Susan Crone contacted Texas Watchdog because she couldn't get anyone to tell her why, after six months, her house in Tomball was still without an air conditioning system she had been promised back in December.
Crone said the contractor who made the promise was one of the people who had done what she thought was a nice job of insulating, weather stripping and caulking her home under the federal stimulus Weatherization Assistance Program. He was being paid by Sheltering Arms Senior Services of Houston, and Crone said she had been having trouble finding someone at Sheltering Arms to give her some straight answers.
After a little Internet checking, Crone found that Texas Watchdog had done several stories and blogs about problems Sheltering Arms was having with the weatherization program. Not only was the state Department of Housing and Community Affairs unhappy with a lot of the work done by their contractors in the Houston area, Sheltering Arms would not make public where they were doing the work.
Because Sheltering Arms contractors had completed weatherizing more units than any other single group in Texas in the federal program, it seemed logical to ask about what kind of work was being done, where it was being done and how much money was being spent. Texas Watchdog has been asking since January.
In March Housing and Community Affairs said they could not tell where, exactly, the work was being done because that information was being kept by Sheltering Arms. In a letter May 4 asking the state Attorney General for an opinion, Charles Wilson, an attorney for Sheltering Arms, asked that they be able to keep secret the locations where public tax money was being spent because of a common law right to privacy. Sheltering Arms sought to protect their low-income and vulnerable clientele from embarrassment and from scam artists who might want to use their addresses to take advantage of them.
The Attorney General is expected to deliver its opinion no later than July 5, according to spokesman Thomas Kelley. Until then, he said, attorneys in his office would not comment on the arguments or legalities.
Without addresses, Texas Watchdog has argued, how can the public, paying for the work, know what work had been done? Or, in the case of the Crone family, if the work that was supposed to have been done was done. Currently, the public must rely on the spot checks of inspectors, whose numerous findings of slipshod work by Sheltering Arms contractors would suggest that more rather than less public accountability is necessary.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.