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Must reads: Texas watchdog journalism roundup for Oct. 29, 2017

The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

How renting furniture in Texas can land you in jail | The Texas Tribune and NerdWallet

“Rental companies can avail themselves of a little-known law written decades ago by the rental industry lobby — in Texas and in many other states — that can turn a dispute over a love seat or big screen TV into a criminal offense report, a trip to jail and even felony theft charges.” Story by Jay Root and Shannon Najmabadi

Tricentennial leaders crafted partnership with local TV station before releasing RFP | The San Antonio Express-News

“Emails obtained by the San Antonio Express-News under the Texas Public Information Act show that Tricentennial Commission officials, operating under city authority, had been discussing a partnership with KSAT since January 2016, raising questions about whether the commission appropriately handled the process of selecting that outlet as its broadcast partner.” Story by Josh Baugh

Charities still waiting for millions pledged for Harvey relief | The Houston Chronicle

“After Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, major corporations such as Exxon Mobil Corp., Home Depot Inc. and Kellogg Co. announced big financial pledges to help the people of Texas and Louisiana feed their families and rebuild their homes. Two months later, at least $76 million in pledges from companies, foundations and individuals still has not been delivered to the designated charities, a Houston Chronicle review found.” Story by Emily L. Mahoney

Mayor Adler aide’s nonprofit benefited from lax oversight on city contracts | The Austin American-Statesman

“A nonprofit co-founded and once run by an Austin City Hall insider reaped $1 million in public money for programs he helped create, a seven-month American-Statesman investigation found. It was possible thanks, in part, to a city procurement system that allows departments to award millions in contracts with little oversight or accountability — or even having to put the work up for bid.” Story by Nolan Hicks

Cameras on school buses catch thousands breaking law; less than half of drivers pay fines | KSAT

School districts are trying to discourage drivers from endangering students who ride school buses. “But the KSAT Defenders have learned less than half of the drivers who are issued citations aren’t actually paying them and there’s not much that can be done to force drivers to pay up.” Story by Tim Gerber

Some high-profile local divorce cases are hidden from the public. Why? | The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“A Star-Telegram investigation found a number of cases that cannot be accessed through the county’s computer system. The documents for about a half-dozen cases the Star-Telegram researched don’t appear, raising concerns about whether the public can actually find all the open records in Tarrant County’s family courts.” Story by Max B. Baker

Emails: ICE whiffed in hunt for Austin’s ‘egregious’ criminal immigrants | The Austin American-Statesman

“As the first nationwide immigration raids of the Trump administration were unfolding in February, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials struggled to justify their claims that they had netted serious criminals in the Austin area, according to internal emails published this week.” Story by Sean Collins Walsh

Everyone knew Houston’s reservoirs would flood — except for the people who bought homes inside them | The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

None of the residents interviewed after the floods say they knew they were living inside Addicks or Barker reservoirs — many of their neighborhoods are several miles away from the dams. Several local officials — including Houston’s ‘flood czar’ and a neighboring county executive — said they had no idea the neighborhoods had been built inside the flood pools. Several real estate agents said they didn’t realize they were selling homes inside the pools.” Story by Neena Satija, Kiah Collier and Al Shaw

How dozens in southern Dallas were swindled out of homes — under the government’s nose | The Dallas Morning News

“Alleged scammers took at least $320,000 from victims and were about to close on another $223,500 worth of deals when police intervened in 2016, according to a Dallas Morning News review of deed records and court documents.” Story by Naomi Martin

Excited. Delirious. Dead. | The Texas Observer

Is excited delirium syndrome a medical phenomenon, or a convenient cover for deaths in police custody? Thanks to Vincent Di Maio, a former Bexar County medical examiner turned celebrity scientist, it’s a diagnosis police know well. Story by Michael Barajas

Did I miss a good story? Contact me or leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates and check out more watchdog journalism from the great state of Texas.