Sylvester Turner’s companies have made millions of dollars off Houston taxpayers while he has been in office, and it’s time to start showing Houstonians how.
Last week at the Mayor’s debate, Turner got all defensive about his Linebarger connections. The Channel 13 moderators didn’t challenge him, so let Dolcefino Consulting.
Linebarger Goggan is the controversial tax collection firm that sues Houstonians for property taxes, toll road fees and traffic tickets. It is famous for putting politicians on the payroll to satisfy Affirmative Action pledges.
Sylvester Turner is one of those politicians whose firm gets a piece of the pie.
City of Houston Affirmative Action records show Linebarger has paid Sylvester Turner’s law firm, Barnes and Turner $850,000 on just two city contracts.
That is your money. And it is money that Sylvester Turner could have rejected so disadvantaged firms in the minority community could get work. Of course, if you ever looked at the who’s who on a Linebarger contract you can see a lot of familiar names.
Linebarger Goggan got an $8 million contract from HISD claiming they would share up to 25% of the deal with women and minority owned firms. For years, a managing partner of the firm signed government documents saying Barnes and Turner was one of the firms they used. In 2014, the company affirmed the monthly take for Barnes and Turner was $10,000.
A Houston Chronicle article profiled Turner’s lucrative Linebarger deals. In 2014 Sylvester Turner suddenly claimed those years of records were wrong. Linebarger chalked years of false reporting to a mistake. HISD just said OK in true watchdog fashion. So let’s get this straight.
For years, Linebarger falsified records to HISD, allowing them to play with the affirmative action numbers and what they said they were doing for disadvantaged firms? Who did they share their big contract with? You would think Sylvester Turner would want to know for his constituents.
It’s been more than a year.
HISD records released last week show Linebarger may now be keeping the whole deal for themselves, and no longer sharing a single penny with a minority company. But who knows if these records are any better than the other ones.
Why is Sylvester Turner silent?
We just gave you 850,000 reasons why!
Two months ago the Harris County District Attorney’s Office issued subpoenas for the payroll records of Cypress Creek EMS, the $20 million a year ambulance service for 500,000 residents from Tomball to Spring.
CCEMS has simply ignored the subpoena.
This morning, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Michele Oncken issued a deadline.
Turn the records over by September 23rd or face possible contempt charges. Cypress Creek has now told the DA they will now move to try to quash the subpoena they have ignored for two months.
The meter was running this morning. Criminal and civil lawyers accompanied CCEMS Boss Brad England to court today. England even refuses to tell the public his current salary, although a 2013 charity tax return listed the salary at nearly $180,000 a year.
CCEMS has released credit card records showing England’s lavish spending habits, including his apparent obsession of expensive meals at Perry’s steak house, even at night.
Cypress Creek continues the legal campaign to avoid telling the public who is paid with their tax dollars, and it is getting hard to keep track of how many people they are now fighting.
CCEMS now has three lawsuits against the Texas Attorney General. CCEMS has ignored requests from the Emergency Service District Board. Now CCEMS wants to keep the payroll records from the District Attorney.
The legal expenses must be skyrocketing. Money that should be used to buy bandages and medicine for taxpayers being used to keep secrets.
And you are paying the bill.
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
Seventy million dollars of your tax money was put aside to create affordable housing, part of a political deal that allows a few rich neighborhood power brokers to stash hundreds of millions of tax dollars while the city is in a fiscal mess.
Now we are learning this TIRZ housing fund has never been audited by the mayor. Millions have been spent on empty lots that are still empty six years later. The housing department didn’t even know where much of the money was spent. Millions more were spent on projects that even Washington DC wouldn’t pay for because of mismanagement.
“This slush fund should be audited immediately. It is an outrage to waste millions of dollars that could have been used to create affordable housing for Houstonians,” says Hall.
TIRZ fund 2409 has amassed more than $70 million since 2009, just 30% of all the money generated by the tax windfall certain neighborhoods have been given.
“The career politicians in this mayor’s race want to raise your taxes. I don’t. It is time to expose the politically protected piggy banks,” says Hall.
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.
Read the Diversity Email 3.4.14..
It is time for Bill King to come clean.
The Sunday Houston Chronicle says the HISD bond election may have fooled Houstonians. Suddenly $1.9 billion isn’t enough. Historically black schools are being destroyed. A rat infested school where the bathrooms smell like a prison may not be replaced. Broken promises!
Bill king chaired the HISD bond campaign in 2012, but never told voters he was on HISD’s payroll at the same time he was selling the deal. E-mails show King was in the know as HISD contractors curried favor with HISD with campaign money.
Now some of those same contractors are helping fund King’s mayoral campaign.
“This is what a career politician does,” says Ben Hall. “He hides the whole truth from the public, then benefits from the inside deals.”
A CNN money investigation fingers King for all the money he made running a controversial tax collection firm known for paying politicians. One of those politicians is Sylvester Turner. What a small world!
“Houston must reject these shameless political panhandlers,” says Hall. “We must move Houston forward without the backroom political deals. Sure the politicians and their friends make money, but who is taking care of the taxpayers?”
The money article has a picture with Bill King on one of the huge boats CNN says he owns.
Is this the payback when you make your living foreclosing on people’s homes?
METRO has put out new ridership projections for the proposed $200 million bus project. It proved Uptown had grossly exaggerated ridership when they sold the real estate deal to Houston City Council, but the Houston Chronicle headline still read, ‘Why it doesn’t matter.’
The basic gist was that taxpayers should follow the logic once espoused by gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams. Just relax and enjoy it.
Well, here at Dolcefino Consulting we kinda think facts do matter. And our new Chicago style Houston City Hall just hates when someone actually reads the fine print. But we did…
The new METRO numbers analyze ridership today so they can forecast what will happen in 2018.
What should be really alarming is that even METRO now admits 40% fewer suburban commuters will take buses from Park and Ride lots to transit centers near Uptown than was originally claimed. Look at the documents on saveuptown.com. Forty percent. Wasn’t that the whole point of this transit boondoggle?
Commuters would drive to a Park and Ride lot, take a bus to a transit center, then get off that bus and on to a second bus to then go to Uptown, then get off that bus and walk to their office buildings in rain or 100 degree weather. Yes, I know it is not logical, but that’s the plan.
So why does METRO say the ridership projections are only down 15%…not 40%? In that fine print you will see they claim ridership from two neighborhood bus stations virtually doubled in the last two years. Riders getting on the bus at Hollyhurst grew from 800 to 1650. West Alabama from 500 to 900 riders. That’s a transit miracle. Aren’t you surprised there isn’t a METRO News Release touting this sudden huge surge of bus riders in the middle of the city?
The Chronicle has called this project a waste of money before and City Hall didn’t listen. We have invested and think this is a smelly real estate deal disguised as a transit project that we have proven will make some of the folks pushing the deal millions of dollars.
Maybe in Chicago that’s the way it works…but not here.
Taxpayers are smart. It does matter.
The city of Houston wasted millions of your tax dollars buying empty lots that are still empty six years later.
That is the latest headline in an ongoing investigation by investigative communications firm Dolcefino Consulting.
Here is the trail.
One third of money collected in some neighborhood TIRZ piggy banks must be given back to the city of Houston for affordable housing. Since 2009, that’s more than $70 million.
We have already discovered the City Housing and Community Development Department gave City Council false information on the way the money was spent.
And the truth isn’t pretty.
In 2009, Houston City Council voted to spend $8 million in TIRZ 2409 funds on the LARA program.
That’s the City Hall idea of buying empty lots at auction or that no one else wanted and then get some developer to build houses on them. It represents more than 10% of all the TIRZ money spent on affordable housing.
Flash forward to September 2015. Records reviewed by Dolcefino Consulting reveal more than 90% of those empty lots are still empty today. Of more than 270 empty lots bought with this money, only five have actually been sold, another 10 in some stage of development. Two others have been turned into urban gardens.
Does that count as affordable housing?
The city hasn’t ever audited Fund 2409, but it is increasingly clear someone should.
The truth is getting uglier by the day. The question is how long will City Hall allow TIRZ money to be thrown away or blatantly misspent to benefit folks with blatant conflicts of interest?
Houston…we have a problem!
All of a sudden Bill King says he has questions about the HERO bathroom ordinance. He told a GOP blog he doesn’t understand why the Houston ordinance is longer than other cities. What a bold question!
Since we know Mr. King is a lawyer from his work as a tax collector and lawyer for HISD, we have a question too!
Have you read the ordinance? If you had, you would have known how to vote a long time ago!
Even two weeks ago Bill King said he would abstain on the HERO vote. There is no confusion. Ben Hall was against HERO from the beginning, calling it a sloppily written law that was a danger to women. He is the only mayoral candidate who took a stance regardless of the politics.
We don’t know what Bill King’s position is today, but the week isn’t over. We don’t know if Mr. King was this wishy-
washy when he was mayor of Kemah, but Houston deserves bold decisive leadership, not a guy who makes decisions based on which way the political winds are blowing.
The Houston Housing Department gave false information to members of Houston City Council about the use of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) money for affordable housing. An investigation by Dolcefino Consulting has uncovered huge mistakes involving the reporting of the use of millions of tax dollars.
The other big headline. Eleven million dollars dedicated to affordable housing projects over six years with TIRZ money was never spent, and shoddy accounting for the surplus was simply ignored…for years.
Here is the history. Several Tax Increment Investment Zones created by our politicians had to promise to give back a third of their tax windfall to affordable housing. It is called TIRZ Fund 2409.
Since 2009, $70 million has been put into Fund 2409. The biggest contributor to the fund is the Uptown TIRZ. They have contributed $37,703,866. That’s just 30% of their leftover piggy bank. That tells you just how much tax money is now bottled up in Uptown.
Dolcefino Consulting started tracking Fund 2409 when we saw the payments in Uptown financial records while we were investigating that real estate deal disguised as a $200 million transit project. Uptown told us they didn’t have a clue how the money was spent, and we figured for $70 million we should have affordable housing units popping up all over town.
What we have learned is that the City of Houston has a $70 million fund that has NEVER been audited by the City Controller, and the Housing Department didn’t even know for sure what projects they had even spent it on. The original summary provided to the City Council Housing Committee was to be kind…full of huge mistakes on where the money went.
Here’s an example. City Council was told that in 2009 only $54,000 was spent on LARA, another city project that bought mostly empty lots at auction or lots no one else wanted. The 2009 documents claimed $1.2 million of TIRZ funds were spent on a project called Uplift Fourth Ward. After Dolcefino Consulting investigated the files and raised questions, housing realized their numbers weren’t worth the paper they were written on.
The new documents provided to Dolcefino Consulting show in fact $8 million of TIRZ affordable housing money was not spent on new houses, but buying empty lots, in many cases, lots no one else wanted to buy.
And that Fourth Ward project. Uptown now admits it didn’t get $1.2 million, but just $400 dollars. That’s a pretty big difference don’t you think?
“It is stunning that this housing piggy bank has never been broken open and independently looked at,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “This is a city in deep financial trouble, with lots of folks who desperately need affordable housing. We need to know what the heck this money was spent on… to the penny, and what we got out of this deal.”
Assuming the new set of records are actually correct, and who knows, we do know a couple of things.
Remember when the federal government told the City they had problems with the way millions in federal housing fund were spent? The bureaucrats call it “findings.” Taxpayers call it what it really is. Thirteen million of the TIRZ funds were spent subsidizing the projects where the feds cried foul.
Other projects never happened…yet Housing just stopped keeping track of the projects on documents provided to City Council. And the documents raise even more questions.
If this is affordable housing money why do the documents say $592,000 was set aside for paving in Settegast, a Public Works Project. The money wasn’t spent in 2010, and the project disappears from the documents. Is that money part of the surplus Dolcefino Consulting helped uncover, or was it used for paving. No disrespect to the need for paving but that doesn’t get someone a place to live anyway.
You get the point.
Supporting documents below: