Chambers County was fortunate that the wind kept the dark clouds of smoke from the ITC Deer Park fire away from it, but controversy flared Tuesday when a Facebook post surfaced quoting Chambers County Commissioner Mark Tice criticizing Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and specifically her use of Spanish in a press conference.
During one of Hidalgo’s televised press conferences that was streamed on the KHOU-11 website, Tice, a first-term Republican, posted the comment, “She is a joke. English this is not Mexico.”
Tice confirmed the comment was his.
He said his comment about Hidalgo being “a joke” was not in reference to language, but rather that he did not think she was prepared to do the county’s work.
Tice added, “I don’t mind — and I don’t think anybody in America minds — interpretation. We need it. We’re a very diverse city and suburban area and rural area. But when a question is asked in Spanish, and answered by the county judge in Spanish and then not interpreted back in English, I have a problem with that — and that’s all.”
Chambers County released a statement Tuesday afternoon on behalf of Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia in support of his Harris County counterpart and distancing the Commissioners Court from Tice’s statements.
“Judge Hidalgo stepped up to the task and took care of her citizens,” he said. “At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about: representing your citizens as a whole — all of your citizens.”
The statement noted that Sylvia has directed his county to distribute emergency preparedness information in Spanish and Vietnamese as well as in English.
Sylvia said, “Commissioner Tice is an elected official, and he has been an asset to Commissioners Court thus far in his term. However, the statements he made are his and are not made on my behalf, or on behalf of the Court. I am currently in the process of reaching out to Judge Hidalgo and have left a message with her office.”
Hidalgo’s office issued a response Tuesday:
“As the Head of Emergency Management, Judge Hidalgo is directly responsible for the safety of all 4.5 million residents of Harris County, a third of whom are Spanish speakers,” said Kiran Khalid, the judge’s director of communications. “The vast majority of the public relies on local news for information in a time of crisis. Judge Hidalgo represents all of Harris County and given the county’s composition and her bilingual skills, she will continue to communicate as broadly as possible especially when public safety is at stake.”
Tice is Precinct 2 commissioner in Chambers County, representing areas around the northern end and eastern side of Trinity Bay, including Cove and Anahuac.
He is married to Becky Tice, president of the Barbers Hill ISD school board.
After his interview with The Sun and after stories began to be aired concerning his criticism, Tice posted a statement on Facebook:
“From my understanding, there were reporters asking questions in Spanish and Judge Hidalgo responded to those questions in Spanish, with no translation given. If that is not the case, then I sincerely apologize. Like many citizens concerned about the ITC fires, I was very emotional about the effect it was having on everyone. I apologize to Judge Hidalgo, the citizens of my County, and most importantly the entire Hispanic community for hastily acting out with transgression on social media. I recognize how my response could have been interpreted in a derogatory manner and for that I am sorry. I immediately regretted my choice of words. I’m not proud of my behavior, that is not the example I wish to lead by. I can only hope, in time, that my actions can be forgiven. Having grown up in Galena Park, Texas— a place that is and has always been a very diverse community—I was raised with the ideology that you do not judge anyone by their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Those values mean everything to me. It breaks my heart that I may have said anything that would lead anyone to believe otherwise. Those who know me well, know how deeply rooted I am within the Hispanic community. My sentiments on this issue were grounded in the passion and love that I have for the City of Houston and the surrounding areas. Again, I am truly sorry for creating this unnecessary situation. Mark”