Why Abolish


The Case for Abolishing the Montrose Management District

There is a right way and a wrong way for establishing additional governmental authority. Say what you will about Houston Metro, but at least we voted on it. In 1978 we had voluble debates with op-eds in the papers discussing the pros and cons and the public voted to tax themselves an extra penny of sales tax. How very different with the Montrose Management District. There are many reasons to abolish the District, but let's start with the most salient defect.


At the behest of only 3% of the affected properties, those properties - comprising only 10% of the total property in the district - are now forced to support a taxing authority whose administrators never stand for election. Instead, board members are appointed by the Mayor and, to some extent, Houston City Council; a system guaranteed to produce cronyism. You would be forgiven for thinking we're discussing a situation in a banana republic somewhere.


Not only do the district's board members not stand for election, they cannot be controlled by anyone but the Mayor and Houston City Council... which is close to saying no one at all. After all, would you enter elected office by challenging any of the thousands of bureaucrats primed and ready to do the city's business? ... and for a hapless thousand businesses in Montrose? ...Only in the most egregious cases. It takes something as bad as a Metro director shredding public documents before any real disciplinary action occurs. Nowhere, in the rules empowering the district, can its subjects force accountability or direction on the board. Quite the reverse: members of the board are not subject to normal conflict of interest restrictions - meanwhile expenditures of less than $50,000 do not require competitive bids. The board can - at its sole discretion - assess only part of the district on a finding of localized benefit of service with no obligation to explain or defend its decision to do so. Without the discipline of a watchful electorate, this district is ripe for corruption.


The powers available to the District are not trifling. As with many governmental agencies the District has the usual powers to enter into contracts and agreements, receive gifts and grants, and of course impose taxes and - with certain restrictions - issue bonds without the need for voter approval. But dig into the Special District Local Laws code that empowers it and we find sweeping authority to essentially establish and run businesses fueled by tax revenue including the authority to:

construct improvements on property to which it only owns air rights;
create cable right-of-way conduits to be leased out;
build and operate parking facilities; and
develop, own, operate, and maintain a public transit system.

The District's unstated mission is much bigger than the church-group stuff outlined in its service plan. Also be aware - if the district can convince the voters to approve it - it can even extend the ad valorem tax to all property owners in the district. It becomes, then, an adjunct arm of city government outside the control of the voters.


It's deceitful to trumpet the "services" of the district on a website to the public while only 10% are stuck with paying for it. It's deceitful (understandable, yes - and deceitful) to surreptitiously gather petition signatures instead of holding a meeting to organize the district. It's deceitful to notify property owners of board meetings only when the law requires it and otherwise keep them quiet; to create a district in January then tax your subjects for the preceding year; to present a service plan proposing graffiti removal and extra security when the real mission is quite likely much more intrusive.

Bad for Business

Although it is a requirement for the creation of this district that it promote commerce, the truth is the effect on businesses and the vendors and customers that rely on them will - on balance - be counterproductive. Bearing in mind that we already have a tax-supported city government providing the infrastructure and services we need, this district and its extraneous taxes for superfluous services is a bureaucratic play thing. The reduction in profit margins will: put upward pressure on prices, rents, and fees businesses charge; put downward pressure on business discretionary spending; and raise the barrier to entry for new businesses desirous of competing in the area. Given the autocracy afforded the district, the mission drift from the original concept of special districts, and the secrecy and chicanery used to bring this district into being, the case for abolishment makes itself.