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