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
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Vision Quester 30B Hackberry Ln. [HAR] … Read...
Update:12 hours 55 min
Swamplot
Comment of the Day: Any New Naming Episodes Welcome Amid the Endless East Houston Reruns “The news calls everything between Downtown and Baytown ‘East Houston’ — so when West U is called ‘Southwest...
Update:13 hours 55 min
Swamplot
Gaping holes, confusion mar FCC’s data on political ad buys An ad sponsored by the NRA-ILA attacking Indiana Senate candidate Evan Bayh (D). Four years after it began requiring TV stations to upload...
Update:15 hours 16 min
Open Secrets
Fleet of Taco Trucks Now Registering People To Vote on 8 Houston Corners Here’s the map posted by Houstonia’s Katharine Shilcutt this morning showing the usual haunts of 8 taco trucks now also...
Update:16 hours 10 min
Swamplot
Swamplot Sponsor: This 5-Bedroom, 5-Bath Home in West U Swamplot is brought to you today by the 5-bedroom, 5-bath house for sale or lease at 6337 Mercer St. in West University Place. Thanks...
Update:18 hours 55 min
Swamplot
Mayra Moreno engaged #abc13 #ktrk KTRK abc13 weekend morning anchor Mayra Moreno gets engaged After Monday's terrible shooting incident, let's try to celebrate the...
Update:19 hours 2 min
Mike McGuff
County Approves First $10.5 Million for Astrodome Basement Parking Garage Plan The Harris County commissioner’s court voted this morning to approve the design phase of that plan to fill in the Astrodome’s...
Update:19 hours 25 min
Swamplot
New Heights El Rey Taqueria Location Now Rising Along North Loop Burger King’s Western Border The crown sigil of El Rey Cuban & Mexican Cuisine has been sighted by a reader along the south side of the North Loop, just west of...
Update:20 hours 10 min
Swamplot
Inside the Astrodome; The Effects of the Oil Downturn Beyond Houston A Breakdown of What $105M Would Buy in the Proposed Astrodome Parking Garage Redo [Houston Chronicle; previously on...
Update:22 hours 25 min
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Showroom Shutdown Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. You can pick...
Update:22 hours 55 min
Swamplot
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 4 years 3 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 4 years 3 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 4 years 3 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 4 years 3 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 4 years 3 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 | 4 years 3 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 4 years 3 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 4 years 3 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
© 2016 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement