in Houston, Texas
Texas Watchdog probes Houston ISD's business ties to friend of trustees' president
Friday, Jun 10, 2011, 10:25AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Reporter with notebook

As part of its ongoing look at potential conflicts of interest for people in government, you may have seen that yesterday Texas Watchdog took a closer look the Houston school system’s business relationship with a close friend of the president of the school district’s trustees.

See the full story by clicking here.

Some key points from the story by Texas Watchdog reporter Lynn Walsh:
  • Houston Independent School District trustees president Paula Harris has voted four times to approve contracts that included work for a firm called Westco Ventures, which is owned and run by a close friend of hers, Pearland businesswoman Nicole West, records show. Harris is the godmother of West's children.
  • The total value of the contracts is $28 million, though Westco is receiving only part of the work; total payments by the district to Westco so far total more than $1.5 million, records show.
  • The school district has also done $125,000 in business with Westco and other West-owned ventures that did not require approval by the school board, including HISD’s payment of more than $19,000 to West’s private investigations firm, who were hired to track down truant high school students, records show. 
  • Harris says she has never used her influence to help West gain business from the school district. Harris’s votes were legal under state law and were allowed under Houston ISD ethics rules.

In addition to the full text of the story -- which includes an embedded spreadsheet of payments in West’s firms and an interactive map of site-specific work West’s firm has done for HISD -- you can also read all of our questions to Houston ISD leading up to our report and the school district’s complete statement in response to them. There's a first batch of questions, with the answers included in it, and a second batch with a separate statement from HISD

And if you know of anyone else in local government who faces a potential conflict of interest, please let us know. We’re news@texaswatchdog.org.

***
Jennifer Peebles is a deputy editor at Texas Watchdog. Contact her at 281-656-1681 or jennifer@texaswatchdog.org.

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

Comments
rbblum
Sunday, 06/12/2011 - 09:33PM

Hopefully, the lack of maintaining an arms-length business transaction eminating from HISD will not result in the same outcome as currently being observed in the Beaumont Independent School District saga . . . FRAUD, WASTE and ABUSE.

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