When the high waters of Hurricane Harvey hit the Riverstone community, KP George was flooded with calls from neighbors wanting to know what to do and where to go.
As the days of turmoil continued, George was on the ground volunteering, like so many others, and realizing there are holes in the system. It was then that he decided to take on Robert Hebert, the 16-year incumbent, for the county judge’s seat.
“I spent two weeks volunteering on the ground during Harvey in Riverstone and at shelters. I saw tremendous non-communication. They all worked hard to do the best they could, but they could do better,” said George.
“I live in Precinct 4 and could have gone against (County Commissioner James) Patterson,” said George. “The county judge is directly responsible for emergency management. The commission has no say.”
He said his top priorities in his campaign were emergency management, transparency, and citizen engagement. George won the election in November, attracting votes from both parties and making history.
“He makes history as the highest vote-getter for county judge in Fort Bend County. History as well, as the first South Asian ever elected as the top executive of a county in Texas,” said Mustafa Tameez, chairperson of his transition team.
It wasn’t easy. People did not believe in him.
“Half the Democrats didn’t believe I could win,” he said. “Even the Indians don’t believe in you. Some asked why are you trying for the highest office?”
As he was campaigning he realized many people did not understand the county judge position and that he was not running for a judicial seat in a courtroom.
“A lot of people are not born and raised here, but people living here have no idea either. I got a call from a 72-year-old who said he looked for judges in the race and didn’t see my name. I said, I’m not running for judge, but I’m running for judge.”
“We call this office county judge and that in itself is confusing. You have actual judges, in my community the Indian community where I grew up, a lady ran for justice of the peace and citizens asked why we’re running against each other?’’ he said.
There are 13 cities in Fort Bend County and the county is the functioning arm of the state, explained George.
“We are not policy making; the state tells us. When we want something done, we’ve got to write to the state. Our job is day-to-day citizen life including safety and security, infrastructure, health and human services. The cities have autonomy and assist but the county judge is elected county-wide as the top officer. The other departments report to me or the commissioners,” he said.
It’s a big job but George is no stranger to hard work.
His full name is Kyle Prasad George but he shortened it to KP, “to make it easier. I just want to make your life easy, everybody life easy,” he said.
George did not have an easy life. He grew up in an isolated village called Kokkathode in Southern India that was cut off by a big river.
“We have a long monsoon season and when the monsoon starts, the river is full,” he said.
The village just got electricity in 2006. He spent his first 15 years there, poor and barefoot receiving his first pair of slippers in the fifth grade. In the morning he and his brothers helped their parents work on a farm, then went to school and returned to farm work after school.
His father valued education.At the age of 13 he lost both his parents and could not go to school. He made a few bucks a day driving and sent all seven of his children to school.
“He always said education is the only way out and it is unfortunate he is not alive to see his work and effort in me. I feel bad,” said George, who grew silent as the memories rushed over him.
George came here to study and got into the financial services industry, acquiring all the licenses and becoming board certified as a financial planner – another example of his ability to use the right side of his brain, said the man who was physically stopped from using his left hand to write as a child because it was culturally frowned upon. He chuckles at the adage that left-handers are the only ones in their right mind.
George said he calls his rise to this position as “an amazing opportunity.”
“I feel blessed and believe it is an enormous opportunity. I can connect and understand most of Fort Bend County. I am the new face of Fort Bend County, not as a county judge but because you will see a lot of people who look like me in Fort Bend County. We are the most diverse county in the nation and I will be able to connect with various communities,” he said.
County Judge-elect George said he wants to make a difference, starting with emergency management.
“My dream or goal is to create a blueprint. The city, the county the school district, and other nonprofits get together and create a blueprint of what do we do in an emergency. What is the plan and to make sure that the citizens get it so they know where their emergency shelter is for their community,” said George who started his four-year term Jan. 1.
He currently serves on the Fort Bend Independent School District Board of Trustees and will step down. The school board will likely appoint someone to finish his term. The school board has up to 180 days after George starts as county judge to fill his seat, said Board President Jason Burdine.
“We are currently exploring processes that have been successful for other districts. The goal of our board is to determine an equitable and appropriate process for our community. The process has yet to be determined but it’s likely that it will include the option for the public to apply,” Burdine said.
George remembers during the flooding of Harvey, two schools opened doors as a shelter for the community during what is called an 800-year flood.
“Emergency management is like a war,” George said. “You can go in with a strategy, but what is stopping us from having a 1,000-year flood. We hope and pray that doesn’t happen.”
Since winning, he and his transition team have spent 14- to 16-hour days meeting with churches and about 20 county department heads on what is happening, their roles and needs and understanding county business. He is planning a listening tour once in office.
“We will work with the commissioners in the four precincts and the Fort Bend County sheriff. It’s not about me. But we want to change emergency management. One of my goals is to make it 22nd Century. I believe there is room for improvement,” he said.
Taking a page from his school board days, he also wants to create citizen advisory councils.
“Fort Bend is blessed with absolutely highly educated professionals, so many, and it’s only common sense to use them the way we do in the FBISD and people feel they are a part of something,” he said.
He would also like to pursue a way to engage youths.
“Youth empowerment is important. Beyond my duties and day-to-day responsibilities, youth empowerment is important. We are talking to the chamber (or commerce) about creating a youth program, perhaps a youth advisory council. Our young people have a lot of ideas,” he said.
He described his ideas of citizen engagement and youth empowerment as the “innovative things.” He is interested in the results of the watershed study underway and the feasibility of creating a flood control district.
“Anything we are going to do will be backed by data; study and data. Even changes to county government will be based on data. It’s not ‘KP feels this way’ – solid data,” he said.
George said he is optimistic about Fort Bend County.
“Now I have a say in it and isn’t that exciting. It is a God-given opportunity and people elected me. Our team will be working every day to fulfill the promise as they have an expectation of what we do,” he said.