This is just bizarre.
In the heart of Asia Town in southwest Houston, some homeowners in the Turtlewood Square subdivision say they’ve been robbed. They were not robbed of their belongings, but rather their good names.
“Definitely homeowners [are] scared, shocked, angry,” said Jenny Lu.
Sue Tsai, another neighbor, agreed.
“This is really underhanded,” she said.
“When I looked at my name, somebody forged it,” said Jody Pay.
The forgery feud involves an effort to change their street name from Turtlewood Drive, to Little Saigon Drive. One of the homeowners pushing for the name change is City of Houston Council Member Al Hoang.
The I-Team learned Hoang and five other homeowners are being sued by neighbors for allegedly forging signatures on a petition to change the street name. One way to officially file the petition according to city policy is for 75 percent of adjoining homeowners to sign their approval. The lawsuit claims such a petition, without enough signatures, was given to Council member Hoang. But when the politician later turned it into the City Planning and Development Department, it now had an extra 16 names on it, giving the document that needed 75 percent.
But plaintiffs claim those signatures were bogus.
“It kind of looks like my name, but it’s not, and I was very angered,” said Pay.
Go read the whole thing – the exchange between CM Hoang and the I-Team is a classic – and see what you think. The Chron story adds some extra details.
According to the plaintiffs, 13 petition signatures were forged. One neighbor, whose name initially was reported as forged, since has recanted her allegation, defense attorney Vy Nguyen said.
Nguyen said Hoang approached her clients about changing the street name in a bid to win votes for the upcoming city council election. She said they circulated the document around the street before one of her clients, Tam Pham, gave it to Hoang’s nanny to give to the councilman. She said the group did not authorize Hoang to submit it to the City’s Planning and Development Department.
“They stopped (getting signatures) at 24 when they got the first disapproval. They figured that they had gotten most of their people and that was all they could gather,” Nguyen said. “After that, they gave it to the nanny who would’ve gathered more signatures … I heard that it would be left at people’s homes. A lot of things could’ve happened to that petition.”
The defendants stand by Hoang’s nanny story, Nguyen said.
“My clients have not come to the conclusion that Al Hoang did it or that there was any foul play,” she said. “They want to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Plaintiffs attorney David Tang disputed the nanny theory.
“There are forged signatures there, and this petition passed through these five individuals’ hands with the most grievous one going to the city councilman’s office,” he said. “What’s really grievous about it is that the councilman had custody and control of that document before it went to the city planning department. … He has just interjected the nanny in there as a distraction. It’s a very convenient excuse. It’s worse than saying the dog ate my homework.”
I presume Ms. Nguyen is the attorney for some or all of CM Hoang’s codefendants in this suit. I’ll leave it to you to decide how likely it is that some cannot remember the name of their children’s nanny, and how likely it is that said unnamed nanny could come to have unsupervised possession of these petitions. A followup story from KHOU has a response from the city:
Mayor Parker pledged a thorough review of all petitions before any vote is taken to change Turtlewood to Little Saigon Drive.
“If there are any irregularities during that, we’ll investigate those, but we’ll have to get this sorted out,” Parker said.
The mayor also said, if she gets a formal complaint or formal request for investigation, she’ll have the City’s Office of Inspector General do just that.
The chair of the City Council’s Ethics and Council Governance Committee, Mike Sullivan, said he will not be launching an investigation at this point, and instead will take a wait-and-see approach.
Then I guess we’ll have to wait and see, too.
UPDATE: A correction from the Chron.
A story about a lawsuit accusing City Councilman Al Hoang of forging signatures on a petition that appeared on page B1 of the June 16 Houston Chronicle incorrectly attributed a statement to Hoang. It was the plaintiff’s lawsuit that claimed Hoang had said he did not know the name of his former nanny.