Open Government Project
A Government Watchdog Group
State of Texas
City of Galveston
Public Interest Groups
by David Stanowski
07 August 2012
The GOGP will continue to work with the new City Council and GHA Board to help them resolve the impasse over Public Housing. We have already shared many documents and a great deal of our research, and will continue to do so. We have even offered to give the City our case preparation in order to defend itself in court, when necessary. We all share the common goal of finding a way for the GHA to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing.
The GOGP has never considered itself an adversary to City government. We attempt to provide much needed oversight of local government, and openly share our research. We consider open, vigorous, and principled discussion and debate about public policy vital to maintaining a Constitutional Republic.
We admire and respect our newly-elected Mayor, and have every reason to believe that he is trying to do what is good for the City, but there will be times when the GOGP must respectfully disagree with him. Our suggestions and/or criticism should never be taken as our dislike of anyone that we are debating.
After the Galveston Delegation returned from Washington, D.C., the Mayor asked for time for his negotiating team to hold their discussions in private. However, the GOGP believes that it is time for him to consider broadening and opening the process.
We feel that a solution that everyone can live with can only be achieved through widespread participation in the process. Our new Mayor ran a campaign that swept the previous regime out of office, in order to create an entirely different Public Housing plan. The people of this city were intimately involved in changing the government that would have to create the new plan, and many are now in a state of shock and denial that they have been so swiftly and thoroughly excluded, because discussion has moved behind closed doors.
The first step in broadening the process is to bring the City’s elected representatives directly into the negotiations in OPEN City Council meetings. The people need to know what is going on, and begin discussing and debating their future. Everyone is still painfully aware of the fact that secret negotiations are what brought us the convoluted and infamous Conciliation Agreement that has angered and crippled this city for more than two years. Secret agreements also often produce take-it-or-leave-it terms, at the very end, with little time to broaden the debate.
Some may view these comments as criticism of the Mayor, but we are simply saying that the public policy debate cannot be put on hold any longer. Some may fear that an open debate will harm the negotiations. Open government is a messy process, but it’s better than the alternative.
In addition, the City cannot possibly cope with another prolonged period of the loss in public confidence in its government, which is why we are asking the Mayor to make the process more inclusive.
The City of Galveston is almost certainly at a critical juncture in its 52-year decline, so it cannot survive another mistake in designing a Public Housing plan. A blunder now could put the City on the slippery slope to a point where it may eventually cease to exist, as we know it. Dumping hundreds of Public Housing units into a city whose rate of poverty actually increased since Hurricane Ike could quickly transform it into a large sandbar with hotels on the beach, beach houses on the west end, and federal and state government "colonies" taking over the core of the current city. Will anyone but those in subsidized housing want to live in these "colonies", or will the remaining government agencies be manned solely by commuters?
Make no mistake about it; HUD is at war with the City of Galveston.
The State made an enormous blunder when it negotiated and executed the Conciliation Agreement, which has now placed it into an adversarial relationship with the City, but HUD is the real enemy. There are other groups that have manipulated HUD into starting this war, and they want to punish this city for some perceived wrong doing such as acting like free and independent people in the face of tyrannical bureaucrats.
So far, this has been a cold war with the escalation and de-escalation of threats and “tensions”, but it could turn into a hot war at any time. The City has three choices in how it prosecutes this war:
1. It can move to a hot war and openly fight HUD.
2. It can negotiate an acceptable peace treaty.
3. It can surrender.
The voters do NOT consider surrender an acceptable option!
When the Mayor and his Delegation were summoned to Washington, HUD gave them the terms of surrender. We certainly do NOT blame the Mayor for these outrageous terms, which should have been no surprise, but there needed to be a strong response to these unlawful demands! HUD obviously saw the new Mayor as much more formidable than the previous regime, so it felt that it needed to escalate its threats.
The fact that the Delegation did not indicate that it was prepared to defend the City by fighting the Conciliation Agreement is very troubling!!
Those who favor surrender began a campaign of fear soon after HUD's opening maneuver. They said that HUD could simply take over the GHA and build everything that they want, but there don’t seem to be any legal grounds to do so; so they might as well use the 82nd Airborne to invade the City. They also reminded us that the City could lose a lot of money, if it doesn't obey HUD's orders.
On the other side, some were ready to move to a hot war the minute that HUD increased their level of threats and demands.
The most persistent and rationale fear is that HUD could cut off all disaster funding. However, the City has both the moral high ground, and a very sound legal position, if it defends itself in federal court from HUD’s tyrannical overreach. The City should simply argue that HUD is trying to force it to violate the Fair Housing Act, and show the court precisely why. Of course, the City could lose that argument, but it’s very unlikely!
But, what if the City lost? Is the judge’s remedy likely to be any worse than HUD’s current demands?
There are cities and counties that have violated the FHA, and rightly lost in court. After a remedy has been ordered, they have successfully resisted implementation for years, and yet this city is fearful of resisting HUD’s UNLAWFUL demands. How pathetic!
Can anyone imagine what would happen if HUD told League City or Friendswood that they had to build hundreds of Public Housing units? Would they try to negotiate a peace treaty, or would they begin by fighting? Would there be decisive unanimity of resistance towards HUD or endless debates and 4-3 votes? Would there be heroic principled stands against these tyrannical forces, or fear of battle? It’s hard to imagine what a city with high self-esteem would do.
Finally, what guarantees does the City have that it will actually get all the money being used to try to force it to surrender? It’s been almost four years since Hurricane Ike, and most of the promised money has failed to appear. Market Street still isn’t paved; how about your street? The federal government is broke, so promised appropriations can easily “fail to materialize”. That would be the ultimate Catastrophe. Surrender, and still not receive the promised money!
Why is there no fear of this happening? This would be a truly cataclysmic event!
How much is the City’s sovereignty worth? Can a price be put on it? What is an acceptable payment to finally become a dependent federal colony?
The Mayor has appointed negotiators to work on a peace treaty. But, the City’s only real bargaining chip is its willingness to fight HUD in court; to make them tell a federal judge, in effect, that they want to punish the City for refusing to violate the Fair Housing Act. That is where the GOGP has tried to provide the most support; the research to successfully make the Fair Housing argument showing the GLO and HUD that the City would most likely win this legal battle.
McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS):
Some believe that HUD’s tyrannical treatment of the City is due to the influence of MBS. MBS does not want to lose the honey pot that will be theirs by saddling the City with mixed-income development, but the real reason may be found by knowing why the City of Galveston was chosen to be the MBS honey pot. MBS could make a pile of money building somewhere else, or using a regional plan for Galveston County, so why was this city selected?
The answer seems to be that MBS saw this city as an easy mark, a push over. City government has a long history of weakness in the face of federal largess, so even if the people finally rebelled, as they did in 2011-2012, MBS was betting that their City government would NOT back them up. A dependent city is a weak city. The last thing that MBS thinks this city will do is fight. They were certainly correct about the last two City Councils.
Everyone agrees that the recent election was a referendum on Public Housing. It seemed to set forth three clear principles for the City’s new Public Housing policy:
1. No ADDITIONAL Public Housing in the City. (There are currently 450 units in operation and hundreds of Section 8 vouchers being used in the City)
2. Selling the Oleander, Cedar Terrace and Magnolia sites.
3. Fighting the Conciliation Agreement, if necessary.
The voters expect the City Council to stand by these principles.
The most recent analysis of the fair housing data, in Galveston County, makes a compelling case that no additional Public Housing could be built ANYWHERE in the City of Galveston without violating the Fair Housing Act. However, any discussion of building, in this city, must certainly be confined to census tracts 7255, 7257, 7260 and 7261, because they are the only neighborhoods with less than 10% poverty. The Oleander, Cedar Terrace and Magnolia footprints certainly do NOT qualify.
Fair Housing Review
Are 7260 and 7261 still off the table, because of local "political deals"? Will a judge view such deals as fair housing violations? Let’s see; affluent White people don’t want Public Housing in their neighborhoods? Sounds like a Fair Housing violation!
West End Housing Projects
Galveston Census Tract maps
The Expectation Game:
Remember that the Daily News refused to keep the identity of the GHA Whistleblowers secret, because they claimed that they never use anonymous sources, and yet their recent issues have been full of anonymous leaks about the terms of the peace treaty!
Leaking these proposals is all part of a grand scheme to manipulate public expectations. If people are bombarded with draconian terms long enough, the leakers hope that most will accept anything better than what they've already seen as “the best that they can get”. Beware of any plan referred to in this way. Public expectations need to remain solidly rooted on the three principles listed above no matter how intense the campaign to lower them.
The GOGP Lawsuit:
Only a day or two after the Galveston Delegation’s return from Washington, some of our supporters read the surrender terms given to the City as the signal to move forward with our Fair-Housing lawsuit, because, as they saw it, nothing good could come from unconditional surrender. We agree, surrender is NOT the answer. It is usually better to fight and lose than to surrender! However, we cautioned patience even as we supported and assisted the negotiation process where we could, but we also began to update the lawsuit.
We strongly doubt that an acceptable peace treaty can be negotiated, because the leaks that have been published, so far, clearly show that Texas Appleseed and TXLIHIS have no concern for the requirements of the Fair Housing Act due to their demands on the GLO to put hundreds of additional units in this city. Unfortunately, this also makes it clear that the GLO is continuing its role as a real-estate developer, with no concern for the requirements of the Fair Housing Act, either. If this does not change, this process will not end well.
It is the hope of the GOGP that the Mayor and his team will allow us to assist them in vigorously arguing to the City’s adversaries that any proposed peace treaty MUST Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. If such a treaty cannot be crafted, the GOGP stands ready to assist the City in making the Fair Housing argument to a federal judge.
If the City fails on both counts, the GOGP is prepared to file.