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Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis Speaks at HCA March Luncheon

Wednesday, May 10, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jeff Nielsen
April Cover Story 2017

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis Speaks at HCA March Luncheon

The Houston Contractors Association was proud to welcome the newest member of Harris County’s Commissioner’s Court, Commissioner Rodney Ellis as the speaker for the HCA March luncheon.  Commissioner Ellis recently won the special election to fill the spot on the ballot left vacant by El Franco Lee after his sudden passing.  Prior to that he was known as Senator Ellis and was the third highest ranking official in the Senate, having served for 26 years in Austin.  

Commissioner Ellis started his comments by telling the crowd that one of his first career desires was to be an engineer.  He stated that while in middle school he won second place award in a UIL math competition which he accredited to his use of the slide rule he carried with him back then.  He joked about what might have been if he had not joined the debate team in high school.  

Commissioner Ellis next talked about what he has learned about the position since taking the seat in January.  He stated that with the county, many of the operating rules are unwritten.  He noted that over the 26 years that he spent in the Texas legislature, when he told someone new about how things were done in Austin, it was usually the way he wanted to see things done, but that is not the case in commissioner’s court.  He did state that each commissioner has more independence than he originally thought, and that independence acts as a calming agent on the court, keeping commissioners from meddling in affairs of their fellow commissioners.

Ellis stated that he had no idea that there were so many people living in the unincorporated portion of Harris County, before running for the seat.  Based on recent census trends more people are in the unincorporated portion of Harris County than are in the City of Houston.  That is a real dilemma, stated Ellis, since the City is no longer annexing territory, the municipal utility districts in the unincorporated areas will need to work with the county to pool resources in order to maintain the public infrastructure.  Ellis did say that 80% of his district is inside the city limits, but that is not the case with the other precincts.  Ellis stated that regarding the street projects that he is looking at, he is going to take an analytical approach.  Many of the projects that were up for construction he has pulled down for further review.  The Commissioner said that there are a lot of people telling him what El Franco was going to do with these projects, but he has hired a private firm to review all of the pending projects and help him decide which projects make sense in terms of mobility for the precinct.  Ellis said that he doesn’t believe that it makes any sense to build a park in an area if there is an existing park already close by but belongs to another precinct or city.  At a time of limited resources you need to look regionally as opposed to looking at what other entities have control over. “Most people don’t know where the precinct lines are anyway, until they get mad.” said Ellis.

Commissioner Ellis also discussed the current topic of bail reform and why contractors should be concerned with what is happening on that topic. The commissioner stated that if we can be smart on crime and find a way to not spend so much money to warehouse people for insignificant violations, then we can have more money to spend on other things such as infrastructure.  Ellis talked about the flaws in the current system where the judge appoints the lawyer for people who cannot afford a lawyer.  He compared this to letting the judge pick your lawyer at a divorce proceeding.

Commissioner Ellis closed his remarks by stating that this will be the last office he runs for.  He did, however note that he is in very good shape, is a healthy person and plans to be around for a very long time.  He is 62 now but feels that he should be able to last another 20 years in office based off of his family history of longevity.