Tag Archive for: Commissioners Court

Right a Wrong – Fix Bait-and-Switch Bond Allocation

Item 418 on today’s Commissioners Court Agenda reads, “Request by the Commissioner of Precinct 3 [Tom Ramsey, PE] for discussion and possible action on the allocation of the Harris County 2022 Road and Park Bonds.” What’s that about?

Before the election, Commissioners court voted to allocate a minimum of $220 million to each precinct. The County then trumpeted that on its website AND at community meetings. But shortly after the election, that all changed. (See photos, screen captures below.)

Now, according to the formula adopted by Commissioners, Precinct 3 gets $32 million less than the minimum – while other precincts get up to $70 million more.

Yet Precinct 3 has 47% of the county’s roads and 35% of its parks to maintain. 

But forget about fairness; the FTC calls this “bait and switch.” 

In a commercial context, promising something you don’t deliver is fraudulent.

I expected better of the county’s highest elected officials.

Please Commissioners, deliver what you promised. Vote to right this wrong today.

$220 million minimum guarantee
Handout at pre-election Bond Meeting at Humble Civic Center
The $222 million promise
The County’s $222 million promise, still evident on 2/2/23 before the vote to change the promise.
Minium $220 million
Screen capture from County’s bond website, before the switcheroo.
Allocation today.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/31/2023

2254 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

More than $400 million in Unexplained Harris County Transfers Receive No Discussion During Rants On Other Items

A Harris County Commissioners Court meeting yesterday lasted 8 hours and 30 minutes. While viewers were repeatedly treated to rants alleging racial discrimination, partially documented transfers of approximately $470 million received absolutely NO discussion.

Let’s begin with the rants. Here’s one example. A revision to equity guidelines for the Flood Resilience Trust consumed 20 minutes of discussion including a 6-minute monologue from Commissioner Rodney Ellis. In essence, Ellis said, “I support the new formula” in 894 words. I transcribed the rant in its entirety below. See if you can follow it. Among other things, Ellis:

  • Says he hopes to reduce a HUD appropriation from $750 million to $250 million. 
  • Confuses the County with the City; and flood mitigation with parks and police. 
  • Drags Harris Health into the discussion for some unexplained reason. 
  • Invokes ‘back of the bus’ language to describe watersheds receiving the lion’s share of funding. 
  • Threatened to sue a federal agency trying to give the county $750 million.
  • Claims the County didn’t make specific project recommendations/allocations for the flood bond (which it did).
  • Overlooks the contribution of partner funding to build a case for not chasing partner funding.

It gets better! Read on.

Rodney Ellis on New Equity Formula

“Commissioner Garcia, some of the issues that you were raising and Commissioner Ramsey were raising, I think that this proposal for prioritization-framework modifications will address some of them. Commissioner Ramsey, first of all, I want to point out that the 2018 package of $2.5 billion would in no way fund all of the projects that people talked about. I also want to reiterate that coming off city council a long time ago, I argued to list specifically what the projects were. It was a short fuse. If you remember Commissioner Cagle, you might agree with me. I was worried about having the election in August, as opposed to when more people would show up.

“But I didn’t win that battle and it passed despite my misgivings. But we were on a short time frame and I was told you cannot lay out the specific projects, because if a project…If you put in 20 million and it costs 50 million, can you get the creek? Or you put in 50 million and it costs 40 million and it didn’t quite sound right to me. Because unless the city did a better job of projecting what parks and police command stations will cost, you know, inflation. But that’s what was said. And I was not going to argue with it and didn’t think I had the support of the court anyway.

“But 2.5 billion was never going to fund all of the items that were on the radar, shall we say, because a decision was made not to lay them out with specificity was how to do a cap improvement program. I also want to say that to my knowledge, maybe others’, two projects had come to my mind that weren’t on the radar. One was in your precinct. The education project came from them.

“The other one was in another county – Commissioner Cagle’s area. I don’t know where it is now, buying some land in another area that certainly had some political gravitas to it.

“I argued for two things. The varnish was coming off. What I wanted to despair to say, and everybody said that they were for getting rid of disparities until it was time to vote. Send somebody to do statistical analysis to see if they had one. And I was told, you pay for it. And you can do it. So Precinct One paid for it. Thank you to the women. Precinct One, you added $660,000 back. And of course, it showed there was a tremendous disparity. I would encourage you to listen to Harris Health’s discussion of why they’re going to lay off the expert study off. So it will be interesting to see what Bert came up with, but that’s history. Going forward, we will do better as we are doing better here, I think. 

“The other item I wanted was the equity guidelines. Now, once it passed, there were those who thought equity meant just split 2.5 billion…four ways…which would be highly inequitable if we all agreed that chasing federal money with a cost benefit ratio and a host of other issues meant certain neighborhoods that flooded all the time didn’t get funding regardless of why, chasing federal money, that’s what happened. So all of these projects were started. We know three big ones, Commissioner Garcia, in your precinct and mine, and might touch all our precincts, in Halls and Greens.

“We were chasing GLO money or federal money that never came, so they were delayed. So, then resiliency was created as a way to get stuff here created to fill up the gap. And whether or not it would fill it all up, I don’t know. But I, for one, would not just talk the talk. You got to pay for it, pay for it. Or maybe politely find a way to just pass a resolution and say you resolve to do it down the road. This prioritization framework makes sense because it places a greater emphasis on the number of people that a project would address instead of what neighborhood you live in.

“I can’t say it enough. Something’s wrong. When this county had a system where you protect the neighborhood I live in now, but the neighborhood I came out of – even if that one historically flooded more. It also says we do not consider partner funding as a factor because who gets partner money? Well, that’s part of the funding.

“The neighborhoods have always been privileged. It’s just that way. And we use the latest data to invest in projects that address structural delay both inside and outside the 100-year network. So, I can’t wait until you bring it up and I’m going to vote for it when it comes up.

“And I tell you, just as I’m proud of what Texas Housers did, and I’m proud of what HUD did to get us our 750. Hope we get down to 250 and I hope the city gets this bigger because they deserve it. We both do.

“And if we don’t follow prioritization framework like this, I will be the first one finding somebody to file a lawsuit and raising all kind of hell at HUD because we will continue to neglect those neighborhoods that have always been on the back of the bus. But other than that, thank you very much.”

– End of Ellis Monologue –

Diversionary Tactic?

How can one react to rambling, unsubstantiated rants such as this!

During the meeting, as I tried to look for backup on several agenda items, the county website froze on numerous occasions – shades of the IT debacle at Universal Services.

To set the record straight, Brays Bayou, the watershed in which Commissioner Ellis grew up AND in which he now lives, has received $575 million in flood-mitigation funding in the last 22 years. White Oak, the watershed where Commissioner Garcia now lives, has received $525 million in funding. That’s almost one third of all the flood mitigation money spent in the county since 2000 – on two watersheds out of 23. No watersheds have received more!

Flood mitigation spending in Harris County during first quarter 2022 and since 2000. Obtained via FOIA Request.

Greens and Halls received another $620 million. That makes $1.72 billion. And that’s 46% of all the flood mitigation money in recent history.  

More than one long-time Harris County insider has characterized such rants as a diversionary tactic. Elsewhere on the agenda yesterday was a motion to make “routine transfers” between departments (see Item 17)

It received absolutely NO discussion and the Budget Management Department provided no backup for the agenda item. But the transfers totaled almost half a billion dollars. I had to obtain the backup through a special request. Notice how many of the transfers do not follow the industry standard for double-entry accounting – even though the forms request it.

Double-entry accounting shows where money is coming from and going to. That facilitates balancing the books and auditing. But in this case, the ‘from’ or the ‘to’ were omitted in 21 of 39 transactions for this year. Those 21 transactions alone totaled approximately $470 million.

I have no proof that anything illegal occurred and I’m not suggesting it did. But I am suggesting that Democrats, who pride themselves on transparency, could improve on that score.

Eight hour meetings filled with incomprehensible rants, agenda items without backup, backup that omits crucial elements, and a website that intermittently stopped responding during the meeting create barriers to public participation and government oversight.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/27/2022

1702 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

Harris County still has not posted video of yesterday’s meeting. Here’s an audio recording of Mr. Ellis‘ rant so you can check the transcription yourself. He is admittedly hard to understand at times.

Harris County Commissioners Supplement Flood-Bond Funds with Highway Money to Accelerate Mitigation

Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners Court voted 5-0 to transfer $315 million of toll road revenue, unallocated County road bonds and other county funds to accelerate the construction of certain flood-bond mitigation projects. They will allocate the funds to mitigation projects using the 2018 Flood Bond Prioritization Criteria.

The transfer will provide backstop funding for 100% of the projects in the Road & Bridge Subdivision Drainage Program of the 2018 Flood Control Bond Program, removing the risk that partner-funding shortfalls prevent projects from being completed.

Text of Motion

The final language as amended and approved reads as follows:

Create a new funding facility of $115 million, made up of County road bonds or HCTRA surplus revenue, to free up Flood Control bond capacity currently used for the Subdivision Program.  The Flood Control bond capacity will be allocated by utilizing the 2018 Flood Bond prioritization criteria.

Create an additional funding facility of $200 million, comprised of HCTRA surplus revenue or other County resources, to support completion of projects that are part of the 2018 bond program with the required transportation nexus.

Here is a background sheet from the county’s budget management department that explains the switch.

The Subdivision Program consists of 91 projects which, according to HCFCD estimates, reduce the risk of flooding to more than 45,000 homes.


The projects benefit neighborhoods with outdated drainage infrastructure or which never had modern drainage systems in the first place. Furthermore, multiple projects are located in watersheds that have been historically disadvantaged in securing federal funds for flood control. According to the Office of the County Engineer, the Subdivision Program has a current estimated total cost of $535 million (or ~$590 million including an approximately 10% contingency).

Among the objectives:

  • Provide backstop funding for partnership projects in case grants don’t materialize or are delayed beyond a reasonable time
  • Let projects with mature or advanced partner funding opportunities pursue those opportunities for a defined (but not unlimited) period of time..

The background sheet contains a list of eligible projects in each precinct. Any Subdivision Program project costs that have not received a notice or award of partner funding by August 31, 2021, would be eligible to receive additional money from the backstop funding.


Discussion on the motion and amendment lasted about an hour. It became clear that commissioners believe they:

  • Must complete all projects in the bond.
  • Expect not to find partnership funds for some projects, leaving those projects underfunded.
  • Need more money.
  • Must use diverted funds on flood projects that have some connection to transportation, i.e., problems created by new highway construction.
This approval will remove a cloud of uncertainty from projects that rely on partnership funding which has not yet materialized for some projects.

Including projects from all four precincts helped ensure a unanimous vote.

Another Bond? Not So Fast

Commissioners talked about the possibility of another flood-bond offering. However, the likelihood of that passing is slim. Poor people feel the money is going to affluent neighborhoods and affluent people feel the money is going to poor neighborhoods. If no one is happy with the way the current bond money has been handled, why would anyone vote to approve more?

Commissioners have grappled for more than a month with how to handle a possible shortfall in partner funding. Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis threatened to slow down or halt all flood-bond projects until Flood Control found a way to fully fund projects in Halls and Greens Bayous. Today’s development, seemed to avoid that showdown.

Flood Control will try to collapse a ten-year timeline down to five years.

It’s unclear at this time how today’s development will affect HUD grants in the pipeline, the interest costs on borrowed money, or the availability of qualified contractors.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/28/2021

1338 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Woodridge Village Purchase Back on Commissioners Court Agenda – With All Conditions Addressed

The purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes’ subsidiary Figure Four Partners is back on the agenda for Harris County Commissioners Court next Tuesday. All conditions previously imposed on the deal by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis have been addressed this time.

Part of the 268-acre Woodridge Village being considered for purchase as a flood control facility. If purchased, HCFCD would greatly expand the flood detention capacity. While Perry Homes has virtually finished construction of their planned detention ponds, those are still about 40% short of Atlas-14 requirements.

This time, the County Attorney will present the proposal, not Flood Control or the County Engineer’s office. See item 14 G below.

Agenda Item 14-G

14. County Attorney

            g.    Request that Commissioners Court authorize the Real Property Division manager or assistant division manager to sign an earnest money contract with Figure Four Partners, Ltd., for the purchase of two tracts of land containing approximately 267.35 acres in Montgomery County for the Woodridge Village stormwater detention basin in the amount of $14,019,316, approximately $5,100,770 below the appraised value, with purchase of the property being contingent upon certain conditions and commitments.

For more explanation of the agenda item, see the letter below or click this link for a hi-res printable pdf.

Reportedly, the agenda item moved to the county attorney this time because the purchase of the property is a legal issue.

Any projects done on the property after the purchase will fall into the domains of Flood Control or Engineering.

From the letter above, it appears the county has an opportunity to purchase the land below the market appraisal – a rarity.

Previous Conditions Specified in Letter

The purchase will be contingent on Flood Control and the City of Houston entering an Inter-Local Agreement within 120 days of the execution of an earnest money contract. The earnest money contract will also require several commitments by the City. Commitments include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. City will contribute land to the county equal to one-half of the purchase price for flood damage reduction projects.
  2. City and the Flood Control District will equally share costs associated with the basin’s development AND post-development maintenance. The deed will show both the City and District as co-owners of the two tracts of land.
  3. City will adopt updated detention and fill mitigation requirements that, at a minimum, match Harris County regulations and Atlas 14 requirements – BOTH inside the City AND within the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Will Ellis Add New Conditions?

The subject of Woodridge has come up at Commissioners Court at least five times in the last six months. Each time, Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis has used the occasion to add new conditions to the deal. All of his conditions, however, have been addressed in the letter above from Robert Soard, the First Assistant County Attorney.

Will Ellis say “Good enough” this time? Or will he throw more obstacles in the path of a purchase? Tune in to the next exciting episode of Harris County Commissioners Court. Tuesday, September 15, at 10AM.

If you would like to speak to the commissioners on this topic, you need to sign up no later than 8 a.m. on the day of the Commissioners Court meeting at https://appearancerequest.harriscountytx.gov/

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/13/2020

1111 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 360 since Imelda

Commissioner Ellis Tries to Add New Conditions to Woodridge Deal – Yet Again

In the Harris County Commissioners Court meeting on 8/25/2020, Commissioners again considered the purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes – at least one small aspect of it that would have allowed them to lock in the price while other details are worked out.

For months, the County has considered purchasing the property to create a regional flood detention facility along Taylor Gully. On Tuesday, County Engineer John Blount placed an item on the agenda requesting that Commissioners declare the purchase of the property north of Elm Grove a “public necessity.”

The declaration is a procedural formality that would allow the county to enter into an earnest money contract to lock in the price. The terms of the contract, however, would not have obligated the county to write a check until all conditions placed on the sale had been dealt with satisfactorily. After a half hour of debate, the Court took no action.

Ellis Goes On Attack Again

Once again, Commissioner Rodney Ellis used the opportunity to try to add two new conditions to the purchase. In the process, he exaggerated the cost of the deal and misrepresented the substance of previous votes.

The proposed new conditions were that the City should pay for half of any new lawsuits arising from the property and that the City should pay for half of the maintenance costs.

You can view the thirty minute discussion in the video of the meeting. Click on Departments (Part 2 of 2). Then advance to about 2:00:45 as Mr. Blount introduces Item 1T on the agenda.

Ellis’ Concerns

Ellis starts out by openly worrying that new assets would require additional funds for maintenance and operations. He also worries about:

  • Trusting the City to keep its promises.
  • Completing projects in the bond fund.
  • Committing cash to a deal he doesn’t like.
  • The City’s progress on reshaping regulations tied to Atlas-14 adoption.
  • Whether the City will continue to approve ill-conceived projects in its ETJ.
  • Timing of the commitment relative to a vote on whether to increase taxes.
  • How the project will affect the Flood Control District’s maintenance budget.
  • Whether the City is acting in good faith
  • Detracting from projects in his district
  • Spending taxpayer money in another county (even if it helps people in Harris County).

Previously, Commissioner Ellis introduced motions to make the City:

Highlights of Discussion

The following timecodes are approximate. This is a summary, not a transcript. These portions of the 30-minute discussion stood out because of their importance or inconsistencies.

2:00:45 County Engineer John Blount introduces Item 1T on page 4 of the agenda. It reads:

“Recommendation that the court find a public necessity exists for the Flood Control District to purchase Tracts G503-06-00-01-001.0 and G503-06-00-01-002.0 in Montgomery County from Figure Four Partners, Ltd., in the amount of $14,019,316 plus closing costs for the Woodridge Village stormwater detention basin, and that the Real Property Division Manager or Assistant Division Manager be authorized to sign any agreements or closing documents associated with this transaction.”

Ellis Leads Off Discussion With Leading Questions

2:01:12: Commissioner Ellis says “Judge, I have a few questions…” and the debate begins. As usual, Mr. Ellis begins by asking leading questions. And the answers are usually obvious. On this day he asked whether the purchase would lead to increased maintenance costs.

2:01:40: Russ Poppe, executive director of the Flood Control District replies, “Yes.”

2:01:50: Ellis asks how much the District’s maintenance budget would decrease should the county adopt a “no-new-revenue” tax rate for next year.

2:02:10: Poppe says that he has seen spreadsheets [which have not been made public] that indicate reductions to operations and maintenance budgets could begin next year, but he doesn’t mention a percentage.

2:02:37: Ellis says, “So the costs will go up” and “…It will be a significant increase.” [Editor’s note: the amount of the increase was never mentioned. You need to be a fast listener when Ellis has the floor.] “So my question is, ‘Why would the district proceed with construction of mitigation assets if we don’t know if we may be unable to maintain them?

Would it make more sense – if we adopt the no-new-revenue rate – to pause third and fourth quartile bond projects until revenue is sufficient to maintain?

Rodney Ellis

[Editor’s Note: by accelerating projects in LMI and SVI neighborhoods, Ellis has delayed projects, such as this one, in other precincts.]

Ellis continues. “Why will we keep starting more projects and we have no idea how we’re going to maintain them?” [Editor’s Note: He does not ask the same question of projects in his precinct.]

2:03:27: Poppe replies, “You bring up a concern that I had, too, Commissioner. Because I know our funding is going to have to increase in order for us to take care of all this infrastructure to the level that our residents are going to expect us to make sure that it functions when we need it to function.”

Confusion over Previous Conditions

2:03:40: Ellis asks Blount or Poppe to restate the conditions previously imposed on the deal that should have preceded the County moving forward with the project. [Editor’s note: I submitted a FOIA request to the County asking for the exact text of that motion, approved in open court. The County denied the request. I appealed. The County submitted it to the State Attorney General’s office for review. The attorney general has not yet ruled on the issue.]

2:04:10: Poppe starts his reply by talking about the demand for half the purchase price. “The city has indicated they do not have the cash available to make up their half of the contribution to acquire the site, which is around 14 million dollars. And the city has indicated that they would rather transfer land assets in the value of at least half of the purchase price to us for use as flood-risk reduction projects. That was condition number one.”

“Condition number two was that the City of Houston adopt updated detention and mitigation rates commensurate with the Atlas-14 rainfall rates. And that was both to be adopted inside not only their city of Houston limits, but also their ETJ.”

“And then the third…”

2:04:45 Ellis interrupts. “And have they done that?”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis

2:04:50: Poppe replies, “No, there’s an ongoing task force or work group for which I think John’s office (County Engineer) and my office both have people who sit in and contribute to those conversations. But no, they have not adopted increased mitigation requirements yet.”

“And then the last piece that has to occur, Commissioner, is we have to execute an inter-local agreement that addresses those issues I just mentioned, as well as other details, as one might imagine, come up as you start developing a site of this magnitude.”

Ellis Reminds Poppe about Getting City to Pay for Half of Construction

2:05:17: Ellis, referring to a second motion to include construction costs in the City’s half of the deal, asks, “And wasn’t that talk about paying for half the cost to do something with it? I thought that was in the motion. And also paying for half the cost in the event there’s a lawsuit … and … a commitment to pay for half of what it takes to maintain?” (Editor’s note: Paying for half the construction costs was in a previous motion. But the motion did NOT include the City paying for half of legal or maintenance costs.)

2:05:54: Poppe replies. “Yes, Commissioner, those were all issues we’ve talked about, but I don’t believe those were actually directed by court. I know that’s your intention and I want to get those issues addressed with the City as part of our inter-local agreement, too, because those are real costs.”

2:06:54: Hidalgo incorrectly states that Ellis’ additional requirements WERE part of previous motions. “And they WERE, Russ. I remember this is about the fourth time we’re going back over what we agreed. Maybe someone ought to just go back and listen to the transcript and send it around, because as I remember, it was that half of both the purchase and whatever happens and then the detention requirements and there could be assets of land. But we’ve had the same discussion quite a few times. I think in the end we agreed.” (Editor’s note: this contradiction may have something to do with why the FOIA request was denied and appealed to the State AG.)

2:07:45: After a long diatribe about how the City can’t be trusted, Ellis states that he can’t support the deal unless there’s an inter-local agreement that specifies objectives IN WRITING. (Editor’s note: Ellis previously insisted that an inter-local agreement was worthless and that the City had to actually comply with all County demands BEFORE the County moved forward.)

Ellis then worries that there won’t be enough money to complete projects in his district.

Ellis Likens Project to Buying Brooklyn Bridge

2:16:46: Ellis likens the Woodridge Village project to acquiring the Brooklyn Bridge.

2:17:00 Poppe explains that the County provided an inter-local agreement to the City that addresses all the issues under discussion.

“We are still waiting to hear back from them to actually sit down and have a negotiation meeting to make sure that they’re on the same page as us with those initial concepts and the inter-local agreement.”

Russ Poppe, Exec Director, HCFCD

2:17:38: Hidalgo says, “So we can take no action on this item?”

County Attorney’s Office and Cagle Clarify Earnest Money Contract

2:18:43: Robert Soard from the County Attorney’s Office clarifies the purpose of the earnest money contract. It:

  • Commits the seller to the price.
  • Gives the County 120 days to work out an inter-local agreement with the City.
  • Specifically says the inter-local agreement has to be approved by Commissioners Court before the court has to buy the property.

2:24:05: Commissioner Jack Cagle says, “This is not nearly as complicated as we’re trying to make it. We have people in Harris County that are at risk of flooding because of the property that’s upstream. We have a chance to lock in a very good price to be able to acquire property to help people that live in Harris County.”

“Understand that we have all the criteria that have been added to the initial idea. And the ball has moved a little bit since our very first meeting. But with all of that in place, to be able to at least lock in the price – as opposed to letting that price float with someone on the other side who is trying to decide what they want to do – I think is a reasonable thing.”

“And if we can’t meet the three criteria or the five criteria or the seven criteria that might come down the pike, then we don’t meet those. But at least let’s give ourselves a locked-in price and a set of targets to move towards. These are people in Harris County that we’re trying to help in times when they’re concerned with things that are coming in to our area with regard to water – tropical storms, hurricanes, flooding.”

Ellis Drops New Bomb; Commissioners Take No Action

2:25:40: Ellis says that he won’t support the declaration of necessity because it raises “false hope that we’re going to do it,” meaning purchase the property. He also says, “And the city is telling us that they are not going to make a decision on those policy matters [Atlas-14 implementation], but they would like us to commit to this 50 to 70 million dollars.” During this part of the discussion, Ellis doubles previous estimates and ignores the fact that the City would be paying for half, but no one corrects him. He couples the Woodridge-Village purchase with setting the tax rate, as if he’s getting ready to blame a tax increase on Elm Grove.

And then he drops the big one. He admits, “those people who have gotten water in neighborhoods where there were no equity standards will be left out.”

Rodney Ellis, Harris County PRECINCT 1 COMMISSIONER

The reference to equity has to do with the application of poverty standards to the prioritization of bond funds. He explicitly states that if your neighborhood doesn’t meet LMI or SVI criteria – his definition of equity – you won’t benefit from the $2.5 billion bond fund.

The discussion ended shortly thereafter.

Commissioners decided to take no action and defer the motion to a later date.

Again, please don’t just accept my summary of Tuesday’s meeting; view the video yourself. The discussion was rambling, disjointed, and filled with “memory lapses.” But I believe this summary captures the main points.

Breaking a Golden Rule of Conflict Negotiation

It’s clear from Cagle’s cynical comment about the three, five, or seven conditions, that he despairs this deal will ever be finalized. Every time it comes up, Ellis tries to add more conditions. Most distressing is the fact that he’s also trying to redefine motions that the Court previously agreed to. And that the county refuses to produce the text of after a valid FOIA request.

Harris County Commissioners Court has a real transparency issue.

Ellis is diverting money to projects in his district with new conditions that evolve in each meeting.

A golden rule of conflict resolution states that if you agree to a deal three times and someone still keeps trying to add conditions, you should disengage. That person is just not being honest with you.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/27/2020

1094 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 343 since Imelda

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.

Harris County Commissioners Vote to Take No Action on Raising Taxes at This Time

This morning in a special meeting, Harris County Commissioners debated whether to raise taxes BEFORE they had a certified appraisal from the Harris County Appraisal District.

They chose to take no action for the time being.

Request by Budget Director

The first agenda item said, “Request by Budget Management for discussion and determination if the Court would like (1) to proceed with initial consideration of proposed property tax rates based on the July 24th Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) estimate or (2) to take no action and wait to propose rates based on the Certified Appraisal Roll expected from HCAD in late August.

Commissioners Chose Option 2

The commissioners chose option 2, i.e., to take no action. Much of the debate had to do with accuracy. The budget director outlined several different scenarios that called for different levels of tax increases. One even was based on holding the tax rate constant.

But at least one scenario called for a tax increase that would have required voter approval in November. Getting the increase on the ballot, however, would have required making a decision before August 18 and the completion of the certified appraisal.

The agenda item refers to “late August” for the completion of the certified appraisal. Those concerned about a potential tax increase should watch the calendar for the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Commissioners have scheduled two more meetings for August on the 11th and 25th.

Debate Focused on Economic Hardship

A portion of the debate and one call-in comment focused on the economic hardships that people are laboring under right now. The owner of a Chinese restaurant downtown said that her business was only 30% of the normal level. She and her family have been in business for more than 50 years. She said that they might not even be able to make their current tax payments and also said that she could not handle an increase.

This argument set the tone for the discussion. Several commissioners frequently eat at the restaurant.

At the end of the day, the commissioners voted not to take any action until they knew exactly what the tax base was. They feared raising the taxes too much or too little.

The County has not yet published the different budget scenarios considered in the meeting.

County Will Fight to Include Non-Citizens in Population Counts

The second agenda item stated: “Request by the County Attorney for authorization to file on behalf of the County friend of the court briefs and join in existing/future litigation that challenges federal efforts to exclude non-citizens in population counts when legislative boundaries are redrawn and to further authorize the County Attorney to engage Special Counsel at no cost to the County.”

A majority of the Court voted to approve this. It means the county will fight to include non-citizens in official census counts. That means, when legislative districts are redrawn (which they are after every census), Texas could wind up with more representatives in Congress rather than less. It also means that the composition of the congressional delegation could shift.

Uncertainty Surrounds Estimates of Non-Citizens

No one knows with certainty at this instant how many non-citizens live in Harris County.

The US Census Bureau estimates that 26.1% of the population is foreign born, but makes no estimate of how many foreign-born residents have attained citizenship.

A group called the Migration Policy Institute estimates that 412,000 people in Harris County are unauthorized.

Congressional Districts currently average approximately 711,000 people.

So if the Migration Policy Institute estimate is correct, AND if Harris County is successful, the inclusion of non-citizens won’t be enough to create a new district. However, it will shift some boundaries.

The Texas Secretary of State estimates that as many as 100,000 residents statewide many not have attained citizenship. However, officials are skeptical of the estimates. They are based on the number of people who did not have citizenship when they applied for drivers’ licenses. Many may have attained citizenship after applying for the licenses.

So no one really knows at this point how the inclusion of non-citizens could affect congressional boundaries.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/6/2020

1073 Days after Hurricane Harvey

County Posts Video of Meeting in Which Conditions Were Added to Purchase of Perry Property

Yesterday’s Harris County Commissioners Court meeting contained two separate discussions of vital interest for those worried about flooding in Elm Grove. Thankfully, the Commissioners post video of their meetings online so you can hear exactly what they had to say as well as how they said it.

The meeting went from 10am well into the evening hours. So you can go directly to the relevant portions, I’ve provided the timing code below. All are approximate. Here’s the link: https://harriscountytx.new.swagit.com/videos/62513. Make sure you go to Section V of the video.

County Discusses City’s Partial Adoption of Atlas-14 Standards

The first discussion lasts approximately 10 minutes from 5:20 to 5:30 into the video. It related to Item 1V on the agenda, the adoption of Atlas 14 standards by municipalities within Harris County.

At 5:20:07 John Blount, the county engineer, talks about adoption of Atlas 14. That was one of the original conditions that Commissioners placed on the purchase of the Perry property, i.e., that the City adopt a series of changes to floodplain and drainage regulations related to Atlas 14.

Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis uses that opening to introduce Elm Grove as a topic that wasn’t on the agenda. See Ellis at 5:21:25. He asks how we can get neighboring counties to participate.

Rodney Ellis
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis speaking on Woodridge Village buyout

At 5:22:29, Blount clarifies that the proposed rule changes would apply to the City’s ETJ (extra territorial jurisdiction. That includes most of southern Montgomery county. Blount explains why that’s important. “It’s about protecting our investment in projects so their benefits are not eroded.” He then clarifies that what the county proposes the City adopt is really “Best practices.”

Then, at 5:23:20, Ellis asks whether adoption of Atlas 14 will affect the prioritization of bond projects. Blount confirms it will.

At 5:24:50, Ellis asks whether City has already adopted Atlas 14. Blount explains the City adopted part but not all of the County’s recommendations. “They say they’re going to but they haven’t,” says Blount. “Adopting halfway isn’t helpful,” he says. “They need to adopt the whole thing…both storm-sewer sizing and detention-pond sizing.”

5:27:50 Hidalgo says “It’s about sustainable growth. We want to make sure we’re not flooding people downstream as we grow.”

5:29:50 Hidalgo transitions the discussion to buyouts and land conservation.

Intro to Discussion of Bond Costs and Elm Grove

The second important part for Elm Grove residents runs 42 mins. In this portion of the meeting, Ellis craftily draws Russ Poppe, executive director of Harris County Flood Control, into a discussion of cost escalation relating to flood bond projects. It later becomes clear when the discussion shifts to Elm Grove that Ellis worries the Perry purchase could consume so much money that it would delay or cancel Precinct One projects. This section runs roughly from 7:53 to 8:35.

If the narrative below sounds disjointed, that’s because it was. People kept interrupting each other. The discussion becomes heated. Ellis keeps repeating the same points over and over again as though his fellow commissioners are dullards and don’t get it.

Price Increases and Status of Bond Budget

At 7:53, Ellis queries Poppe about price increases for mitigation projects. Poppe explains that because of increase demand, the price of riprap is up 3X. Poppe also explains that “haul rates” have increased because they are now hauling dirt farther, i.e., beyond the 500-year flood plain. He says, “The biggest component of our costs is the excavation and hauling of dirt.”

7:56 Poppe talks about buyouts (Item 1B on the supplemental agenda). He talks about available funds, the process, number of homes bought out to date, and 400 applications “in process.”

Ellis Shifts Discussion to Perry Buyout

7:58:10 Ellis raises issue of Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village buyout in Montgomery County.

7:58:30 Ellis talks about original conditions for purchase: City would adopt Atlas 14 including inside its ETJ, that Montgomery County would also adopt Atlas 14, and that the City would contribute assets equal to half of the purchase price. He then estimates that the cost of additional detention ponds on the property could range from $20 – 30 million. Poppe confirms that as accurate. 

7:59:30 Ellis adds up component costs: $14 million to acquire, possibly $30 million to develop. “That’s $44 million,” he almost shouts as he leans into the camera.

Ellis Proposes New Condition to Purchase

At 7:59:51 Ellis proposes a new condition to the sale. He wants the county’s offer to Perry to now say that half of development costs must also be covered by the City…not just the half of the purchase price. He also says that the City must actually adopt the Atlas 14 requirements in their entirety, not just “promise to adopt them” at some point in the future. Finally, he wants the Atlas 14 requirements to apply to the City’s extra territorial jurisdiction.

He wants a 50:50 split of ALL costs and wants the City to put up assets to purchase and develop the land.

He wants City assets put up before the purchase so that development of the land won’t be in limbo.

He makes a motion clarify the offer. Garcia seconds the motion.

8:06:48 Cagle reminds people that the offer has already been sent to Perry. He says the letter went out without any requirement about the City’s participation in future development of the property.

Argument Over Past/Future Tense in Wording of ILA

8:07:20 Ellis shifts the discussion. He reads the original letter proposing an interlocal agreement (ILA) with the City. He complains about use of the word “executed”  in regard to the ILA. It says the Atlas 14 requirements “will be” executed when the ILA is signed. He worries about the future tense. He wants the letter to say “Once Atlas 14 regulations have been adopted” (past tense). By that, he means the deal will become effective once the City has adopted the regulations, not when they promise to adopt them at some unspecified point in the future.

It’s clear that he is wary of City promises. He worries about how long it might take to actually adopt Atlas 14. “They could adopt them 20 years from now.”

8:08:40 Ellis clarifies wording of his motion.

8:09:30 Ellis explains why he’s raising this subject outside of executive session: “to put the light of day on the deal.”

8:09:40 Ellis repeats: “My position is all three. Atlas 14. Half of purchase. Half of construction.”

8:10:20 Ellis paints the downside of investing in Montgomery County. “They could put another development up next door and benefit from $30 million worth of detention ponds we built without putting a dime up and doing nothing to stop flooding.”

8:10:35 Garcia interjects. He wants a policy about how Harris County spends dollars in another county.

8:12:10 Cagle agrees that he wants the City to adopt the Atlas 14 provisions before a purchase. Simply signing an interlocal agreement is not enough, he says.

Radack Proposes Deadline for City Adoption of Atlas 14

8:13:42 Radack says, “The City won’t adopt Atlas 14, so we might as well cut to the chase and adopt a deadline. That gives you a clear path.”

8:15:00 Ellis talks about how the project was “heavily lobbied.” “There’s a lawsuit on it,” he adds. He predicts people will say, “So when are you going to do it.” He implies, “Now, we’re liable” for anything that happens.

8:17:10 Hidalgo asks Poppe: How would you clarify the letter so the City knows Atlas 14 must be adopted (past tense), not just that they will adopt it (future tense).

8:17:20 Poppe reads the letter. It says, “Upon execution of the ILA, City of Houston will adopt by default…” Poppe thinks that language covers the problem.

“County Has Made No Commitment to Do a Project Out There”

8:18:00 Poppe says “We’ve made no commitment to do a project out there.”

8:18:30 Ellis goes rogue-elephant negative. “What are you going to do? Turn it into a birding park? You gonna pay for half of that?”

Hidalgo asks whether the language is clear. Poppe says “I will be happy to share the language tomorrow.”

Ellis says, “I want to make a motion so it will be clear.”

8:20 Ellis again makes the motion that includes the same three conditions: City contributes half of purchase and half of construction. City also adopts all Atlas 14 provisions.

8:21:30 Poppe reminds commissioners that the offer letter was already sent on the 14th of May, the day before the 15th deadline.

8:22:00 Hidalgo restates the motion.

Possibility of State or Federal Participation

8:22:15 At this point the discussion shifts a bit. They examine the possibility of 3rd party participation.

8:22:27 Ellis offhandedly reveals his motives at this point. He doesn’t want others taking money from his projects. “I know how this game works,” he says.

8:23:42 Cagle summarizes changes. “We want the City to ADOPT the standards.” “I’m fine with that,” he says. But then he adds that the second change, about construction costs, “hasn’t been in any of our discussions.”

8:23:55 Ellis asks, “Commissioner, what are we going to do with it?”

Cagle Reminds Commissioners of Two Key Elements

8:24:25 Cagle says, “There are two aspects to this development. One of them is that the developer is already putting in some detention ponds in advance and they did not go up on their price because of that work.” Cagle adds that he wants to build a plan before the purchase. He thinks they may be able to sell the extra dirt that needs to be removed. “Problem is though that that’s slower; it will depend on other projects that are going on in region.” By that he means there needs to be a market for the dirt.

Ellis Again Repeats Concerns

8:27:15 Ellis repeats his concerns yet again. “Houston should put up half of the price.” “Why is Harris County doing it all?” Then he goes back to his demands and says, “The current letter does not reflect all three of those conditions.”

8:29:30 Hidalgo clarifies motion. 

Radack Reminds Commission that No Estimates Yet Exist

8:30:40 Radack breaks in and asks how long will it take to come up with an estimate of costs. “It will be very difficult to do anything unless the City and State know how much it will cost.”

8:31:43 A very frustrated and exasperated Jack Cagle says “I feel slapped around.”

8:32:45 Cagle says, “If the second part of the motion is that our partners have to put in as much as we do, I’m fine with that.”

Cagle Makes Motion Reflecting Ellis’ Concerns

8:33:25 Cagle finally makes a motion that includes all three conditions, after Ellis defers to him.

8:33:30 The motion passes unanimously.

8:33:38 Ellis asks for yet another restatement of the motion.

8:34:00 Hidalgo reads the motion into the record.

8:34:44 End of Elm Grove discussion.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/20/2020

995 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Outcome of Commissioners Court Meeting Hopeful for Elm Grove

A marathon 10-hour meeting of Harris County Commissioners Court ended on a hopeful note for Elm Grove Village. But it was an emotional roller-coaster ride. Commissioners discussed whether to purchase Woodridge Village from Perry Homes and use it to build a giant detention facility to protect Elm Grove from future flooding.

The northern part of the 268-acre flood-prone Woodridge Village

Recap of Meeting

Before adjourning to executive session, commissioners discussed their concerns about a potential deal in open session. If you watched it live, you probably worried at that point. Commissioners Ellis and Garcia seemed to look for ways to kill any deal.

For instance, Ellis asked pointed questions about line items in the Flood Bond. He wanted to know what line item the money would come from for Elm Grove. Russ Poppe, Executive Director of the Flood Control District, explained that they set aside money for “San Jacinto Watershed drainage improvements in general.”

Ellis said, “But it wasn’t set aside for this?” Poppe replied that Elm Grove flooding happened after the Bond election, but that it fit the criteria for drainage improvements in the SJR watershed. And Ellis again said, “So it wasn’t set aside for this.”

Video of the meeting has not yet been posted.

Ellis, Garcia, Hidalgo Always Vote as Block

I’ve been told by reliable sources that since the last election, Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis have ALWAYS voted as a block on every issue. So when they went into executive session, I bit my fingernails.

But when the commissioners and county judge came back from executive session, the feeling was more hopeful. We don’t have an agreement to approve a deal. But we have an agreement to keep negotiating.

What Harris County Still Wants

Here’s what commissioners want:

  1. HCFCD will formally request an extension from Perry Homes on its March 31 deadline. This should not be a problem. People aren’t exactly lining up to buy the jinxed Perry Homes property.
  2. HCFCD will also pursue an inter-local agreement with Montgomery County (MoCo) requesting that MoCo follow Atlas 14 guidelines – especially within the City of Houston’s (CoH) extra territorial jurisdiction. MoCo already has adopted the new higher standard since approving Perry Homes’ permits. However, their Atlas-14 standards differ slightly from Harris County’s because MoCo is further north and receives less rainfall. This should not be a deal killer either.
  3. HCFCD will also request an inter-local agreement with CoH. At a town hall meeting in March, the City made it abundantly clear that it would not contribute cash to a buyout. So in lieu of cash, Harris County will request that the City provide assets that could help Engineering or Flood Control complete County projects more cost effectively.

After that the meeting adjourned.

Thank You

Thanks to Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle who put this item on today’s agenda and has kept pushing it. Thanks also to everyone who wrote or called the commissioners requesting their support. Your efforts made a difference. Keep praying.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/7/2020

752 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 201 since Imelda

What You Can Do Right Now to Encourage HCFCD to Buy Woodridge Village Property

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle has placed an item on next Tuesday’s Commissioners’ Court Meeting that will affect the future of Kingwood. It’s to discuss the possibility of Harris County Flood Control spending $10 million to buy the Perry Home’s Woodridge Village property. It contributed to flooding hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest TWICE last year.

Where Will Two More Votes Come From?

Cagle needs at least two more votes on Commissioners Court in addition to his own to approve the effort. Reportedly, Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Adrian Garcia in Precinct 2 and Commissioner Steve Radack in Precinct 3 are the most “gettable.”

Here’s how you can help. Email or call these officials today. Urge them to support Cagle’s motion. Do it NOW. I’ve listed their contact info below.

At Stake: The Future of Kingwood

Ten flooded homes in a row, all vacated. Photo taken in North Kingwood Forest in December 2019. All homes back up to Woodridge Village.

Without help, Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest could drag down the reputation of the entire Kingwood community.

Elm Grove kitchen home five months after being flooded a second time.

These are working class neighborhoods. As much so as any in Harris County. People simply can’t afford to flood again.

Language in last year’s flood bond allows Harris County Flood Control District to buy property in neighboring counties for the purpose of building upstream detention. The lack of detention on Perry Homes’ property is the primary reason hundreds of homes in Kingwood flooded. Two years after clearing the property, Perry Homes still has constructed only 23% of the needed detention.

No Other Good Alternatives At This Time

Harris County Flood Control reportedly can start work on expanding detention capacity as soon as Commissioners reach a deal.

If they can’t, Perry has said it will sell Woodridge Village to another developer or continue to develop the property itself. However, if that happens, the detention ponds on the property would still likely be undersized by 40%. That’s because Perry Homes rushed to get their plans approved before the new, higher Atlas-14 rainfall standards went into effect.

Help Now! Here’s How

To contact Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Garcia or Commissioner Radack:

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo 
  • Phone: 713-274-7000 or (713) 755-8379  
  • Email: judge.hidalgo@cjo.hctx.net
Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Precinct 2
  • Phone: 713-755-6220 or 713-274-2222
  • Email via web form.
Commissioner Steve Radack, Precinct 3

Phone: (713) 755-6306

Email: pct3@pct3.com

Remind them that Harris County receives drainage from at least FIVE surrounding counties. This problem is a county-wide problem, not just a Precinct 4 problem.

Please call or write now if you live in the Kingwood, Huffman, Humble or Atascocita areas. Even if you did not flood, flooding from Woodridge Village affects you and your home value. No one in this area can afford to let this sore fester any longer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/1/2020

946 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 195 since Imelda