Q&A: Democratic candidates for Harris County Precinct 3 commissioner talk flood control, vision for county

Early voting begins Tuesday. Feb. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Early voting begins Tuesday. Feb. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)

Early voting begins Tuesday. Feb. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Kristi Thibaut
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Morris Overstreet
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Michael Moore
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Diana Martinez Alexander
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Zaher Eisa
Six candidates are facing off in the March 3 Democratic primary election for Precinct 3 commissioner in Harris County, which covers parts of Houston, Katy and Cy-Fair. Three candidates are also competing in the Republican primary for the position. The winners from each primary election will be on the November ballot.

Community Impact Newspaper reached out to each candidate to ask them about flood control, criminal justice and the role of Harris County Commissioners Court in shaping the future of the county. Democratic candidate Erik "Beto" Hassan did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

Early voting is Feb. 18-28, and Election Day is March 3. Visit www.harrisvotes.com for more information.


Kristi Thibaut

Years in precinct: About 20



If elected, I would: change Precinct 3's approach to flood control and infrastructure improvements, and increase transparency and accountability in county government.



www.kristithibaut.com



Why are you running to represent Harris County Precinct 3?



I am running to bring new leadership to county government. I am a 20-year resident of Precinct 3, a former member of the Texas Legislature and active community volunteer, and a wife and mom. I will champion a proactive approach to improving flood control and infrastructure, expanding access to healthcare and working with our local school districts to assist students and teachers. Precinct 3 is growing rapidly, and we must plan for the future to ensure it remains a great place to live, work and raise a family. I am ready to serve all Precinct 3 residents.



What do you believe are the most important responsibilities of a precinct commissioner?



Ensuring the prioritization and timely execution of critically important flood control and infrastructure projects in Precinct 3 tops the list. In addition, being a responsible steward of county government -- in terms of budgeting and spending, enacting county policy and delivering core services to county residents -- is very important. Finally, being accessible and responsive to those we serve is necessary for any effective public servant.



What are your thoughts on how to prevent future flooding within the precinct?



In the short term, we must expedite the completion of vital projects such as Project Brays and those approved by the recent county flood bond election. Longer term, we must push for funding for needed projects like a third reservoir and more housing buyouts. Finally, the county must take a smart approach to future development, requiring proper flood mitigation and building requirements, and ensuring existing residents and businesses are not harmed.



What, if any, reforms do you think need to be made to the way the county handles criminal justice?



Long overdue reforms are underway in Harris County, including the unfair cash bail system, the beginning of decriminalizing low-level drug possession and expanding addiction and mental health services. I will support reforms that end discrimination in the justice system against people of color and the poor; that end unnecessary incarceration, which disrupts lives and wastes taxpayers dollars; and which protect the public from real criminals.




Morris Overstreet

Years in precinct: 10



If elected, I would: change to at least one meeting a month in the evening hours.



www.morrisoverstreet.com



Why are you running to represent Harris County Precinct 3?



I am running to provide common sense solutions to the problems of flooding, crime, traffic congestion, lack of affordable healthcare, disparate education and lack of economic fairness. I believe in growth, but it should be smart growth. We cannot allow the continued development of creating impervious cover without creating more pervious cover and greenspace. We have to make significant investments in alternative energy, public transportation, infrastructure, affordable healthcare, education and pursuit of jobs that pay families a living wage.



What do you believe are the most important responsibilities of a precinct commissioner?



The most important responsibility of the commissioner is to be a great steward of the taxpayers’ dollar. Being a great steward includes listening to the citizens and always acting in their best interest as opposed to those who are simply interested in profiting financially from doing business with the county. Being a great steward means making decision that stand to benefit the whole as opposed to a precious few. Being a great steward means looking to the future and not just at the present. Being a great steward means being a visionary. Being a great steward means making a difference in the quality of life of your constituents.



What are your thoughts on how to prevent future flooding within the precinct?



I believe it is absolutely mandatory that the capacity of the existing reservoirs be substantially expanded and that another reservoir be built. It is absolutely mandatory that we not allow development in known flood zones. It is absolutely mandatory that we create more green space and create water retention basins to capture and control the release of water to its natural destination, the Gulf of Mexico.



What, if any, reforms do you think need to be made to the way the county handles criminal justice?



Harris County needs to fully fund a Public Defenders office that is comparable in size and resources to the Prosecutors office. I would insist that judges take their jobs serious by being present to start court at 9:00 a.m. Monday thru Friday and that they work until 5:00 p.m. I would also incentivize the courts to conduct night court so that working people could minimize missing work. If judges aren’t willing to give a full days work for a full days pay, then I would revoke all county pay supplements for all judges above their base salary.



Michael Moore



Years in precinct: Raised in Precinct 3, lived there a number of times since college, returned in 2017



If elected, I would: take a much more proactive approach to flood prevention, instead of kicking the can down the road on critical infrastructure like the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, or passing up opportunities for major drainage improvements during the reconstruction of the Katy Freeway.



www.mooreforcommissioner.com



Why are you running to represent Harris County Precinct 3?



I believe in public service and, in my role as chief of staff to Houston Mayor Bill White, saw first-hand how a well-run local government benefit’s everyone. I helped oversee a $2 billion budget and over 20,000 employees. I helped implement an innovative solution to ease freeway traffic called SafeClear and was a key person in helping coordinate the city’s response efforts to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike.



In Precinct 3, I’ll put my experience to work improving flood control, reducing traffic, strengthening our healthcare and mental healthcare systems, and building better parks, trails and safer communities.



What do you believe are the most important responsibilities of a precinct commissioner?



The county commissioner makes policymaking and budget decisions for the whole county, and is responsible for roads, bridges, parks, and community centers within their precincts. Two of the most important oversight responsibilities include the Flood Control District and Hospital District.



I intend to be an active and engaged commissioner, out in the community every day. I believe you cannot serve the community well if you are not in the community. I will also significantly improve transparency and accountability in the precinct office. Every resident of Precinct 3 deserves to have a voice in the decisions that impact us.



What are your thoughts on how to prevent future flooding within the precinct?



Protecting our homes and families from flooding is at the top of my list. I’ll demand greater accountability from partner agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers. I will prioritize basic drainage maintenance for ditches, storm sewers and our bayous. I will work to increase funding for the Flood Control District and make sure that funds from the flood bond passed in 2017 are spent wisely and projects completed on time. I will work to save what’s left of the Katy Prairie and push for more green infrastructure, like wildlife habitats, trails and parks that hold stormwater during major floods.



What, if any, reforms do you think need to be made to the way the county handles criminal justice?



The biggest driver of our broken system is using incarceration as a substitute for mental health treatment. It’s shocking that the Harris County jail is the largest mental health services provider in the state. I support Sheriff Gonzalez’ efforts to get mental health treatment to those who need it rather than putting them in the jail. We are making progress but more work is necessary.

Diana Martinez Alexander



Years in precinct: 17



If elected, I would: change the way Precinct 3 responds to the climate crisis and flooding through short-term and long-term solutions, bringing the community to the table for swift action.



www.dianaalexander2020.com



Why are you running to represent Harris County Precinct 3?



For too long, Precinct 3 has not had the leadership to serve the community effectively. When decisions are made that impact millions of people, it matters who sits at the table. Never has Precinct 3 had a woman as a commissioner. With changing demographics, working families countywide deserve someone who has the perspective to advocate for them. With over twenty years in public service as an educator and my background in activism and organizing, I hope to continue on in uplifting families and underserved communities.



What do you believe are the most important responsibilities of a precinct commissioner?



As county commissioner I would be responsible for the overall management and delivery of services for Precinct 3, including facilitation of medical care, educational supports, specialized campuses, transportation, and personnel. Infrastructure of roads and bridges are part of the position, to be sure, but building a proactive response to the climate crisis is also paramount. This would require working in concert with neighboring governmental entities, Like Fort Bend County and the cities of Katy and Houston, for example. Without fail, the unincorporated parts of Harris County in Precinct 3 needs to have attention, as the County Commissioner will be their only form of local representation. Additionally, the County Commissioner is tasked with managing an annual budget of more than $55 million dollars for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Finally, I would be integral in guiding policy that will include and uplift rather than exclude community members.



What are your thoughts on how to prevent future flooding within the precinct?



There is no time for delay in tackling the climate crisis. Harris County needs a comprehensive plan to address mass transportation, moving towards an energy economy, and other measures to attain zero emissions as soon as possible. I will support legislation aligned with the goal of combatting the climate crisis, since we need to be bold and active now. With the undeveloped land in the Precinct, capacity for greenspace preservation is vast. So with the climate crisis looming, the next county commissioner will be able to greatly impact the future of land development with that perspective.



What, if any, reforms do you think need to be made to the way the county handles criminal justice?



Criminal Justice Reform has begun in Harris County, and this has been a long time coming. More specifically, I would continue the trend of restorative justice practices and I am fully committed to misdemeanor bail reform. I want to move forward with opening the Family Law Center that was approved years ago and expand care and services for those with mental health needs.

Zaher Eisa



Years in precinct: 21

If elected, I would: change what "urban development" means, centering our community-building efforts on the unity, neighborliness, and trust that research proves we need in order to sustain employment levels and increase wages.

Why are you running to represent Harris County Precinct 3?



Our county is generous and united. We proved that when [Hurricane] Harvey hit. But to fully promote a sense of unity and trust, and to lower the crime rate, we need to rethink how we build our communities. That includes building shopping and entertainment centers within walking distance of residential areas so that people can interact and get to know one another.

Urban development is only real development if it meets the needs of residents and respects the needs of our communities. We need to implement the policies of community visionaries like Jane Jacobs who have taught us community development as development for communities.

What do you believe are the most important responsibilities of a precinct commissioner?



I believe one of the most important responsibilities of a precinct commissioner is supporting a progressive budget that promotes a more democratic, just and livable county with genuine shared prosperity. That includes adequately funding public housing, health, education and legal representation so that everyone lives in dignity.

What are your thoughts on how to prevent future flooding within the precinct?



Hurricane Harvey ended any doubts about the effects of climate change. To control the destruction of future storms, I propose building a third reservoir in Harris county. We also need [to] upgrade our canals so that they can drain storm water efficiently. Building a third reservoir not only helps to control flood water, but it stores water for dry seasons.

What, if any, reforms do you think need to be made to the way the county handles criminal justice?



We need to decriminalize sex work. Houston is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking. We can tackle this issue by decriminalizing sex work so that affected individuals can feel comfortable with approaching authorities to seek help. And we must exclude traffickers and violent offenders from benefiting from the new no cash bail law. These are violent people that must be taken off the streets.

By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


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