HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner defended his record as a public servant during Wednesday’s city council meeting amid allegations of favoritism and implications of corruption by the city’s now former housing and community development director.
“What I will say is that I’ve been in this business for over 30 years, over 30 years, and I think I have an impeccable record of integrity and how I conduct business,” Turner said.
Mayor Turner’s defense was in response to an inquiry raised by City Councilor Michael Kubosh, position three at-large. Councilman Kubosh requested information for review in anticipation of a meeting Thursday, during which the city council’s housing committee is scheduled to review the financial records of the Department of Houston and Community Development.
“(McCasland) talked about there being a culture of corruption. You read the summary and it was pretty brutal and I wanted to see any type of verification,” Councilman Kubosh said.
Thursday’s scheduled meeting follows claims raised by the now former director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, Tom McCasland.
McCasland, on Sept. 21, alleged the Turner administration was “bankrolling” a developer he claimed was associated with Mayor Turner, at the expense of families who need affordable housing. The allegations surrounded Mayor Turner’s selection of MGroup as the developer of a proposed multi-million dollar senior living facility in Clear Lake. At the time, McCasland said Mayor Turner selected MGroup, over other developers whose proposal would have generated more units for low income families.
“This administration has been bankrolling a certain developer to the detriment of working families who need affordable homes,” McCasland said at the committee meeting.
McCasland was fired from his post after making those claims, a move Mayor Turner said was strictly performance based.
“Now, I welcome anybody’s review but I know in my own experience people can throw out a whole lot of stuff but that doesn’t make it true,” Turner said.
However, since McCasland made the allegations multiple inquiries into how the City of Houston conducts business have been made, including a letter addressed to the city from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
“The DA asked through an informal request for all city policies and procedures related to procurement and letting for contracts,” said communications director Mary Benton, in a statement to KPRC2 on Tuesday.
While he questioned the selection process, McCasland did not allege any fraudulent activity on part of the Turner administration. Mayor Turner acknowledged that during Wednesday’s city council hearing, adding that it speaks to a lack of any wrongdoing.
“If somebody tells you, if the former director says that there is nothing illegal, nothing elicit, nothing fraudulent, and the decision that the mayor made was within his discretion to make, there is no procurement. Let’s be very clear, this is not a procurement issue. There was no bidding, okay? And what was done was consistent with what we’ve done with the past 36 other projects on multi-family development,” Turner said.
Turner then defended his record, saying he divested any finances from two law firm for which he worked before being elected mayor.
“When you look at the amount of business that my former title company and bear in mind when I came to this job before I took office I divested myself of all of my businesses. I don’t have any interest in any law firm or title business,” Turner said.
Wednesday’s exchange, before the city council addressed agenda matters, preceded a meeting scheduled Thursday by the council’s housing committee.
“It’s not an indictment on anyone whether that be Tom McCasland or anyone,” assured Mayor Pro-Tem Dave Martin.
“It’s an opportunity for us to look at the financial information that is presently available, where we are with housing today, more importantly, what are some corrective actions we need to take to move forward to make sure we have our VR17 funds as well as our CDBG funds in order and just to educate council on some of the issues related to the Houston housing department,” Martin continued.