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Article? CORONAVIRUS IN TEXAS ?Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for people of




 Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for people of color

 New data on Texas coronavirus fatalities reveals stark racial disparities.


  Juan Lopez wheels a stretcher out of the back of his vehicle in the early morning in McAllen.  Lopez is picking up the body o…

 Juan Lopez wheels a stretcher out of the back of his vehicle in McAllen.  Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for communities of color and low-income communities.  Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

 Correction: On July 30, the state said an “automation error” caused approximately 225 deaths to be incorrectly added to the overall death count;  a subsequent quality check by Department of State Health Services epidemiologists revealed COVID-19 was not the direct cause of death in these cases.  The numbers and charts in this story have been updated to account for this error and are current as of July 30.

 Texas ’southernmost county, Cameron, is home to just 1.5% of the state’s population, but it accounts for nearly 5% of its known COVID-19 fatalities.

 Cameron County – where 89% of residents are Hispanic and nearly a third live below the poverty line – stands out as just one stark example of widespread disparities in COVID-19 outcomes.  Across Texas and the nation, the novel coronavirus is deadlier for communities of color and low-income communities.

 These disparities, and a wealth of other demographic information, became more apparent this week when new tallying methods at the state health agency revealed a more complete picture of who has died in Texas and where.  Trends showing that Black and Hispanic individuals had been disproportionately hit by the virus were clear nationally and apparent in local snapshots, but until earlier this week, the Texas Department of State Health Services ’limited demographic data had clouded the picture of those statewide disparities.

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 Hispanic Texans make up about 40% of the state’s population, but they account for 49% of its known COVID-19 fatalities.  Black Texans also appear slightly overrepresented in the fatality toll, representing 14% of fatalities but just 12% of the state population.  Texas reported a total of 6,274 fatalities Thursday evening.

 By contrast, white and Asian Texans died at lower rates relative to their share of the state’s population.

 Sometimes called the great equalizer, the novel coronavirus has been anything but – a deadly reality in a state like Texas, where the Hispanic population is expected to become the largest group in the state by mid-2021.

 The disparities should not have been a surprise, said Jamboor Vishwanatha, director of the Texas Center for Health Disparities at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

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 “What COVID did is essentially shined a bright light on existing disparities,” Vishwanatha said, citing disparities in rates of preexisting conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular issues, as well as social factors like income inequality and access to health care.  “You would expect something like this to happen.”

 Research has found that higher-paid employees are more likely to have the option to work from home, and that Black and Hispanic employees are less likely to be able to work remotely.  In Texas and across the country, front-line employees like janitors, grocery clerks and transit workers are more likely to be women and people of color, an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data revealed.

 That’s forced low-income workers and people of color to risk their health at work, exposing them to the virus while others earn a paycheck from home.

 “Many of these folks, particularly early on, were exposed to the disease,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said Wednesday at an event put on by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas.

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 Benjamin said a higher prevalence of chronic illnesses like hypertension and heart disease is contributing to disparities.

 Geography has also played a role.  Many of Texas’ deadliest hot spots have emerged in communities of color: among immigrant workforces at the meatpacking plants in the Panhandle;  in Houston, one of the country’s most diverse cities;  and in the Rio Grande Valley, where the population is majority Hispanic.

 In general, most deaths have been recorded where most Texans live – in big cities like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and Austin.  But some counties, like Cameron and Hidalgo in the Rio Grande Valley, are mourning an outsized number of people relative to their population.  Both counties are about 90% Hispanic.

 Even in bigger urban areas, some whiter, wealthier counties seem to be faring better than poorer counties with more diverse populations.  Travis County has some 400,000 more residents than El Paso County but fewer deaths, according to state data.  According to census data, Travis County is about half white and a third Hispanic, with a median household income around $ 76,000 annually;  El Paso County is 83% Hispanic, with a median household income around $ 44,000 annually.

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 And the virus ’true death toll is almost certainly higher than reported;  for experts, the question is by how much.

 The state may be showing a particular undercount in Hidalgo, a majority-Hispanic county in the Rio Grande Valley that is being ravaged by COVID-19.  County health officials, using local medical records, report 576 deaths;  the state, now relying on death certificates, revised its tally for the county down from over 450 to 312. Local officials said the difference is caused by delays in the issuance of death certificates.

 Meanwhile, Vishwanatha said, access to testing has been more limited in communities of color.

 Pointing to local data from North Texas, Vishwanatha said there is a disparity between communities of color and white groups not only in chance of getting infected but also in chance of dying from the disease.  The gulf is even wider for mortality rate than it is for infection rate.

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 “We are currently facing a critical situation where some of our communities are really suffering.  We need to do everything to overcome these disparities.  But hopefully this COVID situation has brought out something that we should have been tackling all along – how to overcome these chronic health disparities that our communities suffer, ”Vishwanatha said.

 Disclosure: The UNT Health Science Center has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors.  Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism.  Find a complete list of them here.




 Local Government in Texas

 Why Local Government Matters

 In 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall, dropping more than 20 trillion gallons of rain across Texas and Louisiana.

 • 107 persons died;  185,149 houses were damaged.

 • Houston, the largest city in Texas, was flooded.


 Local governments played key roles in responding to Hurricane Harvey.

 • Houston’s mayor decided not to evacuate the city.

 • Local governments played a major role in rescue operations.

 • Past decisions made by local governments worsened the effect of the hurricane.



 County Government in Texas

 Local government institutions play a major role in Texas.

 • More than 5,147 general-purpose local governments

 • 254 counties (the most of all states)

 County governments in Texas are primarily for governing rural areas and have constricted powers.

 • Usually do not have powers to legislate

 • Function primarily as an administrative arm of the state government



 County Government in Texas, Continued

 The functions of county government

 • Road and bridge maintenance

 • Law enforcement

 • County attorneys and district attorney

 • Record-keeping

 • Social services


 County Government in Texas: County Offices

 Numerous county offices: checks and balances or built-in problems?

 • The main governing body of county elected officials is the county commissioners ’court.

 • It is not really a judicial court;  it consists of a county judge and four county commissioners.

 • The county commissioners’ court sets the county tax rate and county budget.

 • Expenditures include those for roads and bridges, maintenance of county jails, indigent health care, and so on.

 Figure 10.1: The County Commissioners ’Court


 County Government in Texas: Larger Counties

 Numerous county offices: checks and balances or built-in problems?  continued

 • Other officeholders are elected at the county level and still others at the precinct level.

 • Larger counties have more justices of the peace and more constables, whose roles also vary by county.

 • Larger counties may have probate judges, numerous district judges, county-court-at-law judges, and so on.





 Table 10.1: Countywide and Precinct-Level Elected Officials


 County Government in Texas: Smaller Counties

 Are some counties too small?

 • Brewster County has a population of 9,316, but it covers about 6,193 square miles, the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

 • Rockwall County has only 149 square miles and a population of 83,021.

 • Issues straining smaller counties include drugs, capital punishment, and county jails.

 • Counties exist for several reasons, some of them political.



 The County Commissioners ’Court


 County Government in Texas: Functions

 The functions of county government

 • The sheriff is the chief law-enforcement officer within county government.

 • County attorneys and district attorneys also perform a law-enforcement role.

 • Record-keeping is mainly managed by county clerks.

 • Other record-keepers include the district clerk, the county tax assessor-collector, and the county auditor.

 • The most important social services provided by counties include emergency welfare assistance and health care for the indigent.

 U.S. Customs and Border Protection Checkpoint


 Many County Offices: Checks and Balance

 County offices have many elected officials.

 • County Commissioners ’Court

 • It is the main governing body.

 • It is not a judicial body.

 • It consists of a county judge and four commissioners.

 • The county judge is elected from county commissioners elected by district.

 • The main duty of commissioners is the construction and maintenance of county roads and bridges.

 • Other duties include tax rates, public safety issues, and administration of sports venues (Houston).


 Many County Offices: Checks and Balances, Continued

 • There are many other elected officials in the counties, each with their own independent power base.

 • Commissioners do have budgetary powers other county officials do not.

 • This can be a source of tension, with commissioners deciding the budget for other county officials.

 • In county government, the county size matters: larger counties have more justices of the peace, constables, and probate judges.


 The Challenges of County Government

 Variations in county size present a host of challenges.

 • Challenges include balancing services provided, public safety, and taxable property issues.

 • Smaller counties with fewer resources are disproportionately affected by large expenses (flooding) or long, expensive capital murder trials.

 • Small counties cannot afford to prosecute drug cases that are too small for another jurisdiction.

 • Some people have suggested merging counties to improve efficiency and reduce redundancy.


 Accountability of County Officials

 County officials are made accountable through elections.

 • If voters do not like a county official, they can simply vote him or her out.


 Removal of officials for incompetence is unusual, but it can be achieved through a rarely used and generally unsuccessful judicial proceeding.

 • The curious case of Susan Hawk (health issues)


 David Wilson’s Campaign


 County Government in Perspective

 County governments are


 • Necessary

 • Complex

 • Anywhere in size from very small to huge

 • Expensive

 County Government in Texas: The Use of Drones


 City Government in Texas: Home-Rule

 Like counties, municipal governments are creations of the state.


 The Home-Rule Charter Amendments of 1912 enabled cities of more than 5,000 inhabitants to adopt home-rule charters.

 • These provide rules under which a city will operate and determine the form of government it will adopt.

 • They may also grant the power to annex land and set property tax rates.

 • Home-rule cities can usually operate independently of state control.

 • Home-rule charters must be consistent with the state constitution.  Nevertheless, home-rule traditionally has delegated enormous power to local city governments.

 City Government in Texas: General-Law

 Cities and towns of less than 5,000 inhabitants are chartered by general statute.

 • These “general-law” cities and towns may act or organize themselves only as explicitly permitted by statutory law passed by the state legislature.

 • For example, they can levy, assess, and collect taxes.


 Politics at the local level is often politics at its most basic.

 • It involves matters that directly and routinely affect people’s lives.

 Table 10.2: Texas’s Largest Home-Rule Cities

 City Government in Texas: Preemption and Home-Rule

 The state government can set aside local ordinances by using preemption.

 • The state was able to block local ordinances that contradicted its hands-off approach to regulation.

 • Denton’s anti-fracking regulations were repealed.

 • Austin’s regulations of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft were forcibly ended due to preemption.

 • More controversial attempts at preemption failed.

 • The “bathroom bill” was unsuccessful.




 Clicker Question: Favorability Toward Local Government


 Clicker Question: Part 2

 How favorable are you toward the Texas local government?

 a) very favorable

 b) somewhat favorable

 c) neither

 d) somewhat unfavorable

 e) very unfavorable

 f) don’t know / no opinion


 Clicker Question: Part 3


 City Government in Texas: Forms of Government

 Forms of government in Texas cities

 • Home-rule cities have three major forms of government.

 • In the mayor-council form of government, the mayor is the chief executive, and the city council is the legislative body.

 • There are both strong mayor-council systems and weak ones.

 • The mayor is elected from the city in an at-large election.

 • The council is elected either at large or from single-member districts or from a combination.





 City Government in Texas: Forms of Government, Continued

 Forms of government in Texas cities, continued

 • In the commissioner form of government, the city is run by a small group of elected commissioners acting in legislative and executive capacities.

 • In the council-manager form of government, public policies are developed by the city council;  executive and administrative functions are assigned to a professional city manager.

 • Today’s council-manager systems vary across the state in a number of ways.


 City Government in Texas: Aftermath of the Hurricane in Galveston, 1900

 City Government in Texas: Houston

 Tales of five cities: Houston

 • Houston is the largest city in Texas, with over 2.2 million people;  it has the strong mayor-council form of government.

 • There are 18 elected officials in the city serving competitor

 two-year terms, including a mayor, a controller, and 16 council members.

 • Unlike in most cities, the city controller is elected.

 • The current mayor is Sylvester Turner, who previously served on the Texas legislature for 26 years and had budget responsibility for the budget of Texas;  he is the second African American mayor of Houston.


 City Government in Texas: San Antonio

 Tales of five cities: San Antonio

 • San Antonio is the second-largest city in Texas.

 • It has the council-manager form of government, with a 10-member council.

 • The current mayor is Ron Nirenberg;  the mayor is the 11th member of the city council and is selected at large.

 • The city manager serves at the pleasure of the council as the chief executive.

 • Supervises the activities of all city departments, with a budget of $ 2.4 billion and 12,000 employees

 • The city manager (currently Sheryl Sculley) serves at the pleasure of the mayor, supervises all departments, and has a salary of over $ 400,000.


 Mayors of Houston and San Antonio


 Houston’s “Bathroom Ordinance”


 City Government in Texas: Dallas

 Tales of five cities: Dallas

 • Dallas has the council-manager form of government (dominated by the white business community).

 • The power of the mayor is weak.

 • The mayor, currently Mike Rawlings, presides over council meetings and creates council committees.

 • The 14-member council is elected from single-member districts and the mayor is elected at large.

 • The council includes a significant number of African Americans and Hispanics

 • City managers serve at the will of the city council.


 Mayor Mike Rawlings


 City Government in Texas: Austin

 Tales of five cities: Austin

 • Austin is the 4th most populous city in Texas (and the 11th most populous in the United States) and is the state capital.

 • The mayor (Steve Adler) is elected citywide.

 • The city council is elected from single-member districts.

 • Districts for the city are drawn by a commission of citizens.


 Mayor Steve Adler


 City Government in Texas: El Paso

 Tales of five cities: El Paso

 • El Paso has a population of over 690,000, shares a border with Mexico, and has only a small African American population.

 • 80.7 percent of the city’s population is Latino.

 • El Paso has the council-manager form of government.

 • The eight city council members are chosen by single-member districts;  the mayor (Dee Margo) is elected at large.

 • The city manager (Tommy Gonzalez) reports to the mayor and city council.

 • The main problems facing El Paso are poverty and unemployment.

 City Government in Texas: Demolition in El Paso


 Special Purpose Districts

 A special purpose district is a unit of local government that performs a single service in a limited geographic area.


 A special district can be created to serve an entire county.

 • It provides services such as education or sanitation.

 • In Texas, the number of special districts increased from 491 in 1952 to 2,600 in 2012.

 • In addition, there were 1,079 independent school districts, which are also classified as special purpose districts.

 • They can be created to do almost anything that is legal.

 Types of Special Purpose Districts

 Types of special purpose districts

 • There are two types of special purpose districts in Texas.

 • School district

 • Nonschool special district

 • Common examples include municipal utility districts, economic development corporations, and hospital districts.

 • One problem is that local governmental officials sometimes work in relative obscurity, thus avoiding scrutiny.

 School Districts

 School districts

 • Every inch of land in Texas is part of a school district.

 • There are 1,265 school districts (some small, some huge).

 • Each school district is governed by an elected board of trustees (five to nine members).

 • The board employs a superintendent to oversee the operation, and the superintendent recommends the trustees.

 • The board sets overall policy for the school district.

 • Budget, tax rate, textbook adoption, school calendar: all of these are very controversial.

 Nonschool Districts

 Nonschool special purpose districts

 • There are many types of nonschool special districts.

 • Harris County has 436 nonschool special districts.

 • Examples

 • Municipal utility districts (MUDs)

 • Community college districts

 • Hospital districts

 • Emergency service districts

 • Flood control districts


 Creation, Governance, and Financing of Special Purpose Districts

 Creating, governing, and paying for a special purpose district

 • Creation of a special district begins with a petition signed by the residents of the area to be served.

 • Most special districts are governed by boards elected by the voters of the district.

 • Property taxes are the primary source of revenue.

 • User fees are the second-largest source;  state and federal aid furnish the remainder.


 Hidden Governments and Potential for Abuse

 Everyone in Texas lives in at least one special district, and most live in several.

 • Hidden governments: special districts of which many citizens are unaware


 Problems with special districts include the potential for abuse.

 • Special districts are among the least-studied areas of Texas politics.

 • Private gains by developers suggest greater scrutiny is needed.


 Special Districts: Creation by Real Estate Developers


 Councils of Government

 Councils of government (COGs)

 • One of the greatest problems facing local governments is coordination across boundaries.

 • The Regional Planning Act provided for the creation of regional councils of government (COGs) to promote coordination.

 • There are 24 regional COGs in Texas today.

 • Planning for economic development


 Figure 10.2: Regional Councils of Government in Texas

 Financial Issues Facing Local Government

 The different local governments in Texas often raise money through special mechanisms.

 Capital appreciation bonds

 • The capital appreciation bond (CAB) is used primarily by school districts to raise revenue for development in times of rapid population growth.

 • It is long-term and high-yield.

 • Controversy has emerged over the large debt taken on by the issuer, and over poor accountability.

 • The dilemma of entities that use these bonds is well illustrated by the Anna Independent School District in Collin County.


 Financial Issues Facing Local Government: Pensions

 Local government pensions

 • Pensions have a huge effect on state, county, and local governments.

 • Pension systems are looming financial crises for many local governments.

 • Texas has 81 pension plans.

 • The Dallas Police and Fire Pension System offers generous benefits but suffers from poor management (pensioners get an automatic 4 percent cost of living increase).

 Financial Issues Facing Local Government: Pensions, Continued

 Local government pensions, continued

 • Controversy over aspects of local pension plans has also emerged.

 • Deferred retirement option plan (DROP)

 • Pensions have a huge effect on state, county, and local governments, and for some, employee pensions have already become unmanageable.

 • El Paso increased the age of retirement, increased the years of service required to receive a pension, and changed the formula for calculating pension amounts to be less favorable to the employee.

 Local Government and the Future of Texas

 Local government affects the average citizen’s life much more than either the federal or the state government.

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