in Houston, Texas

Libyan trip part of city review; taxpayers shouldn’t pay airport nonprofit's travel bills

files/2009/06/passport.jpg
Friday, Jun 26, 2009, 09:56AM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal
The foreign governments that are building airports in consultation with Houston Airport System officials should pick up the tab for officials’ travel expenses, a spokesman for Mayor Bill White said.

The city should not be on the hook for those bills, spokesman Patrick Trahan said Thursday, and any city officials' travel to those foreign airport sites should be paid for by the nonprofit that coordinated the consulting and collected fees from them.

“That's the principle, but I say that with a caveat: That's part of what we're reviewing,” Trahan said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be done.”

In a story published on Thursday on www.texaswatchdog.org, Texas Watchdog found a trip to Libya that the nonprofit was heavily involved with -- but where Houston taxpayers footed the bill.

The mayor’s office announced a review last month of the Houston Airport System Development Corp. The development corporation was a nonprofit set up by former airport chief Richard Vacar to use airport employees’ expertise to build and run airports elsewhere. The announcement followed Vacar's abrupt departure.

Vacar

Trahan said the city would look into Vacar's trip to Libya in late February of this year as part of the review. Vacar expensed city taxpayers for $13,557, according to records reviewed by Texas Watchdog under the Texas Public Information Act. The final tab was OK’ed by White lieutenant and Houston chief administrative officer Anthony W. Hall Jr. on March 13, records show, with the trip aimed generally at "developing business opportunities" there.

Vacar says he made the trip only in his capacity as head of the airport and conducted no business for the nonprofit development corporation, which was also listed on the public records as part of the Tripoli mission. Records in Vacar's and other officials' calendars indicate the nonprofit, whose board he chaired, had business interests there, but Vacar said Thursday that he did no work for HASDC on the Libya trip and went there to try to eventually create Houston-to-Tripoli air routes.

From January 2008 to mid-May 2009, Vacar and a top airport deputy travelled at least 14 times to Ecuador and Costa Rica, where the airport system had ongoing, multimillion-dollar projects. Texas Watchdog reported Thursday on these and other details of the airport officials’ extensive travel.

Mayor not aware of all the ‘deals and details’

The city review is being led by Hall, the Houston Chronicle reported.

While the mayor was aware of proposed projects where city officials would lend their expertise, he would not have had “working knowledge” of the approved projects, Trahan said, or, for that matter, knowledge of the city officials’ travel particulars.

“The deals and details of who does what, who goes where and when, (the nonprofit) HASDC would handle,” Trahan said. “And this does not constitute … that the mayor would know who's travelling where.”

White

Trahan was referring to a January 2008 memo sent by Vacar to White. The memo listed about a dozen airport projects, in locations from Denton County, Texas, to the Carribean island of Antigua, in which city officials might be involved. (The memo is missing page 2, which Texas Watchdog hopes to receive and post shortly.)

“Any technical assistance we provide is reimbursed by those authorities on the other end, so we're not talking about being (paid) by taxpayer dollars,” Trahan said.

And it would not have been out of the ordinary for officials of the foreign governments to travel to Houston while working on their governments’ airport projects, he said.

The mayor's office expects Hall's review of the Houston Airport System Development Corp. to yield a report by the end of the summer, Trahan said by e-mail.

Texas Watchdog is continuing to sift through records to see whether taxpayers paid the tab for other travel that may have helped the nonprofit.

Vacar said Thursday he is no longer with the nonprofit group.

Editor's Note: Check back later today for more details from Texas Watchdog's interview with Vacar. And if you see something curious in the records posted or have questions related to the airport officials' work that should be looked into, please e-mail news@texaswatchdog.org, post to the comments below or call 713-980-9777.

Deputy Editor Jennifer Peebles contributed to this report. Contact Lee Ann O'Neal at 713-980-9777 or leeann@texaswatchdog.org.

Photo of a passport by flickr user swimparallel, used via a Creative Commons license.
More Stories in this category
10-29-2012
Special districts, special favors: An insider network of favors surrounds these proliferating governments in Texas For decades, Texans have relied on special districts for services that local municipalities can’t provide. Water to an isolated settlement. Crime prevention in a region that can’t afford full-service cops. Flood control...
09-17-2012
Overweight? Smoke? Uncle Sam wants to help. Wellness programs started under 2009 federal stimulus persist, getting fatter with $1 billion in health care law Months after the grant that brought it to life ran out, Live Tobacco-Free Austin lives on. Like many of the wellness programs started with $372.8 million in stimulus funding, Live Tobacco-Free Austin secured a new federal...
09-13-2012
Tornillo ISD should beef up financial controls, guard against more ‘reckless’ spending by superintendent Paul Vranish: TEA The superintendent of the Tornillo Independent School District, Paul Vranish, benefitted by using his position to approve purchase of items that were not sanctioned by his contract, spent public money in a “reckless...
08-23-2012
Influence from behind the scenes: State Sen. Tommy Williams aided lawyers filing voter fraud complaint in Woodlands residency case State Sen. Tommy Williams played a key role as attorneys tied to the Woodland Road Utility District pushed for voter fraud charges against seven Woodlands residents who sought to usurp the sitting board of the district. In...
Comments
Be the first to post a comment.
Video
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: Local Color 7374 Brace St. [HAR] … Read...
Update:1 week 3 hours
Swamplot
Where the ‘Ritas Meet the Road in Oak Forest A strip-mall enthusiast cruising the northern edge of Oak Forest this week sends a few shots from a stop through the 5405 T.C. Jester...
Update:1 week 4 hours
Swamplot
Dirt Piled Up for Lower Heights District on the Former Tarkett Industrial Site South of I-10 This afternoon a wall of orange and white barricades along the edge of the Heights hike & bike trail just south of I-10 is hemming...
Update:1 week 7 hours
Swamplot
Your chance to ask HCRP Chair Paul Simpson a question! Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) Chair Paul Simpson will be the speaker at this week’s meeting of the Downtown Houston...
Update:1 week 7 hours
Big Jolly Politics
Swamplot Sponsor: Just Buyers Houston Swamplot’s sponsor today is Just Buyers Houston, which represents — yes, you guessed it — buyers only in real estate...
Update:1 week 9 hours
Swamplot
Keep the City of Houston Revenue Cap Philip Owens Many pundits are still trying to figure out what happened to the Republicans in Harris County in 2016. But 2017 creates...
Update:1 week 11 hours
Big Jolly Politics
Natasha Barrett is having a baby KTRK abc13 weekend anchor Natasha Barrett announces pregnancy Looks like I missed a Houston TV anchor baby announcement made during the...
Update:1 week 11 hours
Mike McGuff
Detritus from Fallen Meteor Pulverized, Spread Out Across Max’s Parking Lot The deconstruction crew that brought Meteor Lounge to the ground at Fairview and Genesee streets last week got in a last round...
Update:1 week 11 hours
Swamplot
Another Montrose Management District Lawsuit; Green Line Opens Tomorrow About 3.4M SF of New Office Space Underway in Houston with 45% Preleased, According to PMRG [HBJ] Columbia Property Trust Sells...
Update:1 week 13 hours
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Gonelake Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. You...
Update:1 week 13 hours
Swamplot
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 4 years 7 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 4 years 7 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 4 years 7 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 4 years 7 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 4 years 7 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 | 4 years 7 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 4 years 7 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 4 years 7 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
© 2017 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement