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LIMITED
Release of Funds?

by David Stanowski
02 August 2013


There is no longer any doubt that the so-called “local advocates” aka the Galveston County Collaborating Organizations (GCCO) now have more control over the City’s disaster recovery money than any group in this city. Unfortunately, this gives them more power over the release and disposition of that money than the City’s elected representatives and the city staff. Allowing this small group of self-appointed unelected representatives this kind of power, over the fate of this city, and all of its residents, is undemocratic and autocratic, and Council should end it, immediately.   

This small group not only seeks to dictate its vision of the rebuilding of the City, in secret meetings with the City Manager, but its concerns are primarily confined to only one small neighborhood containing about 4% of the City’s population. Clearly their goal is to get a large share of the disaster recovery money for a very small group of residents.

How could this happen? It all derives from the infamous Conciliation Agreement. The State completely bungled the negotiations over this Agreement and then allowed the Austin advocates unprecedented power to dictate its implementation which has handcuffed the City’s recovery. The Agreement simply said that the City must rebuild 569 units of Public Housing, it did NOT say where they must be rebuilt, and it didn’t give the Austin advocates the power to dictate which streets were to get paved in this city; but the State has allowed them to do just that. In January, the Austin advocates simply gave the locals their proxy to wield the same power over the City.

The City Attorney laid it all out in the 01 August 2013 Council meeting: “...in working with the groups, the Austin advocates deferred to the GCCO and said whatever projects they want to advocate for they will be behind, so in order to facilitate and take meaningful steps, the Manager and staff have been working towards getting that letter.” (see video at 35:30)

After this happened, the City Manager and staff believed that they “had to play ball” with the local advocates to get the City’s disaster recovery money released. In his 14 May 2013 letter to the GLO, the City Manager said, “I am requesting the release of the City’s Round 2 infrastructure funds. I believe the City’s success in these efforts relies on working closely with our local advocates, and we are attempting to schedule meetings with them to go over their recently raised concerns and discuss our infrastructure projects.” (see page 1)

After he received the 25 May 2013 letter from the GCCO outlining their ten “asks” for the Northside, the City Manager wrote the following in a 28 May 2013 email to staff: “Attached is a letter that came to me recently that some of you may have seen. It's from our local advocate groups involved in the public housing/infrastructure issues. These folks are the key to the infrastructure funds release, and will assist in the ultimate configuration of the scattered sites or alternatives.” (see page 48)

" These folks are the key to the infrastructure funds release,..."
 


On 04 June 2013, the City Manager responded with a letter to the GCCO to demonstrate his “good faith” in complying with their “asks”. The GCCO was sufficiently satisfied to send a letter to the GLO on 08 July 2013 supporting a LIMITED release of disaster recovery funds. In other words, rather than giving their blessing to the release of all funds, they want to continue to exercise control over the release of each and every portion of the funding in order to maintain their influence over the City Manager.

These secret deals have been going on for months, but some of the specifics have only recently come to light. In the 01 August 2013 Council meeting, Councilmember Norman Pappous asked the City Manager what he has agreed to do in return for the letter of support for the LIMITED release of funds. Mr. Kovacs responded with “I have not committed to anything on a policy level that would bind the Council or put us in any kind of a bad position”. (see video 11:47)

After reviewing his 04 June letter to the GCCO, we strongly disagree!

Thankfully, the City Manager did not agree to all ten of their “asks”, but three of his “offers” are very troubling!

1. He has offered to move two or three of the new water tanks to 59th street which will require the City to purchase additional land and will create additional expenses for the taxpayers. He has also agreed to “beautify” the existing water tanks at their current 30th Street location across the street from Cedar Terrace.

In his 14 May 2013 letter, the City Manager said, “…and a water storage tank at 59th street (that we have moved out of the north Broadway neighborhood at the request of the advocates, which has impacted another City property that could have been used for more robust economic development projects)…” “…the removal of blight at the existing ground storage tank in the north Broadway neighborhood (as requested by the advocates).” (see page 2) This “ask” will cost the City about $1,000,000.
 
2. He has offered to prioritize flood mitigation efforts on the Northside over the needs of other neighborhoods. His letter says, “While the City already had a list of critical streets to rebuild using these funds, they may be redirected based on the study to the highest needed areas or to the Northside.” (see page 2)

When the City Manager asked the staff about how they could accommodate the “asks” of the Northside on drainage, Angelo Grasso responded with, “The only problem with the cost estimates is that each project provides for drainage improvements for areas that are located on both the north and south side of Broadway and there are no cost breakdowns on north side or south side drainage improvements.” He went on to say, “However whatever is designed needs to take into consideration future drainage improvements that will be needed on the south side of Broadway.” (see page 14 attachment)

In other words, City drainage problems SHOULD be tackled on a comprehensive citywide basis, but if we have to do the Northside in isolation to persuade the GCCO to support even a LIMITED release of funds, then it will likely create potential engineering problems and added costs.

3. Finally, the City Manager offers them a continuing role in Northside infrastructure planning. “We anticipate you and the City being very involved in the GLO's study that will assist us in determining the use of remaining infrastructure funds.” “…I will also get you our draft for your review and input as soon as it is developed. Currently, your input into our water projects is critical to them moving forward.” (see page 2)

"...your input into our water projects is critical to them moving forward."
     

Conclusion:
The City Manager simply cannot be allowed to continue to let the GCCO influence City policy in this way. It is still unclear whether he has taken this approach on his own, or whether he was pushed in this direction by the Gang of Five who are desperate to get their hands on the City’s disaster recovery money in an effort to appease the voters. Obviously, they believe that the voters will forget that they pledged not to rebuild Public Housing if they see their streets being paved for the first time in 25 years. It’s not likely, but it’s their fantasy.

Contrary to the commentary in today’s Daily News, the Gang of Five has made absolutely no effort to "obstruct" the rebuilding of Public Housing as promised. Their frustration with the GLO is that they agreed to rebuild but they have not received the money that they were promised in return for their obedience and acquiescence. That should not be confused with fighting the GLO over the rebuilding itself. They most certainly have NOT done that.

The City Council should not allow ANY unelected group to have this kind of control over City policy and funding, and must take immediate steps to end this arrangement. The State is ultimately to blame, but the City Council has to push back against State demands to let ANY "advocates" dictate the details of the implementation of the terms of the Conciliation Agreement. 

Council must also remember the results of this policy will be to trap more low-income minorities in the most poverty stricken census tract in the County in a neighborhood that is already 61% Black and 34% Hispanic. Spending $100 million dollars in this area in a misguided scheme to create a some sort of "renaissance", in this highly segregated enclave, may be what certain special-interest groups want, but it is contrary to the concept of integration and will violate every conceivable understanding and interpretation of the Fair Housing Act.

Is the City Council going to spend a disproportionate share of the City’s disaster recovery funding on a neighborhood that will have Sandpiper Cove and Cedar Terrace as its premiere assets, and then force impoverished minorities to live there?

This is what the Gang of Five unleashed on this city when they thought they could “make deals” instead of acting on principle in the best interests of the people that would end up in Public Housing; which would also be in the best interests of the entire city!

Read the Letters:

GCCO to Michael Kovacs 05-06-2013
GCCO to Sterling Patrick 05-06-2013
GCCO to Jerry Patterson 05-06-2013
Michael Kovacs to GLO 05-14-2013
GCCO to City Staff 05-25-2013
Michael Kovacs to GCCO 06-04-2013
06-04-2013 Attachments
GCCO to GLO 07-08-2013

 
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