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
'Texas Standard' debuts on Houston Public Media News 88.7 KUHF
"Texas Standard" daily news magazine, airing on Houston Public Media News 88.7 begins March 2 - will connect Texans to stories around the...
Houston media shutdown Arturo's Uptown Italiano
Friday night, The Roundtable, a group of Houston journalists and political types, closed down Bill Sadler's Arturo's Uptown Italiano in...
The Playlist: The Race is On
For our first University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of 2015, we surveyed Texans’ attitudes on a variety of topics ranging from 2016...
Blue Ridge West MUD named in association with HCC campus relocation
In this January 23, 2015 article titled “HCC buys land for campus in Missouri City”, the Houston Chronicle reported an unnamed...
Richard Chesnoff, R.I.P.
Richard Z. Chesnoff, a prize winning veteran of more than 40 years of global news work and the older brother of my good friend David...
Republican Party of Texas Chair Candidate Debate
The Clear Lake Area Republicans hosted a debate between the named candidates in the race to replace retiring Republican Party of Texas...
DPS border 'surge' failed to reduce drug supplies, which increased
Let's bottom line the effectiveness of Texas' border security measures. DPS and the National Guard aren't immigration enforcers and they...
Net Neutrality Supporters Fast Facts
A profile of net neutrality’s biggest opponents is available here.
Yesterday we profiled the top four opponents of net neutrality...
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: It’s a Wrap
5006 Heatherglen Dr. [HAR]
Why Houston Commercial Real Estate Thinks It’ll Do Just Fine, Thank You
Deeply embedded Houston real estate reporter Catie Dixon comes back from a panel event sponsored by her employer with a clickworthy account...
Comment of the Day: The Sights of Montrose
“Look at those pictures! The cityscape in Houston is so beautiful that I sometimes want to cry. I love the setbacks, the crumbling...
Historic Hillegeist Homestead in Tomball Brands Its 133-Acre Century Ranch at $6.65 Million
Cattle grazing, dairy farming, and crops of hay and vegetables have been the order of business at this updated 1860s German farmhouse...
What’s Arriving Now at the Sleepy Corner of Westheimer and Montrose
The formerly bedding-starved heart of Montrose can now rest easy: Mattress Firm has arrived. The nation’s largest mattress retailer...
ACU’s Spending Might be CPAC’s Biggest Splash
The ‘silent’ primary to convince conservative voters — and donors — which potential 2016 candidate is their guy or...
Money, Money, Money – City Seachange
While I was off dealing with life and death issues, literally, a major seachange occurred in City of Houston politics. A federal judge...
Daily Demolition Report: Quitman Quit
For a diet strong in fiber, dig into these:
Gulf Gate Kidney Center, 7201 Village Way 77087 (Creekview...
Univision 45 KXLN wins during February 2015 sweeps in key demo
Univision is the number 1 broadcast station in early and late local news in Houston (KXLN 45) and Los Angeles (KMEX 34) for the February...
A Galveston Trolley Comeback; Live Oak Friends Meeting House Skyspace Reopens; Here Come the Europeans
Direct Energy Shrinking Greenway Plaza Office Space by 13%, Extending Lease [Prime Property]
Howard Hughes’ Condo Tower with...
DPS: Surge will take four years to staff, apprehension rate abysmal on border crossings
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has suggested hiring and sending 500 additional state troopers to the border. But Col. Steve McCraw of the...
Lies, damn lies and drug war statistics: DPS edition
The Austin American Statesman reported (Feb. 26) that the Texas Department of Public Safety inflated prices of seized drugs ten-fold just...
Oliver on a dubious Texas tradition – Elected Judges
Inside Intelligence: About Those UT/TT Poll Questions...
We keyed this week’s survey of politics and government insiders off a sampling of...
RAMP goes to Austin
I don’t remember when my mind began to change on the marijuana issue; but, I am confident that the Lee family (Ann Lee and Bob...
Receive Grits for Breakfast posts via email
As happens at the beginning of every Texas legislative session, this blog has enjoyed an uptick in readership in recent weeks. For those of...
An Award-Winning Hunter’s Modern Redo in Hunters Creek Reaches for $2.5 Million
Its spread wings don’t fly, but a horizon-hugging 1960 mod in Memorial — once known as the Lapin House — did rise to...
Bill to ban probation for illegal immigrants likely DOA after devastating critique of (un)constitutionality
When state Sen. Joan Huffman, a former district judge, filed her SB 174 forbidding sentences of probation for "illegal aliens," Grits was...
Little Flags Are Flying Around the Once and Maybe Future Regent Square
Remember way back in 2007, when excavators tore down portions of the Allen House Apartments in North Montrose to make way for GID...
Net Neutrality Fast Facts
Federal Communication Commission ChairmanTom Wheeler joins hands with Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, left, and Jessica Rosenworcel before...
Bexar POs allegedly linked romantically to probationers
An investigation by WOAI radio in San Antonio:uncovered a pattern at Bexar County's Adult Probation Department: officers becoming...
H-E-B Considering Multi-Story Replacement for Bellaire Market
The new 70,000-sq.-ft. grocery store H-E-B is hoping to build to replace its current location near the intersection of Bissonnet St. and...
House budget markup funds prison health below what's needed to meet 'minimum standards'
At the Texas House Corrections Committee meeting this morning, TDCJ chief Brad Livingston said the House budget markup on prison healthcare...
Daily Demolition Report: Hazard a Stomp
Live in the moment. Demolish in between.
Dan’s Chrysler Marine Service, 927 Studewood St....
First Inner Loop Sprouts Sprouts on Yale St.; The Restaurants Coming and Going on Studewood; The Galleria Names Its Jewels
$5M in Renovations Focusing on 3 Greenway Plaza Meant To Attract New Tenants Once ExxonMobil Leaves for Springwoods Village [HBJ]
Hacking ATMs with a $35 Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a small computer, slightly larger than a credit card, which was created in the U.K. to teach kids computer coding and...
The Power of the Herd
Another Link in Ohio Dark Money Network
Illinois Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner celebrates his win over Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in Chicago. For the second time, a...
Spring Home Listing Photo of the Day: Discovering the Archipelago
8011 Spring Village Dr. [HAR]
A Woodshire Mod Redo That Hasn’t Flipped Yet, but Has Been Marked Down More Than $90K
What’s been going on with that mod home renovation in Woodshire that was featured on Swamplot last September when it was aiming...
Net Neutrality Fight Rife With Interests Connected to Commissioners
(Steve Rhode via Flickr)
The two Republican members of the Federal Communications Commission who have asked for a delay in the...
Gone, But Not Forgotten: Ex-Members Keep on Giving
Even when they don’t head straight to K Street, it’s safe to say that former members of Congress don’t forget their...
Will Sullivan | 2 years 7 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 7 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
Caller.com | 2 years 7 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Karen Townsend | 2 years 7 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Williamson County | 2 years 7 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https