This article was revised 6/11/2012: Contact information for the Harris County Tax Office was added at the bottom. ~ Mike
Back in February of 2011, I posted this tidbit about the Ohio Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters televisions suddenly becoming Fox News-centric after John Kasich was elected governor. You can read that bit here: “You watch, we decide what” (Cleveland.com, Posted on February 4, 2011)
Apparently, similar affliction of Fox News on innocent (and helpless) government office patrons has now come to Harris County, Texas.
In order to renew a car registration on Wednesday the 16th, I visited the Pech Road office of the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector (http://www.tax.co.harris.tx.us/). While waiting on-line for my turn, I noticed that the big-screen flat panel TV was turned to Fox News. At first, I paid no real attention to this. Living in Houston, Texas, you get used to many businesses having Fox News turned on in their overhead TVs or waiting areas. Then it dawned on me: This isn’t a business. This is a government, tax payer-supported office obliging customers to watch or be forced to listen to Fox News; a so-called news network widely considered to be virtually a propaganda organ of the Conservative movement. (I might also add that even Fox News admits that their daytime programming is heavily opinion-based, and that their so-called ‘hard news’ is mainly at night.)
After finishing my business, I asked to speak to the branch manager. She was courteous and patient, and there is no reason to mention her name here at this time. Please note that the following discussions are related as I recollect them, as nearly accurate as possible. I do not represent them as exact quotes.
I asked her why they had a TV turned to Fox News instead of simply showing department-related information, or some other relatively neutral programming. She responded that the instructions came from the central office. I asked her if she meant that Don Sumners, the Republican who currently serves as Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector (http://www.tax.co.harris.tx.us/), has issued these instructions. She again responded that the direction came from the main office.
Again I asked, “Don Sumners?” “Yes,’ she replied, with perhaps a little reluctance. I then asked her if I could make a formal complaint. She said she would, but did not volunteer to take any information. I waited a moment to see if there would be anything else. I then asked her, “Would you like to take any information from me?” She then found a piece of paper and took my name and phone number, also giving me the phone number to the main office downtown.
A little later, I called the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office downtown at their main number, and the phone was answered fairly promptly. “How may I help you?”, she asked.
“I would like to speak to Don Sumners, please.”
“Is this personal?”
“No,” I responded. “It’s business.”
“Just a moment, and I’ll try to connect you to someone who can help you.”
After a reasonably short wait, I was connected to Fred King, who I understood was the Communications Manager for the County Tax Office. After mutual introductions, the conversation went something like this:
Me: “Fred, I was wondering why the county tax office has a large screen TV tuned to Fox News, an organization with an ideological bias and questionable facts, instead of something relevant like, say, department- or state-related information?”
Fred: “We wanted our customers to have something to look at while they wait.”
Me: “That’s fine, but why Fox News?”
Fred: “They gave is the best deal.” [I assume this is your typical broadcast rights issue. Basically understandable on that level. – Mike]
Me: “Why not have office-related information on the TV instead?”Fred: ”
Fred: “On the left side of the screen.” [I believe he said left. – Mike]
Me: “Really? I didn’t see it.”
Fred: “It’s there.”
Me: “It can’t be conspicuous. How much of the screen is Fox News? Three quarters?”
Fred: “More like two-thirds.”
Me: “Why not CNN or some local station, then?”
Fred: “Fox gave us the best deal.”
Me: “Why not just dedicate the TVs to County and State business.”
Fred: “The kids that are waiting with their parents get restless.”
Me: “Okay then. Why not, maybe Sesame Street? I could live with that.”
Fred: [A little laugh] “Fox gave us the best deal.
Me: “Don’t you think it’s inappropriate to spend government money to broadcast an ideologically biased news channel to a captive audience?”
Fred: “We don’t get many complaints about it.”
Me: “How many is not many?”
Fred: “Maybe a couple a year. It’s no big deal. Most people don’t seem to mind.”
Me: “I’m not necessarily asking for MSNBC to be broadcast here, but something more neutral would be nice.”
Fred: “That’s what elections are for.”
Me: “So you’re telling me that you don’t consider it improper for a government agency to broadcast a biased news channel to their customers, who have no choice but to be forced to listen?”
Fred: “That’s what elections are for.”
When it seemed that we had exhausted our fresh conversational material and nothing new was going to be added, we said our goodbyes and hung up.
I will give Don Sumner’s office in general, and Fred King in particular, these points: I felt listened to. Everyone was polite and courteous. Fred was accessible to me, a random caller, in a very reasonable time.
But there are problems here, too. Courtesy can be a very effective form of stonewalling. I felt listened to, but not heard. And, most disturbing, elections apparently determine not only who is in office, but also the political biases to which we are involuntarily subjected when we are in government offices to do only non-partisan government business.
If I patronize a business which insists on subjecting me to Fox News or some other material which I consider inappropriate for the circumstances or simply annoying, I can take my business elsewhere.
Anyone else doing Tax Assessing-Collecting?
Citizens should not be subjected to any sort of political indoctrination when in a government office on government business.
Below is contact information for Don Sumners’ Tax Collector-Assessor office. If you are as annoyed as I am about the programming choices selected for Mr. Sumners’ captive audience who are there for government business, I suggestion is to call the main number and complain by asking to speak to Mr. Sumners’ office directly.
Remember that the people who ‘man’ the offices, and the first line of phone respondents, have NO POWER to help you! This is a policy which can only be changed from the top, and you therefore MUST SPEAK to the top.
|Main Telephone Number:
|Physical Address Downtown:
Houston, Texas 77002
Downtown and Branch Offices normal hours,
Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM thru 4:30 PM
|Web Addresses for this Web site:
|Location of Branch Offices:
|Customer Service E-mail Address:
(Tax, voter registration, and auto questions)
You may also contact Customer Service using our online form.
(For technical questions only —
all other inquiries will be forwarded to the Customer Service e-mail address)
E-mail : email@example.com
P.O. Box 3527
Houston, Texas 77253-3527