Tag Archive for: Harris County

Texas Ranks #2 in States with Most Flood Damage

It’s easy to forget flooding in the middle of a drought. But we should never forget that Texas ranks #2 in states with the most flood damage. This and other statistics below demonstrate why we shouldn’t become complacent.

Debris pile from Imelda flood in Elm Grove Village (Kingwood).

Different Measures, Similar Rankings

Many ways exist to rank flood-prone areas and Texas ranks high on most of them.

  • National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP) payouts? Texas ranks #2 after Louisiana between 1978-2021.
  • Most hurricanes? Out of the 300 hurricanes that made landfall in the US since 1851, Texas ranks #2 after Florida with 66 hitting the Lone Star state – 22% of the U.S. total.
  • Percentage of state’s total population living in floodplains? Texas ties for 10th according to a 2017 study. But a 2023 TWDB study shows that 20% of Texans now live in floodplains; that would tie us for 3rd if nothing else changed.
  • Most disaster declarations? Texas ranks #2 when considering all types.
  • Flood deaths? Texas ranks #1. Two hundred people died between 2010 and 2022. Over a longer period of time, 1959-2014, the state had over 850 flood deaths.
  • More Texans live in floodplains (one in five) than the entire populations of 30 other states.

Harris County Ranking

As bad as the Texas statistics are, Harris County’s are even worse.

Between 1978 and 2021, Harris County led all counties in the the entire country for NFIP claims filed (171,300), about 44% of the total claims for all of Texas.

Moreover, 42% of all Texans living in floodplains live in the San Jacinto watershed. The number of floodplain dwellers in the San Jacinto watershed alone exceeds the population of 15 states and the District of Columbia.

A Big Target

It’s important to look at many different measures, because no one measure conveys the full picture. For instance:

  • Number of hurricanes also reflects miles of subtropical shoreline.
  • The sheer size and population of Texas make it rank high on many measures. Said another way, we are a big target.
  • The high clay content of our soils discourages infiltration and encourages runoff of rainfall.
  • Dollar losses may depend as much as on affluence or population density in floodplains as the severity of flooding.
  • Dollar losses in Texas also reflect old building codes in many locations.

And then there’s the huge number of mobile homes in Texas. They are notoriously susceptible to high winds, like those often associated with hurricanes.

Their placement also makes them more vulnerable to flooding than other types of housing. A study by Headwaters Economics found that one in seven mobile homes is located in an area with high flood risk, compared to one in 10 for all other housing types.

Texas, a Leader in…

Texas leads the nation in many things: oil, gas, cotton, job creation, economic expansion and more. Unfortunately, we’re also a leader in flooding.

Better land-use and building codes could certainly help reduce the flooding. But will the state’s new flood plan recommend that? The focus seems to be on flood mitigation more than flood prevention.

The San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group recommended $46 billion worth of studies and mitigation projects in its regional plan. And the San Jacinto is just one of 15 watersheds in the state!

In sharp contrast to the magnitude of mitigation needs, the legislature voted only approximately $1 billion for flood prevention projects this year.

That’s enough to make a dent in the state’s budget, but not the problem. Perhaps we need to re-examine our priorities.

Posted by Bob Rehak on September 4, 2023, Labor Day

2197 Days since Hurricane Harvey


Smoking Guns Buried in Harris County 2022 Primary Election Report

This week, Harris County is releasing to the public a final report on the botched March 2022 primary election – a year after the report’s completion. That’s almost a year after a second botched election last November that has mired the County in lawsuits over election results.

For full 3 mb report, click here.

The report recommended a number of changes in election processes. Had the then newly appointed Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum implemented the recommendations before the November election, many of the problems experienced by voters might have been prevented. But no one has explained why Tatum didn’t.

Most of the problems detailed in March also happened in November.

Fifty pages of election-worker survey data buried at the end of the March election report quantifies the magnitude of the problems that voters experienced.

As you read the numbers below, keep in mind that County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s official margin of victory was 1.65%.

Key Takeaways from Data

The following results jumped out at me.

Question 18 on page 100

Quantified the percentages of poll workers who experienced the following types of equipment problems:

  • Almost one third (31.4%) of workers had problems with the Duos (machines that create both electronic and paper versions of voters’ choices).
  • One fifth (19.3%) of workers had problems with the Scanners.
  • One tenth (9.8%) of workers had problems with the ePollBooks.
Question 17 on page 99

Delved into who (among election workers) had the problems and when:

  • One third (36.5%) of workers had problems with equipment during setup and operation.
  • The degree of problems did not vary significantly by the amount of election experience that the worker had, suggesting the problems were not caused by inexperience.
  • The problems virtually doubled on Primary Election Day compared to early voting (24.2% for early voting compared to 46.3% for Election Day).
  • 45.8% of Republican election workers experienced problems compared to 29% of Democrats.
Question 10A on page 66

Measured the rough estimates of election workers as to voters who experienced problems:

  • 6.5% of election workers felt most voters had problems recording votes on new machines.
  • Another 13.5% felt “less than half” of the voters had problems recording their votes.
  • So, 20% of election workers saw more than “a few voters” experiencing problems.
Question 9 on page 65

Measured how long it took election workers to get help via phone:

  • Twice as many Republicans (21.4%) had to wait longer than a half hour on the help line compared to Democrats (11%).

This contributed to long lines during the November election.

Question 7 on page 63

Measured how long it took election workers to pick up supplies:

  • 22.7% of Republicans said they had to wait longer than an hour for their supplies compared to 13.7% of Democrats.

This contributed to many polls opening late in November.

Question 24 on Page 105

Looked at Political Affiliation of poll workers:

  • Democratic workers outnumbered Republicans by 12.1% (51.5% to 39.4%).

Vague Recommendations Don’t Get to Heart of Issue

The recommendations by the consultant performing the analysis focused mainly on processes and process improvements. Their recommendations on page 108 include:

  • Refine and prioritize desired objectives and outcomes;
  • Identify performance measures to meet outcomes;
  • Inventory the data assets available to measure outcomes;
  • Identify gaps in available data assets;
  • Establish clear lines of responsibility among EAO staff for each outcome or category of outcomes; and
  • Design processes to monitor the progress toward meeting outcomes.

Nowhere in the 114 page report did the consultant use the word “fair,” as in “conduct a fair election” to describe an outcome.

Results of word search in PDF

“B Certified”

The consultant’s report did, however, give us a clue about their company values.

A “B certified” watermark showed up on virtually every page of the ForsMarsh report. I didn’t know what that meant, so I looked it up.

BCorporation.net, a company that B-certifies other companies says, “Certified B Corporations are leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy. Unlike other certifications for businesses, B Lab is unique in our ability to measure a company’s entire social and environmental impact.”

In choosing a vendor to audit the election, it would seem that Harris County selected a vendor that was more concerned with social impact than fairness. Their report demonstrates that.

Little Fanfare for Long-Awaited Report

The ForsMarsh Group delivered its report to Harris County on August 31, 2022. It’s now available to the public as the backup to Agenda Item 313 for the August 8, 2023, Commissioners Court meeting. That’s little fanfare for a long-awaited report.

By the way, #313 is a simple transmittal of the report to commissioners. No context or explanation is provided.

Too bad we didn’t have the report in a timely way before the November election last year. So much for transparency!

And little wonder that County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum is playing dodgeball with depositions. At the end of June this year, Tatum failed to appear for a scheduled deposition. And now, attorneys representing Judge Lina Hidalgo filed a motion to quash any further depositions of Tatum.

One Final Qualification and a Question

Harris County has also stonewalled production of records related to the November election. Data in the just-released report finally quantifies issues in the March primary election. However, it does not measure November election problems directly, i.e., those over which Tatum presided.

Regardless, the Primary data parallels independently compiled evidence of similar problems found on Election Day in November. That raises one final question: Nine months after the November election, why haven’t we seen an official report on it yet?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/7/23

2169 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.

65% of Harris County Flood-Bond Projects that Lost Funding Are in Precinct 3

Harris County has put 37 of 93 subdivision drainage projects associated with the $2.5 billion 2018 Flood Bond on hold.

Reasons include:

  • Lack of funding
  • Inflation
  • Shortfalls in expected partner contributions
  • Constructibility of some projects
  • Social-vulnerability scores within the County’s Equity Prioritization Framework.

Of the 37 projects whose funding was cut, 24 were in Precinct 3 – a whopping 65 percent.

Technically, the projects have not been “cancelled.” The county has just run out of money to do them. But it has set no deadline for revisiting the projects on hold; is diverting HCTRA backstop funding for other uses; has articulated no other plan for raising additional funds; and is submitting projects for HUD funding that weren’t in the flood bond.

Here’s the explanation for the motion approved by Commissioner’s court on 2/21/23.

Did Your Project Get the Funding Ax?

The following three tables show the projects put on hold. (Note: six are duplicated between tables 2 and 3.)

Table One: Cuts based on feasibility and non-co-operating partners. Source: Harris County Commissioners Court.
Table 2: So-called Equity cuts. Source: Harris County Commissioners Court.
Table 3/Part A. More so-called Equity cuts, also approved by Commissioners Court.
Table 3/Part B.

Commissioners court cut funding for projects in all three tables.

Impact of SVI Threshold on Disproportionate Budget Cuts

The deciding factor in many cases was the area’s social vulnerability index (SVI), which measures English language fluency plus minority and ethnic concentrations.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Ramsey argued to lower the SVI requirement for these projects to 50%. That would have met HUD requirements and also meant fewer budget cuts for Precinct 3.

But his Democratic colleagues proceeded to set the threshold at 75%, resulting in the lopsided cuts. The chart below shows how dramatically that affected Equity Prioritization Index rankings in the tables above.

Ramsey Looking for Other Sources of Funding

Ramsey has been beating the bushes to find more money. Recently he got a commitment from Texas General Land Office Commissioner Dawn Buckingham to ensure $825 million in HUD funds going to Harris County Flood Control would be distributed equally among all precincts.

That should help fund several Precinct 3 projects and perhaps free up money for some of the subdivision drainage projects put on hold.

Drowning in the Semantic Wilderness

Ironically, even as others throw roadblocks in the way of Precinct 3 projects, HCFCD insists no projects will be cancelled.

Screen capture on 7/11/2023 from HCFCD webpage about the Equity Prioritization Framework as it applies to subdivision drainage projects.

But according to this motion, they will be paused, put on hold, and have their funding cut.

Harris County Engineering, Flood Control, Daniel Ramos from the Office of Management and Budget and the Harris County Toll Road Authority all recommended the funding cuts on 2/21/23.

Their rationale: It will provide funding certainty for the highest ranked projects using the Equity Prioritization Index and free up the Toll Road Funds for other uses. The toll road funds were backstopping bond funds.

The county made these recommendations even as it was planning to spend HUD dollars on projects NOT in the flood bond.

Unfortunately, six years after Harvey, no large pots of money remain out there dedicated to the storm. Ramsey has his work cut out for him against 4-1 odds.

Is Race-Based Funding Even Constitutional?

To justify the unequal cuts, the other three commissioners and county judge relied on complicated race-based formulas that favor minorities. Then they justified the funding cuts with the usual misleading “worst first” mantra when they aren’t even measuring actual flood damage.

The recent Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action calls into question whether race-based funding is even constitutional.

I’m eager to hear from lawyers on the constitutionality of distributing billions of dollars on the basis of racial discriminators, such as SVI.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/11/23

2142 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.

A First: Houston, Harris County Both Meet HUD/GLO Disaster-Relief Benchmarks in Same Time Period

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) announced today that for the first time ever since Hurricane Harvey, both Houston and Harris County have each met their benchmarks for expending disaster relief funds – in the SAME time period. They may have individually met performance benchmarks before, but never together in the same review period.

Both Harris County and Houston have semiannual expenditure benchmarks in their Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funding contracts with the GLO, per HUD guidance. “These milestones were set by the City and County and approved by the GLO to ensure all programs will be completed as timely as possible,” said a GLO spokesperson.

A New Era of Cooperation Yielding Results Already

Dawn Buckingham, M.D., the new GLO Commissioner credits open communications and focused cooperation. “The GLO is dedicated to helping Harris County and the City of Houston put these vital funds to good use.”

GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, M.D., speaking at a joint press conference in March. Others L to R: Harris County Community Services Interim Exec Director Thao Costis, HCFCD Exec Director Dr. Tina Petersen, P4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, P2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, P3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey PE, P1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, County Attorney Christian Menefee.

This is good news. In years past, the relationship between Houston, Harris County, GLO and HUD foundered over performance benchmarks, cooperation and communication. But now, new players are in place. And 5+ years after Harvey, the City, County and State all face “use it or lose it” deadlines from HUD.

More Money Hangs in Balance

While the performance benchmarks in question have to do only with unexpended, Harvey-related, disaster-relief funds, much more money hangs in the balance.

The success of the relationship will also affect $750 million in CDBG-mitigation funds and another $322 million in unspent funds that the GLO shifted from expiring projects to Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).

Earlier this month, HCFCD presented Commissioners Court with a proposed project list for those funds. HCFCD is reportedly still trying to define the areas benefited by each of those projects before final approval. However, HUD and the GLO seem pleased with both the progress and the collaborative working relationships that have developed.

Everyone seems to respond positively to Dr. Buckingham’s working style – described as “supportive,” yet “results oriented.”

  • Commissioner Adrian Garcia stated publicly, “I want to give a shout out to the GLO and Commissioner Buckingham for her support of Harris County and giving us a degree of trust.”
  • Commissioner Tom Ramsey complimented the fairness of project list, noting that it worked out to about 25% for each precinct. He stated, “job well done by the whole.” 
  • Commissioner Lesley Briones said, “This is so wonderful that we were able to hit reset and really focus on the progress going forward.” 

Nature Provides Its Own Deadlines

It can’t happen soon enough for Harris County residents who live under constant threat of floods. Monday afternoon, Tropical Storm Brett formed in the Atlantic. Another storm with an 80% chance of formation in the next 7 days follows closely behind. That’s up from 50% yesterday afternoon.

National Hurricane Center update as of 10:45AM EDT Tuesday, June 20, 2023

It’s too early to tell with any reliability where/whether/when either of these disturbances will make landfall.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/19/2023

2120 Days since Hurricane Harvey and Updated on 6/20/2023 with new storm information and photo.

Harris County Approves $825 Million Flood-Mitigation Project List For HUD/GLO Funds

On June 6, 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended to Commissioners Court a flood-mitigation and disaster-relief project list totaling $825 million. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated the funds to Harris County via the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The projects will require another $145 million in local-match funds from the 2018 Flood Bond. Thus, the projects are worth close to a billion dollars.

Commissioners Court unanimously approved the project list with little discussion. Each precinct will receive a relatively equal amount of projects and funding, according to Commissioner Ramsey.

Two Buckets of Money

The money comes in two buckets: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds totaling $322.5 million and hazard mitigation funds totaling $502.5 million. HCFCD intends to use both primarily for channel improvements and stormwater-detention-basin projects.

Further, HCFCD has divided its project list into primary and backup recommendations.

Factors Used to Determine Recommendations

HCFCD developed the project list with the following factors in mind:

HUD normally gives priority to projects that help minority and low-income areas. However, the two major buckets have different LMI requirements. They also have different deadlines.

HCFCD must spend 100% of the Disaster-Relief (DR) funds by August 2026. And they must benefit areas where 70% of the residents qualify as LMI (below the average income for the region).

The Mitigation funds have more time and a 50% LMI requirement. No less than 50% of the $750,000,000 – from which the $502.5 is carved – must be expended by January 12, 2027, with the full balance expended by January 12, 2032.

So the DR funds have more urgency attached to them and that list includes projects closest to “construction ready.”

Reason for Backup Projects

According to HCFCD, the project list will likely evolve based on review by GLO, project schedules and project costs. Budgets are estimates based upon today’s dollars. They will change as projects advance. 

Fatal flaws may also become visible as projects advance toward construction. So, HCFCD requested and received permission to substitute alternate projects as needed if the intended projects become non-viable.  

1 Recommended, 1 Alternate Project in Lake Houston Area

The “recommended” list includes one primary project in the Lake Houston Area: Taylor Gully Improvements.

It also includes one project on the alternate list: the Woodridge Village Stormwater Detention Basin, part of which is already under construction.

Locations of HCFCD Mitigation and Disaster-Relief project recommendations

9 Upstream Projects

HCFCD is also recommending nine upstream projects on tributaries that feed into Lake Houston.

Primary recommendations include:

  • Upper Cypress Creek Floodplain Preservation
  • Part 3 of the Kluge Stormwater Detention Basin on Little Cypress Creek
  • Rehabilitation of the Kickerillo Mischer Preserve Channel on Cypress Creek
  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Part 1 on Willow Creek
  • Channel Rehabilitation, Batch 5 on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • East and West TC Jester Detention Basins on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • Detention for Channel Rehabilitation on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek, Batch 5

Alternate recommendations include:

  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Phase II on Willow Creek
  • Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin on Cypress Creek

Click here to see the full list of projects.

Project-Specific Data Available Soon

The project list does not include information on how much these projects would contribute to flood reduction – either locally or downstream. However, HCFCD expects to post that information to its website before the projects go to the GLO for approval in the coming months.

Partnership-Funding Gap Affected

Likewise, HCFCD did not include with this list an estimate of how much it would affect the partner-funding gap.

Some time ago, HCFCD projected that it could finish all the projects in the flood bond using a combination of:

  • Taxpayer approved funds
  • Partner funds already committed
  • Harris County Toll Road Authority money allocated to the Flood Resilience Trust.

But to finish all the projects in the Flood Bond, HCFCD “phased” some projects. It knew it wouldn’t have enough money to complete 100% of some large projects. So, several phases might have been included and others deferred.

It appears that several projects on today’s list include some deferred phases. So the “partner-funding gap” may not be reduced as much as originally thought. Net: HCFCD may or may not have to look for additional funds. The District expects it will know more after GLO approves the list.

HCFCD must also come back to Commissioners Court by July 18 with an estimate for ongoing maintenance and land management costs for all the projects.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2023

2107 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Hidalgo Accuses Legislature, Governor of “Murder Plot” against 5 Million Harris County Residents

Of all the things Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo could have picked on in Austin this year, she chose to get hysterical over a bill that would return the control of Harris County elections to … ta da … two elected African-American Democrats!

Hidalgo is complaining bitterly about SB 1750, a bill passed by both the House and the Senate – now on its way to the Governor’s desk and likening it to a “murder plot.”

She made her comments in this 7 minute and 40 second YouTube Video. And she embellishes them in this second video lasting more than 17 minutes.

Investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino produced his own video based on Hidalgo’s comments.

In addition to SB 1750, Hidalgo also complains about:

  • SB 1933, a bill that would give the state the right to investigate election administration problems.
  • SB 1039, a bill designed to guarantee explanations for election irregularities – without concerned citizens having to challenge the entire election.
  • SB 1993, a bill allowing new elections if enough polling places run out of ballots long enough. (However, it has no chance of passing in this session.)

I won’t try to discuss every statement made in Hidalgo’s rambling rants. You can watch the videos and form your own opinions. I will, however, point out some of Hidalgo’s more exaggerated claims.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo accusing Legislature and Governor of plot to murder 5 million people

Hidalgo Likens System that Elected Her to Murder

SB 1750 would take the next election out of the hands of an administrator appointed by Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Commissioner Adrian Garcia. It would restore the previous system run by the County Clerk and Tax Assessor-Collector. By the way, that’s the same system that elected Hidalgo over the previous County Judge, Ed Emmett.

Yet Hidalgo says she “can’t think of something more anti-democratic” than putting elections in the hands of elected officials rather than someone appointed by her.

She also claims Austin is “declaring war on Harris County.” And that legislators and the governor are engaged in a “murder plot” against every resident of Harris County. Yep, all 5 million of them.

As if that’s not enough…

Hidalgo calls the attempted murder of 5 million people “not normal.”

Then the master of understatement accuses the Legislature and Governor of “Orwellian double-speak” and “attacking democratic ideals.”

She blasts election audits, claims they are an abuse of the system, subvert her authority, and disenfranchise millions of voters “whose voices will be silenced.” After they destroy Harris County’s economy.

“They’re coming after us,” she says. She doesn’t specify whether “they” includes people with gavels or straight jackets.

Excuse me, Judge. But how is returning local elections to locally elected Democrats attacking democratic ideals? Who’s guilty of the Orwellian double speak?

Oh wait! You didn’t personally appoint the elected Democrats! The People did. Is that why it’s “anti-democratic?”

Hidalgo’s Selective Perception

Hidalgo still hasn’t complied with lawful Texas Public Information Act requests relating to the last election by turning over the emails concerning voting problems and voting machine maintenance records.

Nor in her rants did she remind people how her previous election administrator lost 10,000 votes.

But Hidalgo did double down on the “murder plot” accusation. She went on to say the Legislature’s common sense measures were tantamount to “a murder-suicide pact” that would take down Texas and every other state.

Of course, maybe we should cut her some slack. After all, Hidalgo is under pressure. She also informed us that she expects the County’s District Attorney, Kim Ogg (another Democrat), to hand down a criminal indictment against her soon in the $11 million Elevate Strategies scandal. An entire grand jury deliberated that issue for five and a half months. But that might have been a Democrat plot by a Republican Governor, too.

Hidalgo’s Other Gripes

Hidalgo claims SB 1750, SB 1933 and SB 1093 amount to “election suppression,” a “takeover” by the state, and “a power grab.” She also says that she’s appealing to the Federal government for help.

Judging by Hidalgo’s hysteria, she seems to equate these bills with genocide and the end of Western civilization. She also seems to believe that her power should remain absolute and beyond question.

That might explain why her administration has a problem retaining people. If Cliff Tatum, the election administrator, leaves as a result of SB 1750, that will mean 24 departments in Harris County have had at least 48 heads under Judge Hidalgo in a little more than four years. And many of the current heads have “interim” in their titles.

I have to compliment Judge Hidalgo on one thing, though. She has more imagination than Shakespeare, Orwell, and Machiavelli put together. I’m sure she would have inspired them to new heights.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/24/2023

2094 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.

Flood Control, Other Harris County Departments Reorganized…Again

Almost all Harris County departments have reorganized several times under County Judge Lina Hidalgo. By my estimate, the County’s 24 departments have had a total of 47 leaders during her administration.

Revolving Door for Department Heads

Eleven leaders have turned over in the last year including five in the last month. The:

  • Office of the County Administrator has a new interim Executive Director.
  • Economic Equity and Opportunity Office has a new interim Executive Director.
  • Commissioners Court Analysts’ Office has had two interim Executive Directors in a matter of weeks.
  • Universal Services Department has a new interim Executive Director (effective 5/16/23).

All those “interims” hint at more changes to come. But the changes go even further down several organizational ladders.

Deeper Changes Affect Whole Departments

The new interim leader at Universal Services, Sindhu Menon, began making organizational changes one day after her appointment two days ago. The full scope has yet to be seen. So far, she has reportedly addressed some departmental cultural changes and instituted an open door policy, which employees say is a refreshing change from her predecessor.

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) also announced changes this week on 5/15/23. But the District’s head did not change. HCFCD changes are more structural than cultural.

Let’s dive into HCFCD’s latest reorg, look at how three previous reorgs under Hidalgo have affected operations, and then look at academic research on the impact of frequent reorganizations.

Latest Reorganization at Flood Control

County Commissioners appointed Dr. Tina Petersen, Executive Director of HCFCD, in January 2022. She is the department’s fourth leader under Hidalgo since Russ Poppe resigned in July 2021, less than 2 years ago. Peterson has reportedly been working on her department’s reorganization for approximately the last year.

Dr. Petersen says her goals include:

  • Enhancing operations
  • Reaffirming a commitment to administrative excellence
  • Efficient project delivery
  • Robust maintenance of infrastructure
  • Building dynamic partnerships. 

Dr. Petersen did not respond to a question about whether the recent, dramatic drop in HCFCD spending had anything to do with the timing of her reorganization. However, all of the announced goals seem generally designed to counter the downward trend below on the right.

HCFCD Spending by Year since 2000
Source: FOIA Requests to HCFCD.

After a steady increase following the passage of the flood bond in 2018, spending is now down to approximately the 2017 level (assuming Q1 rates hold). The decrease corresponds to the department’s frequent leadership changes.

HCFCD issued the new organizational chart below this week. It is designed to accomplish Dr. Petersen’s goals, which don’t specifically include speed.

HCFCD org chart 5/15/23
For a printable high-res PDF, click here.

The new org chart shows:

  • The creation of several new positions at the “chief” level
  • A curious multi-level relationship between the chiefs
  • Multiple open positions
  • A reshuffling of responsibilities under the chiefs
  • “Demotions” for many departments caused by one and sometimes two additional layers of management inserted between Petersen and people actually doing the work.

Extra layers of management have the potential to slow things down even more rather than speed them up.

Changes Compared to Previous Structure

For instance, Communications used to report to the Chief of Staff and then Dr. Petersen. Now, it reports to a Public Information Officer and an External Affairs division head before the Chief of Staff. See org chart above in the second column from the left.

HCFCD issued no public announcement explaining the changes. So, without a previous org chart, it’s hard to tell exactly what changed unless you are familiar with certain departments (as I was with communications).

The demotion of Communications is regrettable in my opinion. Communications have already slowed and this will slow them further. Consider two examples: flood-bond and website updates.

  • Already HCFCD has abandoned monthly flood-bond spending updates in favor of twice-yearly.
  • Many of the District’s web pages refer to upcoming meetings that happened years ago!
  • “Active Projects” have not been updated on the District’s website in five months, even though many projects have changed.
May 18th screen capture still shows active projects from January.

But the challenges don’t stop there.

Political Interference Has Slowed Flood-Risk Reduction

Irrespective of Dr. Petersen’s talents, she has little ability to control changing priorities above her pay grade. Consider these two examples.

Five items on the 5/16/23 Commissioners Court Agenda (256, 259, 260, 263 and 264) involved $250 million in grants for sediment removal awarded nearly 2 years ago. The projects were just approved THIS week.

A quarter billion dollars has been parked on the sidelines for almost two years.

Certainly, finalizing construction plans and bidding the jobs consumed part of that time. The reorg might help with those things.

But according to three sources who asked to remain anonymous, political interference from commissioners also delayed the projects. Certain commissioners reportedly didn’t think enough of the FEMA money was being spent in their precincts.

Then there’s the $750 million in HUD/GLO Harvey mitigation funds awarded to Harris County – also two years ago. Instead of asking Flood Control how it recommended spending the money, Commissioners gave that task to the Community Services Department (CSD) which still hasn’t developed a definitive list of projects. Perhaps that’s because CSD has had six changes of leadership under Hidalgo. But CSD did cut HCFCD’s share of the pie by almost a quarter billion dollars.

The parked FEMA and HUD funds represented chances for Hidalgo to reduce flood risk by a $1 billion.

And let’s not forget the annual changes of priorities in the County’s Equity Prioritization Framework that force HCFCD staff to constantly re-evaluate more than a hundred projects.

Common Pitfalls of Reorganizations in General

Many valid reasons exist to reorganize. Likewise, reorganizations also entail many pitfalls.

Frequent reorgs can wreak havoc on an organization’s productivity by demoralizing employees.

A McKinsey survey in the Harvard Business Review (Getting Reorgs Right) found that:

  • 80% of reorgs fail to deliver the hoped-for value in the time planned
  • 10% cause real damage
  • Reorgs—and the uncertainty they provoke—can cause greater stress and anxiety than layoffs
  • In about 60% of cases, reorgs reduce productivity for a period of time.

An article in Forbes, titled “Curse of the Reorg,” details some of reasons why. It claims, “When companies announce a ‘reorg,’ internal reactions often skew more concerned than excited.”

Forbes continues, “Employees may not perceive this news as a positive change when they’re consumed by questions like: Another reorg, really? What will happen to my job? How will my team change? Will the projects I’ve been working on for months (even years) go away?”

Another article, on LinkedIn, documented how productivity dropped 50% after a reorg because of issues like those above.

Many academic articles suggest that it takes six to nine months to get past the productivity dips associated with reorganizations. One can only wonder whether the leadership changes and reorganizations throughout Harris County are happening faster than productivity can recover from them.

Only commissioners have the power to fix this problem. But service delivery doesn’t seem to be the highest priority of many of them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/18/2023

2088 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.

Costly Brain Drain Continues in Harris County

On April 14, 2022, I wrote about how the brain drain in Harris County government under County Judge Lina Hidalgo compromised productivity and service. At that point, Hidalgo had been in office just 3.25 years. During that time, the heads of 16 out of 20 departments had changed – many more than once. Those 16 departments had had 34 leaders under Hidalgo by then.

To make matters worse, in some cases, 100% of the group heads under the department heads also turned over, leaving whole departments rudderless and gutting institutional knowledge.

Now, a year later, Judge Hidalgo still has not staunched the hemorrhaging. It’s continuing and perhaps worsening, raising costs for you, the taxpayer.

10 New Heads in One Year, More Possible

In the year since my last report:

  • 10 department heads have turned over.
  • 1 of those department heads lasted just weeks.
  • 2 departments still have not announced new or interim leaders after long periods
  • Commissioners Court is considering duplicating a department because the first is broken.
  • 2 more heads are under pressure to leave

Here is a breakdown:

  • Commissioners Court Analysts Office (Amber Weed replaced Katie Short)
  • Commissioners Court Analysts Office (Will Janowski will reportedly replace Weed who lasted just weeks)
  • Office of County Administration (Interim Head Diana Ramirez replaced David Berry)
  • Economic Equity and Opportunity (Diana Ramirez replaced Pamela Chan)
  • Economic Equity and Opportunity (New Interim Executive Director Estella Gonzalez replaced Diana Ramirez)
  • Community Services (Interim Executive Director Thao Costis replaced Dr. Adrianne Holloway, to become the department’s sixth leader under Hidalgo.)
  • Intergovernmental and Global Affairs (Department website still shows no replacement for Ender Reed who resigned in 2021.)
  • Office of Justice and Safety (Ditto for Ana Yanez-Correa, who resigned in January 2023; no new leader announced yet.)
  • Elections Administrator’s Office (Clifford Tatum replaced Isabel Longoria. Tatum may be replaced if SB1750 passes.)
  • In the April 25 Commissioner’s Court meeting, Democrats proposed creating yet another county IT department dedicated to handling justice/law enforcement systems.
  • One department head who shall remain nameless is under pressure to leave because of alleged sexual harassment and employee intimidation.
  • Tatum is under fire in the legislature for botching the 2022 election.

But who’s keeping score?

Duplicating Rather Than Fixing a Department

In last year’s Brain Drain article, I detailed common factors that led to excessive employee turnover:

  • A toxic work culture. In terms of predicting quitting, a toxic culture is ten times more important than compensation. High turnover signals that something is seriously wrong with management or the culture.
  • The boss. According to multiple studies, most employees quit their boss, not the organization. Professionals want bosses who can teach them things and help them grow within their professions. Political appointees may not have that skill set. 
  • Negative assessments of the organization’s future and their ownEmployees’ feelings about the future can predict attrition. No one wants to be the last to the lifeboats.

Perhaps nowhere are these problems more apparent than in Universal Services, the county’s IT department. Last year, the department’s JWEB system broke down and caused the release of dozens of prisoners. That happened under a new department leader with no IT experience.

Problems with the system have reportedly continued since then, causing frustrations to mount in the law enforcement community. As a result, the County is exploring creating a new department to do what Universal Services is already supposed to be doing. See item 297 on the 4/25/2023 commissioners court agenda.

But consider several problems with this proposal:

  • There aren’t enough knowledgeable, qualified IT people to staff two departments.
  • Universal Services would have to continue hosting the system, further fragmenting responsibility.
  • Fragmentation of responsibilities undermines response time, which is the problem.

Most of these problems can be traced back to the replacement of a career professional by an unqualified political appointee. Qualified technical people then left in droves because of all the issues cited above.

I asked one person to describe how the turnover has affected system development and support. The source offered this description.

“There has been a lot of turnover in project management (PM), for instance. And, of course, there is a lag time while a new PM gets set up, learns the systems, and starts to become effective. In addition to that, PMs have to deal with tech staff turnover, since we keep losing developers and infrastructure people and positions. So, the new PM has to figure out how to find replacements from existing staff (and who to ask to find them), then negotiate to get them pulled away from other efforts to get on to their projects, and finally the PM gets tired of dealing with all of that in addition to hostile upper management and leaves for another department or another employer.”

As a result, no coding has yet been done on a highly needed justice IT system for 2.5 years. Worse yet, Universal Services reportedly hasn’t even locked down the system’s specs yet!

Property Appraisals Skyrocket with Increasing Costs

It’s not just county leaders and employees who suffer. You, the taxpayer, have to pay for:

  • Excessive personnel turnover
  • Higher recruitment costs
  • Training of replacements
  • Loss of institutional knowledge
  • Costly rookie errors
  • New employees figuring out where the toilet paper is
  • Poorer service
  • Reduced productivity

Without the ability to raise tax rates, where will money to pay for all that come from?

According to an analysis by O’Connor property tax consulting and appraisal services, Harris County is attempting to tax homeowners this year at 116.2% of the value of their properties.

More than 90% of Harris County homeowners received notices of assessed value that exceed the market value of their property.

O’Connor Property Tax Consulting

The excess assessments could cost Harris County homeowners $1,365,000,000, according to O’Connor.

A Never-Ending Story

In Hidalgo’s first 3.25 years, Harris County had 36 new department heads. During the year since then, we’ve had 10 more. In addition:

  • Four departments have leaders with “interim” in their titles.
  • Two departments may have vacancies at the top.
  • Two departments have leaders under pressure to leave.

That could soon push Hidalgo’s “turnover total” among department heads well past 50. And that will make it harder to recruit qualified talent.

Who wants a job where you measure tenure with a stopwatch?

This is what happens when you elect someone who’s never held a real job to become the CEO of a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/13/23

2083 Days since Hurricane Harvey

“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.

County Outlines Plan for $750 Million in Flood-Mitigation Funds

Harris County Community Services Department (CSD) has finally shared a high-level summary of how it would spend $750 million in Hurricane Harvey Flood Mitigation Funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The plan, called a Method of Delivery (MOD), was submitted to the Texas General Land Office (GLO) in December for preliminary approval, but returned to the county in January for tweaks to make it HUD-compliant.

CSD’s presentation is informational; the Department is not yet seeking approval from Commissioner’s Court. But this will be the public’s first peak at CSD’s direction.

While the presentation predictably emphasizes support for low-to-moderate income and socially vulnerable groups, it also contains some surprises. For instance, it mentions supporting activist groups, but fails to mention protecting bridges, hospitals and schools.

I-69 repairs
Damage to I-69 bridge disrupted areas to the north for 11 months after Harvey.
Lone Star College
Harvey flooded 6 of 9 buildings at Lone Star College/Kingwood. Repairs cost $60 million and disrupted classes for more than a year.


George P. Bush, former GLO Commissioner, requested a $750 million allocation for Harris County from HUD in May of 2021. HUD formally approved that amount in March of 2022. But Harris County Commissioner’s Court didn’t approve the grant agreement until August 31, 2022. And CSD didn’t submit its plan to the GLO for review until late December 2022.

The CSD plan reflects both HUD’s mission and the requirements spelled out in the State’s Action Plan. However, the GLO required CSD to make some tweaks to the initial plan to make it HUD compliant. During the tweaking process, Commissioners replaced CSD Director Dr. Adrienne Holloway with a new Interim Director, Thao Costis, the department’s SIXTH leader under County Judge Lina Hidalgo in four years. Costis previously led a non-profit group in Houston that provided services to homeless people.

“These funds intend to mitigate and build resiliency against flood risks in the region.”

Harris County Community Services Department

The Department claims it conducted ample data analysis and public input on the MOD. It says constituents lobbied for prioritizing “(1) low- and moderate-income population, (2) social vulnerability, (3) total population, and (4) National Flood Insurance Program repetitive loss properties.”

However, the presentation does not specify whether:

  • Repetitive losses will be weighed against previous mitigation investments. Will an area that once had high repetitive losses, but which already received hundreds of millions of mitigation dollars, still be prioritized over other areas that have received no flood-mitigation money?
  • Severity of flooding will be considered. Will one inch of flooding in a low-income home count for more than ten feet of flooding in a middle-income home?
  • Threats to infrastructure will be addressed. For instance, the loss of interstate highway bridges, hospitals and schools.

There’s no measure of “current risk,” nothing that addresses “threats to life,” and nothing that balances impacts to the community vs. impacts to individuals…at least in the summary that CSD is now sharing.

Plagued by “Vague”

CSD claims it prioritizes flood control and drainage improvements, natural or green infrastructure, water and sewer facilities, provision of generators, buyouts, and planning activities. I say “claims” because CSD did not provide a list of projects with the presentation. Nor did it provide a matrix for scoring projects.

However, CSD did allude to the April 2020 Harris County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Action Plan which contained 834 action items. As of August 13, 2022, the County reported 9% of those completed.

The CSD presentation also referenced 2018-Flood-Bond Projects. But it’s not clear at this time if a potential project list goes beyond Hazard-Mitigation-Action-Plan Projects and Flood-Bond Projects … or even if there is a list. Nor does the presentation hint at which Haz Mit and Bond Projects would be included.

Finally, the summary makes no mention of any effort to ensure transparency and accountability. The public deserves to know where its money goes!

CSD says it would administer the $750 million grant and work with Harris County Flood Control District to “reduce flood risk and increase resiliency to future natural disasters for Harris County’s nearly 5 million residents.”

But we still don’t know who will get how much for what. Nor do we know what the expected benefits will be.


Though only Harris County and the Flood Control District are eligible to receive HUD’s $750 million, CSD states it will partner with other entities, including cities, within Harris County, that have “shovel-ready” flood mitigation projects. “Additionally, Harris County could sign [emphasis added] a Memorandum of Understanding with the Flood Control District to increase the amount of funding devoted to the 2018 Flood Control Bond,” says CSD. In other words, the County might send some of its share to HCFCD. But there’s no guarantee.

Extension Requested

CSD’s current agreement with GLO requires expending all grant funds by August 2027. But CSD says it will request a 3-year extension.

Splitting $750 Million

The CSD presentation shows that Harris County Flood Control will get only $326.25 million from the $750 million. The rest will go to Harris County. Out of the other $423.75 million, the county plans to spend $97.5 million on administration and planning. That would leave both Flood Control and Harris County with $326.25 million for actual mitigation work.

Word on the street in the engineering community is that the Harris County Engineer’s Office will handle the County’s portion of the money. Adrian Garcia appointees lead the Engineering Department and that would help Garcia influence where the money goes.

Inconsistencies, Typos Raise Questions

CSD’s presentation boils over with contradictions and typos that don’t speak well for “attention to detail” in a grant where $750 million is at stake. For instance, the plan says:

  • Projects will help the county’s entire population, but it prioritizes projects in low- and moderate-income, socially vulnerable areas. 
  • CSD needs a 3-year extension … for shovel-ready projects.
  • The County will partner with other entities within Harris County, but cities and towns get $0.

I can’t wait to hear the explanations…especially how the money will help neighborhoods outside the Beltway given inside-the-Beltway priorities.

Nor can I wait to hear whether the cities in Harris County rebel against a plan that seemingly guarantees them nothing.

The presentation literally underscores CSD’s priorities:

“Once the MOD is approved by GLO, Harris County MOD entities reserve the right to partner with local governmental entities and special districts in the county to perform eligible projects, including but not limited to cities and Flood Control District. Harris County may also partner with local non-profit agency [sic] regarding public service activities that support mitigation and resiliency, particularly in areas were [sic] drainage or other mitigation activities are affecting low-to-moderate income households [sic] stability.”

Yikes! Three typos in one sentence!

Next Steps

This presentation only informs Commissioner’s Court and the Public about the grant’s status. CSD will not ask for approval of any projects on Tuesday. That will come later. The next steps include:

  • Public comments
  • Determining how to partner with other entities (Still, after almost 2 years)
  • Preparation of final MOD that incorporates public comments and responses
  • Approval of final MOD by County Commissioners (2/21/23)
  • GLO review and approval (March/April)
  • After GLO approval:
    • “Call for information of projects” (whatever that is)
    • Submit project packets to Commissioners Court
    • Submit project packets to GLO
    • Start projects (Fall 2023) six years after Hurricane Harvey!

It’s item 381 on the agenda.

Commissioner’s Court begins at 10AM on Tuesday. If you wish to make a public comment, here’s how to sign up to speak.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/28/2023

1978 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.