One big topic of discussion was the controversial contract deputy program. Garcia and Thomas had differing opinions:
Thomas: "I think it's a great program. If were not for the deputy contract program, we would have 238 less patrolman. I think the misconception was that this program caters to the affluent and that's simply not true. Ninety percent of the people that contract with the Harris County Sherrif's Office are below the 200-thousand dollar range. We have about a three percent of the affluent, or 400-thousand or above."
Garcia: "You got taxpayer mandated positions that are vacant, while contract positions get it filled immediately. And that's the distinction. It's not whether it's serving the affluent or not, it is how the taxpayers are being treated. And so, that is where we and I draw the line of how this program is being ineffectively and inappropriately managed."
Garcia then challenged Thomas on the 140-deaths in the county jail on his watch:
Thomas: "Most of these individuals had pre-occurring problems when they came to jail. This is one- point-two million coming through this institution, and a daily population of twelve thousand. We're talking about a city the size of Tomball, or Humble, or Katy. I challenge you to to see how many people in those cities die in a year."
Garcia: "But the point being is that when you are not paying attention to detail, and you continue to have a paper-driven county jail system where the medical files of the prisoners coming through there are not electronic, who knows how that delay could have played into some of these deaths? That's my point."
Following the debate, Garcia says after 13 years of what he calls a failed administration, it's time for a change:
Garcia: "The one thing that I hope that came across was that I'm ready to lead the organization, and that I have the confidence of the hard-working deputies of the sheriff's office."
Thomas is asked if Garcia is qualified to run the sheriff's department:
Thomas: "Absolutely not. I mean, I served in every rank within the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the only sheriff in modern history to do that. I supervised everything from ten employees up to four thousand. I've managed a 360-million dollar budget. You just can't walk in and do that."
The debate on Channel-8 will be repeated at 5pm Sunday.
Pat Hernandez, KUHF...Houston Public Radio News.