Tara Grigg Garlinghouse (H2009)

Placement: Municipal Courts Administration, Director’s Office

What I Worked On: One major responsibility this past year was the creation, administration, and analysis of surveys. The Municipal Courts Administration (MCA) wanted to evaluate how all stakeholders viewed the department, so I surveyed employees, prosecutors, judges, and citizens. Each survey analysis was explained in a comprehensive, 10-40 page document; I made numerous presentations to employees, managers, and executive leadership throughout the year with the findings and recommendations going forward. Most importantly, I placed the employee survey online to create a feeling of anonymity for MCA employees – the response rate increased from 30% in 2008 to 85% in 2009. Since this was the first year for almost all of the surveys, I had to vet the questions and create the surveys from scratch.

I also was tasked with tracking and analyzing the bills that impacted MCA during the state legislative session. I reviewed each filed bill to understand its scope and described our position on the bills that directly impacted my department. I met each week with the Chief Prosecutor and Assistant Judge (from the other two departments that make up Municipal Courts in Houston: Legal and Judicial) to ensure we all had the same position and similar understanding of the bills. Every Friday, I presented our position to the City’s legislative liaisons. Overall, I monitored over 200 bills that could possibly impact courts.

I had several other important projects throughout the year. First, I coordinated Municipal Courts Week – a week mandated by the Texas Legislature to honor court employees and educate the public about the courts. Since Houston’s involvement in 2007 was very minimal, I expanded our activities in 2008. We partnered with other City departments to host 10 Muni-Court clinics around the city that helped individuals check their warrant status and understand court processes. We also had a “Municipal Courts Goes Green” day in a park, an open house for employees, an organized visit for the High School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Professions, and a celebration ceremony with employee-nominated awards. Second, through a cost-benefit analysis, I identified the costs and savings of closing the Court from midnight-6am, resulting in a $1 million savings if implemented. I also tracked the cost-benefit of an automated call center – after two years we would cover our costs and profit over $5 million. Third, I specialized in stimulus funding that Municipal Courts is eligible to receive and participated in citywide discussions to coordinate proposals. I maintained a coordinated effort with the Houston Public Library for stimulus money and write all grant narratives from the Court. Fourth, I was the point of contact for the Municipal Courts Master Plan, a document outlining projected changes in the court and preparing for a new building to be completed in 2025. I tracked changes from each draft, was the point-of-contact for the contractor, and proposed all edits and changes for MCA. Lastly, I pioneered a branding project by conducting research, focus groups, and guiding the executive team through decisions on a tagline, color scheme, and logo selection.

Hometown: Houston, TX

School: Rice University

Field of Study: Sociology; The Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality

Selected Honors: 1st Place Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium, James Minter Award (for outstanding service to Rice University)

Selected Activities and Community Involvement: Rice University Cheerleading Captain, Baker Residential College Chief Justice

Prior Work Experience: Intern at the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, Child Support Division; Curriculum Director and Head Instructor of Gymnastics at Annunciation Orthodox Greek School

Why Houston is important to me: Every member of my family lives in Houston and I have spent all of my life in the city. I really appreciate Houston’s great diversity and the cultural depth it has to offer. I have done a great deal of work with individuals in the city of Houston; I have a passion to improve the city for all of the people I have come in contact with and for future Houstonians.

Something unique about me: My family is a foster family, so we take foster children into our home until they are permanently placed with their family members or an adoptive family. My family usually takes young children under five years old, and we have up to five foster children living with us at any time. Almost fifty children have come through our home in the past ten years.

What I’m Doing Now: I am now in graduate school, pursuing a joint law degree at the University of Pennsylvania and Masters degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. But I stayed on with Houston for over a year after my Fellowship ended. I was a full-time employee at the Municipal Courts Administration, working on many of the initiatives that I began as a Fellow.

Copyright 2007-2012. City Hall Fellows. All rights reserved.