Harris County residents saw a new face among the newly established 4-1 Democratic majority on Commissioners Court beginning with the first meeting in 2023 on Jan. 10.

In defeating long-serving incumbent Jack Cagle in the November election, Lesley Briones—a former public school teacher, attorney, chief operating officer of the nonprofit Arnold Foundation and civil court judge—became the first woman to serve as Precinct 4 commissioner. With County Judge Lina Hidalgo winning re-election, it also marks the first time two women have served on Commissioners Court at the same time.

Briones said she will leverage her experience from her former professions. From thinking like a COO to streamline government processes to bringing her judicial temperament from her time on the bench, she said she wants to improve the precinct’s operations fairly and equitably.

“I believe we absolutely need to just deliver on the basics and deliver with excellence. And we need to continue building and improving Harris County in a bold, innovative way,” Briones told Community Impact. “I want very much [for Precinct 4] to be a model of good government, good governance, openness and transparency.”

Delivering on the basics

Briones outlined public safety, infrastructure and flood control as her top priorities, saying she wants to take a “deep dive” into all three.

Briones said she wants to address vacancies at the sheriff’s office, cut the criminal court case backlog, and coordinate with the many law enforcement agencies in the county using data and technology.

“I would love to be a convener in terms of bringing [agencies] together to come up with a more strategic coordinated plan,” she said. “I would love for Precinct 4, both with regard to public safety and otherwise, to be this place of innovation and testing.”

Regarding infrastructure, Briones is interested in improving parks and facilities, describing some as “not in the state they should be.” She said she believes the county needs to improve mobility and look at rapid bus transit and expanded trail connectivity.

“We’re the third-largest county [in the country], and we are not leading with regard to our infrastructure broadly, but certainly with regard to mobility,” Briones said. “So looking at mobility from an environmental standpoint, from a physical, mental health standpoint and ... working with [the Harris County Toll Road Authority] ... to improve connectivity.”

To address flooding, Briones said she wants to work with the engineering department to consider additional neighborhood detention basins and build out green infrastructure sustainably and equitably while looking forward to the next phase of the county’s underground flood tunnel study.

Serving all residents

Briones celebrated the diversity of Precinct 4 and said she wants all residents represented fairly.

“I love that it’s a majority-minority district. I love that we have the most international district,” Briones said. “But it’s not enough to be the most diverse city and one of the most diverse counties if you’re not the most inclusive.”

To that end, Briones said she wants her team to reflect the precinct’s diversity, and rather than maintaining a single office in Tomball, she aims to have Precinct 4 officials work out of several areas of the precinct as well as host ongoing town halls.

“We’re going to ... the unincorporated and the incorporated [areas] and making sure we’re listening and then mapping out our agenda and our plan of action and timeline based on what we’re hearing,” Briones said.

Citing her background as a Latina, Briones said language access is of fundamental importance to her, and she wants everything her office communicates to be in multiple languages.

“Within Precinct 4, whether that’s our website ... materials ... information, hotline—everything is going to be focused on this diverse, inclusive approach,” Briones said.