HISD trustee Larry Marshall, fresh off a two-day school board retreat, flew from Houston to Tampa, Fla., on a clear winter day to watch the 2009 Super Bowl in Raymond James Stadium.
Cheap seats for the match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals cost $500 each, but brokers were charging $2,000. The price, however, didn’t matter to Marshall, who paid nothing for his ticket, his airfare or his hotel that weekend.
The school district’s most senior trustee recently disclosed under oath that he accepted the free trip from the owners of Fort Bend Mechanical, a Stafford company that three months earlier had won an HISD construction contract potentially worth millions.
New deposition testimony reveals that the Super Bowl trip was just one example of Marshall’s social interactions with actual or prospective HISD contractors. He also forged relationships over meals at places like the Four Seasons and Fleming’s, with the contractors typically picking up his tab, he said.
These connections would not have been disclosed publicly save for an ongoing civil lawsuit alleging a bribery and money laundering scheme involving Marshall, Fort Bend Mechanical and another company, RHJ-JOC.
The gifts normally fall under a loophole in state law, which allows local elected officials to keep secret any meals, lodging, travel or tickets they receive from contractors so long as the contractor is present at the event. The “guest” rule meant Marshall did not have to file disclosure paperwork about the Super Bowl because he attended alongside the district vendors who paid the bill.
“Not only do we need more disclosure, we just need to ban that practice,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the watchdog group Public Citizen of Texas. “It’s a well-known psychological trick used by lobbyists at whatever level that if an elected official associates you with pleasurable events that they’re going to look favorable to any proposal you make to them.”
That loophole has since been closed, which is good if a bit late. What’s amazing to me is not just the extent of Marshall’s questionable behavior (I’m being generous here) but the extent to which he doesn’t see it as questionable. All I know is that Marshall is up for re-election this year, and I truly hope he gets challenged on this stuff. It has no place on the school board. K-12 Zone has more.