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Falkenberg on Dave Wilson’s residency

Lisa Falkenberg has another chat with Dave Wilson to try and solve the mystery of where he really lives.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

No bathtub. No refrigerator. No TV.

If 67-year-old small businessman Dave Wilson really lives in a warehouse apartment on West 34th Street, and not with his wife, as he claims, it’s a pretty Spartan existence. And not a particularly clean, well-fed or entertaining one.

An inspection this week by City of Houston code enforcement didn’t help the Houston Community College trustee-elect in his quest to prove he meets district residency requirements for the job. The city ended up slapping a bright orange sticker to the glass door of the warehouse, indicating he doesn’t have permission to use it as a residence.

“Change of occupancy to reflecting living quarters on 2nd floor. Plans required,” it reads, warning that failure to comply may result in citations with minimum fines of $500-$2,000 per incident.

Photos from the city inspection, provided to me by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office, depict sparsely furnished rooms with mostly bare walls, tabletops and counters.

“If you look at these photographs, it does not look like he’s been living there for two years,” said Ryan, who sued Wilson to try and prove the trustee-elect didn’t live in the district he ran to represent.

Ryan, whose office had requested its own tour of the residence but never got one, said he wasn’t surprised by the city’s findings.

“We believe it’s very clear cut,” Ryan said. “Every piece of evidence we see indicates he does not have his address at West 34th Street.”

Too bad Wilson didn’t take my advice and have Falkenberg drop by for a visit, a courtesy he did apparently extend to the local Fox affiliate. Instead, she only got to see the County Attorney’s evidence, which needless to say isn’t favorable to Dave. Wilson is free to show or not show whatever he wants to anyone – other than the judge, of course – but it seems to me he could have advanced his PR if he’d given Falkenberg a tour. Assuming the place does resemble an actual residence, that is. If it is what he says it is, then he prevails in court, his critics look like fools, and the issue is settled forevermore. For a guy who claims, not without some justification, that everyone is out to get him, you’d think he might want to shove the evidence of his righteousness in their faces, but instead he’s playing it close to the vest. Which might lead to a Perry Mason moment in the courthouse, but which also raises a question that Falkenberg brings up:

He’s probably right that some people are scared to death to get him on that board. Wilson has vowed to bring transparency to the often opaque operations of the HCC board and to request independent audits of finances. Heads could roll.

It would be a welcome change. But candidates promising open, honest leadership should walk the walk. Playing fast and loose with election laws and ignoring a temporary restraining order aren’t good ways to start out. Districts exist for a reason: to give citizens a better chance at electing someone who represents them and their interests.

This latest episode, added to the list of Wilson’s other antics, makes me wonder if he’d be a breath of fresh air on that board, or a disaster.

Yes, for a guy who claims to be all about openness and ethics and all that, he sure is less than forthcoming about his own business. As for the matter of districts, I’ve said my piece on that. What I’m going to say now is that the reason we are where we are is because the residency requirements we have on the books are basically a polite fiction for which no effective enforcement mechanism exists. We should either fix that or acknowledge that we just don’t really care. We’re in this debate now because we don’t have an agreed-upon standard of what it means to be a “resident” of a political subdivision, and because even if we did there was no way to objectively validate Dave Wilson’s residency before the election; remember, HCC’s Board and general counsel said it wasn’t their job to vet his application. Not having a standard and a means of validating someone’s candidacy serves no one, and that includes Wilson. Either we do something about this, or we ditch the whole idea and let people file for whatever they want, and leave it to the voters to sort out who represents them and who doesn’t.

I thought the case of Sen. Brian Birdwell in 2010 was as clear a violation of residency requirements you’re likely to see, with Birdwell casting a vote in Virginia at a time when he would have needed to be a resident of Texas to be eligible to run for the Senate. The challenge to his candidacy failed, not on the merits but on technicalities of jurisdiction and documentation provenance. I thought at the time that was telling us that the requirements we had were basically meaningless and that we should act accordingly. This is another test of that hypothesis. If Wilson prevails, then let’s agree that anyone with the wherewithal to declare himself or herself a resident of a given location – a relative, a second home, an office, a warehouse, what have you – is one for the purposes of the law and get on with our lives. Even if Wilson is found to be ineligible, we really owe it to ourselves and every future candidate to clarify the requirements up and down the ballot, one way or another. That’s something the Legislature could address in 2015. If it means a bunch of current incumbents have to scramble to buy a new house between now and their next filing deadline, that’s fine by me. If it means that residency is little more than a state of mind in the eyes of the law, then so be that. Let’s just pick one and stick with it. That has to be better than what we have now, which are winks and nods and the occasional lawsuit.

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7 Comments

  1. joshua bullard says:

    Attorney vince ryan has no bussiness playing god with the voters voice.once the people have voted then vince ryan should be protecting the will of the people-not playing old school back office politics with the vote count by filing lawsuits that cost the tax payers a fortune.vince ryan needs to consider carefully the impact of his rambo litigation tactics-falkenburg needs to go jump in a lake-in canada”vince ryan and fsulkenburg otta be ashamed”. Written by joshua ben bullard

  2. Jim Faulkner says:

    Any public scrutiny on the HCC Board is a welcome sight. It has been a long time coming. In the last two decades, the HCC Board members have done nothing but brought shame and public distrust to their names. Kudos to Kuffner, Houston Chronicle and finally Vince Ryan for holding their feet to the fire.

  3. Jeff Danielo says:

    Dave Wilson owes all his success of where he is now to the wise advice of his campaign manager – Manuel Barrera. Future candidates wishing for a place like Dave Wilson, should be seeking Barrera’s advice. Wise wizard!! A political career suicide.

  4. Eric Weinmann says:

    I have no problem with the county attorney investigating Wilson’s residency. We all assume that he does not live in his Heights warehouse. However, we should also take note of the laundry list of other local elected and past-elected officials who have used this and other unsavory tactics to get on the ballot. Wilson is not unique in his residency problems, he is only the first one to be made an example of.

  5. insidehcc says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Jim Faukner. The public needs to go to next Board meeting on January 17 and stop Trustee Carroll Robinson and Acting Chancellor Renee Byas vote to give their friends, Qatus Advisors, a contract of $360,000 to go to work in Qatar.

  6. Dan O'Hara says:

    Growing up the son of a” city ” fireman who lived in a suburb, I remember the testing of
    ; What is residency? What is a domicile? What is considered living arrangements and so on and so on. This was 50 years ago. This” old” issue is not what this issue is about. This is pure politics. You would think the voters, the students and employees of HCC and especially the legal community would welcome Change. The track record of HCC is horrible. The use of building inspectors, late filings and the threat of fines is also horrible. Mr.Wilson has won an election. It is now up to the HCC Trustees to work legally with Mr.Wilson.

  7. Steve Houston says:

    All this talk of residency is interesting, especially in light of certain prominent tea party enthusiasts (apparently they now find the term “tea bagger” offensive) and conservatives pushing for residency requirements for police & firemen of late. They’d jump at the chance to demand middle class workers live in the city yet when they are running for office, they spend most or all of their time in their suburban enclaves rather than their bare apartments in the city. In places where city employees are required to live in the city limits, a popular workaround solution is for groups of employees to rent a place in the city, sharing costs and setting up a defense for the times when opportunistic politicos try to persecute workers under such arrangements. Dual standards? Absolutely, but you just have to know that if any real enforcement of such an act were to take place, the politicians would give themselves ample maneuvering room that wouldn’t be available to the average worker.

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