in Houston, Texas
New ethics complaint filed against San Antonio city officials over handling of convention center contract
Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012, 10:36AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
money

A former city contract coordinator for San Antonio is not satisfied that a brisk but gentle paddling of Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni is sufficient to make the handling of a $300 million Convention Center contract go away.

Michael Cuellar filed a complaint with the city’s Ethics Review Board against DiGiovanni, David Zachry, CEO of one of the winning contractors, and three city employees, the San Antonio Express News reports today.

The board is expected to consider the complaint at its meeting Dec. 17.
 
The complaint followed a decision in October by the board against taking action against DiGiovanni for his role in the Convention Center negotiations because he had “unknowingly” violated the conflict-of-interest guidelines in the ethics code.

While DiGiovanni was voting to give the largest construction contract in city history to Zachry Corp. and Hunt Construction Group of Phoenix, he was in the final stages of accepting a job as chief executive officer for Centro Partnership, a non-profit downtown development promoter.

Zachry is a member of the executive committee for Centro Partnership.

Pat DiGiovanniPat DiGiovanni

DiGiovanni insisted he violated no ethics code rules, but admitted making a mistake he said he regretted.

Cuellar contends an apology just isn’t enough. “City staff have demonstrated a failure to scrupulously avoid the appearance of impropriety at all times,” the complaint says.

Each of the five have proclaimed innocence in letters to the board. In a bid to discredit Cuellar, Robert Newman, an attorney for Zachry, called his complaint “unfocused, rambling and substantially incomprehensible.”

Newman told the paper Cuellar had a history of “harassing behavior,” referring to 33 open records requests of the city he made in the past five months. Police Chief William McManus drafted a letter Newman provided to the Ethics Board saying Cuellar is no longer allowed in City Hall, but did not say why.

Cuellar resigned from his coordinator’s position in February, but would not tell the paper why.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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.

Photo of money by flickr user 401 (K) 2012, used via a Creative Commons license

San Antonio ponders bolstering disclosure requirements, city official recommended contractor with ties to new employer
Monday, Oct 01, 2012, 03:11PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
riverwalk

Let’s see if we have this right.

The deputy city manager of San Antonio admits to doing something wrong that isn’t something wrong because it isn’t in the ethics code the mayor of San Antonio would like to change to make it wrong.

So as to make it right.

As is the case with much political logic, an explanation is necessary. Mayor Julián Castro is asking City Manager Sheryl Sculley and the City Council to support changes he would like to make in the city’s ethics code, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

Castro told the newspaper the changes are needed to “enhance trust and confidence” in city government. And by that he means acknowledging in a generalized but codified way what most San Antonians concluded from the start:

Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni made a big boo boo.

DiGiovanni was a member of a city selection committee that recommended a $300 million downtown convention center contract  - the largest in San Antonio history - be given to Zachry Corp. of San Antonio and Hunt Construction Group of Phoenix, Ariz.

The City Council unanimously approved the recommendation.

At the same time he was mulling the attributes of Zachry Corp., DiGiovanni was in talks to become the chief executive officer for the non-profit Centro Partnership devoted, not quite so coincidentally, to the development of downtown San Antonio.

Among the people taking part in those talks and who, eventually, signed off on hiring DiGiovanni was David Zachry, a member of Centro’s executive committee and, not quite so coincidentally, the chief executive officer of Zachry Corp.

In a letter obtained by the Express News, DiGiovanni said he believed he violated nothing in the city’s ethics code. Zachry and Centro, he contended, are separate entities. Still, he said, “I made a mistake here, and I deeply regret that mistake. And I'll have to live with it for the rest of my career.”

The city’s Ethics Review Board has yet to rule on whether or not DiGiovanni’s negotiations posed a conflict of interest.

Castro isn’t waiting for a decision. He wants the public to know who sits on city committees and wants committee members to disclose their affiliations. Companies that want to do business with the city would have to disclose the names of partners, board directors and officers.
Castro also wants a city official designated to research conflicts of interest.

The most experienced city official will not be available to take the position, as he is leaving to join Centro Partnership.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us onTwitterand 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.

Photo of San Antonio's Riverwalk by flickr user Princess Stand in the Rain, used via a Creative Commons license.

Express-News uncovers the bill on San Antonio officials’ trip to Israel to study clean energy
Friday, Jul 22, 2011, 01:29PM CST
By Kevin Lee
Israeli flag

Three San Antonio officials spent public money to pay for airfare and accommodations on a five-day trip to Israel to learn about that country’s clean energy and biomedical industries, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

The city of San Antonio bore trip costs for Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni. The San Antonio Water System paid for its CEO Robert Puente while CPS Energy footed the bill for Executive Vice-President and Chief Sustainability Officer Cris Eugster.

The trips for each official cost $3,700 for their tour packages and between $2,013 and $2,400 in airfare.

Mayor Julian Castro had his trip and accommodations paid for by the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, and Castro dipped into his campaign coffers to pay for chief of staff, Robbie Greenblum.

DiGiovanni’s girlfriend and Puente and Greenblum’s wives, who went along on the trip, paid for their own expenses, the newspaper said in its Thursday report.

Public officials can get their travel paid for through a variety of channels, from campaign funds and gifts from private individuals to the public dime.

Texas Watchdog has reported recently on state Rep. and Houston schools vendor Boris Miles, who has offered free trips to Costa Rica to trustees -- and to school officials across Texas -- and said he sees nothing wrong with it.

Texas Watchdog has also written on publicly-funded trips to Maui, disclosure problems that can keep the nature of official travel murky, and the poor policies that lead to high taxpayer bills for travel.
 
***
Contact Kevin Lee at 713-228-3733 or kevin@texaswatchdog.org.

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.

Photo of the flag of Israel by flickr user Templar1307, used via a Creative Commons license.
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