Confrontation In Kemah
Valentine’s Day, it’s not just a day for lovers. It is also the deadline to run for office in WCID 12. In Kemah they decide how much you pay for water and fire protection. But who’s the guy running the place really protecting?
“We’ve been here in Kemah since 2008 and all of a sudden there’s a giant change in our bill,” said John Bowen, a business owner in Kemah.
John Bowen runs a company called Elite Diesel Services in Kemah. They work on engines inside a large metal building on Anders Lane.
If something goes wrong here, it’s the Kemah Volunteer Fire Department that will come first. To help pay for that safety a fee is put on the water bill. Until September it was ten dollars a month. Wait till you see what it is now.
“From 10 dollars a month to 510 dollars a month is a pretty significant change, Bowen said. “We’re being forced to carry what to us is an unfair portion of the fire department bill.”
We know why John Bowen was taken by surprise.
“Galveston County Water Control and Improvement District 12 meeting will convene,” said WCID 12 President Matt Wiggins at a meeting in September.
The fire fee was raised at this September meeting of the Board of Directors of WCID 12. By law they have to post their agenda publicly 72 hours in advance. But look at what it said.
“Amendment to Rate Order.” That’s it. No mention of raising fees. An email shows that WCIS President Matt Wiggins knew it would be controversial.
“There are going to be some people hollering on this stuff,” read an email sent from Matt Wiggins.
“To suddenly spring this on somebody with this obscure little document just doesn’t seem right to, you know, business owners in this community,” Bowen said.
“I don’t read the statutes,” Wiggins said.
“I am for the United States of America,” said James Madison in the 1989 movie A More Perfect Union.
Wonder if founding father James Madison would have gotten the joke. Madison’s quoted in the 2020 Open Meetings Handbook put out by the Texas Attorney General.
“Democracy without information is, ‘but prologue to a farce or a tragedy,” the letter read.
It’s a tragedy for John Bowen all right. The increase will cost his family business $5,000 a year.
“It’s rather a shock to suddenly have your whole budget skewed,” Bowen said.
“I went to law school and when I got out of law school, I said I’m never going to read another case and hopefully I won’t read very many statutes. And I try to, try to keep doing that,” Wiggins said.
Maybe Mr. Wiggins should read up on James Madison.
“No one could be more disappointed than myself,” Madison said.
There’s another reason WCID 12 didn’t warn the Bowen family. Matt Wiggins was literally making changes to commercial accounts by himself even at the last minute.
“I moved some of them down, some of them went up,” Wiggins said.
“Can we see the list,” said a WCID board member.
“Sure,” Wiggins said.
Even elected Water Board members were seeing these numbers for the very first time. Within minutes they’d vote anyway.
We asked about the numbers because folks in Kemah know Matt Wiggins owns a lot of property in town. From Bed and Breakfasts, to a restaurant in the heart of the entertainment district, to the land this boat rental place sits on. Wiggins even owns part of the land the Kemah Boardwalk sits on. That must be worth a lot.
“Did any of your properties go down?” said Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting.
“I don’t think I messed with any of mine,” Wiggins said.
Well let’s jog his memory, shall we? Twelve different commercial properties on that very list are owned or controlled by Matt Wiggins. Eight of the properties, they have new fees. And guess what? Virtually all of the new rates save Matt Wiggins and his tenants money.
The fire fees on all his properties could save nearly $4,000 a year. Bet you Mr. Bowen would like that deal better.
“Your properties may have saved about 3 or $4,000 in a year,” Dolcefino said.
“ No, that’s not true,” Wiggins said.
“Want to see a big red flag? The water billing company used by the City of Kemah obviously pay special attention to Mr. Wiggins’ accounts,” Dolcefino said.
Check out this email. “The account is now in Matt Wiggins name. Do we still want to increase the KVFD fee?” the email read.
We found out what property Wiggins owns by looking through tax records. But folks like John Bowen had a right to know about potential conflicts of interest before a vote. And it’s clear Matt Wiggins is the guy calling the shots. That’s why we asked WCID to show us the financial disclosure forms Wiggins signs. But there isn’t one.
“Do the board members have to disclose the properties they own? Do they have to recuse from voting on anything that would affect their property?” Dolcefino said.
“I recuse all the time. In fact, I hardly ever vote,” Wiggins said.
“This goes into effect tonight before our October bill,” Wiggins said at the September meeting.
That’s funny. We never heard the word recusal mentioned once that night. Listen, do you?
“Those in favor simply saying aye. Those opposed by nay,” Wiggins said at the September meeting.
The minutes of that September meeting may be another ethical problem for Wiggins. MINUTES OF THAT SEPTEMBER MEETING MAY BE ANOTHER ETHICAL PROBLEM FOR WIGGINS.
“You voted on the fire thing,” Dolcefino said.
“No I think I recused myself that night. I probably did not,” Wiggins said.
“The fun never stops at Kemah Boardwalk.”
Kemah has to protect millions of people who come down to the popular Boardwalk. But no one at the WCID meeting questions why so many properties on the lucrative Boardwalk were getting their fire fees lowered, to the tune of $75,000 a year. Their numbers, not ours. It shows the Aquarium restaurant will pay more than fifty percent less.
And look at the Boardwalk Inn. Their fire fee had been $5,560 a month. The new fee, look, it’s set at $150. Seems awfully curious because the 3-story Boardwalk Inn has 54 rooms.
“We don’t have anything to hide,” Wiggins said.
Matt Wiggins owns Seaside Inn at 503 bay. It’s a bed and breakfast. But look at this. It’s listed by WCID as a residential property and homeowners just pay $10 a month.
Wiggins owns this property on 7th Street. It’s clearly a business, but it’s listed as residential too, saving money on fire feed and also the cost of drinking water.
“There’s one of the entrances to the Kemah Boardwalk as you see, completely inundated with water,” said KHOU news anchor in 2008 during Hurricane Ike.
Folks in Kemah must have a short memory. Matt Wiggins became Mayor of Kemah after it took a direct hit from Hurricane Ike.
His land deals were under fire too. Apparent conflicts of interest, failure to disclose. Where have I heard that before? Hurricane victims along Highway 146 wanted to rebuild their homes but Kemah said no. Turned out Wiggins wanted to buy their properties. The DA, the FBI all were digging into the records.
Wiggins escaped criminal charges then but was later voted out of office.
“There is no way that a leopard can really change its spots,” said this BBC documentary.
You know what they say about leoprds, don’t you?
“What are you disclosing Wayne? He’s not disclosing anything,” Wiggins said.
“I said disclosing, not exposing. Boy, that was kind of weird,” Dolcefino said.
Bet you Ben Franklin knows why we’re warning residents in Kemah, again.
“At last, someone sees the truth of the matter,” said Ben Franklin in the 1989 movie A More Perfect Union.