A Rare Appointment and County 101

County government is one of those entities that few people understand and even fewer people notice.

If one mentions the “County Judge”, it usually requires an explanation that “no, he’s not a Judge but the County Executive.”

Every county in the State of Texas has one County Judge and four County Commissioners. It doesn’t matter if the county has less than 1000 people or as many as 5 million. The numbers stay the same. The County Judge is essentially the CEO but he/she has a very powerful Board of Directors.

In Harris County, the County Judge is actually somewhat less powerful than the four County Commissioners. Each Commissioner serves as essentially a Mayor for their precinct. They control road and bridge funds, parks, and most basic services. They have direct control over their budgets and have more money to spend than the County Judge.

Most county-wide decisions on budgets, operations and policy are set by the entire Court where the County Judge is reduced to one of five.

In Harris County these days, the Court is composed of four Republicans and one Democrat. While County Judge Ed Emmett is a Republican, he has difficulty in winning county reform votes he has advocated from his fellow partisan representatives.

However, for this day, the County Judge reigns supreme. He holds in his hand one of the most precious and treasured jobs in Harris County. The opportunity to appoint a new County Commissioner doesn’t come around very often. In fact, County Commissioners usually stay in office as long as they want or until something forces them out.

The rare exception to this rule was Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, the first woman and the first Hispanic every elected. She was unable to survive a Republican sweep in 2010.

Most Commissioners serve for 20 years or more, though. This makes the appointment Emmett holds a truly powerful tool.

As well, Emmett hopes that the appointee will consider his positions more favorably once appointed. He hopes this will allow him the opportunity to realign and reposition certain votes at the Court.

For this day, many eyes are focused on county government. Most of the time, it operates in relative obscurity with far less media scrutiny than the City. Far more people can name Annise Parker than can identify the County Judge. But today, all eyes and ears are turned his direction.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced the appointment of “Cactus” Jack Cagle on Monday morning, October 3. Cagle has been a Civil Court Judge for the last 10 years.

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