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Oh, Borris

Not good.

Borris Miles

Borris Miles

State Rep. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, repeatedly failed to disclose his business interests in three companies as state law requires.

The lawmaker did not report on state ethics forms for several years that he had an ownership stake in two hospice agencies or that he owned an entertainment company that operates a cigar bar in south Houston.

Miles rectified these omissions in recent days after the Houston Chronicle inquired about them. Through his attorney, he filed “corrected” ethics statements and “good-faith” affidavits in which he says, “I swear, or affirm, that any error or omission in the report as originally filed was made in good faith.”

On the new forms, Miles disclosed that he had business interests in Attentive Hospice from 2012 through 2015, in A-1 Hospice of Houston in 2009, and in Goodlife Management from 2009 through 2013.

Ethics watchdogs consider Texas’ ethics act weak but say its requirement that lawmakers, other public officials and candidates disclose business ownership can enable the public to determine whether they are engaged in conflicts of interest.

And when they don’t disclose? Craig McDonald, director of the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice, said public officials rarely are punished sufficiently for failing to properly report.

“When the minimum disclosure standards that we have are violated, we need tougher and swifter penalties for it,” he said. “It’s a lack of enforcement. That comes from an unwillingness among legislators to regulate themselves with respect to transparency on their finances.”

The penalty for failing to file required items on the ethics statements ranges from $500 to $10,000 if the Texas Ethics Commission takes action under its rules. If a sworn complaint is filed alleging a violation, the commission can order a fine up to $5,000 or triple the amount at issue, whichever is more. A prosecutor also can pursue a misdemeanor charge.

The issue of whether Miles should be sanctioned for not initially disclosing three of his business interests highlights flaws with the ethics law, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a nonprofit watchdog group.

The state ethics commission doesn’t audit personal financial statements filed by public officials and candidates to track whether they disclose everything about their businesses, he said. “And we don’t prosecute them for their failure to fully disclose,” Smith added. “As a result, people can blatantly ignore the personal financial statement requirements and there’s really no consequence except for a fine that is less than the rounding error on the business income at question.”

I like Rep. Miles and I hate to have to write about this stuff, but our disclosure requirements are woefully inadequate enough as it is, and there’s no excuse for this. It would help if the Legislature got around to creating real penalties for failing to comply with these requirements – Greg Abbott has paid lip service to this, but failed quite miserably in the last session to achieve anything – but even in the absence of penalties that sting, compliance is not optional. If someone wants to file a complaint over this with the TEC and/or the Harris County DA, that’s their right, and Rep. Miles will need to face whatever consequences follow from that. In the meantime, I hope everyone else is reviewing their own disclosure statements and bringing them into compliance if they are not fully there. I also hope the Lege revisits the issue of penalties for non-compliance. In effect, the Legislature has the power to oversee itself, since they have the power to grant or rescind oversight authority to the TEC. Let’s take that job a bit more seriously, shall we?

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6 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    Do you Ron green had anything to do with letting the agency’s know?

  2. Joshua ben bullard says:

    The story of Borris Miles is actually very inspirational, here you had an Hisd police officer that had the courage to dream and actually put some action behind it.Borris could have easily held his job patrolling the schools and mentoring our kids in Houston until retirement yet instead he opened a small insurance company on Almeda that others told him was certain to fail and miles proved them in correct by becoming one of the states largest most successful agents in the state before he was ever elected to public office.Voted out of office by his opposition miles went on to shock and silence his critics by barrling back at the state towers to recapture that office,which he retains to this very day,on this issue specifically and definitely I will stand will miles ,everyone makes clerical oversights and not one of us is perfect,not even Norris.Inspired Joshua Ben Bullard

  3. Joshua ben bullard says:

    Not even borris

  4. Paul Kubosh says:

    Well said Joshua

  5. C. L. says:

    Business savvy, I’m sure, but how does someone who has spent his life completing paperwork, filling out forms, adhering to State insurance requirements neglect to properly complete State Ethics forms… repeatedly ?

  6. J says:

    Oh, please. He wanted to hide the conflict, so he violated the law. Paxson is a scumbag for violating the law. That is clear to this independent voter. And this blog and many commentators just thump on him endlessly. And rightly. But Miles is also a scumbag and it’s “oh, Borris, you little rascal you” or “that paperwork is just soooo hard to understand, the poor man can’t possibly be held responsible.”

    I just don’t understand the flexible morality of dedicated Republicans or Democrats, attacking every minor slip by the other side, being soft-as-can-be on anything from your own side.

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