Houston, TX – Harris County Commissioners stripped the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office of security duties for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo last week, opting instead to award a $121,000 no-bid contract to a brand-new private security company.
The address for the newly-established company, XMi Protection, is listed inside a shopping center in the Spring area, which comes back to a mailbox inside a shipping business, KHOU reported.
“This isn’t about the judge. This isn’t about her security,” Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey told the news outlet on April 27. “This is about … why couldn’t we use constables? Why couldn’t we use Harris County Sheriff’s deputies? We have a lot of options other than a private company with a P.O. Box.”
“Why a public company? Why a no-bid contract? Why the urgency?” the frustrated Republican commissioner added.
Ramsey and Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, a fellow Republican, both voted against approving the contract, KHOU reported.
They were outvoted by their three fellow county commissioners, all of whom are Democrats, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The decision to replace deputy constables with private security for Hidalgo’s protection detail came on the heels of a failed attempt by Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen’s chief of staff, Erica Davis, to unseat Hidalgo in the Democratic primary this past March.
Hidalgo will be the jurisdiction’s first elected judge to have a private security detail, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“I cannot tell you the number of threats, comments, that go beyond the pale, beyond the standard of disgruntled community members, that my staff and myself have received — especially since issues became overly politicized in the recent months and years,” Hidalgo complained late last summer during a court meeting, according to the paper.
“It’s very clear that security, broadly speaking, particularly in the unfortunate political environment we’re in, is something that’s necessary for the institution, as opposed to ad hoc for one elected official or the other,” the judge opined.
The Fire Marshal’s Office was initially tapped for the task, but currently lacks the personnel needed to take over Hidalgo’s security needs, Harris County Deputy Administrator Perrye Turner told the Houston Chronicle.
Under the terms of the contract, XMi Protection will provide “one armed close protection security agent” for the judge’s protection, with an option “to increase team size based on identified need,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
XMi Protection personnel will be paid a maximum of $60 per hour for up to 84 hours per week, plus costs associated with fuel and vehicle rentals for the next three months.
Constable Rosen said his deputies provided Hidalgo with excellent protection and that there was no legitimate need to remove his office from the detail, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“There is no information to indicate that the executive protection team of the county judge was removed from my command related to the service provided and was merely moved under the Harris County Fire’s Marshal’s Office,” he said in a statement.
The contract was approved despite the lack of a public competitive bidding process, which Harris County Purchasing Agent DeWight Dopslauf said is permissible in situations involving “a personal or professional service,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
Dopslauf said that the three-month contract is just a stopgap to fill Hidalgo’s security needs until his office can complete the competitive bidding process, which will result in a long-term agreement with a private security provider.