By: Chelsea Davis-Bibb, Ed.D.
FORT BEND-Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Commissioner Grady Prestage had a great upbringing as he was exposed to a lot of positive things. He spent a lot of time around the campus of Southern University and even lived close to the campus as his parents were both professors there. “My parents kept us grounded. We had all the opportunities you could possibly afford a child,” Commissioner Prestage stated.
Commissioner Prestage received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering because of his guidance counselor, who encouraged him to pursue that degree. During the 1970’s, counselors were encouraging high achieving students to go into engineering, science, accounting, and computer science. “I chose civil engineering as it fit my interest and I had an entry level job when I got out of college.”
Since his mother was a political science professor, Commissioner Prestage has always been involved in politics. “We were always exposed to local politics and always had discussions about national politics.” Since his mother was the department chair at Southern, there were always speakers who would come to campus and sometimes they would come to their home for receptions, or even stayed as a guest since Black people did not have “total access to public accommodations” back then.
He was also very active in high school as he was involved in student council and was active in college. When he moved to Houston in 1980, within two years, he was Civic Club President in his neighborhood. Being a leader has always come naturally for Commissioner Prestage as he stated, “I was ready to serve in leadership positions in any type of situation I found myself in.”
Commissioner Prestage has had a career span of 32 years. He was elected to the Fort Bend Commissioners in November 1990, and this became the first time an African American has served on the Fort Bend Commissioners Court since the 1880’s reconstruction period.
When discussing his role as commissioner, he mentioned that he is in one of those roles or levels of government where you can actually do something. “You don’t have to build consensus, send things to committees, you don’t have to go through a lot of the processes that you have to at other levels of government,” he stated. The commissioner’s court is made up of five members, which include one county judge elected countywide and four commissioners elected from single member precincts. According to Commissioner Prestage, “you only need three votes to get something done.”
As commissioner, there are some obstacles that can make his job challenging. One of these obstacles is responding to the rapid growth of Fort Bend County. “Since I’ve been in office, Fort Bend County has grown from 225,000 to 850,000.” This makes it hard in regard to budget demands. “When the population grows, so does the jail population and juvenile population, roads have to be improved, widened, and extended to account for the mobility needs. More rooftops and new subdivisions cause drainage problems, and the public health demand is more.”
Another issue is the revenue cap that the state legislator placed on counties. Regardless of what situation the county may be in, “you can’t increase your budget three and a half percent stating, “They put the cap on us but have no responsibility to provide any of the services.”
Two budgets have been done since that law took effect, and last year, Fort Bend County was fortunate that they had federal money from the pandemic. They will be able to get by for a few years, but it will “only be a temporary fix.” Commissioner Prestage described his county as “one of the best counties in the world.” Fort Bend County is very diverse, and people live there in “peace and harmony.” Commissioner Prestage said that “folks brag about being from Fort Bend County,” and he wants to keep that going.
He also wants to make sure that the next generation is ready to assume their position in leading and progressing the county forward. “I try to mentor, train, and expose the next generation to the benefits of my experience, so they won’t make some of the same mistakes that I did. I would like someone to come behind me who’s ready to serve and do a better job than I have done and move forward.”
When discussing his legacy, Commissioner Prestage wants to be remembered as a “transformative figure.” I want people to know that “I came to the county when it was still a rural county and we turned it into an urban county and made the quality of life better for everybody.” People had high expectations and fear when he took office, but he never let their thoughts impact his confidence and his ability to lead. He confidently stated, “I’ve been able to prove to them that I was ready to lead.” Commissioner Prestage won the primary seat in March and is looking forward to the November election.