450+ complaints filed so far. Harris County judge urges residents to report businesses violating orders

HOUSTON – A website, for residents to report Harris County businesses in violation of recent county and state orders, was disabled over the weekend.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office was aware of the glitch on the new website and prompted people to utilize the hotline to file complaints. The county reported more 450 complaints filed since the website launched over the weekend.

Hidalgo declined an interview request from KPRC 2, but her office released the following written statement:

“Since Friday, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s office has received over 450 complaints that merit additional investigation. Over the weekend, the online form for reporting violations of Governor Abbott’s order was targeted by out-of-state political activists opposed to measures in place to protect public health.

"In response, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s office temporarily removed the form to focus on verifiable complaints. During that time, residents were directed to the reporting phone number. The form is now online again. Residents can still also report violations by calling 832-839-6941. Actions by the Harris County Judge continue to reflect public health expertise and to focus on keeping people alive.”

Business owners KPRC 2 spoke with were not on board with reporting others who may be in violation of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order.

D’Ann Gummelt, owner of “A Splash of Sass Boutique" recently re-opened after being closed for six weeks.

“I would not report other businesses,” Gummelt said.

Gummelt said small businesses like hers are already struggling to survive. According to her, she is following the order, but questions the constitutionality and does not agree with reporting other businesses to the county.

“It reminds me of pre-WWII Germany, people snitching on each other. I think it’s awful,” Gummelt said.

Jerry Sarmiento, owner of Mezzanotte Ristorante, agrees.

According to Sarmiento, he initially laid off half of his staff. His 15-year-old business, staying afloat largely due to to-go orders.

“Your rent is still due, your utilities are still due, you have to buy supplies,” Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento said he and his wife, Adriana, are complying with the governor’s orders. They have removed tables and are only allowing 25 customers in their restaurant at one time.

“It was a retooling, and adapting very, very fast,” Sarmiento said. “We had no choice, and we did it.”

According to Sarmiento, he understands why some business owners are violating the order. He said for many, the risk of being reported outweighs the alternative.

“At the end of the day, you have to put bread on the table,” Sarmiento said. “And if your business is failing because you can’t open, it’s very difficult.”

For clarity on which businesses are permitted to open in Harris County, or to report a business in violation, head to https://form.jotform.com/201244433797154