HOUSTON - With little notice to voters and taxpayers, a "seismic shift" in the governance of Harris County was approved in a typical 3-2 vote along partisan lines.
"We got to modernize man, this is so, it's very wonky. I can't run a re-election on this topic. I'm doing it because it matters for good government and I ran for good government," said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
And with that, Hidalgo altered the fundamental structure of government for nearly 5 million people.
With the aid of two Democratic Commissioners, Hidalgo will appoint a County Administrator to be granted far-reaching authority to "streamline" and "coordinate" operations.
"A consistent level of quality throughout all departments, because right now there is nobody ensuring that it's consistent and follows certain standards," said Hidalgo.
Hidalgo, who frequently touts her commitment to "transparency", introduced the measure late last week with no public input or hearings and refused pleas from Republican Commissioners to delay the vote so that citizens could vet a concept many view as a "naked power grab"
"Public transparency we get an "F" on, in terms of this issue," said Tom Ramsey, Harris County Commissioner for Precinct 3.
Hidalgo and Commissioner Rodney Ellis contend most major Counties in Texas and many across the nation have hired administrators.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle responded by suggesting that few of those jurisdictions have produced a level of governance worthy of emulation.
"We don't have a massive exodus of people from Harris County going to Los Angeles or going to Chicago or going to Orange County, going to those places. We have people from those places coming here. Maybe the concept that they have the better practices is not proved out with the fact that people are voting with their feet," said Cagle who joined Ramsey in opposing the measure.
The budget for the new county administrator and several "deputy administrators" was set at $2 million.
Citizens offering criticism suggested it's hard to fathom how a new bureaucracy and additional employees will make county government less expensive and more effective.
"I'm willing to move y'all to a country that has a queen and king and y’all go there and live happily ever after. I'm serious as a heart attack," said Skip Nelson of Spring during a brief public comment period.