in Houston, Texas
Two interesting summaries of Texas open records laws
Thursday, Oct 01, 2009, 08:29AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
For all you government transparency fans out there: I wanted to share with everyone a couple of really interesting and informative handouts that I picked up in Austin at the recent conference for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

One is an overview of the Texas Public Information Act and another is a summary of how the Texas legislative session earlier this year affects the Public Information Act.

They're both by Paul Watler, a Dallas First Amendment lawyer and former president of FOIFT who has graciously granted permission for them to be reprinted on the Web. I think they may be posted on the FOIFT.org site soon, if they aren't already, but until then I've uploaded them to the Scribd.com document-sharing site.

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New report out on Texas legislators' campaign cash
Tuesday, Sep 29, 2009, 05:49PM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Want to know more about who funded your state legislators' campaigns last year? The research-and-advocacy group Texans for Public Justice has released its new Money in PoliTex report for the 2008 elections.

Here's just a taste -- three of the report's major findings:



• The House’s 281 major-party candidates raised $70.3 million, with winners collecting $50.6 million (72 percent of the total).
• Thirty-one major-party candidates for 16 Senate slots raised $24.7 million, with winners accounting for $16.7 million (68 percent).
• The No. 1 interest group, Lawyers and Lobbyists, spent almost $15 million (16 percent).



Read more at this link on the TPJ Web site.

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New video explains Texas Watchdog's interactive map of legislators' ethics forms
Thursday, Sep 17, 2009, 05:11PM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
horizontalethicsmapscreenshotTexas Watchdog's latest investigative report hones in on a particular loophole that allows Texas politicians to legally omit their spouses -- and their spouses' income -- from their annual ethics forms, even if that income is substantial.

My colleague Lee Ann O'Neal describes how Houston City Councilman Peter Brown and state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, do not list on their forms the finances of their wives -- Hegar's wife is an attorney, and Brown's wife is an heir to the Schlumberger oilfield services fortune. With the story is an interactive spreadsheet showing other Texas legislators who are married but did not list their spouses on their personal financial disclosure forms.

Don't forget that if you want to see the ethics forms for any member of the Texas legislature, Texas Watchdog has made them available at your fingertips via an interactive map. Use the map to zoom in and scroll around to your town to find lawmakers in your area, or use the list below the map to go right to the 2009 ethics form for any legislator or elected statewide official.

Want to know more about what's on the map, where the map information comes from and how to use it? I'm answering those questions and more in a new video clip we're posting today (see below). I'll explain the sources of the data in the map "mashup" and how this year's map is an improvement over last year's map.

The strangest thing about creating this new video clip was, right in the middle of it, the door suddenly opened -- and in walked Kayne West. He went right up to my Webcam and said he hated to interrupt, but Beyonce had made the best Google Map of the Texas legislature this year.

Shame that my Windows Vista crashed right as he walked in, or else I could share the exclusive video with you here. Instead, you'll have to settle for listening to me talk.

Gaping loophole in Texas ethics law: Officials' spouses left off financial disclosures
Thursday, Sep 17, 2009, 09:43AM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal
Houston City Councilman Peter Brown's wife is an heiress to an oilfield services fortune. State Sen. Glenn Hegar's wife is an attorney.

But you wouldn't know that by looking at the financial disclosures filed by the two politicians, whose lawmaking has sometimes collided with the interests of their wives.

The omissions are perfectly legal under a loophole in state law that requires the listing of politicians' wives and husbands only if the politician had "actual control" over the spouse's financial activity. And it doesn't matter if the spouses' businesses might benefit from votes made by their significant others; those businesses can still be left off the forms.

The law was designed to balance the public's right to know with the politicians' families right to privacy, said conservative blogger Darrell Hancock. He was a statehouse reporter for the now-defunct Houston Post around the time of the infamous Sharpstown scandal of 1973 that sparked the passage of campaign finance, public records and ethics reforms, including the requirement that state officeholders disclose their income sources.

"The problem with letting them off the hook is that we have to trust them to determine what actual control means, and a clever officeholder can drive trucks through that exception," Hancock said.

The disclosures, which are public documents and are available via an interactive map by Texas Watchdog, list the financial and business activities of lawmakers, their spouses and their dependent children.

The personal financial disclosure statements show employers, stocks and investments, loans, and land holdings and can be useful to the public in making sure officials don't have conflicts of interest between their public legislative activities and their personal financial interests, or that of their spouses and children.

But the spousal requirement is carefully worded. The public official must disclose the spouse's financial activity if he "had actual control over that activity for the preceding calendar year."

The term "actual control" is not defined in state law, said Tim Sorrells, a spokesman for the Texas Ethics Commission.

The rule is open to officials' own interpretations.

Houston councilman Peter Brown omits wife, then lists her

Brown marked "N/A" beside the spouse area on his disclosure form covering calendar year 2007. In his most recent form, he apparently remembered his marriage to oilfield-services heiress Anne Schlumberger Brown, but in the subsequent pages he details no investments or other financial activity for her.

"We actually think it was an oversight last year not to have listed her," said Robert Fiederlein, Brown's chief of staff. "We think this year's filing is correct. We're exploring the necessity of filing an amendment" to last year's form. Brown is running for Houston mayor.

Anne Brown's finances were highlighted last year when the city of Houston seized a tiny patch of land near the Galleria, claiming it was needed as a park. The green space could serve as "a landscaped gateway to an upscale development planned next door, called BLVD Place," the Houston Chronicle reported.

None other than Anne Brown was an investor in the development -- and her husband voted to condemn the patch of land.

Brown

The Chronicle wrote:
"Under Texas conflict-of-interest law, a public official should recuse himself from a vote involving a property if he, his spouse or close relative has a 'substantial interest,' valued at more than a $2,500.

"Brown called his wife a 'limited partner' in the project but declined to reveal how much her investment was worth.

"Brown initially told the Houston Chronicle that he asked city attorneys before the vote if he should recuse himself. He later called the Chronicle to say he had voted on the condemnation without realizing the land was next to BLVD Place. Only later had he approached the Legal Department for advice. The lawyers told him he was okay."


State Sen. Glenn Hegar: 'Everything's open'

Hegar, R-Katy, did not disclose his wife, Dara, working as a lawyer for the Houston-based Lanier Law Firm, on his most recent financial disclosure filed in 2009.

But that's OK according to the state rules governing the disclosures.

"Anything that I have control over, which is what the requirements are, that's what's reported," Hegar said. "And so anything that my wife owns individually, what little that is, she has control over it, and I have no control over any of that whatsoever."


Hegar

Hegar said it's easy to find information about his wife's occupation already. His family is listed on his  House Web site, and Dara Grisbee Hegar is listed on the Lanier firm's Web site as an associate.

"As far as where my wife is at, everything's open," he said.

One of the firm's specialty areas is in recovering damages for people exposed to asbestos.

Hegar voted on a state measure that would have made it easier for people suffering from asbestos exposure to recover legal damages. The bill did not pass into law.

Hegar voted against the measure, or essentially, against his wife's firm's interest.

Asked whether his wife's line of work affected his vote, Hegar said, "Absolutely not."

"If my wife were a teacher or worked in a school district, should I abstain from voting on school issues?" he said. "Absolutely not."

Hancock, who writes the blog Unca Darrell, said he's not criticizing the lawmakers who omit their spouses' financial information within the bounds of the law even though he would admire lawmakers "who always did the right thing and in fact voluntarily disclosed their spouse's financial matters."

If it were up to him, he said, he would have required all spouses and their interests be listed.

The lawmakers "help spend the money that the spouse makes," Hancock said. "Under the (state of Texas') community property doctrines, it's partly their money, the income is. It makes their family wealthier, their standard of living improves, they benefit."

Click here to see the list of lawmakers who reportedly have spouses but did not list them on their forms, according to Texas Watchdog research.
Questions? Additions? E-mail news@texaswatchdog.org or call 713-980-9777.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. You may republish this report with attribution to Texas Watchdog on your blog, news Web site or newspaper. That's because the story is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. And if you republish the story, we'd love to hear about it. E-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

Homepage photo of a wedding cake by flickr user cambodia4kidsorg, used via a Creative Commons license.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, join our group on MySpace, follow us on Twitter, fan us on Digg, join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feed in your newsreader. We're also on NewsVine, tumblr, Ning, FriendFeed and YouTube.
Want to know how your state legislator made money last year? Check out Texas Watchdog's interactive map
Thursday, Sep 10, 2009, 09:34AM CST
By Trent Seibert
Texas Watchdog once again lifts the veil on how Texas' elected leaders make their money -- and what conflicts of interest they might have.

We've just published the 2009 interactive map of legislators' ethics forms, and this time we've brought you tons of extras along with the ethics forms. Give it a look, and shoot us a note if you spot anything the Texas Watchdog investigative team should look into.

Go directly to Texas Watchdog's interactive map by clicking here, or find the map by going to our Featured Reports section. (The first column of our site.)

Also, don't forget that Texas Watchdog has the 2009 ethics forms available for:

Houston's mayor and city council.

The Harris County Commissioners' Court.

Dallas City Council and Dallas Commissioners' Court.

Here's the presser we sent out this morning about the release of our legislative interactive map:

Houston, Texas, September 10, 2009 -- Texas Watchdog made headlines last year when we made accessible the ethics forms for Texas' 181 lawmakers through an interactive map.

These forms are a public record, but were difficult for regular folks to get to. They were not available online until Texas Watchdog gathered all of the lawmakers' forms and created an easy-to-use interactive map that readers can access through the Texas Watchdog Web site.

Today, Texas Watchdog makes the 2009 ethics forms available, and we've added lots of useful links that will allow the public to:

* Research each lawmaker's campaign contributions;

* Examine the bills they pushed in the last legislative session;

* Look at what has been written about the lawmaker on wikis such as Ballotpedia, a repository of information on elected leaders and ballot measures in all 50 states; and

* Contact their legislators.

Texas legislators and many other state officials are required by law to fill out these annual forms, formally titled "personal financial statements," to the state Ethics Commission detailing their sources of income. These forms can be treasure troves of information. Required categories include for whom they work, what stocks and bonds they own, and their business interests.

Last year tips poured into Texas Watchdog when we made these disclosures available, and we've written many stories about potential conflicts of interest at our state Capitol. Check out those stories and other work published by Texas Watchdog by going to our Featured Reports section.

Who knows what you'll find if you dig into the disclosure for your state representative or senator? Go directly to Texas Watchdog's interactive map now.

For more information:

Deputy Editor Jennifer Peebles at 281-656-1681.
E-mail jennifer@texaswatchdog.org

Editor Trent Seibert at 713-980-9776 (desk) or 832-316-4994 (cell).
E-mail trent@texaswatchdog.org
Texas legislators’ 2009 ethics forms published via interactive map
Wednesday, Sep 09, 2009, 10:55PM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Texas Watchdog wins national FOI award; Capitolbeat, the association of statehouse reporters, gives Texas Watchdog's Jennifer Peebles top honor
Monday, Aug 24, 2009, 11:52AM CST
By Trent Seibert
We're thrilled as can be that our very own Jennifer Peebles grabbed yet another award!

This time, it's a national honor, so we are very happy. Below is the press release we put out about Jennifer and the award which honored her Freedom of Information work here in Texas.

If you'd like to receive our press releases and other updates, sign up in the box in the upper right-hand corner, or e-mail me directly at trent@texaswatchdog.org.

Houston, Texas, August 24, 2009 -- This year's Capitolbeat John Aubuchon Freedom of Information Award was awarded to Texas Watchdog Deputy Editor Jennifer Peebles.

Peebles won by creating an interactive map on the Texas Watchdog news site that allowed anyone to download the ethics forms of Texas state lawmakers. These forms can be treasure troves of information, showing legislators' potential conflicts of interest and detailing their business interests.

Until Peebles created this map, it was difficult for anyone to get these documents -- the state does not make them available online.

Check out the original map and story here.

The award was given for more than just that single story and map, though. The map made national news. And people who downloaded these forms flooded Texas Watchdog with tips about potential conflicts of interests of lawmakers.

Some of the stories that Texas Watchdog has since published based on the tips that rolled in include:

* State Sen. Royce West's firm earned $1M from public agencies, many aided by his legislation

* Lawmakers' relatives work for GEO Group prison co. as state weighs clamp-down on embattled firm

* State Sen. Rodney Ellis' private firm stands to profit from bond package he championed for HISD

* Former state Rep. Fred Hill now lobbying on behalf of cities, counties

"We're very happy that Capitolbeat, made up of statehouse reporters from all over the United States, bestowed Texas Watchdog and Jennifer Peebles with this award," said Texas Watchdog editor Trent Seibert. "Jennifer's work led to many other stories and helped put Texas Watchdog on the national stage."
For more information:

Contact:
Editor Trent Seibert at 713-980-9776 (desk) or 832-316-4994 (cell).
E-mail trent@texaswatchdog.org.

Deputy Editor Lee Ann O'Neal at 713-980-9777 (desk).
E-mail leeann@texaswatchdog.org.
Gaps in Senator Royce West's reporting of fees from groups with lobbyists
Tuesday, Aug 18, 2009, 09:35AM CST
By Matt Pulle
State Sen. Royce West, who is considering a run for Texas attorney general, has until recently made it almost impossible to follow his money and figure out how he earns a living.

Although the Dallas Democrat and his small law firm have raked in well over $1 million in recent years billing local governments for legal services, West hardly mentioned any of his public sector lawyering on his personal financial statements, which are public records, required by law, that detail a legislator's investments, holdings and sources of income. The senator's omissions constituted either a violation of Texas law or are barely covered by an obscure loophole.

Either way, West himself must think he made a mistake. Just days after Texas Watchdog asked him about several of the gaps in his financial filings, the senator turned in three corrected reports to the Texas Ethics Commission. (Click here and here for the 2009 amendments and here for the 2008 amendment.)

west_bio

The state's official ethics watchdog requires that lawmakers disclose any fee they've received from either a lobbyist or an entity who employs a registered lobbyist in Austin--think energy companies, insurance firms and developers. The intent of this provision is clear: If an elected official is doing business with a firm that itself does enough business with the state to enlist a hired gun, we should probably know about it.

"It seems plain that the reason for this inquiry is to assist the voters with their efforts to hold legislators accountable for their responsible conduct," says Daniel Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.  Voters have "a statutory right to know the financial connections between lobbyists and elected representatives."

But West didn't list many of those connections until he received an e-mail from Texas Watchdog. In the senator's initial 2008 and 2009 personal financial statements, on file with the Texas Ethics Commission, the 16-year incumbent didn't identify the public agencies and governments he and his firm have billed, even though many of those outfits, like other deep-pocketed industries, retain registered lobbyists in Austin.

West's most notable omissions:

Dallas Independent School District: West and his firm have collected $3.8 million dollars in fees from Dallas ISD, helping defend personnel cases for the district. Last year, West and his firm billed DISD more than $600,000. But even though Dallas ISD retained six lobbyists in Austin during this past legislative session and another nine during the two prior years, West did not initially mention DISD on either his 2008 or 2009 personal financial statements.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit: In 2008, West's firm billed the Dallas Area Rapid Transit almost $260,000 and has collected more than $500,000 in fees from the public transportation agency since December 2006. But West didn't list DART on either his original 2008 and 2009 personal financial statements, even though DART retained six lobbyists last session and ten during the previous two years.

The city of Dallas: In 2007, West's firm billed the city of Dallas $32,067 for serving as the co-bond counsel on the city's municipal debt sales. In 2008, he billed more $73,000. Though Dallas, like most major municipalities, has a heavy lobbying presence in Austin with 12 this past session and 41 over the two years prior, West only disclosed his work for the city in his most recent personal financial statement.

West corrects the record...after we ask about it.

On July 9, Texas Watchdog sent West an e-mail asking him specifically why he didn't list his public-sector clients on his personal financial statements. The senator never responded nor did he return repeated phone calls to his office. But less than a week after our e-mail, on July 14, West sent three amended reports to the Texas Ethics Commission noting in each one that "Part 15," which asks for the disclosures in question, "had not been completed."

In his corrected report for 2008, West now discloses that he received $25,000 or more from Dallas ISD, DART and the city of Dallas--all three of whom employ lobbyists and all three of whom were referenced in our original e-mail to the senator. West also adds that he was paid $25,000 or more from several other clients who have hired guns in Austin including Texas Instruments and the Dallas Cowboys Company. Here the veteran pol is correcting a report that he turned in nearly a year-and-a-half earlier.

West also made two corrections to his 2009 personal financial statement, again adding Dallas ISD and DART to his list of clients who lobby the legislature. (He had already included the city of Dallas.) West also added the city of San Antonio and CPS Energy in that same section.

Did West violate Texas Law?


It's not entirely clear if West broke the law by failing to note that some of his best clients just happen to lobby him and his colleagues in Austin. An ethics advisory opinion from 1996 looks at a case very similar to the situation with West--a state officer who works for a business that provides services to local governments. The opinion states that if most of the fees are paid to the business--and not state officials--the official does not have to disclose this work on his personal financial statement.

So does this opinion exonerate West?

In the contracts Texas Watchdog reviewed between the state senator and public agencies, West's law firm, West & Associates, is listed as the vendor--not the state senator himself. But West and Associates, located just off I-35, south of downtown Dallas, is a relatively tiny firm in which the state senator is the only partner. It's hard to envision many scenarios where the fees paid to West's law firm don't end up in the hands of West himself, which may be why he ultimately chose to amend his reports.

West isn't the only lawmaker who doesn't disclose his politically-connected clients on his personal financial statements. Take Houston state Sen. Rodney Ellis.

His company, Rice Financial Products, works with the Dallas bank First Southwest on the Houston Independent School District's bond sales. Both First Southwest and Houston ISD have lobbyists working for them in Austin--and yet Ellis does not list either the district or the bank on his personal financial statement filed in 2008.

Ellis

It's possible that Ellis, like West, might be exempt from the state's reporting requirements because his company collects the money, instead of the fees going directly to the lawmaker. But the Houston lawmaker doesn't exactly have a low-ranking position with Rice Financial Products. He happens to be a partner. (Ellis did not return repeated requests for comment.)

Even if an old advisory opinion exempts West and Ellis from telling voters who they're working for--and that's an open question--there's nothing in the state law that prevents them from simply disclosing more information than the minimum legal threshold. In fact, why not err on the side of caution in the first place? The stakes are high in state politics and when lawmakers grab money from some of the same heavy hitters who try to sway their votes, they might want to tell us about it.

"When a legislator does business with or gets paid by entities that lobby the state, it opens a huge number of potential conflicts of interest," said Craig McDonald, the executive director of Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning watchdog group. "Those relationships need to be disclosed to determine if the potential for conflict turns into a real conflict."

Contact Matt Pulle at matt@texaswatchdog.org or 713-980-9777.

Creative Commons License
This investigative report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

The photo of money is from TW Collins' flickr photostream, used via the Creative Commons license.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, join our group on MySpace, follow us on Twitter, fan us on Digg, join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feed in your newsreader. We're also on NewsVine, tumblr, Ning, FriendFeed and YouTube.
Video camera company claims WatchGuard Video had unfair advantage in winning state contract
Monday, Aug 17, 2009, 10:06AM CST
By Matt Pulle
watchguard-vid-2

When MPH Industries, a Kentucky-based company that makes digital video cameras for patrol cars, lost out on a state contract, it claimed it never had a chance. That's because, the company argued, the Texas Department of Public Safety wrote the requests for proposals in such a way that only one bidder would win.

That bidder was WatchGuard Video, which at the time it landed the contract in 2006, had two state representatives--Republicans Ken Paxton and Byron Cook --among its initial investors. Another financial backer, Bob Griggs, was a former GOP member of the state House.

In correspondence with state officials obtained by Texas Watchdog, MPH Industries does not mention its rivals' well-connected investors, and it's unclear if the company knew of them. But MPH claims that WatchGuard Video may have received favorable treatment from Texas officials.

MPH's argument was  highly technical in nature, but their main point was clear: State officials outlined a very specific type of digital camera that it wanted--and WatchGuard was the only company that made that type of camera. That device wasn't better suited to the demands of police work, MPH claimed. It was just uniquely positioned to take advantage of the state's bidding process.

"The manner in which the specifications are written is so narrow that the WatchGuard is the only system on the market that can meet them," wrote acting president Kevin Willis in a letter to state officials obtained by Texas Watchdog. "We hope the state will give due consideration to our product, which has been on the market longer and has much wider use than Watchguard."

(View the state document that shows all bidding companies, except for WatchGuard, were disqualified, and MPH Industries' response to the bid specifications.)

In a story first reported by the Associated Press, Paxton and Cook were among the early investors in WatchGuard Video, while Cook served on the company's board. Both Paxton and Cook voted for massive spending bills that funded the state's contract with the company they partly owned.

Paxton

Watchguard's deal with the state, which could be worth as much as $10 million, calls for trooper vehicles in Texas to be fitted with WatchGuard digital cameras. Last year the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also awarded a contract to the firm.

The Associated Press reported that in April 2008, WatchGuard Video claimed that its net earnings skyrocketed 250 percent. About three months later, Cook sold off his investment, with Paxton unloading most of it. On their personal financial statements on file with the state, both Paxton and Cook had disclosed ownership in WatchGuard Video in past years. But in the form filed in 2008, and covering calendar year 2007, Paxton did not disclose his ownership share.

Paxton and Cook's stake in WatchGuard Video may have breached the state constitution, which prohibits lawmakers from benefiting from a contract put in place by the legislature. But even if their ties merely place them in a legal gray area, political observers say that Paxton and Cook shouldn't have anything to do with a company doing business with the state.

Cook

“How can Texans ever come to believe that their government acts in the citizens’ best interests when their legislators can’t keep from mixing up their investments with their votes?" says Bill Baumbach, the editor of The Collin County Observer, a local news and political Web site. "And then when found out, these same legislators emit smoke screens that all too frequently go uncontested by the press."

'Not a small-time enterprise'

At issue is whether Watchguard benefited by having two lawmakers sign on as investors.

Tela Mange, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, says nobody at the agency had any contact with Cook or Paxton at the time they were evaluating bids for the videocam contract. She says the agency choose Watchguard because it made the precise type of digital recording device it was looking for.

Robert Vanman, the CEO and founder of WatchGuard, says he didn't divulge the names of his investors to the state, so it's not like he could have used them to curry favor during the bidding process.

Still, the Plano executive does admit to one curious thing: Using Paxton and Cook's status as elected officials to build the name of his fledgling firm. An early profile for Watchguard Video noted that his company is "held by an influential shareholder group that includes three state representatives, a judge, and a number of distinguished entrepreneurs."

If Paxton and Cook were not significant investors -- as Vanman is now claiming -- why reference them at all?

"The candid answer, " he says, before a deep pause. "That original profile was on our Web site during the start-up phase of our company, and it was intended to help demonstrate the case that the funding of Watchguard was significant and this was not a small-time enterprise. That was the point of putting that in there."

One ethics expert says that's hardly a good excuse.

"The CEO’s logic seems to be if the state has no knowledge that these lawmakers have a vested interest in the company receiving the contract, then it’s all cool," says Bruce Barry, a management professor at Vanderbilt University. "But concerns about conflict of interest in public affairs are as much about the appearance of conflict as the corruption that may result. The lawmakers who voted these spending bills knew they were investors in firms bidding on state contacts. So they have a vested interest in the contracting procedure."

watchguard-vid-3

Vanman says WatchGuard won its contract with the state of Texas for one simple reason: It produced a better product than MPH, its letter-writing rival. He claims his company's patrol cameras have features that come in handy in the course of routine traffic stops and arrests.

For example, WatchGuard's devices can play back and record video at the same time, allowing an officer to show a drunk driving suspect his erratic behavior while still providing footage of the offender's ongoing actions. Watchguard's patrol cameras also allow officers to record video on hard drive, a useful feature when the tape runs out.

"MPH, in our view, is kind of silly," Vanman says. "Their product is far less capable, and they have very little market success compared to WatchGuard. There's no way that MPH would be successful in winning a contract with the state of Texas because the product they offer is not capable of meeting the needs that a large agency has."

MPH did not want to comment for this story.

Continues ...


WatchGuard CEO defends investors, state constitution bans certain lawmaker conflicts of interest. On page 2.
DMN Investigates links to our post on House media access
Thursday, Aug 13, 2009, 12:42PM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal
Thanks to the Dallas Morning News' Reese Dunklin for linking from DMN Investigates to our post on the House rule that does not permit online media access to the House floor.

Texas Watchdog hopes the House will change its rule in time for the next legislative session. We're glad the DMN agrees that the public needs more, not fewer, eyes and ears at the capitol.
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Comment of the Day: Boston. It’s Worth It Too. “I live in Boston which is pretty much the anti-Houston, moving there as an adult fleeing some of the things Blue Dog celebrates....
Update:1 day 8 hours
Swamplot
Jeb Bush announces exploratory committee with a typo Today, Jeb Bush announced on Facebook that he was setting up an exploratory committee to run for president. Over the past few weeks, his...
Update:1 day 8 hours
Rick Perry vs The World
Will This Castle in the Thick of Riverside Terrace Fetch $1.5 Million? Known to passersby as much for its solid (though decorative) brick-and-stone wall as for the neoclassical and French-ish features that...
Update:1 day 9 hours
Swamplot
The ‘Governor Rick Perry ’72 Building,’ Coming Soon to Texas A&M? Meeting in special session in College Station on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents will vote on...
Update:1 day 10 hours
Swamplot
Club for Growth Names New President After Lackluster Returns in ’14 McIntosh will officially become president Jan. 1.(Flickr/Mark Kimpel) Following mixed results in the 2014 midterms, Club for Growth last...
Update:1 day 10 hours
Open Secrets
The Tall Trees Are Falling North of Hermann Park These mighty fallen timbers are just “one of the costs of development,” writes a reader with a commanding,...
Update:1 day 11 hours
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Wasting Away Margarita Take one down, pass it around, and this is what you’ll be left with: Commercial Structures Silver Eagle Distibutors, 7721...
Update:1 day 13 hours
Swamplot
College Football: Pick your coaching poison Two schools, one that I root for and one that I follow since I did graduate from their university system, fired their football coaches...
Update:1 day 13 hours
Cory Crow
Picking Up the Lot for Memorial Green; Revisiting Past Dreams of a Houston Subway Midway Buys Vacant 14 Acres Along Memorial Dr. To Develop Memorial Green Mixed-Use Project [Houston Chronicle; previously on...
Update:1 day 13 hours
Swamplot
Resources for tracking activity, bills during the 84th Texas Legislature I've done this before, but as we approach Texas' 84th legislative session in January, Grits thought it prudent to iterate a few handy...
Update:1 day 14 hours
Grits for Breakfast
Moody proposes civil penalty, $100 fine for less than 1 oz of pot Texas state Rep. Joe Moody yesterday held a press conference to promote his new bill HB 507 which would change the penalty for possession...
Update:1 day 16 hours
Grits for Breakfast
Best Body of Water: The Official 2014 Ballot What is Houston’s best body of water? Here’s where you get to vote! New to the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate this...
Update:2 days 4 hours
Swamplot
Freshly-Painted Mango’s for Lease on Lower Westheimer A Montrose hang for lovers of live punk, metal and experimental sounds, Mango’s nightclub has sprouted a “for lease”...
Update:2 days 6 hours
Swamplot
Could the Last Bingo Call Be Coming Soon in Shady Acres’s SPJST Lodge? According to a December 9 posting on the SPJST Lodge #88 Pokrok Facebook page, a buyer is interested in purchasing the Czech heritage...
Update:2 days 7 hours
Swamplot
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: Always Behind the Bookcase 209 Drew St. [HAR] … Read...
Update:2 days 9 hours
Swamplot
Will This Well-Pointed West U Home Bring in $765K? Over in West University, one of the updated brick bungalows in the Rice Court neighborhood makes a few good points — in its...
Update:2 days 10 hours
Swamplot
Energy Corridor ConocoPhillips Workers Will Have to Drive Farther to Stay Brand-Loyal at the Pump Tank up and get your real fruit smoothies and other convenience store Kicks while you still can at this ConocoPhillips service station and...
Update:2 days 11 hours
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Eagle Landing Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. In this...
Update:2 days 13 hours
Swamplot
Selling the River Oaks District to Retailers; Houston’s Wealthiest ZIP Code Construction of New, $80M High School for Performing and Visual Arts To Start on Tuesday [Houston Chronicle; previously on...
Update:2 days 13 hours
Swamplot
I Can't Breathe, South Texas style, and other stories Here's a browser clearing compendium of items  that merit Grits readers' attention even though I haven't had time to adumbrate them...
Update:2 days 14 hours
Grits for Breakfast
The Great Filter
Update:2 days 19 hours
Houston's Clear Thinkers
How to deliver local property-tax relief: Cut county jail, court costs for pot, DWLI cases Texas' statewide leadership has been speaking broadly of property-tax relief throughout the campaign season. But now that elections are...
Update:3 days 13 hours
Grits for Breakfast
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Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
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Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
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Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
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Dallas Morning News | 2 years 4 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) http://t.co/gURdYkj1
Caller.com | 2 years 4 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run: http://t.co/NgerCdsQ
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Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
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Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
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Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
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