In a State of the County address given Nov. 15 at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston, Hidalgo outlined some of her key accomplishments in 2019 with an emphasis on the ways she has sought to involve county government in issues she said were not prioritized in the past.
“Many, many times during the campaign folks sat across from me and tried to convive me that the role of the county judge was about roads and bridges,” she said in a press conference following the address. “We have a budget that tops $5 billion. That’s more than bridge money.”
Hidalgo used the address to talk about both county initiatives that were passed with full support of the commissioners court—including using a voting center system for county elections and bolstering environmental protections in the county—as well as initiatives that passed along party lines, such as bail bond reform and a reprioritizing of flood control bond projects to take social vulnerability into account.
Hidalgo said a guiding principle throughout her first year in office has been trying to get people more involved in county government. Shortly after taking office, Hidalgo hosted a series of meetings in the community that she said were designed to educate people on how the county functions and gather input on what policies people wanted to see enacted.
Four times as many people attended commissioners court meetings in 2019 compared to 2018, Hidalgo said.
“We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas,” she said. “We have a passionate dedicated population. We have to harness that love, those ideas, that participation.”
Heading into 2020, Hidalgo said a major focus will be improving the quality and accessibility of early childhood education in Harris County. Although she said she was not able to provide specifics on what those programs might looks like, Hidalgo said she spent time in 2019 speaking with experts and plans to start hosting community meetings to gather input early next year.
“Too many parents can’t afford quality childcare and early education for their children,” she said. “That makes those kids lose out on the opportunity to have an advantage that will stay with them for their whole lives. We’ve going to work to expand that access.”
Each year, the State of the County address is hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership. In introductory comments, Partnership CEO Bob Harvey said a core component of GHP’s mission is to build opportunity for everyone in the Greater Houston area, echoing Hidalgo’s own comments about Harris County.
“The county is a central player in taking on these challenges across the region,” he said.