In a good old fashioned display of backroom deals, the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees on Monday elected Louis Evans as President and Eric Dick as Vice President. The fact that Mr. Evans was not elected but appointed to his job and that Mr. Dick had never bothered to attend a meeting of the board was of no concern to the two Democrats that controlled the meeting.
How do two Democrats control a board that is theoretically 5-2 in favor of Republicans? Politics. And clearly the two Democrats, Erica Lee Carter and Dr. Diane Trautman, are playing graduate level politics while the conservative Republicans on the board are playing tiddlywinks.
All you folks that voted for candidates because they said they were going to shut down the HCDE? I told you so. And that ain’t a bad thing because the Harris County Department of Education is one of the better governmental bodies in the area.
Okay, to the meeting itself. Like I said, the first order of business was to elect a board president and vice-president. I didn’t see what happened happening though. I thought that Dick was at least marginally conservative based upon our previous conversations and still remain hopeful about that. Unfortunately, the Democrats were able to play his ambitions into electing the very least conservative Republican on the board as President and Dick, who has no defined ideology except self-promotion, as Vice- President. Hey, what they did is completely legitimate and I have no qualms with it. In fact, it might be that Dick sees the county turning purple and is hoping to use the Democrats to help him finally win a paying position. And if that happens, more power to him. Success is success.
For those of you that insisted that I was wrong for saying ‘who cares?’ on the question of appointments to the HCDE’s Public Facilities Corporation (PFC) board, I’ll just point out that the extremely liberal Superintendent James Colbert was quick to recommend Trustee Don Sumners to the position. I’m still laughing about that one. They also nominated Trustee Mike Wolf as a delegate. So the only two conservatives with any experience were unanimously appointed to the PFC by the Republicans with the two Democrats abstaining (5-0-2). Like I said, graduate level vs tiddlywinks. But hey, it made some people happy, happy, happy! Amazing.
Then we get to the termination of the lobbyist contracts. I thought, okay, this is easy. No conservative Republican in their right mind would support this, right? Dang it, I forgot about Dick’s ambitions! The board did vote to eliminate Democrat Pat Strong’s $82,000 per year contract. But Dick decided that his ambitions were worth spending $120,000 a year to keep the Democratic lobby firm from Austin, HillCo. He was the deciding vote. The Democrats joined with Evans to vote for keeping the contract in place. The three conservative Republicans on the board (Moore, Sumners, Wolf) voted to eliminate the contract. Dick abstained, allowing the contract to continue. I admit that I was stunned and told Dick about it after the meeting.
Dick says hold up, I have a strategy! Okay, I asked, what is your strategy that would be worth spending $10,000 per month to a Democratic lobbyist in Austin? Support the HCDE and keep it open? Support the HCDE and get more grants? Nope.
Dick’s strategy is to force HillCo to lobby for a bill that he says State Rep. Briscoe Cain is going to carry that Dick says will make it possible to break up the Houston Independent School District. No, seriously, that is his strategy. Stop laughing dang it!
Okay, first off, HillCo. The idea that HillCo is going to lobby FOR splitting up HISD is…whatever. Here are a few of their clients:
- Abilene Chamber of Commerce (hates ISD’s right?)
- Arlington ISD
- Austin ISD
- Blinn College
- Too many cities to list
- Dallas Police & Fire Pension System (you might have read about them)
- HEB (um, you think they support shutting down HISD?)
- Houston Municipal Employees Pension System (ha)
- Houston Police Officers Pension System (double ha)
- Raise Your Hand for Public Schools/Raise Your Hand Texas (opposes school choice/vouchers)
- Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement System
- Texas Retired Teacher’s Association
That is just a sample of the groups that HillCo represents. Sure, they are going to lobby to eliminate HISD. Um hmm. Oh, and let’s put more money in their coffers so that they can lobby against school choice and vouchers!
I decided to ask Rep. Cain if he was really going to hang himself with a bill like this. He told me that “A bill has been submitted in draft form but I have not have time to review it. If it allows the Harris County Department of Education to have more control, I will be against it. We need to shut that department down, not give it more power.”
Somehow I don’t think that Dick’s ‘strategery’ is going to fly. But hey, that’s just me. As Dick said on Facebook:
Hillco will be used to push a bill that allows either voters or HCDE to abolish HISD. Spending 120k is nothing compared to how much we lose from HISD’s waste.
Just a thought: $120,000 would pay for the education of at least six special education needs children to attend school.
The next two items were to stop spending on two projects. Some people think that this succeeded and was awesome. What I heard was that no spending would be affected and that the superintendent would report back to the board ASAP about further spending. You can sorta/kinda tell who is winning by watching their reactions after votes. When the Superintendent and the two D’s are smiling, you might have a problem. Graduate level – tiddlywinks.
As for changing the date/time of the board meetings, apparently newly elected Trustee George Moore has a work conflict on Tuesday afternoons and was hoping to change it to a better time for him. It seemed to me that the majority of the board was of the too bad/so sad mindset but did agree to have the HCDE secretary poll the board and try to determine if there was a day/time that everyone was happy with. They will discuss that at the next meeting.
As for impressions from the board meeting, I think that Moore is going to be great. He asked pertinent questions and was incredulous that the HCDE’s assistant superintendent for Business Services, Jesus Amezcua, would propose a 20% contingency on the construction projects. As a project management professional, Mr. Moore stated that when someone has such a large contingency, they haven’t done the due diligence necessary on the scope of the project. Mr. Amezcua quickly backed away from the 20% contingency. Excellent work, Mr. Moore.
As for the rest of the Republicans, I can only repeat this: graduate level vs tiddlywinks. If this HCDE board is going to make real changes that will help the department move forward, they’d best learn how to deal with that. My guess is that we are going to have to wait until the next election when both Democrats and Mr. Evans will be on the ballot.
As noted, Mr. Evans was appointed by the previous board and not elected by the voters. Should he choose to run in 2018, I don’t see how it is possible for him to be elected given his lack of conservative philosophy and the fact that he is in Commissioner Steve Radack’s Precinct 3. Surely Commissioner Radack can find someone closer to his philosophy to run in that race. And it is rumored that Dr. Trautman will not seek reelection but will instead run against County Clerk Stan Stanart. Her At-Large position will most likely go to a Republican in 2018 anyway. As an aside, what does it say about Dick that he was willing to make a deal with someone that is going to run against Stanart? Obviously Mrs. Lee Carter is in a safe seat but does she really want to be the only Democrat on a seven member board? Her alliance with Dick can only carry her so far.
What we are probably looking at for the HCDE is another two years of Democratic control (with only 2 of 7 members, astounding) and then conservative Republicans will control it in 2019.