Open Government Project
A Government Watchdog Group
State of Texas
City of Galveston
Public Interest Groups
by David Stanowski
13 July 2011
No single action since Hurricane Ike has done more to derail the local political process, regarding Public Housing, than the Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) Agreement with the GHA.
When the GHA wanted to demolish the Public Housing units damaged by the Storm, LSLA filed an Administrative Complaint with HUD to stop them. In order to proceed with demolition, the GHA entered into hurried discussions to produce a "settlement". With any rebuilding to come years down the road, there was no need to enter into any kind of agreement, at that time, especially one that would tie the City's hands with terms that were potentially harmful to its future, and that would likely violate the law.
If the GHA had not entered into this Agreement, it is unlikely that the Conciliation Agreement would have included its current terms regarding this city, because those terms were simply a mangled attempt to incorporate the LSLA Agreement into a more general recovery document, although drafting mistakes failed to actually require the rebuilding of 569 Public Housing units in the City of Galveston, as the LSLA Agreement clearly did.
Newly-acquired documents raise questions about the City's role in the drafting and execution of this document, and its oversight responsibility and liability, because the terms that require rebuilding in the City are in potential violation of three or more federal laws, including the Fair Housing Act.
The "Ike Second Anniversary Report" written by Harish Krishnarao states on page 2, "The City of Galveston also had two representatives, the city attorney and city ex-officio, at the table to participate in negotiations with LSLA when the agreement for the 569 one-for-one replacement was signed."
This clearly seems to mean that Susie Green and Tarris Woods were "participating" in the negotiations on behalf of the City which will make it very difficult for anyone on City Council to take the position that the Council has only minimal culpability in the GHA rebuilding process!
It also raises the question of why these two people were in those meetings. Was the entire Council informed about these negotiations? Did the Council vote to send them to the meetings? Did Mayor Thomas send them to the meetings without the knowledge and consent of the other Councilmembers? Or, is it possible that they just decided to go without the knowledge and consent of anyone else in City government?
These are all questions that must asked and answered!
There have been some on City Council who have raised the argument that the City could actually reduce its potential liability that building Public Housing may create by simply trying to be as "hands off" as possible. This theory would be based on the assumption that the less you do, the lower the probability of an action that creates liability.
However, the presence of the City Attorney and a City Councilmember in the meetings, that created the liability in the first place, would argue that that horse has already left the barn. The City can not plausibly claim that it is an "innocent bystander" in this process.
The most reasonable assumption about what went on in those negotiations is that LSLA, acting as the "fair-housing expert", made the demands for the Public Housing units to be built in the City of Galveston, and the City representatives did not raise an objection, because they were not aware that doing so might violate federal floodplain rules, federal site and neighborhood standards, and especially, the latest implementation of the Fair Housing Act.
However, each time that the GOGP raised these issues, in the months that followed, and the City did not act to correct their "innocent oversight", their failure to do so increased their culpability.
It is time for the City Council to acknowledge that it sat back while an Agreement was drafted that will force the GHA to violate the Fair Housing Act, and take corrective action, rather than making excuses about why they beleive it will not violate the Act.