Who said Republican politics were dull? If you think that, you need to get out more! Today at the weekly meeting of the Downtown Houston Pachyderm Club, sparks flew as speaker Colleen Vera tried to make her case that the Harris County Department of Education is a waste of taxpayer money and should be abolished. Outgoing HCDE Board member Roy Morales was on hand and felt the need to interrupt Mrs. Vera several times and “correct” her remarks. Fun stuff!
As for the issue itself, abolishing the Harris County Department of Education, I’m a long-time proponent of that, as are many others in Harris County. We should also abolish the office of Harris County Treasurer while we are at it. Yvonne Larsen is going to do a post on the substance of Mrs. Vera’s case later today but I do have a couple of comments that might help Mrs. Vera and might help political dialogue in general.
During the course of her presentation, Mrs. Vera veered from stating her case about the Harris County Department of Education and into a general discourse of the “liberal” agenda in public education. I agree with her about that agenda and understand that a cornerstone of “progressive” politics is to influence children at a very young age. As conservative Republicans, we need to step in and stop that agenda where we can. Unfortunately, Mrs. Vera swiped a broad brush across the board members of the Harris County Department of Education, implying that they were liberal and that they supported redefining marriage and inserting global warming topics into a robotics class.
I personally know four of the board members: Angie Chesnut, Roy, Mike Wolfe, and Marvin Morris. In no way, shape, or form can you call these people left wing nutjobs. All but Marvin know that I support eliminating the department and they have never called me names or slighted me in any way. Each of them is a solid conservative Republican – just because they disagree with me doesn’t make them liberal. We have to stop attacking each other and calling each other names simply because we have different views. Let’s agree to fight hard for what we believe but to behave in such a way that we don’t tear each other down and that we listen to what the other person is saying before we condemn them.
One other thing that Mrs. Vera said bothers me and that is a remark she made about having stacks of unopened boxes of paper from her various Public Information Access requests that she hasn’t had time to review. I think that if you file a PIA, as I have numerous times, it is your duty to ask for only what you need and to immediately process the results. Having talked to members of the Harris County Department of Education board, the requests from Mrs. Vera have cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars – without question, she has a responsibility to use that information in a timely manner. I’d suggest that she immediately convene a kitchen table session with her friends and review this material. Those people that want to restrict PIA requests use these anecdotal accounts against transparency.
As for the sparks, Roy stood up several times to interrupt her and generally did not display the type of temperament an elected official should. At one point, an officer of the club had to approach him and almost physically force him to sit down and allow the presentation to continue. I talked to Roy after the meeting and he was frustrated with what he termed Mrs. Vera’s dis-information campaign and that he was disappointed that Republicans were allowing this at a Republican meeting. I don’t think that the majority of the information that Mrs. Vera talked about today was “dis-informaton” – aside from the comments I noted above, her facts are straight up. Look for Yvonne’s piece to outline them and I think that most of you will agree with me that the department needs to be abolished.
Let me give you an example of why tensions are so high between Mrs. Vera and the Harris County Department of Education board. As many of you know, in the last election, the wrong redistricting lines were used in voting for the Harris County Department of Education board. Mrs. Vera wrote a blog post about the HCDE board’s attempt to correct it and uses email to send the blog post around to Republican activists. Here is her email, which I received from JoAnn McCracken, Precinct Chair of Precinct 207:
All Conservative Harris County Taxpayers need to REVOLT against our EDUCATION TAX DOLLARS being used by our elected County School Board Trustees to pay for a lawsuit to help the Democratic Party challenge the new redistricted boundary lines of the Harris County Commissioners. By getting the courts to force district lines for the County Commissioners to be re-drawn, the Democrats could gerrymander their way to gain more seats on the Harris County Commissioners’ Court.
All with OUR MONEY!!
You can read the details below and then follow the links to contact your elected officials to tell them to stop this lawsuit.
Wow, pretty incendiary stuff, no? I never wrote about it but did contact Angie Chesnut, Harris County Department of Education Board President, to inquire about it. Here is her very reasoned response:
August 12, 2012
Thank you for the opportunity to correct the false information being distributed by Ms. Coleen Vera and JoAnn McCracken.
On Friday, July 13, 2012, HCDE was informed that the Harris County Tax Assessor Collector’s office failed to update the boundary lines for the May 2012 Primary election of HCDE trustees. The boundary lines that should have been used for the May 2012 Primary election for HCDE trustees were the interim Harris County commissioner precinct lines ordered to be used by federal Judge Vanessa Gilmore. Importantly, Judge Gilmore explicitly found that use of the 2001 boundary lines – the lines used for the 2012 Primary election for HCDE trustees – to facilitate the 2012 election was unconstitutional, as such violated the “one person, one vote” rule imposed by the U.S. Constitution.
The use of the unconstitutional boundary lines both perpetuates the problem of diluted voter strength and resulted in the disenfranchisement of voters, who, under Judge Gilmore’s interim order, were denied the right to vote in the relevant HCDE primary races. Despite being aware of the court-ordered interim lines – indeed, the court-ordered lines were used for the Primary election for Harris County commissioners – the Harris County Tax Assessor Collector’s office failed to use the court-ordered interim lines for the Primary election for HCDE trustees but rather, used the 2001 boundary lines that had been declared unconstitutional by Judge Gilmore.
Immediately after being notified of the serious error made by the Harris County Tax Assessor Collector’s office, HCDE realized that error created a significant potential for future lawsuits against HCDE based on seating one or more trustees who were elected using unconstitutional boundary lines. The consequence of seating an illegally elected board could expose HCDE to being challenged on any decision made by the HCDE Board of Trustees in the future. For these reasons, HCDE representatives immediately began attending various meetings with the Harris County Attorney’s office, the Harris County Tax Assessor Collector’s office, the Harris County Clerk’s office, the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party to find a resolution to this problem.
To ensure the reliability and lawfulness of its governance, HCDE sought to find a viable resolution to this problem that HCDE did not create. Because HCDE contends that neither HCDE, Harris County, nor either of the political parties can legally resolve this problem and because HCDE believes that federal law, including the U.S. Constitution’s “one person, one vote” rule, is implicated, the resolution is best determined by a federal court. Therefore, at the invitation of County officials, HCDE filed a lawsuit in federal court asking the court to remedy this serious problem.
Attached are documents that are public record, including the initial HCDE pleading and subsequent action relative to the HCDE v. Harris County, et al lawsuit. At no time has HCDE attempted to or suggested affecting the Harris County Commissioner’s precinct boundary lines or the party affiliations of the commissioners. HCDE is not challenging the Harris County Commissioner precinct boundary lines – indeed, HCDE is not a party to the pending redistricting case involving the Harris County Commissioner precinct boundary lines, and HCDE did not intervene in that case to remedy this problem. HCDE is simply attempting to correct the County’s use of the incorrect, unconstitutional boundary lines used for the Primary election for HCDE trustees and to obtain a remedy in the most efficient, timely manner possible HCDE’s single goal is to protect the lawfulness of its governance and to eliminate exposures created by Harris County in using incorrect, unconstitutional boundaries in the Primary election for HCDE Trustees. HCDE will abide by whatever decision the federal court makes in this case – whether that decision is to order a special election, uphold the results of the Primary and runoff elections, or other remedial action.
Ms. Vera, aided by individuals such as Ms. McCraken and possibly funded by some unknown entity, and with little regard for fact or reason, has been dedicated to the destruction of HCDE for some time. It is disturbing that the current political atmosphere is so malicious that it would move to dissolve an organization proven to benefit our school children and community. HCDE provides essential education services to the general public and 26 school districts throughout Harris County. HCDE serves Harris County with after-school programs, early childhood intervention, Head Start, therapy services, alternative schools for at-risk students, GED certification and assistance to educators.
As for Ms. McCracken’s statement regarding HCDE sending Harris County taxpayer monies “all over” the United States, HCDE does business as authorized by applicable law and HCDE’s charter. Business conducted outside of Harris County uses funds derived from fees for service or from grants – not from taxes. It is important to note that the revenues produced by out-of-county business/contracts provides additional funding for services delivered to Harris County school districts, students, teachers, and the community.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to address the lies and distortions being propagated. If I can answer any additional questions, please contact me.
Angie Chesnut, President
Board of Trustees
Harris County Department of Education
As I said, I’m for abolishing the Harris County Department of Education. But until that happens, it is a constitutional office with elected officials that must fulfill their duties. In this case, I think that the Harris County Department of Education Board made the correct decision to sue and I think that Mrs. Vera was very much wrong to slander their attempts to deal with a difficult situation.
See what you’re missing when you don’t get out to Republican clubs? And I haven’t even gotten to Ed Johnson’s update on the attempt by the Harris County Democratic Party to remove Lloyd Oliver from the ballot!