The Houston Chronicle and Ted Oberg, ABC13’s investigative reporter, both filed new stories Tuesday about the controversy surrounding Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City’s troubled Housing and Community Development Department. The story blew up on September 22 and immediately triggered a fraud investigation by the Texas General Land Office and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to today’s stories, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has also opened an investigation into the multi-family housing deal at the heart of the controversy.
Mayor Recommends Deal with 4X Less Bang for Bucknbg
Tom McCasland, the former department head, accused the Mayor in an open City Council Meeting of unduly trying to influence the outcome of a grant. The Mayor promptly fired McCasland. The deal favored by the Mayor would have sent millions of dollars in business to the Mayor’s former law partners although McCasland explicitly said he was not accusing the Mayor of fraud.
In the “what was he thinking department,” the Mayor also asserted that it was his right to award the project to the firm of his choice and overrule McCasland’s recommendation even though four times more affordable housing units could have been built for the same amount of money had Turner followed the recommendations of McCasland’s department.
Ogg Investigation Reportedly Looks Back into Old Deals Too
Allegedly, the investigation is widening. Oberg’s story said, “13 Investigates has also learned the District Attorney is asking for more – and this time far more detailed information – about contracts, agreements, invoices and all available payment information related to payments to Barry Barnes and Associates in 2018 and 2019.”
Mayor Turner’s office said in a statement, “The City has received no notice of an investigation. The DA asked through an informal request for all city policies and procedures related to procurement and the letting on contracts.” The mayor denies having done anything wrong.
McCasland declined to comment, as did Ogg. “Out of fairness to all involved, we neither confirm nor deny potential investigations into any matter until and if a charge is filed,” said Dane Schiller, Ogg’s spokesperson.
In separate news, the City’s Housing Committee will reportedly hold a hearing Thursday, October 7, at 2 pm on this matter and broadcast the meeting on its internet site. The Mayor is expected to tell his side of the story at that time.
More news to follow.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/5/2021
1498 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.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Turner.jpg?fit=1500%2C1125&ssl=111251500adminadmin2021-10-05 21:22:402021-10-05 22:13:41Chronicle, ABC13 Report Harris County District Attorney Opens Investigation into Mayor
Tonight, the SJRA board will decide whether to continue the temporary seasonal lake lowering policy until other flood mitigation measures can be put in place. Last night, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner proposed a compromise. Instead of lowering Lake Conroe to 199 feet in the fall, he suggests lowering it to 199.5, but would lower it the other half foot five days in advance of any predicted tropical storm.
Comparing Proposal to Historical Averages
SJRA data shows that 199.5 is within 1.5 to 4 inches of the historical averages for affected months.
If Lake Conroe residents can’t live with that, then they should complain to Mother Nature. The difference will be barely perceptible.
But the ability to lower the lake further five days in advance of a tropical storm still provides downstream residents with safety. Five days should be enough time to get water into the Gulf of Mexico.
The extra storage capacity created in the lake should help protect Conroe residents as well as those downstream by:
Delaying the need to release floodwater
Giving peaks on other tributaries time to pass through the watershed
Reducing the width and peak of floodwaters downstream
Giving the SJRA more time to issue evacuation warnings if necessary
Giving downstream residents more time to evacuate and move cars and other valuables to higher ground
A few inches seems like a good compromise that may be best for everyone involved.
One Additional Recommendation
However, I would add one other thing to the request. During releases, I would urge the SJRA to hold back as much water as possible as long as possible.
Instead of returning the lake to normal as soon as possible, keep it as high as possible without jeopardizing safety. Make that a gate operation policy.
This should give peaks on other watersheds time to pass through Lake Houston before releases from Lake Conroe add to them.
Respectfully submitted by Bob Rehak on 2/20/2020
905 Days after Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Average-Lake-Levels.jpg?fit=1200%2C674&ssl=16741200adminadmin2020-02-20 13:54:072020-02-20 14:20:56Editorial: Endorsing Turner Compromise on Lake Lowering, Adding One Thing
No matter whom you like in the Mayor’s race, if you have not yet voted, I hope you vote in the runoff election Saturday. The Mayor’s office sets policies, priorities and budgets. So if you’re not satisfied with the pace of flood mitigation, speak now. At the ballot box.
I’m voting for Tony Buzbee on Saturday. It’s not just that Buzbee has a chance to succeed with flood mitigation; it’s that Sylvester Turner blew his.
833 Days after Hurricane Harvey, it’s hard to tell what the City of Houston has accomplished in terms of flood mitigation or even what the City hopes to accomplish. That’s not to say no work has been done. Or that I don’t appreciate that work.
I just can’t find a comprehensive list of projects and where they stand that matches what Mayor Sylvester Turner has promised the Lake Houston Area.
Turner Not Getting Job Done, Not Committed to Transparency
I did find two City web sites that catalog flood mitigation projects.
“City of Houston Harvey Relief” lists four flood mitigation projects, none of which involve the Lake Houston area. Worse, that page has not been updated in two years, even though other parts of the site have frequent updates. There’s not even a way to link to that page from the site’s navigation! You can only find it through search engines.
City of Houston Public Works also operates a site called “BuildHoustonForward.Org”. It shows no projects in the Lake Houston Area or the San Jacinto Watershed. (See below.) In fairness, the site does say they are still uploading projects. But really! After 833 days! The map below shows where the City’s priorities are. Just look at the concentration. There’s nothing in Kingwood, around Lake Houston or ANYWHERE in the entire San Jacinto watershed!
Net: I believe the Lake Houston Area is a low priority for Mayor Turner.
What Happened to All the Projects Turner Promised?
I have lost faith in Mayor Sylvester Turner to get the job done. Flood mitigation is complex. It requires partnerships and funding from multiple sources. Those partners must trust each other. And it’s not clear we can take Mayor Turner at his word. What happened to Lake Houston Dam Gates, maintenance dredging on the San Jacinto, storm drain repairs, and clearing the mouths of drainage ditches around the lake? What happened to the drainage repairs that Turner promised us Perry would make in Woodridge Village?
Buzbee: A Fresh Start and Fresh Approach
The final day to vote for mayor of Houston is this Saturday. It’s time for a fresh start. I have been meeting with Tony Buzbee re: his priorities for flood mitigation as have many other Lake Houston area flood mitigation leaders. I am refreshed by his openness, willingness to talk, and commitment to transparency and accountability. No doubt, the man has fire in his belly. He’s not a career politician; he’s down to earth and plain spoken.
Buzbee has specified – in detail – his commitments to flood mitigation projects in the Lake Houston Area, as well as Houston in general.
Buzbee’s open letter to the Lake Houston Area includes provisions that address best practices for sand mining and developers; removing sediment from the river and lake; working across political boundaries; openness; transparency; drainage improvements; professional project management and much more. See below.
He has put those commitments in writing. And he has signed the document. I urge you to read it before going to the polls on Saturday. I have reprinted the text below for ease of viewing on portable devices.
Signed Buzbee Commitments
Commitments by Tony Buzbee to the Lake Houston Area Community that he will put in place, if he becomes Mayor of Houston from the runoff election in December, 2019.
If some of these measures are already in place, Tony will improve them as stated below. If these measures are not already in place, Tony will put them in place by the time frame stated. Tony agrees to work with local community groups, such as the Lake Houston Area Long Term Recovery Task Force, to identify and flesh out details of these plans.
First 100 days:
Have fully operational a Website that will have fundamental info on the additional gates on Lake Houston project, C.I.P.# S-000890, (project manager, engineering & environmental studies contractors, identified project milestones, etc.). This Website shall also have project reporting, updated every month on the status of reaching those milestones or not, plus explanations of why not, if that is the case, and subsequent plans to correct any delays to get the project back on schedule. This includes a commitment from Tony that this project will stay on schedule to be completed by fall of 2022.
Announce what City of Houston (COH) department and individual will lead the responsibility for the City of Houston in taking the significantly expanded leadership role with other government agencies (HCFCD, SJRA, CWA, FEMA, USACE, Montgomery, Liberty & other surrounding counties, State of Texas and Texas Agencies, and other government and non-government entities (NGOs) as necessary) in achieving world-class flood protection projects & policies for the San Jacinto Watershed. This COH department shall be given significant and proper resources to function as a world-class agency to provide the expected world-class results.
Some potential milestone difficulties that have been questioned specifically for the Lake Houston Gates project, that may need particular scrutiny are the necessary buyouts of property downstream of the Lake Houston Dam and associated mitigations problems identified in any environmental study, including Superfund sites.
Continue to fund and execute the complete removal of the blockage area in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River commonly referenced as “the Mouthbar” and stay committed to the removal of sediment in both the East and West Fork Rivers to restore the conveyance of these rivers to the levels of when the Lake Houston dam was built. It is not expected that the removal of the Mouthbar and other sedimentation areas will be completely removed in 100 days, however there will be a show of progress, commitment to remove these areas and identify a maintenance plan with a funding source that will ensure conveyance is maintained in the future.
Release plans on how the COH, in it’s new expanded leadership role, will work with the appropriate government agencies (HCFCD, SJRA, State of Texas, Federal Government, etc.) and appropriate non governmental entities to remove sediment & debris from all the inlets & canals that feed storm water runoff into Lake Houston. This removal process shall be done within nine months of sediment removal of the Mouthbar at a rate consistent to the levels of reduction of the Mouthbar, subject to appropriate right-of-way agreements being in place.
Projects that Will Take Longer than 100 days
For these projects Tony will release his plans of how he will achieve these goals, dedication of staff and resources and a time line for each activity. These plans will be listed on a Website with milestones and reporting progress every month in the same fashion as the website described above.
Within six months, identify and prioritize removal of major and minor system restrictions including debris and sediment on the East and West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston in partnership with the SJRA, CWA, The State of Texas, the US Federal Government and other governmental and NGOs as necessary for a plan of a long-term maintenance plan to manage the constrictions and storage reductions that sediment and debris is causing for the Lake Houston region, that may include long term maintenance dredging if that is determined to be the best solution. These plans shall contain projected dates of the start of execution.
Provide guidance and support to Harris County Commissioner Court and HCFCD to prioritize and fund projects that increase the capacity of the Bayous through partnerships with HCFCD to allow for water to efficiently move into the Gulf of Mexico.
Identify a plan for routine maintenance for overgrown and sediment filled ditches within COH ROW. Prioritize by complaints filed via 311, and/or potential 311 Website, as well as investigate flooded areas identified by the above referenced community groups.
Ensure completion of the projects that Public Works SWAT team has identified and forecast out future projects.
Identify a work group to outline a plan for the creation of dynamic storm water models that are integrated with HCFCD Bayou/creek models to ensure we understand how the system is draining. This will identify areas that an integrated sewer/ditch and bayou improvement plan is needed.
Re-evaluate the storm drainage/curb and gutter criteria to align with current Best Management Practices (BMPs). Identify a plan with projected costs to design and improve existing open ditch systems to the concrete top elevations criteria.
Strongly encourage developers in the San Jacinto Watershed to leverage the Houston Incentives for Green Infrastructure Plan http://www.houstontx.gov/igd/ which launched in Aug 2019. Evaluate the success of the program and identify opportunities for improvement. Support Public Works incorporating Green Infrastructure design as a storm water management approach with projects.
The COH shall exercise its expanded leadership role by:
Lobbying and advocating to the State of Texas (SoT) that the Aggregate Production Operators (APOs), commonly known as the Sand Miners, that operate in the San Jacinto Watershed, shall use SoT approved Best Management Practices (BMPs).
Lobbying and advocating to the State of Texas (SoT) and all the counties that have the San Jacinto Watershed in their boundaries for developers to use SoT recognized BMPs in storm water control.
Publishing Own Report Card
Tony commits to publish on a Website available to the public all of his stated plans published on https://www.tonybuzbeeformayor.com/issues/ as of 12/9/2019. Also published on this Website will be a Report Card reporting on the progress of all of his promised plans updated every month. There will be a phone number for you to call and a Website to ask questions about any of Tony’s plans and you will get answers.
Signed: (Tony Buzbee – see original above)
Dated: December 10, 2019
Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/10/2019
833 Days since Hurricane Harvey
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Bill King, Candidate for Mayor of Houston, will visit Kingwood tomorrow to answer residents’ questions about how he would address flooding and other issues. King will offer a sneak peak of his flood plan that will be released next Monday or Tuesday.
Flood mitigation solutions by their very nature are political. I will be posting similar announcements for other candidates as events arise. My hope is that everyone in Houston can meet the candidates personally, get to know them, and learn about their ideas to reduce flooding. A massive turnout in November will help secure our future.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/13/2019
713 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ElmGroveFlood_01_15.jpg?fit=1500%2C1000&ssl=110001500adminadmin2019-08-12 18:08:362019-08-12 18:10:23Meet Bill King, Candidate for Mayor of Houston, At Los Cucos Tuesday at 6PM
Kingwood residents need to participate in City elections this year to ensure that candidates who know about the issues facing our community, especially flooding, are elected. Therefore, I will post information on all events held by candidates for mayor or council that plan events in Kingwood.
Demonstrated Commitment to Solving Flood Issues
This is the first of those posts. I must say that Bill King’s desire to understand flooding issues throughout the City, not only in Kingwood, has impressed me. Long before, he decided to run for Mayor again, King contacted me several times to discuss flooding problems in Kingwood. We also discussed how solutions here might impact downstream communities. King even spent an entire day with me last summer slogging through sand dunes in East End Park and on Marina Drive in Forest Cove to see the problems first hand.
He has seen firsthand what 240,000 cubic feet of water per second can do.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/RJR_5269-e1541018437181.jpg?fit=1500%2C1000&ssl=110001500adminadmin2019-02-08 20:30:012019-02-08 20:30:04Bill King to Discuss Kingwood Flooding Issues, High-Rise Development and More at Townhall this Sunday