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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

February 26, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Longview News-Journal. Feb. 24, 2019.

Economic development efforts — even when planned with care — do not always turn out as expected. For reference, see the story of a proposed retail development at Hinsley Park, a plan that has languished for years.

This fact makes some recent news about downtown Longview all the more important and promising.

VeraBank, formerly known as Citizens National Bank, has bought the landmark downtown building it has leased and is in the process of renovating the 10-story structure. The work includes the top floor, which once housed the original Summit Club restaurant.

This is an enormous investment in the future of downtown and our city that was made only after careful planning by the growing bank’s leadership. Banks are not known for being loose with their investments, so this should be seen as a strong vote of confidence.

But VeraBank’s move did not come in a vacuum. It was made possible by a number of other projects — both public and private — that have put in motion a transformation that is gaining its own momentum.

We tend to agree with the assessment offered by Melida Heien, Longview Main Street coordinator: “It’s happening now, so there’s no turning back.”

Best of all, there should be no reason to look backward because the reuse of buildings means the footprint of downtown will remain quite familiar to residents.

How did we get to this juncture?

Of course, the city’s leadership first had to envision then propose the way forward. Then, the keen foresight of Longview voters was essential. In 2004 and again in 2011, voters approved tens of millions of dollars in bond financing that modernized and beautified downtown streets and other infrastructure.

While that work may have been seen by some as little more than a cosmetic change, the increasing private investment that followed has shown it to be much more than skin deep. Similarly, a nascent effort to have downtown designated the center of a new cultural arts district would provide a boost to the quality of life that attracts employers and residents alike.

Two other new developments also show downtown Longview makes business sense. A pair of historical downtown office buildings are being redeveloped as multi-family housing that will draw many more to live in the neighborhood. We have no question those new residents in turn will drive more growth and more investment.

Again, private companies in both cases have studied Longview’s situation and found that millions of dollars would be wisely invested in our community.

All this comes on the heels of major investments by companies including R. Lacy Services, Wellness Pointe and others that have decided their futures are in downtown Longview.

This is not puff public relations. All these were business decisions, and investors expect to see a decent return on their investments. This is not being done for charitable purposes.

All of which, we hope, will encourage Longview residents to believe in what is happening and react to it. We are not saying there won’t be bumps in the road, but the sooner residents believe in the reality of these changes the better off we will be.

That would include local investors. We’ve seen some activity on that front but not nearly as much as we might expect. It is time for more of us to pick up the mantle of a growing and successful Longview and move it forward. There’s no turning back now.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Feb. 25, 2019.

It is tough to get a second chance at anything in life. So when Dallas County executives dished out nearly seven years of second chances on a botched court case management software system, it’s worth asking why. So far, the county’s answers have been so less than inspiring that it is time for commissioners to pull the plug on this project and hire an outside, independent investigator to determine whether there is more to this debacle than blind trust and incompetence.

This might seem like an arcane matter and a draconian solution, but the episode gets at the heart of government accountability, or in this instance, profound lack of accountability. Even if you’re not in the court system, as a taxpayer you should care.

The problem, as reported by Julieta Chiquillo, is that Dallas County wasted the better part of a decade and nearly $30 million trying to develop an innovative case management system for criminal courts. In the process, it appears that they ignored numerous red flags that should have ground this project to a halt years ago.

This mess all began in 2012 when the Texas Conference of Urban Counties partnered with Dallas, Travis and Tarrant counties to develop a case management system that could be marketed statewide.

The developer hired by the coalition to develop the system quickly went bankrupt. The project was handed over to the remnants of the development team. The computer code was outdated. Problems persisted and deadlines were busted. The system was supposed to go live in Dallas by 2015. Then in 2016. Then in 2017. Then in 2018.

Travis County cut its losses and walked away. Dallas County should have raced Travis County to the exit door. Instead, they doubled down on the project. Internal memos obtained by The Dallas Morning News indicated that county staff had major concerns about the project’s escalating costs and missed deadlines barely two years into the venture. And Dallas County criminal court judges also questioned the project’s direction and unanimously favored another vendor whose case management software was up-and-running in other counties.

Dallas County commissioners desperately wanted this system to work and allowed the project to go forward. Each time, they accepted promises that new deadlines would be met, tossed more dollars toward the project, crossed their fingers and hoped for the best.

By all appearances, a consistent majority of county commissioners felt they had invested so much that they were unwilling to make the tough management call to pull the plug. And they might even have contributed to the mess by insisting on time-consuming changes and fixes that slowed product development. But even if the county was trying to hide the embarrassment of having made a bad deal, this doesn’t adequately explain why this debacle was allowed to fester. At some point, the public interest demands that the county stop hurling bad dollars after good ones. Hoping and wishing are not effective management strategies.

This crisis could have been avoided had the county taken a serious look at the problems sooner, either demanding timely compliance or hiring a vendor who would fulfill the obligation. Instead, it plowed ahead.

Now, the county has plowed headlong into a wall, uncertain of its next steps. It may hire a consultant to assess its options. After nearly seven years, the answer doesn’t seem that tough to us. There is a time to hold and a time to fold. It is time to fold.

___

Houston Chronicle. Feb. 25, 2019.

If you want to see the future of bail reform in Texas, look to Philadelphia.

Beginning last February, District Attorney Larry Krasner refused to seek cash bail for dozens of nonviolent offenses, enough to comprise 61 percent of his office’s cases, ranging from shoplifting to DUI to small-time pot dealing. That’s turned Philadelphia into a testing ground for criminal justice reform, and critics and supporters alike have been anxious to see the results. Last week they finally got their answer — one that should encourage advocates and give detractors serious pause.

A study published last week by George Mason University found Krasner’s policy resulted in a 23 percent increase in the number of defendants released without preconditions and a 22 percent decrease in the number of defendants who spent at least one night in jail. At the same time, the study found no effect on recidivism, violent offenses or failure to appear in court.

These findings shouldn’t be surprising — they track with results in plenty of other places that have undergone bail reform. New Jersey almost entirely eliminated cash bail in 2017 and violent crime has declined by 30 percent since then. A federal judge ordered Harris County to overhaul our unconstitutional misdemeanor bail system in 2017, and last year Houston saw violent crime decline by 10 percent. While it’s a stretch to tie any single policy to a change in crime rates, these statistics show that at the very least the new policies aren’t leading to the spike in violence that critics predicted. Detractors — supported by the bail bondsmen whose cash flow is at risk — have cried that bail reform is just code word for jailbreak.

The fear-mongering is a narrative based on anecdotes, not data. Individual cases of criminals re-offending while out on personal recognizance bonds may seem distressing, but they often work to obscure rather than to illuminate greater trends.

Those on the front lines of our criminal justice system have a different take than those who make money off it — they believe that keeping people out of jail can actually help reduce crime.

“When you don’t tear apart people’s lives, and when you keep them in contact with the things that keep them on course, they are less likely to commit crimes in the future,” Krasner said at a press conference last week.

However, there is one undeniable effect of bail reform: It stops an unconstitutional practice that kept people behind bars on the basis of their bank accounts rather than their risk to society. By that measure, these new criminal justice policies are an undeniable success.

As Texas legislators debate statewide bail policy, we encourage them to put any scary anecdotes in proper context and heed the Constitution first.