Weekend brunch for 23 February 2020

News and views from around the web

Image credit: CQF-avocat/Pixabay

[WB1] Violent crime continues to draw attention in Harris County, following the Democratic sweep of major offices in the county in 2018 and ongoing efforts at bail reform.

In the last week, we learned from KTRK-13 that a man given bond for murder was charged with another murder, but authorities couldn’t actually find him because he apparently disabled his GPS monitoring device. In the previous Weekend Brunch, we noted Ted Oberg’s reporting on problems with Harris County’s effective “honor system” for dangerous criminals released to GPS monitoring “custody.”

Remember the alleged killers of Jazmine Barnes? If you don’t recall, there was quite the community outcry over the senseless murder of the seven-year old girl, an initial kooky claim that some white guy in a pickup truck was responsible followed by all sorts of race-baiters piling on, only for a very different story finally to emerge: Two suspected African-American gang members (Larry Woodruffe and Eric Black)  were charged with the crime. As Don Hooper notes, these two alleged murderers are out on bail, presumably roaming Harris County at this moment. Neat, huh?

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was himself duped in the “white guy killed Jazmine” lie at the time, posted a number of tweets this week (compiled here) that suggest that all bail reform is not created equal. Rather, he suggests, we need better assessments of risk, rather than just letting out dangerous people simply because they have money. This was in response to HPD Chief Art Acevedo, who tweeted to Republican Governor Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick to do something (about Harris County’s Democratic judges, apparently, however that is supposed to work).

Something needs to be done about all of the above, and Gonzalez’s tweets suggest a way forward – but in the meantime, Democratic control of the City of Houston and Harris County’s criminal justice system has consequences.

[WB2] One thing that Harris County DA Kim Ogg is certainly doing right is extending her review of the casework of disgraced former HPD officer Gerald Goines (the ringleader of HPD’s Harding Street Massacre) as far back as 2008. Jacob Sullum picked up on that news from last week in Reason. And the Chronicle followed up this week on apparent oversight lapses within HPD when it came to the department’s handling of confidential informants generally.

[WB3] An audit found that Houston First (the city’s convention agency) has engaged in some problematic contracting and purchasing practices (shocking, we realize!), including an award of a $412,000 contract “without posing a request for proposals or receiving any competive bids.” That sounds like The Houston Way to us!

[WB4] The Houston Fire Department is being hit hard by departures as the standoff over pay continues with Mayor Sylvester Turner, according to KTRK-13’s Ted Oberg. The administration did approve a bump in pay for firefighter cadets this week, but that doesn’t really deal with the underlying problem of frozen wages for active firefighters – and in fact, may only serve to increase the tab for taxpayers to train firefighters who ultimately go to other municipalities.

[WB5] Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman continues to have difficulty running elections, but thinks it’s time to switch to ranked-choice voting. What could possibly go wrong?

[WB6] Chronicle columnist Erica Grieder suggests that the views of Democratic presidential candidates on hydraulic fracturing have Texans “on edge.” Locally, County Judge Lina Hidalgo endorsed Elizabeth Warren in the Dem presidential primary; Warren has taken one of the hardest lines against oil and gas exploration, advocating a ban on fracking and new offshore drilling.

[WB7] Local activist Steven Hotze withdrew his endorsement of political (and GOP primary voting) newcomer Wesley Hunt this week, noting to David Jennings that he “didn’t interview anyone else” for his original endorsment, and later “started to learn things about Hunt that disturbed him” (such as the fact that Hunt’s never voted in a GOP primary or shown much interest in politics).

This is obviously meant as a slam of Hunt, but it’s as big a self-slam of Hotze. Do your own voting research, people. Don’t outsource your voting judgment to characters like this (or the others who send around their slates).

[WB8] Because too many journalists are hopelessly self-absorbed, the Houston Chronicle editorial board devoted way too many column inches this week to an elaboration of their “process” for endorsing candidates. Democratic consultant Marc Campos laments that the board won’t let staffers sit in and listen to the screening, but the bigger issue is that such screenings aren’t recorded and shared with anyone who wants to see. That would be transparent (which the editorial board preaches for all but themselves) and would give voters an opportunity to see both candidates AND the newspaper’s generally Unproductive Class (the editorial board, which produces little of value to the newspaper or the people who pay for it) in action. The latter, of course, would be to expose too much.

[WB9] The newspaper effectively reproduced a press release from the Westchase District this week, in which the district (or Chron stenographer – hard to tell at times) promises all sorts of wondrous spending in the district (paid for, of course, mostly by taxed businesses — who along with Houstonians generally, don’t have much of a say in how such management districts operate), including a few whoppers such as this one: “Live oaks from the medians on Westheimer, which will be replaced with higher canopy trees, will be relocated to two parks planned within the District.”

Yes, you read that right – the Management District convinced the Chronicle stenographer to assert that mature Live Oaks will be relocated from Westheimer medians to a park within the district. As blogHOUSTON followers know, that doesn’t happen in Houston, and almost certainly will not happen in this instance. Rather, those trees will likely be removed in the dead of night (remember Upper Kirby?) and replaced by inferior crape myrtles. Why does the Chronicle post this sort of uncritical rah-rah nonsense?

[WB10] Recall just two weeks ago when we called out so many nags and scolds wagging their fingers over 2019 Novel Coronavirus (now named COVID19)? One such instance involved a former mayoral candidate poo-pooing the notion of “a friend that was considering cancelling a vacation to Italy because of the virus.” Interestingly enough, the number of COVID19 cases this morning (23 February) rose to 123 in Italy – the fourth most in the world, following confirmation just three days ago. It is easily the worst outbreak of COVID19 in Europe and numerous activities have been shut down.

Along the same lines as WB7 above – don’t outsource your personal risk assessments to others, folks. Use your own brain, do your own research, and make your own decisions.

[WB11] A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against the US Army Corp of Engineers over downstream Harvey flooding this week. A followon Houston Chronicle story explains the differences between this case brought by downstream property owners and the one brought by upstream property owners (who won their case).

[WB12] KTRK-13 reports that a bicyclist was hit by a car after it first hit METRO’s Danger Train at Main Street and Lamar. World-class at-grade rail is an ongoing adventure in Houston!

[WB13] Astros County has compiled a comprehensive set of links laying out the evolution of Major League Baseball’s electronic sign-stealing problem. We’re just happy there are now preseason games and roster decisions and the like to be talked about.

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About Kevin Whited 4306 Articles
Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX