Party to elect new Pct. 1 commissioner
Harris Country Democrat precinct chairs will vote Saturday, June 25, to decide who will replace the late El Franco Lee as Precinct 1 commissioner.
The unorthodox election is somewhat controversial, as the winner will likely hold the position for an indefinite amount of time. Lee, who died this past January, had held the seat in the Democratic stronghold for more than 30 years.
The coveted position comes with a base salary of roughly $170,000 a year and is not term limited. Once elected, commissioners rarely face serious challengers or step down from the esteemed position, which represents 1.2 million people and oversees a $200 million annual budget.
The race is unique in that there is no official filing or deadlines, making it difficult to determine exactly how many people are actually seeking the position. Candidates vying for the position have been forced to try and sway party precinct chairs, rather than campaign directly to county voters, as they would in a traditional election.
While the Harris County Democratic Party recognizes 10 total candidates, three have emerged as the front-runners – interim Commissioner Gene Locke, state Sen. Rodney Ellis and Houston District D City Council Member Dwight Boykins.
Additional candidates include District B City Council Member Jerry Davis, District K Council Member Larry Green, community activist Georgia Provost, KPFT chairman DeWayne Lark, educator Rickey Tezino, former county publicist Vernell Jessie and Nathaniel West Sr. (biography unavailable).
Council members running for the seat must walk a fine line when campaigning for the position, as the state’s new “resign-to-run” provision requires them to step down from their current spot before officially seeking another one.
A longtime friend of Lee’s, Locke has promised to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps by providing needed services to the South Belt community.
“The South Belt area, as well as all Precinct 1 communities, can continue to count on the Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner’s office for excellent services in infrastructure improvements, parks, public safety, flooding and social services,” Locke said. “Like my predecessor, the late Commissioner El Franco Lee, I am dedicated to improving the quality of life for families in the area. Along with preserving all of Commissioner Lee’s important programs, like the South Belt Stormwater Detention Basin that will reduce flooding in the area, I am closely working with law enforcement to improve safety and security in the unincorporated and incorporated neighborhoods. In addition to improving roads and bridges, my office is constructing much-needed sidewalks to make it easier and safer for area children and their parents to walk to schools. Also, we are making numerous improvements to El Franco Lee and Dixie Farm Road parks. Of course, our seniors program and other community activities will not only continue, but they will be improved. I hope to continue as your Precinct 1 commissioner for many more years. Together, we can work to find solutions to improve infrastructure, increase job opportunities, develop a viable economy, maintain safe and clean parks and create affordable housing.”
Both Locke and Ellis have claimed they have the requisite number of precinct chairs in their corner to clinch the nomination. Last week, Ellis went as far as to issue a detailed press release listing the names of 65 of the 125 Precinct 1 precinct chairs he said had endorsed him – two more than the number needed to secure the election.
Locke and Boykins, however, both dispute Ellis’ endorsement list.
“My private conversations with precinct chairs tell a different story,” Locke said. “A significant number of persons on the list have expressed their unequivocal support for me or are still weighing their options. I respect the right of these decision makers, who have been placed in a difficult situation, to keep their own conscience with regard to this nomination, and I would never pressure any precinct chair to publicly disclose his or her vote before casting it on June 25.”
This sentiment is echoed by Boykins.
“After reviewing the list, it was very clear that not all of those chairs had committed,” Boykins said. “And a lot of those chairs weren’t happy about their names being printed without their permission.”
The race has gotten heated in the past week, with Ellis taking to Facebook to air his grievances.
“Good people sometimes make lousy decisions – as Locke did when he broke his promise to you not to seek the Democratic nomination for Precinct One Commissioner,” Ellis said in a post. “In public life, lousy decisions always catch up to you, and that’s what happened yesterday. Locke claimed he had secured a majority of precinct chairs in support of his campaign. When we called his bluff, Locke could have simply released his list so all chairs could evaluate the state of the race for themselves. Instead, Locke attacked the integrity of our supporters, and my credibility, in effect calling all of us liars. That’s a desperate move of a losing campaign – and another lousy decision. I am proud to say that we are running a different kind of campaign – one in which everyone is valued and welcome to join without threats or intimidation. Our campaign is 100 percent on the record – we don’t send anonymous letters in the mail. We do what we say – and we’re proud to own it.
“Gene Locke is a good man who has made some lousy decisions in this campaign. There is one very simple way for Locke to correct his latest mistake – release the names of his supporters and stop making sly innuendos and attacks on my credibility and the integrity of my supporters.”
Contrary to Ellis’ post, Locke has always maintained with the Leader that he would seek the position permanently, should a viable candidate not emerge or if the party was in disagreement.
While residents will not have a direct say in the election, Boykins asks them to reach out to their precinct chairs to voice their opinions.
“I’m a public servant,” Boykins said. “I’m out here working for the people, and unfortunately, the people won’t have a chance to vote in this election. I encourage them to contact their precinct chairs and tell them to vote for the people’s choice, not their own.”
It was unclear at press time how exactly the vote would be conducted. Multiple calls requesting the information from the county party went unanswered. Precinct chairs must be present to vote.
Should a single candidate not receive 50 percent or more of the vote on June 25, a runoff will take place on the spot. The winner will run unopposed in November.
At press time Wednesday, the Leader heard rumors from party members that the vote was to be postponed until a later date, but party officials denied the claim.
Once again, the sale of fireworks in the South Belt community is sparking controversy, with the opening of a new booth on Beamer, just north of Dixie Farm Road.
While the stretch of road was once a hot spot for such booths, the last remaining ones were shut down in July 2009 by the City of Friendswood Fire Marshal’s Office, citing extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
ETJ is the legal ability of a governing body to exercise authority beyond its normal boundaries, given that an agreement has been reached with the adjoining municipality.
In this instance, the City of Friendswood worked jointly with the City of Houston, the City of Pearland and Harris County. At that time, state law dictated that a governing body may exercise ETJ up to 5,000 feet outside of their established jurisdiction. The fireworks booths in question were located 1,800 feet outside of the Friends-wood city limit, which extends to Beamer and Dixie Farm Road.
This past legislative session, however, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville drafted Senate Bill 1593, which states a municipality may only prohibit the sale of fireworks within its own boundaries. The bill passed and was subsequently signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and took effect this past September.
The sale of fireworks along Beamer has been an ongoing, controversial and confusing issue – even among law enforcement.
In July 2008, City of Houston officials erroneously issued more than 30 citations on the stretch of Beamer between Astoria and Dixie Farm, as the northbound side of the street fell in the fireworks ban area, while the southbound side did not.
With the help of the Leader, the tickets were later dismissed.
Fireworks have long been forbidden within the city limits, and in the last decade, the Clear Brook City and Sagemeadow municipal utility districts have both entered into strategic partnership agreements with the City of Houston, prohibiting the practice.
Despite the partnership, an overlook on the Clear Brook City MUD’s part allowed a fireworks booth to open in the parking lot of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in the 10300 block of Scarsdale in 2013, prompting extensive litigation from the Sageglen Civic Club.
In the end, the bench sided with the church, and sales are expected to resume on the property this Independence Day.
Transporting fireworks – even in municipalities where their sale is prohibited – is also now easier, thanks to a bill authored in 2013 by Lucio’s son, Eddie Lucio III, who serves as a state representative in Brownsville. House Bill 1813 states that it is now lawful in the state to transport the items, provided they are kept in a non-passenger area of the vehicle, such as a trunk or hatchback.
Should one still get charged with possession of fireworks within the city limits, fines can range anywhere from $500 to $2,000 for each individual item. In 2007, the state raised the minimum age to purchase fireworks from 12 to 16. Parents of offending minors can also be fined, even if they are unaware their children are breaking the law.
Local subdivisions located within the city of Houston include Sagemont, Sagemont Park, Kirkwood, Genoa, Beverly Hills, Rainbow Valley, Eastridge Terrace, Sycamore Valley, Scarsdale and King’s Place.
Subdivisions not within the city limits and under Harris County’s control include Clear Brook Meadows, College Place, Riverstone Ranch, Woodmeadow I and II, Highland Meadow, Ashley Pointe, Blackhawk, Meadows of Clear Creek, Sagemeadow, Estates of Green Tee, Sageglen, Kirkmont and Kirkwood South.
The Bella Vita, Villa D’Este and Villa Verde subdivisions are located within the City of Pearland.
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