By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Targets of HOUSNITCH counter that it's Flores and the people she is fronting who are harassing innocent people with unsubstantiated charges. Take, for example, this exposé reported on the Web site:
"WHICH Mayoral Staff member just paid CASH for a lot in the bedroom community of Bellaire and is now building a $200,000 home on it with a large cash advance going to the developers?"
The staffer in question claims HOUSNITCH is just plain wrong in implying that he bought the house without conventional financing and through the help of a city contractor. He asked that his name not be used, fearing it would further spread slanderous claims. He says the home was in Houston rather than Bellaire and that he has bank financing for the purchase and received no preferential treatment whatsoever.
Flores's response does little to bolster the Web-page's credibility.
"We did apologize for saying that his home is in Bellaire," admits Flores. "When we get other things out of [the county courthouse], if we're wrong, we'll say we're wrong."
To the suggestion that she should have nailed down that information before airing the allegation, Flores answered, "Maybe. But this is trial and error."
Councilman Chris Bell, a former radio news reporter, warned Flores against making unfounded allegations on the Web page. "When you're accusing people of being on the take," explains Bell, "I think that is extremely damaging to them. And once you plant something like that out there, it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle."
The display of the Public Works official's job evaluation also raises questions about whose interests HOUSNITCH is serving. According to previous Houston Press investigations of Public Works, that critical work evaluation was in part retaliation against the official for refusing to lower city standards for the replacement of a west Houston bridge. Rather than expose wrongdoers, HOUSNITCH effectively embarrassed a city bureaucrat who had already been punished for doing the right thing. Flores counters that the evaluation shows the person is not qualified for the job.
Flores's ally Tatro denies having any role in launching HOUSNITCH and says he regrets that Flores chose to target opponent Lawrence with charges about her campaign worker.
"I was surprised and dismayed to see that was the first issue that they chose to put out, because it directly reflects back to the possibility my campaign is involved, and that's not the case at all," says the councilman. "But you can't derive any other conclusion than that, if you go to it and all of a sudden you see my opponent as the first thing highlighted."
Tatro also says he will not use the material Flores published because he does not consider it to be a valid campaign issue.
Despite Tatro's denials, opponent Lawrence remains unconvinced that Flores isn't acting as an agent of Tatro's.
"It's funny that the first thing that came out on the Web page, it's about a race over in District A and not some big story that represents the whole city," says Lawrence. She suspects that several Tatro campaign supporters are using Flores as their front person.
Despite the controversy over the Web page, Tatro has no intention of barring Flores from his campaign. Asked if she was still on the team, he answered, "I think so, yeah."
As for HOUSNITCH, Flores promises a bigger, badder Web page, loaded with more nuggets supplied by her whistle-blowers. And don't be surprised if she invades bureaucratic realms beyond Houston.
"In Sunday's mail there was an offer from San Antonio from some people to come and do a SANSNITCH. And we have one from El Paso and two from Dallas," continues Flores, conjuring up the vision of a statewide TEXSNITCH Web page.
"Darlin', it just blows my mind."
The Blair Snitch Project may frighten you, but all you have to do for the Insider is scare up some news tips. Call him at (713)280-2483, fax him at (713)280-2496, or e-mail him at email@example.com.