Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Most Huntsville school board members work(ed) for TDCJ

I'd not realized until reading this post from the Medill Innocence Project on the Hank Skinner case that Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Chair Rissie Owens is also an elected member of the Huntsville school board. Upon further review, though, she's definitely among their trustees according to their website, which somewhat oddly lists her occupation as "Protective Servicesman. Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles."

I'm not surprised, upon further reflection, to discover Owens indulging her local political ambitions. She's well-spoken, charismatic, and tough enough to stand her ground in a fight. She might well make a damn good school board member. Though I disagree with her on a number of key points on parole policies, I've always thought she'd make a strong political candidate. I just didn't know she'd already run for office and won. I guess I considered her slot chairing the parole board to be pretty much a full-time job, and then some.

Rissie's husband, Ed Owens, for years was a TDCJ administrator overseeing the institutional division which operates state prisons, then was appointed conservator of the Texas Youth Commission at the height of its turmoils before retiring soon thereafter. Putting all that together, that makes Ed and Rissie Owens quite the Huntsville power couple!

Upon further investigation, four of the seven Huntsville school board members have current or past relations with the prison system. In addition to Owens, Pamela Baggett is Senior Warden at the Holliday Unit, and David Standlee and Riley Tilley are current and former TDCJ employees, respectively.

RELATED(?): In the comments, somebody provided a link to a provocative but thoughtful essay from the Prometheus Institute (which I'd never heard of), titled "Ten Reasons Why America's Schools Are Like America's Prisons." In Huntsville, it follows, there are 11 reasons, since the same people are running both institutions. ;)

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Okay, I give up. This is important to know for what reason, Grits? People who work for TDCJ are not supposed to be involved in local community affairs or politics? The fact that you're interested in this topic is kind of creepy in a voyeuristic sort of way.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't know whether it's important to know or not, 6:30. I didn't know it but I do know from experience that cross-pollination between different government institutions can often become important depending on the context.

As always, no one has forced you to come here or read anything I write. If it offends you or you don't find it useful, go away. Simple as that.

Mark # 1 said...

Ouch! That's gonna leave a mark. You might wanna ice that, Mr. Troll. . .

Anonymous said...

Maybe it means something and is important and maybe it doesn't. Either way, after reading it I was left with a very creepy feeling.

Then I remembered something someone sent me and that creepy feeling just got upped a bit.

http://theprometheusinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=134:ten-reasons-why-americas-public-schools-are-like-americas-prisons&catid=47:education&Itemid=33

Anonymous said...

I think this is important to know, and i'm glad you posted about it.

Anonymous said...

Its fair. Its most like those TYC folks that were fired and moved by the governor people into other agencies where more corruption can then take place. Relatives have big importance in state affairs. You cover me - I'll cover you. Same old MO.

Anonymous said...

Has your research shown how many contested schoolboard elections there have been in the last 10 years in Huntsville?

Do we know if any of these members were appointed to fill unexpired terms?

The extreme would be if no one filed, but school boards across the nation are finding fewer people are interested in running for the board.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't know the answer to that, 7:12. If I followed Huntsville ISD politics that closely I'd have already been aware Owens was on the board!

I don't begrudge anyone's participation in public service. This post observed a political connection I wasn't aware of, I don't know why 6:30 or you think it inherently implies a criticism. Maybe it's important, maybe it's not - it's information that could be important depending on the context. I didn't say she shouldn't run for office; in fact, I said the opposite, that I've long thought she'd be a good candidate.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you thought I was criticizing you. I should have reworded my response. Sorry for sending the wrong message.

In my locale, we rarely have a contested election and it is difficult to not only find people to run, but after elected, to complete their term.

Anonymous said...

Not surprising that there would be "cross-fertisiztion" between school board and prison given the prominence of the prison in H'ville. I expect the same is true of the churches, the Lions Club, etc. Not many families in Tulia that do not have a family member or extended family member with ties to the small Tulia prison.

Rev. Charles

Anonymous said...

That is my thought as well. Everyone in Huntsville either works for the prison system or has a close friend or relative that does. This is cutting edge journalism.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing nearly 50% of the employed folks in Walker County work for TDCJ. If they were disqualified from running for local public office, the pool of potential candidates would be significantly reduced. Huntsville is also the home of Sam Houston State University--a state supported college. Would it be newsworthy if some local city councilman or school board member was also an employee of the university? In fact, I wonder just how many locally elected officials around the state are also employed by some other publically supported entity? I know if my county we have several highway patrolmen, police officers and sheriff's deputies who serve on local school boards. More often than not, they run unopposed because no one else wants those thankless jobs that pay nothing.

Tuesday must have been a really slow news day for Grits if this was the best he could do.

BB said...

Ed and Rissie Owens are two of the finest people you will ever meet.

BB

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Y'all have high standards for what's "newsworthy" on somebody else's personal blog! Start your own if you can do better.

Nobody forced you to visit this blog and if you don't find the content up to snuff, don't read it. Otherwise, the definition of "newsworthy" on Grits will continue to be "news to me." This was.

Anonymous said...

As much as it pains me to say it, Grits, what passes for "newsworthy" on your blog is still more reliable and informative than the transparent, biased crap we get from the major daily Texas newspapers these days. At least you're willing to admit that you're biased. The Houston Comical, Austin South American Statesman, and Dallas Mourning News have become an absolute liberal joke. Keep up the work, even if we do sometimes give you a hard time about it! :-)

Jules said...

Being from a town of less than 20,000 I was involved in civic organizations and the chamber of commerce for two decades and worked at the local community college. Most of these groups limited membership and officer positions from being concentrated at one employer. While an informal process, the same held true for school board and the college trustees. Diversity in employment for leadership positions benefits everyone. Aside from this, my issue with Ms. Owens being chair of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and a school board trustee is that she cannot possible be serving both of them well. As a taxpayer in this state I demand that her sole focus be that of improving the parole process at TDCJ. Voters in the HISD should realize that they are getting less than full-time work from a state appointed official, causing them to lose on two accounts. We know how to vote her out of office in November.

Anonymous said...

Jules, if Huntsville ISD is like most smaller school districts in Texas, the school board probably meets one evening a month--at most. Among other reasons, that's why the job doesn't pay. Furthermore, the most praise school board members get is from angry citizens bitching about how high their ad valorem taxes are and the fact that their precious Little Johnny got his butt tore up at school. I'd be willing to bet that if anyone in Hunstville desperately wanted Ms. Owen's spot on the school board, she'd probably give it to them voluntarily.

Boyness said...

It's a sick, perverted culture this "Texas prisons" thing!

Anonymous said...

The tax payers recently voted NO on a roll-back tax increase to fund teacher pay and some other minor stuff. So the school board created a "cooperation" to take on 13 million in debt to build a band hall and lease it to the school district. This corporation is made up solely of school board members and meets behind closed doors so their activities are not accessible to the public.

Many in our community are wondering how the district can afford to take on 13 million in debt (by proxy) when the board told us we needed to raise taxes just to keep up with inflation.

They were lying when they told us we need to raise taxes or they are lying now when they say we can afford to tote the note on a 13 million band hall without raising taxes.

Anonymous said...

My reaction when I read this is that prisons and schools should be very differently managed. In the first, public safety and confinement to coerce good behavior are the goals, and TDCJ prefers to exercise these goals in a plantation / militaristic style. In the case of schools, our goals start by teaching students to "do unto others. . ." (kindergarten) and maintaining that respect for others throughout the school years while acquiring knowledge, skill, and creative thinking in an appropriately open and democratic environment. I think that the mindsets of the people who work with prisons and those who work with schools are -- and have to be -- very different. A plantation/military mentality is not appropriate in school management.
Perhaps someday, Texas prison management will encourage a more educational approach to our prison system, but I have seen no serious signs of TDCJ going in this direction. Therefore, I think that TDCJ personnel involved in managing public schools is a very bad idea.