The Houston-Galveston Area Council Board of Directors today voted to negotiate with BBC Research & Consulting of Denver for consulting services to support the fair housing portion of the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant; and to approve several contracts with firms for case studies in the various communities involved in the project.
Before the votes, several residents of the region spoke in opposition to the project. Listen
“I’m not standing up here as Chicken Little, running around here hollering ‘the sky is falling’,” said John Bentley. “Agenda 21 is not a theory; sustainable development is not a theory. These are facts.”
Gareth Morgans from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee’s office addressed the board.
“Unfortunately the congresswoman could not make it here today, but she sends her thanks for your work in the broader community,” Morgans said. “The congresswoman is interested in several items on the agenda regarding federal funding and will be submitting an extensive letter to your organization in the future.”
Director of Community and Environmental Planning Jeff Taebel reported that staff had ranked three firms for negotiations, with BBC at the top, followed by the Center for Housing & Urban Development at Texas A&M University and DC Planning Consultants & Associates, Inc. Listen
Following Taebel’s presentation, Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, commented on the controversy over the sustainability issue and chastised those members who did not attend the meeting.
“I am very disappointed and concerned that we have a large group of people who I think have devoted a lot of time to try to understand what our mission is here and what our agenda is,” said Judge Bilski. “All of us who participate in local government know how much work it is. It takes you away from your families, it takes you away from your aging parents; but you do it because it’s really a ministry in its own way.”
Bilski talked about the importance of planning by government officials throughout the years, which has resulted in provisions for women, fair housing, and people with disabilities and other special needs; and she was critical of the members of the board who were not in attendance.
“I remember when we used to have to bring in chairs,” she said. “I see board members not even coming anymore because they don’t want to be part of this controversy. They are afraid of the election consequences and that’s not fair to those of us who are here and have gotten up at 5:30 in the morning to get here.”
“Judge, with all due respect, we’ve asked for an up or down vote (on sustainable development) and it’s been denied by Mr. Steele and Ms. Martin,” said Brazoria County Commissioner Stacy Adams, referring to a request by Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark at the previous meeting.
Adams made a motion to change the ranking to put the Center for Housing and Urban Development at the top of the list. The motion failed by a voice vote.
A second voice vote, to adopt the ranking proposed by H-GAC staff, was approved.
(Editor’s note: There is no record of this vote or any of the other voice votes on items dealing with the sustainability issue, despite a loud vocal appeal from the audience and a request for a division of the vote by Guidry News Service. H-GAC Chair Manvel Mayor Delores Martin first agreed to a roll call vote; but then moved on to the next item on the agenda without a record vote.)
The board voted to approve case studies for the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant, but removed, for further study by H-GAC staff, a $200,000 consultant contract with Freese and Nichols for the Harris County study on a motion by Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman. This also was approved by a voice vote.
All other agenda items were approved with unanimous votes. Agenda
Colorado County Judge Judge Ty Prause, Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald, Montgomery County Commissioner Craig Doyal, Walker County Commissioner B.J. Gaines, Jr., Friendswood Council member Jim Hill, Galveston Council Member Marie Robb, Huntsville Mayor Mac Woodward, La Porte Council Member Chuck Engelken, Jr., Lake Jackson Mayor Joe Rinehart, Texas City Commissioner Dee Ann Haney and Meadows Place Alderman Terry Henley were absent and not represented by alternate members.
Waller County Commissioner Frank Pokluda was absent but was represented by Commissioner Stan Kitzman, his alternate; Deer Park Council Member Thane Harrison was represented by Council Member Beckie Stockstill-Cobb and Houston Mayor Annise Parker was represented by Council Member Ellen Cohen.