Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack kicked off a Cypress town hall meeting about flooding by digging himself a nice-sized trench.
Speaking to a room of hundreds of flood victims last week — who expected to hear solutions about what can be done about the threat of catastrophic flooding in their area — Radack found it appropriate to warm things up by offering a few comments about, instead, people who pretend to be flood victims, saying:
“So it's a challenge. Environmentally it's a challenge. And there are some people, frankly, over the years, the many years I've been doing this, that frankly enjoy floods. They like to see a flood about every seven years, because they want new cars. They want their homes redone. And that went on.”
Enjoy floods? Perhaps a poor choice of words just months after thousands of people's homes were destroyed by the April 18 flood and dozens of vehicles sunk in Greenspoint apartment parking lots and roads across the region during a historic flood event that many people have yet to recover from.
You can hear a few gasps and groans from the people sitting in the front row, sitting next to Residents Against Flooding board member Cynthia Neely, who provided the video she took of Radack's comments to the Houston Press. (He makes those comments before the full live feed, which you can watch here, kicks in.)
“It was surreal,” Neely said. “That entire audience was there to hear about the problems they were having, what could be resolved, what they should do to make things better, how they could find help — and he started off the meeting, right off the bat, talking about how some people enjoy being flooded.”
Radack says his comments have been widely taken out of context and misunderstood. In an interview with the Press, he said he was exclusively referring to people who abuse the federal flood insurance program through FEMA, who then cause insurance rates to go up for people who actually need assistance, such as those in the room that evening.
“My point here is this: What's happening is FEMA prices are going up,” he said. “The price for flood insurance has gone up quite a bit, and my point is really simple: When you have abuse of something, the cost goes up. And that's a shame. I want everybody to have flood insurance. But some people can't afford it, and they don't get it."
Still, Neely said that, even if Radack didn't intend those comments to be offensive to real flood victims, he still didn't offer promising solutions or convincing strategies that would make citizens feel confident that their government was actually doing something to help them.
Here is what Radack spent most of his time at the podium suggesting: an increase in taxes.
Radack began his formal 20-minute speech by recounting the tragic stories of people who ignored turn-around-don't-drown barriers or warnings and then died in their cars on flooded roads. Then: “I can go on and on about warning people—but! How much are you willing to pay? That's what this is all about.”
He would ask the question three more times as he laid out various other areas where Harris County government is strapped for cash. He said the Harris County Flood Control's budget is only $120 million a year, after accounting for debt owed, and therefore can only do so much. In the health arena, he said the county health system is gypped $70 million a year because state officials won't accept a Medicaid expansion (even more, actually; see our coverage on that). And he said law enforcement needs a lot of funding because there are so many people charged with DWIs, drugs and also rapes and murders out on bond or on probation living in your zip codes right now (which is a curious scenario to use as an example given that jailing people before trial or for unnecessarily prolonged periods of time — murderers and rapists aside — is the far more expensive alternative; see our coverage of the time Radack told State Senator Rodney Ellis to "shut up" about jail reform here.)
Apparently, that leaves it up to the taxpayers to decide if they themselves want to contribute more funds to help government improve infrastructure and drainage in order to prevent flooding, a problem that has left homeowners whose homes have repeatedly flooded since 2001's Tropical Storm Allison "shaking in their boots," Neely said.
“I wanted to bring that up, because government, it takes money," Radack said, closing out his speech. "We're very transparent — we'll show you where all the money is spent. I'm just telling you right now: This was an incredible event. There's a good chance it'll never happen again. It was a strange event... How much are you willing to pay?”
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Neely told the Press “hell no,” she wouldn't support his idea. She argued government simply has not done its job to enforce regulations related to retail or residential development in flood-prone areas, causing backyards to become de facto flood plains, and has also failed to maintain drainage systems over time — problems she would not put on taxpayers' shoulders.
Another woman, taking the microphone during the Q&A portion of the night, asked the room for a show of hands: How many people's homes flooded during April's major event?
Many went up.
She continued, to loud applause: “How many of you need to be told to spend more money?"