Monday, Apr 27, 2009, 08:26PM CST
By Rosanna RuizEditor's note: Scroll to the end of this story to go directly to the e-mail documents between Mayor Bill White and a downtown developer obtained by Texas Watchdog through a public information request.
A review of Mayor Bill White's e-mails reveals the value he places on his image and on one of his pet projects, Discovery Green, a new downtown park.
In one message penned in March, White requested that photographs of the new downtown park be collected along with images of Lake Houston Park and improvements at Hermann Park.
"These visual images are precious and good marketing for both public support and private donations," White wrote in an e-mail to Parks and Recreation Director Joe Turner. "It is important as we look to the completion of this last term of my Administration that we have a visual record of some of the accomplishments of you and the Parks Board and our Park Conservancy, to challenge those who come after and set the bar."
The e-mails were released following a request made by Texas Watchdog three months ago under the Texas Public Information Act.
In January, Texas Watchdog requested White's correspondence about the park, including e-mail exchanges between White and Marvy Finger, the Houston developer behind the high-rise One Park Place, which sits across from the park. The mayor's 2008 calendar was also included in the request.
White declined to release the information and instead sought an attorney general's opinion.
Last week, the AG's office ruled that information not pertaining to the mayor's official role could be excluded along with certain third-party information.White released the e-mails Monday following a Texas Watchdog story about the mayor's refusal to release any records, even those he agreed were public, until the AG opined on the matter.
Ten of the 99 pages of e-mails are between Finger and White or his staff members.
They include communications about a letter White wrote on city letterhead to market the project. The mayor's involvement in the form of a letter in a private project was called unusual and, by some critics, inappropriate, the Houston Chronicle reported. Another opinion-maker took issue with what he saw as the mayor's marketing missteps, taking care to point out that Finger's daughter, Jill Jewett, previously worked for White's administration. The Chronicle today wrote about the documents provided as a result of the public records request, highlighting Finger's involvement in helping White write the letter.
Finger reminded White of his previous offer of help, citing the poor economy and decline in the apartment market.
He tells White in a Jan. 8, 2008, e-mail: "A letter from you indicating your belief in and support of One Park Place would be impressive and create an immediate impact."
In his response, a week later, White agrees to lend his name to the project.
"I do believe the success of this project is important for the continuing renewal of downtown Houston," White wrote Jan. 14.
Discovery Green's part in that renewal is apparent in a Oct. 25, 2007, e-mail in which White outlines the course the city should take against vagrants sleeping or panhandling in the park.
"I don't want to over-dramatize, but this has been a flash point in other cities, and if we are not clear and on top of this issue from the very beginning we could put at risk the manner in which Discovery Green is perceived," White wrote. "No citizen, whatever their background 'owns a bench' or a chair."
View the documents at the links below, and e-mail email@example.com or call us at 713-980-9777 if you see something that should be investigated.
Communications records, batch 1 of 5.
Communications records, batch 2 of 5.
Communications records, batch 3 of 5.
Communications records, batch 4 of 5.
Communications records, batch 5 of 5.
Homepage photo of an "E-mail me" heart candy by flickr user idogcow, used via a Creative Commons license.
Contact Rosanna Ruiz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-980-9777.
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