Chron nails quasi-governmental agency behaving badly

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Salaries soar at Harris County Housing Authority – Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle (11/20/2011)

Harris County Housing Authority leaders have received steep salary increases and staggering bonuses in recent years, nearly tripling some executives’ pay since 2004.

As CEO, Guy Rankin’s salary has gone from $99,507 when he took over in July 2004 to $263,965 three years ago. That included a $60,000 bonus, dubbed “equalization pay” in authority records. This year, while not scheduled to receive a bonus, he stands to make $242,008.

The authority’s second-in-command, David Gunter, was making $74,256 as a senior accountant when Rankin became CEO. He since has been promoted three times, to chief administrative officer, and will receive $220,001 this year. That includes a $55,000 bonus. His pay exceeds that of all housing authority CEOs in Texas, as well as those of some of the nation’s largest housing authorities.

[snip]

The agency is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and collects fees from housing it develops with private builders. It receives no local tax dollars.

Rankin and authority board members defended the agency’s pay scale. They pointed to two salary surveys, including one last year, that used “extensive private sector data” to show authority employees were paid 8 percent to 40 percent below “market rates.” The 2010 survey also polled other housing authorities to create a pay scale “slightly above the median of the relevant labor market.”

County housing agency criticized over costly Patriots project – Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle (01/31/2012)

The project, called Patriots by the Lake, was envisioned as a $400 million “living monument to America’s veterans” on the shore of Lake Houston. It was to include hundreds of homes, armed-forces memorials, restaurants, shops, a marina, a hotel and a town hall containing a replica of the Oval Office.

Critics accuse authority CEO Guy Rankin and the agency’s board of commissioners of pouring money into the project after it was clear it would not be built. County officials say the largely market-rate development went against the authority’s mission of providing affordable housing, and question some of the project spending, such as $18,000 on letters said to be penned by Abraham Lincoln, bought from a shop in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Rankin and board chairman Casey Wallace say the idea was an inspired concept that was derailed by many factors….

Is anybody home at the county housing authority? – Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle (02/03/2012)

The resort-style development that Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has likened to the Taj Mahal was to include armed forces memorials, shops, a hotel, a marina and single-family homes ranging from $175,000 to $700,000, a project that would seem to stray far from the agency’s supposed mission to provide quality “affordable” housing in the region.

If Patriots were a private-sector deal, the folks responsible would have been out of a job a long time ago.

Housing authority's snoop had eye on others – Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle (02/07/2012)

In early December, a mysterious open records request from a private investigation firm called Pathway Forensics arrived at county offices asking for emails, phone records and credit card statements for Emmett and several staffers. Specifically, the request sought correspondence related to communication with the Houston Chronicle and city of Houston elected officials.

Emmett says he wasn’t sure who or what was behind the request until he saw a courier note listing the origin of a follow-up request: the housing authority. And then it made sense.

“It wasn’t the brightest move they ever made,” Emmett told me last week. “I just thought it was absurd for the housing authority to be trying to file an open records (request) on me and my office. Obviously, they were trying to find out who was giving me information. The whole thing has been sordid.”

Is Rankin’s tenure at county housing authority near end? – Mike Morris, Houston Politics/Chron.com (02/07/2012)

The Harris County Housing Authority’s board of commissioners will discuss the possible end of embattled CEO Guy Rankin’s tenure with the agency tonight.

We are sometimes critical of the Houston Chronicle for too frequently serving as a cheerleader for favored causes and institutions instead of acting as an advocate for taxpayers and citizens when it comes to scrutinizing and holding accountable local government and governmental agencies. So kudos are due to Mike Morris and Lisa Falkenberg for the digging they have done over the last 2-3 months into the goings on at the Harris County Housing Authority. Between salary shenanigans, project shenanigans, and apparently even snooping on Harris County’s most popular political figure (Judge Ed Emmett), the agency seems to have been acting badly.

And that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. If this all goes down by the usual standards of The Houston Way, a nervous Board will force out some executives, and will hope that’s that, the newspaper can claim a rare scalp, and nobody will be looking much deeper (well, at least until the FBI shows up years later — see various figures connected directly and indirectly to the Lee Brown Administration for an example of how this sort of thing has played out in the past).

Here’s hoping that many more public information requests have been filed, and that this is just the start of getting a closer look at just what has been going on at this quasi-governmental agency — and why the agency’s Board seemed to be asleep at the wheel while it was going on.

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Kevin Whited
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