in Houston, Texas

HISD vendor state Rep. Borris Miles offered trustees all-expenses-paid Costa Rican trip, email shows

Thursday, Jun 16, 2011, 06:27PM CST
By Lynn Walsh, Trent Seibert and Jennifer Peebles
Costa Rica

A state representative who services the Houston Independent School District's flood insurance policy -- and who is a close friend of two HISD trustees -- offered to arrange an all-expenses-paid trip to Costa Rica to a majority of HISD's trustees, according to an e-mail obtained by Texas Watchdog.

State Rep. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, offered in November to take most of the trustees to Costa Rica, saying he was arranging the free trip at the behest of the government of that Central American nation, the email shows.

It also shows Miles also offered to allow each trustee to bring along a guest, and wrote that the Costa Rican government would waive deductibles on "medical tourism" procedures, effectively offering the trustees and their guests deep discounts on the services.

It was not immediately clear whether any of the HISD trustees took Miles up on the offer. Three trustees reached by phone Thursday afternoon said they didn't remember getting the e-mail. A fourth said he deleted it.

"I remember receiving it and thinking it was strange and deleting it," said trustee Harvin Moore.

The revelation of the trip offer comes on the heels of Texas Watchdog's recent story revealing that HISD trustees president Paula Harris, a close friend of Miles, voted on contracts that included work for a company run by another close friend, Pearland businesswoman Nicole West.

Multiple news stories in the past year have raised ethics as an issue in HISD, the nation's seventh-largest school district.

One trustee resigned last year soon after she had tried to get her husband appointed to an HISD oversight board. And the federal government recently unfroze millions of dollars in HISD technology funding it blocked after it was revealed that HISD tech officers accepted big-ticket personal loans and other gifts and freebies from tech vendors.

HISD's ethics policy says that "a public servant who exercises discretion in connection with contracts, purchases, payments, claims, or other pecuniary transactions shall not solicit, accept, or agree to accept any benefit from a person the public servant knows is interested in or likely to become interested in any such transactions of the District."

Further down in the policy, it says that officials can accept "a gift or other benefit conferred on account of kinship or a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of the official status of the recipient," and says that officials can accept "food, lodging, transportation, or entertainment accepted as a guest."

"I'll let the policy speak for itself," HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said in response to a slate of questions sent via e-mail Thursday afternoon. In a statement sent to Texas Watchdog last week for a previous story, Spencer said the district “has one of the strongest ethics and conflict of interest policies of any school district in Texas."

The e-mail from Miles does not specify why the HISD trustees would have a special interest in medical tourism.

"As you may be aware the concept of Medical Tourism/Travel is to provide employers, insurance companies and employees with competitive options for medical treatment by targeting select high value procedures," Miles wrote in the e-mailed invitation. "Many of these procedures are being performed in other locations (Costa Rica being one), by highly trained physicians (many of them educated in the top U.S. medical schools) at hospitals that are JCI certified (the same international accreditation group that certifies US hospitals for international treatment) ...

"For agreeing to be a part of the tour, the Costa Rican government is sponsoring all travel related expenses (airfare, hotels, ground transport, and meals). All travel arrangements are being coordinated
by our office."

Phone messages left at Miles' legislative office and his Houston insurance office were not returned Thursday afternoon.

"I don't remember this email in particular, and I doubt that anyone took him up on his offer. We don't take those kinds of trips," trustee Manuel Rodriguez told Texas Watchdog Thursday afternoon.

"This is the first I'm hearing about Costa Rica," said Greg Meyers, a trustee and former president of the trustees. "I've unequivocally never been invited anywhere out of the country by a vendor."

Trustee Carol Mims Galloway also said she'd never seen the e-mail, and said she never uses her official Houston ISD e-mail account anyway, preferring to use a personal e-mail account. (Texas Watchdog is attempting to contact all nine of the trustees this afternoon, and will update TexasWatchdog.org with those comments.)

The e-mail was sent to Galloway, Rodriguez, Harris, Marshall, Meyers and Moore.

Miles is a close friend of both Harris and Galloway. In remarks at a school board meeting earlier this year, Harris said Miles was like a brother to her, and Miles said Galloway was like a "mother" him and had almost become his mother-in-law.

Trustees Mike Lunceford and Anna Eastman do not appear to have been copied on the e-mail offer, for reasons that were not clear. Current trustee Juliet Stipeche was not on the school board last November and was not copied on the e-mail, but the person whose unexpired term she filled, Diana Davila, was copied on the e-mailed invitation, even though she had resigned from the school board some months earlier.

Records made public by HISD Thursday afternoon show that HISD's flood insurance is serviced by "Texas Farmers," though the records do not identify the agent who sold or serviced any of HISD's insurance policies. Miles' agency is a Farmers Insurance firm.

His e-mail called the trip " an important trade mission that could be a critical tool in helping us control healthcare cost in the U.S. ... These procedures are being performed at a 50% - 75% reduction in cost. The result of which is, a reduction in claim cost which drive premiums down. While this will results in greater savings for U.S. employers (public and private), the win for the employees is that all deductibles are being waived and they are allowed to take a companion with them for the procedure, in addition to visiting some of the best locations in the world (in this case Costa Rica)."

***

Contact Lynn Walsh at 713-228-2850 or lynn@texaswatchdog or on Twitter at @lwalsh.

Contact Jennifer Peebles at 281-656-1681 or jennifer@texaswatchdog.org.

Contact Trent Seibert at 832-316-4994 or trent@texaswatchdog.org.

Photo by flickr user josue salazar, used under a Creative Commons license. 

Creative Commons

Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, we'd love to hear about it. E-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

 

COMPLETE TEXT OF E-MAIL

From: Borris Miles [mailto:bmiles@bmilesinsurance.com]

Sent: Thursday, November 04, 2010 12:10 PM

To: Harris, Paula M; Moore, Harvin C; Davila, Diana; Marshall,

Lawrence; Galloway, Carol; Rodriguez, Manuel Jr; Marshall, Lawrence;

Meyers, Greg A

Subject: FOLLOW UP EMAIL ON Costa Rica Trip/ November 15-19

Importance: High

On behalf of the Office of the Minister for Tourism for Costa Rica I would like to invite you to join us on an important trade mission that

could be a critical tool in helping us control healthcare cost in the U.S. The tour dates are November 15th and returning on the 18th.

As you may be aware the concept of Medical Tourism/Travel is to provide employers, insurance companies and employees with competitive options for medical treatment by targeting select high value procedures. Many of these procedures are being performed in other locations (Costa Rica being one), by highly trained physicians (many of them educated in the top U.S. medical schools) at hospitals that are JCI certified (the same international accreditation group that certifies US hospitals for international treatment).

These procedures are being performed at a 50% - 75% reduction in cost. The result of which is, a reduction in claim cost which drive premiums down. While this will results in greater savings for U.S. employers (public and private), the win for the employees is that all

deductibles are being waived and they are allowed to take a companion with them for the procedure, in addition to visiting some of the best locations in the world (in this case Costa Rica).

For agreeing to be a part of the tour, the Costa Rican government is sponsoring all travel related expenses (airfare, hotels, ground

transport, and meals). All travel arrangements are being coordinated by our office.

Please let us know by November 3rd if you will be able to join us. For more information, please contact my office.

Regards

Borris L. Miles

Owner, Miles Insurance Agency

5302 Almeda Rd.

Houston, Texas 77004

Office (713)355-8331

Fax (713)807-8772

Comments
Texan2011
Sunday, 07/24/2011 - 02:43PM

Aside from the questionable ethics, it appears that Representative Miles needs to go back to school for some remedial grammar. I'm appalled at the poor communication skills demonstrated by our public school graduates - and elected officials.

NoneYoDamnBizness
Saturday, 09/24/2011 - 10:47PM

Texan2011, exactly what are you referring to? Or should it be...to what are you referring?

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