The zealous Vietnamese-American on the city council of Houston may – or may not – have been overzealous in petitioning to change the name of a small street to “Little Saigon Drive.”
That remains to be seen, after a lawsuit and an independent investigation into accusations that signatures were forged on the petition.
Al Hoang (Hoàng Duy Hùng) and four others are being sued over the petition signatures in a county court at law (which has jurisdiction over civil matters under $100,000), the Houston Chronicle reports here.
The city Inspector General is also investigating the allegations.
“I have determined that there is enough of a problem with the situation and enough potential that some of those signatures were forged that I have initiated the OIG investigation on my own authority,” Mayor Annise Parker said today.
The judge in the lawsuit has issued a temporary injunction in the case to block further action on the street renaming.
In an ironic twist, the plaintiffs allege that the “Little Saigon Drive” name “invokes images of a communist country.”
According to the plaintiffs, 13 petition signatures were forged.
However, one neighbor, whose name initially was reported as forged, since has recanted her allegation, defense attorney Vy Nguyen said.
The petition initially surfaced in November 2010. The street petitioned to be renamed, Turtlewood Drive, is a small, short roadway next to the well-known Kim Son Seafood Restaurant.
Nguyen, who is defending Hoang’s co-defendants, said Hoang approached her clients about changing the street name in a bid to win votes for the upcoming city council election. She said they circulated the document around the street before one of her clients, Tam Pham, gave it to Hoang’s nanny to give to the councilman.
“They stopped (getting signatures) at 24 when they got the first disapproval. They figured that they had gotten most of their people and that was all they could gather,” Nguyen said. “After that, they gave it to the nanny who would’ve gathered more signatures … I heard that it would be left at people’s homes. A lot of things could’ve happened to that petition.”
Hoang said Wednesday that he does not know whether the document was forged or who may be the culprit but speculated that his former nanny, whose name he cannot remember, may be to blame.
“She was the last person to tender me the petition,” Hoang said. “I do not know if she collected the signatures.”
The defendants stand by Hoang’s nanny story, Nguyen said.
“My clients have not come to the conclusion that Al Hoang did it or that there was any foul play,” she said. “They want to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
As to the investigation, Hoang said he’d cooperate. “I welcome the Office of Inspector General investigation and will fully cooperate with it,” Hoang said in a statement released by his office. “I have already volunteered information to their office for a full and thorough investigation. I am completely confident that when all the facts are reviewed, I will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”
Hoang told the Chronicle on Wednesday that he did not know whether any of the signatures were forged and if so who forged them. He said his nanny was the last person to have the petition before he delivered it to the city.
“Let me also clarify that I have never placed blame on my former personal assistant, as some stories have portrayed,” Hoang’s statement said. “I have clearly said that the homeowners association tendered the petition to my assistant at home, not that she maliciously forged that petition.”
Under city rules, 75 percent of the people who live on a street must sign a petition agreeing to a change in the street’s name. The petition then is sent to the city’s Planning and Development Department for consideration. The name change must be approved by City Council. A council member may supersede the petition process and submit a request on his own.