in Houston, Texas

Two-thirds of controversial Montrose Management District board have ties to Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Tuesday, Nov 29, 2011, 07:13AM CST
By Steve Miller
City Hall

The cadre of business owners itching to dissolve the Montrose Management District are fighting more than a legislatively-created taxing entity.

They’re fighting city hall.

The Montrose Management District is led by a board of 15 appointees, two-thirds of whom have financial or domestic ties to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, records show. Together with employees of the district they've given her nearly $50,000 in political donations since 2007.
 
Eight of them have donated at one time to the political endeavors of the mayor, and one, Kathy Hubbard, is Parker’s domestic partner. Another board member shares an address with a donor of the same last name.
 
In addition, David Hawes, who heads Hawes Hill Calderon, the management firm handling the district, has contributed $9,500 to Parker since 2007, when the mayor was running for city controller. And the lawyer for the district, Clark Lord, is also a Parker donor.

“When you vote someone into political office, the power isn’t just in the money they earn,” said Andrew Leva, who is part of an effort to repeal the district calling itself Stop the District. “They get to exert influence. No one who is opposed to this tax will ever be elected to that board.”

Asked for comment, Parker issued an e-mailed statement: “I have been active in the Montrose business community dating back to before I was an elected official. In addition, these are my neighbors with whom I have had relationships for decades. It is not surprising they would be on my donor list. However, I have nothing to do with their appointment to this organization as all board members were appointed by the state.”

The board in turn elects subsequent directors as terms expire. The mayor and the city council have the power to approve new members, although they have not exercised it in recent years, according to City Council minutes.

Still, the donations point to a board that has great fealty to the mayor.

Montrose district-Parker ties
Annise ParkerAnnise Parker

Here are the players and their donations to Parker totaling $47,150.

  • David Hawes, executive director of MMD and a partner in Hawes Hill Calderon, which receives $6,000 a month for managing the district – $9,500
  • Board Position 1: Claude Wynn, Chairman – none
  • Position 7: Dennis Murland – none
  • Position 8: Robert Jara – none
  • Position 11: Tom Fricke – none
  • Position 12: Brad Nagar, shared address with Joseph Nagar, who has donated $5,750
  • Position 14: David Robinson – none
  • Clark Lord, attorney at Vinson & Elkins, counsel for the district – $1,250
NOTE: Texas Watchdog arrived at the totals based on an analysis of campaign finance records available here. The linked documents are examples of the donations and may not equal the total.

The Montrose Management District was hatched via 2009 legislation carried by City Council member-elect Ellen Cohen, a state legislator at the time. Cohen did not return a call.

Her bill allowed the creation of a West Montrose Management District, which quickly merged with the established East Montrose Management District, as had been planned for years.

Records show that a group calling itself Montrose Management District paid two lobbyists from Vinson & Elkins, which also handles legal matters for the district, to work for it last session. The two were paid under $10,000, one of the broad ranges used in reporting lobbying activity.

Hubbard was a main figure in the original district, nominating Nagar and Ellis in 2006, and motioning to put Grover on the board.

Under the bill creating the West Montrose district in 2009, 10 board members were named, unlike the 2005 legislation creating its east-side counterpart. Eight of the 10 are now on the consolidated management district board.

The 2009 bill also provided a method for directors to avoid abstaining from voting on issues that might favorably affect their own interests.

Under the provisions of the bill, a director files an affidavit acknowledging the conflict of interest. The member may then participate in the vote provided “the majority of directors have a similar interest in the same entity” and “all other similar businesses ... in the district will receive a similar pecuniary benefit.”

After meeting jointly for over a year, the districts merged by approval of the two separate boards in February, becoming the Montrose Management District. The vote was unanimous, and there were no public comments.

Lord, the lawyer with Vinson & Elkins, was there to ensure the consolidation went in accordance with the law. Five directors were announced at that meeting, but between then and the March meeting, the number of directors grew to its present 15.
 
Hawes, the director, said that the board appointments have always been made legislatively, and changes to the board are subject to approval by the mayor and city council. He added that Parker has never made an appointment but that former Mayor Bill White had rejected some appointments.

Hawes was not aware of the favor of the sitting board toward Parker.

"I can tell you that I'm not surprised that a large portion are Annise Parker supporters because a good portion of my board is gay and they're from Montrose, and she happens to be from Montrose," he said.

Hawes added that because board members serve rotating terms, several positions are due to be vacated soon, and there is talk of getting "some new blood in there."

As things stand today, though, some district members feel left out.
 
“This is the antithesis of democracy,” said David Johnson, another business owner seeking to dissolve the Montrose Management District. “They are ruthless and have no pride. This is tax money.”

The folks at Stop the District have made plenty of noise about their effort in recent weeks, gathering the signatures of business owners and presenting them to the head of the district. The law requires a petition signed by the owners of at least 75 percent of the assessed property.

The district board has decided to fight the opposition, despite the fact that a significant portion of business owners wants out from under the district tax of 12.5 cents per $100 valuation.

After presenting a petition they say had been signed by 78 percent of the commercial property owners, the group was told that it would have to do better. The district says the 75 percent threshold applies to all property owners, including the residential properties not subject to the tax.
 
***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of Houston City Hall by flickr user J Jackson Photography, used via a Creative Commons license.
Comments
Fernando
Tuesday, 11/29/2011 - 08:11AM

I'm ready to help. Let's block walk and get whatever it takes to end this taxation without representation. I don't even live in Montrose, but I'm ready to help. Oh...I've seen at least two of the management district staff vehicles. Why does the management district need special staff vehicles with an emergency light bar on top? The answer is they don't need it--its your money they're spending not yours. What a scam.

Jim Bigham
Tuesday, 11/29/2011 - 12:24PM

"No one who is opposed to this tax will ever be elected to that board"

But they're not elected at all correct? They appear to be appointing themselves, without even a cursory review or vote by Houston City Council. At a minimum, City Council should review and approve every single board member. How else will there be any accountability?

E.H.
Tuesday, 11/29/2011 - 12:41PM

There won't ever be any accountability especially since they voted in Ellen Cohen who made this all possible when she was a rep and is primed to be the Mayor's water-bearer-- she'll do the dirty like Sue. The mayor, Ellen, Sue and that whole little clique are nothing but a bunch of conniving autocrats who care nothing for little- D Democracy. Give me a transparent republican any day over this bunch.

David Johnson
Tuesday, 11/29/2011 - 03:14PM

I think the article misses the most important point: this was established with a petition of 25 signatures. It will take thousands of signatures to get rid of this tax burden. PLEASE: post Vinson and Elkins take on the first $1.4 million in new tax money bonanza! Was it $310,000 with the "late fee."? The absurdity of this makes Boss Tweed look good. The craven nature of these people is sickening. Write it like it is. Does this town have a newspaper?

Montrose Apartment owner
Tuesday, 11/29/2011 - 04:19PM

This whole thing is DISGUSTING. But what will be done about it? Nothing. Months and months of grass roots work was done to dissolve the management group and they just shit on everyone's face. I'm sure next month there will be a few vocal people at the meeting. Then next month a few less.. Then a few less.

It's clear that the people this district is supposed to help don' want it. They got almost 80% to sign. yet the management district just laughed in their face.

Jim Bigham
Wednesday, 11/30/2011 - 01:12PM

As` I understand the enabling legislation (and I'm not a lawyer), these local districts operate under the guidance of a "governing authority" which in this case would be the City of Houston. Not withstanding the distance Mayor Parker seems to want to place between the City and the Montrose District, there remains a responsibility to approve Board Members and large financial transactions like issuing bonds. While residents (voters) may not pay the new tax directly, who do you think patronizes those businesses, suburbanites from Katy? The tenants in those assessed apartments pay it right off the top of their rent, just like every other property specific levy.

The creation of this entity may have been a "reach too far", with serious political repercussions for those involved. I wouldn't want to be on the opposite side of 850 property owners who had their petition rejected. Only 50 property owners needed to petition for creation, but 7,501 required to petition for dissolution? Nice!

disenchanted
Monday, 12/05/2011 - 11:39AM

If this is not a conflict of interest, I don't know what it is.

This Board is no less than a dictatorship. They answer to no one, they do as they see fit with our money. This year we were double taxed by them. How is legal? If you or I wanted to become part of that Board we would be politely turned away because if you don't think and do as they do, you are NOT welcome!!!

Corruption has arrived in Montrose and it has Mayor Anise Parker's stamp of approval!!! How is that change working for you?

not saying
Monday, 10/15/2012 - 10:58PM

i know one of the people on the board and he is a big Part of Montrose if i where you i would watch out for him he has taken money from his sister and has denied his own niece. Watch out for that guy how do you think he got his money he stole it from his sister

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