Virtually all government agencies now have a Facebook page, used to keep taxpayers informed.
The FBI even has one. So does the IRS.
And here in Harris County, ESD #11 has a Facebook Page. It has the same graphic as the ESD #11 website, links to the emergency service district webpage, and of course it is labeled as a government organization. After all, ESD #11 is responsible for 911 ambulance service for 600,000 Harris County Residents.
Just one problem.
Take a look at Harris County ESD #11 on Facebook and take a look at the patriotic looking message on the left. It is calling for the reelection of incumbent Karen Plummer for the ESD Board. In fact, she is the only one mentioned, even though there are 7 people vying for just three spots on the controversial ESD #11.
“There is not even a required disclosure on what appears to be a political advertisement hidden under the guise of an official government Facebook Page,” says Wayne Dolcefino President of Dolcefino Consulting. “Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Ms. Plummer is playing games with voters because some ESD #11 commissioners seem to have issues with Texas Election Law and the ethics of running for public office.”
Commissioner Fred Grundemeyer never filed a single required campaign document when he ran for the ESD.
Now the FBI and IRS are investigating the way some ESD Commissioners were elected, and whether they improperly received financial benefits from a group linked the ambulance contractor the ESD is elected to watchdog.
ESD #11 John Peeler says the Facebook Page used to promote Karen Plummer is not the “official “page of the ESD #11, but they are investigating who controls it. As a licensed private investigator, I have a good place to start. Ask Karen Plummer!
Did Ms. Plummer violate the law? That’s the job of the Harris County District Attorney’s job, but taxpayers curious about what the ESD does shouldn’t be confused by this “unofficial” Facebook page.
Wonder what would happen if someone set up a fake FBI Facebook page, or one for the IRS?I have a clue it wouldn’t be up long.
You might think Ms. Plummer would be careful about her electioneering this time. She just had to turn over her campaign records to the FBI.
An investigation by Dolcefino Consulting found records detailing evidence Plummer frequently accepted entertainment from Cypress Creek EMS Head Brad England. CCEMS is the ambulance service ESD #11 is supposed to police to protect millions in taxpayer money.
That should tell voters all they need to know.
We all know about the famous Bill Clinton answer to a grand jury investigation. “it depends on what the meaning of the word is is.”
Now we have the local edition. Cypress Creek EMS lawyer Andrew Mckinney is trying to convince a Harris County Criminal Judge the state charity law is too vague for him to understand, even what a “financial record” is.
Cypress Creek EMS has faced criminal charges for sixteen months for violating the Texas Charity Law by refusing to release payroll records of administrators, including CCEMS Boss Brad England. CCEMS has even refused to provide the names of CCEMS employees paid with tax dollars.
Dolcefino Consulting asked for the payroll records so that taxpayers could see who was getting paid with their money. Seems simple, but not to the folks at CCEMS.
Months after being charged, the Harris County District Attorney subpoenaed the payroll records. CCEMS just ignored the criminal subpoena, and now their lawyer is trying to convince a Judge to throw it out.
Mr. Mckinney claims the charity law is vague and he just doesn’t know what a “financial record” is. That means it is apparently hard for him and the folks at CCEMS to figure out if a payroll record is a financial record.
At a recent court hearing after more than 17 delays, Mr. McKinney addressed the District Attorney.
“I know what you are getting at, I know what you are asking for, but there isn’t a record of salaries the way you are asking for it.”
Sure sounds a lot like that famous Clinton quote.
“Charities in Texas have been releasing the names of employees and their salaries since I was in diapers”, says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The United Way, the Red Cross, you name it and the public has a right to see how their donations are spent. I am sorry Mr. Mckinney is so confused.”
Of course, with CCEMS there is a greater obligation for transparency. Ten million in tax money, plus a government contract from ESD # 11 that lets CCEMS collect and keep the
medical bills from the 911 contract they have to protect 600,000 Harris County residents.
And all this time, the majority of the elected ESD #11 Safety Commissioners haven’t forced them to show the records.
Of course, the FBI is now investigating who helped fund the campaigns of some of those same commissioners. CCEMS has been subpoenaed too.
Your tax dollars at work.
Luckily, taxpayers in ESD #11 have a chance in May to elect the new safety commissioners who will hopefully watchdog your money the right way.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s assault on the public’s right to know may affect the safety of millions of Texans…here’s how.
The beleaguered attorney general says volunteer fire and 911 ambulance services are no longer covered by the Texas Public Information Act. That changes decades of open records law.
When the attorney general convinced Austin Judge Karin Krump to go along last week, Texans lost more than the right to see how millions of their tax dollars were spent.
Now the public will no longer to be able to access dispatch records to see if response times are accurately reported. They will no longer be able to see if delays cost lives.
And what will happen when fire and ambulance services are sued for an injury or death? If they are not government entities any more. How can they claim governmental immunity?
In the recent CCEMS case, Assistant Texas Attorney General Rosalind Hunt told the court in Austin that the ambulance company can find another way to raise money if they lose government funding.
Maybe Hunt should read the CCEMS has no authority to answer 911 calls without the permission of the elected members of the emergency service district.
Tonight, millions of Texans are left in the dark by Judge Karin Krump’s decision.
The public’s right to know about how their tax money is spent to protect them should never be jeopardized.
If you live between Tomball and Humble, you should send a clear message to your elected representatives on the ESD board.
Protect our money. Protect our right to know.
It sure looks like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has abandoned the public’s right to know.
And today Judge Karen Crump in Austin put a judicial seal of approval on what could quickly become a new era of secrecy.
Texas taxpayers should demand something different.
This particular fight was about Cypress Creek EMS, the contractor for 911 service for 600,000 Harris County Residents. ESD #11, the elected government safety agency, lets CCEMS keep every penny of the money they make from the ambulance bills, even though it is the taxpayers who authorize the ambulance to go, and the money is used to defray the cost of the government service. Taxpayers then pay another $10 million dollars in taxes to support CCEMS, paying the salaries of the paramedics who responds and the dispatchers who send them. You should find out if that is the system used where you live.
The Texas Attorney General told CCEMS they had to show the records of their use of tax money when Dolcefino Consulting requested them. Just like Texas has worked for decades.
CCEMS filed suit against the Texas Attorney General, refusing to let taxpayers see who benefited from the tax dollars. Dolcefino Consulting joined in to help fight for the public right to see who got their money.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Not in Texas anymore.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in another case that the Greater Houston Partnership wasn’t a governmental body just because it got a little money from government contracts. Since then, the Attorney General has folded its “public right to know “tent, regardless of how much public money it is involved, or even how critical it is to the people getting it.
Dolcefino Consulting argued that volunteer fire and ambulance services are different, because they provide a critical government service, have an exclusive contract with the government and without the government contract they wouldn’t have any right to send a 911 ambulance at all.
In the CCEMS case, the Texas Attorney General abandoned the fight for taxpayers, and instead joined the guys who take your money and want to keep it secret. Makes you proud doesn’t it?
In court this week, the Assistant Attorney General argued CCEMS could find another way to make money if they didn’t have all your tax money. CCEMS
Lawyer Andrew McKinney told Judge Crump they could go to neighborhoods between Tomball and Humble and get volunteer contributions put on water bills.
They would make 4 million dollars a year.
We say go for it. But read the law first.
The legislature created the ESD’s to provide 911 ambulance service, and CCEMS likely wouldn’t have the legal authority to answer the 911 calls without the government contract. It wouldn’t matter how they get the money.
That same fight is already happening in the Katy area.
Harris County Commissioners better wake up, because as the county has grown the budgets for these volunteer fire and ambulance services have exploded. They aren’t just folks running to the call of the bell. They are becoming huge bureaucracies.
Why should taxpayers be forced to pay money for a service they have no right to question? Beats us.
Here is a message to Attorney General Paxton. You have done taxpayers wrong.
Judge Karen Crump had a chance to fix it. She didn’t.
Of course, there was never anything stopping CCEMS from voluntarily showing their records, especially to the elected safety commissioners who are supposed to watchdog their contract. They refused. Yet they always want more of your money.
Next week, CCEMS will be back in another court, trying to quash a subpoena from the Harris County District Attorney for refusing to release charity records.
ESD #11 could have joined the fight for taxpayers right to know. They didn’t.
Maybe that is a symptom of the real problem. Some of the people elected to police the 911 contract in ESD #11 may have been helped into office by CCEMS officials and their friends. One never even filed required election reports, yet no one stopped him. What a cozy deal!
Maybe that is why the FBI is now investigating, and records are being taken to a federal grand jury.
Taxpayers should explore an election to roll back taxes. CCEMS apparently doesn’t need your money, and they are willing to spend money they could have spent on medical supplies fighting the public right to know instead.
“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know”.
That is one of the first paragraphs in the Texas Public Information Act.
Maybe our Texas Attorney General should take another look at it sometime.
The Houston Chronicle’s St. John Barned-Smith reports on an entity contractor under scrutiny from watchdogs:
A federal grand jury is investigating a north Harris County emergency services district that contracts with a nonprofit ambulance service which has come under intense scrutiny by government watchdogs in recent years.
Prosecutors ordered commissioners of Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 in February to produce records related to its operations, according to a federal subpoena obtained by the Houston Chronicle. READ MORE
Oh, what they confess in court:#HarrisCounty #CypressCreek
Posted by Dolcefino Consulting on Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Taxpayers living between Tomball and Humble probably don’t know who Andrew McKinney is. They should. The law firm he works for has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep secrets about who is benefiting from tax money being spent on 911 service.
Andrew McKinney is the long time lawyer for Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS), the charity with the exclusive government contract from ESD #11 to provide 911 emergency ambulance service for 600,000 Harris County residents.
In some places across Texas, taxpayers don’t have to kick in much tax money to help pay for 911 service. That is because the 911 ambulance bills insurance companies. For instance, CCEMS collects millions, and they are allowed to keep all that money. Taxpayers are then asked to make up the rest of the ESD budget.
In an Austin courtroom Monday, Andrew McKinney admitted CCEMS doesn’t aggressively collect the medical bills because they get all those millions from taxpayers.
In just a few words, he may have provided taxpayers with the evidence to say enough is enough.
Why in the world should taxpayers pay a penny for 911 service without having the right to audit the millions of dollars CCEMS already make from the 911 medical bills? It is not complicated.
Why are elected ESD Commissioners sitting on their hand? Hundreds of thousands of dollars that could pay for ambulance equipment, medical supplies, even bonuses for underpaid paramedics are being used instead to wage legal battles with the Harris County District Attorney and Texas Attorney General to keep records a secret.
Why did the ESD Commissioners do nothing when they found out the medical billing money is being used to fund the entertainment habits of the CCEMS Boss Brad England?
Monday in Austin, Dolcefino Consulting asked District Judge Karin Krump to order CCEMS to release payroll records of the employees paid with tax dollars. 87 percent of CCEMS employees, including all the paramedics and dispatchers are paid with tax money.
CCEMS lawyer Andrew McKinney wants the Judge to rule CCEMS isn’t covered by the Texas Public Information Act and doesn’t have to show taxpayers their payroll records.
The Judge will rule in the next few days, but taxpayers have already been the clear losers. They are being asked to pay taxes to subsidize a lifesaving government service without any ability to oversee how the rest of the money collected in their name is being spent.
And thanks to Mr. McKinney, taxpayers now know they are paying more than they have to.
And the money which could have been spent on reducing ambulance service cost went to a lawyer instead.
The safety commissioners responsible for 911 service between Tomball and Spring meet tomorrow morning at 9:00 am under the cloud of a federal investigation.
The records of five Emergency Services District (ESD) #11 Commissioners are among those already subpoenaed in an FBI investigation. They have been told to turn records over to a federal grand jury on February 24, 2016.
The FBI doesn’t publicly comment on investigations, but the ESD Commissioners have been the subject of an ethics complaint accusing them of getting political funding from a group linked with Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS).
CCEMS has the 911 contract for four hundred thousand Harris County residents, and the ESD Commissioners are elected to watchdog the contract and the choice of ambulance contractor.
In 2014, a group called Friends of Cypress Creek EMS with a logo almost identical to CCEMS, took out ads and secured endorsements for incumbent ESD Commissioners. The organization was not registered as a corporation, or a political action committee, and CCEMS Director Brad England has refused to identify the members or his role in helping create the organization.
England’s entertainment expenses include numerous steak dinners with Friends of Cypress Creek EMS. Those records also do not identify who were the beneficiaries of CCEMS Entertainment.
Why is this so important to taxpayers?
ESD #11 has allowed CCEMS to keep total control of all the medical bills generated from taxpayer supported 911 service, while billing taxpayers an additional 10 million dollars in property tax funds.
The ESD has also refused to force CCEMS to detail who receives taxpayer funds, including who is on the payroll of the ambulance service.
The ESD has taken no action while CCEMS spends money that could have been used for bandages and medical equipment in litigation to keep financial records secret.
CCEMS has been charged with a crime for refusing to provide financial records by the Harris County District Attorney and has filed three lawsuits against the Texas Attorney General to keep financial records secret.
The ESD Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 18, 2016 at 7111 Five Forks.
A criminal investigation is now underway into the public safety commissioners responsible for 911 service to more than 400,000 people who live between spring and Tomball.
At least two commissioners of ESD #11 have already been served subpoenas Wednesday to appear in February before a federal grand jury. The other three commissioners are expected to be served at any time.
The subpoenas ask for records detailing campaign money used or raised by commissioners. Last year, Dolcefino Consulting raised questions about campaign advertising and political support given to ESD #11 president Lynn Lebouff and Fred Grundemeyer in the 2014 election from a group called “Friends of Cypress Creek EMS”. The organization was not registered as a political action committee so there was no record of where the money actually came from, or even who made up the group.
Two current commissioners have long raised questions about whether “Friends of Cypress Creek EMS” was actually some kind of a front for tax-money provided to ESD candidates from, the 911 ambulance service with an exclusive contract in ESD #11, the “Friends of Cypress Creek EMS” show up frequently on entertainment reports of Cypress Creek boss Brad England reviewed by Dolcefino Consulting.
Those documents do not identify who received the expensive steakhouse meals, and England has refused to identify them.
ESD commissioner Karen Plummer is among those subpoenaed to bring records and testify to the grand jury. Plummer was a frequent recipient of entertainment by the CCEMS boss.
Plummer, Lebouff and Grundemeyer have refused to force Cypress Creek to turn over financial records detailing who is on the CCEMS payroll, or who benefits from lucrative overtime, nor have they forced CCEMS to turn over millions in medical billing so taxpayers control all the money. CCEMS has significant entertainment expenses and a growing legal bill fighting the release of financial records.
CCEMS has filed three lawsuits against the Texas Attorney General to keep from turning over financial records detailing the recipients of millions of taxpayer dollars. The ambulance service has also ignored a criminal subpoena from the Harris County District Attorney’s office.
It is unlikely anyone will ignore the subpoenas hand delivered by FBI agents.
For decades, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has enforced state charity laws. Now charities who want to hide what they do with your donations may have found a friend. Her name is Devon Anderson, Harris County District Attorney.
The Harris County District Attorney has asked the Texas Attorney General to weigh in on whether charities in Texas have to disclose the kind of financial records that let donors see how they spend every penny of donations, not just the stuff they want you to see. It has never been a question before, but when you hear who is involved you’ll know why this deal stinks, and why Anderson is proving her word to disabled veterans is meaningless.
In 2013, the records of the Houston based charity for disabled veterans Helping a Hero showed questionable spending, missing receipts, and a $100,000 payment to former President Bush to speak to the group. Disabled Veterans across the country have complained about the way Helping a Hero spent money, and whether the founder broke promises and misspent money. More than one veteran and their family have filed suit. The charity has refused to show the public all its financial records since then, and more than once has stalled the DA from acting. On August 26, 2015, nearly five months ago Anderson warned the charity of a deadline to comply with the law or else. The deadline was September 19, 2015.
Helping a Hero refused to comply. The District Attorney reneged on her word.
Is this Republican politics? The founder of Helping a Hero is a major Republican donor named Meredith Iler, the target of most of the veteran’s complaints.
This request will likely affect another criminal investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. In October 2014 Anderson filed charges against the Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Service for violating the state charity laws. CCEMS boss Brad England is tight with Republican officeholders, so it was a hopeful sign.
The misdemeanor case has been postponed more than 14 times. CCEMS even ignored a subpoena from the District Attorney’s office for payroll records sent months ago, and Anderson hasn’t sent investigators to get them.
The Texas Attorney General may decide the way the law has been enforced for decades is right, or he might decide the public doesn’t have the right to see details of how their donations is spent.
A tough DA would have followed the law that has been used by the public and media for decades?
The only remaining question, is Devon Anderson a chicken or politically compromised, or both?
The embattled boss of Cypress Creek EMS says his company doesn’t need the Emergency Service District #11 contract to stay in business, even though that government contract accounts for almost the entire CCEMS budget.
Taxpayers from Tomball to Spring pay about $10 million in taxes for their 911 service. The rest of the money comes from the medical bills resulting from the 911 service.
CCEMS has defied the Texas Attorney General, the Harris County District Attorney and the ESD #11 elected board of directors, refusing to detail who is on the payroll, even though they are paid with taxpayer money.
The ESD Board has threatened to cut off money to CCEMS unless they turn over the records.
At a sworn deposition last week, CCEMS Executive Director Brad England detailed a plan to simply go around the ESD, even though they are responsible for handing out 911 contracts. England suggested he would simply go to the MUD Districts and get them to put a fee on water bills, like they did in the old days before Emergency Service District Boards.
“This guy thinks taxpayers will volunteer to pay twice as much for the same service just cuz,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The ESD needs to do his job, and show Mr. England who is in charge of 911 service. The CCEMS Board needs to stop the secrecy, because their games could jeopardize the ambulance service of half a million people.”
At the deposition, England claimed CCEMS could always find another territory to run their ambulances, even though all the paramedics are currently paid with taxpayer dollars.
“Mr. England clearly would rather lose the ESD contract than simply tell taxpayers exactly who is on their payroll and show them the records of how he spends their money,” says Dolcefino. “England was more than willing to convince taxpayers to raise taxes to help pay for the ambulance service. The CCEMS Board needs to decide who is more important, Mr. England or half a million taxpayers.”