County deal for immigration project on fast track
Houston County Courier
By Lynda Jones
The Houston County Commissioners Court Monday, Nov. 14, unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding between Houston County and Southwest Key Programs, Inc. The expressed purpose of the agreement is to collaborate to provide family shelter services for immigrants. During the special called meeting, the court also adopted a resolution requesting the transfer of the Crockett State School property from the State of Texas to Houston County, contingent upon Houston County successfully obtaining a contract with the federal government for use of the facility.On Friday, Nov. 18 County Judge Lonnie Hunt and some members of the commissioners court may experience a sense of déjà vu as they revisit the Texas Youth Commission Board of Directors.The last time they made the trip to Austin, they made a final futile plea with TYC to keep the Crockett State School open.This time, the entourage will attend an 8:30 a.m. meeting of the TYC Finance and Audit Committee and then a meeting of the TYC Board of Directors.The county is asking the board to transfer the Crockett State School property to Houston County.The county’s request states, “Houston County proposes to use the property to house the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Family Residential Program. ICE is a division of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security.“Houston County reasonably expects that a formal Request For Proposals (RFP) will be issued for this program in the near future.”The county expects to have only 30 days to respond to the RFP and is in the process of developing its response.In its request to TYC for the property, Houston County states “It is essential that we be able to demonstrate in the response that, should Houston County be successful in this effort, the Crockett State School property is available and will in fact be transferred to Houston County for this purpose.”The 82nd Legislature in its regular session passed SB 653 which provides that TYC “may transfer a closed facility to the county or municipality in which the facility is located” if certain conditions are met.One of the conditions are that the closed facility is located in a county with a population of less than 100,000. The population of Houston County is 23,732 according to the 2010 Census.Another condition is that the county must use the property “only for a purpose that benefits the public interest of the state.”The county’s request for the property argues that any function or activity that benefits Houston County benefits the public interest of the state because Houston County is a political subdivision of the state.The request explains that the Texas Constitution defines county government structure, making counties functional agents of the state.The request for the property further states, “Specifically, the proposed ICE facility would benefit the state by (a) providing a much needed facility for the housing of families in the Family Residential Program, many of whom are taken into custody within the State of Texas; “(b) providing approximately 150 full-time jobs with benefits in a Texas community where the current unemployment rate is 11.7 percent; “(c) providing much needed economic development within a county and region of the state that is recognized as an economically distressed area; and “(d) providing Houston County, an economicaly distressed county, with an opportunity to generate additional non-traditional revenue from a federal contract which will be used to help fund a variety of essential services to its citizens. “These services include the operation of the state’s judicial system, law enforcement, transportation and many others.”A third condition for transfer of the property is that if the county were to use the property for any purpose other than one that benefits the interest of the state, ownership would automatically revert to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.Additionally, the transfer would exclude all mineral interests in and under the property and prohibit any exploration, drilling or other similar intrusion on the property related to mineral interests.Finally, the instrument of transfer must be “executed on the agency’s behalf by the commissioner of the General Land Office.”In the MOU between Houston County and Southwest Key Programs, Inc., the county agrees to submit a proposal for a Family Residential Program for ICE, to submit only one proposal and that Southwest Key will be the sole subcontractor to provide operational services under the ICE proposal.Southwest Key agrees not to collaborate with any other county or community with regard to the ICE proposal.If the federal government awards the contract to Houston County, the county and Southwest Key will then enter into a formal agreement with each other that defines the relationship between the parties, and which will outline the duties and responsibilities of each party.