Open Government Project
A Government Watchdog Group
State of Texas
City of Galveston
Public Interest Groups
The Devil Made Me Do It!
by David Stanowski
01 October 2012
It was necessary to let the smoke clear from the battlefield before getting a clear picture of what happened, on Friday, but then reality intruded with the realization that there was no battle, so there was no smoke, because there never was any fighting; just capitulation and unconditional surrender. The official excuse was, “We were bullied into it, so we did the best we could.” Of course, the campaign promises were to “build no additional Public Housing”, and to “fight the Conciliation Agreement”, so how can those involved congratulate themselves for all of their hard work and “doing the best that they could” when they never even tried to “fight the Conciliation Agreement”?
Everyone knew that fighting the Conciliation Agreement meant hiring lawyers and filing a lawsuit. When did this Council hire lawyers to prepare for and begin the fight?
Were the candidates, who won their City Council seats on 12 May, huddled up preparing a legal strategy and looking for lawyers a few days after the election? What happened after the 23 June runoff, when it was then clear that six of the newly-elected Councilmembers had vowed to “fight the Conciliation Agreement”? NOTHING! No preparation, no strategy, no lawyers.
When the GOGP sent an email to this new Council, in late June, we were strongly rebuffed for asking where the action was to clean house at the GHA, and to prepare for the upcoming legal battle. They needed time to work on their “secret plan”. We knew right then and there that there was a 95% chance that there would be no fight out of this Council, because without lawyers, there could be no secret plan, but we did not give up hope.
When the Galveston Delegation went to D.C. on 23 July and did not tell Shaun Donovan that they would NOT be bullied into violating the Fair Housing Act for the benefit of local, State and national special interest groups, we knew then that there was a 99% chance that there would be no fight out of this Council, but we did not give up hope, because we still could not believe that anyone had the audacity to so blatantly violate this campaign promise. No one promised that they would win the fight, but they did promise to actually engage in a fight.
As the third month since the runoff election passed, without even hiring a lawyer, all hope was lost unless there was a last-minute attack of conscience when this Council stared directly into the abyss and finally realized the horror that they were about to inflict on this city. But, there was no attack of conscience and no shame; to the contrary, we suspect that there was pressure for a unanimous vote to diffuse the wrath of the voters more widely. We are eternally grateful that Councilmembers Beeton and Pappous held their ground and stuck to their principles!
Now that the voters can more clearly see that there never was any sort of fight or battle waged on their behalf, there were merely endless “negotiations” over the terms of surrender, and the White Flag has been shamefully unfurled over City Hall, it is time to consider what this Council just did to the City.
The Death of a City:
1. First and foremost, five Councilmembers voted to knowingly violate the law in order to get what they think is a big pot of “free money” that is designed to make up for the irresponsible spending of the City over the last 20-30 years. Most of them even realize that the amount at risk, if they actually put up a fight, was more like $100-150 million, not $586 million; but after many hours a being sequestered in executive sessions, and fed the line of what they “had to do”, five voted to violate the law. Peer pressure? Stockholm Syndrome? Who knows?
When government openly and willingly violates the law, no one is safe.
What if the federal government offered the City $10 million to round up all of the red-haired people in the City and inter them on the East End Flats? Should the Council discuss all of the wonderful infrastructure projects that they could pay for with that money? They could even leverage the $10 million with grant money, or to sell some bonds to “remake the City”.
Would some Councilmembers take this deal? After last Friday, you don’t know any more, do you? Pretty scary when you think about it! When government will violate the law, you don’t know when you will find yourself in the group that will be willingly “sacrificed” for the “greater good” of the collective.
This is why 28 September 2012 is the “Day That Will Live in Infamy”. The day when far more harm was done to the City by this Council than Hurricane Ike ever did!
2. The "Terms of Surrender" that the Council passed on 28 September ceded the sovereignty of the City to the federal and State governments, and their appointed agents the GLO, Texas Appleseed, TXLIHIS, and unnamed non-profits who will own and operate scattered sites throughout the entire city; for the next 75 years. Whether they will send occupying forces, or exercise control remotely is unclear at this time. The process may be a throwback to the Reconstruction Era of 1865-1877. The damage done to the Home Rule concept of local government is incalculable!
3. The violation of the campaign promises made by four Councilmembers should destroy most citizen participation in local government for many years to come. After being betrayed and disappointed by the 2010-2012 City Council, the people of the City mobilized in a true grassroots fashion to work in the campaigns of six candidates who promised, to one degree or another: to build no additional Public Housing in the City, to fight the Conciliation Agreement, and to sell the Oleander, Cedar Terrace and Magnolia footprints.
People worked their hearts out to walk the neighborhoods, hold fundraisers, do mailings, put up campaign signs, and give money. The people engineered a landslide victory to oust the prior regime. After what happened on the “Day of Infamy”, how could anyone want to participate in City Council elections again? No, they will NOT work to defeat those who broke their campaign promises, because how can they ever trust any challenger to keep their word. Trust and confidence in City government has been totally destroyed!
If someone had been knocked into a coma on 01 May, and just woke up today, they could not tell that there had even been an election this year! All of the Public Housing is still slated to be rebuilt in this city, including unneeded mixed-income units. What has changed? Well, as Sandbar Politics astutely pointed out, yesterday, the Agreement that was passed on the “Day of Infamy” is far worse than what former Mayor Jaworski was seeking just prior to the election. The number of units is about the same, but the City found a way to “negotiate” giving up control of much of the process. In other words, they started where the former Mayor left off and went backwards. They certainly gave him the satisfaction of seeing those who ousted him fail miserably, and they will rightly all come to know the scorn that he suffered.
The former Mayor was never correct when he claimed that the City had no choice but to build Public Housing in violation of the Fair Housing Act, but when the City chose not to fight against that demand in court, it could only end up where he always wanted to go.
A weak, pathetic and frightened city, unable and unwilling to speak up for itself, assert its rights, and stand on principles. A City government that has become so dependent on government handouts itself, that it buckles at the first sign that its "outside funding" is threatened. No character, no principles, no balls.
It is the “disease” that has afflicted this city for many years, and the reason why governments from League City, to Friendswood, to Austin, to D.C. always know that Galveston will do their bidding and accept its role as the Poverty Capital of the State; which relieves them of their own obligations to deal properly with the poor.
It took until his election-night loss for the former Mayor to finally “get it” when he said, “One issue flipped our boat over.” The people finally wanted to live in a city with self-confidence, self-respect, and high self-esteem. They were tired of being the laughing stock of prosperous cites.
The current City Council still has no clue how they destroyed all of that last Friday. They have capsized the City's boat. They think that it is over, and that they “put the issue behind them”, and “moved on”. They are totally mistaken; no one will ever forget what they did to the City. The voters expected and wanted warriors and they got Neville Chamberlin. People are heartbroken. Their hope for the City is destroyed.
If, after this gut-wrenching disappointment, people are still willing to support the lawsuit; it will proceed. Its chances of winning are better than ever, with more documented malfeasance by government and special interest groups over the last three months. It seeks a regional plan similar to Tony Brown’s Plan 2 which has the potential to overturn everything that City Council just inflicted on the City, and change the entire landscape of the City with very few, if any, additional Public Housing units built on the Island, but it clearly cannot fix what’s wrong with City government.
We do not know what motivated people to violate their campaign promises, but their actions were so outrageous that “conspiracy theories” are already circulating filled with speculation about their "real motives". We see no merit in spending any time in this pursuit without solid evidence of conflicts of interest, but we understand the burning need for people to understand why they were betrayed. The talk of recall efforts is also an exercise in futility. If such an effort was successful, how could challengers be found that anyone could trust? Why would anyone believe that they would be any better? The City just went through that exercise in May and June.
It is a very dark day for the City. The hope that 52 years of decline could be halted, and the City could actually begin growing again has been totally obliterated. The prospect that 670 more units of subsidized housing are slated to be dumped on the City will destroy any desire of the middle class to move into neighborhoods that will be littered with scattered sites on top of 971 existing Section 8 units, 450 Public Housing units, 579 Low-Income Tax Credit units, and 192 Project-Based Vouchers (2,192 total existing subsidized units). A struggling school system with 69% economically-disadvantaged students can only get worse. Why will any families with children even consider moving to this city with its dysfunctional government?
We know of two families who have already decided to sell out and move to the Mainland. There will no doubt be more. We are in the process of assessing what people want to do. Early returns say to move forward with the lawsuit. Let us know what you think.
The bottom line is: if the City had fought and lost, most could live with the result; but they never even tried!
No one can live with that!