in Houston, Texas

Renew Houston leaders backing drainage fee made millions from city of Houston

Thursday, Oct 28, 2010, 04:20PM CST
By Steve Miller

The individuals and firms leading Renew Houston, a ballot measure on a new fee to improve the city’s drainage and streets, have collectively made more than $12 million from the city in the past five years for their work on city projects, city records show.

The payments bolster an argument that opponents of the drainage fee have made --- that the engineers are in it for their own pocketbooks. They say that's one of many reasons voters should reject the fee by voting 'against' Proposition 1 on Tuesday.

 

“This is an issue driven by engineers who can make more money off the city for the next 25 years,” said Bruce Hotze, a Houston businessman who is part of the political committee No Rain Tax.

 

But the backers including the most prominent supporter, Mayor Annise Parker, downplayed the interest they may have in the measure, pointing instead at the expertise the engineers have on drainage. This is the most viable plan to address the city's flooding problems, which crop up in some places after the slightest rains, they say.

 

“I think the argument I hear most against Proposition 1 is that it came from a bunch of drainage engineers,” Parker said. “No duh. Who knows the problems we have with drainage better than they do?"

 

Renew Houston's leaders and their firms have done extensive business with the city since June 2005, much of it on drainage and streets projects, city records show:

 

  • Pate Engineers, where one of Renew Houston’s chief spokesmen Jeff Ross is an executive, has made $6.1 million.

Jones said his group is simply telling residents that there is a problem and it will take money to fix it, akin to a doctor telling a sick patient the same thing.

He added that he can't benefit from the new levy, anyway, because he’s retiring in a year or two.

“I will not personally make any money off of this,” Jones said.

 

But while city accounting records show payments of almost $1 million to his firm, Jones questioned the figures.

 

“I never made hundreds of thousands working cumulatively for the city,” Jones said. ”We do very little work for the city of Houston.”

 

Renew Houston was formed as a nonprofit in March 2009 and is headquartered in the offices of the Houston Council of Engineering Companies, whose members stand to collectively make millions of dollars if Proposition 1 passes.

 

The proposition has been boosted by hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from engineering and construction groups. Costello, Harris County's AFL-CIO, the Houston Contractors Association are among its supporters. The group has spent more than $500,000 on garnering support of the measure.

Annise ParkerPARKER

In a call with bloggers and journalists Monday, Parker was dismissive about the financial ties of Renew Houston's supporters.

"Yes, it is the same pool of people who do business with the city," Parker said. "Now does that mean it’s not valid, that we don’t need to spend money on drainage because of the messenger? Don’t kill the messenger."

 

The measure is opposed by several city council members and a number of fiscally conservative factions including two political action committees, Taxpayers for Financial Accountability and No Rain Tax, as well as the Houston Independent School District, which claims it will have to lay off teachers if the measure passes.

 

Critics have seized on what they claim is a vagueness on what the fee will be and how the projects would be prioritized. Parker says it will cost $5 a month for the owner of a 1,900-square-foot home on a 5,000-square-foot lot. And the order of repair will follow the city's comprehensive drainage plan, according to the mayor.

 

"We would do this based on the drainage master plan of the city and driven by priority projects,” Parker said. The projects would also be derived from the city's pavement assessment survey, “where we know the conditions of the streets of Houston and work our way through those streets assisted with the drainage plan.”

 

That approach, she said, “would take the politics out of it.”

 

The proposal has drawn the ire of the region’s African-American federal and state delegations after Jones, the Renew Houston supporter, sent an e-mail to Houston city councilmember Wanda Adams, who is black, castigating her anti-Prop 1 stance: “Hopefully your community and your district will be able to find some leadership. It is certainly lacking right now.”

 

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org. Lee Ann O'Neal contributed to this report.


Photo of rain in Houston by flickr user divinenephron, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Adrian Heath
Saturday, 10/30/2010 - 12:44PM

I'm glad we have Texas Watchdog, educating Texas in simple math.

Special interests + government contracts = PLUNDER

Video
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
KPRC ND Deborah Collura leaves for WCNC Charlotte Deborah Collura leaves KPRC and Post-Newsweek news gigs for general manager role at WCNC Charlotte Deborah Collura From the old...
Update:3 months 22 hours
Mike McGuff
Perry and Dewhurst: signs of the times Rick Perry went all out against Ted Cruz for David Dewhurst in 2012 when Dewhurst was seeking higher office. A mere two years later, Perry...
Update:3 months 22 hours
Rick Perry vs The World
Signs Herald Kirby Dr. Funeral Bars’ Impending Doom Renderings and reports of a giant mixed-use development that would swallow up the entire block on the west side of Kirby Dr. between...
Update:3 months 23 hours
Swamplot
Potential civil liability for failing to comply with Prison Rape Elimination Act Check out written testimony to the Texas House County Affairs Committee from Texas Criminal Justice Coalition policy attorney Elizabeth...
Update:3 months 23 hours
Grits for Breakfast
Daily Demolition Report: Altoona Switch Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. Dig deep into...
Update:3 months 1 day
Swamplot
The Rice Hotel’s New Owners; Making Munger St. Sparkle Post Properties Sells Historic Rice Hotel Building to Trammell Crow-Related Entity; Greystar Will Manage Apartments [Prime Property] FMC...
Update:3 months 1 day
Swamplot
Sex offender registration shouldn't include 'kidnapping' in child custody disputes At the Austin Statesman, Chuck Lindell reports ("Texan with no sex crime history protests 'sex offender' label," May 3) that two members of...
Update:3 months 1 day
Grits for Breakfast
T-Squared: Our Spring Membership Drive Today is the first day of our spring membership drive. It may seem indistinguishable from...
Update:3 months 1 day
Texas Tribune
Fort Bend ISD Board Trustee Albright Questioned In Campaign Sign Theft Yvonne Larsen A Fort Bend Independent School District Board Trustee was questioned by City of Meadows Place police early Saturday morning...
Update:3 months 1 day
Big Jolly Politics
Mark McCaig: Sid Miller’s Lies Caught on Tape Throughout his campaign for Agriculture Commissioner, former State Representative turned lobbyist Sid Miller has not constrained himself to...
Update:3 months 1 day
Big Jolly Politics
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 1 year 11 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 1 year 11 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 1 year 11 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 1 year 11 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 1 year 11 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 1 year 11 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 1 year 11 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 1 year 11 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
© 2014 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement