30 August 2011
Bill King and GHP start campaign to reform state public pensions
- Battle brewing over Texas public pensions - Kate Alexander, Austin American-Statesman
A group of high-powered Houston business leaders is starting a statewide campaign to overhaul retirement for future teachers, firefighters, police officers, judges and other state and local government workers.
"I think the state needs to get the hell out of this (pension) business completely," said lawyer Bill King , who is forming Texans for Public Pension Reform with others from the Greater Houston Partnership, an über-chamber of commerce with business members representing $1.5 trillion in assets.
Taxpayers bear too much risk on behalf of public employees by providing them a guaranteed retirement that most private sector workers don't get, King said.
In a previous thread, I discussed the incentives for municipalities to make pension promises that will be very difficult to keep and then simply kick the can down the road, exacerbating the problem (a pattern we have seen now with the last three mayors in Houston). My prediction was that the state would have to visit this issue (via legislative action or perhaps a state question) in a few years, as the problems became more apparent. It looks as if Bill King and crew are ready to jump start that conversation.
28 August 2011
Texas Watchdog: Interwoven ethics problems at Houston ISD, Houston Community College, port authority, Harris County — all one big ball of string
Note: The following report is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Click here to view the story on the Texas Watchdog website.
BY MIKE CRONIN AND JENNIFER PEEBLES
A casual reader of Houston news might think it’s a coincidence that there’s so much controversy in four of Houston’s largest government agencies.
But the ongoing ethics concerns at those four agencies include overlapping casts of characters. And officials’ relationships with contractors and vendors are a common theme in all four – in some cases, they’re the same contractors.
- Some of the officials involved in the scandals brewing in Harris County and at the Port of Houston Authority are friends and campaign supporters of Houston Independent School District trustees President Paula Harris.
- One of the central figures named in an internal investigation into questionable contracting at Houston Community College, former college trustee Abel Dávila, has close ties to HISD.
- And a major contractor for both HISD and HCC has been accused in court records of giving kickbacks to an HISD trustee, while another major contractor for both entities hired three firms with ties to HCC trustees as subcontractors.
In other words, it’s all one big ball of string, with loose ends going in four directions.
HCC and HISD
Similarities abound between Houston ISD and Houston Community College.
They’re both public entities that levy property taxes. They’re both huge operations – HISD with an annual budget of $1.6 billion, and HCC with annual operating expenses of more than $300 million. And, obviously, they’re both in the education business.
But there’s also a lot of cross-pollination between the two entities: The same people with connections in high places, the same contractors getting work – and the same controversies lately over jobs going to connected contractors.
Within the past couple of years, HISD and HCC have had two sets of married trustees: HISD’s Greg Meyers was married to HCC trustee Sandie Mullins, and then-HISD trustee Diana Dávila was (and still is) married to former HCC trustee Abel Dávila.
While Meyers has been the subject of some controversy – his marriage to Mullins ended in divorce amid allegations by her that he was “spending time,” as the Houston Press put it, with an HISD employee – HCC’s Abel Dávila has been one of the key figures in an outright scandal at the college, records show.
An investigation done for the college by an outside law firm questioned, among other things, a $1.5 million painting contract given to a firm headed by a pharmacy tech in her early 20s who is a family friend and former student of Abel Dávila’s.
Diana Dávila resigned from the HISD school board last year soon after the Houston Chronicle revealed that she had tried to get her husband appointed to the school system’s bond oversight committee, which oversees hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction.
Before she left the school board, HISD’s then-head of procurement e-mailed to Diana Dávila each week the district’s list of newly issued “requests for proposals,” records made public by the district show. The records show the weekly lists of new RFPs — for everything from safety shoes to remodelling of an entire middle school — went only to Diana Dávila, and not to the other school board members.
Since her resignation from the HISD school board, Diana Dávila and two current HISD trustees, Larry Marshall and Manuel Rodriguez, have been accused in civil court filings of having “significant funds” spent to entertain them by tech vendors seeking business with the school system under the federal E-Rate computers-in-schools program.
Neither Abel nor Diana Dávila could be reached for comment for this story. A message left at a local eatery owned by Abel Dávila yesterday afternoon was not returned by press time, and multiple other Houston phone listings for that name did not yield a return call.
A person by that name gave $500 to HISD’s Marshall as a campaign contribution in June 2009, campaign financial disclosures show, but it was unclear from records available online this week whether Marshall’s donor was the same person as the pharmacy tech.
Also at issue in the HCC investigation was Abel Dávila’s involvement in HCC’s 2009 decision to hire Chevron to help the college save on energy costs. The investigative report accused him of trying to use his influence as a trustee to get Chevron to hire Ramirez’s company as a subcontractor, including that Dávila “pushed to get (Ramirez’s company) paid $500,000 … for being ‘mentored’ by Chevron on how to perform ‘program management’ services,” and later wanted the firm to be hired by Chevron as a subcontractor for electrical and general construction work “in the range of $1.25-$1.5 million.”
HISD is also working with Chevron and another firm, Schneider Electric, on an energy-savings arrangement. The school board voted in June to have the firms perform initial energy audits.
Meanwhile, the internal investigation at HCC also found that a major contractor for the college, Fort Bend Mechanical, had hired as subcontractors three firms tied to three college trustees: the pharmacy tech’s firm tied to Abel Dávila, the son of Trustee Yolanda Navarro Flores, and a property management company run by Trustee Chris Oliver.
Fort Bend owner Pete Medford told the Houston Chronicle last year that Abel Dávila had introduced him to the pharmacy tech. Medford did not return a call for comment for this story.
Fort Bend Mechanical is also a major construction and maintenance contractor for HISD. The school system has paid the Stafford-based firm more than $9 million in the past two years, according to the district’s check register.
School district records show Westco Ventures, a firm owned and run by one of Harris’ closest friends, Nicole West, has subcontracted for Fort Bend Mechanical on HISD work. It was not clear at press time what job or jobs for which Westco “subbed” for Fort Bend, or how much Westco was paid.
“We don’t really know whether a lot of these stories are true,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier told the Houston Chronicle’s Ericka Mellon last year, “but we’ve had people complain that subcontractors have come to vendors and said, ‘If you don’t name me as a sub, you’re going to be in trouble because of my association with this person or that person.’ We don’t know if that’s true or not.” Grier declined to be more specific or name names.
"I have seen a procurement department made up of independent folks rate bids from a variety of different companies across the district to do a lot of different work," Grier said last week. "And then I've seen staff — just for whatever reason — pull names off of a list and put other names back on a list, (with) no rhyme or reason except, quite frankly, influence where influence has no business coming from."
Though he didn’t name any names then, either, Grier’s comments came after the school board voted to begin negotiations with Fort Bend Mechanical, RHJ and two other firms, KBR and Jamail & Smith — for repairs and small construction jobs at various Houston ISD facilities.
The Medford family are also among Marshall’s major campaign donors. Five Medfords have given Marshall a total of $18,000 in campaign cash in the past three years, records show. (The Medfords have given to other HISD trustees as well, but to a lesser extent. Records show donations of $5,000 to Greg Meyers, $2,500 each to Harris and Harvin Moore, and $1,500 to Juliet Stipeche.)
Marshall also disclosed on his January 2009 HISD ethics disclosure form that Fort Bend Mechanical officials gave him tickets to football games between the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans and against the Chicago Bears.
COMMON CONNECTION IN RHJ
Another major contractor for both Houston Community College and HISD is RHJ-JOC – the firm that has been accused in court documents of giving kickbacks to HISD trustee Larry Marshall.
The company, led by Houston businesswoman Eva Jackson and her husband, Richard, touts its relationship with HCC on its website:
RHJ-JOC has completed a number of projects for the Houston Community College (HCC) throughout the system since 2003. This includes projects at the Administration Building, The Fine Arts Building, Heinen Theater and the JB Whitely Building at the Central Campus. As part of their dedication to the community and commitment to mentor minority and small business enterprises, RHJ-JOC contracts with several subcontractors for their work at the HCC.
Meanwhile, HISD has paid RHJ more than $3.2 million over the past two years, according to the district’s online check register.
In a civil lawsuit, Houston businessman Gil Ramirez Jr., head of RHJ rival Ramirez Group, alleges that RHJ paid kickbacks to Marshall in return for RHJ winning a big school district contract over the Ramirez Group. The suit claims the kickback payments were routed through Marshall’s campaign treasurer, who was paid $185,000 by RHJ as a consultant.
Marshall has denied any wrongdoing. Neither Ramirez nor his attorney returned calls for comment in recent days.
Marshall is a board member of a Houston-based nonprofit that Eva Jackson heads, theInternational Faithbased Foundation Inc., which seeks to endow “global humanitarian development and disaster relief projects,” according to its website. Also on the foundation board is HCC trustee Bruce Austin, records show.
In the past three years, RHJ and the Jacksons have made campaign donations to HISD trustees, including $5,300 to Harris, $3,500 to Marshall and $250 to Moore, disclosure forms say.
Meanwhile, a Gil Ramirez Sr. gave $1,000 to Rodriguez in 2009, and a Gil Ramirez, with no suffix listed, gave Marshall $1,000 the previous year. A “Gill Ramirez Sr.” was also listed among the campaign supporters for HISD trustee Manuel Rodriguez on an invitation to a July fundraiser.
LINKS TO HARRIS COUNTY, PORT AUTHORITY
There are also links between some of the folks involved in recent controversies in HISD, Harris County and the Port of Houston Authority.
Revelations of wining and dining at taxpayers’ expense preceded Edwin Harrison’s retirement this summer as Harris County’s longtime financial services director.
But Harrison wasn’t the only one jetting off to New York – and sometimes even to Costa Rica — to live large, including taking in an NFL game in New York City in a luxury suite paid for by Goldman Sachs. With him on some of those trips were lawyers on Harris County bond deals, and one of those lawyers was Frank Jones.
Jones is also campaign treasurer for Harris, who is up for re-election this year in HISD’s District IV. His law firm, Greenberg Traurig, is one of a handful of law firms that have paid back Harris County a total of $300,000 for travel and entertainment expenses.
Meanwhile, records show that firms run by Frank Jones’ wife, Demetra C. Jones, have done more than $75,000 in no-bid consulting work for HISD, putting on after-school and continuing education classes.
Demetra Jones used to work Harris County Precinct One Commissioner El Franco Lee, serving as Lee’s head of human resources and risk management for nearly 20 years. She did not return a call for comment for this story.
Lee also had testy exchanges with Harrison and Frank Jones’ most vocal critic, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, when the subject of Harrison’s trips came up at recent county Commissioners Court meetings. Neither Lee nor Harrison returned calls for comment for this story.
Harris’ campaign also paid one of Demetra Jones’ firms, TLConsulting, for fundraising work in the most recent fundraising period, according to campaign financial disclosure forms and Harris’ own HISD ethics form, submitted in July.
Records also show that Westco Ventures, another firm connected to a Harris friend, has done more than $300,000 in work for Harris County in the past three years, including $182,000 in post-Hurricane Ike cleanup work at the flooded-out Evelyn Meador library branch in Seabrook and $59,000 to overhaul the county-owned cafeterias at the County Administration Building, Criminal Justice Center and civil courthouse after the existing contractor walked off the job in 2009.
Harris is the godmother to the children of Westco owner Nicole West.
Another of Harris’ campaign supporters is the former Port of Houston Authority communications chief who left with a $380,000 settlement package last year, Argentina James.
That golden parachute was one of the installments in the recent investigation of the port authority by KTRK-TV’s Wayne Dolcefino. Titled “Port of Plenty,” the series outlined questionable spending by port officials, including a port-funded trip on the port authority’s tour boat, the M/V Sam Houston, for James’ children’s basketball team. The trip included a $1,280 catering bill.
James has given Harris’ campaign $500 in the past two years, financial disclosures show. Harrison, the former county official, also gave $200.
James, who has launched her own public relations firm, HillDay, since leaving the port authority last year, told Texas Watchdog she knew both Harris and Demetra Jones but only in a professional capacity.
The port authority is a public entity, with board members appointed by the Harris County Commissioners Court, the Houston City Council, and other local governments. Part of its revenues come from property taxes. Some of Dolcefino’s findings are being probed by the Harris County attorney.
Contact Mike Cronin at [email protected] or 281-417-8849. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin. Contact Jennifer Peebles at [email protected] or 281-656-1681. Follow her on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog.
24 August 2011
METRO's "long-term financial train wreck" lumbers on
- Metro abandoning bid to payoff general mobility carry-over in fiscal 2012 - Mike Reed, Your Houston News
So much for NEW METRO delivering on its promises.
Metro has abandoned plans to complete its carry-over general-mobility payments to the city of Houston and Harris County by 2012.
A chart outlining cutbacks for 2012 budget to begin in October, shows the transit agency will begin setting aside only $3.25 million a month in general mobility payments, down from the current $5 million a month.
This will delay payments of about $18 million until the 2013 budget year.
- Metro counts on federal cash despite D.C.'s red ink - Carol Christian, Houston Chronicle
As Metro ramps up construction of the North and Southeast light-rail lines scheduled for completion in 2014, the agency has made much of two pending federal grants that total $900 million.
But even if the grants come through - and in today's Washington climate, nothing with a dollar sign seems definite - they won't arrive in one big check.
Greanias and Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia said they're counting on the money even though it will be subject to annual appropriations by Congress that are shrouded in uncertainty pending the work of the newly appointed Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.
METRO's Board Chair and disgraced CEO take optimism to delusional new heights. Someone needs to let them know the country is broke, and the federal money spigot for frivolous boondoggles is going to have to be turned off (or at least severely limited).
- Next great global health hub, TX vs. Midwest, luxury buses vs. trains, and more - Houston Strategies
Everybody can clearly see the long-term financial train wreck Metro is embarking on, but they all just shrug their shoulders and nobody tries to stop it. So frustrating and sad. So many better things could be done for the city with that money. Any brave officials out there to rally the cause of Houston's long-term transportation future?
Doubtful. On this topic, the light-rail Houtopians are determined to forge ahead. Those of us who point out the fiscal insanity are (mis)labeled anti-rail Luddites (or worse). And overall transit system ridership continues to decline (along with the services provided). World Class (mess)!
23 August 2011
ATS tries a different approach; Will the City fold?
Translation: ATS would like to keep Bill White's revenue stream flowing, and isn't at all confident that it will win much in damages when the City of Houston honors the will of voters and breaks the contract.
A top executive of the city’s red-light camera vendor publicly offered not to pursue damages for the eight months the city had the cameras dark if the city would keep them on through the end of 2013.
George Hittner, general counsel for American Traffic Solutions, offered to “wipe the slate clean” and end the contract five months before its May 2014 expiration if the city keeps the cameras on.
All the more reason to go ahead, get rid of the things, and let ATS fight for damages in court.
22 August 2011
Mayor's Hire Houston First initiative returns to Council this week
Last week, City Council took up Mayor Parker's Hire Houston First initiative. The item was tagged, and returns to Council this week (item #33).
We have not previously discussed the initiative, but here is an excerpt from the initial press release that Mayor Parker put out in July:
Perhaps this makes me a curmudgeon (okay, I'm definitely a curmudgeon), but what this looks like to me is a nice mechanism for the Mayor/Council to dole out patronage and favors to local entities while costing taxpayers up to 3-5% more than necessary.
Mayor Parker promised a Hire Houston First program when she ran for office in 2009. The mechanism to fully implement the program was approved by state lawmakers in the just completed legislative session. The program, which requires City Council approval, will allow the City to consider a vendor’s principle place of business and to grant preference to local businesses in awarding certain City contracts.
For contracts under $100,000, the legislative changes allow the City to award contracts for the purchase of goods to a local firm if the local firm’s price is within five percent of the lowest bid from an out-of-town company. For contracts exceeding $100,000, there can be no more than a three percent difference between the out-of-town low bid and the next highest offer from a local vendor.
Mayor Parker proposes expanding the principles of the legislation to include procurements for services, including construction work, and to encompass firms based across the greater Houston metropolitan area. The City would also have the discretion, when appropriate, to consider location when selecting contractors for architectural, engineering, and land surveying services.
“I am thankful to the local legislative delegation for their support in getting this approved and I look forward to working with City Council to get it implemented,” Parker said. “Hire Houston First will provide discretion, where appropriate, without negating our responsibility to wisely manage the dollars entrusted to us. It will maximize the local economic impact of our governmental spending.”
And... it's nicely coordinated with the mayor's "Please let me break 70% so I don't have to face a tough challenger next time" re-election campaign!
UPDATE: Speaking of the election, a friend recently received this robocall voicemail message (wav download) from the Annise Parker campaign. The fun part was that the caller ID indicated the call was from Washington DC (202 area code). Perhaps there wasn't a competitive local phone bank to do the calls?
16 August 2011
Parker Administration moving to kill red-light cams (maybe)
- Houston critics see red over traffic cams - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle
A little over a month ago, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced she was turning the red-light cameras back on and declared she did not need the City Council's approval to do it.
Then on Saturday, just three weeks after the city began issuing citations again, she released a resolution seeking the council's endorsement to turn them back off and fight the camera vendor in court over breach of contract damages.
- Council could outlaw red-light cameras Friday - Chris Moran, Chron Houston Politics
Mayor Annise Parker has called a special meeting of City Council for Friday to consider outlawing red-light cameras in Houston once and for all.
Council will consider repealing the ordinance that authorized the use of the cameras.
Approval of the repeal ordinance Friday would be a point of no return in the on-again off-again saga, codifying in city law a prohibition on the cameras’ use. Parker made clear she expects a decision Friday with no parliamentary maneuvers to delay a vote.
ATS is probably going to be due some damages, thanks to former Mayor Bill White's reworking of their deal. Let the city's legal department wrangle with them in court over that amount if that's what it's going to take, but definitely get on with it.
Bloated transit agency's "dream team" police force to become "more pro-active"
Just a few questions come to mind:
With his new assistant chief in place, Rodriguez said they're a "dream team on par with any agency. I'm pretty happy. I've got the man I want, and it's a very good day for METRO."
Rodriguez said Goralski will help transition the agency into a more pro-active one.
Goralski will be leading a force of 190 police officers.
1) Why in the world does this 190-officer-strong force even exist?
2) If there's a need to improve the agency by making it "more pro-active," isn't that an admission that the last chief (the one who is now a vice president at the bloated transit organization) didn't do that great a job?
3) Will a more "pro-active" force take the investigative lead the next time the agency's disgraced CEO George Greanias decides to visit adolescent gay-porn sites at work (instead of embarrassed management and politicos blocking any such investigation)?
14 August 2011
Mayor Parker changes mind, now says red-light cams must go
- Houston red-light cameras may be turned off again - Chris Moran, Houston Chronicle (08/12/2011)
This story didn't quite feel ready for publication, given the lack of detail. But this part was curious:
Houston's red-light camera vendor said on Friday that Mayor Annise Parker is trying to turn the cameras off again, and it has asked a federal judge to stop her from doing so.
City Attorney David Feldman confirmed that the mayor is considering turning the cameras off as she prepares a resolution for a City Council vote on Wednesday, but he said Parker has not yet decided what that resolution will say.
Ah yes, the vocal minority who happened to be the majority who voted to END the red-light camera boondoggle.
"Now because of politics, they (city officials) have changed their mind. Now I guess the noise from the vocal minority is so loud that they just want it to go away," [ATS counsel Andy] Taylor said.
- Mayor will ask for council's OK for red-light cams shutoff - Anita Hassan, Houston Chronicle (08/13/2011)
Substantively, we are pleased that Mayor Annise Parker has finally come around to the right position on red-light cameras. As we noted quite a while ago, no federal judge's opinion can really change the fact that local voters have expressed their opinion on red-light cameras, and they should go away.
With some stern words for the company operating Houston's red-light cameras, Mayor Annise Parker released a draft of a resolution Saturday to ask for City Council approval to turn off the controversial cameras.
The resolution, set to go to vote on Wednesday, asks the City Council to litigate the American Traffic Solutions suit to conclusion or to a reasonable settlement. Parker said in a prepared statement on Saturday that the city's legal team will fight until the cameras are gone for good.
"I refuse to let (American Traffic Solutions) hold the City of Houston and its taxpayers hostage to an unreasonable demand for millions of dollars," she said. "ATS should now know that when they walked away from the negotiating table, they started a battle that they won't win with the citizens of Houston."
The resolution also asks that following its passage and approval, City Council also consider repealing the ordinance that allows the use of red-light cameras in the city.
We applaud Mayor Parker for (finally) making the right decision.
11 August 2011
Thousands of rape kits sit untested as city pursues boondoggle after boondoggle
- HPD rape case backlog is far worse than feared - Anita Hassan, Houston Chronicle
According to department officials and figures compiled for a grant awarded to HPD from the National Institute of Justice this year, more than 3,000 kits stored in air-conditioned sections of the property room may not have been tested in addition to the 4,220 untested kits in a property room freezer. The estimate of additional kits is based on a random sampling.
Not only can untested sexual assault evidence cause delays in justice for rape victims, it also can lead to the conviction of innocent people.
Why in the world hasn't this been more of a priority for multiple mayoral administrations?
10 August 2011
Houston mayor discovers Texas is experiencing a terrible drought
- Houston expects mandatory water restrictions next week - Matt Schwartz, Houston Chronicle
Mayor Annise Parker this morning said that the city is moving toward enacting mandatory water restrictions and a simultaneous draw-down of water from Lake Conroe, as soon as next week, in response to the ongoing drought.
- Out of time, out of water - Houblog
Be sure to click over and read all of the Houblog post. And do a little rain dance, if you're so inclined.
The message is clear — we’re fast running out of water capacity in Houston. The question is, why hasn’t the mayor been doing anything about it, or trying to draw more attention to the need to conserve?
Moving On: NEW METRO doesn't see need for legal review of Greanias surfing habits
- George Greanias Signed No-Porn Policy Right Before Porn Binge - Richard Connelly, Village Voice Houston
In which we learn that George Greanias is a hypocrite, in addition to visiting some highly questionable sites with possibly illegal depictions of adolescent gay sex.
- Metro's George Greanias On Escorts And The Reaction Of The Board, Employees And The Mayor - Richard Connelly, Village Voice Houston
In which one-time professional journalist Richard Connelly lobs softballs at disgraced METRO CEO George Greanias. Apparently, Connelly saves his really tough stuff for when he's keyboarding about KTRH radio or Chron.com's blog Texas Sparkle.
- METRO CEO Insists He Was Doing Job While Surfing For Porn At Work - Stephen Dean, KPRC-2 News
Kudos to Stephen Dean for asking a few tough questions.
Greanias also defended the decision to avoid a police investigation, acknowledging that his agency's Police Department has no criminal probe under way at all surrounding the content that may have been downloaded or the taxpayer funded time soaked up with searches for porn.
Greanias said no police investigation was needed because no laws were broken.
When Local 2 Investigates asked who got to make such a call that no laws were broken, thus keeping police out of the case, Greanias answered that the "record" of what transpired proves there were no crimes committed...
It must be nice (for Greanias) to have superiors who decide that visiting websites that seem to feature underage males engaged in gay sex acts doesn't require further investigation by legal authorities, although the decision to avoid further scrutiny doesn't quite live up to the grand new ages of openness and transparency promised by NEW METRO.
Sorry for the downtime earlier.
The server facility in Dallas that houses many of our host's servers had a massive power breakdown/fiasco that took hours to correct. Prior to this, our host's clustered services had achieved monitored uptime of about 99.9+% over nearly two years. I suspect they may be looking for a new colocation facility after this outage, though.
08 August 2011
Local religious group calls for termination of disgraced METRO chief George Greanias
Actually, there are strong indications that he viewed child pornography. If one visits at least two of the sites that METRO said he visited, the front pages contain highly questionable images of what appear to be underage males engaged in gay-sex acts. One can't help but conclude some journos who are covering this haven't actually taken the time to visit the sites, rendering their reporting incomplete. So sorry if it upsets their sensibilities, but this is really an instance in which they need to dig just a little deeper than "METRO said."
A routine audit last month of Metro employees' Internet use showed that Greanias used his personal computer in the Metro building to access adult-content sites on 14 days between Feb. 9 and July 1. There was no indication he had viewed child pornography or hired prostitutes, Metro said, although the sites included escort services.
As opposed to the not-so-great things like viewing disturbing, possibly illegal, adolescent gay porn images using public resources?
Metro spokesperson Jerome Gray said they still have high expectations for Grenias [sic].
“We are expecting him to continue to do the great things he has been doing,” said Gray.
The nature of several of the websites that George Greanias apparently visited repeatedly makes his continued employment highly problematic.
The Houston Area Pastor Council, an inter-racial, inter-denominational organization representing several hundred churches throughout greater Houston issued the following statement in response to the revelations that Metro President and CEO George Greanias used a government computer to access pornographic websites potentially involving minors:
"The appalling lack of decency, moral judgment and responsible decision making by Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO George Greanias in abusing the trust of the community by accessing pornographic materials on his government computer render him completely unfit for this position. The well known adage that who you are speaks louder than what you say, became tragically applicable with Mr. Greanias through his actions. Given that he was also very vocal in previously condemning some Metro employees who had done the same thing by stating they had "no place" at Metro*, his leadership is irreparably damaged."
"In a vital position of public trust we are far beyond the 'do what I say not what I do' methodology. It is unacceptable and further undermines the already historically low public trust of city government fraught with deception, mismanagement, arrogance and contempt for the people they are charged with serving. Even a single act of this type would be violation of both policy and public trust but the repetitive nature of Mr. Greanias' violations is clear evidence that he should not hold this position of leadership or any other with Metro."
"We believe it is the responsibility of the Metro board to do the right thing and release Mr. Greanias immediately. They should replace him with a leader who exhibits the character and integrity so vital in effective leadership. As it is their responsibility we will also hold them and Mayor Annise Parker accountable for taking that course of action. In addition, we will be requesting that the Harris County District Attorney's office review these websites and Mr. Greanias' actions to determine if violations of obscenity laws occurred. Even if his violations do not reach a level requiring prosecution, they clearly crossed the lines of decency and cannot be whitewashed by a temporary suspension."
At the very least, one hopes that METRO's disgraced chief will never be allowed to attend career-day or any other events that involve children!
UPDATE: METRO's expensive blogger Mary Sit had a blog post a few years back entitled "Keeping Our Kids Safe: Stop, Look, Listen." She should probably update that post to note that METRO's disgraced chief George Greanias should be kept away from the kids. For their safety.
04 August 2011
Parker hides behind METRO board on Greanias adolescent gay porn issue
We'll take her refusal to comment on Greanias' apparent habit of visiting adolescent gay porn sites as tacit approval of the behavior.
At Wednesday’s post-Council meeting news conference, Mayor Annise Parker again did not directly address whether she had confidence in George Greanias as president and CEO of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in the wake of his suspension for visiting porn sites on the Web at work.
“I think I have great board members over there at Metro. I trust their judgment, and I believe they’re doing a great job of transforming that agency into the new Metro, and I continue to support their work,” Parker said.
Metro has attempted to downplay the content on the sites Greanias visited, and with good reason. I have not visited the sites listed in the Metro press release, nor do I intend to do so. But the names of the sites are troubling in the extreme.
The names of four of the sites indicated they may have featured images of minors. Metro has said that none of the sites include underage images, but admit that they relied on a disclaimer on the websites to that effect. Accepting the word of a porn site about the age of its actors is hardly what one would call an exhaustive investigation.
But splitting hairs over whether the subjects were over 18 does little to ameliorate the fact that Greanias was looking at these sites in the first place.
It is extremely troubling that a public official was caught repeatedly surfing sites that appear to feature child porn, whatever disclaimers the sites may contain.
If Gilbert Garcia and Annise Parker do not find these images (and their close associate's apparent interest in them) troubling, then that also raises real questions about their judgment.
03 August 2011
NEW METRO has another porn problem
Ah, hapless former police chief Tom Lambert makes an appearance! We would have thought Jerome Gray would be handling these sorts of press inquiries (given Lambert's past performances).
Local 2 Investigates reported Tuesday that a felony charge of tampering with a government record was lodged against 51-year-old David Wayne Richards, who was the focus of a hidden camera report in October.
In court records, METRO police wrote that Richards made false entries on his official daily work record, reflecting that he was helping stranded motorists when he was really being recorded going from one adult video store to another.
METRO Vice President Tom Lambert, who was over the program, said, "We're embarrassed by it. It's not something that we expect should be happening. It's not something we condone to happen and so we're disappointed that it happened.
To quote my blogging colleague Anne Linehan from an email exchange earlier, this seems to be some Culture of Porn NEW METRO has going!
02 August 2011
Chron: Greanias must answer "serious questions"
We agree with this weekend editorial from the Chronicle.
Well, with the headline at least.
The Chronicle's questions aren't as specific as we'd like, so we'll help out: Why was George Greanias surfing possibly illegal gay adolescent porn sites at all, and did he exhibit a pattern of visiting those sites (multiple visits and/or multiple clicks on those sites).
If the answer to the last is affirmative, then Greanias must be terminated and the information turned over to the DA.
Social engineer Costello still working on "food deserts"
We wish our Tea Party friends would direct as much of their ire towards nonsense like this as the mostly staged recent political theater regarding the debt ceiling increase. That would be fun for Houston's busybody class to experience.
Stephen Costello made his name in city politics as an engineer and a driving force behind the new drainage fee.
Now comes Costello the social engineer.
He wants Houston's city government to lure supermarkets to neighborhoods with few places to buy produce. He is talking about tax breaks, sales tax rebates, utility subsidies, even using public dollars to buy the land for a private business.
Later in this story, we even learn that the City's "sustainability director" (!?) is planning a "supermarket summit" this fall, to continue to try to push grocers into "markets" that they've apparently deemed unprofitable.
The phrase "Fiddling while Rome burns" comes to mind.