Top 10 local stories of 2019

This year, two stories tied for the top spot locally – the results of the Nov. 5 election and subsequent Dec. 14 runoff and the takeover of HISD by the state. In other news, the Texas Legislature met, Democratic candidates debated at TSU and Tropical Storm Imelda hit the Gulf Coast hard. Here are those stories and more.

Candidates headed for Dec. 14 runoff

Houston voters headed back to the polls after few clear-cut winners emerged in the Nov. 5 election, resulting in a Dec. 14 runoff with numerous races. Voters were set to elect a mayor in Houston, City Councilmembers and HISD and HCC trustees. They also approved Metro’s bond proposal. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s 47 percent of the vote was not enough to win outright against challenger Tony Buzbee, forcing a runoff. Bill King came in third place and Dwight Boykins in fourth place. Eleven City Council races headed to runoffs. The District B race between Cynthia Bailey and Tarsha Jackson didn’t appear on the ballot after third-place candidate Renee Jefferson-Smith challenged Bailey’s candidacy because she is a convicted felon. There were runoffs for HISD Position 2 and Position 4, and HCC District 1 and District 2.

Election night winners included City Controller Chris Brown and Councilmembers Dave Martin (District E), Greg Travis (District G), Robert Gallegos (District I) and Martha Castex-Tatum (District K). HISD school board winners were Dani Hernandez (Position 3) and Judith Cruz (Position 8). 

TEA calls for state takeover of HISD 

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath announced plans to take over the state’s largest school district due to the HISD’s school board’s “failure of governance” (open meetings violations) and the low academic performance of Wheatley High School, which received seven consecutive “F” ratings. The timeline of the board placement is projected to be March 2020. The current and newly elected HISD school board members will be replaced with a board of managers (BOM) along with a superintendent appointed by TEA. Members of the community interested in serving on the BOM were invited to apply. The appointed board who will have the same powers and duties as the replaced elected school board.

Texas Legislature holds biennial session

The 86th Texas Legislature met in Austin, and Houston-area Black legislators addressed such issues as education, criminal justice reform and economic development. Lawmakers passed two major pieces of legislation that they had been working toward for years – a finance boost and a bill aimed at slowing the growth of property taxes. The state’s two-year budget plan calls for spending roughly $250 billion on priorities including public school funding, teacher salaries and early childhood intervention programs. 

Tropical Storm Imelda paralyzes area

Five Gulf Coast deaths were blamed on Tropical Storm Imelda, which hit Texas in September. Residents navigated hazardous flooding that brought the region to a standstill, leaving hundreds of cars swamped and abandoned. Some residents whose homes were flooded by Hurricane Harvey two years earlier saw rain seeping into their houses again. The storm brought intense rain to southeastern Texas over three days, with some areas receiving more than 30 inches.

Harris County bail reform approved

A district judge officially approved the historic Harris County bail reform agreement and consent decree that protects the constitutional rights of residents accused of minor offenses.  The ruling came in spite of continued opposition from local Republican leaders. The ability to be freed on bail previously depended more upon the amount of money available to individuals than the nature of the offense. Those who could afford a hefty bail could walk out of jail while a person charged with the same, minor misdemeanor offense would be put in jail. Supporters pointed out that bail reform not only protects citizens’ rights but can lower crime rates and save taxpayer dollars.

Texas Southern hosts Democratic debate

Texas Southern University basked in the spotlight as the host of the Sept. 12 Democratic presidential debate. It was held in the Health and Physical Education (H&PE) Arena and broadcast live. The 10 candidates sparred over subjects including universal health care, gun control, foreign policy and President Donald Trump. The audience of approximately 3,500 included TSU students and administration, candidates’ political supporters, Democratic Party officials and community members.

Kashmere High School bounces back

Historically Black Kashmere High School celebrated its turnaround after eight years of underperforming. The school gained 29 points in its annual Texas Education Agency accountability score, earning a passing grade of 78. The observance of the passing grade – under the moniker #KashmereOut2019 – drew a packed crowd of HISD officials, lawmakers, teachers, students and community members to Kashmere’s campus. “This is not where we prepare kids to go and meet some low expectation that the state may have,” said Kashmere Principal Reginald Bush. “But this is a facility where we prepare young people for life.”

Ex-officer sentenced for shooting neighbor

Amber Guyger, a white former Dallas police officer who shot her Black unarmed neighbor to death in 2018, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison by the same jury that convicted her of murder. The shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed Black men by white police officers.Guyger claimed that she got off on the wrong floor, mistook Botham Jean’s apartment for her own and thought he was a burglar. Jean’s apartment was located one floor below Guyger’s. 

Houston mourns loss of Maleah Davis

The city was saddened by the tragic loss of 4-year-old Maleah Davis, whose remains were found in Arkansas on May 21, nearly one month after she went missing. The search for Maleah began when she was reported missing on May 4. Maleah’s mother’s ex-fiancé, Derion Vence, who was caring for Maleah while her mother was away, told police the little girl was abducted by three men, including one who knocked him out during a carjacking. Vence was charged with tampering with evidence and jailed. Officials later filed an injury to a child/serious bodily injury charge against him. 

Two institutions mark milestones Julia C. Hester House in Fifth Ward and SHAPE Community Center in Third Ward had reason to celebrate. Hester House observed its 75thanniversary with a Community Jubilee Festival. The center serves more than 1,500 residents annually and continues to focus on youth development, senior and social services and workforce development. SHAPE – Self-Help for African People through Education – observed its 50thanniversary with the Pan-African Cultural Festival, a Founder’s Day Celebration and International Cultural Gala. The center works to strengthen families and communities, and more than 25,000 youth have benefited from programs