In split vote, Harris County Commissioners Court appoints David Berry as first county administrator

In a split vote, Harris County Commissioners Court appointed David Berry as the first county administrator in Harris County's history at the June 29 Commissioners Court meeting. (Screenshot via Facebook Live)
In a split vote, Harris County Commissioners Court appointed David Berry as the first county administrator in Harris County's history at the June 29 Commissioners Court meeting. (Screenshot via Facebook Live)

In a split vote, Harris County Commissioners Court appointed David Berry as the first county administrator in Harris County's history at the June 29 Commissioners Court meeting. (Screenshot via Facebook Live)

In a split vote, Harris County Commissioners Court appointed David Berry as the first county administrator in Harris County's history at the June 29 Commissioners Court meeting.

Berry, who currently serves as executive director of the Harris County Budget Department, was hired in June 2020 to replace the budget department's former executive director of nearly 10 years, Bill Jackson, in another split vote.

According to a June 24 letter from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo proposing the creation of a county administrator position, the court previously approved an agreement with PFM Consulting Group Inc. in 2019 to conduct an organizational and operational review of Harris County government. The final report, which was published in November, recommended the implementation of structural reforms to streamline the government's current organization, such as the creation of a county administrator position.

"For Harris County to continue to grow and prosper in the face of its external and internal challenges, county government must implement reforms to become more efficient, effective and resilient, and to address long-standing equity issues experienced by people in diverse communities across the county," the 2020 report reads. "It must build the basic infrastructure of governance necessary to meet the moment and augment this new stronger framework with a commitment to innovation and stakeholder engagement."

According to the letter, a similar study was conducted by KPMG in 1997, resulting in a similar conclusion.

"There are no routine management team meetings to discuss countywide policy and coordination. ... Departments function largely as separate operating entities," the 1997 report reads.

Under Harris County's current organizational and reporting structure, more than 20 departments report directly to the Commissioners Court. According to the letter, the addition of a county administrator position aims to improve coordination, enhance accountability and strengthen oversight by charging the county administrator with providing day-to-day oversight of the county government and providing guidance and coordination to all county departments. According to Hidalgo, all five other U.S. counties with populations of more than 3 million people have an appointed county administrator, making Harris County the largest county nationwide without a county administrator or manager.

"We have enormous, enormous challenges in Harris County, and the crux of this is that we have to modernize our organizational structure so that we can really tackle those challenges," Hidalgo said during the June 29 meeting. "It's not a radical idea. It's something that all but one other major Texas jurisdiction has put in place, so it's a due-diligence issue that we're actually behind on and we can move forward on."

According to the letter, the county administrator would be appointed and subject to removal by a majority of the Commissioners Court and would be allocated an initial budget of $2 million. Additionally, the letter states the county administrator would be tasked with the following duties and responsibilities:

  • serve as the county budget officer;

  • maintain the authority to appoint and dismiss deputies, managing directors and other department heads, expect where a position must be appointed by Commissioners Court according to Texas statute, in which case appointment should be made by Commissioners Court on the recommendation of the county administrator;

  • develop and present regular reports to Commissioners Court on county performance related to identified outcomes and metrics approved by Commissioners Court;

  • develop and present the county's long-range strategic plan for consideration and approval by Commissioners Court;

  • coordinate the development and execution of strategic goals and objectives, performance management and sound fiscal management with significant responsibility to proactively identify and resolve issues to ensure ongoing county operations; and

  • provide guidance and coordination to all county departments to ensure county business is conducted in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

To view the full letter, see below:

Critics of the proposal said they were concerned the creation of a county administrator position would take away power from Harris County voters while also redistributing power amongst court members.

"This is not a D or an R issue; I think whether or not we have a county administrator is more about control of power, not about whether it's a Republican or Democrat at that time; it's a power-to-the-people issue," Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said. "We most likely will vote 3-2 on who's going to be the new county administrator—that means that three of us will control the county administrator and the power will actually be increased in [the Democrat's] column, rather than diffused."

However, Hidalgo argued the new position would have little effect on how each commissioner currently operates their respective precincts and that decisions will still be made by a majority court vote.

"This is simply an internal management adjustment; it's about keeping the machinery of government well oiled," Hidalgo said. "The commissioners still have their teams ... there's nothing different in the precinct management ... Every large county in Texas, including Republican-led counties and Republican-led counties around the country, have this system ... [so] it's not anything different or new or alien ... and just as with everything, it always takes three votes to make decisions."

Those in opposition also argued that the proposed $2 million budget could be put to better use elsewhere in the county and that the public was not given adequate time to share their input on the item prior to the June 29 vote. However, Hidalgo said the court had been discussing the possibility of creating a county administrator for at least six months.

"If anyone is surprised by us planning to consider a a county administrator, they have not been paying attention," Hidalgo said.

Following several hours of public comment with speakers both for and against the proposition, the court approved the creation of a county administrator position and appointed Berry to fill that position effective immediately in a split 3-2 vote; the court Republicans, Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, voted against the measure.
By Hannah Zedaker

Editor, Spring/Klein & Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood

Hannah joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. In March 2019, she transitioned to editor of the Spring/Klein edition and later became the editor of both the Spring/Klein and Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood editions in June 2021. Hannah covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Hannah served as associate editor of The Houstonian, interned with Community Impact Newspaper and spent time writing for the Sam Houston State University College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication and The Huntsville Item.


student writing on paper
Texas Legislature allows parents to opt for students to repeat grade levels or courses

Senate Bill 1697 is effective for the 2021-22 school year.

School supplies will be exempt from the 8.25% sales tax Aug. 6-8. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
What to know before the statewide tax-free weekend Aug. 6-8

Customers will not have to pay the standard 8.25% sales tax on select clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks under $100.

Cypress Creek EMS and American Jet International officials celebrate the beginning of their new partnership at Million Air terminal at Hobby Airport. (Wesley Gardner/Community Impact Newspaper)
Cypress Creek EMS provides updates on American Jet International partnership

The partnership is coming as CCEMS’ contract with Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 enters its final months. That contract, which entails providing emergency medical services for approximately 177 square miles in Harris County, will expire Sept. 1.

Main Chick Hot Chicken opened its first brick-and-mortar location July 23 in Sugar Land. (Courtesy Main Chick Hot Chicken)
Main Chick Hot Chicken opens in Sugar Land; Urban Bird Hot Chicken coming to Cy-Fair and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news for the Houston area, including two new chicken restaurants.

The meals will be available at no cost for all students with zero requirements for qualification. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harmony Public Schools to offer free meals to all students

The meals will be available at no cost for all students with zero requirements for qualification.

Houston-area residents will be able to apply online for a one-time payment of $1,500 from July 28-Aug. 11. (File photo)
$30M COVID Relief Fund opens for Harris County residents as eviction moratorium ends

Sourced by funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, eligible residents will receive a one-time payment of $1,500 to support urgent needs.

The Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve will break ground on a new expansion project in September. (Emily Jaroszewski/Community Impact Newspaper)
Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve in Harris County breaking ground on new project in September

Construction of new pedestrian trails is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2022.

The national retailer offers designer and brand-name fashions for men, women and children as well as accessories and items for the home at a 20%-60% discount compared to department and specialty stores. (Courtesy Ross Dress for Less)
Ross Dress For Less now open in Klein Square

Ross opened its new south Klein store July 23 in Klein Square, located at 16850 Stuebner Airline Road, Spring.

Pride Houston Parade
Pride Houston fall parade and festival canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

The downtown annual parade and festival, scheduled for Sept. 25, will be replaced by a Montrose block party and other events, organizers announced July 25.

The CDC reversed its masking guidance for fully vaccinated individuals in response to the transmissibility of the delta variant of COVID-19 in a press conference July 27. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
NEW CDC GUIDANCE: All individuals should wear masks in K-12 schools, including those who are fully vaccinated

The new CDC guidance, announced July 27, also recommends people in areas with "high" or "substantial" levels of transmission wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Bel Furniture has purchased the former location of Star Furniture. (Courtesy Baker Katz)
Bel Furniture buys former Star Furniture property in Willowbrook area

The 60,935-square-foot store sits on 2.38 acres near Willowbrook Mall.