in Houston, Texas
Broken government promises, sweet contracts uncovered by Texas Watchdog reporting in 2012
Monday, Dec 17, 2012, 10:28AM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal
money

In 2012, Texas Watchdog broke news on lucrative contracts, cronyism and broken promises in government, from the White House to the smallest government districts in Texas. We hope you found our reporting useful for holding your leaders accountable, and we look forward to digging deep into agencies and politicians and bringing you terrific stories in 2013.

Here are some highlights from this year:

Special districts, special favors: An insider network of favors surrounds these proliferating governments in Texas. The web of special districts in Texas is at times marked by self-dealing and relationships greased with campaign cash, which passes from the firms and developers who make a living off the districts to the lawmakers who authorize them. These deals result in government that is not always for the people by the people, but instead is driven by special interests --- lawyers, lobbyists, and management firms --- that make huge profits on the backs of residents.

Overweight? Smoke? Uncle Sam wants to help. Wellness programs started under 2009 federal stimulus persist, getting fatter with $1 billion in health care law. Contrary to the billing of the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a one-time infusion, the smoking and obesity programs branded Communities Putting Prevention to Work were never meant to be orphaned. While hundreds of new hires were spending hundreds of millions in advance of a March 2012 spending deadline, advocates were busy embedding promises for billions more in something called the Prevention and Public Health Fund created with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. The fund is expected to spread $1 billion around to wellness programs this year and increasing every year after to $2 billion by 2016.

As Metro pushes referendum for more money, some promises from last public vote unfulfilled. Houston-area residents don’t have the public transit system they voted for in 2003. Nor do they have the transit system Metro officials back then promised would exist by the end of this year. Transit authority administrators told taxpayers that they would expand the region’s bus service and, by Dec. 31, build four light-rail lines with $640 million worth of bonds, plus sales tax proceeds from the region and federal grants. Yet bus ridership and routes have dipped, and just three rail lines are under construction, which officials now say will be finished in 2014.

White House logs a list of union leaders, lobbyists. Lobbyists for the nation’s largest labor unions have had the run of the White House during its occupancy by a president who pledged from his first day in office to curb political influence. At the same time President Obama personally limited access to the wealthy and powerful, including labor leaders, union lobbyists made nearly 500 visits to the White House during the Obama administration, according to a review of White House visitor logs through June.

State Rep. Vicki Truitt's company secures no-bid contracts with Tarrant County Hospital District. A firm owned by state Rep. Vicki Truitt has received $350,000 since 2004 through no-bid deals and contracts with the Tarrant County Hospital District, including contracts that were signed by donors to her political fund, records show.

Texas couple fit to be tied in red tape, stimulus weatherization cash more trouble than it was worth. Viewed in one very particular way, carefully following the bureaucratic contours of a $327 million stimulus energy efficiency program, the weatherization of Brandi and Byron Hockaday’s south Austin home is a success story. And yet, after more than two years and well over $14,000 spent, no one involved, least of all the Hockadays, believes they should have gotten involved with the federal weatherization assistance program in the first place.

Texas educators sanctioned in cheating scandals get recycled at other schools. Principal Robert Earl Peters Jr. left the Dallas school district in 2009 as the district and state began to look into allegations that he failed to secure test results. Those accusations would soon compose a disturbing complaint filed by the state against Peters, that he had failed to safeguard the results of the high-stakes Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test at Harold Lang Middle School. Peters disputed the charges and soon found employment with the Manor Independent School District outside Austin. His case points to a larger question, of whether school districts do enough to vet applicants who have been embroiled in testing-related disciplinary disputes.

Government finished the job yet continued to tax North Texas residents. Even though its debts were paid, a municipal utility district in North Texas kept taxing residents, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars.

Texas members of Congress dip once, twice, three times at the public troughMore than a third of the state’s 34-member U.S. congressional delegation are taking a pension from a public retirement plan in addition to their congressional salary of $174,000, according to financial disclosure filings.

Weaknesses in pension plans amplified by GASB, Moody’s rule changes. A pair of moves this summer, by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board and Moody’s, will almost certainly bleaken the financial outlook for pension plans in municipalities here and across the country. This deeper public red ink might result in lower bond grades for some cities, counties and states, making it more expensive to borrow and leaving less money to spend on public services. 

Contact Lee Ann O’Neal at leeann@texaswatchdog.org or 832-316-4966.

Photo by flickr user 401 (K) 2012, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Be the first to post a comment.
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 7 years 4 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 7 years 4 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 7 years 4 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 7 years 4 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 7 years 4 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 | 7 years 4 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
© 2019 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement