One of Houston’s Harvey-related contracts is set to come up for a council vote this week, but City Controller Chris Brown is raising concerns over that contract and the city’s failure to validate it as per his office’s statutory standards.

The $60 million contract – Agenda Item 10 – is a recommendation from the Chief Procurement Officer for Harvey-related debris removal and lists fifteen separate entities that would be doing the debris removal work.

According to the City Controller, the contract has issues.

During his testimony in a Budget and Fiscal Affairs hearing, Brown said that his office finds issue with no funding source being identified in the contract. Simply put, the city has yet to identity where the funding is coming from.

Brown said there are also no affidavits of ownership on file which means no certification by the controller. The city’s charter gives authority to the independently elected controller to verify indebtedness of entities that may be contracting with the city.

Chapter 8 Article 15 of the city’s charter states:

Before a contract is submitted to city council for approval, the controller shall immediately investigate whether the recommended contracting entity or any owner thereof is indebted to the city and, if so, determine insofar as possible with the information provided, whether such indebtedness is then under active protest, challenge or appeal by such debtor.”

Without the affidavits of ownership, Brown says there’s no way to determine, legally, who owns the company and if they have any back taxes with the city of Houston.

All of which the Controller says are “unusual.”

The city charter explicitly requires the City Controller to sign off on contracts; “no contract shall be binding upon the city unless it has been signed by the mayor and countersigned by the controller,” and without these questions answered, it doesn’t seem as though that will happen. It also doesn’t appear that this contract should come before council when all charter-derived provisions are not satisfied.

The controller’s office recently kicked off a Harvey Oversight Committee that plans to provide strict oversight over Harvey-related procurement. If sounding the alarm over this contract is the start of that, taxpayers should pay attention.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.