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: Does ‘East River’ Erase Bayou History, or Draw In New Students? “‘East River’ . . . that does sound like a lame sort of urban infant suckling at Mama NYC’s teat. But really, a 2-word...
Update:1 hour 12 min
Swamplot
You Might Want To Take That Dioxin Out of the San Jacinto Before a Hurricane Does It First Yesterday marked the start of the 60-day public comment period on this week’s proposal to pull about 202,000 cubic yards of...
Update:3 hours 26 min
Swamplot
Giant Fish Mouth To Get Filled Tonight at Orange Show’s New Park in Third Ward The street-sign-strip-tiled interior of the toothy structure above will host musicians and speakers this evening during the...
Update:4 hours 41 min
Swamplot
The Rent-to-School-Rating Correlation; Metro’s Wish List Rents Near Houston’s Best Public Schools Are 46% Higher Than Those Near Low-Ranking Ones, Finds RentCafe [Houston Chronicle] Value...
Update:6 hours 41 min
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Imperfect Ten Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. Set wide the...
Update:7 hours 11 min
Swamplot
Bunker Hill Home Listing Photo of the Day: Keeping a Lid on It 12010 Surrey Ln. [HAR] … Read...
Update:20 hours 56 min
Swamplot
Partially-Constructed Memorial City Hotel Zaza Already Decked Out in Dramatic Colors A reader sends over this morning’s sunrise view of the Hotel Zaza Memorial City mid-to-highrise, now slowly rising west of Bunker...
Update:21 hours 41 min
Swamplot
Comment of the Day: The Ongoing Rewrite of Houston’s East Side Story “East River? Ugh, another name copied from New York City. We’ve got the East Village being developed (or is it ‘east...
Update:22 hours 56 min
Swamplot
Donald Trump’s fractional fundraising Mitt Romney weighs in on the Republican presidential race last spring. Donald Trump has outraised Romney in just three of 93 industries...
Update:23 hours 7 min
Open Secrets
EPA Suggests Taking Those Giant Piles of Toxic Waste Out from Under the I-10 San Jacinto Bridge Yesterday the EPA released their recommendations for what to do about the toxic muck in the San Jacinto Waste Pits, after more than a...
Update:1 day 26 min
Swamplot
Swamplot Sponsor: This Redone 4-Bedroom in Oak Forest Today’s sponsor is the recently renovated 4-bedroom, 3-bath home at 1839 Viking Dr. in Oak Forest — with an asking price...
Update:1 day 3 hours
Swamplot
The Local Designer Drawing Your Heights-Area House and Then Mailing You a Copy Recognize any of the images above? They’re each depictions of actual houses in the Heights area (yes, even that really skinny one...
Update:1 day 4 hours
Swamplot
FOX 26's Scarlett Fakhar engaged Two Houston TV anchor engagements in the last weeks After the Mayra Moreno engagement post, I got a tip that FOX 26 KRIV anchor Scarlett...
Update:1 day 4 hours
Mike McGuff
SEPTEMBER 29 / What do the numbers say? THAT HILLARY DIANE RODHAM Clinton is still ahead of Donald John Trump. For starters, she leads by 3 at Real Clear Politics, "General...
Update:1 day 4 hours
Unca Darrell
Energy Corridor Leads in Empty Sublease Space; Meet Metro’s Social Media Team Energy Corridor No. 1 Market in the Country for Supply of Sublease Office Space, Finds JLL [Realty News Report] HFF: Most New Houston...
Update:1 day 6 hours
Swamplot
On white people's role in addressing race and police violence A Dallas Morning News staff editorial last week touted blogger Awesomely Luvvie's platitudinous clickbait suggestions for what white people...
Update:1 day 6 hours
Grits for Breakfast
Daily Demolition Report: Castle Siege Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. Standing on...
Update:1 day 7 hours
Swamplot
Richmond Home Listing Photo of the Day: Leading Roles 7218 Foster Island Dr. [HAR] … Read...
Update:1 day 22 hours
Swamplot
And the good times rolled: 17 donors gave three-quarters of Dems’ convention money The Democratic committee organizing the party’s national convention raised $4 million more than its Republican equivalent. (AP...
Update:1 day 23 hours
Open Secrets
Brick-Faced Polk St. Warehouse Marketers Propose Increased Transparency, Wholesale Changes A construction fence has gone up around the former King’s Wholesale building in East Downtown, a reader tells Swamplot. The...
Update:1 day 23 hours
Swamplot
Abandon fatalism, embrace accountability on police shootings The Dallas Morning News editorial board has struggled of late to discern a viable path forward in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of...
Update:2 days 5 min
Grits for Breakfast
VIDEO: New KHOU 11 sports anchor Jason Bristol gets big send-off New KHOU 11 sports anchor Jason Bristol gets Texas sized tribute from WHP Harrisburg, PA In early September, I blogged that KHOU 11 had...
Update:2 days 58 min
Mike McGuff
Comment of the Day: Save-The-Dome Saga’s Parking Garage Ending Leaves Room for a Sequel “I think people are missing the larger view here. Of course there is plenty of current surface parking — but putting parking...
Update:2 days 1 hour
Swamplot
Buffalo Bayou Boat Launch at Woodway Dr. Accidentally Shaved Bare Again The folks at Save Buffalo Bayou send over some before-and-after photos of the Memorial Park boat launch and companion drainage structure...
Update:2 days 2 hours
Swamplot
SEPTEMBER 28 / The Wall Street Journal has gone into the . . . . . . college-ranking bidness. The newspaper's list is worth a look because . . . . . . it "pulls back from the traditional emphasis on...
Update:2 days 3 hours
Unca Darrell
KHOU 11 building new set; operating from temporary studio While a new set is being built, KHOU 11's newscasts are now temporarily being done from 'Great Day Houston's' set KHOU 11 is getting a...
Update:2 days 3 hours
Mike McGuff
HISD Tossing Around a Bellaire HS Rebuild on the Chevron Campus Up the Street On Monday some HISD folks pitched the idea of buying Chevron’s soon-to-be-empty land on Fournace Place to a committee overseeing...
Update:2 days 4 hours
Swamplot
Midway’s Latest Plans for the KBR Site; Big Turnout for the Public Housing Vouchers Waiting List Midway’s Project on Former KBR Site in the East End To Be Called East River [Houston Chronicle; previous on Swamplot] Post...
Update:2 days 6 hours
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Varsity Blues Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. We may...
Update:2 days 7 hours
Swamplot
College Football: The Week 5 er...FIVE. Found out earlier this week that I had an inner ear infection. This is why I've felt like I've had vertigo and an upset stomach that's been...
Update:2 days 7 hours
Cory Crow
It's Time For School Choice In Texas! VIDEO: Part 1 of 3. Texas has some of the best public schools in the country. Some of the highest graduation rates in America. Some of the...
Update:2 days 8 hours
WILLisms
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Vision Quester 30B Hackberry Ln. [HAR] … Read...
Update:2 days 21 hours
Swamplot
Comment of the Day: Any New Naming Episodes Welcome Amid the Endless East Houston Reruns “The news calls everything between Downtown and Baytown ‘East Houston’ — so when West U is called ‘Southwest...
Update:2 days 22 hours
Swamplot
Gaping holes, confusion mar FCC’s data on political ad buys An ad sponsored by the NRA-ILA attacking Indiana Senate candidate Evan Bayh (D). Four years after it began requiring TV stations to upload...
Update:2 days 23 hours
Open Secrets
Fleet of Taco Trucks Now Registering People To Vote on 8 Houston Corners Here’s the map posted by Houstonia’s Katharine Shilcutt this morning showing the usual haunts of 8 taco trucks now also...
Update:3 days 26 min
Swamplot
Swamplot Sponsor: This 5-Bedroom, 5-Bath Home in West U Swamplot is brought to you today by the 5-bedroom, 5-bath house for sale or lease at 6337 Mercer St. in West University Place. Thanks...
Update:3 days 3 hours
Swamplot
Mayra Moreno engaged #abc13 #ktrk KTRK abc13 weekend morning anchor Mayra Moreno gets engaged After Monday's terrible shooting incident, let's try to celebrate the...
Update:3 days 3 hours
Mike McGuff
County Approves First $10.5 Million for Astrodome Basement Parking Garage Plan The Harris County commissioner’s court voted this morning to approve the design phase of that plan to fill in the Astrodome’s...
Update:3 days 3 hours
Swamplot
New Heights El Rey Taqueria Location Now Rising Along North Loop Burger King’s Western Border The crown sigil of El Rey Cuban & Mexican Cuisine has been sighted by a reader along the south side of the North Loop, just west of...
Update:3 days 4 hours
Swamplot
Inside the Astrodome; The Effects of the Oil Downturn Beyond Houston A Breakdown of What $105M Would Buy in the Proposed Astrodome Parking Garage Redo [Houston Chronicle; previously on...
Update:3 days 6 hours
Swamplot
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 4 years 3 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 4 years 3 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 4 years 3 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 4 years 3 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 4 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
TxDOT | 4 years 3 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 4 years 3 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 4 years 3 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 4 years 3 months
Go ahead, chalk it up http://t.co/YMWpC5wM #satx #chalkitup
Caller.com | 4 years 3 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 4 years 3 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012 http://t.co/eodxBYVD
Dallas Morning News | 4 years 3 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) http://t.co/gURdYkj1
Caller.com | 4 years 3 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run: http://t.co/NgerCdsQ
Karen Townsend | 4 years 3 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 4 years 3 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business - http://t.co/kWY8gwPV http://t.co/bw25JP5R
News 4 WOAI | 4 years 3 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 | 4 years 3 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 4 years 3 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 4 years 3 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 4 years 3 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
© 2016 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement