HOUSTON – At City Hall, not a peep, not a word at the weekly meeting Council regarding the “elephant in the room” – Tuesday’s sudden firing of Housing Director Tom McCasland after his very public allegation of “bid-rigging” aimed at Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
For his part, the Mayor claims there’s nothing shady about his unilateral decision to leapfrog a $15 million low-income Harvey housing project in Clear Lake ahead of several other developments deemed far more deserving by McCasland.
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“There’s no fraud. There’s no illegality. There’s nothing wrong here,” said Turner.
Turner says City Council District E hasn’t received an affordable housing project in six years and his decision to green-light the now controversial proposal remedies a lingering inequity. The Mayor also downplayed the revelation that his former law partner Barry Barnes stands to profit from the Clear Lake deal.
“There’s no reason he should excuse himself. There’s no reason. There is no conflict,” said Turner.
McCasland’s whistleblowing has triggered an investigation by the Texas General Land Office, which has oversight of the Harvey relief money funding the project.
Speaking to FOX 26, District E Councilman and Mayor Pro tem, Dave Martin insists the process was transparent and no wrongdoing will be found.
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“Does it warrant? Bring on the investigation. You can have my text messages, my e-mails, and everything. I know the developer, I know this project. It makes a lot of sense for this area,” said Martin.
Rice political analyst Mark Jones says McCasland’s outcry exposed a critical bottom-line – by choosing the Clear Lake project benefitting his one-time partner, Turner rejected developments that would have delivered four times the number of affordable housing units elsewhere in the City.
“Oh, this looks bad for the Mayor. The reality is we have a courageous whistleblower who finally decided enough is enough. During his tenure, he’s had to do some things he’s been uncomfortable with. I think what’s clear is, this crossed the line for him and he was simply unwilling to go any further,” said Jones.
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FOX 26 sought and received a comment from Houston’s financial watchdog City Controller Chris Brown:
“This week’s revelations underscore an ongoing pattern of concerning procurement processes and a continued lack of transparency at City Hall. In the past several months alone, our office has been denied procurement documents required to conduct an audit of the Strategic Procurement Department and were told to stop all work on a financial transparency project that would bring much-needed insight into the city’s spending practices. Taxpayers deserve a city government that is transparent and above reproach. Unfortunately, recent events suggest that the city is falling short of that goal.”