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
A few new faces — but not many — among megadonors to presidential super PACs
Houston Texans Chairman Robert McNair gave to super PACs supporting Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham. (AP Photo/Paul...
College Football Conference by Conference: The ACC (No arrest records tracked)
Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)Part Two: The Big Twelve (All Ten teams)Part Three: SEC (Paul Finebaum's opinion excluded)Part...
Telemundo Houston’s 10 PM Weekday Newscast Is 2nd-Most Watched Late News Program for 3 Consecutive Months
KTMD’s 10 PM Local Weekday and Weekend Newscasts Outrank All English-Language Competitors in the Market Among Adults 18 to 34 and Adults...
Passionate first Lege hearing on Sandra Bland tragedy
Last night's Texas House County Affairs Committee hearing on the Sandra Bland episode sounds like it included some dramatic moments and...
A 365 by Whole Foods for the Greater Heights; Thinking Outside the Typical Suburban Box
365 by Whole Foods Market Planned for Garden Oaks/Greater Heights Areas at Corner of Yale and Loop 610 [Prime Property]
Group Plans To...
JULY 31 / Baurerlein: Why progressives hate . . .
. . . Shakespeare. Dana Dusbiber's statement in The Washington Post deploring the teaching of Shakespeare in high school English courses...
James Harden’s Best Plays from the 2014-15 Season
Inside Intelligence: About Those GOP Debate Invites...
For this week’s nonscientific survey of insiders in government and politics, we ask...
Did Eva Guzman just protect Planned Parenthood in Texas?
With their Greater Texas-area website “undergoing maintenance” and today’s release of the fourth Planned Parenthood baby body parts...
T-Squared: Get Your Tribfest Tickets, Early Birds
By now you may have seen the marquee names most recently added to the busting-at-the-seams...
Once more, a slide in lobbying revenues
Northrop Grumman posted a big jump in second-quarter spending on lobbying, but overall numbers were down again. Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa...
Casey Curry and Travis Herzog to switch places on KTRK abc13
KTRK abc13 morning meteorologist Casey Curry and 11am and 4pm meteorologist Travis Herzog to swap schedules August 3rd
College Football Conference by Conference: Pac12 (Finally, a Conference that can count)
Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)Part Two: The Big Twelve (All Ten teams)Part Three: SEC (Paul Finebaum's opinion excluded)Now...
Another Astrodome Plan; High-Tech Fiber System for The Groves; A Fuller Picture of the Memorial Day Weekend Floods
Cedar Port Industrial Park in Baytown Sells 50 Acres, Warehouse to Venezuela-Based PBP Inc. [HBJ]
New Idea to Save the Astrodome Involves...
Waller Co. DA sets up Sandra Bland investigative panel
Ed. Note: As Grits prepares to go on vacation for a couple of weeks, Rebecca Bernhardt and Emily Gerrick from the Texas Fair Defense...
Texas Supreme Court delivers another stinging rebuke to Parker Administration
Just over a month ago, the Texas Supreme Court delivered a stinging rebuke to the Parker Administration, holding that Mayor Parker’s...
JULY 30 / It was worse than I thought
EARLIER THIS WEEK I righteously shamed the Houston Chronicle for its biased and pathetically unprofessional front-pager on Rick Perry's...
The Challenge of Renovating the MTA
Ben Hall wins straw poll, picks up key endorsements
Conventional wisdom says that Ben Hall doesn’t have a chance in the Houston mayoral race. Maybe that’s true, maybe it...
Univision 45 most watched early and late local news for Houston July sweeps 2015
Univision stations in LA, NY, Houston and Dallas close July 2015 sweeps as the most watched early and late local newscasts among adults...
Scam PACs keep money churning, but not to candidates
Conservative Strike Force fundraising letter sent to a deceased former donor. (Jennifer Bell)
The set of political groups using Scott B....
Trash-talking Washington, but cleaning up with D.C. donors
Jeb Bush at a Central Florida pastors event in Orlando on Monday. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) announced his...
College Football Conference by Conference: SEC (Paul Finebaum's opinion excluded)
Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)Part Two: The Big Twelve (All Ten teams)During the era of the B(C)S, the SEC was king. Not only...
Bill King, election year conservative
It’s amazing to watch candidates morph into different creatures during an election cycle. For years, Bill King has self described...
Light Rail Accident Spike; Building More Galveston Beach; Gentry House Apartment Blaze
Caldwell Releases New Renderings, Video for Mixed-Use Waterfront Project The Boardwalk at Towne Lake [HBJ]
Dallas-Based Regis Property...
24 Hours with the Human Body
Marking the decennial METRO/Culberson lovefest
We’ve been busy the first half (or so) of the year — as tends to happen with folks who manage to remain employed in...
Dolcefino wants to see Cypress Creek EMS public records—and panic ensues
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 safety commissioners have called a special meeting this Thursday July 30. What’s on the...
BJP Exclusive: Congress asks United States AG Lynch to investigate Planned Parenthood
One hundred and thirty-seven members of the U. S. House of Representatives signed a letter asking United States Attorney General Loretta...
A suggestion for 'The Sandra Bland Drivers' Rights Act'
This morning, I received a text from the missus* who suggested that, in 2017, reprised legislation to limit police arresting motorists for...
For fighting Berto, Mayweather should pay the viewer.
Ah boxing. Not only is it among the worst ran sports in the world (I'm looking at you FIFA) but it's also got the biggest star who has the...
VIDEO: Houston news videos from AP's archives
NASA, Howard Hughes, Enron and more old news videos of Houston from the Associated Press (AP) archives
Last June, I posted videos from the...
College Football Conference by Conference: Big Twelve (All ten teams)
Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)Last year it was hard to tell who was the Big Twelve's worst enemy, the College Football...
Westchase District’s Media Blitz; Harvest Green’s Backyard Vegetable Garden Amenity
Braun Enterprises Redeveloping 3 Buildings on West Gray and Dunlavy into 1 or 2 Restaurants, Retail [HBJ]
Lone Star College Building a...
Oliver on Mandatory Minimums
Huh? Greater Houston Partnership hides their finances, exposes City’s
Last month the Texas Supreme Court limited the public’s right to know how private groups operating as chambers of commerce and economic...
JULY 28 / Thomas Wolfe was one of . . .
. . . the most important conservative writers of our time. I'm reminded by Harper's magazine of April 1975, a delightful find among my...
Clinton first, Trump last on share of funds from women
Hillary Clinton speaking at NYU on Friday. (Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)
Whatever Hillary Clinton‘s gender gap may be in the polls,...
FEC tells Bush campaign to clean up bookkeeping on nearly $257,000
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addresses guests during a gathering in Gorham, N.H., last Thursday. (AP...
College Football Conference by Conference: Big Ten (all fourteen teams)
When it comes to the Big Ten this year the East is the Beast. I think that 3 of the top four conference teams will come from that division...
Will Sullivan | 3 years 2 weeks
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 | 3 years 2 weeks
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
Caller.com | 3 years 2 weeks
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Karen Townsend | 3 years 2 weeks
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Williamson County | 3 years 2 weeks
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https