By TJ Baker
HOUSTON – Let’s go back and look at the historical perspective of Precinct One – community centers in the Black inner city neighborhoods leading to the 21st century.
It was 1951 when W. Kyle Chapman won the Precinct One commissioner’s seat, the #1 hit song back then was Tony Bennett’s, “Because Of You.” Precinct One was a “good-ole’ Lilly-White” district with connecting Lilly-White neighborhoods. You saw homes surrounded by little white picket fences, apple pies being cooled on the open kitchen window seals; White children riding their bicycles with no fear of anyone accidentally running them over. You saw White fathers smoking their tobacco pipes, sitting in their favorite chair with their cocktail waiting from a hard day of white collar employment. Life was better than good; life back then was great! That is, until Blacks started slowly moving in and the concern of real estate property values decreasing.
For those that remember the scare of having Black folks moving into Lilly-White neighborhoods, not because they were Black; the skin color really had nothing to do with it. The scare then and it still is until this day, that the majority of Black folks don’t know how to take care of their property and show little concern once they purchased a house.
Back to the matter at hand, Precinct One slowly but surely started turning into Black communities in every area and the Commissioner at that time, Kyle Chapman, wanted to keep it White as much as possible by keeping the district zoned the way it was. But God has a way of slapping reality in people’s faces!
The history, the gossip, the drama and the nasty political uproar were all about re-districting all four precincts. See, there was a big southern-boys nasty political fight back in the 1973–1980 census between the GOP and Democrats, and when the redistrict of these four precincts went down, a lot of the GOP’s Judges, Constables, and Representatives etc., lost their seat – they called it political rape!
And after the census in 2010, Precinct One had taken some of Precinct Two’s area and Precinct Two had taken some of Precinct Four’s area. This is how Adrian Garcia won his recent seat, because that area has more of the Hispanic population – but that’s another story.
Here comes Thomas Hutcheson Bass (Tom Bass)… According to info taken from Tom’s bio websites…
During the 1971 legislative session Tom was a founding member of the “Dirty Thirty” House of Representatives, who put aside party loyalty to successfully force out the presiding Speaker of the House, who ruled the chamber and had become entangled in the infamous Sharpstown stock-fraud scandal. Tom was that rare animal, a politician who put service before ego and self-interest.
He worked tirelessly for the promulgation of Civil Rights, leaving the State Legislature only after ensuring that the state’s redistricting was done to give a voice to all voters—particularly the previously disenfranchised Black and Latino voters.
After ten years in the State Legislature, Tom Bass ran successfully against incumbent Kyle Chapman, for the position of Harris County Commissioner for Precinct One and was elected in 1972 to the Harris County Commissioner’s Court. During his tenure as County Commissioner, he created many programs for minorities.
Tom led the County in the acquisition of land for parks and green belts. The current Braes Heights Hike and Bike Trail was one result of Tom’s efforts during that time. In 1984, in recognition of his flood control efforts while County Commissioner, 115 acres of parkland on 288 South was named the Tom Bass Regional Park and Tom then worked to bring the first 9-1-1 District in Texas to Harris County.
Tom left the Commissioners’ Court in 1985 because he saw the county’s elected leaders increasingly failed to resemble the demographics of the rapidly growing, diverse region.
Recently on the Ben Hall Legal Hour – KCOH TV the Boost, mayoral candidate Bill King, quoted what has been said in the Black churches for years, “You Learn; You Earned; You Return”. That’s why Tom Bass furiously and determinedly pushed to redistrict Precinct One, since he took classes at Texas Southern University where he received the majority of first-hand understanding about ‘Grass Roots’ in the Black communities and the effect of why and what should change; upon making it viable and valuable on their own.
Rather than run for a fourth term as Commissioner, Bass stepped down and El Franco Lee was elected as Harris County’s first minority commissioner. And that’s why we need to always honor Thomas Hutcheson Bass (January 11, 1927 – March 3, 2019) who passed away at the age of ninety-two years old earlier this year.
EL Franco Lee, founded the Leadership Experience & Employment Program that is now sponsored by Commissioner Rodney Ellis. The program places Houston-area high school graduates and college students in internship positions in county departments and private firms. Founded in 1985, the Leadership Experience & Employment Program promotes personal growth, academic excellence and professional work experience in fields such as: engineering, science and technology, health care, accounting and construction to name a few.
The program is designed to promote personal growth and knowledge in the working arena, encourage academic excellence and promote financial rewards for satisfactory completion of work production. It has been Precinct One’s goal to place students in positions within those departments/divisions relating to their major course of college studies, when possible. Lee held the office for more than 30 years, until his death in 2016.
Barber Shop Talk
In 2016, the number one hit song was Bruno Mars’, “That’s What I Like”. Gene Locke was appointed to the Commissioner chair before Rodney Ellis and he was supposed to politely step down for Ellis to take the seat. But Gene Locke said that he was staying – he liked the power and he wasn’t going anywhere. Therefore, Rodney Ellis couldn’t take the commissioner’s seat until January 17th. So here we are in 2019 and African-American News & Issues’ readers – especially from different (Barber Shop talk) in the greater Houston area ask this of Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
Question 1: You’ve had a very successful career in public service and served on many advisory boards, etc. What do you consider to be some of your most satisfying success stories?
• As a Texas Senator, I passed more than 630 pieces of legislation championing criminal justice reform, civil rights, education, health care, economic opportunity, fair elections and many other vital issues impacting underserved communities.
• The Fair Defense Act was landmark legislation in Texas that funded indigent defense for the first time ever. We still have a distance to go but it made a difference.
• I’ve also been committed to economic opportunity, especially for minorities and women. At Harris County, I am spearheading the formation of a county MWBE program that will level the playing field for minority and women-owned business and ensure more fair and equitable contracting.
• I’m also proud of the work we’ve done to fight for flood equity. The $2.5 billion flood bond we passed last year was historic and it included equity guidelines that would provide funds for neighborhoods that have historically been neglected.
• I’m also proud of what we’ve done with bail reform and the broader challenge of criminal justice reform. Settling the lawsuit, which will happen soon is an important step toward leveling a two-tiered justice system, where access to justice, liberty, and due process has been based on how much money a person has in their pocket instead of their guaranteed constitutional rights.
Question 2: Can you describe some of the types of activities you do and projects you work on as a County Commissioner?
• It’s often said that a county commissioner’s primary job is to build and maintain roads, bridges, and parks, which we do. But we can do so much more.
• We also focus on improving the lives of people in the precinct through policy initiatives and programs.
• One of our big priorities is to develop and implement policies that improve lives through economic growth, criminal justice reform, health care, and other vital programs.
• We also offer innovative programs at nine community centers across the precinct that serve seniors, youth and adults.
• We’re also increasing access to parks and greenspace in underserved neighborhoods and working to implement a mobility plan that connects families to safe, affordable transportation options.
Question 3: One thing many of our readers are interested in is the Harris Health System. As District One Commissioner, what can you tell us about that organization? How much involvement do you have with it?
• Harris Health System offers a fully integrated health care system for all county residents. The health care system includes two hospitals. Ben Taub is located in the Texas Medical Center and is one of the three Level 1 trauma centers in the Houston area (Memorial Hermann and UT Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston).
• Lyndon B. Johnson is a Level 3 trauma center located in northeast Harris County. In addition, Harris Health operates eighteen community health centers, five–same day clinics, five school-based clinics, dental care, and a dialysis center.
• Harris Health offers one of the largest indigent care services in the area with over 55% of the payer mix being uncompensated care or charity care.
• My role as the county commissioner is to appoint people on county boards. I appointed Elena Marks to the Harris Health board. I believe she will help the Board focus on health, not health care. Social determinants of health are the driving factors of poor health. We must address the root cause of poor health.
Question 4: On the map of the different locations of the facilities of Harris Health System, we noticed that most of the facilities lie within The Sam Houston Tollway. Is there a specific reason for that, such as economic factors or the demographics of people living in that area? Are you aware of any plans to put more facilities outside the beltway?
• Harris Health has facilities all over the county, including facilities outside of the Sam Houston Tollway. Demographics are considered when constructing new buildings or facilities. The goal is to serve the population of the most “in need” people in the county. I am not aware of any future buildings for Harris Health. The newest facilities, Harris Smith Clinic, MLK Clinic, and El Franco Lee were built about eight years ago.
Question 5: Are you aware of the different types of services that Harris Health Services provide? Are they generalized or do they have specialized services?
• Harris Health provides all services for the patients including primary care to most specialty care such as cancer, psychiatric, HIV/AIDS, and medical services for the homeless population.
Question 6: Finally, any additional information of interest for our readers? Maybe something that may have been missed in the numerous write-ups and articles that have already been written?
• We are doing amazing work at the county and I led the initiative to form a Harris County Office of Economic Opportunity and Equity, which I think will be one of my proudest accomplishments when it’s fully operating. The goal of the department is to address our region’s wealth inequality and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to share in our region’s prosperity. It will focus on workforce development through job training and placement, community benefit agreements, MWBE programs and much more.
Photo credit: Harris County Archives