Gene Locke has big goals for his term as Harris County commissioner of Precinct 1. Locke, a former city attorney for Houston and mayoral candidate, said his biggest priorities are continuing the legacy of the late longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee and building a stronger partnership between Houston and Harris County. After taking over in January, Locke has started working toward both. The self-described gardener and family man was selected to serve as commissioner through November. Originally, when Locke was appointed by County Judge Ed Emmett, he said would not seek election. In April, he announced his intention to pursue election as Precinct 1 commissioner.
How will the next Precinct 1 commissioner be selected?
The truth of the matter is, the decision on who’s going to be the next county commissioner will be determined within the Democratic Party by a voting base called precinct chairs. Each voting precinct may or may not have a precinct chair. These people will make the decision on who to place in nomination and place on the ballot in November.
Because there is no Republican running, that person selected will be the Precinct 1 commissioner.
My first goal is to make sure that all of [former Commissioner El Franco Lee’s] programs remain intact and that they are discharged at a high level.
I am trying to increase participation between Harris County and the city of Houston to provide additional services to people who live inside the city and pay city and county taxes—whether it’s road work or sidewalk work. We want to continue with excellent service in the unincorporated areas, which is something that Commissioner Lee did.
My overarching goal is to maintain his programs and then to further the city-county cooperation and to further enhance the quality of life of people in Precinct 1.
What are your high-priority projects?
One of the things that I would like to do is to increase our participation in road construction and road repair in the city of Houston. In other words, using county crews and county money—we’re already doing that in and around NRG Stadium. We’re spending over $12 million to improve and repair streets leading into NRG Stadium.
In return for those kinds of things, it is my hope that the city of Houston will allow Harris County to have access to some of the city’s community development block grant money. Those are federal funds that are targeted for low-and-moderate income communities for various programs.
If we start it and it becomes effective, you could take it to other areas. Hopefully that leads to greater cooperation between the two governmental entities.
What plans do you have for the Lake Houston area?
One of the things that we are considering is enhancing the seniors program at [Alexander] Deussen [Park]. There’s been a real request for that as well as a request to make Deussen a voting center for early voting. That’s something I’m going to have to talk with the county officials about because there were a lot of people this past election who expressed a desire to be able to vote there in the early voting slot.
This whole thing is about quality of life for people and making sure that our neighborhoods are as good as they can be and that government is playing a positive role.
Why are county-city partnerships important for Houston?
When we start looking at the region as one, we’re able to incorporate both large and small cities, incorporated and unicorporated areas, and we’ll all see us as one.
I think in the next 40 or 50 years, having that kind of cooperation will be absolutely essential. I’m excited about being a small part at the ground level.
What is something people do not know about you?
I love to cook—and I love to eat more than I love to cook. I like gardening, [but] I don’t have a chance to play with my tomatoes and peppers like I used to. I like to get my hands in the dirt. Family is extremely important to me. My faith in my church is important to me. The fact that I’m able to give back to the community energizes me. I have to be thankful that I’ve come this far in life because there’s a purpose for me.