(Updated 2/2/2021 at 8PM) In the “lawsuits-are-stranger-than-fiction department,” Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris has filed yet another lawsuit against the Plum Grove City Council and Plum Grove’s former Mayor Leann Walker. This time, Harris wants more than a million dollars. Among other things, the suit alleges that by hiring Wayne Dolcefino, they attempted to smear Harris. But in the next sentence, Harris trumpets “Their smear tactic was not successful.” So where was the damage?
More Questionable Allegations
Dig a little deeper and you’ll find several more equally questionable allegations. For instance, he alleges that elected officials acting in their official capacity can be sued as private citizens. To support this assertion, Harris alleges that council members had personal vendettas against him when they tried to defend residents from road damage, flooding and more.
Harris also alleges that:
- The City Council doesn’t represent the public’s interest. Yet Colony Ridge issues have been front and center in multiple elections during the last decade.
- Harris is a citizen of Plum Grove although he reportedly lives in Huntsville.
- Defendants “trespassed” on his property, presumably by driving on a public road.
- The Council refused Harris’ offer to help repair roads when, in fact, they accepted his $25,000.
- Stopping road damage and flooding has “nothing to do with what is in the best interest of the public.”
- Defendants do not like Harris.
Geez! When does a City Council have an obligation to like someone who they believe has destroyed the homes, roads and safety of City residents?
History of Disputes with Multiple Parties Contradicts Vendetta Claim
A long history of legal and political disputes between Colony Ridge and Plum Grove under different councils and mayors contradicts Harris’ claim that current criticisms are “personal vendettas.”
Harris previously sued Walker and lost in 2015. The judge ordered Harris to pay Walker’s legal fees. Harris also sued the City, which was under a different mayor at the time, and reportedly settled.
Numerous Plum Grove residents have complained about Colony Ridge to Liberty County officials for years. Resident’s concerns have included destruction of wetlands, inadequate detention pond capacity, damage to roads, public safety issues, violation of county regulations, plat irregularities and more.
Downstream residents in neighboring counties have also expressed concerns about flooding and road damage related to Colony Ridge construction practices.
TCEQ has repeatedly investigated Colony Ridge contractors and found multiple sewage leaks and substandard construction practices that jeopardize human health. Erosion caused by piling dirt next to ditches has clogged Plum Grove creeks with sediment and contributed to repeated flooding.
Rumor also has it that the Army Corps in Galveston has an open investigation into wetland mitigation issues in Colony Ridge.
Finally, last year, Plum Grove sued Colony Ridge to get the developer to repair roads his trucks have damaged. Could Harris’ recent suit simply be a countersuit designed to intimidate Plum Grove into dropping its suit? Possibly. But there’s something else going on, too.
Enter Wayne Dolcefino, Investigative Journalist
Having found no way to get Liberty County to enforce its own regulations in Colony Ridge, last October, Walker and the City Council hired Wayne Dolcefino, one of the country’s leading investigative journalists. They hired him to help shine a light on problems there. And for the first time ever, Liberty County started paying attention.
In January, Dolcefino’s reports forced Liberty County officials to investigate irregularities related to engineering reports that may have been falsified and alleged violations of County drainage/development regulations.
A short while later, Harris filed his latest lawsuit.
Intimidating People into Silence
Harris seeks more than a million dollars from the tiny city of Plum Grove. On Page 4 of the suit, Harris alleges, “This action [the hiring of Dolcefino] was not taken with the public’s best interest in mind. It was taken as a calculated and vindictive action in an attempt to harm Plaintiff.” But in the very next sentence, Harris also claims, “Their smear tactic was not successful.” So if he wasn’t damaged, why is he suing? To intimidate people into silence?
I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but the State’s Anti-SLAPP statute (AKA, the Texas Citizens Participation Act) may help Walker and the council members as individuals without governmental immunity. The act protects free speech on matters of public concern. If a legal claim is dismissed under the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute, the Court must award attorneys’ fees and may sanction plaintiffs from bringing improper lawsuits in the future.
But like the boxer he was, Harris has come out swinging. Things will soon get interesting.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/1/2021 and updated on 2/2
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The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.
Based on new information obtained on 2/2/2021, mention of the Texas Municipal League paying for legal costs was deleted.