RICHMOND (Covering Katy News) – Fort Bend County Judge KP George has completed his first 100 days on the job since his surprising upset victory over longtime incumbent Robert Hebert,who held the post from 2003 through 2018.
“Things are phenomenal. Things are very different in Fort Bend County from when we came into office on January 1st,” George said.
The county judge does not preside over a courtroom, he does not decide guilt or innocence; he presides over the entire county as its chief administrative officer. He holds the county’s top elected position.
One of the first tasks for George, a Democrat, was a complete overhaul of the county’s Office of Emergency Management. His changes had support of Democrats and Republicans on the Commissioners Court. He believes the county’s response should have been better during the historic floods of Hurricane Harvey, so he made big changes in the county’s Office of Emergency Management.
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“We realized that the way that office is designed, it is not going to work for a county of our size,” George said in a one-on-one interview with Covering Katy News.
“We decided to combine the OEM and the Fire Marshal’s Office.”
He fired the head of the OEM and promoted his fire marshal, Mark Flathouse, to run his department and the OEM. He combined both departments, and George believes it is more responsive and a better use of taxpayers’ money.
“The combination is saving taxpayers a quarter million dollars a year,” the judge said.
The next move is going to be replacing the OEM building, which he calls “a disaster.”
“It’s old. During Hurricane Harvey it was leaking.”
Last Friday the Commissioners Court decided to start designing the building now so that construction can be put on a faster track once it’s time to break ground.
“We’re starting the design process for a new building earlier than expected,” he said. He also wants the building designed to be easily expanded in the future because of the rapid growth of Fort Bend County.
“We have 780,000 people now. We will have a million people by 2023.”
The completion date for the project is not yet known, but the judge hopes he can push the project forward given the extensive flooding events the county has faced over the past few years.
Judge George has been traveling the county holding what he calls listening tours. They are public meetings where the head of every department sits on stage and takes questions from the public. He’s held meetings in Sugar Land, Fulshear and Needville, and there will be more. According to the judge’s office there have been more than 5,000 live online viewers, hundreds of live participants, 150+ direct questions with community members.
“People are interested in learning and understanding what’s going on in the county,” George said.
At the Fulshear meeting numerous residents of the Katy area complained about the sheriff’s new policy of only dispatching emergency calls to his deputies. No longer is the Sheriff’s Office dispatching to county constables. Sheriff Troy Nehls maintains that his policy will increase response times, and he says any constable can respond to calls that they hear on the radio. Precinct 3 Constable Wayne Thompson says you can’t increase response times if you’re not dispatching to the nearest available law enforcement officer.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers agrees and has suggested taking dispatch out of the sheriff’s control. George has yet to say if he agrees.
“I’m not going to make any comment on something before we have all of the information,” George said. “We understand there is a problem and we are definitely looking into it.”
The county judge says the final decision won’t come from him.
“At the end of the day, the decision is going to come from the Commissioners Court.”
Global Business Initiative
Judge George has been working on increasing the level of economic development in Fort Bend County. He launched the Fort Bend Global Business Initiative. The mission of the Global Business Initiative is to work with international companies and organizations to attract, foster, and grow businesses, and in the process, create new, well-paying jobs for Fort Bend County residents.
“We want people to live here and work here,” he said.
PRIORITIES MOVING FORWARD
Judge George supports changes in state laws so that convicts who break the law because they’re mentally unstable will be put on a different track from the criminal population.
“I believe that in some cases, maybe 20% of our prison population doesn’t belong behind bars,” he said.
He also plans to focus on human trafficking. Not only will the focus be on people who are brought to the country illegally and turned into human slaves, he’ll also focus on teens who are recruited out of our schools to enter the sex industry.
“We are working closely with Congressman Pete Olson’s (R-Texas) office, and we had a briefing with the FBI about the issues in our county and surrounding areas.”
The next step is getting the schools more involved.
“We are in the process of setting up a roundtable … There will be school superintendents, school counselors, school police who are part of the discussion.”
“We are going to invite every school district … Understanding that there is a problem is the key.”
There are 27,000 veterans living in Fort Bend County, according George. He’s proud of a new program that will provide a one-stop resource for all services that veterans will need. It will be an online platform to apply for jobs, find housing, and access nonprofits, mental health resources and other important services. There is no cost to the county. It’s paid for by a group of nonprofits who also work with veterans one-on-one. The online platform is operated by Combined Arms, a comprehensive veteran resource organization. “This partnership expands the scope of services for vets and saves taxpayers $1 million over five years,” according to the judge’s office.
George was born in India. He still seems to hold a bit of wonderment that he was elected to the county’s top job in his first attempt to win the seat. He believes that his election is proof that people of all cultures can take part in governing Fort Bend County.
“We are almost 800,000 people … All of these different looking people and they coexist. They all are getting along,” George said.
He speaks of the progress Fort Bend County has made in terms of racial equality and integration. At one time, he notes, the county was segregated.
“We are 50 years ahead of most American cities when it comes to diversity,” he added. He understands that there are many people watching him closely and hoping he succeeds. Some observers may be in higher places than others.
“God gave me this opportunity,” he said with an optimistic view of what’s ahead.
“It’s the safest place in the state of Texas, and we live together.”