to convict Tom DeLay without any direct evidence. We know how that turned out. I know this isn’t how it’s supposed to work, but I have a feeling that if the government has a decent circumstantial case, a jury isn’t going to give a known miscreant like Eversole much benefit of the doubt. We’ll see how it goes.

Eversole indicted

This has been so long in coming I was beginning to wonder if it would ever arrive.

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole pleaded not guilty to federal bribery and income tax charges today.

Eversole is charged with accepting a bribe from developer and former Harris County facilities director Mike Surface. Details of the alleged bribe were not immediately available.


The indictments were handed down Monday, but only were unsealed in Johnson’s courtroom today.

“This is the federal government criminalizing a 30-year friendship,” Surface defense attorney Chip Lewis said outside the federal courthouse before the hearing.

Asked earlier today if his client would turn himself in to authorities, Eversole’s defense attorney Rusty Hardin replied, “He’s going to do whatever the government asks him to do, except admit he committed a crime, which he hasn’t committed.”

Surface already was under federal indictment on conspiracy charges, accused along with his business partner, Andrew Schatte, of giving gifts to Monique McGilbra, former director of the city’s Building Services Department to win contracts to build the city’s $53 million 911 call center and a $20 million fire station. McGilbra pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal prosecutors, who allege Schatte and Surface gave her gifts including the use of a condo in California, $1,000, and a $40,000 consultant job for her boyfriend.

Eversole spoke about a looming federal indictment two years ago, though there were signs of it nearly a year earlier than that. Mike Surface was ousted from his position almost exactly three years ago, but wasn’t indicted till later. Several people were openly looking at Eversole’s seat on the Court, on the assumption that he’d quietly ride off into the sunset and await that knock on the door, when he surprisingly announced a re-election bid, which chased them all off. The assumption then had been that he’d resign after being re-elected so a successor could be appointed and given a good head start on fundraising before needing to run for the seat. I guess that part is still operative. Maybe he can bunk with Tom DeLay in the pokey. John and Juanita have more.

UPDATE: John has a timeline of Eversole’s misdeeds.