Harris County Democrats Once Again Look to Defund Police Through Budget Loophole
Today I am informing you of an item on next Tuesday’s Commissioner Court Agenda that could have an impact on your safety and security of your neighborhood.
Over the past couple of years, Harris County Constables have witnessed incremental increases in the cost of the Contract Deputy Program by the Harris County Commissioner Court. They increased the cost by 4.9% in 2022, 5% in 2023, and the proposal for next year is 14%. In all, this will be a 26% increase over the cost you paid in 2021. In addition, the proposal will require any newly added positions to be billed at 100%, deviating from the previous 70/30 or 80/20 split for neighborhood contracts.
Harris County’s proposal has potential ramifications, with many neighborhoods contemplating withdrawal from the contract deputy program—a move contrary to the current demand for increased law enforcement presence to combat RISING CRIME RATES. This is not sustainable and will cause a decrease in law enforcement’s boots on the ground.
Harris County Budget Director, Daniel Ramos began discussions on the Contract Deputy Program at the last Commissioners Court meeting.. During the meeting in court, Ramos claimed “there was no way to track if the county was getting their 30%” and that he “heard” that the county was just paying in 30% to subsidize neighborhoods and MUDs so the County would need to end it. It was later learned that the Harris County Budget Director had not even met with the Constables to confirm that what he heard was indeed true. Ramos was hired by County officials in 2022, and previously served as the deputy chief administrative officer for the City of Baltimore, which dramatically cut its police budget in 2020. So one may surmise as to why Ramos was hired.
Shortly after the Commissioners Court meeting ended, Chief Deputy Donald Stewart fired off a letter to Ramos correcting many of the false statements made by the County’s Budget Director in Commissioners Court.
Last week you held meetings to inform Harris County law enforcement about your recommendations for drastic changes to the contract deputy program. You made these recommendations without first consulting law enforcement or other justice partners, claiming it was just your job to find the money. You did not have these meetings to work together and find solutions; you had these meetings to let law enforcement know what your recommendations are. You painted a picture that the County needed to either make cut backs or address shortfalls, which, while we may not like it, if it is something happening across the board we can work to accept that. However, you spoke at last night's commissioners court meeting and changed your tune significantly.
You kept using our Department's Tomball ISD contract as the example, even stating that Constable Herman and TISD entered into a contract together.
You kept saying that the County subsidizes the contract deputy program.
The County Judge then asked you to explain that.
You tell the Judge how 70/30 contracts are funded.
The Judge then correctly asks you how that is subsidizing if both parties are paying into the program and getting the services.
You then tell the Judge, the entire court, all of the members of public in the courtroom, and all the members of the public watching court via live-stream, that you "heard" that 70/30 contracts were being treated like 100% contracts and that deputies were spending 100% of their time in 70/30 contracts.
You then claim there are no mechanisms to track that, which is not accurate.
The Judge then asks you if you are recommending the 100% then, "just in case"? And you responded yes.
You are the Department Head of OMB and you openly explained to the County Judge and Commissioners that you are making drastic recommendations to public safety with significant long-term consequences, because you "heard" something. Then you openly admit to Court that there are no mechanisms to track what you "heard". Therefore, you are making drastic recommendations based upon an opinion? Rumor? Misinformation? Disinformation? You had two meetings last week with two members of my senior management team and our elected official, and you told all of them that it was your job to find the money. You never once asked questions about how we or other law enforcement agencies manage 70/30 contracts. You never once shared with us concerns you "heard" about. You tell us it's your job to find the money, but you tell the entire commissioners court that in effect, the Precinct 4 Constable's Office and Harris County law enforcement are either 1) mismanaging their contracts, 2) unethically or possibly illegally abusing the contract deputy program, and / or 3) are unable to manage 70/30 contracts therefore we can only handle 100%.
You are the Director of OMB. You are a data person. You are a numbers person. Moreover, you decide to make recommendations to court based off misinformation, disinformation, and things you have "heard". That is incredibly irresponsible and unbecoming of your position, in what should be an objective, non-political, unbiased department head.
And then, to insinuate that the Precinct 4 Constable's Office and Tomball ISD, led by Dr. Martha Salazar-Zamora, who just won multiple awards for being Superintendent of the Year and is a true public servant, are mismanaging or abusing the contract deputy program, in a public forum, is one of the most egregious things I've seen and heard in my 30 years of employment with Harris County.
In fact, based on a 2,080 hour work year, which is 260 days, 89 of those days TISD schools are closed. With the exception of two campuses open during the summer which require a single deputy each to work part-time, deputies provide law enforcement services to TISD approximately 65.8% of the time, with the remaining 34.2% of time being spent supplementing patrol, working Commissioner Ramsey and Commissioner Briones’ Parks in Precinct 3 and 4, and handling other County and Precinct matters. This in fact means that TISD is actually subsidizing the County, not the reverse. Your accusation that Precinct 4 is spending 100% of time in a 70/30 contract means that deputies would be working 89 days a year working closed schools and empty parking lots. This accusation is not just completely inaccurate and without any merit, the mere suggestion and insinuation is offensive to law enforcement, Tomball ISD, the public, and the office you hold.
Again, you are the Department Head of OMB of Harris County, TX. With your background and credentials, I wouldn't think this would need to be explained to you, but stakeholder meetings, discussions, and not making decisions and recommendations in a vacuum, all help contribute to honest and accurate dialogue, recommendations, and decision making. But instead of meeting with law enforcement to have your questions answered, concerns addressed, and facts be discovered and discussed, you embarrassed yourself, you embarrassed the newly appointed County Administrator, and you failed at providing the elected County Judge and Commissioners with factual, unbiased, accurate, information to support your recommendation.
I don't know what your intentions are behind your unwillingness or refusal to meet with law enforcement prior to making law enforcement recommendation. However, one can only imagine that either you don't prioritize public safety, you don't have the best interests of the community in mind, or you, as an appointed non-political Department Head, is working to create political talking points at the beginning of election season, by accusing elected officials and departments of mismanaging and at worse lying, about their handling of the contract deputy program.
Additionally, at least two other questionable observations were made regarding your actions.
The County has had a practice of giving a year’s notice of contract rate increases and we are already nearly two months into this fiscal year.
You made the comment that newer contracts are part of department’s adjusted budgets, which is exempt from SB23. What is your intent behind that comment? Is decreasing law enforcement positions and / or preventing growth acceptable to you? You are again discussing in open court that positions that are currently filled by law enforcement employees are not protected, which again contributes to retention and turnover issues.
In one part of your discussion you discuss the need to remain compliant with statutes related to recouping direct and indirect contract costs and the second part of your conversation, you are openly discussing methods to circumvent SB23. Is it your position that we should be compliant with laws or circumventing laws?
In an effort to repair the damage you have done and provide factual information to all parties, we will be asking to have a meeting with Commissioners, their Chiefs of Staffs or other reps, OMB, County Administrator Ramirez, and other important stakeholders. We value the opportunity to meet with partners and stakeholders, create a dialogue, answer questions, address concerns, and provide any clarification needed to ensure all relevant County departments have the correct understanding of the contract deputy program.
If you have any questions, please let me know. This letter is also being sent to County Administrator Ramirez, County Judge Hidalgo, and our four Commissioners.
Donald E. Steward, Chief Deputy
There are very easy ways for the County to gather metrics that show exactly how much time the deputy spends in and outside of the contract. The idea behind 70/30 or 80/20 is that the neighborhood can select 70 percent and then the county gets to use that deputy 30 percent of the time by helping with calls outside of the contract, training, or patrolling roads near the contract. Alternatively, if someone has a 100%, a supervisor can still pull the deputy anytime they choose, and the neighborhood does not get additional time or a refund.
This issue potentially is an attack on Constables like the County Democrats have tried historically to do when they attempted to move all deputy contract programs under the Sheriff.
To read further on the issue, please look into Holly Hansen’s article at the Texan