Emails: City knew of Walmart plan months ago

HOUSTON The much debated Heights Walmart is a done deal, but those emails show what was really going on.

When the controversial Walmart development first surfaced in July, we immediately asked for emails between the city and the developers. But the city tied up our request in red tape, only releasing the emails until after the agreement already was signed last week. And looking through them, it's clear the city knew this could be a public relations nightmare.

For people who have fought the Walmart development since it became public, the emails just added to the anger. Eileen Crowley Reed didn't like what we showed her.

"I'm frankly shocked and amazed," Reed said.

In the hundreds of pages released to Eyewitness News, it was clear that the city's Chief Development Officer Andy Icken, and his deputy, Tim Douglass, were the major forces behind the project. On June 11, Douglass is told by Ainbinder, the developers, it will be a Walmart, and he emails, "Think that will be a problem?"

"On the emails, it says Walmart was clearly in the picture as early as June; the community certainly wasn't informed about it at that time," Reed said.

In fact, community members were in the dark until early July, when the media learned about the plan in discussing the proposed 380 agreement with the developer that must get City Council approval.

Douglass tells Icken, "Frankly, it's a little too late to try and 'sneak' this through council. The cat is out of the bag."

A week later, in an effort to shore up City Council support, Douglass says Council Member Ed Gonzalez is a "little squishy" and "needs a little hand-holding from MAP (Mayor Annise Parker)," and that "he wants some credit for taking the heat..." from the public.

Gonzalez was a little surprised when we showed him the emails.

"Why they are they interpreting it that way, or if someone is, then I'm disappointed about that," Gonzalez said.

"You don't think you need hand holding?" we asked him.

"Absolutely not, absolutely not," he replied.

And he wasn't alone.

"I don't think our council member needs hand holding, and I certainly have never found him squishy," Reed said.

When we showed the emails to Parker, she admits some of the words were not politically savvy, but she supports the work of her staff.

"Andy Icken is the Chief Development Officer for the city of Houston and Tim Douglass works for him," Parker said. "Andy's job is to initiate and promote new development and growth in the city of Houston, so he should be proactive."

Mayor Parker also says she's glad that her staffers were aware that Walmart could be a hot button issue and points out that at least two town hall meetings were held specifically to address residents' concerns.

Emails regarding Walmart:
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