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
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.”
Connect with Texas Watchdog
Related Blogs and Media
Video: SD 18 candidates on contracts with public entities
Candidates vying for the Texas Senate seat in the SD 18 special election were asked about their business participation in the bid process...
Holiday clemency questions at gubernatorial transition
On Friday, Michael Hall at Texas Monthly wondered, "Will Rick Perry grant clemency to Max Soffar?" His post brought to mind two broader,...
Of budgets and border boondoggles: A reality check
The Austin Statesman has a good article (Nov. 22) on the impact of constant border deployments for game wardens, starting with a 19 percent...
“The Long Way Around”
Clemency sought for schizophrenic man set for execution
Texas is on track for an 18-year low in executions, likely because the option of life without parole was added in...
Lawmaker spoke to grand jury after making TRWD complaint
A state representative says he testified to Henderson County a grand jury after bringing a complaint against the Tarrant Regional Water...
The Playlist: The Thrill Is Gone
With enough House Republicans publicly backing Speaker Joe Straus to all but guarantee his re-election, excitement about the...
“I Can Cook, Too”
A Loftier View of the Houston Ship Channel
Can’t stop celebrating the Houston Ship Channel’s recent centennial, but unable to make it to that exhibit downtown? Do...
The Ship Channel’s Folk History on View
Houston Arts Alliance’s Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel, an exhibit running through...
Comment of the Day: Zone d’ Erotica Is a Symbol of Houston Freedom
“I’ve always thought the Zone D’Erotica placement was one of the most charming things about Houston.
Welcome to Houston: you own...
This Sleek, Beaming William Floyd Mod in Memorial Bend Is Asking $798,900
In Memorial Bend, a neighborhood known for its operatic street names and steadily dwindling collection of midcentury modern inventory,...
Houses Around Booker T. Washington High School Are Boarded Up and Look Ready To Go
Demos appear to be ready to commence on a good-sized swath of Independence Heights surrounding Booker T. Washington High School at 119...
Daily Demolition Report: The Orchid Thief
We must adapt — or be left behind.
5565 Gasmer Dr. 77035 (Westbury Manor Apartments; Bldg....
Might Texas revisit needle exchange pilots with Susan Reed gone, disease prevention in the news?
Grits wonders if - owing to recent events surrounding the Ebola scare and the outlandish costs of Hepatitis C treatment under new drug...
Leaving Santa Fe’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Be; The Silver Lining of Metro’s Light Rail Delay
Stream Realty Partners Breaks Ground on Remington Square Phase II 8-Story Spec Office Building [Prime Property]
Lennar Homes Starts...
Tiger Woods’ Houston Golf Design
Obama defies Congress, pushes ahead with immigration plan
Texas officials say they’re prepared to follow through on their pledge to fight Obama’s order in court, but advocates say his...
Extremely Large Pool by Lake Livingston Features 15-Car Garage, 180K Gallons of Water, 60 Palm Trees, $3M Price Tag
Lake Livingston laps near the lazy river meandering within a whopper-scaled waterfront pool (top) at a 2006 property that also boasts a...
Goldman May Hear Harsh Words at Hearing, But Has Backed Many on Panel
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.(flickr/World Economic Forum)
As Goldman Sachs prepares for more unwelcome publicity tomorrow at a Senate...
NOVEMBER 20 / The one and only thing . . .
. . . you need to read to understand why President Barack Hussein Obama is doing what he is doing, why it is wrong, and how he will get...
Sen. Cruz cites Cicero: 'We ... are waiting in our duty to stop this lawless Administration'
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, today invoked a speech from 2,000 years ago to criticize President Barack Obama's expected executive action on...
Construction Set To Begin on the Luxury Jewel Box, the Galleria’s Chi-Chi Pad Site
As of December 1, Galleria tenants and workers who park in the Blue Garage fronting Westheimer (labeled “Construction Zone”...
Inside Intelligence: About That Coming Session...
Conversations about the election are wearing thin and the talk about the upcoming...
Courtney Zavala to leave KPRC 2 and TV
KPRC 2 anchor Courtney Zavala is saying goodbye to TV and KPRC 2
KPRC 2 weekend morning Courtney Zavala is calling it...
Top Texas priorities: border security and immigration
Texas Republicans say the president shouldn’t take the issue of immigration into his own...
Comment of the Day: How Mt. Yuppie Was Formed
“When this place opened, there was a ‘oh no, here come the yuppies‘ reaction. Now, years later, it is closing and people...
Craig Hlavaty is biggest media turkey 2014
NewsFix kept the turkey title in the family
Mike McGuff is back from the sick bed. It's been a horrible few days, but things are turning...
Looking into Houston’s Burger King Tree-Hacking Problem, Beginning Right Down the Street from the Kirby Dr. Wendy’s
Fresh off receiving a $300,000 settlement for the unauthorized removal of 6 oak trees in the city right-of-way from Ali Dhanani and Haza...
Developer Buys Old City Codes Building
PM Realty Group is under contract to purchase the city’s old code enforcement building at 3300 Main St. in Midtown. In 2011, facing...
Linesmithing: On a down week for College Football there is some opportunity.
It happens this time every year. The week before Thanksgiving and many of the top schools are either taking bye weeks or playing...
We Want Your Feedback!
(Image: Niclas Lindh, flickr)
Now that the midterms are over, we’d like to take a moment to breathe — and to ask for your...
Daily Demolition Report: Untanglewood
Can’t stand losing. Can’t stand.
3305 Jefferson St. 77003 (Powars & Tharp)
3311 Jefferson St. 77003
A Hop-on-Top Tower for Texas Children’s; How HPD Can Track Your Mobile Phone
Texas Children’s Hospital To Build 19-Story Tower On Top of 6-Story Facility in the Texas Medical Center [Houston Business...
How times have changed: Reed gone in Bexar, McCrum cleared
How quickly circumstances can change. Readers may recall this post from February suggesting that Bexar DA Susan Reed sought contempt...
Our Changing Earth
Van de Putte to run for San Antonio mayor
Two weeks after losing her bid for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte announced Wednesday night that she would run for...
Senate Keystone “Yea” Votes Took In Six Times More Oil & Gas Money Than Opponents
Senate Democrats successfully blocked a bill Tuesday that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The controversial...
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Bed Frame
14814 Carolcrest St. [HAR]
With Industrial Complex Out Of the Way, More Sueba Apartments Are Posting Up on North Post Oak
Here is a close-up view of an upcoming apartment complex that eastbound Hwy. 290 travelers might see to the west as they enjoy that new...
Will Sullivan | 2 years 3 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
Karen Townsend | 2 years 3 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
Caller.com | 2 years 3 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Karen Townsend | 2 years 3 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Williamson County | 2 years 3 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https