Tag Archive for: Jack Cagle

Redistricting Lawsuit Dismissed by Ellis-Backed Judge

A lawsuit by Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and their supporters that sought to overturn a redistricting plan devised by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has been dismissed by an Ellis-backed judge, Dedra Davis.

How Ellis-3 Redistricting plan affects Lake Houston Area
In the Ellis-3 Redistricting plan, almost all of the Lake Houston Area including Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Huffman and Crosby will change from Precinct 4 to Precinct 3. Tom Ramsey will remain the Commissioner of Precinct 3, and will not be up for re-election in 2022.

Details of Redistricting Plan

The Ellis redistricting plan swapped the numbers of Precincts 3 and 4. It also redrew the boundaries of Precincts 3 and 4 so that Ramsey’s home and Cagle’s home changed precincts. The Ellis plan has two immediate effects.

  • It forces Cagle and Ramsey, both Republicans, to run in each others’ precincts because commissioners must live in the precincts they represent.
  • The number swap will deny voters in the new precinct 3 the right to vote for commissioner in the next election. That’s because only even-numbered precincts will vote in the next election cycle for commissioners. So the Lake Houston Area will not be able to vote for commissioners next year as it normally would have.

In addition, the plan redraws boundaries of the new Precinct 4 so that it becomes more Democratic. That jeopardizes Cagle’s chances of re-election and could shift the balance of power in Commissioners Court. Four Democrats could create a super-majority, enabling them to raise taxes at will.

A supermajority could also have far reaching consequences for flood mitigation by enabling Democrats to shift funds between watersheds as Adrian Garcia already tried to do.

TRO Denied, Then Lawsuit Dismissed on Plea to Jurisdiction

The plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to block preparations for redistricting until the lawsuit could be resolved.

Judge Brittanye Morris (acting as an ancillary judge for Davis) denied the TRO on November 29 without explanation.

Hidalgo then filed a Plea to the Jurisdiction on December 13. In it, she pled that:

  • Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the claims
  • She enjoyed sovereign (governmental) immunity
  • Plaintiffs did not plead a constitutionally valid claim
  • She was acting within her powers.

Yesterday, December 22, 2021, Judge Dedra Davis of the 270th District Court upheld Hidalgo’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the lawsuit.

Judge Davis, who was supported in her election bid by Rodney Ellis, a key player in this drama, did not recuse herself. Nor did she cite any reasons for dismissing the case in her terse ruling.

Rodney Ellis and Judge Dedra Davis
Rodney Ellis and Judge Dedra Davis during her election bid.

Stage Set for Appeal

A spokesperson for Commissioner Jack Cagle’s office responded that the plaintiffs intend to file an appeal. However, because of the holidays, no other details were immediately available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/23/2021

1577 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Woodridge Village Purchase and Two More Kingwood Flood Control Measures APPROVED by Harris County Commissioners Today

Today, at 5:52PM, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved three flood-control measures affecting Kingwood. The measures included approval to negotiate engineering contracts for improvements to the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and Taylor Gully. The third approval involved purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes to build a regional floodwater detention facility in Montgomery County.

Woodridge Village Purchase Finally Approved

The latter has ranked high on the community’s agenda ever since sheet flow from Woodridge Village contributed to flooding hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Villages twice in 2019.

Woodridge Village photographed one year after Imelda, when sheet flow flooded approximately 600 homes at the top of the frame.

Since then, Perry has completed the planned detention ponds on the property. However, the amount of detention still falls 40% of that needed under the new Atlas-14 standards.

The City of Houston will purchase 77 acres of the property outright for a wastewater treatment facility. The City will then pay for its half of the remaining Woodridge property by trading land that the Flood Control District can use to reduce the cost of flood mitigation projects elsewhere.

Neither the City nor County have yet announced a closing date for the Woodridge purchase.

The City and HCFCD will work with the community as plans for the property and Taylor Gully are developed by IDCUS Inc.

Kudos to County and City

Seventeen months after Imelda, families in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Village will sleep easier tonight, knowing they are one HUGE step closer to safety.

Thanks to all four Harris County Commissioners, especially Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, and Harris County Judge Lina Hildaldo. Thanks also to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin who helped overcome objections raised at several stages in the Woodridge purchase process.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/9/2021

1260 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Commissioners Vote to Explore Using Flood-Bond for Maintenance, Possibly Floating Another Bond

At the October 27, 2020 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia introduced a motion from the floor to explore using flood bond funds for maintenance projects. The motion was not on the agenda, nor did he circulate it before the meeting. It caught some commissioners off guard. Minor changes in wording between what the motion said, and how Garcia and Commissioner Rodney Ellis described it, will keep court watchers guessing about their true intent.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia

In the end, the motion passed. It didn’t commit commissioners to anything more than conducting a survey and exploring options. However, last Tuesday’s discussion gives voters a peak over the horizon. It reveals what commissioners think and how desperate some are to find new sources of revenue rather than reign in runaway spending.

Garcia Explains Rationale for Motion

View the discussion yourself online. Click on Departments (Part 4 of 5). Start at approximately 4:21 into that segment. Below is a close transcription.

Adrian Garcia: The flood control district has developed the future operations and maintenance needs for the projects that the district will be constructing using the bond program. The overall need for the next 10 years is ninety seven million, with an average annual budget increase need of approximately 10 million per year. Major infrastructure that the control district owned and maintained are detention ponds, earthen channels, concrete channels, and outfall. It’s extremely important that the county funds the proactive maintenance and deferred maintenance for all Harris County owned infrastructure.

I see the spreadsheet that the district has submitted for their 10-year, cost-increase projections for bond projects and growth only as of 10/16 of this year. I am curious as to why some of the heavy equipment, the vehicles, management software implementation, the customer service, the (garbled) software, large repair projects, why these couldn’t be paid out of the bond funding [Emphasis Added, see below] versus using general-fund dollars?

And so I’d like to propose a motion that would touch on the customer-service satisfaction aspect of the flood control district. (Interruption) …

…so the customer-service satisfaction model, the risk-based model and the deferred-maintenance model.

Garcia Proposes Motion

Adrian Garcia:  And so my proposed motions would read that Harris County flood control district should perform a customer satisfaction survey for deferred maintenance and services to develop the maintenance cycle and overall maintenance budget needs.

The flood control district should develop an overall condition assessment for the infrastructure and based on the risk of failure and risk of potential flooding, the flood control district should develop a prioritized criteria and maintenance-needs budget and the Harris county flood control district needs to take a comprehensive look at the condition of all existing infrastructure and identify maintenance needs that have been deferred for years due to budgetary or any other reason. There are many areas where repair work can be significantly large and may also qualify for a capital project. And the Budget Management Department needs to evaluate if we can fund this through a bond program [Emphasis Added, see below].

So that’s the motion I’d like to propose.

Judge, just make sure that we’re not forgetting how to maybe better deal with the O&M (operations and maintenance) side of the Flood Control District’s operations.

Ellis Wants Maintenance Tied to “Equity” Scheme

Rodney Ellis: Second.  It also brings to my mind the question of, “How much of the flood bond money was spent before we adopted the equity guidelines?” 

Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Matt Zeve (Deputy Exec Director, HCFCD): Yes, sir, Commissioner. My staff and I are working on getting those numbers over to you by the end of the week, plus all the other questions that you asked us to dig into. We plan to have that over to you before the end of the week.

Rodney Ellis: And Commissioner (Garcia), I only ask because it relates to the issue. Let’s say if a half a billion, five hundred million was spent before we adopted equity guidelines, I know the city is trying to get us to do some swap. They don’t have equity guidelines as it relates to that … some other project in another county … and I’m going to propose that they give us a recommendation or I’ll come up with one so that we make up a project that will fund it in the absence of equity guidelines, possibly in an equitable way. And money was taken off the top while we were coming up with guidelines, and I want to compensate for that going forward. And that ties in with what you’re doing today.

Hidalgo: So there’s a motion and a second… 

Cagle Objects Because Motion Isn’t in Writing

Cagle: Was it sent around, Judge? (Meaning, “Was the motion circulated so that commissioners could see in writing what they were voting for?”)

Adrian Garcia: It’s coming around now, Commissioner.

Cagle: I’ll hold off until I see it. 

Hidalgo: We can circle back (before taking a vote).

One Hour Later, Motion Passes

Approximately an hour later, at time code 5:23:50, Hidalgo finally circles back to Garcia’s motion.

Commissioner Jack Cagle asks Commissioner Garcia if he discussed his motion with the leaders of the flood control district. Answer: “Some of it.”

Cagle then states, “It’s asking for an assessment. I don’t have an issue with that.”

Commissioner Radack asks whether it could be implemented without coming back to court.

Robert Soard, speaking for the County Attorney’s office, says that any action on the survey would have to come back through Commissioner’s Court for a vote.

Garcia restates the motion, but this time the wording differs slightly: To direct the Harris County Flood Control District to perform a customer satisfaction survey for deferred maintenance and services (i.e. mowing, desilting, etc.) to develop the maintenance cycle and overall maintenance budget needs, to develop an overall condition assessment for the Infrastructure and based on the risk of failure and risk of potential flooding, HCFCD should develop a prioritization criteria and maintenance needs budget and to take a comprehensive look at the condition of all existing infrastructure and identify maintenance need that has been deferred for years due to budgetary or any other reason. There are many areas where repair work can be significantly large that may also qualify for a Capital Project and Budget Management Department need to evaluate if we can fund these through a Bond Program.

Ellis seconds it again. The motion passes.

Text of Flood Bond That Voters Passed

The words “maintenance” and “operations” appear nowhere in the bond language approved by voters.

Under Texas law, bond funds from the 2018 referendum can only be used for purposes approved by the voters.

However, as Commissioner Garcia alludes to in the final sentence of his motion, some maintenance projects are so large that they could legitimately be characterized as capital projects. In fact, the 2018 Flood Bond contained three such projects:

  • F-53 $40 million for “Rehabilitation of Channels Upstream of Addicks Reservoir to Restore Channel Conveyance Capacity”
  • F-52 $20 million for “Rehabilitation of Approximately 20 Miles of Channels Upstream of Barker Reservoir to Restore Channel Conveyance Capacity”
  • CI-012 $60 million for “Major Maintenance of Cypress Creek and Tributaries”

Before the 2018 Bond Election, Harris County Flood Control had only a $120 million budget for maintenance, half of which it spent on capital projects. So you can see that those three maintenance projects would have consumed the entire annual maintenance budget by themselves. Clearly, they fall into a gray area.

The three projects above fall under language in the flood bond that allows “channel improvements.” Also HCFCD publicized them as potential projects before the vote.

Is It Wise to Pay for Maintenance With Bond Money?

Ordinarily, it’s a bad idea to pay for maintenance out of 30-year bond funds.

Mr. Garcia’s introduction of the motion mentioned things not in the motion. For instance:

  • Vehicles
  • Software
  • Customer service

The County should never, in my opinion, pay for those with a 30-year bond. Neither should the bond pay for mowing, which WAS in the motion.

It’s literally like taking out a mortgage to cut your grass. A week later, you’re back where you started and saddled with 30 years of debt.

A New Bond?

Above, I bolded “THE BOND” and “A BOND.” At first, Commissioner Garcia said he wanted to use money from THE BOND (meaning the 2018) bond to pay for some maintenance items. But his actual motion refers to “A BOND.”

That’s certainly a strange way to refer to the historic flood bond passed in 2018. It sounds as though he’s laying the groundwork to float another flood bond.

Rodney Ellis’ rush to second the motion supports the second interpretation. For months, Ellis has consistently carped that there won’t be enough money in the 2018 bond to do all the projects that need doing.

Ellis, Equity Flap and Elm Grove

That’s why Commissioner Ellis redefined “equity” earlier this year. The 2018 Flood Bond specified “equitable distribution of funds.” 88% of people throughout the county voted for that language – thinking they would get their fair share of flood bond money. However, Commissioner Ellis redefined the word to favor the socially vulnerable and penalize others.

Now, Ellis seems to be linking help for Elm Grove to the City of Houston’s adoption of “equity guidelines” comparable to his. He said, “I’m going to propose that they give us a recommendation or I’ll come up with one…” Then he added, “That (meaning equity) ties into what we’re doing here today.” Literally, they are conducting an inventory of maintenance needs and developing a prioritization framework for it.

That framework will no doubt be used to ensure distribution of maintenance dollars according to Mr. Ellis’ definition of equity.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/3/2020

1162 Days since Hurricane Harvey

First Members of Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force Appointed, Rehak Among Them

On 8/11/2020, Harris County Commissioners Court approved creation of a new Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF). The first five of 17 appointments to the Task Force have been made by the County Judge and each of the four Commissioners. The first five will select the remaining members.

I seldom insert myself in a story. But it will be impossible not to in this case. Read on.

Purpose of Community Flood Resilience Task Force

According to the bylaws approved in commissioners court, the purpose of the CFRTF is to serve in an advisory capacity to the County’s Infrastructure Resilience Team and the Harris County Commissioners Court. The CFRTF will promote collaboration among stakeholders. The Task Force will also encourage equitable resilience planning and flood resilience projects that:

  • Support holistic, innovative, and nature-based solutions to building flood resilience and mitigating flood risks;
  • Achieve multiple short- and long-term benefits for as many Harris County communities as possible;
  • Take into account the needs and priorities of the community and promote equitable community-level outcomes in the face of flooding; and
  • Protect communities, homes, and businesses across Harris County from flood-related hazards.
US59 during Harvey. Photo by Melinda Ray.

Task Force Objectives

CFRTF objectives include:

  • Provide feedback on the development and implementation of flood resilience planning efforts.
  • Strengthen flood resilience.
  • Evaluate implementation of the existing flood-bond project prioritization framework and schedule.
  • Identify and develop funding strategies for flood resilience efforts.
  • Provide oversight and encourage transparency in the development and implementation of Harris County’s future flood-resilience planning efforts.
  • Improve community engagement. Obtain feedback from the community on flood resilience planning efforts and projects.

Rundown on Five Initial Members

The five members appointed by the Judge and Commissioners include:

Remaining Members Will Be Selected by the End of the Year

The remaining 12 members of the Task Force will be selected by the five members above. To date, there have been no official meetings as the final member, Rehak, was approved today.

Composition of the final 17 member task force must include at least:

  • Two members from low-income, flood-prone communities
  • Two members from communities of color impacted by flooding
  • Three members with scientific and/or technical expertise related to environmentally sustainable flood resilience or flood-risk mitigation
  • One City-of-Houston employee with responsibility for flood resilience
  • One member from each of eight competency areas below (who may also represent categories above)

Competency Areas

  1. Public Housing
  2. Public Health
  3. Engineering/Construction
  4. Urban Design/Planning
  5. Flood-Risk Mitigation
  6. Environmental Sustainability
  7. Grassroots Community Organization
  8. Equity and Social Justice

Remaining members should be selected by the end of this calendar year.

A Personal Note

I didn’t seek this position. Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle nominated me. I accepted his nomination and feel honored. I promise to make the proceedings of this group as open and transparent as possible. That is one of the core objectives. And ReduceFlooding.com provides an ideal platform to help achieve that. If you have input that could help the task force, please feel free to email me through the Contact Page on this web site. In the meantime, I will continue posting as I have since Harvey about the causes of flooding and ways to mitigate it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/13/2020

1141 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia Approve Community Flood Resilience Task Force Even As Supporters Turn Against It

Tuesday, 8/11/2020, Harris County Commissioners Court approved creation of a new Community Flood Resilience Task Force by a 3-2 vote along party lines.

Three Vote FOR Despite Protests from Supporters

Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Adrian Garcia and Commissioner Rodney Ellis voted FOR the measure despite every speaker complaining about some aspect of it. Even those who had lobbied for a year to create the task force spoke against the final bylaws.

Two Vote AGAINST; Cite Timing, Procedural Issues

Commissioner Radack voted against it, citing a soon-to-be-released Army Corps study that could make the task force obsolete.

Commissioner Cagle also voted against it. He cited some troubling procedural issues having to do with public notice. The motion was placed on an emergency agenda late in the day on Friday – without backup. That meant the public could not see what it was about.

Then the task force bylaws changed several times over the weekend. And even during the meeting. This gave commissioners no time to review the measure they were voting on or to consult affected constituents.  

Ambush Agendas Undermine Transparency

Cagle’s concern highlights a growing trend in Commissioner’s Court these days: ambush agendas.

The emergency agenda is posted late in the day on Friday. This increases the chances that people will miss it and reduces their time to respond or request explanation before the court takes action. Some might say that it’s being used as a tactic to minimize opposition.

Likewise, this administration uses supplemental meetings the same way. Hidalgo called a meeting on August 3rd at 4 pm to consider changing the election process. Without posting any explanation.

Such meetings also catch opponents off-guard. Between special meetings and emergency agendas, the public had only ten days for comment on the task force proposal that will guide $2.5 billion in spending. That is not enough to study an idea, understand it, and mobilize protests (if called for).

During testimony on the measure, it became apparent that those who favored the motion received revised bylaws over the weekend. However, those speaking against did not. 

Such steamroller tactics make a mockery of transparency. Especially when there is no need to rush the measure through after so long.

A New Form of “Co-Government”

During the discussion, Judge Hidalgo’s comments made it clear that she sees the task force as a:

  • New form of “co-government”
  • Tool to oversee and overrule professionals in her own Flood Control District
  • Way to identify “the next big thing” in flood control.
  • Pattern for similar task forces in other departments, such as Transportation and Elections.

Avoiding Geographic Representation When Solving Geographic Problem

I previously posted about this subject more than a year ago. I spoke against the measure based on the fact that it represents only some people, not all. It excludes representatives from each watershed in Harris County, in favor of poor communities and communities of color – regardless of how much floods have damaged other communities.

Also, instead of having flood experts, the task force has equity and resilience experts.

Only three of the 17 people on the task force would have scientific or technical expertise, but they would be overseeing scientists, engineers and technical experts.

Both equity and resilience have been redefined to favor the “socially vulnerable.”

Index to Meeting Video

Video of the meeting shows how this went down. I urge you to look at it instead of simply accepting my summary. However, for easy reference, here is a recap of key thoughts with approximate time codes. 

In the left hand window, click on: on II. Emergency/Supplemental items (Part 3 of 3). Then scroll to 5:16:35 where you should hear Judge Hidalgo announce “Item 8: Task Force Bylaws.”

5:16: 53. Hidalgo summarizes the process, which started a year ago. She mentions other cities with similar task forces, and describes this one as a “best practice.”

15:17:31 Hidalgo describes the function of the group as oversight – to ensure that projects go according to the prioritization schedule approved by the three Democrats.

15:17:40 “Most importantly,” she says, “It will help the county look forward and tell us what the next big thing is going to be.” She claims they had multiple comments from hundreds of people and distilled their input.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo conducting discussion in online meeting.

5:18:07. She tells commissioners they got an edited version of the task force bylaws because she still doesn’t know which department the group will go in.

5:18:28. She says, “But I don’t want to hold this any longer just because we haven’t settled on the place.” (That’s the closest explanation we have as to why this appeared on the emergency agenda.)

5:18:40 Garcia congratulates Hidalgo for “engineering” the proposal.

“Which Version Are We Voting On?”

5:19:43 Cagle interrupts to ensure “we’re voting on the right version.” He complains about getting material over the weekend, which was then revised during the meeting they are now in.

CEER Calls Proposal “A Step Backward”

5:20:30. First speaker, Iris Gonzalez of CEER (Coalition for Environment Equity and Resilience) says the proposal addresses “communities that have been left behind.” But then she says, “We’re really disappointed in the language.”  She also asserts that other groups in her coalition are also disappointed. She concludes by stating the bylaws fail to implement the full intent of the resolution passed a year ago. “This seems like a step backward,” she says.

Katie Prairie Conservancy Voices Multiple Complaints

5:23:18: The President of Katie Prairie Conservancy complains about one issue after another. She wants:

  • “Direct access to commissioners court on a regular basis” 
  • “Supervision of flood management activities.” 
  • “Membership of task force to represent the diverse communities that make up Harris County.”
  • Nature-based solutions for generations to come. 

She says, the task force could be effective, but only if it has authority.

5:26:25 Radack thanks the Conservancy for its work.

5:29. Garcia does, too. 

Residents Against Flooding Says Task Force Needs More Specialists

5:32:30 Cynthia Neely, from Residents Against Flooding, said she got copy of the revised bylaws Sunday afternoon. (Even though people speaking against the proposal, like me, did not). The task force, she says, needs more members of groups like Residents Against Flooding. She also demands specialists representing green infrastructure, natural sciences, soil, wildlife, etc.

Sierra Club Voices “Deep Concerns”

5:56 The Houston Sierra Club said it “…has very deep concerns about the Infrastructure Resilience Team and Task Force.” Specifically, it has no one with a  background in green infrastructure, green space, natural sciences, or wildlife. The speaker proposes amendments to the language.

ReduceFlooding Complaints

5:38:55 Bob Rehak (me) speaks for ReduceFlooding.com. I complain that the task force bylaws:

  • Represent some, but not all people
  • Allow diversions of bond money to non-flood issues
  • Define the words resilience and equity in a self-serving way that’s contrary to common understanding.

I also request that the measure be killed or put on the ballot in to November to give voters a chance to confirm that they agree with the new, unconventional definitions of resilience and equity that skew distribution of flood bond dollars unequally.

Cypress Creek Complains About Representation, Balance

5:42:31 Jim Robertson, Cypress Creek Flood Coalition, wanted representatives for each watershed and better balance between community and technical representation. He also wanted more than ten days of public comment and input.

Radack Complains about Timing

5:45:31. Commissioner Radack expresses concern about what a new Army Corps report coming out soon will say. He worries that it could “devastate” some members of  the task, so he advocated not doing anything at this time.

Historical Discrimination Against Lake Houston Area

5:49:48 Rehak (who was cut off before commissioners could ask questions) comes back to answer one from Cagle. Cagle asks why I felt the Lake Houston area has historically been discriminated against in the allocation of flood dollars.

5:50:15 Rehak replies that in the entire history of the flood control district, the Humble/Kingwood area has never received one federally funded HCFCD project. Also, “The Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium reported that the San Jacinto River Watershed has 3% of the region’s population, historically has received 0% of the region’s flood mitigation funding, and yet sustained 14% of the region’s damages during Harvey. We received 4 to 5 times more damage per person than other parts of Harris County, in large part, because of this historical neglect. That’s why the Humble/Kingwood area voted overwhelmingly for the flood bond when we saw the equity language in it. In fact, we had five of the top eight precincts in the county in terms of turnout. Now we’re being neglected again with these bylaws because of very unusual definitions of equity and resilience that help only a few, not everybody.”

Hidalgo Wants Model for “Co-Governing”

5:51:45 Hidalgo thanks everyone and says, “We’re trying to create a model for co-governing which everyone can see is like being passed around like a hot potato a little bit. I don’t want to keep holding this up.”

5:52:24 Hidalgo runs through comments received during the process because there “are so many different perspectives.” 

“We wanted this to be a community task force.” But then, “We decided against including someone from each of the 22 watersheds because it would have become too large.” 

“We have this huge charge to reimagine our flood future.” 

“We need to move away from piecemeal approaches and be able to answer the question “What is success?” (Editorial Comment: To me, success is NOT flooding.) 

Hidalgo Planning for Next Bond Election, Transforming Government

“We need people to help us PLAN for the NEXT bond election and the next big thing, she says.

“We could keep debating this forever, so I propose we vote on this today. It’s impossible to make everybody happy.” 

“We also need to create community groups like this for Elections and Transportation.”  

“This is the best shot we’ve got,” she says.

5:58:23. Ellis asks which department will house the task force?

5:58:30 Hidalgo talks about the options, but concludes it “doesn’t need to be decided today.”

Ellis Takes Credit for Equity Bias

6:00:16 Ellis says he favors the proposal. He claims he put the equity language on the bond ballet because of FEMA’s cost/benefit language. It supposedly favors rich neighborhoods (though statistics don’t back that up). “We know which neighborhoods have been neglected historically,” he says. Meaning HIS.

Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis taking credit for redefining equity.

6:01 Ellis says, “There are some who would advocate just dividing 2.5 billion equally among the four precincts. Well, that’s not equity.”

“So I was glad to put that language on the ballot.”

“This was a worst/first strategy. I’m proud to implement it.”

6:02 Ellis seconds Garcia’s motion to adopt the Task Force Bylaws.

Final Wrangling

6:02:15 Hidalgo restates the motion on the agenda.

6:03:20 Hidalgo calls for a vote.

Garcia, Hidalgo and Ellis vote YES.

Cagle and Radack vote NO.

Cagle again complains about not getting enough notice.

Hidalgo says “We sent an email Sunday with the backup. So it’s just not accurate to say it was a surprise.”

6:04: Motion to create task force is approved.

Re-Purposing Government On the Fly

If you care to watch the entire meeting you will witness county government being re-purposed before your eyes. And it’s a real eye opener.

Remember this when they try to push the tax increase through. It will come up again in September. Will it be on an emergency agenda over the weekend with little public notice and no backup? Will we have more non-elected representatives determining how public funds are spent?

Forget Shakespeare. THIS is high drama.

For a complete copy of the final task force bylaws, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/13/2020

1080 Days after Hurricane Harvey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intro to Discussion of Bond Costs and Elm Grove

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

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

Price Increases and Status of Bond Budget

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

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

Ellis Shifts Discussion to Perry Buyout

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

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

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

Ellis Proposes New Condition to Purchase

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

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

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

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

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

Argument Over Past/Future Tense in Wording of ILA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radack Proposes Deadline for City Adoption of Atlas 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:22:00 Hidalgo restates the motion.

Possibility of State or Federal Participation

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

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

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

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

Cagle Reminds Commissioners of Two Key Elements

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

Ellis Again Repeats Concerns

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

8:29:30 Hidalgo clarifies motion. 

Radack Reminds Commission that No Estimates Yet Exist

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

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

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

Cagle Makes Motion Reflecting Ellis’ Concerns

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

8:33:30 The motion passes unanimously.

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

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

8:34:44 End of Elm Grove discussion.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/20/2020

995 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Outcome of Commissioners Court Meeting Hopeful for Elm Grove

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

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

Recap of Meeting

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

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

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

Video of the meeting has not yet been posted.

Ellis, Garcia, Hidalgo Always Vote as Block

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

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

What Harris County Still Wants

Here’s what commissioners want:

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

After that the meeting adjourned.

Thank You

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/7/2020

752 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 201 since Imelda

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

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

Where Will Two More Votes Come From?

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

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

At Stake: The Future of Kingwood

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

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

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

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

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

No Other Good Alternatives At This Time

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

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

Help Now! Here’s How

To contact Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Garcia or Commissioner Radack:

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

Phone: (713) 755-6306

Email: pct3@pct3.com

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

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/1/2020

946 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 195 since Imelda