Eric Dick was kind enough to take time out of his campaign to answer some questions regarding his campaign for Houston City Council Place Five.
Greg: You are already an elected official on the Harris County Department of Education. What is the Department of Education?
Eric: Harris County has the only Department of Education in Texas. We handle a wide verity of issues, but the one that most relates to the City Council race is the work we do with the disabled. This is something you will see firsthand soon with your son about to age out of Early Childhood Intervention and entering into the school system at three years old. We provide 100% of the therapy services for the Houston, Katy, and Cy-Fair Independent School Districts. People sometimes get hung up on details, and tend to forget we are dealing with the most vulnerable segment of society – disabled children. Looking out for the disabled children helps them become integrated into society as fully as possible. This may mean they are able to enter into the workforce. Sometimes that’s not possible, and in those cases it means retaining as much independence and dignity as possible when they age out of the school system and move into the next phase of life.
Greg: That answer tails into the next question – How has your experience on the DoE helped prepare you for serving on City Council?
Eric: Harris County has over 400,000 disabled individuals with the vast majority in Houston. Those individuals have a good support system while they are in Early Childhood Intervention and then under systems that the Department of Education interacts with. After they age out of the system the support becomes a patchwork system where many fall through the cracks. Before serving on the Department I had no idea the sheer number of people who were disabled. Disability is a threat to both the dignity of the person as well as leads to challenges on meeting basic needs.
We see panhandlers and homeless on the streets on a daily basis. Some are there by choice, some by circumstance, but some are there because of an underlying disabling condition. By working on the front end of the problem to better develop life skills and, if possible, vocational abilities we can reduce the number that end up homeless. Having firsthand experience in addressing the problem from the beginning gives me insight on better ways to address the problem of homelessness from a whole person, beginning of life to end of life, viewpoint. It’s a perspective that enhances the overall homeless plan that the City needs to enact.
Greg: Turning to flooding, your opponent has been extremely involved with the Turner administration and we see what a disaster, no pun intended, the current flood control policy has gives the City. How are you going to be different than your opponent in regards to flooding?
Eric: The tone of your question is one example of why we have problems in the City. We can disagree with the results, but need to stay cordial to all involved. Public service is a noble endeavor, and even those who we disagree with are due basic courtesy. Regardless of disagreement, we are stronger when we come together to address problems.
Everyone knows what needs to be done with flooding. The city has issues with bayou flooding as well as street flooding; and storm surge is always a potential threat during hurricane season. Bayou flooding and storm surge are going to take coordination with the county. We can have an immediate impact on street flooding. Repairing damaged storm drainage segments will increase the rate that water subsides from the street. Working with businesses to beautify the City will lead to more green space and less concrete jungle slowing the rate that water flows into the street. This is an area where the Mayor is going to have to take the lead, and the City Council is going to have to hold the Mayor responsible. We are already in a bind with Harvey funds being stripped away from the City. That’s a problem the Mayor’s office created and is going to have to resolve. We know best where assistance is needed and will be the most effective. City Council needs to create an environment where Austin is comfortable that the past wrongs will not be repeated and gives control of relief funds back to the City.
Greg: Crime is increasing to the point that the County Commissioners office is deliberating a crime victim policy. What can you do on City Council to address criminal behavior?
Eric: Addressing crime involves both law enforcement and prosecution ends. We can only exert influence on the law enforcement end. The best course of action City Council can take is to tackle the preventable causes of crime in the City. Some people choose to be criminals, but some are victims of circumstance. One view of criminal justice has the concept of the NORPS – Normal Ordinary Responsible Person who Screwed up. Society is harmed when the NORPS are thrust into the legal system since it takes them out of the workforce, or at the least transfers their income to the City. The City needs an environment of assessing whether an offender is one of the NORPS or not. Think of a DPS trooper pulling someone over and giving a warning ticket for having a tail light that has gone out. The end goal of following the law is achieved by bringing the violation to the attention of the driver and they fix the burned out light.
A better triage of law violations isn’t enough to achieve a meaningful reduction in crime. Once one of the NORPS is identified an effort to remedy the situation needs to follow. Using the tail light example, the NORPS is unemployed and on the way back from a job interview, but they end up not getting the job. Giving a citation the next time they go to a job interview addresses the law enforcement need, but doesn’t address the root cause of the crime. We need to turn to charitable individuals and organizations who can address the need. Charitable and private sector community involvement can prevent small issues from becoming large problems. Once a person gets thrown into the legal system the impact on their ability to earn a livelihood can quickly become threatened or stopped. We need to focus on prevention before it becomes a difficult situation from which to extract the individual.
When low level crime is resolved it frees up manpower and resources to better deal with the more serious criminal behavior. Hopefully the prosecution end of the system will become more responsive to law enforcement requests for prosecution if the preventable crime is resolved.
Greg: You have an established history of fighting the charitable feeding ban. Can you please explain what the ban is and your efforts to overturn the ban?
Eric: The feeding ban is what it sounds like – making giving food to the needy illegal. It’s repugnant, and an affront to human dignity. It’s also illegal, and I am involved in litigation to have the ban overturned.
Greg: This seems to be a discrete issue within the overall homelessness problem within the City. How will you attempt to address homelessness?
Eric: The country seems to be diverging into how homelessness is addressed, and the City needs to choose the model we will follow. Albuquerque New Mexico has had great success addressing the homeless problem they experience. They have implemented a work and assistance program aimed at determining the cause of each individual’s homelessness and try to find solutions to the problem. This stands in stark contrast to San Francisco and Austin which are adopting more permissive attitudes towards homelessness.
The Albuquerque model is the better choice to follow. Homelessness is not a one size fits all solution, but to a large extent homelessness can be addressed in a work and assistance model. The City has numerous projects that are funded and only waiting on manpower for completion. The Albuquerque model uses individuals who are homeless and puts them to work on a day labor basis. This both reduces the project backlog as well as provides income to the homeless.
Once a person becomes involved in this process we need to have our social services assess why they are homeless. Many people are living paycheck to paycheck and are only a month or few weeks away from disaster. The problem may simply be that the person lost their job and didn’t have enough savings to tide them over until they found new employment. If that’s the case, the solution is straight forward – work with the Workforce Commission and private groups such as Between Jobs Ministry to help them find a job.
The problem may be more complicated. If a person becomes disabled it takes one to two years for a disability claim to make it to an Administrate Law Judge for Social Security. In these cases making sure the individual has a Gold Card and is getting treatment for their disability is paramount so that they have a better chance of having their disability claim approved before they have to go before a judge. We can work with disability attorneys to make sure these individuals, when appropriate, have a disability claim filed and are progressing towards resolution of the claim. Not only does this help the individual needing assistance, but since Social Security pays the disability attorneys directly out of the back pay awarded to the disabled this can be accomplished without cost to the City.
This also helps reduce the burden on Harris Health because health insurance follows an award of disability benefits. If the individual receives SSI they become Medicaid eligible immediately. If they receive Disability Insurance Benefits they are eligible for Medicare after a waiting period. In the meantime their income will be low enough that they can receive assistance from the federal government with health insurance premiums. Either way, they are removed from the Harris Health system freeing up space for others who need assistance.
Sometimes the issue is in between these two extremes. A person may no longer be able to do the work they have done in the past, but can do other work. Perhaps it will take medical intervention to restore their capacity to return to work. By working together with Harris Health (editor’s note: this is the organization that runs the Gold Card) to identify individuals who can have their ability to work restored with appropriate medical intervention. Maybe that’s a back surgery to resolve back issues to allow them to reenter the workforce. Working together with Harris Health and the Workforce Commission and private organizations that assist with employment we can return these individuals to the workforce.
In short our homelessness plan revolves around returning individuals to the workforce when possible, and when that’s not possible making sure they are plugged into the disability system so that they can receive federal government benefits. This increases City revenue, and retains the person’s dignity.
Greg: Overall what makes you the better choice?
Eric: My time on the Department of Education has given insight on just how extensive the problems we face as a City. Lots of people have experience dealing with science and hard data. The science and hard data tells us what we need to do in regards to traffic and flooding. What’s needed is a more people first, opportunity creation view. Government command and control isn’t the answer, but government can foster an environment to give opportunity to all. That’s where I am the better choice. My background on the Department of Education gives me insight from the front end of maximizing potential and creating opportunity. That insight will complement the work that is already ongoing in the City to address problems that have arisen.
Too many people think in terms of the spending cap – giving resources to one group takes the resources away from another. We need to think in terms of opportunity rather than finite resources. Houston is blessed with an abundance of benevolent individuals and corporations across the political spectrum who are glad to volunteer their time, resources, and finances to create opportunity. That’s where policy becomes important. We need to shift away from a government is the answer to government is the facilitator mindset. That’s the goal that I will bring to City Council, and how we can start moving forward together.
Greg: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy campaign schedule to answer these questions.
Eric: Thank you for the opportunity.
More information about Eric can be found on his Campaign Webpage