Dolcefino Consulting

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uptownbusMETRO has put out new ridership projections for the proposed $200 million bus project. It proved Uptown had grossly exaggerated ridership when they sold the real estate deal to Houston City Council, but the Houston Chronicle headline still read, ‘Why it doesn’t matter.’

The basic gist was that taxpayers should follow the logic once espoused by gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams. Just relax and enjoy it.

Well, here at Dolcefino Consulting we kinda think facts do matter. And our new Chicago style Houston City Hall just hates when someone actually reads the fine print. But we did…

The new METRO numbers analyze ridership today so they can forecast what will happen in 2018.

What should be really alarming is that even METRO now admits 40% fewer suburban commuters will take buses from Park and Ride lots to transit centers near Uptown than was originally claimed. Look at the documents on saveuptown.com. Forty percent. Wasn’t that the whole point of this transit boondoggle?

Commuters would drive to a Park and Ride lot, take a bus to a transit center, then get off that bus and on to a second bus to then go to Uptown, then get off that bus and walk to their office buildings in rain or 100 degree weather. Yes, I know it is not logical, but that’s the plan.

So why does METRO say the ridership projections are only down 15%…not 40%? In that fine print you will see they claim ridership from two neighborhood bus stations virtually doubled in the last two years. Riders getting on the bus at Hollyhurst grew from 800 to 1650. West Alabama from 500 to 900 riders. That’s a transit miracle. Aren’t you surprised there isn’t a METRO News Release touting this sudden huge surge of bus riders in the middle of the city?

The Chronicle has called this project a waste of money before and City Hall didn’t listen. We have invested and think this is a smelly real estate deal disguised as a transit project that we have proven will make some of the folks pushing the deal millions of dollars.

Maybe in Chicago that’s the way it works…but not here.

Taxpayers are smart. It does matter.

The city of Houston wasted millions of your tax dollars buying empty lots that are still empty six years later.

That is the latest headline in an ongoing investigation by investigative communications firm Dolcefino Consulting.

Here is the trail.

One third of money collected in some neighborhood TIRZ piggy banks must be given back to the city of Houston for affordable housing. Since 2009, that’s more than $70 million.

We have already discovered the City Housing and Community Development Department gave City Council false information on the way the money was spent.

And the truth isn’t pretty.

In 2009, Houston City Council voted to spend $8 million in TIRZ 2409 funds on the LARA program.

That’s the City Hall idea of buying empty lots at auction or that no one else wanted and then get some developer to build houses on them. It represents more than 10% of all the TIRZ money spent on affordable housing.

Flash forward to September 2015. Records reviewed by Dolcefino Consulting reveal more than 90% of those empty lots are still empty today. Of more than 270 empty lots bought with this money, only five have actually been sold, another 10 in some stage of development. Two others have been turned into urban gardens.

Does that count as affordable housing?

The city hasn’t ever audited Fund 2409, but it is increasingly clear someone should.

The truth is getting uglier by the day. The question is how long will City Hall allow TIRZ money to be thrown away or blatantly misspent to benefit folks with blatant conflicts of interest?

Houston…we have a problem!

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All of a sudden Bill King says he has questions about the HERO bathroom ordinance. He told a GOP blog he doesn’t understand why the Houston ordinance is longer than other cities. What a bold question!

Since we know Mr. King is a lawyer from his work as a tax collector and lawyer for HISD, we have a question too!

Have you read the ordinance? If you had, you would have known how to vote a long time ago!

Even two weeks ago Bill King said he would abstain on the HERO vote. There is no confusion. Ben Hall was against HERO from the beginning, calling it a sloppily written law that was a danger to women. He is the only mayoral candidate who took a stance regardless of the politics.

We don’t know what Bill King’s position is today, but the week isn’t over. We don’t know if Mr. King was this wishy-
washy when he was mayor of Kemah, but Houston deserves bold decisive leadership, not a guy who makes decisions based on which way the political winds are blowing.

The Houston Housing Department gave false information to members of Houston City Council about the use of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) money for affordable housing. An investigation by Dolcefino Consulting has uncovered huge mistakes involving the reporting of the use of millions of tax dollars.

The other big headline. Eleven million dollars dedicated to affordable housing projects over six years with TIRZ money was never spent, and shoddy accounting for the surplus was simply ignored…for years.

Here is the history. Several Tax Increment Investment Zones created by our politicians had to promise to give back a third of their tax windfall to affordable housing. It is called TIRZ Fund 2409.

Since 2009, $70 million has been put into Fund 2409. The biggest contributor to the fund is the Uptown TIRZ. They have contributed $37,703,866. That’s just 30% of their leftover piggy bank. That tells you just how much tax money is now bottled up in Uptown.

Dolcefino Consulting started tracking Fund 2409 when we saw the payments in Uptown financial records while we were investigating that real estate deal disguised as a $200 million transit project. Uptown told us they didn’t have a clue how the money was spent, and we figured for $70 million we should have affordable housing units popping up all over town.

What we have learned is that the City of Houston has a $70 million fund that has NEVER been audited by the City Controller, and the Housing Department didn’t even know for sure what projects they had even spent it on. The original summary provided to the City Council Housing Committee was to be kind…full of huge mistakes on where the money went.

Here’s an example. City Council was told that in 2009 only $54,000 was spent on LARA, another city project that bought mostly empty lots at auction or lots no one else wanted. The 2009 documents claimed $1.2 million of TIRZ funds were spent on a project called Uplift Fourth Ward. After Dolcefino Consulting investigated the files and raised questions, housing realized their numbers weren’t worth the paper they were written on.

The new documents provided to Dolcefino Consulting show in fact $8 million of TIRZ affordable housing money was not spent on new houses, but buying empty lots, in many cases, lots no one else wanted to buy.

And that Fourth Ward project. Uptown now admits it didn’t get $1.2 million, but just $400 dollars. That’s a pretty big difference don’t you think?

“It is stunning that this housing piggy bank has never been broken open and independently looked at,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “This is a city in deep financial trouble, with lots of folks who desperately need affordable housing. We need to know what the heck this money was spent on… to the penny, and what we got out of this deal.”

Assuming the new set of records are actually correct, and who knows, we do know a couple of things.

Remember when the federal government told the City they had problems with the way millions in federal housing fund were spent? The bureaucrats call it “findings.” Taxpayers call it what it really is. Thirteen million of the TIRZ funds were spent subsidizing the projects where the feds cried foul.

Other projects never happened…yet Housing just stopped keeping track of the projects on documents provided to City Council. And the documents raise even more questions.

If this is affordable housing money why do the documents say $592,000 was set aside for paving in Settegast, a Public Works Project. The money wasn’t spent in 2010, and the project disappears from the documents. Is that money part of the surplus Dolcefino Consulting helped uncover, or was it used for paving. No disrespect to the need for paving but that doesn’t get someone a place to live anyway.

You get the point.

Supporting documents below:

Housing NEW

Housing OLD

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Bill King says he wants to give some neighborhoods tax money to do whatever they want with it. That is a misguided idea.

The Chicago style neighborhood bosses we already have would just love such a fund to manage. That is the kind of logic that is letting a couple of un-elected bureaucrats in Uptown try to spend $200 million on a bus boondoggle.

The last thing we need to do is line the pockets of a select few. That’s not back to basics. That’s like throwing salt in
the open fiscal wound at Houston City Hall.

We have allowed more than $500 million to sit in the bank accounts of a couple of politically protected neighborhoods. That is money that could fix our streets, provide more police, and address flooding.

“We don’t need neighborhood slush funds. We don’t need higher taxes. And we don’t need to adopt Chicago-style neighborhood bosses,” says Ben Hall. “Everyone benefits if we move the entire city forward together, not financially divide the city as suggested by Mr. King. We can do better!”

In 2013, the managing partner of the tax collection firm Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson signed a government document claiming the law firm of Barnes and Turner was one of several minority firms getting a piece of a lucrative $8 million HISD contract.

In 2014, an audit showed Linebarger had inflated reported payments to the Turner law firm to his. Sylvester Turner refused to comment when the Houston Chronicle asked him about it. The audit raised real questions about whether the minority community had been cheated out of their promised share of the Linebarger contract.

In May of 2015, records released by HISD show the Barnes and Turner law firm had been paid $370,000. Those records are available for review on dolcefino.com.

Sylvester Turner now is talking, and says all those reports by Linebarger are lies, okay.

If Linebarger lied about their dealings with the Barnes and Turner law firm, why is Sylvester Turner still cashing $10,000 payments every month?

If the HISD records are bogus, what minority firms are getting 25% of the Linebarger HISD contract? If the minority community is being cheated, why has Sylvester remained silent?

Sylvester Turner has benefited from government contracts while in the state legislature, plain and simple. Take Linebarger, a law firm that makes a living suing Houstonians who can’t pay their taxes. What exactly did Sylvester Turners law firm do for the money? Whose home did they help take?

“People are just sick and tired of these career politicians cashing in on public service,” says mayoral candidate Ben Hall. “I have promised Houstonians this nonsense will stop on day one if I am honored with the mayor’s office.”

That is why Ben Hall is once again tonight calling on Sylvester Turner to tell Houstonians what other government agencies have paid his law firm or his title company. What other government contracts does he benefits from?

Maybe it is just a coincidence that Sylvester Turner has made a great living off government contracts and taxpayers money. Maybe it’s not.

Stay tuned.

uptownbusA new report from Metro proves Uptown exaggerated the numbers of potential riders it claimed it would have for that $200 million project that tears up Post Oak for two unneeded exclusive bus lanes.

The report also provides staggering evidence the project is not what was sold to Houston City Council.

Uptown claimed the buses would run every five minutes. The new Metro report has the buses travelling to stops up to 12 minutes apart. Imagine Uptown workers wearing a suit in 100 degree Houston summer waiting in that heat. All so they could take two buses to a Park and Ride Lot and then get back in rush hour traffic in Katy to go home.

Uptown claimed travel times for this bus adventure that we now know will be 12 minutes longer than they claimed.

Uptown claimed trips from Park and Ride buses that no longer exist. Metro now says there will be 20% fewer buses stopped at the Park and Ride lots for the first trip to the transit centers.

Uptown is now telling Metro they do not have the money to build the parking spaces they originally promised at the proposed Bellaire Uptown Transit Center. The original Uptown plan said 700 parking spaces at just one center, now there are plans for only 100. That will make it virtually impossible for a commuter to drive to a transit center for just one bus ride into Uptown. But of course, that is logical and this is a government project.

Metro still predicts there will be 12,050 boardings by 2018, even without any work to alleviate congestion on the freeways going into Uptown. So let’s accept that magical number for the sake of entertainment. In human speak that means 6,000 people will be taking the bus…ALL DAY LONG.

You want further proof that the Metro ridership model is just WRONG?

Metro’s ridership model forecast is for 14,600 boardings per day by 2018, with the added benefit of that elevated bus flyover over the freeway. Just one problem, Metro knows that flyover won’t exist in 2018.

That tells you all you need to know.

“This just confirms what we have been saying from the start”, says Jim Scarborough of the Post Oak Business and Property Owners. “Even Metro can see there is no longer any need to tear up a beautiful street and destroy the sales tax base of an entire city. This is a real estate deal and it is time for the people who misled City Hall and Uptown property owners to quit. We will not stop until they do.”

Representatives of the Post Oak Property Owners are available for media interviews.

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Ben Hall has said it bluntly.

Sylvester Turner betrayed the African-American community when he flip flopped on the 2012 Bond Election. He was against it before he was for it, and he did not get guarantees to protect historically important schools.

It is time for Sylvester Turner to disclose all his ties to HISD.

Sylvester Turner’s law firm is a tax collector for HISD. Since April 2011, the Barnes and Turner firm has been paid $370,000 in taxpayer money as part of a contract with Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson, a firm often accused of hiring politicians to seek government contracts.

When asked, HISD says it has no records of a single lawsuit filed by the Barnes and Turner law firm, but that is why it is time for Sylvester Turner to answer the questions.

What was he promised in 2012 to gain his support? Are there any other payments, direct or otherwise, that the Turner companies have received through HISD? It is time to disclose?

Ben Hall is not a career politician. He is an independent businessman who wants to level the playing field. Let us end the political games that put special interests over the interests of all Houstonians.

That is the way to move Houston forward.

Dolcefino Consulting seeking documents letter

HISD provided documents

Whether you are on the tear it down crowd or the turn it into an indoor park crowd, I bet you agree the public has every right to know how much of our tax money is going to be part of the Astrodome deal.

So why are public officials trying to keep the negotiations secret?

What are we missing? Don’t you own the place?

Dolcefino Consulting has learned that as much as $30 million in city tax money may be used to help fund an Astrodome deal, part of some kind of trade of assets between the Houston First Corporation and the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, who will then use the money to renovate the Dome.

For those losing track of the growing number of corporations set up by Houston City Hall and Harris County Commissioners to spend our money, here is a scorecard.

Houston First is a government corporation set up by Houston City Hall to run the convention center/theatres and spend hotel tax money.

The Harris County Sports Corporation is a government corporation created by Harris County and runs NRG Park, home of the Dome.

In recent days, both agencies have refused to give up e-mails between Sports Corporation President Edgardo E. Colon and Houston First Chairman Ricard Campo. The Sports Corporation first had an outside law firm tell us we would get the e-mails from Houston First. Then Houston First withheld the Dome dealings, and days later the Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan declared every e-mail between the two public officials were some big secret. We would expect nothing less from the distinguished County Attorney, who fights every request Dolcefino Consulting makes.

Houston First isn’t a bastion of total open government either. Dolcefino Consulting filed a criminal complaint this week alleging Campo and others met in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, another one of those silly transparency laws.

“It is time for the Mayor and County Judge to come clean so the public knows what this deal will cost” says Wayne Dolcefino of Dolcefino Consulting. “Not after the deal is done, but before. Maybe it is a smart investment? Maybe the county corporation will eventually repay the city corporation from all the money they make. What is with all the secrecy? These are two government agencies who work for us.”

Just think, a renovated Dome may spur on all kinds of development around the Astrodome, which may be exactly what some of the players are betting on.

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