Things got a mite testy at the Commissioners Court meeting yesterday.
Commissioners Court blasted a report critical of Harris County's lease-purchase deals on Tuesday before voting unanimously to accept its recommendations to more closely analyze all major real estate transactions in the future.
During the fractious meeting, various court members defended the deals and blistered media reports that questioned the propriety of the controversial arrangements and their link to indicted Houston developers Andrew Schatte and Michael Surface.
The roughly hour-long debate abruptly ended when Commissioner Jerry Eversole stormed out of the meeting after angrily denouncing a TV story on the report and chiding County Judge Ed Emmett for comments he made about the need for transparency in government.
"All of us are being painted as being crooks by the local TV station because we did what at that time was revolutionary or new or whatever," Eversole said, adding later, "I have spent 17 years going on 18 years trying to do (business) above board and I still get nailed for it."
After the meeting, Emmett said Eversole had to leave to deal with a family emergency. Eversole said just before he walked out that he still has "complete trust and faith" in Emmett.
The report criticized by the court centered on seven deals in which Harris County has leased property developed by Schatte and Surface and been given the right to buy it for a nominal fee at the end of a lengthy contract. Such arrangements allow the county to buy property without issuing bonds, which appear on the books as debt and can require voter approval.
According to the report by the county's budget management office, Harris County spent at least $4 million more through the deals than it would have spent to buy the properties. The report also raised questions about hundreds of thousands of dollars in monthly administrative fees the county has paid without any explanation of what the charges cover.
Lawyers for Schatte and Surface last week defended the deals as good for county taxpayers and noted that each transaction was reviewed and approved by Commissioners Court.
Emmett, who requested the study, called it "fundamentally flawed." Since the county could not afford to buy the properties when the deals were reached, the report should have taken into account what a traditional lease would have cost, he said.