The Houston Chronicle has endorsed Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer for County Judge over incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo. I won’t recap the lengthy Chronicle article here; you should read it firsthand. But I will expand on it, especially vis-a-vis flood control, which the Chronicle touched only lightly.
Let me start by saying that after watching four year’s of Hidalgo’s missteps in flood mitigation, I support Mealer, too. It comes down to concerns about Hidalgo and the promise I see in Mealer. Let’s discuss Hidalgo first.
Hidalgo Slights Area With Worst Flooding
The person in the driver’s seat has a huge influence on where flood-mitigation money goes. And more than half of all flood-bond money spent to date has gone to Brays, Greens, White Oak, Halls, and Hunting Bayous. Those five have received more than $550 million from the flood bond through May. That’s more than half of all bond money. See below.
Here’s how that looks in a graph. Keep in mind that the San Jacinto watershed is the largest in the county.
The San Jacinto also had the highest flooding in the county during Harvey – more than 20 feet above flood stage.
And as a result, the San Jacinto was among the most heavily damaged.
So, you would think this would get Judge Hidalgo’s attention. Instead, she brags about her equity prioritization framework. She claims it gives preference to the “worst first.” The only thing is, she doesn’t define “worst” the way most people would. She ignores severity of flooding and damaged structures.
Hidalgo’s Definition of Worst
Hidalgo’s formula measures Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) residents, the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, and population in an area. But many of those densely populated neighborhoods are crowded with apartments. So …
People who live above ground level and don’t flood get prioritized over people who live at ground level and do flood.
But Hidalgo can’t even tell how many residents in a watershed live with different degrees of flood risk. So, Hidalgo’s “worst first” mantra is clever but misleading. It intends to deceive.
Compare that to the half billion dollars you saw above. She’s proud of that disparity. Watch the video interview embedded in the Chronicle article.
Meltdown at Universal Services
Flood-control spending is just one of the county’s “disaster areas.” Consider the County’s IT department, Universal Services, which is in meltdown. The reason you see five-month-old data above is that the county has gone through a disastrous change in its IT systems.
The department has been dogged by incompetence since Hidalgo appointed Rick Noriega to take over. He has no IT background and has pushed out people who do. The managers of every group beneath him have turned over.
The incompetence is widespread, according to multiple sources. Things have gotten so bad that many qualified staff are burning out from having to shoulder more and more of the workload. And they are quitting.
As a result, accurate, timely information is rare. And yet, Hidalgo keeps bragging about “transparency.”
Lacking Leadership, Direction on $750 Million Flood-Mitigation Allocation
Universal Services is not alone. See the org chart below.
The Community Services Department has had three different leadership changes under Hidalgo.
So whom did she choose to develop a plan for spending $750 million in Harvey flood-mitigation funds? Community Services, not Flood Control!
Community Services may be knowledgeable about disaster relief. That’s about helping individuals recover from past floods. But flood mitigation is about lessening the severity of future floods. One requires social workers; the other requires engineers, like they have in Harris County Flood Control.
The Texas General Land Office (GLO) administers those flood-mitigation funds for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
They are still waiting on “direction from leadership,” according to an internal memo obtained by ReduceFlooding. In 14 months, Community Services has only defined a “process” for determining the list.
Community Services has, however, determined that it wants to spend almost a hundred million of the $750 million on planning and administrative costs.
Meanwhile, H-GAC which covers a much larger area and includes many more governmental entities received notification of a $488 million allocation – also on 8/23/21. Yet H-GAC has already submitted its project list, received approval, and is working with sub-recipients to secure and validate bids.
Brain Drain Continues
Some of the departments shown above have been gutted. For instance, Engineering lost 4-5 layers of management. They don’t even have a disaster relief capability anymore.
Also, their “Fix Flooding First” program lost its leader and has reported no progress in months. Fix Flooding First was especially important to people on the periphery of the county. Its objective was to get neighboring areas that drain into Harris County to adopt minimum drainage standards.
What you see in the org chart above is the wholesale replacement of highly credentialed professionals by political cronies. And often, the cronies have no experience or qualifications.
And then there’s Elections Administration. Hidalgo hired a political activist who had never run an election. She missed key deadlines and lost 10,000 votes. So, Hidalgo replaced her … just weeks before early voting starts for the upcoming election.
Management Mayhem Under Hidalgo
In my opinion, Hidalgo’s biggest problem is that she’s just a bad manager. She:
- Doesn’t attract and retain top talent
- Pushes out those who disagree
- Hires people based on political affiliation, not qualifications
- Doesn’t value experience and institutional knowledge
- Blatantly discriminates against Republican-leaning precincts.
Hidalgo never “owns” her problems. She just waves them away. In my opinion, another four years of Hidalgo would leave the county in disastrous and unrecoverable shape.
County spending is up. Crime is up. Taxes are up. And virtually all the flood-mitigation money promised to the Lake Houston Area has so far gone elsewhere.
About Alexandra del Moral Mealer
Mealer comes to the job with much more life and leadership experience than Hidalgo did. She has a way of confronting the truth head on.
You would expect that from a West-Point-educated Army Captain who commanded a bomb squad in Afghanistan. Mealer understands:
- The necessity of accurate intel
- That peoples’ lives and livelihoods depend on the decisions she makes.
Mealer also has MBA and JD degrees from Harvard. She was a VP at Wells Fargo where she helped put together billion-dollar oil-and-gas deals before deciding to run for County Judge. In flooding as with law enforcement…
Straight Talk Vs. the Flood-Control Fairy Tale
Before this campaign, Mealer acquired a wealth of knowledge about how the county works. And she has surrounded herself with experts on various subjects.
The Chronicle described her as a data wonk. In my opinion, that’s what the county needs: someone grounded in reality. In one commissioner’s court meeting after another, Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis, have spun a flood-control fairly tale.
It goes something like this. “Flood control has ignored poor neighborhoods. Rich ones like Kingwood get all the flood-mitigation money.” Why? They point to institutional racism!
If we had a judge who knew where her money was actually going, she could have challenged this myth. The reality is that LMI neighborhoods have consistently received the lion’s share of flood-mitigation funding going back decades.
By ignoring reality and blaming flooding on racism, Hidalgo has divided people. Worse, she has diverted attention AWAY FROM the REAL causes of flooding.
Laser Focus on Results that Benefit All
I have discussed flooding issues with Mealer a dozen times since the primary last spring. In my opinion, she is laser focused on accurately diagnosing problems. National and state issues over which she has no control do not distract Mealer.
Accurately diagnosing problems is the key to fixing them quickly and cost effectively.
I, for one, don’t plan to support Hidalgo. She continually says she needs more money when she doesn’t know where billions of flood-mitigation dollars have gone. Nor does she seem eager to deploy another $750 million already in her hip pocket. I’m voting for Mealer.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/16/22
1874 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.