Harris County moves forward with creation of elections administrator office

Harris County is exploring the creation of a new official in charge of elections, which would take effect Nov. 18, after the 2020 election cycle. (Graphic by Anya Gallant/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County is exploring the creation of a new official in charge of elections, which would take effect Nov. 18, after the 2020 election cycle. (Graphic by Anya Gallant/Community Impact Newspaper)

Harris County is exploring the creation of a new official in charge of elections, which would take effect Nov. 18, after the 2020 election cycle. (Graphic by Anya Gallant/Community Impact Newspaper)

Harris County Commissioners Court is moving forward with the creation of an elections administrator office following the approval of a study Aug. 11.

As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, the Harris County Commissioners Court first considered the possibility of creating an elections administrator office, which would be responsible for running elections and registering voters, during its July 14 meeting. Under the county's current system, those duties are split between the county clerk and tax-assessor collector, respectively.

In a split 3-2 vote, the court authorized the county attorney, auditor and budget management department to study the budget, facilities, equipment and personnel that would be needed to be transferred from the county clerk and tax assessor-collector to the administrator to perform the duties of the office, with the caveat that there must be a public hearing with stakeholders on the proposal prior to the study's return to court in 30 days.

The study returned to the court for further consideration at its Aug. 11 meeting.

"I think this is the right thing to do for elections in Harris County," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during the Aug. 11 meeting. "What struck me the most was when ... there's been a certain increase in the voting-eligible population in Harris County, and there hasn't been a commensurate increase in the registration, so actually there's been a net decrease in the voters given where we ought to be, and we need to do better, so I'd be happy to support this."

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis—who placed the initial item on the July 14 agenda—said he, too, was in favor of creating an elections administrator office ahead of the November elections because he believes it is important for the person who is appointed to that office to see how elections are currently run in Harris County prior to taking over those duties Nov. 18. Additionally, Ellis said he felt it was important for those who are running for the positions of county clerk and tax-assessor collector in the upcoming election to know exactly what their duties would be.

However, the item was again met with opposition from precincts 3 and 4 Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle.

"I believe that our elected officials are the ones who should be making these decisions as opposed to appointed [officials]," Cagle said during the meeting. "Why do we not allow the tax-assessor [collector] and the clerk to weigh in on this process? I think that they should be involved in this process as well."

Likewise Radack called the move a "betrayal" following the resignation of former County Clerk Diane Trautman earlier this year.

'I think it's tragic that [Trautman] who was clearly was not for an elections administrator, who won an election fair and square, was trying to do a great job, ... tragically [she] had to leave office because of her health problems," Radack said. "But what's really sad is that members of her own party ignored any suggestion she made on who she would like to see follow her and saw it as an opportunity to seize the elections and take them out of the county clerk's office. As far as I'm concerned, it's a betrayal."

However, Ellis countered the creation of an elections administrator office was nothing personal against those elected officials who currently hold the positions of county clerk or tax-assessor collector.

"In no way was this a reflection on Dr. Trautman, Ms. Bennett or anybody else. In my judgement it's just the right thing to do," Ellis said. "The reality is most of us do better at what we focus on, and the office of tax-assessor [collector], first and foremost, in my judgement ought to focus on what the name of that office says—assess the taxes. And then secondly, the office of the clerk has tremendous responsibilities. ... I just think it's better to have an office that focuses every day of the year, for 12 months, 'What can we do to make this process of running elections as seamless [as possible]?' and 'What can we do to increase voter registration?'"

In another split 3-2 vote with Cagle and Radack dissenting, the court approved the transmittal of the report and the plan to establish the elections administrator office. Hidalgo added she will begin the process of forming the board that would be tasked with the search for and appointment of an elections administrator "as soon as possible." The board will comprise Hidalgo, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, Harris County Tax-Assessor Collector Ann Harris Bennett, Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson and Harris County Democratic Party Chair Lillie Schechter.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


Free COVID-19 testing will be available to festival staff, participants and patrons every weekend of the festival this fall. (Courtesy Steven David Photography)
Texas Renaissance Festival to offer free COVID-19 rapid testing throughout season

Additionally, a free drive-thru testing site will be set up in Todd Mission on Sept. 19.

According to a Texas Supreme Court order, all eviction notices in the state must be accompanied with the CDC eviction order's declaration form. (Courtesy Pexel)
Texas Supreme Court issues order strengthening CDC eviction moratorium

The action aims to strengthen a federal order that renters' advocates say has been falling short in eviction court.

Both locations specialize in men's haircuts, shaves and waxing, and they also offer complimentary alcoholic drinks. (Courtesy Tune Up: The Manly Salon)
New owners take over Tune Up: The Manly Salon locations in Champions, Northpointe

Rachael and Michael Worthen and Jackie and Scott Qaulley took ownership of two Tune Up: The Manly Salon franchise locations in the North Houston area effective Aug. 10.

A section of Cypress Creek experiences flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)
Flood control officials to update residents on Cypress Creek stormwater detention basins at virtual meeting

Harris County Flood Control District officials will host a virtual information session Sept. 22 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. to update residents on two upcoming flood control projects along Cypress Creek.

The first food distribution event at the new location will take place Sept. 22 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. or until supplies last. Food giveaways will take place twice per month thereafter. (Courtesy Northwest Assistance Ministries)
Northwest Assistance Ministries relocates semimonthly food distribution site near IAH

By relocating the site to Ecopark-IAH, the nonprofit will be able to supply 3,000 families with 70 pounds of food in one day.

While the number of white students enrolled at Spring, Klein and Cy-Fair ISDs has decreased over the past 15 years, white teachers remain the majority of teachers at KISD and CFISD. At the same time, the number of economically disadvantaged students has also increased across all three districts over the past 15 years. (Graphics by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Local school districts target equity to better serve diversifying student populations in Spring, Klein

The Spring and Klein area has seen a notable demographic shift over the past two decades, data shows, and Spring, Klein and Cy-Fair ISDs are evolving to better serve their now majority-minority student populations, officials said.

Dr. Sam Rolon is a physician for Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group Creekside Family Medicine in The Woodlands. (Courtesy St. Luke's Health)
Q&A: St. Luke's physician shares advice on flu season, vaccine and prevention

The influenza vaccine is recommended for nearly all patients of all ages ahead of this year's flu season, Dr. Sam Rolon said.

student in mask
TEA launches statewide COVID-19 dashboard for public schools

The Texas Education Agency, in collaboration with the Texas Department of State Health Services, has launched its latest COVID-19 dashboard for positive cases in Texas public schools.

The Houston Food Bank is looking for more volunteers as it handles increased food distribution during COVID-19. (Courtesy Houston Food Bank)
Houston Food Bank: COVID-19 pandemic amplifies already-high food insecurity rates across region

Before COVID-19, the Houston Food Bank distributed about 400,000 pounds of food daily. That number has since increased to about 1 million pounds a day.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Sept. 17 that data from Texas' 22 hospital regions will dictate when certain businesses can reopen at 75% capacity. (Screenshot of Sept. 17 press conference)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott: Retail stores, restaurants, office buildings, gyms can reopen at 75% capacity as early as Sept. 21

Nursing home and long-term care facilities will also be allowed to reopen for visitation as early as Sept. 24.

Klein ISD has debuted its COVID-19 tracking dashboard to allow community members to stay updated on cases across the district. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Klein ISD introduces COVID-19 tracking dashboard

The dashboard displays only KISD data and will be updated daily at noon.