First, I want to assure the citizens of Galveston that the city is doing everything possible to comply with the Texas General Land Office requirements on the replacement of public housing in Galveston, to avoid cancellation and repayment of federal disaster recovery funds.
It is time for Galveston to move forward. It is time to stop the saber-rattling and deal with the realities of public housing in Galveston.
When I ran for mayor, I said I felt vouchers were the best way to further fair housing. I still believe that. I also said the best way to correct the flaws in the Conciliation Agreement was to get it in front of an impartial arbitrator, such as a federal judge. I still feel that way.
But I have learned after scores of hours of negotiations in Galveston, Austin and Washington, D.C., that Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson will not let that happen. The conciliation agreement is a contract that was forced down our throats with no input from our citizens at a time when we were still reeling from Hurricane Ike’s devastation.
Commissioner Patterson said it clearly in his guest column in The Daily News on April 11: “While I may agree the Conciliation Agreement entered into by other state agencies than the GLO and the housing advocates without objection from a past mayor and a past city council may not be ideal, the agreement cannot be renegotiated.”
That “take-it-or-leave it” attitude is really at the heart of the matter, and Commissioner Patterson’s guest column lays it out for all to see. No, the GLO will not negotiate.
Yes, the city could put up roadblocks. Yes, the city could sue in federal court. But I am convinced the end result would be the withholding of an enormous amount of federal funds.
I ran on a pro-business platform. If Commissioner Patterson follows through with his threats, he would bankrupt the city of Galveston.
And yes, some people feel the city could win that battle — but the city would lose the war. You see, good governance is not about winning. Good governance is about finding solutions, about getting all parties to agree on the best outcome. Just look to Washington, D.C., to see what happens to governance when winning becomes the goal.
Although the city does not agree with the conciliation agreement, we are not trying to renegotiate it, as Commissioner Patterson believes. Galveston has met every deadline and demand, with the promise that if we did so our disaster funds would be released.
The city has not dragged our feet; the GLO has. They have created a series of constantly changing deadlines and requirements that we have tried to meet at every step. Their behavior does not meet the expectations we have of public servants, whose salaries you pay with tax dollars.
Operating independently of the city, I believe the Galveston Housing Authority Board has done an excellent job of working with all parties involved.
The Galveston Housing Authority is very close to solutions to which all parties can agree. But the General Land Office has now frozen disaster recovery funds for all of Galveston. This is mixing apples and oranges, the legitimate needs of the recovery effort and the delicate negotiations over reconstruction of public housing.
Replacement of the sewage and water treatment plants are city infrastructure projects, for example, and should not be tied to implementation of public housing that only meets Commissioner Patterson’s terms.
In most legal situations, there is a range between acquittal and the death penalty. In this case, the GLO has gone straight from accusation to a death penalty for Galveston without giving us the benefit of a judge, jury or even an opening statement!
If we object to any element of their plan, they will cut off millions of badly needed recovery dollars. If the Galveston Housing Authority seeks relatively minor amendments to a housing plan Commissioner Patterson admits “may not be ideal,” the GLO cuts off funds to other city projects unrelated to public housing.
Commissioner Patterson’s increasing threats to penalize all Galveston citizens are not constructive. Rather than attempt to resolve what are minor issues, he has threatened Galveston with a financial “death penalty.”
Commissioner Patterson’s personal attack on me, claiming that I made campaign promises I could not keep, indicates the GLO may be more interested in dabbling in our local politics than negotiating sound and reasonable solutions. Galvestonians elected me because of my pro-business platform. You would think public servants at every level of government would have the same responsibility to do what’s right for a community wracked by a hurricane. Apparently the GLO and Commissioner Patterson are not concerned about the health and well-being of our citizens.
As anyone on the streets last week could see, we are anticipating a banner year for Galveston. Tourism is booming, the port is busy, UTMB is growing. Let’s not keep wasting energy and resources fighting over issues that should have been put to rest long ago. Let’s focus on the future. Let’s focus on rebuilding Galveston. The GLO should be standing with us in that effort, not against us.
As always, there’s nothing secret about my phone number, 409-797-3510 or my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Although you are certainly free to write letters to the newspaper or comment on the various blogs, if you really want to have meaningful input, if you really want to make a difference, contact me. I am your public servant.