Giving Thanks for Committed People on Thanksgiving

Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., most of America had already physically or mentally checked out for the long Thanksgiving holiday. Those still at work were making shopping lists or travel arrangements. Those still trying to DO work, found it harder and harder. Clients had left for vacation. Telephone calls went unanswered. Suddenly the calculus had shifted. What you could accomplish at work paled in comparison to what you had to do at home.

An Improbable Meeting on the Eve of Thanksgiving

So it surprised me when Kaaren Cambio, Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s field representative, invited me to a meeting near Luce Bayou in Huffman. But I knew many people had flooded there during Imelda, so I went.

When I arrived, I discovered I was at the flooded home of Dr. Tom Kelchner and his wife Laura. Most of the group had already gathered in Tom’s front yard. It turned out this would be a stand-up meeting. There was no place to sit. The Kelchner home was still under repair. Harvey and Imelda hammered them.

Like so many others in different places around Lake Houston, they worried about repetitive flooding. They saw sediment and dead trees building up in the Bayou and worried about backwater effects that could flood them again. As they explored ways to get the trees and sediment removed, they discovered they had fallen into a black hole.

Fallen trees, such as these, can form “beaver dams” that back water up and flood homes.

No one governmental entity, it seemed, had responsibility for the maintenance of Luce Bayou. The Inter-Basin Transfer Project had thrown it into a bureaucratic black hole. Harris County, Flood Control, the Coastal Water Authority and the City of Houston would all have to collaborate to fix the problems on Luce Bayou.

Thanksgiving Miracle #1

Now here’s where we get to the holiday magic part of the story. Rather than let these residents labor indefinitely under the threat of more flooding, Ms. Cambio called representatives of all the groups together. AND THEY ALL SHOWED UP! That was the first miracle.

Left to Right: Laura Kelchner, Dr. Tom Kelchner (Property Owners); Nick Dragon, Property Manager, Tetra Tech; Kaaren Cambio, Field Representative, Office of Congressman Dan Crenshaw & Board Member, San Jacinto River Authority; Layne Yeager, Property Manager, Harris County Flood Control District; Shane Hrobar, Urban Forester,  Harris County Flood Control District; Dr. Reynaldo Guerra, Capital Improvement Program Manager, Harris County Commissioner – Precinct 2; Jeremy Phillips, Senior Director of Infrastructure,  Harris County Commissioner – Precinct 2; Mike Lykes, Chief of Staff,  Harris County Commissioner – Precinct 2; Maria Martin, Property Owner; Anthony Bowie, Deputy Director-Operations, Solid Waste Management Department, City of Houston.

After handshakes and introductions, the meeting moved from the front to the back yard where you could see Luce Bayou and some of the problems. For more than an hour, the group discussed technical and organizational issues. Everyone who needed to be part of the solution was there. And before the meeting ended, all participants knew exactly what they had to do.

In one hour, the problems went from “What’s this meeting about?” to “Let’s do this.”

The ad hoc “team” discusses needs and possible solutions.
Layne Yeager from Harris County Flood Control and resident Maria Martin discuss where the issues are.

Thanksgiving Miracle #2

There was no bureaucratic jealousy. No egos got in the way. No “This is not my problem.” And no “Death by PowerPoint.” That was the second miracle.

It reminded me that thousands of public servants like these join government to make a difference and, in this case, I suspect they will. This Thanksgiving season, I’m thankful for committed people like these.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/21/2019, with thanks to the committed staff at Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office

821 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 70 since Imelda