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Too Clever by Half!
by David Stanowski
25 January 2010

Tarris Woods rode into office with a mission to create a Civilian Review Board for the Galveston Police Department. The police are a paramilitary organization, and one of the founding principles of this country was civilian control of the military, so this was a reasonable thing to do. Councilman Woods represented the wishes of the Black community who often think that they don’t get a fair shake from the police. Two leaders of local Black organizations were even appointed to the CRB. Due to the cost and time involved in providing the special training required, each appointee agreed to make a two-year commitment to this Board.

Councilman Woods began his term in office by accomplishing something that was important to the Black community, and he should be commended for getting it done!

So far, so good.

Fast forward.

As the summer of 2009 wore on, the citizens of Galveston became more and more outraged by the Galveston Housing Authority's plans to rebuild the four housing projects north of Broadway. Research performed by the newly-formed Galveston Open Government Project eventually uncovered the fact that restricting the locations used to house members of minority groups, in public housing, is not just repugnant, it is actually a form of illegal segregation. The GHA has been isolating its minority residents in this way for many years, but since no one had fought it, successfully; they just kept doing it. However, when their rebuilding plans sought to continue this practice, the GOGP came forward to protest.

Four big public housing projects create a significant flow of funds into Galveston. As is the case in many cities, certain well-connected people, as well as the staff of the public housing authority, rely on this source of funds for their livelihood. The dilemma for this local "Poverty Industry" is that abiding by federal regulations against segregation in public housing would divert that cash flow to cities on the Mainland.

City Council does not seem to want to deal with the uproar that will surely ensue if they follow the directives of the latest court rulings, because it would cut off these funds to the Poverty Industry, so they refused to put it on the agenda. However, the Planning Commission threw Council a curve when they agreed to hear public comment on the need to move to a countywide public housing plan, because it was possible that the PC might reject the plan to rebuild on the Island, which would derail the gravy train.

Councilman Woods questioned the Planning Commission's authority to consider any alternatives to the GHA plan, and along with Mayor Thomas, he called for an emergency session to appoint a new member to the PC.

Nothing must be allowed to interfere with the GHA rebuilding plans!

Let’s think about this.

If the GOGP is forced to file an Administrative Complaint with HUD, and the Department of Justice, the main argument will be that certain people, in the City of Galveston, are using their power and influence to get public housing rebuilt in the City even though it will create illegal segregation, because they will be unable to benefit from public housing , if a countywide plan directs the housing and money to other cities. If investigators eventually question these people, they are likely to claim that they were merely supporting the recommendations of the “professionals” at GHA, and they played no active role in pushing the rebuilding plan.

However, at their last meeting, four Councilmembers outraged the City by replacing a member of the PC with a member of the CRB who is one of the leading proponents of the GHA rebuilding plan! A member of the CRB who cannot be replaced for several weeks due to the special training that is necessary to install a new member.

Why was this so important to Councilman Woods that he would weaken the Board of his pet project? Why did he want this particular individual on the PC? Surely other supporters of the rebuilding plan were available. Why should an individual who failed to keep his two-year commitment be allowed to serve on another board? By taking this action, hasn’t Councilman Woods weakened his commitment to the entire Black community to provide oversight of GPD in favor of the few who want the projects rebuilt at any cost to the City?

It appears as though the Gang of 4 believes that if they ram through the GHA rebuilding plan before support for a countywide public housing plan has gained sufficient momentum, or federal agencies intervene to order such a plan, the GHA plan will have to be accepted, because the money will have been committed, and it will be too late to turn back.

But don’t recent events make it clear that segregation in this city is not due to a passive benign neglect, but rather an orchestrated effort?  

Shouldn’t the actions of these four Councilmembers to push through the GHA plan before federal agencies have a chance to properly question whether it will create illegal segregation make it much easier to convince the DOJ that the GHA plan must be stopped before it is allowed to recreate a highly-segregated environment in this city?

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