Tuesday, December 22, 2009

FORT BEND'S HISTORIC COURTHOUSE

I know many people see the outside of Fort Bend's courthouse in Richmond, Texas. Here is a great shot of the historic courtroom that now houses the 240th Judicial District Court of Texas.

The Chronicle has more pictures here. Merry Christmas, happy holidays and happy new year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

TRANSPORTATION ENHANCEMENT FUNDS




Precinct 1 has put in an application for TxDOT Transportation Enhancement Funds to approve the intersection at FM 762 and US 59. "The Herald" has more here. This is a competitive/discretionary program, so we may not be awarded the money.

This will be a good project if I can raise the funds to make the 20% match (provided we receive the grant). I'll keep everyone posted as to how it goes. We should hear about it by July of next year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

WELL RECEIVED

The "Fort Bend Herald" was at the meeting last night. Here is what they had to say. I'd like to thank all of the folks that attended and everyone that helped.

I recently returned from Washington, DC where I garnered support for the project from Senators Hutchinson and Cornyn as well as Congressman Olson. I am especially grateful to Congressman Olson and his staff for the help that they offered.

The project’s funding, in part, is dependant on the TIGER Grant Application submitted by the our office. The announcement of the awards under the TIGER Grant will be in the first week of February, 2010. Please call or write our elected officials in Washington, DC and thank them for their help and ask for their continued support.

CONGRESSMAN PETE OLSON
1650 Highway 6, Suite 150
Sugar Land, TX 77478
Phone: (281) 494-2690
Fax: (281) 494-2649

SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
1919 Smith Street
Suite 800
Houston, Texas 77002
713-653-3456
713-209-3459 (FAX)

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN
5300 Memorial Drive
Suite 980
Houston, TX 77007
Main: 713-572-3337
Fax: 713-572-3777

If you have and questions about the above project, call me at 281-344-9400.

Update. Here is the Chronicle's take.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

VETERANS DAY

This is a speech I will give on Veterans Day at my children's school.

THANK YOU MRS. MOORE, FATHER BILL AND OUR VETERANS FOR HONORING ME WITH THIS OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK ON THIS MOST SOLEMN OF OCCASIONS.

WE ARE HERE TODAY TO REMEMBER OUR VETERANS ON VETERANS DAY.

THIS DAY BEGAN IN 1918 AS ARMISTICE DAY WHERE ON THE 11TH HOUR OF THE 11TH DAY OF THE 11TH MONTH, PEACE WAS SECURED IN WORLD WAR I. AND JUST LIKE 81 YEARS AGO, TODAY AMERICANS WILL REFLECT ON THIS DAY AND REMEMBER FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHO FOUGHT IN THE PAST, THOSE THAT ARE FIGHTING TODAY, AND THOSE THAT WILL NEVER RETURN HOME FROM THE FIELD OF BATTLE.

ALL OF US IN THIS ROOM, INDEED EVERY CITIZEN OF THIS COUNTRY AND MILLIONS OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD LIVE IN PEACE TODAY BECAUSE OF THE SACRIFICE THAT OUR SOLDIERS, SAILORS, AIRMEN, MARINES, AND COAST GUARDMEN HAVE MADE.

WHEN WE THINK OF THE FREEDOMS THAT WE ENJOY IN THIS COUNTRY WE CAN THANK OUR VETERANS. A THANK YOU TO A VETERAN THAT YOU KNOW OR SEE ON THE STREET IS A THANK YOU TO THESE MEN AND WOMEN FOR THEIR SERVICE AND TO THE MORE THAN 1 MILLION VETERANS THAT HAVE MADE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFCE AND WHO’S DEBT WE CAN NEVER REPAY. YOU SEE, LIKE THE SONG SAYS, “FREEDOM ISN’T FREE.”

BUT EACH OF US CAN HONOR OUR VETERANS BY TAKING A LITTLE BIT OF TIME OUT OF OUR BUZY SCHEDULES TO SAY, “THANK YOU” TO THEM FOR THEIR SACRIFICE.

WHEN WE MEET AND ASSEMBLE TO QUESTION AND CRITICIZE THE POLICIES OF OUR PRESIDENT, OUR CONGRESS, OUR GOVERNOR AND EVEN OUR COUNTY COMMISSIONER, WE CAN THANK THE VETERANS THAT STORMED THE BEACHES OF NORMANDY AND GUADALCANAL AND TURNED THE TIDE OF A WAR OF AGRESSION STARTED BY MADMEN WHO WOULD CRUSH ALL OPPOSITION. WE CAN THANK OUR VETERANS FOR PRESERVING OUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

WHEN WE MAKE THE SIGN OF THE CROSS AS CATHOLICS, OR KNEAL ON OUR PRAYER RUGS AS MUSLIMS, OR PLACE THE STAR OF DAVID ON OUR DOOR FRAMES AS JEWS, WE CAN THANK THE VETERANS THAT SERVED IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS OF KOREA AND THE HUMID JUNGLES OF SOUTHEAST ASIA AGAINST ENEMIES WHO OUTLAWED ALL RELIGIONS. WE CAN THANK OUR VETERANS FOR PRESERVING OUR FREEDOM TO WORSHIP GOD IN THE WAY EACH OF US CHOOSES.
WHEN WE SIT DOWN AT NIGHT WITH OUR FAMILIES AND ENJOY OUR MEALS AT THE KITCHEN TABLE WE CAN THANK OUR VETERANS THAT PATIENTLY SERVED OUR COUNTRY WITH A STEEL RESOLVE IN A COLD WAR THAT LASTED 50 YEARS AGAINST AN ENEMY WHOSE PEOPLE WERE DEPRIVED OF THE MOST BASIC NECESSITIES OF LIFE. WE CAN THANK OUR VETERANS FOR THE FREEDOM FROM WANT AND DEPRIVATION.

AND FINALLY WHEN WE GO TO SLEEP AT NIGHT WE CAN THANK OUR VETERANS THAT HAVE FOUGHT SO BRAVELY IN IRAQ AND AFGANISTAN AGAINST RELIGIOUS EXTREMIST WHO USE FEAR AS A WEAPON.

WE CAN THANK OUR VETERANS FOR FIGHTING SO BRAVELY AND WITHOUT FEAR SO THAT WE CAN HAVE THE FREEDOM FROM FEAR AT HOME.

WE ALL ARE HERE TODAY TO REDEDICATE THIS DAY TO OUR VETERANS AND TO RECOGNIZE THE SACRIFICES YOU HAVE MADE. KNOW WE CAN NEVER REPAY OUR DEBT TO EACH OF YOU. BUT WE ARE HERE TODAY TO DO THE LEAST WE CAN DO, TO SAY THANK YOU, THANK YOU FOR OUR FREEDOM.

GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS, THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, AND GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NO MORE RUBBER CHICKEN

One of the things that I enjoy the least is having to attend various lunch events where rubber chicken is served and a speaker is heard. It's probably least enjoyable for me because the speaker invariably attacks democrats (of which I am one) and trial lawyers (my previous job). I realize that the people that invite me to these lunches are trying to be nice since I am the new commissioner, but I can only stand so much criticism with a smile on my face.

So, it appears that the Texas Ethics Commission has baled me out. They issued Advisory Opinion No. 484. This opinion mercifully states that an elected official cannot accept transportation, meals, or lodging from corporations or unions if the public official is there because he is a public official.

Its a good thing as far as I'm concerned. I'll loose weight and be in a much better mood. And I'll have more time to get the people of Fort Bend County's business done.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

LOCAL OPTION FOR THE GRAND PARKWAY

On March 25, 2009 Fort Bend County agreed to waive the market valuation. I voted against the waiver, but lost the vote 3-2. Under Senate Bill 792, any county that votes to waive has until September 25, 2009 to exercise the local option on the Grand Parkway. What is the "local option", you ask?

The local option essentially means that the local entity (Fort Bend County in this case) gets to develop the project itself. The County now has two years from the date that the environmental is completed to enter a contract for the construction (design, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, etc.) of the project. If such a contract is executed then the project remains in control of the local entity.

If Fort Bend did not exercise the local option then the option to develop the Grand Parkway goes to TxDOT and would likely result in the County completely losing control of the project. TxDOT would probably execute a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) with a private company and the County would have no say so or input.

I believe that voting for the local option gives the County as much control over the Grand Parkway as we can get. That's why I voted for the local option.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

PRECINCT 1 TO GET STIMULUS FOR TRANSPORTATION

Here is a list (see p. 4) of stimulus projects in Precinct 1 added by TxDOT last week. FM 2218 and 1640 are on the list as well as US 59 at FM 360. These were added because the projects letting were coming in under budget. This is great news for Richmond, Rosenberg and west Fort Bend County.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Barbar Jordan Park in Needville

The County has leased the Barbara Jordan Park in Needville for 4 years at a cost of $1/year. We have been negotiating with the park for a few months now and are happy to have finally reached a deal. I think this park is one of the best in the County.

Monday, August 17, 2009

CRABB RIVER ROAD, FM 762 and the new GEORGE RANCH HIGH SCHOOL


I am seeking the support of my neighbors in Greatwood, Tara, Canyon Gate, Bridlewood Estates, Brazos Lakes and Brazos Gardens to widen Crabb River Road and FM 762 as it passes by the new high school. The project is more fully described below:

FM 2759 (Crabb River Road) will be widened from and existing 3-lane open ditch to a 4-lane divided curb and gutter from US 59 continuing 3.4 miles through the intersection of FM 762 terminating 500 feet south of the new LCISD high school/middle school site and secondary school complex. This continuous 4-lane facility will pass through the city limits of Rosenberg and the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the City of Sugar Land and the City of Thompsons.

The project includes these additional improvements:

· Constructing a four-lane depressed section of through lanes, including on/off ramps along FM 2759 at Sansbury Blvd (Sansbury will remain at-grade) and
· Constructing a grade separation at FM 2759 and FM 762 over the BNSF Railroad with turning lanes.

I know each of you is already aware of the traffic backup on Crabb River Road and of the severe traffic problem that will be created along FM 762 when the George Ranch High School complex opens next year. I believe this project will solve both of these issues as well as afford additional safety to the traveling public by eliminating the at-grade crossing of the BNSF line.

The County seeks funding for this project under a new competitive federal grant called a TIGER Grant. I have already requested a STIP revision. in accordance with HGAC’s guidelines under the TIGER Grant Program, A draft Environmental Assessment will be submitted to TxDOT for review and forwarded to FHWA in January 2010. I anticipate receiving a FONSI by May 2011. If approved, I believe construction will be completed by December 2012 at a total project cost between $70 and $80 million.

Because Fort Bend County will be competing with 1000’s of applications from around the United States, I am trying to make our application as appealing as possible by funding 20% or $14 to $16 million of the project cost. We have a commitment from TxDOT to use a $7 million credit from the previous work completed at US 59 overpass at SH 99 for utilities and right of way costs associated with this project. Sugar Land and Rosenberg have also indicated a willingness to help fund this project. I have requested a donation from the George Foundation of the right of way required for the southern portion of the project along FM 762. All in all, I think we are well on our way to sewing up our 20% share.

One of the requirements of the TIGER Grant application is to submit as many resolutions and letters of support from local and state governments, as well as non-profits, community organizations and individuals as possible. I have received the support of the local state offices of TxDOT, as well as the City of Sugar Land and the City of Thompsons. I am requesting your support. This item will be placed on the August 25, 2009 Agenda of Commissioner’s Court. Please show up at the Travis Building (301 Jackson St., 7th Floor, Richmond, Texas) at 12:45 pm to sign up and speak on its behalf or call Judge Hebert’s Office at 281-341-8634 and let him know you support this project.
I made this project a priority in my election campaign and I once again ask your support to make it a reality. I eagerly await your support, and appreciate your consideration of this request.

Email me your questions and/or comments at:

richard.morrison@co.fort-bend.tx.us

Call my office at:

281-344-9400

Friday, March 6, 2009

CUT THE FAT

One job of the Commissioner's Court is to set the county's budget. Now that the press has reported it, I can tell you that Fort Bend has targeted a 10% cut in its budget on non-salaried items. Salaried items will be frozen at last year's budget levels. In our pre-bugdet talks, my office will meet this projections. And I am going to do my best to see that the rest of the county does the same.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A MODEST PROPOSAL

As many of you know I am against tolling the Grand Parkway. There has been some action on this issue here in Fort Bend County and statewide.

Senate Bill 792 states that market valuation means a project valuation that is based on agreed project terms and conditions, including initial toll rate and toll rate escalation methods. It takes account of the project traffic and revenue study, using agreed upon assumptions, an agreed project scope, market research, estimated costs of project finance, construction, operation and maintenance. SB 792 also allows the market valuation agreement to be waived.
In other words a market valuation is a financial-type appraisal that establishes the net monetary value of a toll project based on its expected revenues (from tolls and other sources) and its costs (financing, construction, and O&M) over the time frame established by the term of the agreement. Its an important tool to check the financial viability of toll projects.

The objective of the Market Valuation appears to be the quantification of the economic potential of a toll project. The way I read the statute, the market valuation study is the line of defense for common sense in funding these toll projects. It this requirement is waived, the Grand Parkway can be built as a tollroad whether it makes economic sense or not.

Texas stands to receive $2.25 billion in transportation funding from Washington, D.C. This funding is critical to maintain and upgrade our transportation infrastructure in Texas. It is also critical to stimulate the Texas economy. It will create jobs starting with the engineers who design these roads to the construction crews who build them.

The Texas Transportation Commission (TxDoT), appointed by Gov. Perry, has recommended that the East Region; including Beaumont, Bryan, Houston and Lufkin receive $431,516,770 for transportation projects. From this amount over 53%, or $231,000,000, will be spent on the construction of toll roads. These recommendations ignore the federal law that requires these funds to be spent in economically distressed areas and ignore the will of ordinary Texans who are opposed to our tax dollars being spent on Toll Roads and see these schemes as a type of double taxation.

Fort Bend has consistently been one of the fastest growing counties in the country for the last ten years. As a County Commissioner in Fort Bend County, I am on the front lines of mobility issues on a daily basis. Many of my constituents have a deep distrust of government and these actions by TxDoT only confirm that distrust. Since TxDoT’s recent recommendations I have been asked, ‘how is it that tax dollars will be spent on a road that will also be tolled’ and ‘aren’t roads that are paid for with tax dollars usually free?’ These are valid questions that Gov. Perry should be required to explain.

Unfortunately, Gov. Perry has taken the position that toll roads are the preferred method of financing our public roads in Texas. And many of our current mobility projects have been designed according to this policy. Tolling the Grand Parkway is a prime example of the shortsightedness of TxDoT and our regional planners. Powerful interest with goals other than mobility have been pushing this “outer-loop” for over 30 years and ignoring the other long-term mobility needs of the area. As a result, Segment E is one of the few “shovel-ready” projects in the Houston-Galveston area.

Now this shortsightedness is finally bearing fruit. If Segment E is funded from the stimulus money and finally constructed, exorbitant tolls from this segment will be used to finance and construct the remaining segments in Liberty, Montgomery, Brazoria, Chambers, and Galveston Counties. That means the citizens of Fort Bend County and North-west Harris County will be paying for those segments even though they never drive on them. From a mobility standpoint many of these remaining segments are useless. Miles and miles of the remaining pieces will cross open prairie where no one lives, will have little or no effect on traffic and are not needed. When our transportation dollars from Washington D.C. are desperately needed to get people to and from our population centers, it only seems reasonable that the federal stimulus money should be spent on actual mobility projects.

A solution to this ridiculous dilemma is for Gov. Perry to show some courage and demand that the legislature index the gasoline tax to inflation. After all, the gasoline tax is one of the fairer taxes, ‘the more you drive, the more you pay.’ Of course, if the Legislature decides to pass this tax, it must also insure that all of the tax revenue raised from gasoline taxes will be spent on roads. It can no longer be raided for other needs of the State. Gov. Perry should take a leadership role in making sure this happens. It will take courage, but it is the right thing for Texas.

In the mean time I will continue my crusade against tolling the Grand Parkway. There will be more opportunities in the future to kill this project. I thank you for your help.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

IS FORT BEND SINKING?

Subsidence is an issue on the Gulf Coast.

Land subsidence is sinking of the land surface. The elevation of the land surface is lowered by compressing the many layers of clay beneath the land surface. In the greater Houston area, land subsidence is caused by the withdrawal of groundwater. When we pump large amounts of groundwater from the aquifers beneath us, we pull water out of the many layers of clay, which allows the clay to compact under the weight of everything above them.

A subdivsion in Baytown has been turned into a park because it sunk and is now underwater.

The Fort Bend Subsidence District was created by the Texas Legislature in 1988 with the intent to study and prevent subsidence in Fort Bend. I was at the Rose/Rich Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Meeting on Wednesday morning when I saw a presentation from the Subsidence District.

The County is split into three areas.



Precinct 1 covers everything south and west of the Brazos. It also includes Sienna Plantation from the Brazos north to McKeever Road, Teal Run, Fresno and Arcola.

The next slide shows that most of the pumping of groundwater is in Area A. The Richmond/Rosenberg Subarea and Area B have remained fairly constant over the years.



The current plan is for Area A to reduce its groundwater usage 30% by 2013 (2015 for the Rich/Rose subarea) and 60% by 2025. Area B is exempt from conversion. As the Commissioner of the largest rural precinct in Fort Bend, I will represent the interest of the farmers and ranchers to make sure that Area B remains exempt.



Thursday, February 12, 2009

PROGRESS FOR KENDLETON


Road and Bridge crews have been working on the extension of Wicks Road near Kendleton. County employees are shown adding material to extend this road which will connect Hilltop Road to FM 2219 just north of Kendleton's city limits. The completion of this project will provide the residents on Hilltop a safer alternative to access U.S. 59.

This is only a start. Kendleton is in the far western portion of Fort Bend County. It is one of several places in the County that have missed out on the past two decades of Fort Bend's growth. Its new Mayor, Darryl Humphrey, Sr. has a great vision for Kendleton. And since I believe that you are only as strong as your weakest link, I'm gonna do all I can to help him achieve it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

GOOD TIMES

Some pics of a successful quail hunt on the Walton Ranch. I would like to thank Sammy Pyle for inviting me and the folks at Walton Ranch for hosting. I had a great time. It is always fun to watch good dogs work.




Fried quail, biscuits, rice and white gravy is one of the best meals ever.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Open Meetings Act

I have been asked by many constituents how Commissioners get through the agenda in about an hour and have so little discussion about each item before we vote. I will try and explain. For more background, go here, here and here.

First, Commissioner's meetings are governed by the Texas Open Meeting Act.

The Open Meetings Act (the “Act”) was adopted to help make governmental decision-making accessible to the public. It requires meetings of governmental bodies to be open to the public, except for expressly authorized closed sessions, and to be preceded by public notice of the time, place and subject matter of the meeting. The provisions of the Act are mandatory and are to be liberally construed in favor of open government.

That's the policy. As the law is written, it is pretty simple, "every regular, special, or called meeting of a governmental body shall be open to the public,
except as provided by this chapter." That sounds easy, but the law is never as easy as it reads.

Each word in that simple sentence has a definition that is defined by the Act. You can read these definitions here. The common thread among the definitions is that there must be a quorum (3 members of the Court) present to deliberate or have a meeting.

If the Act is violated then the Court's actions could be voidable and if one conspires to circumvent the chapter then that person or persons are subject to criminal penalties.

Now, with the law out of the way comes the facts. Each Commissioner receives a separate request in draft form for each agenda item. In my office they mostly come over the fax machine. They can and do come from many departments in the County. Included with each agenda request is the back-up documentation. So far there have been no exciting agenda items. Each has been mostly mundane business of the County. One of my first requests was a request for a computer for my assistant. Hers crashed during the move and we had to have a new one. We sent out our draft to all of the Commissioners as well as the budget office and the auditor's office. We explained in our agenda request that we did not have the funds in our office to pay for the new computer and therefore it would come out of non-budgeted contingency. It was approved.

By the Monday before Court I have the draft agendas placed in a notebook where I review them to see if the backup and the request match. If I have a question about one of the items from another department I'll call that department and get them to explain it to me. At this point I'm new so I probably ask a lot of stupid questions, but mainly I'm just trying to understand what each document means.

My concern about this process lies with what occurs on the Thursday before Court. Staff members of some Commissioners have a regular meeting every Thursday and discuss the draft agenda. I believe that this meeting could (and I want to emphasize could) be in conflict with the Act. I have drafted this letter to Roy Cordes, the Fort Bend County Attorney. I believe the letter speaks for itself.




I would like to see these staff meetings open to the public. I believe that would solve all of the issues.

Monday, January 12, 2009

STATE REVENUE DOWN 10%

This is not a "Commissioner" issue per se, but it affects us all.

The State Comptroller has just come out with the revenue estimate. It appears that the available general revenue for the upcoming biennium will be 10% less than the previous biennium according to the State Comptroller's Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE). The new total is $77.1 billion compared to the current biennium's $ 82.5 billion. The BRE confirms that State budget writers will not have extensive flexibility to fund new projects and initiatives.

Will our Legislators have the guts to fund our deteriorating infrastructure, lower higher education costs, restore chip funding, and rein in higher utility and insurance costs? The new speaker gives me hope.

Kuff has more.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

WHAT DOES A COUNTY COMMISSIONER DO?

I can't tell you how many people have asked me this question. The office is set by the Texas Constitution, Article 5, Section 18 b):

Each county shall, in the manner provided for justice of the peace and constable precincts, be divided into four commissioners precincts in each of which there shall be elected by the qualified voters thereof one County Commissioner, who shall hold his office for four years and until his successor shall be elected and qualified. The County Commissioners so chosen, with the County Judge as presiding officer, shall compose the County Commissioners Court, which shall exercise such powers and jurisdiction over all county business, as is conferred by this Constitution and the laws of the State, or as may be hereafter prescribed.

Richard O. Avery and Stacy Morris wrote a great one page article that tells it way better than I can.