in Houston, Texas
Property owners fail to win seats on Houston management district board, say process set up to keep dissenters out
Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012, 09:09AM CST
By Steve Miller
5 Corners district map

Several applicants for the board of a local improvement district say their hopes to serve their community have been dashed by a power structure that refuses to allow dissenting voices.

Instead, they contend, the nominating board of the Five Corners Improvement District sat for months on their applications while a number of positions sat vacant.

Today, the Houston City Council is scheduled to vote on a slate of board appointments rubber stamped by Mayor Annise Parker. Six of the nine positions are reappointments, and four of those six have been on the board since its creation in 2009.

Not on the list are three applicants who say they were never contacted by the district because they were not touting its party line: They had in the past publicly renounced the district, which taxes business owners in exchange for services such as extra policing and graffiti abatement, and hoped it would never be created.

In fact, they said the resistance to their views was so great that the board left some positions vacant for a year rather than accept a board member with differing views. At various times in the past three years, up to five board spots have been vacant.

"They didn’t want people on the board that might want to abolish the district," said Wayne Earl Derrick, who submitted his application in April.

"They thought I'd take an adversarial position on the board, and if they get too many of that kind of opinion, they are afraid of dissolution," added Frank Sturman, also an April applicant.

But board chairman Homer Clark said anyone who submits an application is interviewed.

“If someone submits an application, we get them in and interview them,” said Clark, who was originally appointed to the board by the legislation that created the district. “We don’t just arbitrarily decide who is on the board."

Clark said there are only nine board spots and 1,400 business owners being taxed at 10 cents per $100 valuation. For a business property valued at $500,000, that amounts to a tax of $500.

“And when you do anything, you are going to get opposition,” Clark said. Appointments to management district boards have been politically disputed over the years. State law governs the appointment process, and in August, Parker issued her own revised guidelines for appointments.

At the time Derrick and Sturman submitted their applications, two positions were vacant. Another six were set to expire in June, according to the district's April 1 meeting minutes, and the board voted to submit all sitting board members for reappointment to new terms.

Those positions have remained unfilled until now, leading Sturman, Derrick and a number of others who are being taxed for the property they own in the district to believe the process is operated by a chosen few and blessed by city hall.

One of those others is Ronny Hecht, a lawyer with property in the district. He applied for the board in April but didn’t get a call. At the time he filed, he was leading a cabal of rogue residents who requested the district be dissolved.

They attended a hearing early last year when the organizers of the district presented at a public meeting the required approval from 25 companies or people who owned property in the district to begin taxing property owners.

After a protracted squabble, Hecht became part of a lawsuit against the district, alleging the district was taxing property owners violation of state law.

Along with other business interests, he challenged the validity of the 27 petitions submitted for the creation of the district for technical reasons.

“A couple of the people didn’t even own property in the district by the time these were presented,” Hecht said. “A couple of the petitions were from joint property owners, and only one party had signed.”

One of those petitioners was Lewis Waddell, who owns a grocery store in the district. When the district was being formed, someone called him, urging him to help.

“There was a lady that kept calling me,” said Waddell, who also unsuccessfully applied for the district’s board. “I was told I should support it because they’re going to have the district anyway. They kind of dangled it in front of you.”

The suit also contested the fact that the presiding authority at the meeting – at which numerous objections to the formation of the district were presented – was board member Clark.

“He was not an impartial party, which they needed to run that meeting,” Hecht said.

But Hecht found out that for all the arguments, petitions and efforts to join the board rather than beat it, the lawsuit accomplished the most satisfying end result. The district came to the plaintiffs, he said, and said they were no longer subject to the district assessment.

“They said if we dropped the suit, we would not be taxed by the district,” said Hecht, who is an officer with the Spectrum Management District, a 1,000-acre taxing authority in Pearland. “They came to our lawyer and said, ‘We’ll let you out of the district if you drop the lawsuit.’ I think the districts have a lot of authority, and if they want exclude properties, they can.”

David Hawes, whose company Hawes Hill Calderon manages Five Corners and eight other management and improvement districts in the Houston area, said that the lawsuit did not have any bearing on the exclusion of the plaintiffs from the district tax.

He said a provision of state law at the time allowed a party to be excluded upon request within 30 days of the formal announcement of the levy. In addition to the litigants, several others who requested to be excluded from the district were able to opt out.

“Some of these were people that were party to the lawsuit, and some weren’t,” Hawes said. “But it had nothing to do with the lawsuit.”

The provision for exclusion has since been narrowed and now requires 50 percent of property owners in a given district to request to be excluded.

Like Clark, Hawes said there is bound to be resistance to most anything. A look at the Montrose Management District proves that. And despite his vocation, Hawes also questioned the law that creates these districts. For Five Corners, 25 of the more than 1,400 business property owners had to agree to the district and its tax. But for the district to be dissolved, the agreement of those holding 75 percent of the acreage in the district or 75 percent of the overall property valuation is required.

“That’s a pretty high threshold,” Hawes said.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, e-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

Comments
Excuse me!
Wednesday, 02/29/2012 - 09:56PM

It is taxation without representation. Totally averse to the Founding Fathers of the United States. It is an insider, buddy group deal with the people voting on spending contracts reaping the revenues thereof. They do not have anything to do with the businesses paying the taxes, nor are the businesses represented on the boards. Buddies paying buddies and a total waste of business dollars, hire people instead! Give them a job they can feed their families with and pay the taxes to keep the politicians rollings.

Dan
Thursday, 03/01/2012 - 09:29AM

We were one of the property owners who successfully fought to be excluded from the five corners district. We applied for the board and we never heard anything. There was no contact about being interviewed. So, not all applicants were interviewed -- that is a true statement. We reviewed their plan. Not enough investment to make a noticeable change. It seemingly only would benefit the managment company which was to draw 15% of the tax dollars as administration fees.

Tweets
Karen Townsend | 6 years 8 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 6 years 8 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 6 years 8 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 6 years 8 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 6 years 8 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 | 6 years 8 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
© 2018 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement