Tag Archive for: Harris County

Editorial: “Chaos” in Harris County Government

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about the brain drain at the highest levels in Harris County government, and its impact on productivity and service delivery. Sixteen departments have had a total of 34 leaders under Lina Hidalgo.

Since then, dozens of people have contacted me describing the impact of turnover on programs and service.

One manager used the word “chaos” to describe the environment since Lina Hidalgo took office. All of the sources for this post have requested anonymity because they fear reprisals – a chilling comment in itself.

No doubt, many good, talented, hard-working people remain in Harris County government, but the problems described below make it harder for them to do their jobs.

Unexplained Changes in Direction

One person told me about a new Harris County juvenile center that was being planned, due to overcrowding and substandard living conditions at the old center. Then one day, “…like out of nowhere, we got a sense that the whole project was canceled. We tried to explain how far along the project was and why it was necessary. And they didn’t care. It was just like, ‘Well, we [the judge’s office] are not going in that direction.’” The source added, “We had a lot of things in motion that just came to a halt.”

The new center never did get built. It had reportedly gone all the way through the design phase, so the unexplained cancellation was costly.

Not So Resilient Resiliency Plan

Another person mentioned a county-wide resiliency plan. The heads of multiple Harris County departments had worked on it for months. At the eleventh hour, people in Hidalgo’s office with no experience rewrote everything that people with experience had developed. “It just changed completely,” said one person involved.

Transportation Plan Stalled

Yet another person told me, “In Hidalgo’s mind, if you’re building a road, you’re doing taxpayers a disservice. Philosophically, she’s into multi-modal transportation. But a lot of times, she misses the point that the county is only allowed to do what the state of Texas allows it to do. That’s where they’ve had more problems. Their thought process a lot of times was, ‘Well, if they want to sue us for that, then they can.’ We’ve seen that play out several times.” 

Other sources told me about progress on various components of Harris County’s Transportation Plan. 

  • There has also been little to no movement on the county’s Multimodal, Major Thoroughfare plan to improve connectivity.
  • The Equity Study has stalled. So has a framework to implement it. There has been no movement on equity in transportation.
  • Likewise, there has been little to no movement on Vision Zero, the county’s effort to eliminate traffic fatalities
  • Nothing notable has happened lately on Low Impact Development, Green Infrastructure, or other environmentally-friendly projects.

Lack of Clarity, Direction

Another major problem contributing to the chaotic work environment: lack of clarity and direction. One mid-level manager told me, “We would often be moving in a direction when everything kind of went on pause because we were waiting to see which direction to go. But we couldn’t ever narrow down a direction. It felt as if, in every single Commissioners Court meeting, we spent all day watching mommy and daddy fight. Even among the Democrats.”

Lack of Attention to Operational Details

Former managers of various Harris County departments also complained about lack of attention to operational details. 

“Ellis’ office and the Judge’s office would work together to develop these big picture concepts of where we were going. But it was never clear how we would get there,” said one person.

“We’d sit there and go, ‘Well, that’s great. But you didn’t set up any funding for it. For example, we talked about big sweeping programs like MWBE – the Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprise program. That was four years ago and it’s still not off the ground.”

Hiring People Without Relevant Experience

They hired Pamela Chan to set up the new Harris County Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. According to one person I talked to, Chan was a “a great academic,” but had no real-world, operational MWBE experience. Another said, “the guidance and support that Chan got was like almost nil and then she’d get beat up at court.” She soon left. That department has had two executive directors in a little more than a year. 

Universal Services, the County’s information technology (IT) department, has the same problem. Its leader, Major General Rick Noriega has no IT background. Think what would happen if you put a computer programmer with no military experience in charge of a tank battalion. You’d probably have a high casualty rate. And that’s exactly what happened in Universal Services. 

100% of Group Heads Leave Within 17 Months

According to many of his employees, Noriega’s lack of IT understanding contributed to high turnover beneath him at multiple levels. And that rapidly compromised the integrity of systems. 

Noriega also pushed out people with excellent professional credentials and replaced them with political appointees in many cases.

Not long after Noriega took over the department, he lost his Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Technology Officer, and Chief of Cybersecurity (twice). 

The department also lost 100% of its group directors beneath them and approximately one third of its employees in 17 months. 

So many employees have left that the department doesn’t even put names on org charts anymore. 

Incomprehensible Org Chart Without Names Revised More than 30 Times

In fact, the department doesn’t even call organization charts ‘org charts’ anymore. It refers to them as its “ecosystem.” See below.

Harris County Universal Services Ecosystem Chart, Revision #25. For a high resolution, full-size PDF click here.

At this point, the chart above has reportedly gone through more than 30 revisions under Noriega. Yet multiple sources told me, “No one understands it.”

Toxic Work Environment Accelerates Already High Turnover

The work environment in Universal Services has become so toxic according to sources that approximately one third of the department has left in 17 months and the rate of attrition is reportedly accelerating. 

Universal Services org charts updated the day before Commissioners Court appointed Noriega the permanent department head show everyone who left since his arrival. The source told me that some positions have turned over more than once. So this 12-page chart understates the numbers involved. It shows that at least 134 people have left since Noriega assumed command. That’s out of approximately 400 to 450 total employees. The highlighted names represent people who left the organization in the last 17 months.

One third of a workforce turning over would not be surprising in fast food. But these are professional jobs with highly skilled people doing complex work that few understand.

Noriega reportedly tried to dismiss the turnover. But significantly, 100% of his group directors left, leaving much of the department rudderless, especially since Noriega did not have an IT background himself.

Page 2 of 12-page Harris County Universal Services Org Chart as of 9/21/22. Highlighted group directors have left. To see turnover at lower levels, click here.

Most employers, especially in government, try to hold attrition to 10% or less. High turnover disrupts service. It also costs time and money. This survey found that replacing workers costs an average of 33% of their yearly salaries.

If that percentage holds true in IT, losing one third of your workforce would cost one third of your payroll. 

Self-Inflicted Damage

Some damage has been self-inflicted. While most IT companies let employees work remotely, Noriega forces managers to come into the office. This policy goes against the industry norm and has reportedly contributed to several of the departures at the managerial level. 

“It’s Scary.”

One former IT employee told me Universal Services has refilled so many positions with inexperienced people that “They can’t even support the simple stuff. It’s scary.” This person called the replacements “Garcia’s puppets.” 

Commissioner Adrian Garcia recommended Noriega for the job. Another Garcia loyalist, James Henderson, is Universal Services new Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer. They have reportedly replaced many departing employees with people loyal to Garcia.

Can It Be Saved?

When the department’s crucial JWEB program went down recently, IT staff reportedly worked 8 hours on and 4 hours off around the clock trying to restore the system. But they couldn’t get it back up. So, hundreds of criminal suspects didn’t receive probable cause hearings in time and had to be released.

A former manager in the department told me, “I don’t think enough meat is left on the bone to fix what’s going on there.”

Harris County’s annual budget next year will exceed $3.5 billion. We’re one third of the way through a $5 billion flood bond. And these are the custodians of our tax dollars.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/1/2022

1706 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 Making Another Attempt to Shift Flood Mitigation Funds

Harris County is making another attempt to shift flood mitigation funds from outlying neighborhoods toward the city center. Here’s the latest proposal that will be considered by the Community Resilience Flood Task Force at a noon meeting today.

Key Concerns About Proposal

This proposal attempts to establish new rules for the Equity Prioritization Framework adopted by commissioners in 2019 and changed several times since. These new rules were provided to Task Force members only within the last few days even though the document is dated December 14, 2021, more than a month ago.

The rule changes apply mostly to the distribution of Trust Fund money established to supplement the flood bond if partner funding did not materialize as expected. However, the proposed changes could affect the distribution of flood bond funds that voters approved by 86% in 2018.

Proposal #1:

Place more emphasis on number of people, using structures as a proxy for people. Benefit = efficiency. 


This may disadvantage LMI neighborhoods as those projects tend to cost more and the neighborhoods have more apartments. They also have large numbers of homes crowding channels and floodplains. So, buyout costs will be higher.  And historically, buyouts cost almost as much as construction. Also, apartments cost far more than single family homes. We need time to look at data on this.

Proposal #2:

Potential partner funding should not be considered in prioritization for use of trust funds.


What if you could make trust fund dollars go nine times further? Typically, HUD grants require only a 10% match.

Proposal #3:

Use trust funds for projects, like street flooding, not even mentioned in the bond.


  1. The County proposes using FEMA damage data back to 1977 to determine “Existing Level of Service.” This is a blatant attempt to tilt the playing field toward the inner city. In 1977, Beltway 8 and Intercontinental airport were still under construction. US59 was a 2-lane blacktop road. Outlying neighborhoods like Kingwood barely existed. This makes it impossible for any outlying neighborhoods to qualify for help with Trust Funds.
  2. Choosing 1977 as the starting point ignores 45 years of flood mitigation spending totaling approximately $5 billion.
  3. We don’t have enough money in the trust fund to complete all the bond projects. So, if we spend trust fund money on projects not in the bond – without partner help – it will mean cancelling bond projects somewhere else.
  4. Implementing this proposal will make it very difficult to get voters to approve future flood bonds.
street flooding
Street flooding is often caused by blocked drains. Rains can’t get to channels and streams. Fixing ditches has historically been the job of cities and precincts. HCFCD funds have focused on channels and streams. Street ditches were never mentioned in the bond.

How To Be Heard

Here is a presentation that the Community Resilience Flood Task Force will review at noon today. It provides a little more detail than the County Administrator’s description.

If this proposal concerns you, please send your comments to: CFRTFpubliccomment@gmail.com.

To view the meeting online, register at Cfrtf.harriscountytx.gov. It goes from 12-2 today.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/19/2022

1604 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Extends Deadline for Harvey Homeowner Assistance Applications

The original deadline for Hurricane Harvey Homeowner Assistance applications has been extended from this Friday to New Year’s Eve at 5 P.M. Applications do not have to be completed by then, just started by then. So if you still hope to receive aid, move quickly. Money is running out and eligible applications will be prioritized based on who applied first.

The process involves a large number of documents and complex rules that govern eligibility. Here is the full text of this morning’s press release from the GLO. It includes information on where to apply.

What remained of a home washed downstream during Harvey. Photo by Dan Monks.

AUSTIN — The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has extended the deadline to submit applications for the Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) to 5 p.m. Dec. 31, 2021. All potential applicants must submit draft applications by the deadline to be considered for eligibility so long as funding is available.

We encourage the community to remember that applications do not need to be fully complete to be submitted. Once application intake concludes, additional program resources will be dedicated to processing applicants for eligibility, through the permitting process and into construction. Applications can be submitted even if documentation is missing as HAP applicant coordinators continue to help applicants who are missing documentation.

The HAP regional offices will remain open, and processing of applications will continue indefinitely until program funds are fully expended. Applications will be considered for award on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the priorities outlined in the Regional Housing Guidelines.

Submitting a complete application does not guarantee eligibility nor funding availability, but applicants must submit a complete application by the deadline to be potentially considered for assistance.

Those residing inside the Houston city limits should apply at recovery.texas.gov/hap/houston, while non-Houston residents of Harris County should apply at recovery.texas.gov/hap/harriscounty. New applicants can also call the toll-free intake center line at 1-866-317-1998.

Harris County and the City of Houston received direct allocations of funding for residents in their jurisdictions. Applicants who previously applied to and are receiving assistance from Harris County and the City of Houston directly should continue to work with their program representatives.

In the City of Houston, applications being processed for eligibility already outnumber available funds, but funds remain available in non-Houston Harris County areas. HAP continues to take waitlist applications in Houston in case additional funding becomes available.

Waitlisted applications will be reviewed for eligibility in the order received based on their submission date, should additional funding be approved. Applications that are started, but not yet submitted by 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2021, cannot be considered for assistance.

Thus far, in all 49 counties eligible for Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the GLO has approved nearly 6,900 applications for construction, with about 850 homes currently under construction and more than 4,000 completed with keys in the hands of homeowners.

The GLO continues processing completed applications with the expectation of rebuilding up to 10,000 homes total for those needing assistance with available funds, with approximately 3,000 of those homes expected to be rebuilt in Harris County and the City of Houston.

Individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey may qualify for assistance through the Homeowner Assistance Program if:

  • They owned their home
  • It was damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey
  • It was their primary residence at the time of the storm
  • Other eligibility factors also apply.

The program offers qualified homeowners assistance to repair, rehabilitate or rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey. Potential applicants should review the Homeowner Assistance Program Checklist to have all applicable documents ready prior to applying.

Interested homeowners can visit recovery.texas.gov/hap/houston or recovery.texas.gov/hap/harriscounty to find more information.

– End of Release –

For More Information About Homeowner Assistance Applications

The GLO’s main Homeowner Assistance Program website – https://recovery.texas.gov/hap – also provides links to these important documents:

Applications, including all necessary documentation, must be completed and submitted BEFORE the GLO and its partners will begin processing it for eligibility. Each application submitted must be individually evaluated to determine eligibility. If applicants or potential applicants have questions, please contact 346-222-4686 or 1-866-317-1998 (toll free).

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/15/2021 based on a Texas GLO press release.

1539 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Redistricting Drama Thickens: Ellis Requests New Map To Make All Four Precincts Democratic

At a special redistricting meeting that lasted four and a half hours Thursday night, approximately 100 people spoke out against Rodney Ellis’ redistricting plan. Only two people endorsed Ellis’ Plan and a third liked an element of it. An exact count of those who spoke for or against is difficult because the video/audio feed went down for several speakers precisely as the Harris County Republican Chair got up to speak. At the end of the meeting, no map emerged as a clear redistricting winner. But Commissioner Ellis requested the county’s redistricting mapmaker to come up with a map that created four Democratic precincts “just to see what it looks like.”

To this observer, Ellis’ request came across as a not-so-subtle threat designed to discourage the withering protests against his plan that would have created a mere 3-1 democratic majority.

He clearly hopes to make Harris County a second Big D in the state of Texas.

Meeting Gets Off to Slow Start

The hastily called and poorly organized meeting took almost an hour to get started. During the meeting, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Adrian Garcia claimed they had nothing to do with Ellis’ proposed map and had not submitted their own recommended maps.

One hundred people signed up to speak either in person or online. Twenty-two came from Precinct 4; most speakers had exactly one minute to address the court and dozens were cut off in mid-sentence. However, those who brought slides, maps or props, such as League of Women Voters and Houston in Action, received more time.

Persistent Themes by Public Commenters

Members of the public commented about several persistent fears they had re: the Ellis Plan. They felt:

  • Communities of interest, such as Asian-Americans would be severed.
  • Working relationships with commissioners would be destroyed.
  • Service request response time would suffer.
  • A Democratic supermajority would enable tax increases and reckless spending.
  • Senior centers such as Bayland would be disrupted.
  • It would have a negative impact on parks and recreation.
  • Drastic change is not needed
  • Doubling Precinct 4’s size would be setting it up to fail.
  • The gerrymandering is a “power grab”.
  • Citizens want Democrats and Republicans to work together.
  • The plan will have unintended consequences.
  • Ellis’ Map doesn’t come close to meeting the criteria for redistricting unanimously approved by Commissioners.
  • Commissioners should be re-elected based on the service they provide, not by gerrymandering.
  • The process behind the plan lacks transparency.
  • It’s an act of self-preservation.

Desire Not to Split Up Communities

A recurring theme among the many speakers was a desire not to have communities split up. Under the Ellis Plan, the City of Humble would have been split into two precincts. Representatives from Aldine and Barret Station also expressed wishes to have one commissioner.

Houston City Council Member Amy Peck spoke against Ellis proposed map along with former Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack.

Challenger for County Judge Seat Speaks Against Ellis Plan

Martina Lemond Dixon who will challenge Lina Hidalgo in the next election also spoke against the Ellis Plan. Dixon felt it would be “dangerous” during the next disaster. She said Ellis’ plan would put a majority of unincorporated Harris County in one precinct “for the sole purpose of political power.”

Dixon also said that if the Ellis map is “adopted by a majority of this court, you will have voted to abandon the majority of voters in unincorporated Harris County. The recommended map won’t stop the current crime wave. It won’t get traffic moving. And it won’t keep the water out of our homes. It will only ensure that these problems persist.”

At the end of her one minute speech, Hidalgo told Dixon “I look forward to a spirited contest.”

Concern about Diminished Support for Community Resources

Another persistent threat among many speakers was a concern about how Ellis’ map would diminish support for community centers and parks in many areas.

Many speakers from Bayland Community Center lined up against Ellis’ proposed map. The center, along with dozens of other resources, would have been crammed into Precinct 4, without increasing the Precinct 4 budget to operate and maintain them.

Precinct 3 Commission Ramsey, who would have seen the size of his precinct cut in half by Ellis, stated that he would lose 29 parks and community centers along with 5,000 miles of roads. Ramsey pointed out that Precincts are not like Congressional Districts. Precincts do more than represent people; they actually provide services that support quality of life.

“Corrupt” and “Chaotic”

Ramsey would lose 450,000 constituents under the Ellis Plan. Ramsey called the plan “corrupt and chaotic.”

Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia bristled at that suggestion. He said that if Ramsey persisted in using that word, three fingers would be accusing him of the same thing from the other side of the table. The “three” referred to Democrats Hidalgo, Garcia, and Ellis. It seemed like a childish, schoolyard act of bullying.

But Ramsey did not back down.

Cagle Lists Numerous Concerns

Commissioner Cagle said that his overall concern was to protect his constituents. He claimed his proposed map was the closest to the status quo while still meeting constitutional and other legal requirements.

The Cagle proposal made minor “tweaks” to precinct boundaries rather than major changes. It respected population changes and diversity, but didn’t divide cities. It also kept voting locations intact and provided sufficient voting locations, unlike the Ellis Plan, which would have given Republicans fewer voting locations.

Cagle also claimed that Ellis Plan significantly changed the demographics of precincts and did not respect diversity, a claim echoed by many from the public.

Commissioner Cagle feared that adding 2000 miles of roads, 29 parks and 450,000 people to his district without making provisions for additional funding would disrupt emergency and other services. In that regard, he had a staffer drive from one end of the Precinct 4 boundaries proposed by Ellis to the other end. It took more than 5 hours – longer than it takes to get to Dallas.

In the end, Cagle called the Ellis Plan “not practical.”

Said Cagle, “We serve the people in real time, we are NOT just policy makers.”

Jack Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner

Ellis Calls for Quick Resolution

After several people complained about having neither the time, nor the data, to analyze proposed maps, Commissioner Ellis said, “We need to put this baby to bed.” Then he asked for a map that would make all four precincts Democratic and suggested Commissioners Court should vote on the map(s) next Tuesday.

Redistricting is not on the Court agenda that was posted this morning for next Tuesday. But it could still be added via a supplemental agenda posted at the end of the day on Friday.

Three Leading Maps Now in Contention

Below are maps produced by three commissioners as of 2:30 PM Friday, October 22, 2021.

Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan
Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan. Lines represent existing boundaries. Colors represent proposed boundaries.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle’s recommended plan.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey did not make recommendations beyond his own precinct’s boundaries.

Additional maps proposed by citizens and groups and other information can be found on the county attorney’s redistricting website. Here are the redistricting criteria that commissioners unanimously approved on July 20, 2021.

Meeting Adjourned with No Action Taken

Lina Hidalgo adjourned the meeting at 8:25 p.m. with NO ACTION TAKEN. A vote on a new redistricting map has yet to be scheduled.  

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/22/21

1515 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Redistricting Countdown: What You Can Do to Help Stop Partisan Gerrymandering

Below, is a message about gerrymandering reprinted verbatim from Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. It discusses a redistricting proposal that will be considered in a special meeting of Commissioner’s Court tomorrow afternoon at 4 PM. In addition to the issues I discussed yesterday, it addresses:

  • Creation of a supermajority as it relates to…
  • The ability to push through tax increases
  • Responsiveness to citizen requests
  • Potential loss of services and programs in Precinct 4
  • What you can do to help prevent partisan gerrymandering

But first, here are three maps:

  • Current boundaries
  • Areas that lean Republican or Democratic
  • Proposed new precinct boundaries

Together they show how gerrymandering will increase partisan advantage.

Current Precinct Map for Harris County, TX
Lines indicate present precinct boundaries. Red = Precincts voting predominantly Republican; Blue = Precincts voting predominantly Democratic.
Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan
Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan. Lines represent old boundaries. Colors represent new boundaries.

Mentally overlay political preferences in Map 2 and the the colored precinct of proposed precincts in Map 3. You can see how Ellis’ proposed redistricting plan would create three predominantly Democratic-leaning precincts by gerrymandering. It would also create one huge Republican-leaning precinct. Currently, we have an even split. With that, here’s a…

Message from Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle

With redistricting season in full swing, the full weight of ugly partisan gerrymandering has now descended upon Harris County. County Commissioner Rodney Ellis has proposed a redistricting map that is frankly absurd. 

This map [#3 above] attempts to wedge as many residents of unincorporated Harris County as possible into our precinct – Precinct 4. The rest of those residents, including many of you, would be spread out among the three other precincts, weakening your voting strength and your representation.

This proposed map is a bizarre jigsaw puzzle that looks like a crooked table. It leaves Precinct 4 stretching from Baytown over the top of Houston into Katy without even touching the county’s core. At present, Precinct 4 borders only one county. Under this proposal, it would border FIVE. Commissioner Tom Ramsey’s precinct area would be shrunk to nearly half its current size.

What does all this mean for you?

  1. It may mean higher property taxes. If the court majority is successful in passing this plan, they may achieve a new 4-1 supermajority that would allow them the votes needed to pass the tax increases twice denied them when I joined with commissioners Ramsey and Steve Radack to deny them the necessary quorum.
  2. For some of you, it will mean being redistricted into a new precinct, thus losing the representation and responsiveness you’ve come to expect from Precinct 4.
  3. Fewer services and programs. With one precinct responsible for the vast majority of unincorporated Harris County’s roads and parks, but provided with only one-fourth the funding, the precinct may have to make some difficult choices about which services to provide. Unincorporated residents clearly face being underserved.
  4. It could also mean the court’s new supermajority would be able to deny Precinct 4 the future funding needed to pay for the transportation and other needs such a vast precinct would require.

Citizens across our entire country have been extremely vocal about their opposition to overtly partisan gerrymandering, but this map ignores those voices. In fact, in a hasty attempt to force this plan through as quickly and quietly as possible, the court majority has scheduled a hasty public hearing for Thursday, and they may force a vote on the issue at Commissioners Court as early as next week.

I am urging you to review this proposal and make your voices heard on this crucial issue. If you wish to express your opinion, you may contact my office at 832-927-4444 or at cadir@hcp4.net. You may also reach out to:

You may also register to speak in person or virtually at the specially called meeting of Commissioners Court at 4 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 21.

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle

The meeting will be on the ninth floor of the Harris County Administration Building at 1001 Preston in downtown Houston. If you wish to speak to the court on this issue or to watch the proceedings live online, please go to: https://www.hcp4.net/appearances/.


R. Jack Cagle

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/20/21

1513 Days after Hurricane Harvey

TWDB To Vote on Accepting $63.6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants

In its October 7, 2021, board meeting, Texas Water Development Board members will vote on whether to accept $63.6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants. The federal funding comes with some strings attached: a $10.23 million local match.

For this round of funding, the TWDB selected 19 sub-applications from local government entities. After screening, FEMA eliminated 6 and identified 13 “for further review.”

Here’s a summary from the TWDB of what they will vote on.

From TWDB Agenda for October 7, 2021

What are Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants?

FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program provides competitive grants to local governments for projects that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA chooses recipients in part based on cost-effectiveness (benefit/cost ratio).

Often, local governments, such as cities or counties, bundle individual applications as MoCo did to buy out Tammy and Ronnie Gunnel’s home and dozens of others as we saw in yesterday’s post. That home flooded 13 times in 11 years and cost NFIP at least three quarters of a million dollars.

In a sense, most of these grants are designed to cut FEMA’s losses.

Summary of Each Local Application

Attachment B to the agenda gives a rundown on each of the projects under consideration. See below.

Harris County Drainage Project in Bear Creek Village

Bear Creek Village is located on the west side of the Addicks reservoir near Highway 6. This is an $11.3 million project of which the federal government would pay $8.5 million.

The Harris County project would mitigate 1,421 structures. The current storm sewer system is designed for a 3-year event and is inadequate to collect and drain extreme event runoff. The proposed drainage improvements are intended to provide an additional flow path, so that excess storm water is contained within street right-of-way to an outfall. The project will incorporate a combination of channel construction, street regrading, and enhancement of outfalls. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.09.

Harris County Flood Control District Single-Family Home Acquisitions

Total cost = $16.7 million with federal government paying $14.7 million.

Harris County Flood District seeks to mitigate 61 structures: 23 Severe Repetitive Loss structures, 17 Repetitive Loss structures, and 21 at risk of continual future flooding. HCFCD would acquire and demolish structures, then convert the land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.09.

Harris County Flood Control District Commercial Acquisition

This is a $3.7 million buyout with the federal government picking up the whole tab.

Harris County Flood Control District wants to buy out a hotel on the east freeway with a severe repetitive loss history. HCFCD would demolish the property and convert the land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.84. The grant application notes that since 1979, FEMA has paid out $8 million in NFIP claims on this property.

City of Houston Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $1.5 million (all paid by federal government) to elevate 5 severe-repetitive-loss homes ($300,000 each). All would be elevated at least 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain. That would hopefully reduce or eliminate future NFIP claims. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.1.

Jersey Village Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $4.9 million with federal government covering $400,000.

Jersey Village seeks elevate 16 structures: 10 are Severe Repetitive Loss, five Repetitive Loss and one at risk of continual future flooding. Elevation will raise structures one-foot above Base Flood Elevation per the City’s freeboard requirements. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.32.

Montgomery County Single-Family-Home Acquisition and Demolition

Total Cost = $12.6 million with federal share of $12.4 million.

Montgomery County seeks to mitigate 40 flood prone structures (31 Severe Repetitive Loss and 9 Repetitive Loss structures) by acquisition, demolition, and the conversion of land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.36.

Tammy Gunnels’ Home in Porter is an example of a Severe Repetitive Loss Home. It flooded like this 13 times in 11 years and was bought out yesterday as part of another Montgomery County grant. Before the buyout, it cost FEMA more than 3 times its fair market value and would have continued flooding had nothing been done.
Pearland Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $500,000, all covered by federal government.

The City of Pearland seeks to mitigate two Severe Repetitive Loss structures by elevation one-foot above the Base Flood Elevation per the City’s freeboard requirements. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.08.

Taylor Lake Village Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $2.77 million with federal government covering $2.75 million.

Taylor Lake Village wants to elevate eight Severe Repetitive Loss structures and one Repetitive Loss structure one foot above the 100-year flood level. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 3.1.

In each of the projects above, the owners have all voluntarily committed to the elevation or demolition of the structures.

Recommendation of TWDB Staff

The Executive Administrator of the TWDB recommends that his board approve all these grants. This program meets the agency’s objectives of providing financial assistance to communities to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of flood damage and to become more flood resilient.

Meeting Details

The Board meeting will be held on Thursday, October 7, at 9:30 a.m. via GoToWebinar  If you wish to address the Board, please fill out the visitor registration form and send it to Cheryl.Arredondo@twdb.texas.gov no later than 8:00 a.m. on October 7. For more information, please visit the TWDB’s website.

Posted By Bob Rehak on October 7, 2021

1495 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Update on Harris County Flood Mitigation Efforts

Today, at a meeting of the Harris County Flood Resilience Task Force, Vanessa Toro of the County Judge’s Office and Leah Chambers, Principal of consulting firm Outside Voices presented several slides about flooding and flood-mitigation efforts in Harris County that you might find interesting. Their presentation started with a series of slides that illuminated the history of flooding in Harris County; types of flooding; mitigation challenges, and mitigation efforts currently underway.

Historical Flooding and Mitigation

The first four slides address historical flooding and build on each other.

Selected historical milestones show dates and damage from several major storms in the last 20 years.
The next slide shows the major challenges in each epoch.
The third shows major mitigation efforts over time.
The dotted line shows spending by Harris County to help control flooding.

Different Types of Flooding Throughout County

The presentation then went into examples of the different types of flooding we experience. While river and bayou flooding are important to the Lake Houston Area, in other parts of the county, street flooding is a bigger issue. During high intensity rainfalls, water can’t get to the bayous.

Down in the southern part of the county, coastal flooding from storm surge is the main concern.

Each type of flooding requires different mitigation strategies.

For instance:

  • Flood professionals often address river- and bayou-flooding with detention ponds and channel widening.
  • Street flooding may require better maintenance of ditches, bigger storm drains and wider storm sewers.
  • Coastal flooding may require dikes and better building codes that elevate homes higher.

Key Challenges with Flood Mitigation

The presentation then segued into key challenges we face and how the county is trying to address them.

The first slide in this section discussed incomplete knowledge.

For instance, FEMA’s flood maps measure river, bayou, major channel and coastal flooding, but not street flooding, which is a major problem in the inner city. Hopefully, the next generation of flood maps (See MAAPNext) will help address that.

There’s a feeling that large scale infrastructure projects by themselves will not solve our flooding problems. Various groups within the county are looking at ways to supplement them. The engineer’s office is looking at subdivision drainage. Several other groups are collaborating to explore nature based solutions, flood proofing, and more.

The title of the slide above refers to difficulty of coordinating flood-control efforts across complex jurisdictional boundaries.

Different areas have different priorities, needs and timetables. No one understands that better than those who live near county lines. For instance, upstream counties often use lax regulation and enforcement as a way to entice developers – much to the detriment of those who live downstream.

Flood Resilience Efforts Now Underway

While the 2018 flood bond gets all the publicity, it’s certainly not the only Harris County effort underway to mitigate flooding. The slide below shows the variety of efforts.

They include:

  • The Community Flood Resilience Task Force, a group designed to give voice to communities in developing the next generation of flood mitigation efforts.
  • MAAPNext to update flood maps, incorporate the more data sources, and make flood-risk easier to understand.
  • Resilience Actions Inventory, an ongoing effort to catalog resilience initiatives, projects and programs throughout the county.
  • Infrastructure Resilience Team – an interdepartmental team planning resilience projects. It includes: Flood Control, Engineering, Community Services, Public Health, Emergency Management, and the Toll Road Authority.
  • New departments, such as the Office of Sustainability and the Deputy County Administrator for Resilience and Infrastructure.
  • Structural efforts that fall under the:

All these efforts may not mesh like the gears in a Swiss watch. At least not today. But it’s good to know that efforts are underway on more than one front.

For a high-resolution PDF of the PowerPoint, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/25/2021 based on information from the Harris County Judge’s Office

1788 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Help Needed: Public Comment Period Swiftly Closing on $750 Million HUD Flood-Mitigation Grant for Harris County

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has announced that the public comment period for the first amendment to the state’s action plan for Community Development Block Grants for Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) will close in twelve days – on September 29, 2021. The GLO first posted the amendment to its $4.3 billion action plan on August 23rd.

Harris County essentially got shut out of the first round of grants last summer. This amendment would allocate $750 million to Harris County in the second round. That’s good as far as it goes, but Harris County needs more and the proposed amendment needs tweaks. Read more below.

Townhome destroyed by 240,000 cubic feet per second during Harvey.


Earlier this year, the GLO held a statewide competition for approximately $1.1 billion in Harvey flood mitigation funds. Harris County received none, despite being one of the most heavily populated and impacted counties in the state.

A public uproar ensued. GLO Commissioner George P. Bush then agreed to commit $750 million to Harris County for the second round of funding.

The amendment also obligates the county to define a method of distribution (MOD) for that money within US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules.

The “amendment” has been folded into the state’s action plan. The combined document totals a whopping 1134 pages – more than 100 megabytes. You can download the entire doc from the GLO site here. You can read the relevant seven pages (Section 5.4.5) here. Or read the discussion below.

Outline of MOD Rules

The amendment is based on a Method of Distribution (MOD) program. It makes the GLO the direct recipient of HUD funds and Harris County a sub-recipient.

Harris County must define the MOD plan to allocate funds to eligible entities within rules defined by HUD.

Eligible entities include:
  • Local governments (cities/towns)
  • Special purpose districts (MUDs/improvement districts/drainage districts, etc.)
  • Ports
  • River authorities

GLO encourages prioritization of projects that meet regional mitigation needs.

Harris County’s MOD plan must benefit at least 50% LMI (low-to-moderate income) residents.

Eligible activities include:
  • Flood control and drainage improvements
  • Infrastructure improvements
  • Natural or green infrastructure
  • Communications infrastructure
  • Public facilities
  • Buyouts
  • Relocation assistance to outside of floodplains
  • Public service (housing, legal, job, mental health and general health counseling with a 15% cap)
  • Economic development
  • Elevation of critical structures
  • Planning (5% cap)
Ineligible activities include:
  • Emergency response services
  • Enlargement of a dam or levee
  • Assistance for privately owned utilities
  • Improvement of buildings used by government
  • Funding USACE projects in excess of $250,000
  • Projects involving use of eminent domain that benefit private parties

Have their own guidelines which are too complicated to summarize here.

  • The clock starts ticking 4 months after HUD’s approval of Amendment #1.
  • 50% of the grant must be expended by Jan. 12, 2027.
  • 100% must be expended by January 12, 2032.

Experts say all this time may be needed given the complexity of navigating HUD processes, which are lengthier than other sources.


Harris County and the Flood Control District support the amendment. It is certainly justified by the number of people in Harris County and the amount of damage inflicted by Harvey.

However, $750 million is not enough. A fairer amount would be closer to $1 billion. As the action plan points out, approximately one third of Harris County went under water during Harvey.

Alan Black, interim executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, points out several other reasons for increasing the allocation:

The City of Houston has still been left out. Flooding in Harris County has a dual nature. “You can address the rivers and channels,” he says, “but if water can’t get to the bayous, people will still flood when water ponds in neighborhoods. Both riverine and street flooding must be addressed together.”

Black also points out that administrative fees are capped at 6%, but with HUD compliance costs, 8% is more realistic. Moreover, those administrative costs must come out of the $750 million – they are not on top of it. So the real amount of money available for flood mitigation would be reduced to about $690 million.

Finally, the Amendment also allocates approximately $450 million to Houston/Galveston Area Council, much of which would go back into the City of Houston. Black points out that flood mitigation is the Flood Control District’s core competency and that HCFCD can construct projects much faster and more efficiently than HGAC.

An estimated one third of Harris County went under water during Harvey. Photo courtesy of Sally Geis before her rescue.

With the trust fund recently created by Commissioner’s Court, plus $750 million, Black feels confident every project listed under the flood bond could be constructed.

But he worries about inflation of construction costs (which he is already seeing) and the admin costs.

Black intends to build projects as quickly as he can. If there’s a project in an LMI neighborhood that’s shovel ready, he will build it with bond money and not wait for HUD funding which could add years of delays.

That said, there are many projects that are not shovel ready that could benefit from this money. In fact, the need is greater than available funding, says Black.

Make Your Feelings Known

Please consider these points and take time to submit a public comment. Email is probably the easiest way. It doesn’t require you to wait through a meeting for your turn to speak, and doesn’t limit you to a certain amount of time.

Photo by Camille Pagel. Her children are helping to gut the kitchen instead of going to school after the Harvey flood.

How to Register Your Opinion

You can register your opinion in any one of five ways.

All public comments submitted by 5 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2021, will be considered. The method of submittal does not matter. Per federal requirements, the GLO will respond to public comments before the amendment is sent to HUD for final approval.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/17/2021

1480 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Izzy Hedges Bets; Applies for Flood Control Exec Director Job, Too

Yesterday, my weird nephew Izzy informed me that he was applying for the job of Harris County Deputy County Administrator for Infrastructure and Resilience. Nothing I said could deter him. What the kid lacks in common sense, he makes up for with stupidity.

The job description for the new Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director does not require an engineering degree. That’s why nephew Izzy is applying for this job too.

Backup Plan for Deputy County Administrator Job

But this morning, he called again. “Hey, Uncle Bob. Got me a backup plan.”

Maybe I was wrong about him. “Glad you didn’t quit your night job down at the Crystal Pistol, Izzy.”

“My thoughts, presactly,” he said. “Momma done told me, ‘Always get a new job before you quit your old one.'”

“Smart woman, that Yolanda Rae. So what’s your backup plan? Wal-Mart?”

“No Uncle Bob. Executive Director of the Harris County Flood Control District.”

Izzy Has Great Expectations

“Gotta hand it to you, Izzy. You set your sights high!”

“Got to Uncle Bob. One of the dancers down at the Crystal Pistol started flirting with me. She might be the one.”

“THIS time,” I mumbled. Izzy has already been married three times at age 32.

“I’m serious. She makes me want to settle down. I need to find a job that pays more than $8 per hour. And I need more than bar mix and beer nuts for fringe benefits.”

“I didn’t think beer nuts were your main benefit down at the Crystal Pistol.”

Izzy Meets Qualifications For This Job, Too

“Well, you got me there, Uncle Bob. But these dancers…they don’t take you seriously when you show up for a date on your bicycle.”

“What makes you think you’re qualified for this job, Izzy?” I asked as I quickly looked up the requirements for this new job online.

“First off, I only need a bachelor’s degree, which I got.”

“True, but I see many more requirements.

“And I got a driver’s license. That’s another big skill they want. I just ain’t got a car.”

“That’s true, too,” I say. “But it says here, ‘Excellent communication skills needed.'”

Izzy shot back. “You ever had to keep the orders straight for 20 drunks?”

He had me there. “No Izzy, I imagine that takes some skill. And then there’s the experience in ‘end-to-end program design.’ You have that?”

“Yeah, I put together our first chorus line down at the club…in my spare time. Just like the Rockettes. It was so popular, the manager, he laid a $10 bonus on me.”

“But what about this “experience in working with government agency personnel?”

“Hell, who do you think our customers are? We got one back room reserved for City Hall and another for the County crew.”

Izzy Has Answer for Everything

“But Izzy, you’d be responsible for managing more than 350 employees.”

“Simple. Get a time clock to track ’em. If I have to punch one, they can, too.”

“And you’d be responsible for managing hundreds of contractors.”

“I imagine they got plenty of good swag! Frankly, I could use some more coffee mugs. I haven’t washed dishes in two months.”

“Izzy, I don’t think you get it. You’d be responsible for managing $5 billion.”

“That’s the big attraction, Uncle Bob. I really need the money.”

“You don’t get to keep it all for yourself, Izzy. You have to pay it to other people.”

“That sounds un-American to me, Uncle Bob. I’d have to look into that. It just don’t sound right.”

Trying to Recalibrate Izzy’s Expectations

“Izzy, why don’t you look for something more in tune with your assets and abilities?”

“What assets, Uncle Bob?” He had me there.

“Did you ever think of becoming say…a party planner? You’d be good at that.”

“That’s kinda how I see this whole Harris County deal. They got billions of dollars from the Feds, the State and taxes rolling in, Uncle Bob. With that kind of bank, we can keep the party going for years.”

Or until the next election. Look Izzy, a typical executive search takes 4-8 months. They’re doing this in a month. That should tell you something. Don’t you think they wrote the job specs to fit someone they already have in mind? They’re probably looking for someone who can help them solve political problems more than technical problems.”

“Ya think, Uncle Bob?”

“Why else would they hire someone with only a bachelor’s, but no engineering degree, to supervise hundreds of engineers?”

Uncle Bob

Maybe Izzy has a real shot at this job after all.

Here are the full specs if you would like to apply or read them after Harris County has taken the listing down.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/2/2021

1465 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.

Nephew Izzy A Shoe-in for Deputy County Administrator Job

My weird nephew Izzy called me the other day. He was so excited, he could barely contain himself and probably didn’t. Thankfully, it wasn’t a video call.

Our family knows Izzy as the guy who’s ten cents short of a dime. Izzy graduated from college with the lowest possible grades you could get and still earn a bachelor’s degree. He managed to cram four years of college into seven years. Luckily, extracurricular activities helped land him a job as a bartender at the notorious Crystal Pistol.

Job Description and Benefits Have Izzy in Tizzy

I asked what had him so excited. His manager told him about a job listing for “Deputy County Administrator-Resilience and Infrastructure.”

Harris County from over I-10 looking west at downtown Houston and the I-69 split.

I quickly looked it up and couldn’t believe my eyes. It required only a bachelor’s degree and reportedly paid well into six figures. After ten years, Izzy is still trying to get into the two figure bracket.

Izzy has a hard time managing his bubble-gum budget. And the county job entails supervising the expenditure of billions of dollars. But Izzy swore he could do it. “Already got me a pocket calculator, Uncle Bob,” he said confidently.

“It’s good to think ahead, Izzy,” I said trying to encourage him, but not quite sure what to say. As I continued to browse through the job requirements…

Imagine my surprise when I learned that you did not need an engineering degree to supervise hundreds of engineers in the County Engineers Department, Flood Control District and Toll Road Authority.

Neither do you need any accounting experience to manage the $800 million per year that the Toll Road Authority brings in – or the $5 billion flood bond. But you do need to know how to operate a telephone. Seriously. That’s why Izzy figured he was a shoe-in.

Undaunted, Izzy pointed out that the job comes with a desk chair. Not to mention other benefits, including:

  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Life Insurance
  • Long-term disability
  • 10 days of vacation each year for the first five (5) years of service
  • 10 county holidays plus one (1) floating holiday
  • Dependent Care Reimbursement

Dependent care really rang his chimes. Even though Izzy is only 32, he pays child support for eight kids. But even with that, dependent care is not the biggest attraction for my nephew.

Izzy would get to ride Metro for free. That appealed because riding his bike to work has its drawbacks in August and September. He can only afford to wash his uniform once a week. No wonder the manager referred him to the County job!

The Resilient Izzy

But Izzy as usual saw the bright side. “Hey, it’s an online application. I won’t even have to buy deodorant.”

Reviewing more job requirements, I asked Izzy if he was certain he could solve “complex operational and structural challenges.” 

“Damn straight,” he fired back. “I can pour drinks with both hands and feet tied behind my back without spilling a drop. Show me another bartender that can do that!” I wasn’t going to argue the point with Izzy. I figured, at a minimum, his attitude could teach Harris County a thing or two about resilience.

“But do you have the ability to ‘thrive in ambiguity,’ Izzy?”

“What’s ambiguity?”

“That’s where your boss doesn’t tell you what to do,” I said.

He exploded with enthusiasm. “Damn! This job was MADE for me,” he shouted!

Interfacing with Local Officials

“It also says here you’d have to interface with local officials.”

“Hell, I know half of ’em from down at the Crystal Pistol,” he said. “That’s where you really get things done. In the back room.”

Izzy had an answer for everything. I was beginning to think he just might have the right stuff for the job.

Undaunted, I pointed out that he needed five years of supervisory experience.

“I’ve been supervising the dancers at the club longer than that!” he said with a smile that I could hear over the phone. “What else? Give me something harder.”

“Says here you need five years of experience designing, managing, constructing or operating major infrastructure projects.”

Izzy Plugs His Infrastructure Experience

Izzy fell silent. After a long, thoughtful moment, he said, “Well, I spend half of each shift in the bathroom and the other half on the phone. So yeah, I got experience operating major infrastructure systems.”

At this point, Izzy had exhausted me. So I said “Go head. Send in your resume.”

“What’s a resume, Uncle Bob?”

It will be tough to beat Izzy’s qualifications for this job, but if you’re interested, hurry. Applications close September 6th.

I didn’t have the heart to tell Izzy that they likely already have someone specific in mind for the job. Why else would you write a job description that involves managing half the county and fits Nephew Izzy?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/1/2021

1464 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.