In early September, the nine appointees who run the Texas Residential Construction Commission convened a meeting. The agenda: try to justify their agencys existence. Its not an easy case to make. Two weeks earlier, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, a legislative oversight committee, had recommended that state lawmakers abolish the TRCC because it does more harm than good.
Few state agencies in Texas are known for aggressive regulation. Even by that lax standard, however, the Texas Residential Construction Commissioncreated ostensibly to aid homeownersrepresents a new low. Its one thing to ignore consumers; its quite another to work against them. Since its inception in 2003, the TRCC has been criticized for helping builders skirt lawsuits from consumers seeking reparations for shoddily built homes. Some critics call it Bob Perrys agency, in honor of the wealthy Houston homebuilder who is a top Republican donor. Indeed, the agencys board is dominated by representatives of the home-building industry, including Perrys corporate counsel, who wrote the 2003 bill that created the TRCC [see The Agency that Bob Perry Built, February 4, 2005].
Commissioner Mickey Redwine is the lonely voice of reform at the agency. At the public meeting, he told his fellow commissioners what most homeowners already know: I dont feel that a fair and unbiased agency has been created to represent the public . . . I ask that every commissioner unite and vote for change to prove to consumers that we are serious about change.
The commissioner, who owns a cable construction company in the small town of Ben Wheeler, offered up a four-page list of wide-ranging reforms such as a stipulation requiring builders to be licensed and a rule ensuring that TRCC commissioners not be associated with trade association groups that might suggest a conflict of interest.
The commissioners did uniteand voted against most of Redwines reforms. Consumer advocates werent surprised. His heart is in the right place, said Alex Winslow, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Texas Watch. But regardless of the changes TRCC makes, it is broken and needs to be scrapped.
Redwine, who was appointed by Gov. Perry in 2003, said he would support abolishing the agency too, if it could not be turned around in two years. (TRCC staff is asking for 12 years to reform the agency.) I still think its worth saving if we can turn it around, Redwine said. I was appointed to look out for the best interests of consumers, and if that means abolishing the agency, then I will support that.
The TRCC will argue for its continued existence at the next Sunset Commission meeting, on September 23. At the meeting, state lawmakers on the Sunset Commission will mull over whether TRCC is worth saving and make a recommendation. Ultimately, the Legislature will decide the fate of the TRCC during its session next year. Thats when homebuilders, who are some of the states most prolific donors to political campaigns, will have a big say.
Winslowwho has been working to abolish the agency for the past five yearssays he wouldnt be surprised if the TRCC survives. I have no doubt that the powerful homebuilding lobby will be doing everything they can to save this agency.
Melissa del Bosque