in Houston, Texas
Houston teachers' union rep went on all-expenses-paid Costa Rica trip with trustee Larry Marshall, Rep. Borris Miles
Friday, Jun 24, 2011, 08:03AM CST
By Lynn Walsh
HFT logo

A representative of Houston’s largest teachers’ union went on one of the all-expense-paid trips to Costa Rica offered by Houston school system vendor state Rep. Borris Miles last year -- after a union leader says the group “didn’t want to get cut short” by the Houston school system.

Zeph Capo, an executive board member for the Houston Federation of Teachers, said he went on the trip, which Miles arranged and for which the Central American nation’s government picked up the tab.

“I went because they were potentially looking at a plan where they would ship our employees overseas to have medical stuff done,” Capo told Texas Watchdog. “So, went down there to look and see what that stuff was.”

Capo said he believes he went in April of last year and that no other Houston Independent School District trustees except for Larry Marshall were on the trip with him.

“I knew the Costa Rican government was hustling the district about this,” federation president Gayle Fallon said in an interview with Texas Watchdog. “It was like, ‘OK, I’m not takin’ the trip.’ I didn’t feel right about it. I don’t think it’s good for the president of the local (union) to ever take trips for potential vendors.” Instead, she said, she sent Capo.

An e-mail obtained by Texas Watchdog shows that Miles, a Houston Democrat, offered to take most of the HISD trustees to Costa Rica. Miles also services HISD with flood insurance and is a close friend of two HISD trustees.

In an interview with Texas Watchdog, Miles said he has offered the trip to “school boards across the state” including Dallas ISD. Miles said he “offered it to many of the representatives here in the House. I’ve offered it to union groups. To any people of influence,” and he said that by offering the trip he “didn’t do anything wrong.” (He also offered the trip to a Texas Watchdog reporter who talked with him.)

Fallon says it was Miles who approached her about the trip. “My first thing was, ‘No we don’t do that,’” she said. She said she was unsure about the offer at first, but then Miles “said, ‘Look, it’s the government of Costa Rica,’” she said. “(Miles) said, ‘They really have something that could help your teachers,’ and I said, ‘I’m not gonna do it but I’ll send one of my staffers.’”

“I don’t take trips from vendors,” Fallon said. “In fact, we have probably a stronger conflict-of-interest policy than the (Houston school) district does.” She said the union policy puts a “$50 limit” on gifts.

HISD's ethics policy allows trustees to 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."

Marshall, a long-time HISD board member, told the Houston Chronicle last week that he didn’t see the need to disclose the two trips because the vendor, Miles, was present on the trip. District records show an approved board agenda item from February 2011 where “Miles Insurance Agency,” the same firm owned by Miles, was awarded the district’s flood insurance contract through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Miles is also close friend of both HISD trustees president Paula Harris and trustee Carol Mims 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.

The revelation of Marshall going on the Costa Rica trip is one of many recent media stories about HISD trustees and their close relationships with district vendors. A Texas Watchdog investigation found that board president Paula Harris voted to approve $28 million in district contracts with a business owned by a close friend. Harris also told the Houston Chronicle she had taken trips with the same friend, Nicole West, including a trip to Italy this year, but paid her own way. Marshall has called the recent media coverage “blatant racism.”

“It’s too easy to get in trouble with a vendor,” Fallon said. “Even if something isn’t wrong, it sometimes looks wrong.”

Fallon defended the two trips to Costa Rica Marshall accepted from Miles, and a trip HISD Trustee Harvin Moore took to China organized by the College Board, a national education nonprofit, though she said she would have sent one of her lieutenants.

“What Larry and Harvin did...isn’t illegal, depending on their actions when they get back,” Fallon said. “And you know, that’s only if there’s no kickbacks and things like that … I, personally, if I had been offered that as a board member, I would have done the same thing that I did in my (union) office -- I’d (have) a sent a staff person...You never get in trouble sending a staff person to look at it in person. That is defensible, because then people believe you were looking it instead of ‘Oh, paid vacation time.’”

The e-mail from Miles offered each trustee the chance 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. Capo said he did not bring a guest and says, “I didn’t leave the hotel other than for the hospital visits or for dinner.”

Capo said there was an “exhibit hall” set-up for him and other guests to visit but the “other big part of it was the visits” to doctor’s offices and hospitals. “You had the option of going to several different hospitals or maybe to some of the hospitals and the dental clinics and that sort of thing.”

When he got there, Capo said he realized “it was certainly a lot more than HISD there … There were people from a whole lot of organizations, coming from Houston and all over the country.”

Miles also told Texas Watchdog there were more than HISD and Houston people at the conferences. “More than 200 benefits professionals, business owners and public officials from across the U.S. have attended this conference,” Miles said in a written statement. (Read the full statement here.) “As best we can tell, the public officials number ... less than 2 percent. Which is really bad, because innovations tend to come to the public sector last.”

***
Contact Lynn Walsh, lynn@texaswatchdog.org, 713-228-2850 or on Twitter, @lwalsh.
 
Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.
  • 1
Video
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
Comment of the Day: Why Is Anyone Living That Close to a Refinery? “Tax policy should probably discourage residential habitation in neighborhoods near the Houston Ship Channel and encourage people to...
Update:10 hours 31 min
Swamplot
Kaley O’Kelley joins KTVT 11 DFW evenings, Karen Borta to mornings Some big changes over at Dallas-Fort Worth's KTVT 11 this holiday season. First the news came out that CBS 11 News at 5, 6 and 10...
Update:10 hours 46 min
Mike McGuff
Which A&M Building Has Governor Perry’s Name on It Now? Two days of “deep reflection” after telling the Bryan-College Station Eagle that he would be honored to have Texas...
Update:11 hours 32 min
Swamplot
Likely Website Glitch Shows Shows New Walmart Neighborhood Market Headed to Washington Ave Near Memorial Heights Here’s a map a reader sent yesterday apparently showing the location of “Walmart Neighborhood Market #3450,” on...
Update:13 hours 1 min
Swamplot
Dems Won’t Be Missing Cuban Money They Weren’t Getting Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaking at a fundraiser for the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC that raked in $200,000 in November. (AP Photo/J...
Update:14 hours 3 min
Open Secrets
A Peek Inside the Old Riviana Silos, Where the Deal Company Is Transforming Rice Space into Art Space Under the sign of the merry Mahatma, workers are sweeping out what stray grains of rice may linger within the 38 silos at the old Riviana...
Update:14 hours 31 min
Swamplot
Neighborhood of the Year: The Official 2014 Ballot Here it is: the official ballot for Neighborhood of the Year. This is the next-to-last category in the 2014 Swamplot Awards for Houston...
Update:16 hours 2 min
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Rounding Down Richmont Square These are the spoils of today’s demolition adventure: Commercial Structures Richmont Square Apartments, 1400 Richmond Ave. 77006...
Update:16 hours 46 min
Swamplot
T-Squared: Texas Weekly Goes Daily For years, Texas Weekly, our subscriber-only newsletter, has kept political insiders in the...
Update:17 hours 2 min
Texas Tribune
Debut of CAF USA’s Delayed Railcars Approaches; The Relationship Between Lower Oil Prices and Sprawl South Korean Investors Buy 19-Story Galleria Office Building 3000 Post Oak in Deal Pegged at $175M [Prime Property] Dallas-Based...
Update:17 hours 31 min
Swamplot
Welcome to Union Glacier Welcome to Union Glacier from Studiocanoe on...
Update:1 day 3 min
Houston's Clear Thinkers
Big News on Washington Ave Archstone Memorial Heights, that 556-unit apartment complex at 201 S. Heights on 23.4 acres of Washington Corridor land (seen here...
Update:1 day 9 hours
Swamplot
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Kitchen Workshop 201 Main St. Unit 3C [HAR] … Read...
Update:1 day 10 hours
Swamplot
The Battling Owners of the Bella Terraza Sold the Place, But a Proxy War Continues through Their Lawyers That opulent Italianate edifice at 2840 Chimney Rock Rd. that formerly housed the Bella Terraza (later Villa Rinata) reception hall has...
Update:1 day 12 hours
Swamplot
Ben Koush: Adding a 4-Story ‘Gas Tank’ to the Alley’s Roof Not My Idea of Preservation Citing it as epitomizing Houston’s ineptitude in historic preservation, architect and former Houston Mod president Ben Koush soundly...
Update:1 day 15 hours
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Crashing the Cat Houses This is how it’s done. Watch closely, but please keep back from the dust. Commercial Structures Cat Veterinary Clinic, 2121 W....
Update:1 day 16 hours
Swamplot
Pondering the Ghosts of Christmas Pardons Past, Present and Future Will Texas Gov. Rick Perry issue one last round of Christmas-time pardons on his way out the door?The future of executive clemency looks...
Update:1 day 16 hours
Grits for Breakfast
T-Squared: A New Partnership With The Washington Post When we checked in a few weeks ago to let you know that the Tribune’s relationship...
Update:1 day 17 hours
Texas Tribune
Baytown Buc-ee’s Is Here; Goodbye Mission Burrito, Hello Überrito Mexican Grill Fuller Realty Partners and Independencia Buy Sam Houston Crossing I in Northwest Houston for $26.2M [Realty News Report] Rice Village Bar...
Update:1 day 17 hours
Swamplot
Antebellum Texas judges enjoyed sweeping habeas corpus authority Grits recently opined that, over the long arc of history, nearly all legislative involvement in habeas corpus has been to restrict judicial...
Update:1 day 18 hours
Grits for Breakfast
Gaming Good Health
Update:2 days 1 hour
Houston's Clear Thinkers
Inside Intelligence: About Rick Perry... Rick Perry leaves office after 14 years as governor next month, so we asked our insiders in...
Update:2 days 8 hours
Texas Tribune
A Few Sites from the Life of Robert Ray McKeown, Fidel Castro’s Houston-Area Gunrunner With the U.S.-Cuba cold war finally melting away, it’s as good a time as ever to point out a few key sites from Fidel Castro’s...
Update:2 days 8 hours
Swamplot
New Cuba Policy Strikes Blow to Anti-Castro Lobby This screen shot taken from live video from the TN channel shows President Barack Obama, right, and Cuba’s President Raul Castro...
Update:2 days 10 hours
Open Secrets
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Glossary 11626 Brookspring Dr. [HAR] … Read...
Update:2 days 11 hours
Swamplot
Jeb Bush’s Rivals Already Running Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz share the podium in July 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) Former Florida Governor and ex-First Brother...
Update:2 days 11 hours
Open Secrets
The Best Sign of the New Houston: The Official 2014 Ballot It’s a new era for Houston. And with this year’s Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate, we aim to identify the Best Sign of the...
Update:2 days 12 hours
Swamplot
Coming Soon in a Much-Recycled Fannin St. Landmark: 3-Story Sports Lounge The Vanderbilt Next up at 3704 Fannin, known to some as the old Evelyn Wilson Interiors building, The Vanderbilt Sports Lounge. It’s a block or two...
Update:2 days 14 hours
Swamplot
Ho hum reaction to civil-pot-penalty bill a positive sign Reactions are still rolling in to Rep. Joe Moody's proposal to reduce low-level marijuana possession to a civil offense with a $100 fine....
Update:2 days 14 hours
Grits for Breakfast
The SPJST Is Not Czeching Out of Shady Acres, According to Lodge Chairman Talk of an upcoming sale of the SPJST Lodge #88 is no more than just talk, according to the lodge’s chairman of the board Mildred...
Update:2 days 15 hours
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Shoreham Up And knock ’em down. Residences 1716 Ovid St. 77007 2110 N. Memorial Way 77007 (Old Sixth Ward Historic District; new construction by...
Update:2 days 16 hours
Swamplot
The Rise of Grocery-Centered Shopping Centers; Surge Homes’ Buyer-Approved Designs for the Heights Grocery-Anchored Shopping Centers Dominate New Retail Construction Across Houston [Houston Business Journal] Trammell Crow Co., Clarion...
Update:2 days 17 hours
Swamplot
On the limits of citations and arrests for combating panhandling and homelessness in San Antonio An opinion column by John Brodesky in the Express-News (Dec. 12) lamented the limits of citations and arrests for dealing with panhandling...
Update:2 days 18 hours
Grits for Breakfast
Liberating turn in coastal bend saga: Hannah Overton free on bail A trial judge ordered Hannah Overton released on bail yesterday after spending five years in prison for allegedly poisoning her foster son...
Update:2 days 19 hours
Grits for Breakfast
Harvard Professors Read Mean Comments
Update:2 days 23 hours
Houston's Clear Thinkers
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: Ring of Fireplace 14311 Warkworth Dr. [HAR] … Read...
Update:3 days 10 hours
Swamplot
Justin Stapleton joins KPRC 2 weather team KEZI 9 News chief meteorologist Justin Stapleton joins KPRC 2 Justin Stapleton Justin Stapleton, KEZI 9 News chief meteorologist, is...
Update:3 days 10 hours
Mike McGuff
Best Mobile Food Vendor Location: The Official 2014 Ballot The list of official nominees for the next category in the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate is parked here! It’s the award...
Update:3 days 11 hours
Swamplot
Parent Alert: "Giving Tuesday" Curriculum Warning Most parents want their children to grow up to be kind, compassionate, charitable adults. So when schools sponsor activities which foster...
Update:3 days 11 hours
Texas Trash Talk
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:3 days 12 hours
Swamplot
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 2 years 4 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 2 years 4 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 2 years 4 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 2 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 | 2 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 | 2 years 4 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 2 years 4 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 2 years 4 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 2 years 4 months
Go ahead, chalk it up http://t.co/YMWpC5wM #satx #chalkitup
Caller.com | 2 years 4 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 2 years 4 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012 http://t.co/eodxBYVD
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
Karen Townsend | 2 years 4 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 2 years 4 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business - http://t.co/kWY8gwPV http://t.co/bw25JP5R
News 4 WOAI | 2 years 4 months
If you see news in or around San Antonio 'SEND IT' to @NEWS4WOAI here: http://t.co/uMqbMXQv OR email us at: NEWSDESK@WOAITV.COM
swamplot | 2 years 4 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 2 years 4 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 2 years 4 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 2 years 4 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https://t.co/YUWi19WY
© 2014 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement