Tag Archive for: Sylvester Turner

New GLO Review Slams Houston on Five Counts Relating to Harvey Relief

Two months ago, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) launched a review of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department (HHCD) after Mayor Sylvester Turner allegedly tried to steer a $14 million affordable-housing contract using HUD money toward his former law partner. The GLO review, released Tuesday, notes both findings and corrective actions required of Houston to ensure a fair, open, and competitive award process in the future.

The GLO review criticized HHCD for five major problems listed below. The City has until December 10, 2021, to address the GLO review’s findings by delivering a Corrective Action Plan. Houston then has another 90 days to implement the plan. Hanging in the wind: the fate of the City’s entire multi-family rental program, Harvey multi-family relief projects in the pipeline, and millions of dollars in past awards now being questioned.

Image courtesy of HUD. For more on the need for affordable housing, click here.

The GLO review was triggered on September 22 when the HHCD’s former Director Tom McCasland accused the Mayor during a City Council meeting of overriding his department’s recommendations. The Mayor recommended a project that would have benefited his former law partner. McCasland alleged that his department’s recommendations could have built four times the amount of affordable housing units in poorer neighborhoods for roughly the same amount of money. McCasland also alleged that he was being forced to participate in what he called a “charade of a competitive process.” The Mayor promptly fired McCasland, leading to multiple investigations. The GLO review was just one.

Summary of Five Main Findings

The GLO never uses the word “charade” in its findings, but one could easily infer a charade from their substance.

The GLO’s objective was to evaluate whether the City had adequate controls in place to meet program and contract requirements for the allocation of $450,050,472. At a high level, the five findings released on Tuesday 11/23/21 require the City to:

  1. Strengthen NOFA/RFP Issuances – GLO found inconsistencies among the way NOFA/RFPs (Notice of Funding Availability/Request for Proposals) were issued, evaluated and scored. Inconsistencies included program content; threshold criteria; and award processes.
  2. Strengthen the NOFA/RFP Scoring Method – GLO found the City does not have controls in place to ensure it follows criteria for awarding projects.
  3. Ensure Documentation Supports Project Awards – GLO found that Houston does not document subjective criteria used by HHCD and the Mayor’s office when evaluating applications.
  4. Strengthen Conflicts-of-Interest Provisions – GLO found the City does not have internal controls that screen out Conflicts of Interest.
  5. Produce Documentation Justifying Award Recommendations – GLO found inconsistencies between grant requirements and recommendations. Subjective factors – not based on the competitive process – were often used to recommend projects without explanation.

Full Text of Findings and Exhibits

Here is the GLO’s entire 11-page letter to HHCD’s Interim Director Keith Bynam, and three exhibits referenced in the letter:

  • Exhibit 1 – Scoring results for four NOFAs
  • Exhibit 2 – A memo to the Interim Director from an Assistant Director attempting to justify the Mayor’s intervention on a low scoring project
  • Exhibit 3 – Examples of HHCD responses to appeals from developers. The responses do not document specifics for rejections.

If you read nothing else, make sure you see Page 1 of Exhibit 1. It recommended making an award to one project that 25 other projects outscored. Those 25 higher scoring projects were either wait-listed or not recommended. Hmmmm!

Egregious Examples of Specifics Cited in GLO Report

Here are some of the more serious infractions that support the five major findings.

GLO complained about Houston’s lack of consistency, accuracy and fairness. For instance:

  • Data for 40% of tested applications was entered incorrectly, resulting in incorrect scoring.
  • Submission deadlines for some RFPs were shortened in a way that excluded some applications and diminished the quality of others. This resulted in competitive disadvantage for some applicants and presumably an advantage for others.
  • Conflict of interest disclosures were excluded from some rounds of funding.
  • 9 of 12 applications in two other rounds of funding did not have conflict of interest forms actually signed by applicants or co-applicants.
  • Some NOFAs contained language giving the Mayor’s office the right to approve or deny applications in accordance with the Mayor’s priorities, but the Mayor was not required to explain why.
  • The City frequently did not give specific reasons for approving or denying a grant.

ABC13’s Ted Oberg ran this story Tuesday night about the millions of dollars now at risk for poor people who still need help after Harvey.

Here is the Mayor’s response to the charges in GLO review.

Posted by Bob Rehak on November 24, 2021

1548 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.

Corona Virus Lockdown Expansion Will Not Affect Flood Mitigation

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a tightening of the lockdown already in place because of the corona virus. For the full text of the County’s 20-page order, click here.

Summary of Key Provisions

Starting tonight at 11:59 P.M. and lasting through April 3, 2020, “this Order requires all individuals anywhere in Harris County, to stay at home – except for certain Essential Activities and work to provide Essential Business and Essential Government services or perform essential infrastructure construction, including housing.”

Rustling Elms Bridge over Taylor Gully during peak of May 7, 2019 flood.

Non-essential and prohibited:

  • All exercise facilities including gyms, swimming pools and martial arts studios must close.
  • A broad range of retail shops must close including barbers, hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, game rooms, massage parlors, malls, flea markets, movie theaters, concert halls and more.
  • All public and private gatherings occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited.
  • Nursing homes, retirement, and long-term care facilities must prohibit non-essential visitors except for end-of-life visitation or critical assistance.
  • Restaurants will remain closed except for drive-through and carry-out orders.
  • Churches may only provide services via video or teleconference.

Essential and still exempt:

  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Gas stations
  • Convenience stores
  • Liquor stores
  • Car dealers and repair facilities
  • Professional services, such as legal, accounting, insurance, etc.

Flood Control Not On List

The corona virus prohibited and exempted lists stretch for 20 pages. They are too numerous to summarize here. However, as I read through the list, nowhere did I see “flood control” or “flood mitigation” work. That made me wonder whether we had potentially traded one type of crisis for another.

So I reached out to county officials and asked how today’s corona virus order would affect the activities of the Flood Control District. Said another way, were they considered “essential activities.”

Flood Control Deemed Essential, Will Continue

The answer: Yes, Flood Control is considered essential under the infrastructure and construction provisions of the order. No, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will not shut down mitigation projects.

Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of HCFCD had this to say. “Everyone who can will work from home. We had already been phasing that in before today. All construction and field work will continue as normal…with appropriate social distancing and hygiene procedures of course.”

Moving Into High-Risk Season for Flooding

As we move into April and May, the rainiest months of Spring, that’s comforting. A reader asked me today, “What would happen if we got a flood on top of the corona virus?” My first inclination was to tell her she needs to write the screenplay and go to Hollywood. But then I said, “That’s actually pretty plausible.”

People mucking out houses in unsanitary conditions and tight, crowded spaces could accelerate the spread of the virus. Crowded rescue boats and choppers would make a first responders nightmare, especially when rescuing people with the corona virus. Thousands of evacuees in churches, schools and convention centers. Evacuating high-risk populations like the elderly from nursing homes. These are not pleasant thoughts.

That’s why I’m glad that the work of flood control will continue as normal. Hurricane season is only nine weeks away.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/25/2020

939 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 188 since Imelda

Reminder: Mayor To Speak at Town Hall Meeting Tonight

City of Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin will host a Capital Improvement Project (CIP) Town Hall meeting tonight.

  • Tuesday, February 25, 2020
  • Meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
  • Doors open at 5:45 p.m.
  • Kingwood Community Center
  • 4102 Rustic Woods
  • Kingwood, Texas 77345

Focus on Capital Improvement Projects

During this meeting, residents will hear from Mayor Sylvester Turner, and other city representatives about ongoing and future capital improvement projects

Those may or may not include flood mitigation projects. Such project include additional gates for the Lake Houston dam, additional dredging, and upstream detention. The City has not commented yet on a detailed agenda.

Come Early to Speak with City Leaders

However, the City will set up information tables for those who arrive early. This should give you a chance to review projects and talk with the people heading them up.

For more information, please call Mayor Pro Tem Martin’s office at (832) 393-3008 or email districte@houstontx.gov.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/25/2020

910 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Editorial: Endorsing Turner Compromise on Lake Lowering, Adding One Thing

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.

From presentation by SJRA’s Chuck Gilman at last board meeting.

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

Mayor Turner Proposes New Compromise on Lowering Lake Conroe

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Public Works Director Carol Haddock have sent a compromise proposal to the SJRA board on the eve of the meeting that will decide the fate of their seasonal lake lowering policy.

Details of Original Proposal

The original policy has received heavy pushback from Lake Conroe people who claim its destroying property, schools, recreation and the Montgomery County tax base. It has also sparked vigorous support from Lake Houston Area businesses and residents. They see the extra storage capacity in Lake Conroe as a buffer against flooding until they can finish permanent mitigation projects such as dredging and the construction of additional gates on Lake Houston’s dam.

That original policy implemented in the fall of 2018 called for lowering the lake to 199 feet from 201 during the peak of hurricane season. It also called for lowering the lake to 200 feet in the rainiest months of spring.

Due to dry weather this winter, Lake Conroe never fully recovered its normal pool level. And at this writing, it remains at 199.21 feet.

Details of Proposed Compromise

The new proposal by Mayor Turner calls for continue lowering Lake Conroe to 200 feet during April and May. However, Turner calls for lowering Lake Conroe to 199.5 in the the fall from August 1 through November 1. That’s a wider window but a smaller reduction.

Turner puts two other conditions on the compromise:

  • The policy would remain in place until dredging is complete and the City has install new floodgates on the Lake Houston Dam.
  • In addition, Lake Conroe would be lowered to 199 feet any time a named tropical storm is predicted to impact our region within a 5-day forecast.

Full Text of Letter

The full text of the letter is below.

What This Really Means in Practical Terms

It seems that there is little for Lake Conroe people to argue about here. With the exception of an approaching tropical storm or hurricane, the lake levels would rarely be dropped much below the normal levels due to evaporation. See graph below. In fact, the most lake levels would drop manually beyond historical averages would be .42 feet in August or about 5 inches, unless a tropical system approaches.

Source: SJRA presentation by Chuck Gilman. Lake Conroe was built in 1973, so this data goes back to the beginning.

Turner Has Power to Order Reduction If Lake Conroe People Don’t Compromise

Although he did not explicitly say it, Turner has the power to order the reductions simply by calling for the water. The City of Houston owns two-thirds of the water in Lake Conroe.

The last paragraph in Turner’s letter, the one about collaboration and partnership, may be a veiled reference to that fact. If the SJRA does not cooperate, he may not feel obliged to either. In that case, Lake Conroe residents could find themselves with even lower lake levels.

All in all, it’s an attempt to hold off another bar-room brawl like the SJRA hosted last month.

I’d feel more comfortable with a larger reduction. But I’m sure the Conroe people would like no reduction. Such is the nature of compromise…a lost art in American politics.

All in all, the Mayor’s proposal is a good compromise between drought and flood mitigation. Both are key elements of the SJRA’s mission as defined by the State legislature.

Keep in mind that the figures above show AVERAGES. If a named tropical storm comes into the Gulf and the lake is already at or above 201, it would still be lowered to 199.5. That would be much more than 5 inches. But still, it should not create an abnormal hardship for anyone.

Make Your Voice Heard

Tomorrow is the last chance to make your opinion known about this issue before the crucial vote. For more information, see the Lake Lowering page of this web site.

  • Thursday, February 20, 2020
  • 6pm at Lone Star Convention and Expo Center
  • 9055 Airport Road, Conroe, Texas 77303
  • Doors open at 5pm.

Those wishing to address the board or register a comment at a special meeting may fill out a Comment Registration Form https://www.sjra.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Comment-Registration-Form_01062020.pdf. Comment Registration Forms may be submitted at the special meeting. The form may not be mailed, emailed, or dropped off prior to the meeting date.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/19/2020

904 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.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner Supports Continuing to Lower Lake Conroe Seasonally to Help Mitigate Flooding

On January 10, Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote the SJRA Board to support continued lowering of Lake Conroe. “This temporary measure,” said the Mayor, “will help mitigate against future flooding until permanent flood gates can be installed and dredging of the San Jacinto’s West Fork can be completed.”

Reminding LCA Who Owns the Water

The Mayor also reminded the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) that the City of Houston owns two thirds of the water in Lake Conroe.

Changing the LCA Narrative

Turner also addressed an LCA narrative that claims Lake Conroe was not built for flood control. It was built for drinking water, they say. But the letter changes that narrative. It says, “While the lake was originally constructed as a reservoir for drinking water, the Houston region has become increasingly prone to flooding due to population growth, development and more frequent storms with record rainfall. Both the City of Houston and the State of Texas recognize that flood control must be a consideration. The proactive release water is an effective measure until more permanent solutions can be completed.” See the full text of the Mayor’s letter below.

I have not always agreed with Mayor Turner, but I support him wholeheartedly on this.

Clash of Political Titans

Tuesday, Montgomery County Commissioners will vote on a resolution recommending to END the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe.

I suspect Harris County Commissioners and the governor may enter this fray before the final vote.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/14/2019

868 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Perry Homes Fails to Meet Own First Deadline For Additional Woodridge Village Detention

At the Kingwood Town Hall meeting on October 17th, 2019, Mayor Sylvester Turner read a letter from lawyer J. Carey Gray who represents Perry Homes and its subsidiaries against hundreds of flooded Elm Grove homeowners. The letter laid out a timetable – extending more than 2 years into the future – for completion of the detention ponds on the troubled Woodridge Village subdivision. The first step: finish the S2 pond, which was already substantially complete. Perry Homes gave itself 30-45 days for that task. As nonsensical as that sounded on October 17, they managed to miss the deadline … by not showing up … until after the deadline. 

Deadline Expired Yesterday With No Improvements to Pond

Yesterday marked 45 days since Lawyer Gray delivered his letter to the Houston City Attorney. Since then crews have worked several days on adding a concrete lining to a small portion of Taylor Gully. They also replaced some eroded dirt along the northern edge of S2. Still incomplete, however are

  • Excavation of the remaining dirt
  • Grass to stabilize the soil on the banks
  • A perimeter road required by the Montgomery County Drainage Criteria Manual
  • Lining for a severely eroded spillway between Taylor Gully and S2
  • Drainage of the detention pond
  • Backslope interceptor swales

Photos Demonstrate Lack of Progress

Here’s how the pond looked in September, two days after Imelda.

Status of S2 Pond on September 21, 2019, two days after Imelda
Status of S2 Pond on November 4, 2019, two and a half weeks after J. Carey Gray’s letter to City Attorney.

Here’s what it looks like today, 46 days after J. Carey Gray’s letter to the City Attorney. They had made some progress on lining the Taylor Gully channel behind the pond. But as far as the pond itself went, there was a lone excavator moving dirt that had eroded into the pond back up on the banks. That’s because they failed to establish grass there.

One day after the deadline for completing the S2 detention pond, Perry Homes had a lone excavator pushing eroded dirt back up onto the banks. Photo taken 12/3/2019.
Photo taken 12/3/2019. Hardly a bustling construction site with contractors racing to meet deadlines.

Only 735 more days before all the detention ponds are complete … assuming they can meet any of their own deadlines.

Questions Raised by Lack of Performance

The failure to meet this first deadline raises questions:

  • Is Perry Homes sincere? Can they ever be trusted for anything ever again?
  • Has Perry Homes lost its ability to deliver? Is the company financially crippled beyond repair?
  • Did Sylvester Turner extract terms from Perry Homes designed to get him through the general election?
  • Or did Perry Homes play Sylvester Turner to torpedo his chances in a runoff election?
  • Did Kathy Perry Britton, CEO of Perry Homes, think no one would remember?
  • Is Perry Homes holding the threat of future flooding over Elm Grove residents to force a settlement of their lawsuits?

If it’s the latter and there’s another flood – with this record of foot dragging – they’ve nuked themselves. It’s a Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School case study that will go down in the Annals of Corporate Stupidity. 

What can explain this level of ineptitude?

This has to be a huge embarrassment for the City of Houston and Montgomery County. It’s also a PR debacle for Sylvester Turner … in the middle of a hotly contested runoff election. Turner can’t do anything about that now except to tell the City Attorney to sharpen his spurs.

But if I were MoCo, I would claim Perry Homes’ performance bond and finish the work myself. 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/3/2019

826 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 75 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Bill King Has Best Plan to Address Flooding By Far

Houston is at an existential crossroads. We’ve had five major floods in the last five years. If we can’t reduce flooding, people will no longer want to live here or move here.

With that in mind, I believe flooding is the number one issue a new mayor must address. That’s not to say we don’t have other important issues. But if we don’t address flooding, we’re sunk.

So which of the candidates has the best plan? Bill King…by far.

Comparing Candidates’ Plans

Bill King

King has by far the most developed and comprehensive plan. He has laid out a clear, concise, well researched, actionable statement of objectives, strategies, and financing in seven parts:

These plans have been vetted by dozens of experts throughout the Houston region from both the government and private sectors.

Stopping the diversion of drainage fees will give Houston more cash to put into flood mitigation. This will allow Houston to solicit matching funds quickly and accelerate the development of mitigation projects.

Regional cooperation is also critical, especially for places like the Lake Houston Area. Other counties and cities surround us. As we have seen in Elm Grove, if Montgomery County allows worst practices for new developments, we pay the consequences.

Bill King, candidate for Mayor of Houston, spent the day after Imelda visiting with Elm Grove residents and analyzing the causes.

But we currently have no influence in MoCo, which seems to have a development-at-any-cost-even-if-it-floods-people mentality. Until this problem is fixed, we are all looking down the barrel of a water cannon.

King’s seven white papers contain many great thoughts. King clearly understands flooding issues throughout the city. He is extremely articulate and lays out a compelling plan. I believe he can lead voters and the City to solutions.

Tony Buzbee

Tony Buzbee has flood information on at least two different web sites. His campaign site lists flooding as the number one issue. It has a great discussion of Kingwood. That links to a third-party site that features his vision for flood control. After discussing different types of flooding and their causes, he has three suggestions:

  • Include flood abatement credits as part of the permitting process. They would be good for credits against drainage fees in the first year after construction.
  • Identify projects where flood abatement constitutes at least 15% of the total project cost and move those to the front of the line for permit approval.
  • Publicly recognize a different business each month that replaces concrete with natural surfaces.

Those represent good market-driven proposals. Buzbee says he has many other ideas and that, “My campaign will roll them out once our comprehensive white paper is complete.” It’s getting to be about time for that. Voting has already started.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner doesn’t seem to have a flood plan that I can find online. His campaign site has a list of his accomplishments while Mayor after Harvey. He also has a blog post called Getting Ready for the Next Big Storm. In it he mostly talks about partnering with other entities that have money to spend on flood mitigation.

But that post, dated August 19, also contains claims that did not come true. For instance, “The City has won permission from FEMA for the Corps of Engineers to include the removal of the mouth bar in the San Jacinto River…” Unfortunately, FEMA and the Corps only scratched the surface of the area around the mouth bar. That’s a big problem when you rely on OPM (other people’s money).

Mayor Turner also lists, “Creating and operating Neighborhood Recovery Centers … through which victims could apply for federal housing repair aid.” Mayor Turner said in a debate that the City had received $1.3 billion for home repair and recovery. However, the State recently took that program over because more than 2 years after Harvey, only 15 people had received aid.

Under Turner’s watch, he did make some changes to building codes. He also created Stormwater Action Teams, a $17 million program actually funded by the City to address hundreds of … you guessed it … deferred maintenance issues.

And after selling Proposition A last year as a way to create a lockbox around the drainage fund, he diverted $44 million from it this year to cover other costs. That’s on top of another quarter billion worth of diversions in previous years. No wonder it takes so long to get things done. One wonders how much of that mouth bar could have been dredged with a tiny portion of that money.

By the City’s own admission, we’re not much better off today than we were the day after Harvey.

Other Reasons I’m Voting for King

King also has experience as a mayor. While Kemah isn’t Houston, it’s a start.

Bill King has prepped for the Mayor’s job since the last campaign. He has studied every city budget and every audit of every budget since then. He’s been involved in Houston politics for decades and knows most of the players. He’s ready to walk into office on Day 1 and start doing the job.

He has the common sense of a business man who understands the importance of a dollar and delivering results NOW, or losing business tomorrow.

King has the integrity and experience to promise what he’s going to deliver and deliver what he promises.

That’s not a comment about Buzbee. I have met both King and Buzbee on multiple occasions and like them both. I just feel that at this point in time, King has more experience in the political arena and a better plan to address flooding.

King first approached me shortly after I started this web site and long before he announced his run for mayor. He asked me to show him the flooding issues in Kingwood. We’ve met more than a dozen times since then.

We have visited every part of the community. We’ve slogged through sand and mud together, slapping mosquitoes, so that he could see the flooding issues firsthand. I’ve seen him crawl under fences to get a better look at how Woodridge Village flooded homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest. He’s waded through ankle-deep mud on Village Springs.

He’s seen the heartbreak of people whose homes flooded on multiple occasions. He understands this problem on both an intellectual and emotional level. He knows this cannot continue. And that’s why I’m voting for Bill King.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/25/2019

787 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 36 since Imelda

Mayor, City Council Sued Over Diversion of Drainage Fees

Mayor Sylvester Turner and the entire Houston City Council have been sued for allegedly diverting approximately $44 million in drainage fees. This comes after the City campaigned last year to build a “lockbox” around those funds.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, left, Flood Czar Stephen Costello, center, and Council Member Dave Martin, right, took questions from a largely disgruntled crowd at the Kingwood Town Hall meeting on 10.17.19.

Both Turner and City Council Member Dave Martin told an audience at last year’s October town hall meeting in Kingwood, “If you WANT a lockbox around the drainage fee, vote FOR Proposition A. If you DON’T want a lockbox around the drainage fee, vote AGAINST it.” Prop A then passed overwhelmingly with 74% voting FOR.

Troubled History of Drainage Fee

This was actually the second time citizens voted on a drainage fee. In 2010, voters approved the drainage fee by only 51%. Unhappy voters challenged it in court based on the wording that appeared on the ballot. The summary did not disclose that the fee came from a new tax. The Supreme Court agreed and ordered a revote. That occurred in 2018.

Between 2010 and 2018, however, the City became addicted to the new source of money. Bill King exposed how the City had diverted nearly a quarter of a billion dollars from it to pay for things unrelated to drainage. So to keep the gravy train rolling, the City did two things.

  • They said they were creating a lockbox around the money so it could only be used for drainage.
  • Simultaneously, they changed the wording of the amendment to make the drainage fund easier to loot.

After that Town Hall, I emailed both Turner and Martin. I simply asked how the wording of the 2018 version of the charter amendment created a lockbox. Neither would answer directly. Martin and the Mayor’s spokesperson simply repeated, “If you want a lockbox, vote for Proposition A.”

How One Word Can Make a World of Difference

So I investigated the language. The wording of the 2018 version and the 2010 version differed – by only one word. See the post I wrote on October 20th of 2018. In the funding formula, the word “equal” changed to “equivalent” in one place. That meant the word equivalent now appeared TWO times in the formula. And that sent up a red flag for me.

Equal and equivalent sound alike. Most people think they mean the same thing. But the dictionary definitions differ. Equal means you could superimpose one number over the top of a second and not see a difference. Equivalent implies some sort of adjustment factor.

Equivalent gives wiggle room. Equal does not.

For instance, a Canadian dollar is not equal to a US dollar. A Canadian dollar equals 0.76 American. To convert one currency into the other and make them equivalent, you apply the conversion factor.

But what are the conversion factors built into the drainage fee? Those have never been publicly explained. In fact, Turner and Martin adamantly avoided discussing them.

Conversion Factors Help Divert $44 Million

In my opinion, the City deceived voters. There was NOTHING in the language of the charter amendment that created a stronger lockbox. The wording change created a weaker one, as I warned a year ago.

It’s not clear whether any change in the language of the amendment was even legal. The Trial Court’s Final Summary Judgment ordered a new election for Proposition 1 (what it was called in 2010), not a new election on a variation of it.

The net effect: we have less money for drainage, not more. The City diverted $44 million from Drainage to the General Fund. That’s not what voters expected or wanted.

Ignoring Will of the People

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that defendants violated the terms of the City Charter and acted against the will of voters who approved Prop A with 74% casting Yes votes. For the full text of the suit, click here.

Officials led voters to believe they were approving a lockbox around the drainage fee when they were actually approving the opposite.

A Deep Dive into Diversion

Below is a deep dive into how voters (and the Plaintiffs) thought Prop A would work and how the City manipulated numbers to divert money.

At issue is the portion of the drainage fee calculated by the following words:

An amount equivalent to proceeds from $0.118 of the City’s ad valorem tax levy minus an amount equivalent to debt service for drainage and streets for any outstanding bonds or notes issued prior to December 31, 2011, and bonds or notes issued to refund them.

Houston City Charter, Article IX, 22(b)(iii)

Notice the use of the word equivalent TWICE. That gives the City wiggle room to manipulate the figures to the detriment of the drainage fund and the benefit of the general fund.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that the amount added to the Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund should have been $252,520,000 minus $161,226,060 or $91,293,940. Yet, according to the City’s 2020 budget, only $47,000,103 will be added to the Fund.

In other words, the City is only paying 51.6 percent of the amount into the fund that a strict “lockbox” interpretation of the City Charter would mandate. More than $44 million that should have gone into the drainage fund will go to the general fund.

“Undisclosed Manipulations”

$44 million is being diverted somewhere else through, in the words of the lawsuit, “undisclosed manipulations.”

The plaintiffs argue that defendants have no discretion to calculate the “amount equivalent to proceeds from $0.118 of the City’s ad valorem tax levy beyond its straightforward mathematical formula.” In other words, they’re arguing for an amount “equal” not “equivalent” to. That’s not the way the amendment is worded. But that is certainly the way the amendment was sold to voters.

Mayor’s Response, According to Fox

According to Fox News, the Mayor’s office released the following statement in response to this lawsuit:

The city disagrees with the premise and the demand of the lawsuit, which would cripple city services. The charter calls for “an amount equivalent to” the $0.118. Once the city had to lower its tax rate because of the revenue  cap, the amount transferred is the equivalent amount under the lower tax rate.

Transferring the 11.8 cent full amount would mean a reduction to the General Fund budget of $50M in this fiscal year alone. That would mean cuts to essential services like police, fire, solid waste, and other services. [Emphasis Added] Mayor Turner doesn’t support that. The 11.8 cents was the amount of the tax rate at the time that covered the existing debt payment that was attributed to previous street and drainage projects. Of a total tax rate of $0.63875 per $100 valuation, the 11.8 cents was equal to 18.5% of the total property tax rate.

The equivalent of 11.8 cents has now exceeded the scheduled annual debt payment for existing debt when Proposition 1 was passed. Using the current tax rate, the percent allocated to DDSRF would increase from 18.5% to over 20%, and with the additional tax rate reduction just adopted, it would be nearly 21%. The city will vigorously defend its position.

By the Mayor’s own admission, the City knew all along that it needed to divert money from the drainage fee into the general fund to pay for other services.

I certainly don’t recall that discussion when the City came to Kingwood selling Prop A. They focused only on “the lockbox.” No official discussed adjustment factors or how they might be calculated. Voters just wanted their drainage issues fixed. And they have not been.

Counterfeiting the Currency of Communication

For me, this was the last straw. This is not a lockbox. It’s not even close. In fact, it’s the opposite of a lockbox. It’s a slush fund for $100,000 a year interns and God knows what else. The City isn’t exactly transparent with its accounting.

When elected officials counterfeit the currency of communication, how can the body politic make informed decisions? In this case, the City duped voters into approving the opposite of what they wanted – a lockbox around that money.

They used deception to stifle dissent.

And dissent or disagreement, no matter how difficult, is necessary for the health of the body politic and trust in government. That’s how we build compromises that work for everyone.

How to Make This Right

Voters have one more chance to make this right before it goes back to the Supreme Court again. Early voting started Monday morning. Every registered voter in Kingwood must vote in this mayoral election.

In the last election, Sylvester Turner won by about 4,000 votes City wide. 28,000 registered voters in Kingwood did not bother to vote in that election. We could have swung that election, but didn’t. Now here we are, beset by flooding problems from the streets of Elm Grove to the banks of the San Jacinto.

We must put people in City Hall that we can trust. Please get your neighbors, friends and family to the polls.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/24/2019

786 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 34 since Imelda

All thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.