GALVESTON

Calling five months of recovery work since Hurricane Harvey a “disaster within a disaster,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry on Thursday asked members of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce to re-elect him to another four-year term.

District court Judge Lonnie Cox, who is running against Henry for the judge’s seat, agreed with Henry’s assessment of the governmental response to the massive late August flood.

“Our plan and our response to Harvey was pathetic,” Cox said.

How voters perceive the leadership after Harvey might decide who becomes the next county judge.

Henry and Cox are vying for the Republican nomination, for which early voting begins Feb. 20.

Because no Democrats are running, the winner will be the judge-elect after the March 6 primaries.

Issues around Harvey, the response to the storm and the recovery moving forward were major topics of debate during the forum in Galveston.

Five months after the storm, many people are still living in damaged houses or are entirely displaced. State and local officials have blamed bad communication between several agencies and a lack of action by the federal government.

Henry said the county was doing what it could to help, sometimes by making difficult decisions. He pointed to a decision not to reappraise property immediately after the storm — a move that could have saved some homeowners money, but also would have put a financial burden on local governments because of reduced tax revenue.

“I had every affected mayor begging me, ‘please don’t do a reappraisal,’” Henry said. “One was in tears saying ‘We can’t afford it; please don’t do that to us.’”

County commissioners decided not to order immediate disaster reappraisals in October, although they hedged the decision a little by voting to support reappraisals if the cost per parcel were $1. The Galveston Central Appraisal District said the work would cost $22 a parcel.

Commissioners should have gone forward with the work and paid for it with some of the county’s reserve funds, Cox said.

“We had the reserves that would allow for reappraisal,” he said. “Since reappraisal only affects the taxing jurisdictions that ask for it, only those jurisdictions would be affected by the loss and the lower revenue.”

Cox said Henry had not done enough to support the Ike Dike, a $12 billion storm-surge barrier first imagined after Hurricane Ike struck in 2008. The Galveston County Judge should be the leading voice in calling for that project to be built, he said.

“We need to focus all of our resources on getting an Ike Dike,” Cox said.

The coastal barrier project had progressed under his administration, Henry said. He pointed to a study by the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District in 2016, which supported construction of the barrier.

Further progress on the barrier depends on completion of a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Henry said.

“The Galveston County Judge cannot get $12 billion from the federal government,” Henry said. Such a project will require regional support, he said.

“Getting the coastal spine built is going to happen, but the county can’t be the only one saying it’s going to happen,” he said.

Some supporters of the barrier say Congress should waive the requirement for a corps study, which they say was done in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The forum was mostly absent talk of one of the more controversial issues between the two men: a dispute over the firing of court administrator Bonnie Quiroga that led to litigation all the way to the Texas Supreme Court and, most recently, accusations by a local attorney of criminal wrongdoing against Cox.

The Quiroga issue didn’t come up during the forum, although Cox said he believed elected officials should control the budgets of departments they supervise.

Henry also pushed his work to reduce county taxes, which commissioners have voted to do for six straight years.

Cox said that the county’s tax rates are still among the highest in the region.

Election Day is March 6. Early voting begins Feb. 20.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

(8) comments

Ron Shelby

Properties are already under reappraisal at this moment as of January 1.

Kerry Neves

It is a 4 year term, not 6.

lauraelder Staff
Laura Elder

Thank you Judge Neves. We've corrected it online and will run a print correction in Saturday's paper.

Dwight Burns

Who we elect to political offices can and do directly effect our lives. Case in point: The election of George Bush to The Railroad Commissioner's post is having dyer consequences on Galveston Counties' recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey. Thousands of homeowners are suffering as a direct result of his inept approach to the office. When he fired the seasoned staff, he put all our lives in jeopardy, as was and is being proven as.I post. Galveston County is in a mess. Those who endorsed candidates who help to create this mess should not be reelected. Period,

PD Hyatt

And people who run up massive bills suing people and then have the taxpayer pick up the tab should not be elected to the office either....

PD Hyatt

thank you Judge Cox for clarifying that you are for spending a fortune on the Ike Dike. This along with the affair of spending a fortune of our money to get at your political opponent and leaving us to pay the tab is just more reason to not vote for you....

Ron Shelby

I am tired of personal animosities (no matter how you "spin" them to the public) getting in the way of good county governance.

Don Johnson

If the Daily News is accurately reporting what happened at this forum, it’s unconscionable that Mark Henry was taking advantage of misunderstandings about how disaster reappraisal would work if adopted by the county. Instead of promoting falsehoods and upsetting someone to the point of tears, the County Judge should have honestly told everyone a vote FOR disaster reappraisal by county commissioners’ court only impacts county taxes. Property tax values for cities, school districts, etc. can only be included in a disaster reappraisal if each of their governing bodies vote to be included in such and they agree to share the $22 per parcel charge being demanded by the Chief Appraiser. This is one of the most significant failings of Mark Henry, he appears to have no reservation about using deceptive misrepresentations to win over support for his agenda. And, in my opinion honesty should not be a negotiable character quality for our elected officials.

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