During his six years with the Harris County Flood Control District, Matt Zeve built a reputation for being accessible, responsive, transparent, collaborative and helpful to fellow engineers, elected officials, members of the news media and Houston-area residents concerned about flooding. He also proved to be knowledgeable, resourceful and effective in helping to initiate and complete drainage projects.
As far as the longtime Heights resident is concerned, being accountable to the taxpaying public should be a key part of the job for anyone who works for a government agency.
“The citizens of Harris County are our clients, right? So I feel like we have an obligation to be open and transparent,” Zeve said. “Their property taxes pay for flood control. I feel like I should be responsive to their questions and answer their questions, because I work for them.
“Or I did work for them,” he added.
Zeve, 45, resigned from his position as deputy executive director in late January. He had held that job since September 2018, after starting as the flood control district’s chief operations officer in November 2015 before being promoted to director of operations in September 2016.
Zeve was the top-ranking official at the flood control after Russ Poppe resigned as executive director in June 2021, but he was not promoted to interim director by the Harris County Commissioners Court, which instead gave that title to Alan Black. Tina Petersen was named as the new executive director on Jan. 25, a few days before Zeve resigned.
“I resigned because I sensed that the current administration was going to go in a different direction,” he said, “and I felt I was not part of their plan.”
Zeve, who said he’ll start a new job in a leadership role with Gauge Engineering in late March, expressed pride about the work he did at the flood control district and in helping the county agency work toward completing three federally funded flood mitigation projects that he said had been in the works for two decades. Among them is an ongoing project to widen White Oak Bayou from Cole Creek just south of Tidwell Road to FM 1960 to the northwest.
He also had a hand in the $2.5 billion flood bond passed by Harris County voters in 2018, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Zeve said he also helped create a “culture change at the flood control district where we became a very efficient, very effective government agency with a sense of urgency.”
Houston City Council members Abbie Kamin and Amy Peck, who serve local residents, were both effusive in their praise for Zeve. Kamin said, “Gratitude alone does not seem to suffice when I think back on all he has done to protect residents during his tenure with HCFCD.”
“The knowledge and attention to detail that he brought to the job was exceptional,” Peck said. “The way he worked to find solutions to flooding problems both big and small was unparalleled. Mr. Zeve’s departure from Harris County Flood Control District is a huge loss, and I am truly grateful for his service.”
Zeve, who has served as a board member for Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 12, a tax-collecting entity formed by the city to provide infrastructure improvements to an area that includes the Timbergrove neighborhood, also won over Timbergrove resident John Zavala, who has served as the vice president for Super Neighborhood Council 14. Zeve helped facilitate two cleanup projects in the neighborhood, on Turkey Gully and Shelterwood Gully, after residents expressed concerns about potential flooding in those waterways.
Zavala called Zeve “extremely responsive,” even replying to emails on weekends at times. On at least one occasion, Zeve answered a reporter’s early morning call to his cell phone while he was on vacation.
“Matt by far is the shining light for how I think an employee within the city or the county should be,” Zavala said. “We’ve dealt with hundreds of people over the last few years. … You name the (government) organization, and we’ve dealt with them. But Matt just shines. He’s like a ball of energy, endless energy. There’s no quit in him.”
Zeve said he “loved” his job at the flood control district and the people he worked with and felt like they were producing flood-mitigation solutions for residents of both the city and county.
Now he’ll channel his effort and expertise to the private sector with Gauge Engineering, a Houston-based consulting firm that specializes in providing civil engineering planning, design and construction management services to public sector clients.
“Matt has made a tremendous impact in our area and much of what we have accomplished has been with his help, from assisting us with the purchase of lots along neighborhood waterways that will now help surrounding homes, to remediating sinkholes we’d find along our bayous, to helping me get the ball rolling on critical multi-million dollar flood mitigation projects for our neighborhoods, including Turkey Gully,” Kamin said. “I could always go to Matt and he would find a solution.”
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