Weekend brunch for 28 April 2019

News and views from around the web

Image credit: Greek Easter Eggs - Ranya/Pixabay

[WB1]  The Harris County District Attorney’s office has sought to dismiss over two dozen criminal cases tied to the now-retired HPD narcotics officers (Gerald Goines and Steven Bryant) who oversaw the deadly January raid at 7815 Harding St. HPD Chief Art Acevedo, who actually made himself available to comment, praised the move, according to the Chronicle. Previously, Acevedo told KPRC-2 News that he expected HPD’s investigation into the raid to be completed by mid-to-late April; that clock is ticking.

[WB2] The Houston Chronicle confirmed earlier TV news reports that Mayor Turner’s ballyhooed “hiring freeze” really wasn’t much of a freeze at all. The Turner administration objected to the reporting on twitter, which resulted in a series of additional tweets from reporter Mike Morris that weren’t all that favorable to the administration. The Turner folks, of course, were all too happy to tout the hiring freeze as an example of responsible fiscal leadership early on, apparently thinking that it would not draw a closer look. Mayoral candidate Bill King first noted that the Turner administration’s “hiring freeze” really wasn’t.

[WB3] The Hiring Freeze (That Wasn’t) was, of course, part of the Turner administration’s response to the ongoing battle over implementation of Proposition B, the voter-approved firefighter pay parity referendum. This week, Turner forced through a Council vote to lay off 220 firefighters that apparently also includes potential firefighter demotions. Two Houston councilmembers contend that Turner vowed to punish firefighters way back in 2016, after they failed to get on board with his pension can-kicking exercise (which seems consistent with the way the mayor has behaved since then, despite his denials).

[WB4] Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, arguably the most powerful man in area politics, is living his best life now, according to outstanding investigative reporting by the Houston Chronicle. As noted by reporter Zach Despart, Ellis has built a massive campaign war chest, which he has grown through stock market investment (a legal practice). The controversial aspect of the arrangement is that Ellis apparently considers almost everything he does to be part of his public service, and therefore subject to funding from his campaign war chest:

  • In 2018, he billed his campaign fund some $13,000 for the use of a Cadillac Escalade
  • He spent thousands of dollars at restaurants for “meetings”
  • And he billed his campaign fund for 38 visits to a Smoothie King near his home

That’s good “work” for those who can get it, one supposes. It makes us miss Wayne Dolcefino (in his TV days), who surely would have found some creative ways to use video reporting to illustrate the profligacy of one Rodney Ellis of the Harris County Ruling Class.

[WB5] Harris County’s pollution monitoring department, however, is apparently not living its best life now, as the recent Deer Park chemical fire exposed the department’s limitations. But at least we have the Harris County Ed Emmett Memorial Astrodome Parking Structure! Right?

[WB6] The (unneeded) Harris County Department of Education is also not living its best life now, with a board member who was ultimately censured by the board filing suit alleging that another member urged him to support a lobbying contract in exchange for “drugs and women.”

Why does this organization still exist?

[WB7] Over at Urban Reform, Thomas Wang reports on Houston’s shiny new affordable housing operations center (or palace, as we like to call it). As Wang notes, the usual insider, Houston Way shenanigans seem to be present:

An estimate put the project at $23.8 million dollars, and it is being constructed by the Midtown Redevelopment Authority (MRA) and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #2, despite not being located in Midtown.

MRA, which owns about 3.5 million square feet of land in Third Ward, and TIRZ #2 are special purpose districts and are parallel organizations managed by the same nine board members.

With a board consisting of appointees by the City of Houston, Harris County, Houston Independent School District (HISD), and the Texas Legislature, the district collects local property taxes. Although this project on the surface seems as though it will help jump-start revitalization efforts for this historically underserved neighborhood, a closer examination of many critical aspects of the project raises concern.

Concern, indeed!

[WB8] Also at Urban Reform, Charles Blain notes that the City of Houston’s electricity bill is running some $4.2 million over budget. How does this happen?

[WB9] Perhaps this Turner mayoral staffer was taking personal/vacation time while posting these tweets in response to mayoral candidate Bill King. Otherwise, one might wonder why this sort of campaigning is occurring during the workday.

[WB10]  Pierce Bush, the grandson of the late former president George H.W. Bush, is considering running for the 7th Congressional District seat currently held by Democrat Lizzie Fletcher. So far, the Republican field is a bit underwhelming, so here’s hoping that more qualified candidates will throw in. That seat is overdue for a competitive GOP primary.

[WB11] Reduce Flooding posts that tunneling could be an innovative, potentially valuable flood mitigation tool.

[WB12] The Rockets remain alive in the NBA Playoffs, taking on the Golden State Warriors in the second round starting Sunday.

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX