Link to the Council Meeting-Looking for the Press Conference that followed:
The Sylvester Turner back slapping, self-congratulatory tour continued yesterday at the special meeting of the Houston city council. Before the meeting began, I noticed the presence of Turner’s crooked contractor friends in the audience. And, and of course, Stephen Costello, father of the rain tax, was present. I did not see Karun Sreerama, Sylvester’s former public works director, who was forced out in disgrace after it was revealed that he bribed Houston Community College Trustee Chris Oliver. After snitching on Oliver, Karun is probably persona non grata at these events. This group isn’t really fond of snitches.
In the midst of evacuations and rescues, the meeting began after 9 a.m. Councilmembers Travis and Martin were not present as they tried to help their districts in this tragedy. The true purpose of this meeting was for councilmembers to praise Turner’s handling of Harvey relief efforts. Turner allowed each councilmember to tell stories of Turner’s good works. Turner’s audience was Senator Ted Cruz and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee because Turner wants them to bring home the bacon for the crooked contractors.
Turner called on Police Chief Acevedo and Fire Chief Pena to tell Cruz and Lee about their good works. Both men represent unions who have put in a lot of overtime and the mayor wants federal reimbursement for services rendered.
When I entered the GRB yesterday, I was patted down by some nice officers. I left my knife and .40 at home because I knew that my second amendment rights would be infringed upon entry into this special meeting. I have actually been carrying my 10 mm through most of the storm – for varmints and such.
Turner, et al. treated Senator Cruz like a king (even though they usually think of him as a pariah). The CongressWOMAAAAAAN sat next to Cruz and served as a character witness for Turner and his friends. Then, SheJack hugged Cruz. Hopefully, Cruz sees through this bologna.
Throughout the meeting, there was a lot of lip service about bipartisanship. Cruz, facing reelection next year, is being pressured by SheJack and Turner to deliver on billions in federal funding, which Turner will make certain is doled out to his friends. Very nauseating.
I did not have the opportunity speak with Senator Cruz because Turner whisked him away and out the back very quickly, but I did tell Cruz’s aide, Jessica Hart, that Turner’s charade was a smoke and mirror show.
Stephen Costello entered the room and visited with Tommy Moss, chief of staff for Greg Travis (and previously employed by former councilmember Oliver Pennington, a big Renew Houston aka rain tax supporter). This is the same Costello who went on a road show with Annise Parker to pitch Renew Houston to Houstonians as a project to prevent flooding. Clearly, this is one of the largest frauds perpetrated on any community.
Big Jolly Politics readers know that I spent many years asking for Costello’s city contracts. Costello’s engineering company, Costello Engineering and Surveying, has sought city and county contracts for many years. Costello was elected to city council in 2009 and ran for mayor in 2015. Turner subsequently appointed Costello as the city’s “chief resilience officer.” An appropriate BS title. During the meeting, Turner called on Costello to recite his talking points and praise the public works department (sans Karun) for saving the North Houston water plant.
After the city council meeting, Turner held a lengthy press conference. Meanwhile, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office was recovering the Saldivar family from their van that plunged into Greens Bayou. And active rescues were ongoing throughout the county. But, Turner thought that his pomp and circumstance was more important.
As a valued member of the local press corps (ask David Jennings), I had the opportunity to ask a question about Renew Houston. I asked the mayor what had happened to the $800 million collected under the rain tax. Even though the courts have invalidated the rain tax vote, the city continues to collect this tax. Turner responded that this money was being used for road improvements. Really? If you drive our city streets, you know that can’t be true.
The truth is that rain tax funds were used to pay the salaries of public works employees instead of flood project improvements. The city has never accounted for the rain tax funds. Judson Bryant, president of the Downtown Pachyderm, has been asking for these records for many years.
Federal public corruption investigators should move to Houston for the duration because Turner, et al. will need to be watched very closely. Just a few months ago, Turner’s (former) public works director was wearing a wire and the offices of Dannenbaum Engineering were raided by the FBI.
The answer to all of these concerns is to have the federal government serve as the general contractor. Turner and friends cannot be trusted with the public largesse based on past history.
The Republican congressional delegation needs to form a panel or commission to oversee the implementation of all federal funds. The Democrats will try every way they can to distribute funds to their friends and contributors. Houstonians deserve better.
Ray Nagin, the former mayor of New Orleans, can explain this to everyone. In February 2014, Nagin was convicted on 20 of 21 counts of bribery, fraud, and money laundering in connection with a kickback scheme involving city contractors. Contact Nagin, now federal inmate number 32751-034, at the federal prison in Texarkana.