Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo wants to change the way the county contracts with vendors after a new report from the County Auditor highlighted several long-running deficiencies. 

The audit found that in departments like Engineering, Toll Road Authority, and Flood Control, there was little documentation on bidder selection—and whether county employees selecting vendors had conflicts of interest disclosures on file—and no formal policy requiring personnel involved in selection to even document conflicts. The audit shows the issue dates back to 1977. 

In response, Hidalgo held a press conference during which she urged the four county commissioners to relinquish control of contracting to the purchasing department.

“I’m not trying to point the finger … but I am trying to say, if you don’t change this and change it promptly, then you are a part of the problem,” she said. 

Hidalgo said that 93 percent of firms that received certain contacts are also campaign donors to her colleagues on the court. She said the cost of transitioning the work to the purchasing department would be $500,000.

The auditor told her in their review they found no evidence of a selection committee, company evaluation forms, high or low-score evaluations, and, again, no conflict of interest forms. “No paper trail,” Hidalgo explained. 

She plans to take her proposal to her colleagues with hopes that it will pass and could be implemented as early as May 7.

“This is all part of a new initiative called Brighter Path, which is a series of reforms that I’ll continue introducing over the next several months. It started with bringing light to issues such as the pay equity gap, raising concerns about the 40 percent raise occurring without proper oversight, making Harris County more ethical, more accountable to residents,” said Hidalgo.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.