“The residents of Houston deserve to have the many questions about this project answered,” wrote Travis in a letter addressed to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Last month, Housing and Community Development Director Tom McCasland jolted the Houston City Council when he accused Mayor Sylvester Turner and his administration of rigging bids to favor a company with ties to Turner’s longtime law partner Barry Barnes.
“I’m being forced to participate in a charade that this was a competitive process when I know it was not a competitive process, and I’m being forced to ask my teammates to participate in that charade. And that’s not something we can do and that’s not something we will do,” McCasland reportedly told the city council.
The $15 million contract awarded to Huntington at Bay Area would have constructed 88 units for senior citizens, but McCasland alleged that other contractors scored more highly and could have provided four times as many units at a cost of $16.2 million.
Within hours of McCasland’s appearance at city council, Turner announced that McCasland had been fired, saying in a written statement that the administration had “lost confidence in his leadership and abilities to manage the department in the city’s best interest.”
Turner then ordered a review conducted by his own legal department and countered with accusations that McCasland had mismanaged the housing department and used a company run by his wife to assist applicants for affordable housing.
Both the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) are conducting investigations into the allegations, but Turner has vehemently denied any involvement or wrongdoing saying, “There’s no fraud. There’s no illegality. There’s nothing wrong here.”
Three weeks after the McCasland allegations, Turner announced he would not be recommending the contract award to Huntington at Bay Area.
Travis told The Texan that he had spoken with Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday and had sent the Paxton documents related to the controversy but did not know if his office would also launch an investigation.
“I don’t know what’s going on because we just don’t get that information,” explained Travis. “The mayor said today he’s not given us any documents, and that’s the problem, and then [Turner] threw grenades at McCasland.”
“We need to know if there’s something nefarious going on or not. I hope not, but there needs to be an investigation.”
During Wednesday’s meeting as council members mulled approving $325,000 for an independent law firm to investigate, Turner quipped, “There’s nothing there there.”
Council members Dave Martin and Leticia Plummer advocated referring the item back to the mayor’s administration, which was approved by the council. The item will reportedly come back before the council in 30 days.
Shortly after Wednesday’s council meeting Travis released his letter calling for the Texas Rangers to investigate.
“Unfortunately, given today’s city council action regarding the hiring of an outside law firm to investigate allegations against the mayor’s own administration, I do not have faith that a thorough investigation will occur,” wrote Travis. “Even if there was an appetite for an investigation, I have doubts that the law firm hired by the city has the necessary authority to conduct one.”
After the release of Travis’ letter Wednesday, Turner responded by saying, “Enough of this foolishness. I think I’ve been very patient,” according to ABC 13 reporter Ted Oberg.
While council members thought an investigative report from the GLO would be delivered Wednesday, GLO communications director Brittany Eck told The Texan that while an exit meeting with Houston would take place Wednesday, the state agency’s final report would not be completed for several weeks.
The allegations over possible bid-rigging by the Houston mayor came shortly after Harris County Commissioners voted to drop an $11 million contract for vaccine outreach awarded to a company with ties to national and local Democrats, including Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2).
Update: At the end of Wednesday’s city council meeting, Travis signed off by saying, “Let’s Go Brandon.” Later that evening, he announced that he would be running in the Republican primary for Texas House District (HD) 133 to replace retiring Rep. Jim Murphy. Travis joins two other announced candidates: Mano Ayala and Bert Keller.
According to analysis conducted by The Texan, HD 133 earns a Texas Partisan Index (TPI) rating of R-57 under redistricted maps.
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Holly Hansen is a reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.