A “new sheriff” takes over Texas disaster recovery

(Photo: Texas General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, from Texas Tribune)

Readers will recall Governor Perry passed responsibility for the Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Dolly disaster recovery programs to Texas General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson effective July 1. This afternoon I met with Gary Hagood, Deputy Commissioner of GLO and the new man responsible for overseeing the program.

Also present were two of Hagood’s key lieutenants, Sandra Dodd and Jorge Ramirez.

Hagood has been at GLO 25 years. He impresses me as someone ready to shake things up and get the disaster relief flowing. He now serves as Deputy Commissioner for Financial Management overseeing 100 GLO employees. Hagood allowed that he is used to managing big projects. While still in his 20’s Hagood says he oversaw the transfer of child support from DHS to the Office of the Attorney General. More recently, he oversaw the $40 million GLO effort to clean up Texas beaches after Hurricane Ike. He got that done quickly.

The $3.1 billion CDBG disaster recovery program is many times the size of those programs.

Like his boss Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Hagood is a genuine Texan. He expresses himself emphatically and makes clear he is prepared to make decisions and shake things up. It appears the Governor has given Patterson the authority to run the CDBG disaster recovery program how he thinks best. That means Hagood will have a chance to make good on his promise of change and efficiency.

Hagood told us this afternoon that it is his goal to obligate all the Round 2 money by the end of this year.  That is a good and reasonable goal. He also discussed the need for local governments to meet performance timelines for using their CDBG disaster recovery funds.  That is another good goal.

He understands that local governments are going to need help to deliver however. He pledged to “embed” state staff or do whatever it takes to get the local programs going. But it was clear to me that he will not likely let these programs extend out indefinitely. If local governments can’t deliver, I look for the State to transfer the programs or take them over and deliver the services directly.

For our part we expressed our longstanding criticisms of the State of Texas disaster recovery program — it needs to move faster and has to treat all the disaster survivors fairly. That is the essence of the conciliation agreement we entered into with the State of Texas that was approved by HUD.

Hagood has taken aim on the housing recovery program as the one he is most concerned about. To his credit he is retaining the key state staff who know what they are doing.

I came away from this meeting reminded of what another government leader once told me upon taking office and shaking things up — “There is a new sheriff in town”.

To mix metaphors, I once expressed to a staffer in the Governor’s office that what Texas needed was a cranky, take charge retired Marine Corps General who would start giving orders and roll over local political sensibilities to get the job done. Guys like that read their regulations and their orders and then they make people execute. It is not lost on me that Land Commissioner Patterson is a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel.

For the sake of all those poor, elderly people who have waited for years to get their homes fixed, I’m hoping this works. As long as he honors the Conciliation Agreement I’m willing to get behind the new sheriff in hopes he can whip this disaster recovery program into shape.