Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rodeo loses Hispanic Co-Grand Marshal after protest

Garcia backs out of serving as rodeo parade grand marshal
By BILL MURPHY Houston Chronicle Feb. 27, 2009

When the Houston rodeo holds its annual parade this morning, there will be one grand marshal — Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. But there were supposed to be two.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia said he accepted the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s invitation to serve as co-grand marshal but backed out after learning that some minority leaders were planning to assail the rodeo’s treatment of Hispanics and African-Americans.

“Obviously, there are some issues between (the minority) community and the rodeo,” said Garcia, who took office in January as the county’s first Hispanic sheriff. “I didn’t want my participation or lack of participation to be a distraction.”

A dozen minority leaders turned out at a news conference Friday to support a bill filed by state Sen. Mario Gallegos, a Houston Democrat. The bill would urge the rodeo to contract with more minority-owned businesses and require it to include minorities on its executive committee and comply with open record requests.

For several years, some minority leaders have urged the rodeo to address diversity-related issues, including why the 19-member executive committee includes no Hispanics, African-Americans or women.

Garcia said his backing out of the grand marshal’s post should not be interpreted to mean he agrees with the minority leaders’ positions.

“The rodeo and the community have some things to work out,” he said. “I have found both sides to be rational and reasonable enough to think we’ll get past these issues.”

Leroy Shafer, rodeo chief operating officer, declined to comment on Garcia’s withdrawal, other than to say he had been invited to serve as co-grand marshal.

“We assumed the invitation was accepted,” he said. “We thought we would honor Harris County this year by having two high-ranking officials in the parade.”

Gallegos said he and other elected minority officials separately told Garcia that they had “problems with the rodeo.”

“But it was his decision, strictly his decision,” Gallegos said. “But if I was in Adrian’s position and I had accepted the grand marshal’s post and my state senator and other elected officials called a press conference to criticize the rodeo, I would have felt a little intimidated.”

Garcia said he had thought about arranging for his wife to ride in a horse-drawn carriage if he had served as grand marshal. He still plans on being in the parade — he will ride at the head of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol.

African-American leaders, such as U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and QuanellX, joined Hispanic leaders at the news conference across the street from the Harris County Administration Building. The county leases the Reliant Park complex to the rodeo to stage its show, running from Tuesday through March 22.

“We will not stop protesting until you place an African-American and a Hispanic on your board,” QuanellX said.

The minority leaders plan to protest outside Reliant Park March 13, when country singer Clint Black performs. They are asking people to boycott the rodeo and show that night. Similar protests were held before at the rodeo.

Jackson Lee said, “The rodeo and its leadership must change.”

Shafer said he doesn’t expect the Legislature to pass Gallegos’ bill. But if it passed, it would represent an unprecedented intrusion by government into a non-profit’s affairs, he said.

“It takes a not-for-profit corporation and turns it into a public entity,” he said. “This would be the most precedent-setting legislation to impact not-for-profits in the United States.”

The rodeo, Shafer said, welcomes minorities as attendees, volunteers and leaders of all its committees, including the executive committee.

“The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is color-blind and neutral in everything it does,” he said.

Service on the executive committee is based in part on years of volunteer service at the rodeo. The average years of service of current executive committee members is 37.5 years, Shafer said.

Minorities, he said, will make their way onto the executive committee in the coming years.

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