HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For hours, Houston City Council members tried to make sense of a dizzying presentation of Housing Department budget figures. When it was over, little appeared clear aside from the fact the city's Harvey recovery program is financially troubled.
A week ago, Mayor Sylvester Turner told City Council members he learned new information about the city's Housing and Community Development Department. Turner claimed it would shed new light on why the now-fired Housing director suddenly spoke up about a plan to award millions in subsidies to a Clear Lake apartment complex. Turner suggested Tom McCasland did it to create a "diversion."
On Thursday, that fell to interim Housing Director Keith Bynam and the department's CEO Temika Jones.
The pair explained the Housing Department has overspent on administrative costs every year since 2017 [Mayor Turner's first budget year]. This year the overspending on CDBG Administration approaches $11 million. The gaps are made up with TIRZ funding.
On Harvey-related programs, Jones told the council the over-budget spending is $46.3 million since 2019, including millions in administrative costs.
Bynam and Jones claim they repeatedly discussed it with the then-director, but couldn't be sure McCasland talked about it with the mayor.
Turner said through a spokesperson that McCasland hid that information from the mayor and "as it collapsed around him created a diversion (by questioning the Clear Lake subsidy deal)." Turner, who has claimed to be the CEO of the city and met with the Housing Director every week, now claims he had no idea the Housing Department was tens of millions of dollars over budget on a Harvey recovery program the Mayor frequently discusses.
In a statement on Twitter, McCasland wrote, "Administrative expenses have been kept below 13% per a commitment made by the Department under my watch and briefed multiple times to the Mayor and City Council. In the current year and the prior fiscal year, those expenses are far below 13%. There are no secrets about how the Department is funded."
Jones told the council the Texas General Land Office learned about the over-budget spending on Sept. 17 - four days before McCasland spoke out. Far from being a crisis, however, the GLO tells 13 Investigates it had asked for the information months earlier and didn't see it as an immediate crisis, but something it would work with the city on.
At one point, meeting co-chairs Dave Martin & Tiffany Thomas both brought out information that McCasland's wife worked for a nonprofit helping Harvey victims access charity money to make up the difference between government rebuilding funds and the true cost. The nonprofit, now named Connective, is funded by outside charity dollars. McCasland's wife never received a single dollar from city funds.
Councilmember Thomas, who chairs the council's Housing Committee, announced to the meeting, "It wasn't disclosed... Boom!"
But 13 Investigates has confirmed it was disclosed months ago. In his required annual financial disclosure filed on May 20, 2021, and obtained by 13 Investigates from the City Secretary's office, McCasland wrote, "As disclosed to the Mayor and to the Housing Committee, my wife runs the nonprofit Connective, a supporting organization of the Greater Houston Community Foundation. To avoid both actual conflicts and any appearance of conflicts, no funding provided to the City is paid to Connective either directly or indirectly."
On Twitter McCasland continued, "I have briefed the Mayor, Housing Committee, and every Councilmember via a memorandum regarding the role Elena White, my spouse, played with Connective. I have also disclosed her role in my annual City financial disclosure. As briefed, no City funding has ever gone to Connective."
During the two-and-a-half-hour meeting there were questions but few answers about the deal at the heart of the controversy. The meeting adjourned with promises to reconvene again soon.
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