Houston Independent School District trustee Larry Marshall took up state Rep. Borris Miles' offer of free trips to Costa Rica and travelled to the Central American nation twice, Marshall told the Houston Chronicle yesterday.
From the Chron story by Ericka Mellon:
HISD's policy, which appears to reflect state law for school board members, says trustees do not have to file conflict disclosure reports if they receive food, lodging, transportation or entertainment from a vendor or potential vendor "as a guest."
"You treat it as an event," Marshall said. "I've gone to baseball games with individuals, and the lawyers have said, 'As long as the sponsor's present, there's nothing to disclose.' "
During the reporting period, have you received any gift, honorarium, or other payment which was unrelated to services performed or goods furnished by you from any party who did business or who was interested in doing business with the Houston Independent School District? (You need not report food, lodging, transportation or entertainment accepted as a guest or gifts received which have a value of less than $50 each, excluding cash or a negotiable instrument.)
Marshall's campaign finance reports covering the first part of calendar year 2010 also show he "hosted courtesy dinner for major contributors" on or about April 27 at the White House Hotel Restaurante in San Jose, Costa Rica, spending $246.64 there. He also listed minor expenses for "ground transportation from hotel to airport" and a $26 bank fee at an airport, along with $300 in reimbursement to himself for "miscellaneous cash donations and gratuities in Costa Rica, 04/25-28/10."
Miles extended his offer to a majority of the Houston ISD trustees, offering to arrange an all-expenses-paid trip to Costa Rica for each of them and a guest, paid for by the Costa Rican government, according to an e-mail obtained by Texas Watchdog. Miles told Mellon that Marshall was the only trustee to take him up on the offer.
It's still not clear who else was on the trips other than Marshall and Miles. Miles declined to tell Mellon who else was on the trips, and Marshall's campaign disclosure form does not specifically name anyone giving him a donation during the time he was in Costa Rica. Marshall appears in group photographs taken on the trip that were posted on Miles’ Facebook page, but most of the other people in the photograph were not labelled.
In addition to his service in the legislature, Miles is also an insurance agent who is HISD's flood insurance vendor. He is a close friend of two HISD trustees, trustees president Paula Harris and trustee Carol Mims Galloway.
The value of an all-expenses-paid trip to Costa Rica is unclear. The e-mail obtained by Texas Watchdog was a reminder e-mail Miles sent to the trustees roughly two weeks prior to the November trip.; it's not clear when Miles sent the initial invitation e-mail. The lowest available price on Travelocity.com this morning for a coach fare from Houston to San Juan, Costa Rica, for a trip beginning two weeks from today and returning three days later was a $674 flight on Taca Airlines -- but that’s also for a trip in June, while the trip including Marshall took place in November.
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