HoustonFirst

Wonder what they put in the barbecue sauce at Bud’s Pitmaster BBQ?

You know, that barbecue place that got that plum contract to serve food at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

I bet it’s a family secret.

But, since taxpayers own George R. Brown Convention Center, I’m sure you know just how much money Bud’s must pay every month just for the right to have such a captivated clientele.

Don’t know? Neither did we. Under the Turner Administration it’s some kind of state secret.

We’re not kidding.

Houston First runs the GRB and they’re now asking the Texas Attorney General to keep the government contract with Bud’s a secret.

Wait. It gets better.

The folks who run our city don’t even think you have a right to see if Bud’s even pays rent. Seriously. It’s another trade secret, even though it’s your money.

Houston First, Chairman of the Board is David Mincberg. He was the Mayor’s Finance Chairman when he ran for office, so you can guess why he has that gig. Does he really think Houstonians don’t deserve to know who gets food concessions and who doesn’t?

By the way, did we mention Bud’s is owned by Theldon Branch III, a good buddy of the Mayors. Branch is on the Port Commission. He was part of a deal with lobbyist Darryl Carter, another Turner buddy, to get a piece of the lucrative airport concession deal.

So was Cindy Clifford, who chaired the Mayor’s inaugural ball.

We could on and on…

Talk about the Mayor’s goddaughter getting a consultant contract on the new train, or his daughter getting a lucrative contract for a proposed new community college.

“But barbecue secrets, really. The Mayor should call his political appointees at Houston First and order transparency for the menu for a change, but he won’t” said Wayne Dolcefino of Dolcefino Consulting. “Houston First is already acting like a political slush fund, so why should we be surprised they think knowing how much money we are making back from all these restaurant real estate deals is a trade secret.”

Want to hear something else funny. Mayor Turner authored the Texas Public Information Act. Wonder if he read it first?

The new leadership at Houston First promised us more transparency. There should be. After all, Houston’s tourism office has become one of the biggest bureaucracies in town.

Unfortunately, Bobby Singh didn’t get the memo. Too bad.

Monday, May 14th, Dolcefino Consulting filed a criminal complaint against Singh for illegally withholding public records. We want him prosecuted.

In March, Dolcefino Consulting asked for detailed phone records of Trustee Bobby Singh as part of a widening investigation into spending and conflicts of interest at Houston First

Houston First claimed they didn’t have any Singh phone records and they had asked him to produce what he had. Singh ignored it. He also ignored a direct request to him

“It’s time to shine a light on the dealings of Houston First,” said Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting, “The leadership is accountable to the residents of the City of Houston. And if Mr. Singh doesn’t want to follow the law, perhaps he should resign and let someone who does believe in transparency get the job instead.”

Singh is a founding member of Isani Consultants, a Houston based firm that provides the engineering design, construction management and inspection services for public and private sector projects.

According to statute, the District Attorney’s office has 30 days to respond to our criminal complaint.

“Based on her past conduct I have little faith the District Attorney is serious about enforcing transparency laws, but Mr. Singh must follow the law. The public has a right to know who he talks to about public business. Period,” says Dolcefino. “Houston First needs a good dose of sunshine. It is coming.”

Dave Martin represents big slices of suburbia on Houston City Council, Clear Lake and Kingwood. At the council table, Martin often complains most of the big deals are being done downtown.

Now Martin will have to explain an e-mail about one of those downtown deals and the deal it sounds like he was trying to make.

The city tourist agency, Houston First, is spearheading an $80 million project to redo a part of the convention center district, including expanding the convention center and putting lucrative retail and restaurants along Avenida de Las Americas. With a Super Bowl coming the winners of the restaurant derby stand to make plenty.

You would think Councilman Martin would be looking to help some Kingwood or Clear Lake family eatery get in on the downtown dough. He has connections on Houston First, one of two council members given a non-voting seat on the Houston First Board of Directors.

Now an e-mail obtained by Dolcefino Consulting raises lots of questions.

Council member Martin is telling the government relations director of Houston First he needs help setting up a meeting with Ed Wulfe, the exclusive broker on the lucrative retail project. In other words, the developer who picks who is in and who is out.

“Can you help me arrange a meeting with (I guess) Wulfe and my New Orleans guys regarding restaurant space.”

New Orleans does not appear to be part of Martin’s council district.

Then there is the line in the e-mail that could come back to haunt the councilman.

“We can split the brokerage commissioners on our end!!!!!!”

In a city with a reputation for backroom deals, we wonder what the voters in Clear Lake and Kingwood are thinking?

Read: David Martin 3.18.15

If someone called you a “one trick pony” wouldn’t you be offended?

If a city official told you to pay up if you wanted a better seat at the table wouldn’t you be offended?

An e-mail obtained by Dolcefino Consulting exposes ethnic tensions and questionable consulting contracts in Houston’s huge tourist bureaucracy, part of our ongoing investigation into Houston First.

In the e-mail obtained by Dolcefino Consulting, Houston First Board Member Katy Caldwell calls the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce a one trick pony, suggesting their sponsorships and memberships wasn’t enough to gain the Hispanic community a bigger piece of the tourist agency money pie. The Chamber official complained African-American consultants were a roadblock.

The exchange led us to investigate just how much of your tax money Houston First was spending on consultants, and why they need consultants to help a tourist agency be diverse?

One contract shows Reuben Brown is paid up to more than $10,000 a month to lead the diversity effort. Former Houston City Councilmember Wanda Adams is also a paid consultant. Adams can bill Houston taxpayers up to $1,400 per week.

Part of her job was to make sure the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Convention in Houston was successful. You would think she would want to do that for free.

Adams bio says she is active in the charity. What other conventions do we hire consultants for?!

And then there is the consulting contract that brings back memories of the scandal that altered the management for the Port of Houston. Remember the public affairs consultant given a $330,000 severance deal after she left the Port? It was so embarrassingly large, the Port attracted growing scrutiny.

Well, she’s back.

Houston First is paying Hillday Public Relations boss Argentina James $200 per hour, up to $6,000 a month and all she has to do is work less than one day a month. Plus she’s getting paid $45,000 more to develop a community relations plan for an agency that is supposed to bring out of town visitors to Houston.

Why a tourist agency needs to have high priced consultants to teach them how to be loved in the community is a good question?

Houston First President Dawn Ullrich did the deals and there’s no evidence the Houston First Board was asked to approve. E-mail suggest Board Member Katy Caldwell does not approve.

“I do not agree with who Reuben hires but have no control over that…please, he’s hired Wanda and that women from the Port. Don’t like any of them,” says Caldwell.

Fighting over diversity and your tax money.

Stay tuned.

Read the Diversity Email 3.4.14..

Whether you are on the tear it down crowd or the turn it into an indoor park crowd, I bet you agree the public has every right to know how much of our tax money is going to be part of the Astrodome deal.

So why are public officials trying to keep the negotiations secret?

What are we missing? Don’t you own the place?

Dolcefino Consulting has learned that as much as $30 million in city tax money may be used to help fund an Astrodome deal, part of some kind of trade of assets between the Houston First Corporation and the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, who will then use the money to renovate the Dome.

For those losing track of the growing number of corporations set up by Houston City Hall and Harris County Commissioners to spend our money, here is a scorecard.

Houston First is a government corporation set up by Houston City Hall to run the convention center/theatres and spend hotel tax money.

The Harris County Sports Corporation is a government corporation created by Harris County and runs NRG Park, home of the Dome.

In recent days, both agencies have refused to give up e-mails between Sports Corporation President Edgardo E. Colon and Houston First Chairman Ricard Campo. The Sports Corporation first had an outside law firm tell us we would get the e-mails from Houston First. Then Houston First withheld the Dome dealings, and days later the Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan declared every e-mail between the two public officials were some big secret. We would expect nothing less from the distinguished County Attorney, who fights every request Dolcefino Consulting makes.

Houston First isn’t a bastion of total open government either. Dolcefino Consulting filed a criminal complaint this week alleging Campo and others met in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, another one of those silly transparency laws.

“It is time for the Mayor and County Judge to come clean so the public knows what this deal will cost” says Wayne Dolcefino of Dolcefino Consulting. “Not after the deal is done, but before. Maybe it is a smart investment? Maybe the county corporation will eventually repay the city corporation from all the money they make. What is with all the secrecy? These are two government agencies who work for us.”

Just think, a renovated Dome may spur on all kinds of development around the Astrodome, which may be exactly what some of the players are betting on.

This is no Aesop’s fable. It is yet another story about Houston City Hall and how it is making deals with your money you never get to see.

So who is the goose that laid the golden egg?

It is the growing Houston First Corporation, the city tourist bureaucracy that has been loosening the definition of the mission in the last year. It now owns much of the theatre district, and the appointed officials in charge are now directing money to economic development, helping develop lucrative retail shopping around an expanding convention center.

They are spending a lot of your money, even though politicians like to tell you hotel tax money we get from out of towners is kind of like play money, not really yours.

But because they are spending your tax money, Houston First has to comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Today, Tuesday August 25, 2015, Dolcefino Consulting has filed a formal criminal complaint with the Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, alleging Houston First officials have engaged in a conspiracy to avoid transparency.

An investigation by Dolcefino Consulting has uncovered significant evidence top officials of Houston First have a “secret committee,” illegally meeting to direct the spending of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

“You will love the name of this committee,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The Master Plan Selection Committee. Sounds like the people who named it must think it is pretty important. All the more reason to know what they do.”

And that is part of the mystery. Houston First will not tell Dolcefino Consulting how the committee was formed. Who picked the members? There meetings are not posted. There are no certified agendas. No minutes. Yet we have found documents that prove the Master Planners may be running more of your city that you know with the knowledge of Houston First lawyers.

We do know the committee includes the Chairman of the Houston First Corporation Ricard Campo. The committee had as many as five Houston First Board Members on it, along with Andy Icken.

You should know his name, because he is the most powerful unelected official in town. Andy Icken is the Chief Development Officer for Mayor Parker, and oversees just about everything, including Houston First.

It is Andy Icken who calls Houston First “the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Maybe it is because they do such a good job promoting Houston. Maybe because Houston First is part of the growing city bureaucracies that City Hall hopes you don’t see.

READ THE COMPLAINT HERE: Dolcefino Consulting formal criminal complaint
READ THE RELATED COMPLAINT EXHIBITS

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail