in Houston, Texas
For the mayor and city council of Galveston, it’s less about voters, more about money
Thursday, Aug 30, 2012, 02:06PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
galveston

Never mind about democratic process and local control in Galveston. In the end, it was about the money.

Mayor Lewis Rosen and a City Council elected by voters to reject rebuilding public housing destroyed by Hurricane Ike, voted unanimously to offer a housing plan to keep federal authorities from making good on a threat to withhold from the city more than $500 million in housing aid, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Or as the local paper, the Galveston Daily News, put it, the council chose to break promises to the voters who elected them over “the possibility of financial ruin and intense federal scrutiny.”

Just as they did seven years ago after Hurricane Katrina forever altered New Orleans, federal disaster officials in 2008 moved in swiftly after Hurricane Ike to aid the families displaced after 569 units of public housing was destroyed.

After more than four years the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has 40 federally funded housing units built and a local political revolution to show for it.

In June, Galveston voters gave a mandate to Rosen, who thumped an otherwise popular mayor, Joe Jaworski, and endorsed a council majority that backed a local plan to give qualified low income residents a voucher to subsidize the selection of existing housing.

In just a few days, Rosen replaced three members of the Galveston Housing Authority who supported rebuilding public housing, including the chairman. He negotiated a September resignation by the staunchest supporter on the board.

Rosen and his majority had decided to turn its back on a federal program with a 75-year history “rooted in a very idealistic and paternalistic view of helping the working class,” as the Office of Policy Development and Research Housing and Urban Development put it.

A history that includes Jacob Riis Houses in Manhattan, Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini Green in Chicago and Pruitt Igoe in St. Louis and other public housing projects delicately referred to by the Policy Development and Research people as “a decaying dumping ground for housing some of the poorest families in the US.”

Housing and Urban Development has continued to acquit itself in responses to hurricanes Ike and Rita in Texas covered by Texas Watchdog.

Rosen went to Washington in July at the invitation of the top officials in the federal housing hierarchy to offer up his alternative voucher plan, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In its normally flexible way, those officials told Rosen either build the public housing or we will keep the $500 million.

On Wednesday, Rosen provided a succinct, if partial, summary of all that had happened. "I think the citizens have spoken," he said. "I think the council listened."

The vote explained the rest.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitterand 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.

Photo of 'Hurricane Ike' by flickr user Galveston.com, used via a Creative Commons license.

Documents on Galveston councilman's potential conflict of interest withheld
Monday, Mar 19, 2012, 04:09PM CST
By Steve Miller
galveston

The city of Galveston refuses to hand over information it collected in determining if a city council member voting in a conflict of interest.

The city’s ethics commission announced earlier this month that Councilman Rusty Legg had no conflict when he voted on an issue regarding the Galveston Housing Authority. That’s the same conclusion the city attorney’s office reached in November.

Tarris Woods, a former city councilman who lost in a runoff election to Legg in 2010, appropriately asked the city for “all information used to provide a legal decision that Rusty Legg did not have a conflict of interest with GHA.” He was told by the city that the information fell under attorney-client privilege, although that’s not for the city to decide.That’s why the state has an excellent system via the state Attorney General.

And the Daily News points out that the report exonerating Legg was cited in a public meeting, making it a public record.

Some believe that because Legg is vice president of Charna Graber, a real estate firm that takes money from the public housing trough, he should have recused himself. Legg voted last year to give the housing authority $25 million to help rebuild some public housing, provided it not be done in areas with mixed-income housing. He stated that building in mixed-income areas would hurt the smaller property owners who rent to tenants with housing vouchers.  

This seems like an obvious case of abstaining from the vote to at least avoid the issue of a conflict.

Woods has referred the situation to the local District Attorney's office.

***
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.

Photo of Galveston Beaches by flickr user galveston.com, used via a Creative Commons license.

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