County Judge Vows to Strengthen Ethics In Government

Ed Emmett
Ethics took center stage at Harris County Judge Ed Emmett's first "state of the county" address as questions swirl around several elected officials. Emmett, who took over for Robert Eckels last March, says it's a priority for the county to do things right, and he has a plan to get that done. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The judge was making a point about juvenile crime when the "e" word slipped-out.

"It's not one of those things that the public likes to focus on. I don't get a whole lot of e-mails about it. I promised myself I wasn't going to mention e-mails today at all, but nevertheless. Sorry, that one just slipped out."

It was a way for Emmett to address what has been front page news in Houston the past month or so, the e-mail scandal involving Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and other questions surrounding County Commissioner Jerry Eversole's use of campaign funds. Emmett says he's launched efforts to make sure everyone is clear on the right way to do business. 

"I have initiated discussions with the Texas Ethics Commission, county officials and legal ethics experts to develop specific steps that can be taken at the county and state levels to address any perception of unfairness and wrongdoing, because perception becomes reality. Reality doesn't have to even be there. It's perception that takes hold."  
Emmett says it only makes sense to address what has become a distraction for elected officials.

"When I took office, I had to go through open meetings training. I knew open meetings, but still, that's the requirement. You become a county judge, you have to go through open-meetings training. If you have judicial functions, you have to go through that training. Well, why don't we go through ethics training? That way we don't have a lot of the confusion that seems to have been around."  

The judge says he also plans to form a citizen's advisory task force on ethics reform later this year, an outside group to advise the county on the public's concerns about ethics. County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia says leaders should step-up now.

"Quite frankly I'm not sure that we should wait for a task force and a study. I think it's clear to me from all the news reports and what I keep hearing around as I travel around the county that the public wants us to act. I think we could do some things now voluntarily. We could all just agree we want to police ourselves. We want to do this, pass a resolution outlining guidelines, outlining standards. We could probably do it next court meeting."    

Emmett is running for re-election and faces former District Clerk Charles Bacarisse in the March GOP primary.

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Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...