Tag Archive for: dolcefino

“The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks”

Wayne Dolcefino, investigative journalist extraordinaire, has released another video about his and Jim McIngvale’s attempts to force Harris County to release public records pertaining to the 2022 election. Lina Hidalgo plays a starring role. And her performance reminds one of Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The line implies that someone who denies something too strongly may be hiding the truth.

Fighting Disclosure Before an Accusation Has Been Made

Neither Dolcefino nor McIngvale have accused Hidalgo of trying to unfairly alter the outcome of the election. They’re just trying to learn what happened.

Yet Hidalgo and her cronies have steadfastly refused to produce public records – records that could easily prove their innocence. Instead:

  • Hidalgo and her team use encrypted apps to communicate, a practice outlawed elsewhere.
  • They tried to charge tens of thousands of dollars to copy emails that should only take seconds.
  • They have redacted the records they do produce so heavily as to make them incomprehensible.
  • For instance, in a list of phone calls, they blacked out EVERY phone number.
Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge and star of “What’s wrong with Sunshine?”, Dolcefino’s new video about his quest for public records. Click image to see video.

The video’s title borrow’s from a saying by Louis Brandeis more than a hundred years ago, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Downward Spiral of Suspicion, Distrust, More Investigation

The loss of trust seems to have resulted in a downward spiral. No telling yet where it will end. But for those old enough to remember, the spectacle is like a rerun of the waning days of Watergate. The shriller President Richard Nixon’s denials became, the more journalists investigated his denials.

And like Nixon, Hidalgo and her courtiers now resort to lame ad hominem attacks, calling those seeking the truth “losers.”

It took two years to uncover the truth in the Watergate scandal. Ultimately, the relentless exposes and investigations ended with Nixon’s impeachment, resignation, and long, slow slide into irrelevance.

From Transparency Advocate to Stonewaller

Ironically, when first out of college, Hidalgo worked for a group called Internews, according to her Wikipedia page. Internews advocates for press freedom around the world. One of its main missions: “Holding governments accountable by supporting investigative journalism…”

Make sure you watch Dolcefino’s 10-minute video. The denials are revealing…methinks.

(Update: 2/18/2023) And lest you think this post is politically motivated by an election denier, check out this editorial in the Houston Chronicle. “Hidalgo has concluded that Mattress Mack’s request for records is hurting democracy,” they say. “The presumption of the Texas Public Information Act has long been that public records are public property and most should be accessible to the owners.”

The editorial continues, “Harris County had the option of transparency and chose obfuscation.” The Chronicle concludes, “Texans have a right to know what their government is doing, how their tax dollars are being spent, and yes, how their elections are being run. That right is under assault…”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/16/2023

1997 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 Stonewalling Production of Documents Related to Election Irregularities

Gallery-furniture owner James McIngvale and investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino are suing the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office for refusal to produce documents related to the controversial 2022 Harris County Election on November 8. “If there’s nothing to hide,” said Dolcefino, “the best way to clear this up is to produce the documents.”

The lawsuit in Harris County District Court seeks the documents requested under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) and recovery of legal fees. It raises huge issues about the transparency of Harris County government in performing one of its most sacred jobs – conducting elections.

Plaintiffs Dolcefino and McIngvale at press conference with lawyer Jeff Diamant announcing lawsuit on 2/14/23.

Internal Investigation Called “Inconclusive” by Election Administrator

In a post-election assessment of the 2022 elections issued by Clifford Tatum, the County Elections Administrator, he called his own internal investigation “inconclusive” His office’s report acknowledged issues such as malfunctioning voting machines, short staffing, and lack of supplies on election day. The report also blamed the United States Postal Service for not moving mail-in ballots quickly enough. And in a first, the report blamed the Astros World Series parade for causing school district closures. The closures allegedly caused delays by presiding judges in opening voting centers located in schools.

Documents Sought

To get to the bottom of these and other issues, Dolcefino requested production of documents in the following categories:

  1. Phone records including text and phone messages for Clifford Tatum between August 1, 2022 and the present. Tatum’s emails and their attachments on Election Day. And all emails between Precinct 1 and Tatum since August 1, 2022.
  2. All documents dealing with voting machine maintenance issues on Election Day, plus all documents pertaining to inspection of their logic and accuracy before Election Day.
  3. The amount of ballot paper provided to each precinct on Election Day and the number of voters who voted at each precinct. This includes emails between the Administrator’s office and precinct judges regarding paper shortages.
  4. All election complaints, whether by email or phone, received by the Election Administrators Office and County Judge Lina Hidalgo between November 8 and the present.
  5. A list of all polling locations for 2020 and 2022 elections, plus all emails to/from Tatum re: an audit by the Secretary of State.
  6. Emails to/from Tatum between May 1, 2022, and Election Day re: maintenance of polling machines, ballot paper supplies, and changes in polling locations.

Documents Produced

According to the lawsuit, to date, the Elections Administration Office has only produced documents relating to:

  1. One portion of #3 – number of voters, but not the amount of ballot paper supplied for them.
  2. One portion of #5 – the list of polling locations, but no audit emails.

Reasons Cited for Not Releasing Documents

The Elections Administration Office repeatedly cites pending litigation as the reason for refusing to produce the requested documents. The lawsuit lays out why Dolcefino and McIngvale believe the “litigation exception” should not apply. He cites extensively from the Texas Government Code Section 552.103(A). It was intended to prevent the litigation exception from circumventing the intent of the TPIA, i.e., to make public information available to the public. 

The Elections Administration Office also claims an “audit working-papers exception” to TPIA. It allows withholding information under audit.

However, Dolcefino points out that release of the documents is discretionary. There’s no law or rule saying the county must withhold them.

Plaintiffs Claim Defendant Has Not Met Burden of Proof

However, McIngvale and Dolcefino claim that the Elections Administration Office has failed to meet its burden of proof re: the exceptions. The lawsuit says that the Election Administrator Office has blocked virtually all releases of information without valid explanations or precedents. The bulk of the 20-page lawsuit examines, on a case-by-case basis, why McIngvale and Dolcefino believe legal precedents cited by the Elections Administration office should not apply. 

They request a jury hearing on the merits of their arguments.

Says the suit, “Simply because litigation pertaining to an election has been filed or is anticipated does not permit the Harris County Elections Administrator to withhold his communications simply by benefit of his office.”

County Shortcomings Identified by State Audit

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit cites repeated and widespread failures in Harris County. For instance, in December 2022, a Texas-Secretary-of-State audit of Harris County found:

  • Mobile ballot boxes containing 184,999 cast-vote records that were included in the tally did not have a proper chain of custody.
  • Documentation for the creation of 17 mobile ballot boxes accounting for 124,630 cast-vote records could not be produced.
  • Unlike other counties, Harris County did not release a list showing polling locations comparing variance between the number of voters checked in and the number of votes cast.
  • The State’s Forensic Audit Division was not allowed to speak to pertinent Elections Administration staff until the month before the election.

Dolcefino said, “The quickest way to make all this go away is to release the documents.” 

Needed to Hold Government Officials Accountable

In my opinion, this is information that citizens need to hold their government officials accountable. As the Washington Post says, “Democracy dies in darkness.”

The preamble to the Texas Government Code holds that “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

In my limited experience, I have found that departments that have nothing to hide willingly produce information. On the other hand, those that withhold information trigger suspicion, undermine trust, and cause more journalists to dig deeper. The resulting public outrage, often backfires on the stonewallers in the long run. 

Unfortunately, the courts move so slowly these days, this dispute may not be settled before the next election. So the information the secret documents contain may not help us conduct a better election next time. Now let’s see. Who’s responsible for courts?

To see the full lawsuit, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/14/2023

1995 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.

Town Fighting for Survival Stonewalled By County, State Officials at Every Turn

In the last year, I have researched and written more than 50 posts that mentioned Colony Ridge, the controversial Liberty County development with suspect drainage practices. In the last six months, County and State officials have stonewalled requests for documents that could help prove or disprove Colony Ridge violations of the County’s own drainage regulations.

Lack of back-slope interceptor swales and drains means water from lots erodes ditches and sends sediment downstream. Liberty County drainage regulations require back-slope interceptor systems and grass. See Section M on page 100 of Liberty County Subdivision and Development Regulations. But lack of those measures has widened ditch more than 35 feet due to erosion in 6 years, according to Google Earth.

During that year, Wayne Dolcefino, an eminent investigative journalist with a long list of awards, also started investigating Colony Ridge. He, too, has been stonewalled.

Dolcefino Consulting is independently investigating on behalf of neighboring Plum Grove. Residents allege that water spilling out of Colony Ridge has repeatedly contributed to flooding their properties. They have been stonewalled.

Likewise, Colony Ridge drainage wiped out FM1010, a major access road to Plum Grove, because of uncontrolled drainage coming the ditch shown above.

Dolcefino and the City of Plum Grove have filed even more requests for information than I and received little. Today, Dolcefino launched another broadside to remind people that their elected representatives seem to be representing a developer instead of them. See his report below.

Dolcefino Stonewalled; Issues Press Release

The tiny Liberty County, Texas town of Plum Grove has been fighting to save itself from real estate developer Colony Ridge, and now the town is battling back with subpoenas for the records that will prove whether missing drainage records ever existed at all. 

One of those subpoenas was delivered to LandPlan Engineering—the engineering firm that allegedly prepared the plans for the sprawling Colony Ridge subdivision that caters to illegal immigrants with owner-financed lots that do not require government documents to prove identity. 

LandPlan has been asked to produce drainage records, but they have also been asked to show the information that they received about flooding events that have helped swamp Plum Grove properties and destroy the town’s roads. In other words, once Colony Ridge created a subdivision that flooded its neighbors, did anyone care?

The fact that drainage records were missing was uncovered by Dolcefino Consulting, who were hired by the town to investigate possible corruption involving the Liberty County officials who approved what is now becoming the biggest community in the entire county. 

“Good Ole’ Boy Protection Racket”

Liberty County has known for months the drainage records were missing and has ignored calls to force LandPlan and Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris to produce the records. An alleged investigation by the Liberty County Attorney Matt Poston has never been produced. Emails show that the county engineering firm LJA hasn’t pressed the issue either. 

“There is absolutely no excuse for Liberty County to have not forced the production of these records long ago,” said Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The Liberty County Judge Jay Knight has proven his negligence, his absolute disdain for the people of Plum Grove, and the next time it floods, if animals or people die, the blood will be on his hands. That’s the bottom line. I bet he would care if it was his neighborhood.” 

The former county engineer Louis Bergman was also subpoenaed. When Bergman left his job with Liberty County, he left with many of the Colony Ridge development records. 

“Bergman should have been brought before a grand jury to detail his relationships with Colony Ridge and whether his recommendations to approve these neighborhoods were based on facts or good ole’ boy engineering,” Dolcefino said. 

Bergman is the father of the Liberty County District Attorney, who has ignored calls from Dolcefino Consulting. 

The flood dangers created by Colony Ridge have threatened the world-famous Ima Survivor Sanctuary in Plum Grove, prompting angry calls for action from hundreds of thousands of supporters across the globe. 

“Time is running out Judge Knight,” Dolcefino said. “When Plum Grove proves the truth—and the lawyers at Lloyd Gosselink will—the truth will come out.” 

The Plum Grove investigation has led to the filing of a criminal complaint by Dolcefino Consulting against the State Representative for Plum Grove Ernest Bailes. 

Bailes refused to provide phone records that were sought in the investigation of his relationship with developer Trey Harris. Bailes has refused to deny acceptance of any trips or private business from Harris. The San Jacinto Sheriff Greg Capers has refused to investigate Bailes. 

“This good ole’ boy protection racket would rather protect Representative Bailes than the public right to know,” Dolcefino said. “Since our reporting on San Jacinto County began, we have received some interesting tips. Stay tuned.”

I might add that for months I have been stonewalled, too. Not one of my inquiries about the county’s drainage investigation which was launched last January has even received an “I can’t comment about ongoing investigations”!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/15/2021 based on a press release by Dolcefino Consulting

1416 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 655 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.

Liberty County Launches Major Investigation into Colony Ridge Irregularities

Wayne Dolcefino announced this afternoon that Liberty County Judge Jay Knight has confirmed the county will launch a major investigation into the controversial Colony Ridge Development. Dolcefino is one of the country’s leading investigative journalists.

Flooding Concerns at Heart of Investigation

The massive housing development between the San Jacinto East Fork and Luce Bayou has sparked flooding concerns for tens of thousands of families both nearby in Plum Grove and downstream as far as Lake Houston.

The probe will focus on the accuracy of soil reports and drainage plans used to justify approval of the neighborhoods.

Wayne Dolcefino

Plum Grove hired Dolcefino to fight years of neglect by county officials as floods washed out roads and damaged most of the structures in the tiny town.

The investigation comes after a widening investigation by Dolcefino Consulting and one day after publication of a post in ReduceFlooding.com titled Flooding of the Fifth Kind: By Government Neglect.

“Right before the new year, two inches of rain in Colony Ridge produced flooding. Creeks in Plum Grove were full to the brim. That’s raising alarm bells,” said Dolcefino.

Pictures of flooded lots WITHIN Colony Ridge also raised alarms. They show that water is not soaking in or running off the way it should.

Flooded lot 24 hours after a 2 inches of rain in two days. Resident keeps throwing sand into the ponds, but it’s not helping much.
A newly developing portion of Colony Ridge.
Another newly developing portion of Colony Ridge. Much of the area has been carved out of wetlands. See USGS map below.
Note water surrounding the house.
New lot next to drainage ditch won’t even drain.
When water won’t soak in, people suffer.

Soil Types Are Key Issue

There is evidence to suggest that LandPlan Engineering mischaracterized the type of soil in its drainage plans for Colony Ridge. Their calculations assumed the soil had a high rate of infiltration when it actually had a low rate.

So instead of water soaking into the ground, it runs off. The presence of so many wetlands in Colony Ridge before development should have been a tipoff.

Most of the wetlands in Colony Ridge before development are gone now, but the problems remain. This USGS map shows where they were. Some areas just should not be developed.

By misrepresenting soil types, LandPlan Engineering understated the amount of detention and drainage capacity needed by 6X to 9X, according to TXDoT guidelines.

Had LandPlan properly represented the soil, Colony Ridge would have had to put in more detention ponds and widen ditches to prevent flooding. But that would have been costly for the developer.

Harris County Flood Control officials worry the drainage problems in Colony Ridge increase flood risk in Harris County. So do downstream residents. I talked to one in Harris County today who has flooded repeatedly since Colony Ridge started clearing land. She is disabled and can’t afford to move. Neither can she afford to stay.

Missing Reports Another Part of Investigation

Liberty County also admits that many of the drainage analysis reports – required by county ordinance – are missing. The county made the admission after Dolcefino Consulting filed formal requests to see the records used by former Liberty County engineer Louis Bergman to recommend approval of the large development.

Liberty County Attorney Matthew Poston confirmed to Dolcefino that 19 missing reports will be part of the investigation.

Hopefully, the investigation will also explain why virtually all the surviving reports are labeled “preliminary.” The county could not supply ReduceFlooding.com with any documents showing changes to or final approvals of the plans.

“We want to see what Bergman signed, and if the investigation proves claims about the soil are untrue that could be a big problem,” Dolcefino said. The former county engineer has refused comment.

His daughter is the new District Attorney for Liberty County. One can only hope that she recuses herself from any part of this investigation.

If damning evidence exists in reports the county DID supply, one can only imagine what’s in those the County can’t or won’t produce.

How the Other Half Lives

Colony Ridge developers “owner financed” many of the lots in the sprawling neighborhood, in part, because many residents do not have driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers. Nearly 97 percent of the foreclosures in Liberty County last year came from Colony Ridge.

Said Dolcefino, “This is the first step in holding Liberty County officials accountable before another neighborhood is approved. We need to know why these documents are missing, and we are going to get to the bottom of this one way or the other.” I second that.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/4/2021 based in part on information from Wayne Dolcefino

1224 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.

Rivers of Mud, Part Dos: Wayne Dolcefino Uncovers More Liberty County Dirt

Wayne Dolcefino, one of the country’s great investigative journalists, has been digging into Colony Ridge, as I have. So when he asked me last week if his videographer could hitch a ride on my helicopter, I said “sure.”

New Dolcefino Video Covers More Dimensions of Flooding Problem

While I shot hundreds of stills over Colony Ridge, his videographer shot 90 minutes of video. Dolcefino edited it together with other footage. His 8-minute video includes:

  • The most recent Liberty County Commissioner’s meeting
  • Attempted interviews with Trey Harris, the Colony Ridge developer
  • Some mind-boggling political donations made by Harris
  • An interview with a Harris County flood official
  • Articles from ReduceFlooding.com, including my recent Colony Ridge post, Rivers of Mud.
Wayne Dolcefino begs Liberty County Judge Jay Knight and commissioners to watch video of drainage violations at Colony Ridge before voting on new plats for the developer. They approved the plats without watching his video.

While I have focused primarily on the physical issues involved in flooding, Dolcefino has also focused on political issues. He literally digs deeper into the problem.

From Colony Ridge to the Liberty County Courthouse

The background for Dolcefino’s latest video is a Liberty County Commissioner’s Court meeting in which he attempted to show Commissioners video of drainage violations in Colony Ridge before they voted on additional plats for the developer.

Commissioners approved the plats after refusing to watch the video. Then, incredibly, one said he didn’t see any proof of violations.

And that – in one brief soundbite – explains why flooding is such a difficult problem to solve.

Colony Ridge violates Liberty County drainage standards because ditches have no backslope interceptor swales to reduce erosion. Most also lack grass.

I highly recommend Dolcefino’s video if you want to understand – in your gut – how politics can affect local flooding.

Out-Scrooging Scrooge

You may also find Trey Harris’ refusal to answer questions about deplorable living conditions in Colony Ridge, coupled with interest rates up to 13% on land purchases, quite interesting. It only took 177 years for someone to out-Scrooge Ebenezer Scrooge, the protagonist from Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. But, in my opinion, the Colony Ridge developer now sets the standard.

Merry Christmas from Colony Ridge. Photographed December 7, 2020.
Colony Ridge residents living in tents without water or sewer hookups at Christmas time. A fulfillment of the American Dream for many immigrants according to Colony Ridge PR. Photographed December 7, 2020.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/13/2020 based on reporting by Wayne Dolcefino

1202 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 451 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.

Colony Ridge Declares War on Investigative Journalist, Too

Not long ago, Colony Ridge, the world’s largest trailer park, went to war with the City of Plum Grove. Now they are taking on Wayne Dolcefino, one of the nation’s leading. investigative journalists, too.

Somebody needs to tell Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris to give his employees some media training. When Dolcefino set his sights on Colony Ridge, several employees greeted him with hostile language. The word “threatening” comes to my mind. Surely they should know that this will only focus more media attention on their dubious business model.

Dolcefino Credentials

Dolcefino and his television shows have won:

  • Thirty Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
  • Five Charles Green Awards
  • An Edward R. Murrow award
  • A Jack Howard Award for investigative reporting
  • Numerous honors from the Associated Press and Texas Association of Broadcasters
  • An unprecedented three medals from the international journalism organization Investigative Reporters and Editors.

So it was ironic that Dolcefino titled his latest piece on the war between Plum Gove and Colony Ridge an “Unfair Fight.” If you want to see one of the nation’s top journalists at the top of his form, check out this story.

Colony Ridge’s land clearing practices, erosion, and lack of workable detention ponds, have contributed to sedimentation in the East Fork watershed. The developer’s wastewater treatment vendor has also been cited numerous times by the TCEQ for discharging raw sewage into area streams.

But Dolcefino goes way beyond those problems. Check out the revolving-door foreclosures, fake foreclosure auctions, and predatory lending practices that target the vulnerable.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/27/2020

1186 Days after 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.