New Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and aide Sharon Adams have been like two peas in a small pod since 1997, when Adams joined the then-chief municipal judge's successful upstart challenge to controller Lloyd Kelley. The pair often seemed more like best friends than boss and employee, with Adams frequently interrupting Garcia and sometimes even breaking into interviews to prompt her with questions.
Now the pod has split wide open, with the commissioner banning Adams from contacting her staff, and an attorney for Adams threatening a slander suit against Garcia.
The slim, dark-haired Adams is River Oaks stylish and socially well connected, a communications director in former mayor Kathy Whitmire's last administration and the ex-wife of prominent Houston cardiologist Phil Adams.
She joined Garcia's controller staff as a deputy and urged her boss to forgo a third and final term at City Hall and make the successful run last year for commissioner. She followed Garcia to the county with a personal services contract that ran through next January with a $75,000 cap.
Adams and some members of Garcia's commissioner campaign staff did not get along, with several claiming her peremptory, in-your-face manner did not fit the folksy, eastside county operation. Sources say Garcia increasingly felt Adams was "too Republican" and not deferential enough to Democratic officeholders during a trip several weeks ago to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Clear Lake Area Economic Development Foundation. The commissioner also reportedly didn't like Adams's flirtation with the Bill White for Mayor campaign.
A statement issued by Garcia's office claims Adams submitted a resignation and the commissioner opted to accept it, and that Adams continues to work on "special projects." Sources in Adams's camp deny any resignation was submitted and contend that she was fired.
Neither woman would comment on the split, but dueling letters from the county attorney's office and Adams's lawyer David P. Wilson give more than a hint of the bitterness involved in the breakup.
Assistant County Attorney Frank Sanders instructed Adams to report only to Garcia deputy Oliver Spellman and "not to contact or attempt to contact any other employees of Precinct 2." He also demanded the immediate return of a laptop, a BlackBerry, keys and an office badge.
Sanders also reminded Adams she is bound by her contract through July 5 and cannot reveal discussions with county officials or the contents of records or any other information obtained during her service to Garcia. As part of her final assignments, she was ordered to submit a list of projects assigned to her and a list of Precinct 2 community aides and their locations.
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Attorney Wilson states in his reply to Sanders that "Ms. Adams is terrified of the actions of Commissioner Garcia" and that the commissioner "slandered and defamed her in the community" while using "threats of harassment of law enforcement personnel against Ms. Adams and her children."
Wilson's letter also claims that Garcia gave false information to at least one news reporter about the circumstances of Adams's departure, and "tortiously interfered with a business relationship between Ms. Adams and the City of Houston, which now prevents Ms. Adams from gainful employment."
According to the attorney, the ban on contact between Adams and Garcia staffers is "a clear violation of her First Amendment rights, and prevents her from interviewing any witnesses in properly pursuing any claims."
However this mess turns out, Garcia now faces a classic nightmare for politicians: What happens when someone who knows just about everything about you, political and personal, becomes a sworn enemy? When future challengers begin gearing up their campaigns for Precinct 2, guess who they're gonna call for the dirt? -- Tim Fleck