Fort Bend County Judge KP George hosts Pct. 2 Town Hall
Fort Bend County Judge KP George continued his Countywide Listening Tour with a town hall-style gathering for Precinct 2 residents on Thursday, May 23, at Willowridge High School. A crowd of roughly 100 residents brought forward concerns and questions for Judge George and a panel of county directors and elected officials including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, State Rep. Ron Reynolds, Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Commissioner Grady Prestage, Precinct 2 Constable Daryl Smith, District Attorney Brian Middleton and Houston City Councilmember District K Martha Castex-Tatem, among others. The discussion was lively and included questions on a myriad of topics. For example, one resident asked: “What does the district attorney do?” Others wanted to know how Judge George and county officials were preparing for the upcoming hurricane season.
Traffic, air quality and the Blue Ridge Landfill
Fort Bend County resident Karen Overton shared her concerns about traffic.
“On Saturday morning, the traffic on Highway 6 is as bad as Highway 59 or Highway 69. With the expansion of retail establishments in the Highway 6 and Sienna Plantation area, are there any plans to add additional turning lanes to deter customers from cutting through the neighborhoods, specifically the Oyster Creek Place neighborhood?” Overton asked.
According to county officials, Highway 6 is maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and no plans have been discussed for improvements to Highway 6.
“In the past, I’ve worked with TxDOT, Fort Bend County and Missouri City elected officials as partners to lobby for transportation projects and funding,” State Rep. Ron Reynolds said. “In the future, I will definitely have additional conversations with TxDOT officials about traffic on Highway 6 and the concerns you’ve shared today.”
Rep. Reynolds, Mayor Turner and District Attorney Middleton also addressed concerns about air quality and environmental issues in Fort Bend County.
“I have worked diligently to make sure the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) keeps a close presence in this area as well as in Shadow Creek Ranch where the Blue Ridge Landfill has created odor problems,” Rep. Reynolds said. “We’ve had numerous public hearings in Fort Bend County to make sure the TCEQ is holding industry accountable.”
Related: Fort Bend County residents worried about possible toxic emissions
Rep. Reynolds currently serves as a Ranking Member of the Environmental Regulations Committee, which has oversight over TCEQ operations. Reynolds said he also works closely with Texas Senator Boris Miles to lobby state and TCEQ officials when there are problems related to environmental issues and air quality in Fort Bend County.
Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke out that public transportation was another solution to improving air quality in Fort Bend County and the greater Houston area.
“We have to get people out of their cars and public transit has to be used even more, it’s not just good for traffic; it’s good for the environment,” Mayor Turner said. “We are changing the paradigm. We’ve signed onto the Paris Accord. Even though at the federal level, they say they don’t believe in science, we believe in science because the reality is that it’s creating these storms that are coming with greater intensity and frequency.”
Turner said progress had been made but it was an issue that would require large-scale planning and state-wide collaboration to solve.
District Attorney Middleton drew applause when he shared his commitment to fighting environmental crimes.
“My office is taking an aggressive stance on environmental law enforcement,” Middleton told the crowd. “If you are aware of pollution problems, please report it so we can investigate and take care of the issue.”
Judge George fielded questions about prepations for the upcoming hurricane season.
“The office of Emergency Management and Preparedness was one of my most important campaign issues and it remains close to my heart. I thought we could do a better job than had been done in the past, so I asked the county Fire Marshall and other experts to create a report detailing how we could improve our emergency planning processes.”
Judge George said one change that came as a result was the decision to combine the Department of Emergency Management with the Fire Marshall Department.
“The decision to combine the two departments eliminated the duplication of services and resulted in an annual savings of approximately $400,000 for tax payers. We will continue to make improvements and I am intent on making sure we provide information to residents when there are storms or emergencies,” Judge George said.
“Our goal is to create a blueprint before hurricane season begins. Residents inside a certain area should be able to find out where they can go if there’s flooding,” he said. “We are planning ahead to make sure resources are available and our emergency operations center is ready to go.”
A new text alert system is also available for residents to receive information on their cell phones or via email. Text FBCALERT to 888777 for emergency notifications by phone. Or, sign up online to receive email notifications: https://member.everbridge.net/index/453003085616997#/login
What does the District Attorney do?
District Attorney Brian Middleton explained his office handles all the misdemeanor and criminal cases in Fort Bend County.
“Police officers investigate cases that they file with our office and then we make the decision whether or not to prosecute and bring the case to a Grand Jury and proceed to trial,” Middleton said. “My office has also been diligently addressing criminal justice reform.”
On HoustonChronicle.com: Fort Bend County DA reshapes staff to fit reform goals
Middleton said a comprehensive plan was being developed and his office had already begun working to address bail bond reforms and a system of pre-trial diversions.
“Pre-trial diversion is a process wherein people charged with low-level offences could be eligible to complete certain conditions to avoid collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.”
Middleton said one concern is that having a criminal conviction often affects a person’s ability to find a job. Currently, pre-trial diversion programs have been created for certain offences involving marijuana-related crimes and misdemeanor DWI charges, Middleton said.
“Soon, I expect we will be releasing details about a pre-trial diversion program for minor retail theft offences,” he said. “We’re doing everything in our power to keep the city safe and also administer justice in a way that is fair and economically prudent for the county.”
Precinct 2 Constable budgetary requests ignored?
Fort Bend County resident and attorney Sandra Weber Fullerton questioned Commissioner Grady Prestage why county officials skipped over budget requests for Precinct 2 Constable Daryl Smith and his staff.
“It seems like there is a lack of support for the Precinct 2 Constable’s office, which affects the safety and needs of constituents,” Fullerton said.
The budget for all the county departments was set last year, months before Constable Smith was elected last November and making amendments to the existing budget was difficult, Prestage said.
“We did ask for an amendment for body armor after we discovered all the other constable deputies had vests provided to them,” Prestage said. “Next year, we requested additional monies to be included in the budget and I will do everything I can to get as much approved as possible.”
Complaints about Animal Control Services
Fort Bend County resident Ann Gardner came with a long list of concerns and questions for county officials in charge of the animal adoption center and animal control services. Gardner said she’d emailed Mary desVignes-Kendrick, Director, Fort Bend County Department of Health and Human Services, to ask questions and voice concerns about animal services and said her emails had been largely ignored.
“How will you attract volunteers and improve customer service,” Gardner asked.
However, technical issues complicated the discussion. Gardner repeated her questions several times as desVignes-Kendrick struggled to understand, saying she couldn’t hear from the stage. Gardner also wanted to know about the department’s knowledge of the “no-kill” movement.
“We spend a lot of time on Facebook trying to push out as much information about the animals in our care as we can. We also have partners in the community and have worked with outside animal services agencies to make improvements to operations,” desVignes-Kendrick said, finally. “Currently, we have over a 90 percent adoption rate. Our staff goes to no-kill conventions.”
DesVignes-Kendrick also said the adoption rate was improving.
Sugar Land 95
With only four days left in the state legislative session, Rep. Ron Reynolds updated Precinct 2 residents and guests about recent developments in Austin, including a bill passed involving the Sugar Land 95.
On HoustonChronicle.com: Sugar Land 95: Human lives were not of value
“I want to thank Judge George and Commissioner Prestage and others who helped us with the Sugar Land 95,” Rep. Reynolds said and explained legislation was awaiting a signature from Governor Abbott that would allow Fort Bend County to create a cemetery for the bodies of 95 convict leasing workers who were discovered by Fort Bend ISD during construction of a new high school last year. “We were able to pass legislation to allow the county to maintain a perpetual care cemetery to give dignity to those 95 people who are responsible through their labor for many benefits we enjoy in Fort Bend County today. This was a situation involving modern day slavery and is a shameful part of Texas history. But, I want to thank Judge George and Fort Bend County for stepping up to the plate.”
Related: Texas Senate boost plan to memorialize Fort Bend County remains