Q&A: Harris County Commissioner for Pct. 3 candidates discuss the issues

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 10/3/20

After more than 30 years in office, Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack announced last year that he would not be running for reelection. The announcement makes it certain that for the first time …

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Q&A: Harris County Commissioner for Pct. 3 candidates discuss the issues

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After more than 30 years in office, Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack announced last year that he would not be running for reelection. The announcement makes it certain that for the first time in decades, Harris County will have a new commissioner in the precinct 3 seat.

Two candidates are running for the seat Radack is vacating. Democrat Michael Moore is facing Republican Tom Ramsey to determine who will be Radack’s successor.

Each candidate was provided the questions below at the same time and had the same deadline and word count restrictions in order to ensure fairness. Responses are lightly edited for clarity.

Tell us about yourself:

Moore: I served as Chief of Staff to former Houston Mayor Bill White, helping manage the fourth largest city in our country with a multi-billion dollar budget. IHe was the mayor’s point person for Houston’s response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, working closely with local, state and federal emergency responders.  I co-chair the Senior Care Facility Coronavirus Task Force, which is working to keep our seniors safe and healthy. I will use my experience to help repair our economy. I will focus on investing in infrastructure to prevent flooding, upgrading roads and transportation options, and improving county healthcare services.

Web: www.mooreforcommissioner.com
Social: www.facebook.com/MooreForCommissioner3

Ramsey: I am running because I believe every resident has the right to feel safe in their own home, benefit from proper infrastructure and keep more of their hard earned money by paying lower taxes.  As Mayor of Spring Valley, I cut the tax rate by 21%, invested over $38 million in infrastructure and flood control projects and led the city to being named the safest in Harris County according to FBI statistics. For these accomplishments, I was named, along with Judge Ed Emmett, the "Elected Official of the Year" in 2017. I will bring this same proven leadership to Commissioners Court.

Web: www.votetomramsey.com
Social: www.facebook.com/votetomramsey

Q: What steps do you feel Harris County should take to help residents recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Moore: Getting the pandemic under control is key to rebuilding our economy. I co-chair the Senior Care Facility Coronavirus Task Force – and we are listening to doctors and scientists, not self-interested politicians, as we work to keep our seniors safe and healthy during this crisis.

We need to support small businesses by extending the county’s small business recovery grants program and get the state to do their part.

We need to speed up infrastructure projects – including flood prevention and road projects – that create good jobs and boost the local economy.

We do NOT need to raise taxes giving residents and small businesses some breathing room during the recovery.

And we need to close unfair corporate tax loopholes so that everyone is paying their fair share. Right now, corporate property tax appraisal loopholes allow large commercial property owners to undervalue their properties – and when they pay less, we have to pay more to make up the difference.

Some of these proposals will involve legislation at the state level. I will fight to make sure Harris County – which has more voters by far than any other county in Texas – uses that leverage to get the assistance we need from the state.                        

Ramsey: Economic recovery begins with a lower tax rate.  We cannot burden citizens with historic tax increases like the democrats on Commissioners Court proposed in 2019. I will provide the balance needed on the court to ensure that these tax increases do not happen. 

The court must also get back to the basics of prioritizing expenses to provide for safe neighborhoods and proper infrastructure for roads and flood control.

Safe neighborhoods - for our economy to grow, residents must feel safe in their homes, grocery stores, places of business or houses of worship. While Mayor, I led Spring Valley to being named the safest city in Harris County.  I will bring that leadership to Commissioners Court.

I will work to maintain and improve Pct. 3 road and flood control infrastructure. The ability to go to and from one's job is critical to maintaining a healthy economy and this can only happen when our roads and bridges are properly maintained. Additionally, our economy can recover and thrive when communities can be free from the threat of constant flooding. The voters approved a $2.5 billion bond issuance for flood control projects.  Getting those projects moving immediately will be one of my top priorities.

Q: As the precinct continues to see rapid growth, what will you do to protect and expand green spaces throughout precinct 3?

Moore: Protecting and expanding green spaces is a huge priority for me. It’s the triple crown of good public policy: It improves our quality of life, helps control flooding, and provides positive benefits for clean air and clean water.

When I served as Chief of Staff to former Houston Mayor Bill White, I was involved in the creation of Houston’s signature urban park – Discovery Green – which has become a model for urban parks across the country.

Protecting and expanding our green infrastructure – including building new parks, restoring natural areas like the Katy Prairie and continuing the development of a precinct-wide trail system connecting residents in Precinct 3 to the Katy Prairie and to multiple parks and other green spaces in the precinct – are all part of my six-part plan, which is detailed in my answer to the question on flood mitigation below.

Ramsey: Pct. 3 has 61 parks and 14,888 acres of green spaces which are the pride and joy of the community; contributing to our excellent quality of life. 

We should take every opportunity to acquire land or have it donated to create additional parks and green spaces which will be critical to servicing population growth.

In addition to family, sporting and other recreation activities, our parks, conservation lands and wetlands help in mitigating the impact of flooding. They make a tremendous difference in the unincorporated area of Pct 3, which is 75% of the Pct, and help in the incorporated areas of Houston as well.

My company assisted Harris County in developing the tool kit of solutions regarding the marrying of green space infrastructure and flood mitigation. 

We should always seize on incremental improvements like the Katy (Prairie) Conservancy does. An example of this is Bunker Hill Village Strey Lane Project which avoided a bottleneck and was able to get this community critical flood control improvements. In Harvey, no one flooded in Bunker Hill.

Q: With a growing population comes growing traffic. What will you do as commissioner, if elected, to maintain and improve mobility throughout precinct 3 which has limited walkability in some areas?

Moore: Precinct 3 is very diverse, both in terms of its people, and also in the kinds of neighborhoods we live in and the places where we work. That’s why we need a multi-pronged approach with a variety of transportation options.

I supported the METRONext measure on last year’s ballot because it focused on numerous options. The METRO plan extends HOV lanes to Katy Mills and adds more Park and Ride locations. Metro’s plan also focuses on a regional express network, bus rapid transit and boosting their signature bus services to many parts of precinct 3.

Transportation is huge issue for precinct 3. We will continue to be one of the fastest growing regions in our state and we need to focus our resources on high capacity transit options for the future.

In addition to expanding transportation options, we need to upgrade existing streets and roads. If elected, I will perform an audit of the precinct’s Traffic Hot Spots, to focus resources and bring more transparency and accountability to how road funds are used. We need to make sure that design and construction contracts are being used where they are needed most – rather than being handed over to big campaign contributors.

Ramsey: There are 1,879 miles of road in Pct. 3 which need to be maintained so we can keep traffic moving.  We can (begin) by ensuring that every penny earmarked for our road and bridge building, maintenance and improvement gets spent on those items.  Unfortunately, the Democrat controlled court recently approved a different entity to handle the funds previously supervised by HCTRA.  The only mandate for this new entity is to spend the funds to "invest in this community."  This means that the current $300 million balance, and $90 million annually moving forward, which were heretofore designated to help maintain our roads, can now be used for anything that the majority of the court desires.  This will, most assuredly, negatively impact our roads and bridges because of the lack of oversight and funding.  This is unacceptable and must be rectified right away. 

I have significant experience building roadways that have helped reduce congestion including the Hardy Toll Road and hundreds of other projects in Pct. 3 and 50 other Texas counties and cites.

My company also built the ACEC Award-winning Birnamwood Roadway improvements which became a model for the entire country.  I have the proven experience to keep traffic moving in Pct. 3.

Q: Harris County faces serious drainage concerns as Hurricane Harvey and more recently Tropical Depression Beta have shown us. While improvements have been made, what are two specific things you will do as commissioner to improve flood mitigation/drainage in precinct 3?

Moore: I will use a regional approach to coordinate all levels of government, push to expedite projects already underway, and prioritize green infrastructure. Rice University’s flooding expert Jim Blackburn has endorsed my campaign.

My plan includes:

(1) Increase protected/preserved lands, striving to double the county portion of the Katy Prairie Conservancy and double the current 10,000 acres under their control.

(2) Restore the land on the Katy Prairie and many other nature-based infrastructure areas. Let the Prairie be a sponge that holds back floodwaters, allowing other areas to drain.

(3) Enlarge and enhance land on both sides of all waterways throughout Harris County on our creeks, bayous and large green spaces to keep people safe from flooding.

(4) Continue creation of a precinct-wide trail system connecting residents to the Katy Prairie and to multiple parks and other green spaces in the precinct, including reservoirs, levees, detention areas and utility corridors.

(5) Limit major thoroughfares through the Katy Prairie Conservancy and keep existing roads as minor connector roads.

(6) Advocate at the state and federal levels to designate the Katy Prairie Conservancy as state or federal protected lands and to conserve 24 percent of undeveloped regional lands as natural spaces by 2040.

Ramsey: 1) With significant input from residents in all 22 watersheds, voters approved a $2.5 billion flood control bond initiative. Federal, state, and local partners added another $2.4 billion which means we are currently working on 181 projects with a $4.9 Billion budget. These projects must move forward as quickly as possible. 

2) As Mayor of Spring Valley, I invested over $38 million in infrastructure and flood control projects.  As a result, no homes flooded during Harvey.  We need to take this neighborhood by neighborhood approach to addressing flooding. I understand how to effectively implement such a program. Immediately, we can begin to broaden our storm water detention capacity throughout Pct. 3 and the county.

I have often been called upon for my expertise and have significant drainage project experience including the Brazoria County Master Drainage Plan, Galveston County Master Drainage Plan and the Harris County Drainage Plan Update.

Q: Politics has become very partisan, even at the county level. What will you do to reach across the political divide to serve your constituents rather than hold an inflexible party line?

Moore: My experience has been in nonpartisan government, where I juggled multiple constituencies and brought Republicans and Democrats together to get the job done. I would submit that my experience in nonpartisan government will ease the tension on the current Commissioners Court. I am a practical person, not an ideologue, who knows how to build coalitions and who will listen carefully to my constituents and fellow commissioners.

In my role as chief of staff to former Houston Mayor Bill White, I saw first-hand how a well-run local government benefits everyone – regardless of your politics. I helped oversee a $2 billion general fund budget and a city workforce of over 20,000 employees providing services to a city of 2 million people. Most notably, I helped implement innovative solutions to ease freeway traffic and helped coordinate response efforts to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike. I was part of the city’s team that dealt with the economic downturn during the Great Recession between 2007-2009, without cutting city services.

From flooding and traffic to safer neighborhoods and better parks, schools and health care – I will work with anyone, anywhere to get the results we need and deserve in Precinct 3.

Ramsey: Watching my dad serve as a Pastor for over 60 years, being married to my wonderful bride, Marsha, for 48 years, teaching two Sunday School classes at Second Baptist Church, running a successful small business and serving as mayor has taught me a valuable lesson and skill…how to listen.  Another thing I've learned is that every person, regardless of political affiliation, has the right to feel safe in their own home, experience the benefit of properly maintained infrastructure and keep more of their money by paying a lower tax rate.

I am honored that so many have recognized my qualifications, support my core messages and have endorsed my candidacy, including Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle; Harris County Constables Ted Heap and Mark Herman, The Houston Police Officers Union; the Harris County Deputies' Organization, The Houston Realty Business Coalition; The C Club, the American Council of Engineering Companies-Houston, Texas Right to Life and hundreds of other citizens and groups.  While I'm proud to be the Republican nominee for County Commissioner, I'm also honored to have endorsements from groups who traditionally support Democratic candidates such as the Baptist Ministers Association (the oldest and largest minority pastors organization in the area).

Q: Commissioner Radack has served for more than three decades. What new ideas do you intend to bring to the table now that a new commissioner will be sworn in?

Moore: I appreciate Commissioner Radack’s long-time service to the residents of Precinct 3. I also appreciate his recognition that, as Precinct 3 has changed dramatically in the last three decades, it’s time for new leadership.

I plan to be a commissioner for all of Precinct 3 and not just of selected areas or communities. I will be a hands-on elected official and will be in the community. I will establish a new community outreach team for Precinct 3 that will be responsible for establishing communications throughout the precinct to give all the precinct a voice. Currently we do not have that in Precinct 3.

I will also take a more proactive, aggressive approach to flood mitigation, including holding the Army Corps of Engineers accountable.  For example, the CORPS has delayed its interim report on fixing the problems at the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. And its published timeline to do the work is a whopping 23 years.

The last study by the Corps was done in 1995 – and the decision was to do nothing. Our region cannot afford another cycle of more talk, a long study, more delays, people forgetting about it, a devastating storm, finger-pointing, repeat.

Ramsey: For 32 years, Commissioner Steve Radack has served Pct. 3 with honor and distinction, and I am humbled to have his endorsement to serve as the new Commissioner.  When Commissioner Radack took office, there were 9 parks, now we have 61, the constable program, which protects families, businesses and property, has flourished under his leadership, and our many community and senior centers are treasured by residents.  I will continue his excellent legacy while bringing my expertise to the court. 

As a business owner in Pct. 3, I employed hundreds and completed multiple engineering projects in the area.  As Mayor, I cut the tax rate by 21%, invested over $38 million in infrastructure and flood control projects and led Spring Valley to being named the safest city in Harris County. I have additional leadership experience including serving on the Harris County Storm Water Task Force, President of the local chapter of American Public Works Association, President of the Harris County Mayor Council Association, President of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Treasurer of Loving Kids (an organization to help children who are in need). 

I have the experience to hit the ground running on day one.

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