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Houston City Council could vote on outside investigation into former housing director’s claims

Tom McCasland was fired after publicly accusing Mayor Sylvester Turner of directing federal Hurricane Harvey relief to a preferred developer.

City Attorney Arturo Michel said Thursday he’ll recommend Houston City Council members vote the following week on whether an outside firm should look into accusations made by the city’s former housing director.

Mayor Sylvester Turner fired Tom McCasland hours after he publicly accused the mayor of steering $15 million in federal Hurricane Harvey relief dollars toward a preferred developer.

“I am being forced to participate in a charade that this was a competitive process when I know it was not a competitive process,” McCasland told the city council’s housing committee during their September 21 meeting.

McCasland said the Huntington at Bay Area project, a proposed 148-unit apartment complex in the Clear Lake area, would create 88 affordable housing units for seniors.

However, he told council members 362 units could have been built had the administration gone with his staff’s recommendation.

“This administration is bankrolling a certain developer to the detriment of working families who need affordable homes,” said McCasland during the meeting.

McCasland told council members he was not alleging fraud while criticizing “a culture of ‘do it because I said so.’”

During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Council Member Michael Kubosh brought up McCasland’s allegations.

“The allegations were so egregious that we need to clear the air,” said Council Member Kubosh, At-Large Position 3.

“This is not a procurement issue,” responded Mayor Turner. “There was no bidding.”

Kubosh also brought up claims the mayor’s former law partner would benefit through a title company.

“I don’t have any interest in any law firm or title business,” said Mayor Turner.

The mayor promised Council Member Kubosh would get “the information that you need” at a special-called committee meeting Thursday.

“The sooner we start, the sooner we can get the answers that we all deserve,” said Council Member Edward Pollard, District J, during that Thursday meeting.

The council members present Thursday heard from Keith Bynam, the city’s interim housing director.

“Everyone makes it sound like this deal had already been done and the mayor made it happen,” said Bynam. “This deal has not been done. This deal hasn’t even been completely vetted. This deal has not come before you for a vote. If you don’t think it’s good, you can vote it down.”

Some council members tried to adjourn the meeting early, including Council Member Mike Knox, At-Large Position 1.

“Today’s committee meeting was poorly planned, and poorly advertised,” said Council Member Knox, in a statement released afterward. “The meeting amounted to a distraction from the real issues at hand and was, in my opinion, a waste of council and the public’s time.”

Council Members Knox, Travis, and Kubosh said they received the information presented in the meeting less than an hour beforehand and felt it did not adequately address McCasland’s allegations.