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Parker hits Locke over potential conflicts of interest

Annise Parker put out a strongly worded press release today that calls out Gene Locke for his work with the Andrews Kurth law firm, which has done a ton of business with the city, some of which was done by Locke, in recent years. I’ve put it beneath the fold, or you can go read Martha for more. Seems to me that the transparency theme, which is being echoed by people like Texas Watchdog, Slampo, Burka, and former Roy supporter Big Jolly, has the potential to do as much damage to Locke as Hotze-gate has. Speaking of which, you have noticed that no one on Team Locke, up to and including the man himself, have denied in any way the Chron reporting that he sought Hotze’s endorsement and met with Dave Welch and his hatemongering group of pastors, right? I just want to make sure we’re all clear on that.

The Chron story on this has Locke’s response.

Locke’s campaign said [Parker’s charges were] not true, as he resigned from Metro, the port and the sports authority before announcing his candidacy for mayor in April.

“I find it incredibly disingenuous that Annise Parker would question my integrity when she knows, and she has known, that I plan to resign from Andrews Kurth upon becoming mayor,” Locke said in a statement. “This is not only much ado about nothing, but this is the kind of negative campaign rhetoric Houstonians don’t deserve.”

Ashley Ronald Nelly, a spokeswoman for Andrews Kurth, said the former city attorney would have “no continuing financial ties of any kind to Andrews Kurth and derive no financial benefit related to the revenues of the firm.”

“Andrews Kurth and its predecessors have represented governmental entities for over 30 years, long before Gene Locke joined the firm in 1998,” she said in a statement. “Gene has spent most of his recent career advising governmental entities about the conflict of interest laws that bind them, and we believe that, as mayor, Gene will ensure that all persons and firms who work with or do business with the city fully follow those laws.”

Releasing his tax returns might help offer some evidence to back up that claim about no continuing financial ties, but that’s been a no-go so far. Read on for Parker’s statement. Prof. Murray has more.

Parker Calls on Locke to Come Clean on Conflicts of Interest

His firm billed millions to city and public agencies; A challenge to publicly answer list of questions

The Annise Parker campaign has called on Gene Locke to come clean on his conflicts of interest.

The Parker campaign today released information revealing that Gene Locke and his law firm have profited by over $17 million from his legal and political relationship with local taxing authorities in just the last six years – a situation that constitutes a serious conflict of interest.

“If elected, Gene Locke would have inescapable conflicts of interest,” said Parker.

Lawyer-lobbyist Locke has billed local government agencies like Metro at rates of up to $640 an hour. He billed $574,000 in fees to the Sports Authority alone in the last 30 months.

Locke is a partner in the politically-connected law firm of Andrews Kurth. The firm has made more than $17 million in the last six years alone from the City of Houston, Metro, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Port Authority of Houston, the same public agencies whose boards Locke would appoint members as Mayor – while his law firm, Andrews Kurth, continues to work for the City and each of those agencies.

The mayor of Houston appoints half the members of the Sports Authority, five of nine members of the Metro Board, and jointly appoints the Chairman of the Port Authority. Andrews Kurth represents all of those agencies. Andrews Kurth also does millions in legal work for the City of Houston.

Locke has not said whether his law firm would continue to seek business with the City and those agencies if he serves as mayor. Nor has he said what continuing financial ties he would retain with the firm, including payout and divestment plans.

The city’s ethics law specifically prohibits any city official from holding a financial interest, directly or indirectly, that would even “tend to create a conflict between the public trust held as an official of the city and the official’s private interests.”

“Voters have a right to know if their potential leaders can serve free from bias,” said Parker. “They deserve a mayor who does not have to choose between what’s good for his law firm and what’s good for Houston. It’s time for Mr. Locke to come clean about his conflicts.”

Locke has withdrawn as General Counsel to the Sports Authority, but that doesn’t solve the ethical problem of his past and continued connection to Andrews Kurth and clients they do business with.

Locke has refused to answer questions about his potential conflicts, responding only that he would make decisions “solely on what is best for Houstonians.” Parker said, “That’s not good enough.“

“Mr. Locke’s intertwined legal and lobbying relationships are so massive that he may literally be unable to serve effectively as mayor,” Parker added.

“Locke is in an ethical trap.
He would either violate city ethics rules or serve under a constant cloud of suspicion because of the appearance of impropriety involving business with his former associates or render himself incapable of discharging his mayoral duties by recusing himself from votes critical to the future of our city. It is unethical for him not to recuse himself and it’s impossible for him to serve effectively if he has to recuse himself from all business involving Andrews Kurth, Metro, the Sports Authority and the Port Authority.”

Parker demanded that Locke answer the following questions:

1.  Will you release within one week your divestment and payout plan with Andrews Kurth? Will Andrews Kurth’s future income affect the size of your payout? Will you retain any interest in a pension or retirement plan or any other interest tied to the income of Andrews Kurth?

2.  Will you permanently resign from Andrews Kurth if elected mayor and enter into a legally-binding agreement never to have a financial interest or association with the firm or any relationship with the firm after you leave the office of mayor?

3.  Will you as mayor recuse yourself on all questions involving clients of Andrews Kurth, including all business with Metro, the Sports Authority and the Port Authority and bond transactions and other business done by Andrews Kurth for the City?

4.  Will you prohibit Andrews Kurth from representing the city and affiliated public agencies during your tenure as mayor, so as to avoid the inevitable appearance of impropriety involving any city business done with your partners and firm?

“Our city spends literally billions of dollars each year,” said Parker. “It cannot function in the best interest of taxpayers if a cloud of impropriety hangs over major financial decisions. The voters deserve an answer to these questions by Mr. Locke.”

###

Sources:

1)  Locke billed the Sports Authority $640 an hour (Texas Watchdog, 10/2/09)

2)  Fees paid to Andrews & Kurth (2003-2008):

By Metro: $11,952,105 (Metro public records)
By City of Houston: $4,939,313 (City of Houston public records)
By Sports Authority: $574,000 (Texas Watchdog, 10/2/09)

3)  Locke has refused to answer questions about his potential conflicts, responding only that he would make decisions “solely on what is best for Houstonians.” (Texas Watchdog, 10/2/09)

4)  City of Houston Code of Ordinances, Chapter 18, Section 18-3

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10 Comments

  1. Baby Snooks says:

    Annise Parker may have opened up a can of worms with this one she may have wished she had kept closed – she’s got some “conflicts of interest” of her own with the other firm named in the Batson Report.

    Let’s be honest. There isn’t anyone in this city with the “associations” required to run for mayor that isn’t going to have conflicts of interest somewhere. At least we know where Gene Locke’s are but we really don’t know where Annise Parker’s are. Although her campaign finance reports do tend to give a little clue.

  2. John says:

    Instead of this ominous statement, why not mention specifically what the conflict she has is so we can judge her on it and see if Annise addresses it or not?

  3. Baby Snooks says:

    You can read I assume. Hit her campaign finance reports.

  4. John says:

    Nope I can’t read, just spell it out for those of us who don’t want to read her finance reports.

  5. Baby Snooks says:

    Why should I? You will vote for her regardless. For all anyone knows “John” is one of the “conflicts-of-interest.”

  6. John says:

    Good stuff, sounds like no conflicts to me if you want to prove Annise has this hidden agenda or is owned by special interests I think simply mentioning them is not asking for much. Until then Baby’s comments are just rhetoric vs. the press release from Annise actually gives specifics. Notice how Locke did not have the courage to admit to the specifics in the Chron article or call out Hotze by name. He is just a wimp in the middle of the road, as the saying goes “the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos”

  7. Baby Snooks says:

    Good stuff, sounds like no conflicts to me if you want to prove Annise has this hidden agenda or is owned by special interests I think simply mentioning them is not asking for much.
    _________________

    You know apart from the conflicts-of-interest there is this matter of Annise Parker calling into question the integrity of Gene Locke.

    She needs to get a mirror. She stood there when she announced with Chris Bell, who was admonished by the House of Representatives Committee on Standards and Official Conduct in response to his complaint against Tom De Lay, after his constituents had said “thanks, but no thanks” and elected Ron Green, and Borris Miles who may have been found innocent of two charges of deadly conduct by a jury but who definitely was found guilty by his constituents. And she has the gall to talk about integrity? Many in the African-American community saw those two and said, again, “thanks, but no thanks.”

    And some of her conflicts-of-interest are tied to those two. Again, learn to read campaign finance reports and ask who is who. centgconbcle
    titeh trespTan otoeh t thdd wh rrt to

  8. Baby Snooks says:

    And by the way is SHE disassociating herself from the people who are playing the “homophobia” card in this particularly with regard to the African-American community? There’s no homophobia. Some, many actually, do not like the thought of Chris Bell and Borris Miles at City Hall. She needs to be careful. Someone may dump a load of dirt on her while she’s slinging her little teacups of dirt at Gene Locke.

  9. Baby Snooks says:

    Of course in one instance, Annise Parker and Gene Locke were in the same bed so to speak and it is a bed still full of fleas.

    He was the city attorney that rubber-stamped Houston Renaissance and Houston Housing Finance Corporation.

    She was the controller who along with her predecessor never really audited either Houston Renaissance or Houston Housing Finance Corporation and instead gave “bits and pieces” to the AG’s Office.

    According to former city councilmember Michael Yarborough, Houston Renaissance spent $24.5 in public funding to buy $6.5 million in land for affordable housing. To date, no one has explained where the other $18 million went. Maybe someone should ask both candidates where it went.