Tag Archive for: Rodney Ellis

Four Dems Take No Action to Honor Pre-Election Bond Promise

On Tuesday, 10/31/23, Harris County Commissioner’s court took no action on a request from Commissioner Tom Ramsey PE to abide by a pre-election promise to voters re: the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds. Ramsey could not even find a second for his motion on Agenda Item #418, which would guarantee the promised minimum of $220 million for Precinct 3.

During debate on the topic:

  • Only one of the four Democrats on Commissioners Court agreed with the idea that “we need to deliver on what we say.”
  • One confused the 2022 road and parks bond for the 2018 flood bond.
  • Two claimed they had already spent their allocation; so they couldn’t re-allocate the money even if they wanted to (which they didn’t).
  • One claimed “everybody” lost track of $110 million.
  • Two claimed that allocating the money to poor areas was more important than an equal split or honoring promises.
Screen capture from 10/31/2023 Commissioners Court Meeting at start of debate on Item #418.

When they talked about allocations to poor areas, they did not mention the percentage of county-maintained parks or roads in their precincts. Nor did they take into account the percentage of their precincts inside incorporated areas, such as the City of Houston. Municipalities are already responsible for maintaining roads and parks within their boundaries.

Bait-and-Switch Tactics

BEFORE the 2022 election, commissioners voted to allocate a minimum $220 million from the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds to each precinct. The county then trumpeted that promise in:

  • Pre-election publicity
  • Postings on county websites
  • Speeches and handouts at community meetings.

Voters approved the bonds on the basis of that promise.

Then, in January 2023. shortly AFTER the election, the Democrats on commissioners court broke that promise. They voted to adopt a different formula that resulted in drastically less money than promised for Precinct 3, the only Republican-led precinct remaining in Harris County.

Precinct 3 received $187.5 million – $32.5 million less than promised.

Meanwhile, the Democrats voted to award themselves far more than Ramsey’s Precinct 3 which contains the highest percentage of unincorporated areas in the county.

PrecinctMinimum Promised 
Before Election
After Election
Difference% of Allocated $
One$220 million$269 million$49 million MORE27%
Two$220 million$293 million$73 million MORE30%
Three$220 million$188 million$32 million LESS19%
Four$220 million$239 million$19 million MORE24%
Promised vs. Actual funding from 2022 Road & Parks Bonds

The FTC calls this “bait-and-switch” advertising. It’s illegal. In a commercial context, intentionally advertising a product or service with the intent to lure customers in, only to then provide a different, less desirable offering is considered a deceptive trade practice and fraudulent. The FTC often forces companies caught in bait-and-switch schemes to refund money.

Ironically, had Precinct 3 voters realized the bait and switch, they could have defeated the bonds.

Was There Intent to Break the Promise?

In my opinion, it would be easy to prove intent in this case. Before the election, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia talked for months about how they wanted to apply so-called “equity” and “social vulnerability” factors to the distribution of proposed bond funds…without identifying projects or nailing down a formula.

Then on August 2, 2022, they relented and consented to a $220 million per precinct minimum. After voters approved the bonds and Lina Hidalgo won re-election, the Democrats changed the deal back. We got exactly what Ellis and Garcia argued for all along – an SVI-based formula that radically skewed the distribution of bond funds.

So, in the end, after redistricting (which packed more roads and parks into Precinct 3 than any other precinct), and after an election in which voters were deceived…

Precinct 3 gets 19% of the funding, yet has 47% of the County’s roads and 35% of its parks to maintain.

Some would say Democrats planned that all along.

What Democrats Said During Debate on Ramsey Motion

Precinct 4 Commissioner Leslie Briones

The newly elected Briones, a lawyer by trade, was not part of the pre-election promises. She said, “I agree fundamentally that we need to deliver on what we say and need to be transparent in doing so.” However, she later added that rectifying such situations is important … on a ‘go forward’ basis.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia

Garcia said, “In terms of Precinct 2, I’ll say that our projects have already been lit. So we’re already, you know, our funding is already committed. We got our project partnership commitments already out. And so the funding is already allocated and you know … I absolutely love leveraging equity. Otherwise I wouldn’t have the 30%, uh, the precinct to, uh, needs it because we’re down to the downstream side of five counties, not just Harris County. Um, and but I am open to seeing if there’s another way of, of getting there, because flooding is flooding regardless of its downstream side or wherever. But right now, of the allocation that I’ve got, my guys have already let that out the door. Yeah.”

Commissioner Garcia evidently confused the 2022 Road and Parks Bonds being discussed with the 2018 Flood Bond.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Ellis said, “Yeah, we’ve already committed our funds as well. And I would say that I’m strongly committed to SVI.” SVI means the CDC’s race-based Social Vulnerability Index as a means of allocating dollars.

County Judge Hidalgo

Judge Lina Hidalgo argued that the $220 million promise was based on faulty math. She said, “We hadn’t thought about … there’s overhead costs of $110 million. And I think that just literally nobody thought about it.”

Hidalgo narrowly won a hotly contested re-election bid on the same ballot as the bond, based in part on her assertion that she represented ALL the people of the county.

Could You Really Spend $562 Million in 10 Months?

With all of the County’s purchasing procedures, could you really spend (or at least commit) $562 million in ten months? That’s the total of Ellis’ and Garcia’s split.

Democrats didn’t approve the SVI-based allocation formula until earlier this year. Then you would have to study projects, rank them, advertise the projects, review qualifications of potential bidders, bid the projects, pick a winner, acquire right of way, sell bonds, and mobilize the projects.

That can take years. For instance, the Northpark Drive expansion project in Kingwood began in 2015 and won’t finish for another 2 or 3 years. And two miles of Loop 494 renovations have taken 4.5 years.

And, perhaps more important, how do you just forget about $110 million in overhead costs? I couldn’t follow the Budget Director’s attempted explanation on that one! Forgetting about $110 million in the private sector would get most people fired.

Think about these issues as you go to the polls and vote on new bond projects next Tuesday.

To see the entire Commissioners Court debate on Item #418, start at 2:30:21 into the video of Departments Part II of IV. The discussion lasts 20 minutes.

In the end, Ramsey, the only Republican, couldn’t even get a second for his motion, so the court took no action.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/4/2023

2258 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Suggests Plan to Streamline Flood Mitigation in Harris County

Citing the urgent need to spend half of a billion flood-mitigation dollars quickly, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) has made a common-sense suggestion to streamline flood mitigation in Harris County. It recommended making Harris County Flood Control District a “direct recipient” (rather than a “sub-recipient”) of the half billion dollars carved out of $750 million awarded to the County in 2021.

Harris County Commissioners put Community Services, not Flood Control, in charge of managing the $750 million award. But Flood Control is spending two thirds of the money.

The GLO suggestion would streamline working relationships, speed up mitigation, and give Harris County a fighting chance to spend the money before the deadline.

Following the Money

In May 2021, the GLO recommended allocating $750 million of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money to Harris County for Harvey mitigation and recovery. In March 2022, HUD approved the recommendation.

Later that year, Harris County Commissioners Court decided to have its Community Services Department (CSD) administer the funds rather than Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).

Since then, CSD recommended giving two-thirds of the money to HCFCD and distributing the rest to various entities within the county. But so far, CSD has only received one application from a potential partner. And six years after Harvey, none of the money has yet been spent moving dirt to reduce flood risk for Harris County residents.

Meanwhile, the county is under HUD deadlines to use the money quickly or lose it.

So, on June 20, 2023, Mark Havens, Deputy Commissioner of the GLO, asked County Judge Lina Hidalgo to make HCFCD a direct recipient. Hidalgo reportedly did not reply to the letter.

The change would shorten lines of communication and reduce layers of administration while speeding up mitigation, protecting residents, and hopefully beating the imminent HUD “use it or lose it” deadlines.

Going into the third year since the announcement of the $750 million flood-mitigation award, none of the money has yet been spent.

Commissioners Court Will Discuss Issue on Tuesday

After more than six months of deliberation, CSD eventually allocated $502.5 million to HCFCD from the $750 million. CSD was then going to allocate most of the rest to unspecified sub-recipients within the county after soliciting applications from potential partners.

However, on next Tuesday’s Commissioner Court agenda, Item 401 reveals…

CSD has found only one entity interested in applying for any of the remaining money in more than six months.

Backup to Harris County Commissioners Court Agenda Item 401

The July 18 Commissioners Court agenda also contains a motion by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia to approve the GLO proposal. See Item 331.

The County is under two “use it or lose it” deadlines for the funds. And GLO is under pressure from HUD.

How NOT to Advertise for Applications

As of this morning, 7/16/23, CSD’s web page that solicits applications has not been updated for two months. It still talks about a May 4th meeting in the future tense.

Screen Capture from solicitation announcement page on 7/16/23.

It also contains some hysterical typos in the first line above. “Applicant’s Conference” singular? “Question” singular? They expected to have only one attendee and one question!?

Worse, it takes a lot of work to find the application web page. CSD’s home page has no direct link. The architecture of CSD’s site revolves around consumer issues such as rent relief and bus ridership, not applicants for mitigation projects.

To get to the $250 million pot of gold at the end of this rainbow from the CSD Home Page, one must click on:

  • Links
  • Harris Recovery (a separate web site)

Not very intuitive! CSD blames the lack of response on a $20 million funding limit. That may be so. But the first rule of sales is, “Make it easy for the customer.” And that certainly didn’t happen here.

Projects Put on Hold While $250 Million Sits on Table

Management turnover has also plagued CSD. Under Lina Hidalgo, the department has had six different directors in 4.5 years.

To make matters worse, under Hidalgo, HCFCD has had four leaders in the last TWO years.

Meanwhile HCFCD is still looking for money to complete projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Moreover, Harris County Engineering is putting subdivision drainage projects on hold for lack of funding. And all this is happening while a quarter of a billion dollars is still sitting on the table.

I hope Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Garcia and Commissioner Ellis can connect those dots and streamline flood mitigation quickly.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/16/23

2147 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.

Dems Deprive Republican Precincts of Services

Late in the afternoon on 9/13/22, my phone started blowing up. Frantic callers asked, “Are you watching Commissioners Court?” I wasn’t unfortunately. I was working on a post about the completion of a flood-mitigation project. But my priorities quickly changed when I learned that the three Democrats (Garcia, Ellis and Hidalgo) voted – as a block – to take take “no action” on 32 separate projects. Each will deprive residents of Precincts 3 and 4 of services.

Adrian Garcia, Rodney Ellis and Lina Hidalgo removed 32 items from the 8/13/22 Harris County Commissioners Court Agenda that would have helped residents of Precincts 3 and 4.

The brazen no-action votes, led by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, were in retaliation for Republican commissioners walking out of a vote that would have allowed Democrats to increase taxes at a time when rising inflation makes larger tax bills doubly difficult.

A quarter of the no-action votes directly targeted residents. The other three-quarters target companies that provide services that benefit residents, such as engineering companies that improve drainage.

Targeted items included residents’ community center wellness classes, maintenance, flood-rescue equipment, roadway improvements and drainage projects.

Violating Historical Norms

By agreement and tradition, historically, Harris County Commissioners do not interfere with each others’ business. So this sets a dangerous precedent in which one party weaponizes its majority to punish the opposition’s constituents. Here’s what happened.

Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle boycotted the meeting so that the Court would not have sufficient votes to raise taxes. In retaliation, Commissioner Adrian Garcia, aided by Commissioner Rodney Ellis and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, pulled dozens of Precinct 3 and 4 items from the agenda.

Commissioner Ramsey said in a press release that, “This is retaliation against Harris County residents at its lowest level. It punishes residents because they disagree about having a responsible fiscal budget. It’s childish and embarrassing for the Court and Harris County.”

Ramsey and Cagle have tried for several months to engage their Democratic counterparts in substantive budget discussions with little luck. The Democrats even rammed through a $1.2 billion bond proposal with no details except for a lopsided allocation plan that gave about 40% more to Democratic precincts.

Previously, Commissioners have agreed to respect the boundaries of one another’s precincts. “Today’s action is the latest example of Precinct 3 residents being stripped of services by the current Court,” said Ramsey.

Ramsey’s allusion to “latest” referred to a redistricting plan that left Ramsey with 47% of the county’s unincorporated area to maintain with only 25% of the budget.

During redistricting, Garcia also tried to shift $191 million from Precinct 3’s Cedar Bayou flood-bond budget to areas within his newly redrawn precinct.

Ramsey’s Rebuttal to Dire Dem Predictions

At one point Lina Hidalgo threatened a government shutdown. “If we don’t adopt a budget today, there would be government shutdown in essence,” she said at 35:40 into the 5-hour video.

Said Ramsey, “Judge Hidalgo and others would have you believe that since there was not a quorum at today’s Commissioners Court, the budget will fail. In reality, the lack of a quorum simply means that the maximum tax rate allowed by law – without voter consent – cannot be implemented. Instead, a smaller budget will be adopted.”

The difference between the two budgets is $100 million. Out of a $2.2 billion budget, that’s 4.5%.

Hidalgo counters that the extra money is needed for more “officers.” According to Ramsey, she referenced investigators and detention officers, “yet didn’t mention adding one patrol officer” who could combat street crime.

Hidalgo also threatened that if the maximum budget and tax rate aren’t passed, 180 flood projects that “…affect the lives of every single resident in Harris County” will be jeopardized. But the bond pays for those projects, and the difference between the two budgets for flood control is only $14 million. That’s .6% of the HCFCD’s budget. And Commissioners Ramsey and Cagle volunteered $7 million each from their precinct budgets to make up the difference.

Finally, Judge Hidalgo asserted that not passing the Voter-Approved-Rate budget instead of the No-New-Revenue budget would dramatically affect the Harris Health System. The difference between the two budgets is less than 2%. And Ramsey points out that many of the Health System’s requests are for capital investments which are not even a part of these budgets at all.

On-Call Engineering Contracts Delayed by Dems

So which projects did Dems pull from the agenda? Let’s start with retainer fees for on-call engineering in Precincts 3 and 4. The numbers below refer to agenda items. See full descriptions here.

  • #43 Pape-Dawson Consulting Engineers, Inc. for Precinct 3
  • #44 Volkert, Inc. for Precinct 3
  • #45 Cascade Civil Services, LLC for Precinct 3
  • #49 HVJ Associates, Inc. for Precinct 4
  • #52 Eneval, LLC for Precinct 4
  • #53 Volkert, Inc. for Precinct 4

Engineering Contracts for Specific Projects Also Delayed

In addition, the Dems agreed to delay approval of engineering contracts or contract amendments for specific projects in Precincts 3 and 4..

  • #51 Request to amend a contract Isani Consultants, L.P. for Professional Engineering Services relating to Stuebner Airline Road Segment C in Precinct 3.
  • #55 Approval of a contract with Edminster, Hinshaw, Russ and Associates, Inc. d/b/a EHRA to develop a Master Plan for improvements to Burnett Bayland Park in Precinct 4.
  • #67 Approval of an amendment to a contract with Huitt-Zollars, Inc. for improvements to Atascocita Area Trails Phase 2 in Precinct 3.
  • #76 Approval of Interlocal Agreement with City of Tomball to construct improvements to Nabors Parkway between Highway 249 and Holderrieth Road in Precinct 4.
  • #114 Approval of a contract with HNTB Corporation for engineering and landscape architecture services for a Road and Drainage Master Plan, Precinct 4.

Bizarre Delay

For unknown reasons, the Dems also voted to pull the following from the agenda:

  • #119 Request for approval to change the names of several projects in Precinct 3.

Delaying Release or Retention of Financial Surety

The following motions relating to approval of the release or retention of financial surety from developers were also taken off the agenda.

  • #123 Grand Oaks Section 9 in Precinct 4.
  • #124 Breckenridge West Section 7 in Precinct 3.
  • #125 Breckenridge West Section 10 in Precinct 3.
  • #126 Bridge Creek Section 2 in Precinct 3.
  • #127 Bridgeland Creek Parkway in Precinct 4.
  • #128 Bridgeland Sec 44 in Precinct 3.
  • #129 Bridgeland streets in Precinct 4.
  • #131 Groves Section 35 in Precinct 3.
  • #132 Groves Section 36 in Precinct 3.
  • #133 Newport Section 7 Partial Replat #3 in Precinct 3.
  • #134 Newport Section 7 Partial Replat #4 in Precinct 3.
  • #135 Windrow Section 3 in Precinct 4.

Delaying/Denying Services Directly Affecting Public

The items that most directly and immediately affect residents include the following. Garcia, Hidalgo and Ellis took each off the agenda.

  • #155 Approval to negotiate an agreement for surveying as needed in Precinct 3.
  • #160 Approval to convert Sam Houston Tollway Segment #3 in Precincts 3 and 4 to an all-electronic roadway.
  • #278 Approval to construct pedestrian trails along a drainage ditch of Brays Bayou under Addicks Clodine Road Bridge in Precinct 3.
  • #291 Renewal of 1-year contract for exercise classes in Precinct 3.
  • #342 Approval to bid reinforced concrete pipe, saddle inlets and related items for Precinct 4.
  • #343 Approval to bid asphalt roadway rehabilitation for the Western Trails Subdivision in Precinct 3.
  • #351 Approval to bid airboat and trailer purchases for Precinct 3.
  • #352 Approval to bid passenger buses for Precinct 3.

Most Troubling Item Cancelled, Not Just Delayed

#351 is especially concerning because the airboats would presumably be used for rescue operations during flooding…something the Lake Houston Area remembers all too well. The Dems outright cancelled that; they didn’t just delay it.

Watch the meeting and form your own opinions. Apocalyptic predictions take up the first three hours and fifty minutes. Garcia then starts listing the agenda items he wants to kill or take off the agenda.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/14/22

1842 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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

Ellis-Backed Judge Set to Hear Case on Constitutionality of Ellis Redistricting Plan

Dedra Davis, a district-court judge that Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis backed for election in 2018, has been chosen to hear a constitutional challenge to Harris County’s redistricting plan developed by – you guessed it – Rodney Ellis. The plan will likely give Democrats a supermajority in Commissioners Court and allow them to dictate everything from tax increases to the future of flood mitigation in Harris County.

1.1 Million Will Lose Right to Vote for Commissioners Next Year

The suit alleges that the Ellis-3 plan, by switching precinct boundaries and numerical designations – will deprive 1.1 million people of their right to vote for commissioner in the next county election. Further, the suit alleges that precinct lines could have been redrawn without depriving anyone of their right to vote.

Ellis switched numbers of Precincts 3 and 4 and moved a large part of P2 into P3. Because only even-numbered precincts will vote next year, voters in the new P3 – which includes virtually the entire Lake Houston Area – will not be able to vote for commissioners as they normally would have.

Ellis-Backed Judge Draws Ellis Case

The Honorable Judge Dedra Davis of the Texas 270th Judicial Court is a Democrat. She first ran for public office in 2018, but managed to beat Republican Judge Brent Gamble, a 20-year incumbent by 10 points – even though members of the Houston Bar Association preferred Gamble almost 3-to-1. And the Houston Chronicle strongly endorsed Gamble over Davis.

Screen capture from 2018 Bar Association poll. Did Ellis’ support tilt the scales in the other direction?

Some might call Davis’ 10-point win over a highly respected incumbent a stunning upset. But Ellis swings a lot of weight in Harris County.

Commissioner Ellis reportedly campaigned heavily for candidate Davis.

One Harris County insider who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “She is one of the judges Ellis got elected. There are several of them.” A second person sent me the photo above that shows Davis campaigning with Ellis.

Can Davis Be Impartial?

Judges don’t get to chose their cases. And this case has barely begun. The lawsuit was filed just two days ago. No rulings have yet been made according to Harris County District Clerk records. So I’m not alleging any impropriety.

Davis just had the bad luck to draw a case involving one of her biggest supporters – someone whose support likely swung her election.

According to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 18b, Judge Davis has a perfect out if she wants it. Rule 18b, Paragraph B states, “Grounds for Recusal. A judge must recuse in a proceeding in which:

(1) the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned;

(2) the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning the subject matter or a party.”

Only the Honorable Judge Davis can know what’s inside her heart, but a million disenfranchised voters will be looking over her shoulder on this case and wondering whether her association with Commissioner Ellis will color her judgement.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/18/21

1542 Days after 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.

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

Flood-Mitigation Funding Flows to Damage, Not High-Income Neighborhoods

Last in an eight part series on flood-mitigation funding in Harris County

For two years, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia have alleged that rich watersheds get all the flood-mitigation funding, while poor and minority watersheds get none. But data suggests that is far from the truth.

Three months ago, the din from Ellis and Garcia reached a crescendo. I became so alarmed about the allegations of racism in flood-mitigation funding, that I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request to Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for historical funding data by watershed. I also requested related data such as watershed size, damaged structures, the number of low-to-moderate-income (LMI) residents, and more.

Data Contradicts Ellis/Garcia Narrative

My analysis contradicted the carefully crafted Ellis/Garcia narrative. I found the exact opposite of what they claimed.

The most dollars flow to low-income watersheds which, coincidentally, have the most flood damage.

The strongest correlation I found with flood-mitigation “funding” since 2000 was “damaged structures.” And the percentage of low-to-moderate income residents in a neighborhood correlates very strongly to damage per square mile.

When you think about this, it makes sense. We put the most flood-control dollars in areas that flood the most.

Damage Per-Square Mile Correlates Highly with LMI %

To understand patterns in the data, one must start by evaluating damage “per square mile.” That’s because high- and low-income watersheds differ radically in size and number.

  • Harris County has only eight low-to-moderate income watersheds, but 15-high income watersheds.
  • The low-income watersheds are half the total size – 600 square miles vs. 1176 square miles.

When looking at damage on a per square mile basis, the highest concentrations occur in low-income neighborhoods.

LMI percentage and damaged structures per square mile have a 0.82 coefficient of correlation. Mathematicians consider that very strong. 1.0 is the highest you can get, a perfect correlation.

Damage includes structures flooded in four major storms since 2000 (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day and Harvey).

Low-income watersheds cluster on the left and high-income watersheds on the right because of “Damage,” not racial discrimination in mitigation funding. Mitigation dollars already overwhelming flow to minority and low-income neighborhoods as they have for decades.

Flood-Control Dollars Flow to Damage

There’s also a strong relationship between total funding and total damage. Notice how the shape of the curves align closely with a few exceptions.

Total funding since 2000 and the number of damaged structures show a 0.84 coefficient of correlation. Mathematicians consider that very strong.

You can see a general downward trend in both blue and orange, indicating a strong correlation. This relationship supports other statistical analyses in this series. (See links to previous articles listed below.)

At the highest level, when you look at the data from multiple perspectives, one thing stands out: 

Dollars flow to damage, not affluent watersheds.

Possible Causal Links Between LMI Percentage, Damage and Funding

Touring lower income watersheds by car or helicopter helps explain why those watersheds have so much more damage and consequently receive so much more funding. In general, they:

  • Are much more densely packed with buildings, a consequence of more than twice the population density (3,900 residents/square mile compared to 1,600).
  • Have more impervious cover, so water can’t soak in as quickly or as much
  • Tend to crowd floodways and floodplains, which have expanded over time with upstream development
  • Are downstream from rapidly growing areas.
  • Are 70 to 80 years old and therefore built to lower development standards
  • Have many homes that sit almost at street level instead of being elevated above it.
  • Have many clogged roadside ditches and storm drains, due to poor maintenance by county precinct crews and the City of Houston’s Public Works Department. (Water has a hard time getting out of neighborhoods.)
  • Have more structures per acre.

Re: the last point, in Kashmere Gardens (an LMI neighborhood), I found six homes on a third of an acre worth more than my house on a full acre in Kingwood. The density can offset higher home values in suburban neighborhoods when calculating Benefit/Cost Ratios for FEMA or HUD.

Flood-Mitigation Funding by Watershed Since 2000

Here’s how much money each watershed received for capital improvement projects since 2000. No maintenance dollars or dollars committed to complete projects are included – only dollars “out the door” as of the end of March 2021.

The graph above dramatizes two things: 

  • The wide variation from high to low. Luce Bayou received only $4.5 million while Brays received $510 million. That’s 113 to 1.
  • few watersheds received multiples of the average and median, while far more received a small fraction.

Funding Data Disproves Racist Allegations

Remember that the next time you hear the allegations of racial discrimination from Ellis and Garcia. This discussion shouldn’t be about race. It should be about fixing flooding problems.

The government is not funding flood-control projects in rich areas that didn’t experience flood damage. It funds them in areas that had the MOST damage. Those just happen to be in minority and low-income neighborhoods. And it is critical that people focus on WHY those structures flooded if we are to find solutions. 

Implying that they flooded because of racial bias is misdirection. The racial allegations divide and distract people. They also keep HCFCD, from focusing on real solutions to our flooding problems. That harms all voters in Harris County.

If commissioners continue to focus on race, it will prove they care more about political gamesmanship than fixing drainage.

While that may win them re-election, we all lose.

For More Information

For more information, see: 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/28/2021

1399 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.

Looking Through the Wrong End of the Drainpipe: The Politics of Misdirection

Seventh in a series of eight articles on flood-mitigation funding in Harris County.

For the last two years, I’ve heard the same tirades in Commissioners’ Court – that rich neighborhood’s get all the flood-mitigation money while the poor neighborhoods get none. According to Commissioners Ellis and Garcia, that’s because higher home values in rich neighborhoods generate higher Benefit/Cost Ratios and therefore get more FEMA grants. Problem is, FEMA looks at many other factors. And HUD grants favor low-income neighborhoods. But you never hear Ellis or Garcia talk about those.

In reality, most flood mitigation-money in Harris County goes to watersheds with high percentages of low-income residents. (See links to previous posts below.)

By focusing on a narrow part of the flood-mitigation funding process as opposed to outcomes, Ellis and Garcia have been looking though the wrong end of the telescope. Why? To focus attention on the wrong end of the drainpipe! 

In the most flooded parts of Halls and Greens watersheds, street after street has clogged ditch drains. Responsibility for cleaning those drains falls onto, you guessed it, Ellis and Garcia, along with their counterpart at the City of Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Simple FOIA Request Disproves Narrative

The Ellis/Garcia narrative just didn’t sound right to me. So I submitted a Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) request to the Harris County Flood Control District in March for historical funding data. I wanted to see if the allegations were true. They’re not.

Analysis shows that the Ellis/Garcia narrative is 180-degrees from the truth. By almost any statistical measure, flood-mitigation spending favors the poorer watersheds in Harris County. That’s where most of the damage is. 

Surely Commissioners Ellis and Garcia can’t be oblivious to more than a billion dollars of construction benefitting their own precincts. 

And had they bothered to look, they would have found Kingwood, their favorite whipping boy, has never received one Harris County Flood Control District Capital Improvement Project.

Verbal Sleight of Hand Deflects Attention from Who’s Responsible

So, what’s going on here? Why the constant barrage of racial accusations and divisive rhetoric? 

In my opinion, the deception, omissions and distortions of fact are about misdirection.

They seem designed to deflect attention from those responsible for a crucial part of the problem: street drainage.

And if you don’t fix that, you will never solve flooding no matter how much money you throw at channel widening, detention ponds and green solutions.

A process engineer in the oil and gas industry once told me, “There’s always a bottleneck in every system somewhere.” And one of the biggest issues in neighborhoods that flood repetitively is street drainage. Water can’t get out of the neighborhoods to the bayous.  

Poor Ditch Maintenance Contributes to Street Flooding

By alleging racism in the HCFCD funding, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia are deflecting attention from a serious issue; many of the neighborhoods in their jurisdictions have awful internal drainage (streets and storm sewers) that contribute to frequent street flooding. Street flooding happens when high rainfall rates exceed the capacity of storm drains and ditches to carry the water away. The reduced capacity of the ditches below makes the streets flood on smaller rains.

Swale filled with sediment, almost totally blocking drain on Kashmere Street between Octavia and Engleford in Kashmere Gardens. City of Houston’s maintenance responsibility.
Ignacio Vasquez has lived in Kashmere Gardens for 45 years. He says he has called 311 about blocked drains like this one on Engleford St. “thousands of times”, but they never get fixed. City of Houston’s maintenance responsibility.

Vasquez says that after a heavy rain, this drain backs water up throughout his neighborhood and contributes to flooding. He says it can take up to 3-4 days for water to drain away. Completely unprompted, he then said that Kingwood was getting all the help from the City. I told him that I lived in Kingwood and that our drains were just as bad as his. See below.

Drainage swale on Valley Manor Drive in Kingwood is completely filled in. City of Houston’s maintenance responsibility.

But I digress. Here are some more street drainage photos taken on 6/26/21 in Halls and Greens Bayou Watersheds as well as Kashmere Gardens on the southeast corner of US59 and Loop 610.

Wherever I drove for five hours, residents repeatedly told me that because of poor maintenance, water has a hard time getting out of neighborhoods. It must either sink in or evaporate. See below.

Amboy and Octavia Streets. City of Houston’s maintenance responsibility.
On Octavia just east of Amboy St. City of Houston’s maintenance responsibility.
Etheline St. near Korenek St. Harris County Precinct 1’s maintenance responsibility.
Octavia St. near Kashmere Street. City of Houston’s maintenance responsibility.

To be fair, not all the ditches were this bad. But I saw thousands like these on hundreds of streets while driving around for five hours. Sometimes sediment almost completely covered drains. I often had hard times spotting the pipes.

On north side of Laura Koppe just east of Arkansas Street. Harris County Precinct 2’s maintenance responsibility.
On Kowis Street a few hundred feet east of the Hardy Tollroad. Harris County Precinct 2’s maintenance responsibility.

The saddest sight I saw all day was this home on Etheline Street between Homestead and US59.

Note the mold and rotting exterior. Also note how close to street level this home is. Harris County Precinct 1’s maintenance responsibility.
Red circle shows location of drain completely blocked by sediment. Harris County Precinct 1’s maintenance responsibility.
Sixteen more representative shots in Harris County Precinct 1, Precinct 2 and City.

With drainage this bad, water may evaporate or infiltrate faster than it flows out of neighborhoods!

Who is Responsible for Streets and Storm Sewers?

Who is responsible for clearing blockages like these? Not the Harris County Flood Control District.

Inside the City of Houston, it is the Houston Public Works Department and a mayor who has been sued for diverting drainage fees.

Who is responsible for the unincorporated areas of Harris County? The Precincts. And the worst drainage happens in Precincts One and Two with Commissioners Ellis and Garcia.

  • Why does Kashmere Gardens (in the City) have open ditch drainage that hasn’t been maintained in years?  
  • How do areas in East Aldine still have barely functional roadside ditches and residents who do not have municipal water and sewer service?  

Commissioners Ellis and Garcia have the power and the money to address these issues. Yet they have chosen not to. Why have they not helped the very people they claim are left behind?  

Show Us the Data

It is important to note the questions NOT being asked in this so-called “equity” debate. 

  • How much has the City of Houston invested in these flood-damaged areas to remediate drainage?  
  • How much have Precincts 1 and 2 invested?  
  • What drainage projects have they completed since 2000?
  • What is the capital improvement plan for each precinct, and how much of that includes drainage improvements?
  • What is the equity prioritization framework for precinct spending?
  • How much unspent money does each precinct have for infrastructure?

The answers may point right back at the people making racial accusations.

The City and Commissioners Ellis and Garcia need to provide answers. Let’s see the data. How much have the City and the Precincts spent in these areas? If these areas are underserved, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia, and Mayor Turner are responsible.

They have claimed transparency is important to them. The time to prove that is now. 

Blaming the problems on racial discrimination is an easy sell in minority neighborhoods. But it’s misdirection and it keeps the spotlight off Commissioners.

Hounding talented executives like Russ Poppe, the soon to be ex-head of the flood control district, out of their jobs won’t fix the issue either. That’s also misdirection.

And it diverts focus from finding solutions to the real problems that contribute to flooding. For that, many people need look no further than the end of their driveways.

We all need to step back and look at flooding from end to end. Then maybe we’ll make life easier for the most vulnerable people among us.

For More Information

For more information, see: 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/27/2021

1398 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 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

Woodridge Village Purchase Back on Commissioners Court Agenda – With All Conditions Addressed

The purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes’ subsidiary Figure Four Partners is back on the agenda for Harris County Commissioners Court next Tuesday. All conditions previously imposed on the deal by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis have been addressed this time.

Part of the 268-acre Woodridge Village being considered for purchase as a flood control facility. If purchased, HCFCD would greatly expand the flood detention capacity. While Perry Homes has virtually finished construction of their planned detention ponds, those are still about 40% short of Atlas-14 requirements.

This time, the County Attorney will present the proposal, not Flood Control or the County Engineer’s office. See item 14 G below.

Agenda Item 14-G

14. County Attorney

            g.    Request that Commissioners Court authorize the Real Property Division manager or assistant division manager to sign an earnest money contract with Figure Four Partners, Ltd., for the purchase of two tracts of land containing approximately 267.35 acres in Montgomery County for the Woodridge Village stormwater detention basin in the amount of $14,019,316, approximately $5,100,770 below the appraised value, with purchase of the property being contingent upon certain conditions and commitments.

For more explanation of the agenda item, see the letter below or click this link for a hi-res printable pdf.

Reportedly, the agenda item moved to the county attorney this time because the purchase of the property is a legal issue.

Any projects done on the property after the purchase will fall into the domains of Flood Control or Engineering.

From the letter above, it appears the county has an opportunity to purchase the land below the market appraisal – a rarity.

Previous Conditions Specified in Letter

The purchase will be contingent on Flood Control and the City of Houston entering an Inter-Local Agreement within 120 days of the execution of an earnest money contract. The earnest money contract will also require several commitments by the City. Commitments include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. City will contribute land to the county equal to one-half of the purchase price for flood damage reduction projects.
  2. City and the Flood Control District will equally share costs associated with the basin’s development AND post-development maintenance. The deed will show both the City and District as co-owners of the two tracts of land.
  3. City will adopt updated detention and fill mitigation requirements that, at a minimum, match Harris County regulations and Atlas 14 requirements – BOTH inside the City AND within the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Will Ellis Add New Conditions?

The subject of Woodridge has come up at Commissioners Court at least five times in the last six months. Each time, Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis has used the occasion to add new conditions to the deal. All of his conditions, however, have been addressed in the letter above from Robert Soard, the First Assistant County Attorney.

Will Ellis say “Good enough” this time? Or will he throw more obstacles in the path of a purchase? Tune in to the next exciting episode of Harris County Commissioners Court. Tuesday, September 15, at 10AM.

If you would like to speak to the commissioners on this topic, you need to sign up no later than 8 a.m. on the day of the Commissioners Court meeting at https://appearancerequest.harriscountytx.gov/

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/13/2020

1111 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 360 since Imelda