As Fort Bend County continues to recover from Winter Storm Uri, two local elected officials have engaged in an icy blame game.
State Rep. Jacey Jetton of House District 26 wrote a letter to Fort Bend County Judge KP George last Wednesday, Feb. 24, criticizing George’s handling of the mid-February storm, which caused widespread power outages and water-supply issues amidst freezing temperatures. Jetton said he was met with resistance by George and the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management (FBOEM) in his efforts to open warming centers.
Both men accused the other of putting politics ahead of their constituents.
“We could have had sites set up across the county for people to go to,” Jetton wrote. “You had an opportunity to save lives and you stood in my way of accomplishing this very important task and I demand answers.”
During a phone interview Monday, Jetton said the county was “caught flat-footed.”
Jetton said he made George and FBOEM aware the morning of Feb. 15 of the pending outages and the potential that rolling blackouts would last longer than planned. In his letter, Jetton said George was reluctant to set up warming centers because he did not want to encourage residents to drive on icy roads.
The county subsequently set up warming centers in Missouri City, Richmond and Katy, according to George.
“The point of the letter was to uncover all of the issues and shortcomings across the board that we need to make sure we’re prepared for next time,” Jetton said.
Jetton said George was the first person he called after receiving a briefing Feb. 15 following the communication he had with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and CenterPoint Energy.
George said he did not speak with Jetton and did not mention Jetton in his response in a letter he posted on Facebook last Thursday. George saidin a phone interview that omitting Jetton from the letter was intentional.
George said he relayed to the public the information CenterPoint told him about blackouts, and that he was “very frustrated” with the communication from the state, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blaming windmills for the outages before Abbott walked back his comments and stated that all energy sources were responsible for the grid failure.
In his letter, George listed the county’s efforts working with local officials and nonprofits, and praised the community and first responders.
“As Texans, we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” George wrote. “We will help our neighbors in crisis and advocate for comprehensive, statewide change.”
Some county residents said Jetton, a Sugar Land resident, was standing up in what they perceived to be a vacuum of leadership throughout the energy and water crisis caused by the inclement weather.
“(George) has a history of not being willing to work hand in hand with people who have opposing political views,” Robert Stratton wrote on Facebook. “And now, again, at the expense of the citizens of Fort Bend County.”
Another of George’s constituents said the blame for the storm response should lie with him.
“He likes to point the fingers at others, yet he is the highest county official and is ultimately the one responsible at the end of the day,” Maria Casas of Missouri City wrote on Facebook.
But others said the political battles between the two elected officials were a distraction.
“As one of your constituents, I’d much rather you focus on the people who created the problem rather than the people who were forced to respond to it on short notice,” Kirk Cowell, a Richmond resident, wrote on Facebook.
Carol Vale, a Cinco Ranch resident, said she was concerned because she had signed up for emergency text alerts from both Fort Bend and Harris County but did not receive them.
But she did not blame George for the outages, saying it was not his fault that CenterPoint and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) did not account for them.
“I’m not sure he or any other person in his position, whatever the political party could have done anything differently,” Vale wrote. “Power was out for the majority of Texas. How do you set up warming centers when you don’t know when or where outages will happen?”