in Houston, Texas

Public contracts subject to less public review under plan by Sen. Royce West

Monday, Mar 02, 2009, 01:45PM CST
By Matt Pulle


State Sen. Royce West has sponsored a plan that strikes a blow against open government and could boost his own public-sector lawyering career.

Additions to public contracts --- in the tens of thousands of dollars --- could be OKed by bureaucrats rather than elected school boards at public meetings under the bill filed by the Southern Dallas Democrat.

School boards currently vote on such spending over $25,000.

A coalition of local government employees put forward the bill, saying it will help them conduct business more efficiently.

But critics caution that the plan means spending will be subject to less public scrutiny.

“For the most part, it’s probably going to work just fine, but by having these provisions you create an opportunity to get around the Open Meetings Act," says Don Venable, a former Dallas school district trustee. "If the board turns around and delegates discretion to someone to change the contract without having to come back to them, then neither the board nor the public is aware of them.”

And West himself could benefit if the plan moves ahead. One backer of the measure says the bill could apply to West's legal work for the Dallas Independent School District, if his firm enlarged its legal contract via a change order. But another official says it's rare for attorneys to submit their bills in this way.

Fewer delays and eyeballs

West's bill would allow a governing body to delegate more oversight of a vendor to a middleman.

This person, in turn, would have the authority to approve a change in the contract so long as the revision costs less than $50,000 and is not more than 25 percent of the original contract amount. Under current law, elected bodies generally have to approve any contract changes of more than $25,000 during a regularly scheduled meeting.

West was asked to file the bill by the Texas Public Purchasing Association, which includes school, city and county employees. The lawmaker also chairs the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, where the bill will be discussed. The measure is intended to streamline the often complicated rules on administering public contracts.

If passed, its backers believe, it would allow school boards and city councils to carry out projects with fewer delays.

For example, say a contractor needs to use a more weather-resistant type of brick on a $10 million new school because of new insurance rules. If this change costs less than $50,000, then under this law, the school district does not have to include this item on the board's agenda and have them vote. That process would take at least two weeks. Instead, the district can go ahead and break ground.

“This would help us operate more efficiently and still maintain a good amount of control over public spending," says Gary Kerbow, a board member of the purchasing association and employee of the Carrollton/Farmers Branch Independent School District.

But Venable has a different perspective on the bill.

Elected to the Dallas school board in 1997 -- not long after the district's superintendent, Yvonne Gonzalez, went to prison for spending $18,000 of school funds on luxurious office furniture -- Venable says the proposal would reduce oversight where it is needed most, on smaller, less scrutinized purchases.

"What bothers me about the bill is that these are the very places where the corruption tends to show up," he says. "It does create avenues to institutionalize problems.”

For his part, an affable West was open to suggestions about his bill. He tells Texas Watchdog he will review his legislation to see what effect it has on open government.

“If there is anything in this bill that deals with issues of transparency, I’ll take it out," he says.

More:


~ Story continues here. Read about West's law firms' $3.9 million in bills to DISD and past questions surrounding West's roles as legislator and hired legal gun for the school district.


~ Click here to see letters and billing records from West's law firm to the Dallas Independent School District.

Comments
Suzette Watkins
Saturday, 03/07/2009 - 07:57PM

WHAT?!

tired dog
Saturday, 03/14/2009 - 02:02PM

West carries water for friends and clients, what would you expect?

The \'security code\' is a bitch to read, pls post it in b/w!

Jennifer Peebles
Saturday, 03/14/2009 - 04:01PM

Tired Dog,

Welcome to the blog! Thanks for reading us and writing in. And we'll try to get the security code problem fixed for you.

Take care,

Jennifer P.

jennifer@texaswatchdog.org

Video
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
Rep. John Culberson and facts on the CRomnibus From the InBox: Accurate Information on the CRomnibus My office has received a tremendous number of phone calls and emails from...
Update:4 hours 33 min
Big Jolly Politics
The Playlist: My Name The Academic Building at Texas A&M University was about to have its name changed to the "Governor Rick Perry ’72 Building," but...
Update:16 hours 29 min
Texas Tribune
Sony No Stranger to Hacks, Has Lobbied on Cybersecurity Since 2008 Sony Pictures has pulled its film The Interview after the hack and a series of threats.(Wikimedia Commons/Coolcaesar) The U.S. government...
Update:17 hours 29 min
Open Secrets
Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate: The Official 2014 Ballot We’ve reached the end of the line. Here’s your final ballot, for the final category of this year’s Swamplot Awards for...
Update:1 day 8 hours
Swamplot
Comment of the Day: Why Is Anyone Living That Close to a Refinery? “Tax policy should probably discourage residential habitation in neighborhoods near the Houston Ship Channel and encourage people to...
Update:1 day 10 hours
Swamplot
Kaley O’Kelley joins KTVT 11 DFW evenings, Karen Borta to mornings Some big changes over at Dallas-Fort Worth's KTVT 11 this holiday season. First the news came out that CBS 11 News at 5, 6 and 10...
Update:1 day 11 hours
Mike McGuff
Which A&M Building Has Governor Perry’s Name on It Now? Two days of “deep reflection” after telling the Bryan-College Station Eagle that he would be honored to have Texas...
Update:1 day 11 hours
Swamplot
Special prosecutor needed for Gary Polland allegations There are times in politics where you shake your head and there are times when you try to twist your head off it is spinning so much. This...
Update:1 day 12 hours
Big Jolly Politics
Likely Website Glitch Shows Shows New Walmart Neighborhood Market Headed to Washington Ave Near Memorial Heights Here’s a map a reader sent yesterday apparently showing the location of “Walmart Neighborhood Market #3450,” on...
Update:1 day 13 hours
Swamplot
Dems Won’t Be Missing Cuban Money They Weren’t Getting Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaking at a fundraiser for the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC that raked in $200,000 in November. (AP Photo/J...
Update:1 day 14 hours
Open Secrets
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 2 years 4 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 2 years 4 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 2 years 4 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 2 years 4 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 2 years 4 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 2 years 4 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 2 years 4 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 2 years 4 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
© 2014 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement