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The Controller’s travels

This is me shaking my head.

City Controller Ronald Green

Houston controller Ron Green, the city’s top elected financial watchdog, has flown first class and frequented high-end hotels in New York and Chicago at taxpayer expense for more than two dozen publicly funded excursions, booking lodgings that cost as much as $460 per night and often exceeding maximum rates set by city policy, records obtained by the Houston Chronicle show.

In all, Green has billed for more than $35,000 in expenses for out-of-town trips in his first three years as the city’s elected financial watchdog – taking far more city-funded jaunts than Houston’s better-known mayor.

[...]

When asked about the trips, Green’s spokesman Roger Widmeyer said Green did nothing wrong, saying the Chronicle’s questioning of expenses bordered on “insulting.” Widmeyer said Green’s hands-on participation in travel and meetings involving bond deals pays off in savings and costs little.

“As a department director, elected official and CFO, Ronald Green has elected not to be a ceremonial controller. As a result, this office has been the most productive in decades,” said Widmeyer, who emphasized Green’s role in overseeing the city’s $14 billion debt portfolio and its $2.5 billion in investments.

Green minimizes expenses by staying at hotels booked by city financial consultants who sometimes passed on their corporate discounted room rates and organized working lunches and dinners for the controller and other staff, Widmeyer said.

“Most importantly the municipal bond refinancing that has taken place during Controller Green’s tenure in this office amounts to more than $200 million saved over the last nine years without extending the term of the debt. That has been the objective of bond travels,” Widmeyer said.

On frequent bond-related trips to Manhattan and Chicago, Green has been accompanied by an entourage of up to six other employees from various departments. Records show other city staff stayed in the same expensive hotels and sometimes took flights that cost more than $1,000.

In contrast, Harris County officials banned bond pricing trips for employees as unnecessary in 2010. They use teleconferencing technology to monitor the process without leaving Houston.

“We live in a world where you don’t need to go up there,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “There’s no benefit to the county, and if you’re using tax dollars to do it, it’s a waste.”

[...]

Beyond the controller’s expenses, his staff filed another $28,000 in travel bills for a dozen bond-related trips since 2010. Sometimes, they filled out waivers to justify hotel bills that exceeded spending limits in the city’s travel policy, records show. However, some waivers were incomplete or missing from files provided to the Chronicle.

Furthermore, controller staffers said they could not guarantee that the more than 1,200 pages of travel records provided to the newspaper were complete since the office relies on an outdated paper process for filing and reviewing travel expenses instead of tracking them electronically.

Houston’s three previous elected controllers, including Mayor Annise Parker, controller from 2003 to 2009, rarely traveled for bond business.

Through a spokesman, Parker confirmed she did not go along on any bond-pricing trips at all in her last two years as city controller because she had “staff with bond expertise and believed they could handle it.” Even as mayor, Parker has traveled less often than Green – taking 17 trips at city expense from 2010-2012, compared with 27 for Green.

I know Ronald Green well enough to know that he’s a smart, accomplished person who has ambitions to run for Mayor. I’m at a loss to understand why such a smart, ambitious person would have such a blind spot about something like this. If you truly believe that taking these trips is returning value to the taxpayers, then it’s on you to proactively make that case, and to do so before the newsies start sniffing around your expense account. Especially after there’s already been a negative story about you that might lead people to question your judgment. I still don’t have any concerns about Green being challenged for Controller by the likes of Don Sumners, but Green ought to be concerned about being challenged by someone of a higher caliber than that. He’s certainly going to face better opponents in 2015, if he does indeed run for Mayor. I’d try to address those concerns sooner rather than later if I were him.

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7 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    He’s done. Cooked.

    He –and his wife — represent the kind of crony City Hall politics and insider deals that the Republicans normally get castigated for.

  2. Thanks for the article! I couldn’t bring it up on the chronicle because I do not have subscription.

  3. John says:

    Kuff

    how can you honestly think Ron Green is not one of the more corrupt people in City Hall. The “negative story” about Mr. Jordon and Ron’s relationship is an understatement. Mr Jordon (now convicted felon) is evil and just a swindler he was creating fake deeds, and yet that was ron’s buddy. Ron Green has the intelligence of a 6th grader and just cares about living off the government trough, he is mentally incapable of ever getting a private sector job

    I quote Woody Allen

    “Lyndon Johnson is a politician. You know the ethics those guys have? It’s like-uh, a notch underneath child molester.”

  4. Katy Anders says:

    “WHY? appears to be the operative question.

    Spending a lot of money on trips is not a sign of corruption, but it is a sign of poor judgment.

  5. John says:

    Katy

    read this

    http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Confessed-Houston-swindler-also-wanted-on-felony-3861025.php

    1) Ron Green served as a character witness for this man at his felony trial

    2) Ron Green’s wife heard eviction cases from this con man but never recused herself from the cases

    now if this is “poor judgment” then I guess we have a different view. Ron Green clearly has business dealings with this convicted felon and if you think someone like this should be the city’s CFO then I am amazed.

  6. joshua bullard says:

    CHARLES KUFFNER is a fan-not realist,i dont think ronald green has any intention on refiling for office of city controller in 2013-

    i would bet the farm that attorney green returns to private practice.

    joshua ben bullard

  7. [...] I’m wondering if Ronald Green has a typo in his finance report. He reported $46K on hand last January, then his July report showed that he raised $26K and spent $13K, so I have no idea he could have had only $9,983 on hand. I guess we’ll see what this January’s report says. Beyond that, not much to see here. He’s still not a big fundraiser, and he still has no credible announced opposition despite his recent negative press. [...]

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