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Christopher Oliver

Chris Oliver gets sentenced

Goodbye.

Chris Oliver

A former Houston Community College trustee was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on Monday after a judge said he accepted more than a quarter million dollars in bribes in exchange for his influence over contract work with the college.

In the sentencing, U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore asked Chris Oliver if his conduct was “standard procedure” for HCC trustees and asked if the college was a “cesspool.”

“The line is definitely blurred,” he said. “You don’t come from wealth. You’re in an elected position. Things are thrown at you.”

[…]

Gilmore said he served in his position for “too long” as his integrity eroded.

Oliver agreed and said he should not have sought re-election in 2011. “I probably should have called it a career.”

See here for the background. I’ll note that Oliver ran for City Council in 2015, so at least we dodged that bullet. Things may indeed be thrown at elected officials, but most of them manage to not get convicted of bribery charges. I’m just saying. HCC says it has implemented procedures and checks to prevent actions like Oliver’s in the future. I think it’s safe to say that remains to be seen.

The HCC lineup

When I published the July finance reports for HCC trustees, I noted that the only reports available were for incumbents. There was no way to tell who might be challenging the two trustees up for re-election (Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and Robert Glaser) or who might be vying to succeed the convicted Chris Oliver. Thankfully, the Board Information – Trustee Elections page now has all of the candidates listed, so let’s take a look at who’s running for what.

District IV

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz
Manny Barrera
Daniel “DC” Caldwell, I

Evans-Shabazz is the incumbent. She was appointed to the seat in 2015 to fill in for Carroll Robinson, who had stepped down to run for Houston City Controller. She was unopposed that November for the rest of that term, so this is her first election for a full term. She also ran for City Council At Large #5 in 2013 and received about 31% of the vote in a three-way race against CM Jack Christie.

Barrera you know from his comments here. He ran for City Council in District J against CM Mike Laster, finishing third in a field of four. He previously ran for the HCC Board in 2007 for position VII, finishing third against eventual winner Neeta Sane. He’s an attorney and longtime watchdog/critic of HCC, as a bit of Googling will tell you. I couldn’t find a campaign webpage for him.

According to that LinkedIn profile I found, Daniel Caldwell is a former GOP precinct chair in Tarrant County who ran for Dallas City Council in 2015. Going from his LinkedIn profile, I found this website for him and his HCC campaign. I doubt he can get elected in this African-American district, but if Dave Wilson can (dishonestly) do it, I suppose anything is possible.

District V

Victoria Bryant‌‌
Robert Glaser‌

Glaser is the incumbent here. He won in 2013 to fill out the term of Richard Schechter, who had resigned. I didn’t do interviews for HCC that year, but he did fill out a Q&A for Texas Leftist that year. I’ve corresponded with him quite a bit, and he’s been helpful answering various questions I’ve had about what goes on at HCC.

Bryant ran for HISD in the 2016 special election to fill Harvin Moore’s seat; she finished third behind eventual winner Anne Sung and John Luman. Here’s the interview I did with her for that race. Bryant is a Republican, Glaser is a Democrat. This seat has been Democratic since at least Schechter’s election in 2005 – I can’t find results from 1999, the previous time this seat would have been up – but this is a weird year, with likely very low turnout, so it is very much the case that anything can happen.

District IX

Eugene “Gene” Pack
David Jaroszewski
Pretta Vandible Stallworth

Eugene Pack appears to have three different profiles on Facebook. I have no idea what’s up with that. He also appears to be a Republican – in fact, he’s listed as the Vice Chairman of the Texas Federation for Republican Outreach (warning: autoplay Trump video), which is a group I’d never heard of before googling around for this guy. You have to search for “Gene Pack” to find that page; I found it before I found that Facebook photo, so I’m pretty sure this is the same guy.

David Jaroszewski is as far as I can tell an attorney with an office in Baytown, who also teaches at Lee College; he’s the Director of the Paralegal Studies Program. He has no clearly identifying web presence that I can find, but you can see him doing some lectures on YouTube.

Pretta Stallworth is the co-President of a 501(c)3 called Parents for Public Schools Houston; here’s their webpage. I can’t say I’ve heard of this group – the one name I recognize on their board is Hugo Mojica, who has run unsuccessfully for Houston City Council and HISD in District I. All things being equal, I’d say she has the kind of profile to be the favorite in this district, but again, this is a weird year and I have no idea how many people will have a clue about who any of these people are. I sure hope the Chron and black media like The Defender and KCOH do some reporting on this race. It would suck to go from Chris Oliver to a complete cipher for the next six years.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – HCC

Welcome to the last and least interesting of these campaign finance report posts. This one is about the HCC Trustees, and there’s not much to see. Take a look at what there is – you can find all available reports here – and we’ll discuss it below.

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz
Robert Glaser

Adriana Tamez
Dave Wilson
Eva Loredo
John Hansen
Neeta Sane
Zeph Capo


Name            Raised    Spent     Loans     On Hand
=====================================================
Evans-Shabazz    3,125    1,027         0       2,812
Glaser               0        0     5,000       8,439

Tamez                0    3,533         0       6,247
Wilson               0        0    12,782           0
Loredo               0      881         0       1,109
Hansen               0        0     5,000       8,925
Sane                 0    6,043         0      20,803
Capo                 0    1,100         0       2,064

First, let me just say how far the HCC webpage has come from the days when I had to file an open records request to get my hands on these things. They’re easy to find now, and all reports are available for everyone who has a report. The only downside is that you can’t tell at a glance who is and isn’t a candidate – you have to look at everyone to see who has a current report – but I can live with that. Kudos for getting this right, y’all.

And so, what you see above, is everyone who has filed a July 2017 report, which is to say the eight non-felonious incumbents, and no one else. Neither Carolyn Evans-Shabazz nor Robert Glaser has an opponent as yet, and there’s a giant void in District 9, where there is neither an incumbent nor a candidate for the position. Someone will be appointed to fill the seat soon enough, and from there we’ll get some idea as to who may be in the running for November, but for now this is all we have.

As you can also see, no one is exactly burning up the phone lines hitting up donors. Again, this may change when and if someone gets opposed, but until then there appears to be no rush.

Public Works Director Sreerama is out

From the inbox, a Friday afternoon special:

Statement by Mayor Sylvester Turner on city Public Works and Engineering director

“Karun Sreerama has accomplished much in Houston as a businessman and involved citizen. I am sure he will continue to be an asset to our community. However he and I have agreed that it would be best for the city for him to step down as director of the city Public Works and Engineering Department.

“Carol Haddock will continue to serve as acting director until I choose a new director.”

See here and here for the background. This followed in the wake of a Chron story that gave a lot more detail.

According to a transcript released Thursday in the case against Oliver, Sreerama allegedly paid the HCC trustee about $12,000 in cash and Visa gift cards between June 2015 and February 2016 in exchange for Oliver’s influence over HCC contracts.

Oliver pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with accepting the more recent payments totaling $12,000, court records show, and in exchange the acting U.S. attorney agreed to dismiss the separate extortion charge tied to Sreerama’s earlier payments totaling $77,143.

Sreerama’s attorney Chip Lewis said federal authorities directed Sreerama to pay Oliver the $12,000 in 2015 and 2016 after confronting Sreerama about his earlier, independent payments to the trustee.

“What he was doing was created, directed and funded by the FBI,” Lewis said. “Karun was a cooperating witness as a result of being a victim of Oliver’s scheme.”

[…]

Sreerama, identified as “K.S.” in Oliver’s indictment and re-arraignment transcript, wrote three checks to Oliver between late 2010 and mid-2013 in response to the trustee’s solicitations, Lewis said.

As Lewis described the payments, the first two were made because Oliver claimed he was going through a costly divorce, and then claimed he needed funds to complete the process of adopting a child. Both payments were presented as loans and were not repaid. The third payment took the form of an exorbitant fee Oliver charged after his company cleaned the parking lot at Sreerama’s business.

“By the time we get to the third payment and he hadn’t been repaid the loans, Karun became worried that saying, ‘No, no I’ve got somebody who already does the cleaning, etc.’ could adversely affect his position down the road,” Lewis said.

Federal authorities confronted Sreerama in March 2015, a year and a half after he made that final payment, and asked for his cooperation in their investigation, Lewis said.

Two months later – at the FBI’s behest, Lewis said – Sreerama began a series of meetings with Oliver that lasted through May 2016.

The FBI declined to comment to the Chron, so we just have attorney Lewis’ word for all of this, which is also the reason why Sreerama was apparently unable to tell the Mayor about it. I’d still like to hear Sreerama say in his own words why he did what he did, but it seems unlikely that will ever happen. I do hope there are no more shoes to drop. Whatever the case, this was the right outcome.

HCC Board censures Chris Oliver

It’s the most they can do.

Chris Oliver

The Houston Community College system’s board of trustees decided Thursday to reprimand a 21-year veteran of the elected board who has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge.

The board’s eight other members decried Christopher W. Oliver’s acceptance of unlawful payments as “reprehensible.” They voted unanimously to formally censure Oliver, strip him of his vice chair role, freeze his spending account and remove him from all committees, including the audit committee he had chaired.

[…]

Trustee Robert Glaser said the board acted as quickly as possible.

“We didn’t leave anything on the table,” he added.

“It affects us all,” said trustee Adriana Tamez. “This totally takes away from the great things that are going on. … There’s no excuse.”

[…]

The board’s bylaws lay out the group’s options in ethics situations: “If the Board finds a violation of this Ethics Code, it can reprimand or censure the Board member, the only sanctions available under Texas law.”

In general, elected officials cannot be removed by their colleagues. The underlying principle is that voters alone get to choose their representatives.

The HCC board’s legal counsel said Oliver still holds his position.

“The Board does not have the authority to remove a Board member from elected office,” the Bracewell law firm said in a statement emailed by HCC spokesman Todd Duplantis. “That process is governed by Texas law.”

The board’s counsel, Bracewell partner Jarvis Hollingsworth, told the Chronicle in 2010 that censure is the harshest punishment available to the board. Elected trustees only can be removed by state district judges, he said.

See here and here for the background. Given that the Board does not have the authority to remove Oliver from office, I agree that they did all they could. Given that Oliver has not yet resigned, I would still like to know what the process is for getting a district court judge to remove him. Is that something the Board can initiate? According to Robert Glaser, the answer to that is No:

[Oliver] is scheduled for sentencing August 28. The act of sentencing will remove him from office. Folks have from July 22 to August 21 to ‘throw their name in the hat’ to run for his seat this November. We may let the sentencing action play out- as that is going to happen in (6) weeks, anyway. It may take that long for anyone to get an action thru state court to get his removal completed. We, as a board, cannot initiate the action. An individual living in Harris County would need to initiate the action. This is from information provided to us by our legal counsel.

Good to know. As for Karun Sreerama, I’m not ready to render a judgment on him just yet. I haven’t called for Ken Paxton to resign as AG because as malignant as I think he is, he is still innocent until proven guilty. Sreerama has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, nor does it appear he was let off the hook for anything in return for cooperation in the Oliver investigation. That doesn’t mean his behavior isn’t problematic or worthy of consequences, just that we have a lot less information right now about what he actually did and why he did it. Maybe he felt he was being coerced, or maybe he was acting out of a (possibly misguided) sense of compassion, I don’t know. If you want to make like Herodias and call for Sreerama’s head on a platter, you do you. I’d like to hear what he has to say for himself first. The Press has more.

Houston Public Works director caught up in HCC bribery case

Unclear yet how big a deal this is, but it is a big deal.

Chris Oliver

Houston Public Works Director Karun Sreerama made $77,143 in unlawful payments to a Houston Community College trustee who faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to bribery, according to federal court records.

The payments – made when Sreerama ran a private engineering firm – are related to an extortion and bribery case against 21-year HCC trustee Christopher Oliver, who was accused of taking payments and promising to use his position to help secure contracts with the community college system. The acting U.S. attorney has agreed to dismiss the extortion charge against Oliver in exchange for his guilty plea on the bribery indictment, court records show.

The extortion count lists an individual with the initials “K.S.” as a “victim” of “extortion under color of official right” carried out by Oliver between December 2010 and August 2013, meaning Oliver allegedly used his position as a public official to obtain an unlawful payment.

Sreerama’s attorney and two sources with knowledge of the case confirmed that Sreerama, who at the time owned the engineering firm and frequent public contractor ESPA Corp., is the person identified as “K.S.”

[…]

Houston attorney Chip Lewis, who is representing Sreerama, on Tuesday said his client was one of several targets of a “shakedown” by Oliver, and suggested broader fallout from the federal probe is to come.

Lewis said the payments in question were related to projects stemming from the college’s 2012 bond referendum.

“In doing the very diligent work the agents and prosecutors did in this case, they discovered Oliver soliciting and extorting Karun,” Lewis said. “When he was approached, he voluntarily met with the authorities and told them everything. Obviously, everything he told them checked out and was corroborated. That’s why he was a victim of Mr. Oliver’s scheme and not implicated in any criminal wrongdoing.”

Sreerama’s consent to the payments, as the Oliver indictment states, is not inconsistent with his status as a victim, Lewis said.

“Oliver made it very clear if Karun refused to make the payments that are reflected in the indictment he wouldn’t get the contracts,” the attorney said.

ESPA conducted facility studies for the college system in the years preceding and at the time of the payments, including a master plan that projected the system’s building needs through 2035.

See here for the background. Ted Oberg at KTRK adds a few more details.

According to Sreerama’s attorney, Chip Lewis, Trustee Oliver approached Sreerama three times asking for money. At the first meeting, Oliver allegedly told Sreerama he was going through a divorce and could not pay expenses for two households. Sreerama allegedly loaned Oliver thousands of dollars after that meeting. It was never paid back.

At a second meeting, Lewis told ABC13 Investigates, Oliver explained he was adopting a child and needed to have a particular balance in his bank accounts. Lewis says Sreerama again gave Oliver thousands of dollars.

The third time, Sreerama agreed to hire Oliver’s construction site clean-up company to sweep a strip mall for Sreerama.

According to the court documents, the payments totaled $77,143.34. Lewis did not dispute the amount and said Sreerama cooperated and his bank provided canceled checks to the FBI. Sreerama is not under investigation, Lewis said.

On Wednesday in the late morning, after this story was published, Mayor Turner put out a statement that says he is “placing city Public Works and Engineering Director Karun Sreerama on administrative leave with pay” while he reviews the matter. The Mayor also said he “was not aware of the federal case until this week”, which puts him in the same boat as the rest of us but makes one wonder what Sreerama had to say about this during his hiring process. I can believe that Sreerama didn’t know about the case against Oliver, but one would hope that he knew that these payments were questionable at best. Did the subject ever come up, or was his future boss completely blindsided? I can’t speak for Mayor Turner but it would make a difference to me.

As for Oliver, the HCC Board has called a meeting for today to discuss what happens next. Trustee Robert Glaser has been posting about this on Facebook, and he notes that the Board does not have the legal authority to boot Oliver off. Only a state district court judge can do that, though what the process for that is was not specified. The Texas elections code states that “To be eligible to be a candidate for, or elected or appointed to, a public elective office in this state, a person must […] have not been finally convicted of a felony from which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities”. Oliver does not get sentenced till August 28, and I don’t know if he is “finally convicted” until he is sentenced. He can, of course, choose to resign, as the Chron urges him to do. If for whatever the reason Oliver does not do that, then the HCC Board needs to figure out how to get a judge to force him out. This should not be up for debate. Campos and the Press have more.

HCC Trustee Chris Oliver pleads guilty to bribery charges

Hoo boy.

Chris Oliver

A Houston Community College trustee faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to bribery, federal prosecutors said Friday.

The case of 53-year-old Christopher W. Oliver, 53, of Houston was unsealed by U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore on Friday, according to a news release from the office of U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez. Oliver was originally charged in March 2017 and pleaded guilty on May 15.

At Oliver’s plea hearing, it was revealed in open court that he had met with another person on several occasions at restaurants and coffee shops in Houston. Oliver admitted accepting cash in exchange for promises to use his position to help another person secure contracts with HCC, the news release said.

From December 2010 to about August 2013, Oliver allegedly “attempted to obstruct, delay and affect in any way and degree commerce and the movement of articles and commodities in commerce by extortion,” according to court documents.

Also, Oliver agreed between May 2015 and May 2016, to accept cash payments and Visa gift cards totaling $12,000 as a reward for actions that he would take as an HCC trustee, court records said.

Oliver may have to pay a financial judgement of nearly $90,000 because of his crimes, court records show.

What a mess. I’ve interviewed Oliver twice before, once in 2011 for his previous HCC campaign, and once in 2015 when he was a candidate for City Council At Large #1. We can at least be grateful he didn’t win that race. Oliver’s term expires at the end of this year. I don’t know if there were any candidates lining up for that seat, but I’m sure there will be now. The question I have now is at what point does Oliver step down or get removed from the HCC Board? The next Board meeting is August 10, Oliver’s sentencing is August 28, and the Chron story quotes Board President Eva Loredo saying “we will wait for court proceedings to be complete before we make any further statement”, which doesn’t help answer my question. The sooner he’s out of there the better, and if the Board chooses to fill his seat I’d greatly prefer it be with someone who will not be on the November ballot. In the meantime, all I can add to this is “ugh!”. The Texas Monitor and KTRK have more.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

Precinct analysis: At Large #1

This week I’m going to look at the five At Large Council races, beginning with At Large #1. Before I get into the district breakdown, here’s a number to consider: In Harris County, there were 76,675 undervotes in this race. The combined vote total for top two finishers Mike Knox (47,456) and Georgia Provost (28,402) was 75,858. In a very real sense, “none of the above” was the winner in At Large #1.

So with that out of the way, here’s what the vote looked like:


Dist  Griff   McCas    Pool  Provost  Oliver    Knox   Lewis  PGalv
====================================================================
A     2,465   1,415   1,138    1,303   1,113   5,560   1,300     575
B     1,314     927   1,799    5,861   3,183     919   1,817     568
C     5,201   7,154   2,530    1,758   1,863   7,375   6,170     799
D     1,509   1,395   1,623    8,152   4,425   1,657   1,867     606
E     3,040   2,346   1,770    1,395   1,774  10,861   1,247     868
F     1,144     959   1,194    1,093   1,114   2,051     699     472
G     5,242   4,910   1,610    1,287   2,002  12,040   1,748     400
H     1,287   1,463   1,414    1,606   1,472   1,451   1,654   1,739
I     1,250     889   1,113    1,619   1,476   1,258   1,176   1,644
J       719     797     682      750     717   1,601     613     318
K     1,555   1,922   1,536    3,573   2,775   2,678   1,773     553
								
A    16.58%   9.52%   7.65%    8.76%   7.49%  37.39%   8.74%   3.87%
B     8.02%   5.66%  10.98%   35.76%  19.42%   5.61%  11.09%   3.47%
C    15.83%  21.78%   7.70%    5.35%   5.67%  22.45%  18.78%   2.43%
D     7.11%   6.57%   7.64%   38.39%  20.84%   7.80%   8.79%   2.85%
E    13.05%  10.07%   7.60%    5.99%   7.61%  46.61%   5.35%   3.73%
F    13.11%  10.99%  13.68%   12.53%  12.77%  23.50%   8.01%   5.41%
G    17.93%  16.79%   5.51%    4.40%   6.85%  41.18%   5.98%   1.37%
H    10.65%  12.10%  11.70%   13.29%  12.18%  12.01%  13.69%  14.39%
I    11.99%   8.53%  10.68%   15.53%  14.16%  12.07%  11.28%  15.77%
J    11.60%  12.86%  11.01%   12.10%  11.57%  25.84%   9.89%   5.13%
K     9.50%  11.74%   9.39%   21.83%  16.96%  16.36%  10.83%   3.38%
Georgia Provost

Georgia Provost

I’ve previously discussed how if Lane Lewis, Tom McCasland, and Jenifer Pool had been a single candidate instead of three candidates splitting a subset of voters evenly, that candidate would have led the pack. In a slightly different universe, we could be saying the same thing about Georgia Provost and Chris Oliver. In this universe, Provost did sufficiently better than Oliver among their African-American base of voters to break free from the pack and make it to the December election. That gives her a path to build on for the runoff, and with the formal endorsement of the HCDP (sent out on Friday), she stands to inherit the Lewis/McCasland/Pool voters as well. She will need them to win – her base isn’t big enough if Anglo Dems skip this race next month. I didn’t do an interview with Provost for At Large #1 because it never looked like she was running much of a campaign – you can find the interview I did with her in 2013 for District D here – but since Election Day I’ve seen numerous people rallying around her candidacy on Facebook. I’ll be interested to see what her eight day runoff finance report looks like.

It should be noted that if Georgia Provost had split the vote more evenly with Chris Oliver in places like B and D, the immediate beneficiary would have been Griff Griffin. I know a lot of people who were disillusioned by some of the runoff choices they would be facing immediately after the election. Imagine how much worse that would be if the race here were between Griffin and Mike Knox. I have no idea why anyone would vote for Griff, but in a city this size where only a small minority of voters have any idea who the At Large candidates are, let alone have a chance to meet them and get to know them, it’s not surprising that a name the voters have seen every two years since Bill Clinton was President would draw some support. Along those same lines, note that James Partsch-Galvan was the leading vote-getter in Districts H and I. If you don’t know who you’re voting for, vote for a name that sounds familiar. There was a bit of chatter awhile back about eliminating the at large Council seats in favor of an all-district Council. I like the idea of having Council members that represent the whole city, but the data in At Large #1 is as strong an argument in favor of scrapping the at large system that you’ll see.

As for Mike Knox (whose 2013 interview for District A is here), his task is basically that of Bill King, Bill Frazer, and Jack Christie: Run up the score in the Republican boxes, and not do too badly everywhere else. He collected the most endorsements among the late-entry anti-HERO candidates, he had the best overall performance, and he’s run a Council campaign before. I doubt he’ll have much crossover appeal, but his floor is high enough to win if Provost can’t put it together.

Chron overview of HCC Trustee races

As always, HCC Trustee races don’t get as much attention as they deserve.

Adriana Tamez

Adriana Tamez

Since the 2013 election put four new trustees – Zeph Capo, Robert Glaser, Dave Wilson and Adriana Tamez – on the board, one trustee, Carroll Robinson, has stepped down to campaign for city controller and two others – Chris Oliver and Sandie Mullins Moger – have launched bids for City Council seats.

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, a real estate professional who attended HCC, took over Robinson’s seat in May and faces no challengers. John P. Hansen, a longtime Alief school board member, is uncontested in his bid for Moger’s seat on the board. If Oliver loses his council bid, he’ll remain on the HCC board; if he wins, the board will appoint a replacement.

Tamez and Eva Loredo, who has been on the board since 2009, each face challengers for their seats. This means that if Oliver wins his council race, longtime trustee Neeta Sane may be the only board member to have served longer than two years.

Eva Loredo

Eva Loredo

[…]

Tamez faces Florida “Flo” Cooper, a retired telecommunications consultant who ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in 2007. Cooper did not respond to multiple calls for an interview.

[…]

Loredo faces Art Aguilar, a Harris County sheriff’s deputy who ran unsuccessfully for constable in 2008. Aguilar, who did not respond to requests for an interview, is part of a slate of candidates that includes his sister, Diana Dávila, who is running for the Houston school board, and his brother-in-law Abel Dávila, a former HCC trustee now running for the City Council.

Cooper also ran for District D in 1997 against then incumbent CM Jew Don Boney, and in a special election for At Large #4 (eventually won by Chris Bell) in January of 1997. Aguilar is of course who Abel Davila tried to gift this Trustee seat to in 2009 via some last-minute filing shenanigans; Loredo won as a write-in candidate after Aguilar was forced to withdraw by the backlash. Neither is a serious candidate, which is why I highlighted their mentions in this article. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and John Hansen are serious candidates, but both are unopposed – Moger won the position she is now departing as an unopposed candidate back in 2009 – and I just don’t like it when that happens for open seats. Be that as it may, my interview with Tamez is here and with Loredo is here. Both were endorsed by the Chron (and by most endorsing organizations), and both are worth your vote if you live in either district. Let’s please not elect any more accidental Trustees.

Chron race overview: At Large #1

Here’s the Chron overview of the race to succeed term limited Council Member (now Mayoral candidate) Steve Costello in At Large #1.

CM Stephen Costello

CM Stephen Costello

M. “Griff” Griffin

A perennial candidate in Houston politics, Griffin is running for the council for the 11th time, 22 years after first competing for a spot in 1993. The former owner of Griff’s, a sports bar in the Montrose area that he opened in 1965, Griffin is now a private investigator.

“As an investigator on the City Council, I can do a little more checking out,” Griffin said.

[…]

Mike Knox

Knox, a second-time candidate, positions himself as the conservative the council needs.

“I’m the conservative candidate running to bring conservative financial responsibility to our city’s issues,” Knox said.

[…]

Lane Lewis

Seen by many as the front-runner, Lewis is chair of the Harris County Democratic Party.

An education consultant and former teacher, Lewis ran for the council’s District A seat in 2009 and lost in a runoff. His priorities include infrastructure, transportation and attracting middle-class jobs to Houston to improve the city’s quality of life, but his pitch for office centers on his deep connections in local politics.

[…]

Tom McCasland

McCasland is a first-time candidate for City Hall, but he’s not new to local government. The former CEO of the Harris County Housing Authority, McCasland resigned in August to focus on his campaign.

“I plan to be a full-time city councilperson. I’m the only candidate committed to that,” McCasland said.

[…]

Chris Oliver

Houston Community College trustee Oliver is running for the City Council 15 years after his first attempt in 2000. With his slogan, “An Even Better Houston, An Even Better Tomorrow,” Oliver is looking to address the city’s infrastructure, economic development, safety and fiscal responsibility issues.

“I think we’re facing serious challenges, and now is the time to see whether or not we can start addressing these issues,” Oliver said. “I can serve as a voice to address some other issues we face, from infrastructure to community development.”

[…]

Jenifer Rene Pool

Pool is an activist and owner of a Houston construction company. Pool is running for the City Council for the third time since 2011.

Pool has been an appointee to several city commissions and is a former president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

“I work hard to represent those who don’t have a voice and I use what influence I have to make everyone’s life a little better,” Pool said.

[…]

Georgia Provost

Photographer and philanthropist Georgia Provost is making her second run for the City Council. A volunteer for many causes, including the Houston Area Urban League, injured law enforcement officers, and fundraising for her alma mater, Texas Southern University, Provost is looking to bring those skills to the City Council.

In addition to addressing infrastructure and economic development, Provost wants to re-evaluate Houston’s city charter to allow council members to more easily add items to the agenda.

There’s also perennial candidate James Partsch-Galvan, who hails from the planet Murgatroid. I have interviews with Lewis, McCasland, Pool, and Oliver and links to Q&As elsewhere for them and others on my Election 2015 page, and interviews with Knox and Provost from the last cycle on my Election 2013 page. McCasland is the Chron candidate, Knox is the Hotze candidate, and Lewis has most of the other endorsements. Here are the totals from their 30 day finance reports, also available on the Election 2015 page:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Griffin 1,000 1,600 0 895 Knox 22,940 11,370 0 9,349 Lewis 40,164 64,479 100 48,803 McCasland 60,978 33,222 0 112,443 Oliver 9,400 7,840 0 25,230 PartschGalvan Pool Provost 1,956 6,841 0 543

Neither Pool nor Partsch-Galvan have reports available as yet. Griff’s one contribution was from himself, and the two expenditures I saw listed were for less than $1,000 combined, so I have no idea what his numbers mean. I’ve received one mailer from McCasland, and have seen sponsored Facebook posts from him, Lewis, Oliver, and Pool. I tend to agree with the consensus that Lewis is in a good position to make the runoff, but beyond that I have no idea. Who are you supporting in this race?

Endorsement watch: Off to a good start, predictions-wise

First Chron endorsement of the season, and it’s one I called.

Tom McCasland

Tom McCasland

When government is broken, who do you hire to fix it? For the Harris County Housing Authority, the answer was Tom McCasland. Plenty of candidates can tout their ideas for repairing Houston’s problems, but only McCasland has a record of working within government to cut fat, root out corruption and balance budgets. In the race to replace a term-limited Steven Costello for the City Council At-Large 1 seat, voters should send McCasland to City Hall so he can put his skills to work.

McCasland, 42, has a biography that reads like a Horatio Alger story. The child of missionaries, he grew up next to a Navajo reservation in a home that he shared with his nine siblings – no electricity and no running water. From these modest beginnings he ascended to Baylor University for a master’s degree in philosophy, Yale Law School and a job at Vinson & Elkins. McCasland stepped into the public eye, however, when he was appointed to head up the troubled county housing authority after a Chronicle investigation revealed that the agency had wasted millions of dollars on unnecessary expenditures, including statues, parties and executive pay.

As CEO, McCasland cut the operations budget while increasing services to the needy and even giving his lowest-paid employees a much-needed raise. Essentially, he took a slush-fund and successfully rededicated it to its true purpose: helping the poor and homeless find safe places to live. This focus on core services is a philosophy that voters should want to see in City Hall.

[…]

In this field of seven candidates, former police officer Mike Knox and Harris County Democratic Party Chair Lane Lewis also stand out. However, voters should be wary of Chris Oliver, a Houston Community College trustee, who voted for a contract with a major vendor without disclosing it had hired his own company as a subcontractor. He has since apologized for what he calls an “honest mistake,” but there’s little room for mistakes in this crowded race for At-Large 1.

Among all those candidates, McCasland has a proven record of going above and beyond the call of duty in office and deserves voters’ support in this election.

Let’s review. I made McCasland the favorite to get this endorsement, though I thought Lane Lewis had a shot at it. I also suggested the Chron would not be favorable to Chris Oliver. Not too shabby so far. The mention of Mike Knox is a tad bit worrisome, since Knox is an anti-HERO candidate, but he ran a pretty respectable race for District A in 2013, so that probably helped him. As noted, this is the first Chron endorsement, but there are lots more to come. I’ll be keeping an eye on them and updating the 2015 Election page as we go.

Interview with Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver

We wrap up our tour of the At Large #1 field with a visit with Chris Oliver, who currently serves as Trustee in HCC District IX. A businessman and graduate of TSU, Oliver has worked as a Congressional aide and as an Equal Employment Opportunity specialist with the US Department of Labor. During his service as HCC Trustee, he has been an advocate for extending the college’s reach into previously underserved neighborhoods. Here’s what we talked about:

(Note: This interview took place before the Supreme Court ruling that required a repeal or referendum on HERO.)

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Finance reports come trickling in

As always, the Mayoral reports lead the story.

BagOfMoney

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia closed out the first half of the year with more than $1.3 million in the bank, eclipsing City Councilman Stephen Costello by a mere $7,423.

According to their campaign finance reports, Garcia raised $1.5 million and spent just over $122,000, while Costello raised about $30,000 less in contributions, was loaned $90,000 and spent $496,000.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner and former mayor of Kemah Bill King trailed in cash on hand, reporting $1.1 million and $544,000, respectively.

[…]

Costello’s campaign previously said his funds include a $250,000 personal contribution and a $262,000 transfer from his council account.

Among those with reports already in, King spent the most in the first half of the year, coughing up more than $680,000. He raised more than $755,000 and lent himself an additional $500,000.

Turner’s expenditures came in just under King’s, at $601,000, according to his report. However, his campaign noted that $125,000 of those expenditures were related to his state office, not his mayoral campaign.

After starting the race with about $900,000 in the bank from his legislative account, Turner raised an additional $763,000 in the nine days between when his state fundraising blackout period ended and the close of the reporting period.

See here for more. As previously noted, the reports are not in their usual place due to changes in state law and the reporting system. For now, you can see the reports that the city has posted here. I’ve linked to them on my Election 2015 page and will keep updating that as more of them appear. I’ll do a more in depth look at the reports once they’re all there, starting with the Mayorals, which were added to that page as of last night. Expect that for next week.

The Chron story has a spreadsheet embedded in it with totals for candidates who had turned in reports by publication time. Among the other Mayorals, Chris Bell had raised $381K and had $190K on hand; Ben Hall raised $94K and loaned himself $850K to have $812K on hand; and Mary McVey had raised $60K and loaned himself $1.075M to have $1.071M on hand. Forget the price of oil, this Mayoral campaign will be stimulating the local economy over the next few months.

So far, mayoral fundraising has far overshadowed that for Houston’s second-highest political post, city controller.

Deputy controller Chris Brown reported raising $270,000 and spending $22,000, leaving him with more than $222,000 in cash on hand.

Meanwhile, Bill Frazer, runner-up in the 2013 controller’s race, raised $129,000, received $32,000 in loans, spent $120,000 and closed out the first half of the year with more than $53,000 in the bank.

Former Metro board member Dwight Jefferson lagged behind with $11,000 raised $1,800 loaned and $9,000 spent. It was unclear how much cash he had on hand.

Carroll Robinson had raised $50K and had $5K on hand; Jew Don Boney did not have totals posted. Other hauls of note: Amanda Edwards dominated At Large #4 with $165K raised and $118K on hand. Laurie Robinson was the runnerup with $43K and $26K, respectively. In At Large #1, Tom McCasland ($141K raised, $98K on hand) and Lane Lewis ($104K raised, $62K on hand) were far out in front; Chris Oliver raised $37K and had $23K on hand, while Jenifer Pool had not yet reported. CM Michael Kubosh was the only one with any money in At Large #3, raising $63K and banking $44K. Philippe Nassif had a very respectable $73K raised in At Large #5, but only $12K of it remained, far less than CM Jack Christie’s $100K cash on $124K raised; Durrel Douglas had not yet reported.

For district races, CM Mike Laster had a big haul and an equally big financial lead in J, while CM Richard Nguyen had a decent total in F. His opponent, Steven Le, did not have a report up as of last night. There was surprisingly little money raised in the two-person District G race; Greg Travis led in cash on hand over Sandie Moger thanks to a $41K loan to himself. Roland Chavez had the most raised and the most on hand in H, with Karla Cisneros and Jason Cisneroz a notch back. Abel Davila raised a small amount but loaned himself $20K to be even in cash on hand with the other two.

That’s it for now. For the other races, HISD and HCC reports lag behind the city’s – HISD by a little, HCC by a lot – so I’ll keep an eye on those and update as needed. As always, fundraising is just one aspect of one’s candidacy, and is in no way predictive in many races. We only get a few chances a year to see who’s funding whom, and this is one of them. I’ll have more when I can.

Robinson resigns from HCC Board

Yeah, it’s campaign season.

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson, who has served as a Houston Community College trustee since 2012, will leave the college board to focus on his run for city controller, he announced Friday.

In a letter announcing his resignation, Robinson counted among his accomplishments helping with the creation of a sixth-grade pre-admission program, pushing to increase funding for scholarships and his involvement in establishing the Texas Academic Scholarship Day.

“All these things have helped bring a greater focus to improving the graduation rate and job placement rates for HCC students,” Robinson said. “The policies I implemented at HCC are a part of my broader commitment to ensuring that all Houstonians — our families, children, entrepreneurs and businesses — have An Opportunity To Do Better.”

There’s a full field for Controller, including Bill Frazer, Jew Don Boney, Dwight Jefferson, and Chris Brown, so one can understand the reason behind the resignation. As the story notes, Robinson’s brief tenure on the HCC Board has not been without some controversy. Robinson;s departure means that the Board will appoint a replacement Trustee, who (I believe) will be on the November ballot. That makes four Trustee elections on tap; as noted in January, fellow Trustees Adriana Tamez (who won a special election in 2013 to complete the unfinished term of now-former State Rep. Mary Ann Perez), Eva Loredo, and Sandie Mullins Moger (formerly Meyers), are up for re-election. Moger, however, is now confirmed to be running for City Council District G, so someone else will run for that position. Chris Oliver, who is not up for re-election, is as we know running for Council At Large #1, so there may be another vacancy to fill next year. And finally, as long as I’m mentioning At Large #1, this seems like as good a place as any to note that candidate Tom McCasland, who had announced his intention to run without specifying an office, has now officially declared AL1 to be his target. So there you have it.

Should Lane Lewis resign as HCDP Chair to run for Council?

That’s the question some people are asking.

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

“What I want is someone who is going to be, at least in the political world, dedicated 100 percent to the mission of advancing the ideals of the Democratic Party,” said John Gorczynski, a local Democratic staffer and head of the Young Democrats of Texas. “If someone’s going to be running a campaign, I can’t imagine what that would look like.”

Lewis’ fundraiser next month will be hosted at the home of Bill Baldwin, the former county Democratic finance chair who resigned a few weeks ago to raise money for Lewis’ bid, a move intended to make the line between the party and the campaign clear. Some are calling for Lewis to follow Baldwin’s example and resign.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Lewis should consider that, adding there would be a potential conflict of interest between Lewis trying to neutrally advance the Democratic Party – which includes several members running against him for council – while “competing in the trenches” himself.

“When you serve as party chair, you at least leave some of your political ambition at the door,” Jones said.

Lewis faces Houston Community College trustee Chris Oliver, local Democratic activists Jenifer Rene Pool and Philippe Nassif, Republican activist Trebor Gordon, and possibly Harris County Housing Authority chief Tom McCasland in the non-partisan race to succeed term-limited city councilman Stephen Costello in the At Large 1 council seat.

[…]

The county Democratic and Republican parties typically stay out of endorsing candidates in non-partisan municipal races, but Jones said that some Democratic elected officials and campaign staff may be pressured away from backing any of Lewis’ opponents.

Oliver and some Democratic activists also charge that Lewis could improperly use the party’s email list – though Lewis said the campaign email list was culled from his phone’s contacts, not the party’s -and that his time spent preparing the party for 2016 would now be split between his personal campaign and the party’s.

“That person should be focusing on Democratic Party politics, not city council politics,” said Oliver, a Democrat.

Lewis is not required to resign, as some but not all elected office holders are. My opinion is that we’re early enough in the cycle that being Chair and being a candidate are not inherently in conflict. Any candidate running a full-fledged campaign is likely to find as time goes on that it doesn’t leave much room in his or her life for other things. Lewis may eventually decide he should resign just to ensure he has enough hours in the day to do all the things he needs to do. Alternately, he may find that more and more Democratic activists, the kind of people whose vote he will want in November, are grumbling that the duties of HCDP Chair are being neglected and someone else needs to take over to ensure there isn’t a mess to clean up going into 2016. Or maybe he’ll be able to handle it all, and the complaints will be limited to his opponents and their supporters. As I say, I think it’s too early to know. But he should be prepared to resign at the first sign of the juggling act being too much. Lane Lewis has done a good job as HCDP Chair, but no one is irreplaceable. If leaving will be necessary, better to do so a little too early than a little too late. A statement from candidate Philippe Nassif is here, and Campos has more.

January campaign finance reports – HCC Trustees

There are nine trustees on the HCC board. With them serving six-year terms, in a normal year three trustees are up for re-election; 2013 was an abnormal year, with two extra races to fill out unexpired terms. We are back to normal this time, so we have three races. As with HISD, at this time all incumbents that are up are currently expected to run for re-election, and no opponents have emerged at this early date. Here are the incumbents in question.

Adriana Tamez, District III

Dr. Tamez won one of those two special elections from 2013, to fill out the term of Mary Ann Perez, who stepped down after winning in HD144 in 2012. The candidate she defeated in the runoff was one of two supported by Dave Wilson, so that was extra sweet. (Speaking of Wilson, he nominated himself for Board President at the start of this year, but had to withdraw after no one seconded him. Then, to add insult to injury, Zeph Capo, who defeated Wilson’s buddy Yolanda Navarro Flores in 2013, was elected Board President. Sucks to be you, Dave.) Tamez was elected Board Secretary for this year.

Sandie Mullins, District VI

Sandie Mullins, formerly Meyers, is serving her first term on the Board. She was elected in 2009 without facing an opponent to fill the seat formerly held by now-State Rep. Jim Murphy. (Mills Worsham was named to replace Murphy in 2007 after his initial election in HD133, then Worsham ran for Council in 2009 instead of a full term on HCC.) Like Murphy and her ex-husband, HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, Mullins is a Republican, one of two on the board along with you-know-who. She is herself an alumna of HCC, and serves or has served on a number of other boards.

Eva Loredo, District VIII

Under normal circumstances, Eva Loredo would not be on the HCC Board. She didn’t file for the race in 2009, against incumbent Abel Davila. No one did, and on filing deadline day Davila was expected to run unopposed for re-election. Except that he decided at the last minute not to run, and instead his brother-in-law Art Aguilar filed. That led to a medium-sized crap storm, which led to Aguilar’s withdrawal. Loredo had by then submitted paperwork to be a write-in candidate, with some assistance from the late Sen. Mario Gallegos, and with no other candidate on the ballot, she won. She would be on the ballot this time.

As for finance reports, you may recall that as recently as 2011 it was damn near impossible to lay one’s hands on HCC Trustee finance reports. I claim a small measure of the credit for changing that situation. Be that as it may, the fact that these reports are now available online at this link doesn’t mean that they’re available in a timely fashion. Despite the fact that the city, the county, the school board, and the state all had theirs up within a day or so of the January 15 deadline, HCC still had nothing more recent than last July’s as of yesterday. So those are the totals I will include, pending them getting off their butts and updating this information.

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Tamez 7,150 15,392 7,000 610 Mullins 0 1,878 0 18,400 Loredo 0 492 0 2,004 Oliver 8,225 6,060 0 2,165

So there you have it. I’ve included the totals for Chris Oliver as well, since he is now running for Council. I’ll update all this in July, and ought to have my Election 2015 page up by then as well.

Chris Oliver joins the At Large #1 crowd

From the inbox:

Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver

Houston Community College Trustee Chris Oliver has announced his candidacy for the open Houston City Council, At-Large Position 1 seat to be filled this November. Chris brings years of experience as a businessman, legislative advocate, and Houston Community College Trustee for District IX to his campaign for Houston City Council.

“It’s exciting,” said Oliver. “I’ve spent a significant portion of my professional career working for the people of Houston helping to empower them through the catalyst of education. I look forward to serving them further as their At-Large City Council Member for Position 1.”

As Houston Community College Trustee for District IX Chris has sought to deliver every student a quality, affordable education. Chris’ long list of accomplishments as Trustee includes overseeing several HCC expansion initiatives, including the opening of Willie Lee Gay Hall on U.S. 288 and Airport. This milestone for the city represents the first time an academic institution of higher learning has reached this corner of the community.

“Education is crucial to the current and future success of all of Houston’s diverse communities,” explained Oliver. “I’ll look to add my perspective to Houston City Council by not just concentrating on community education, but also by focusing on the city’s fiscal future, its infrastructural issues, and the safety of all of our communities.”

Chris was elected to the Houston Community College Board of Trustees in 1995 and served as Board Chairman from 1999 to 2007. His diverse professional career spans serving in the United States Congress as legislative aid, the U.S. Department of Labor overseeing contractor compliance, and owning his own business – Tekoa Property Management Group, Inc., a construction final cleaning company. He will look to leverage these experiences in his role as City Council Member At-Large for Position 1.

“I am looking forward to talking with Houstonians about myself, my candidacy, and my vision for our city,” said Oliver. “I believe that my diverse background as a public servant, small business owner, and as a legislative professional has not only prepared me to lead – it has equipped me with the skills to do so on day one.”

You can see the email here, and you can listen to the interview I did with Oliver for his 2011 re-election here. There’s now at least five candidates in this race, and as I have observed about the Mayor’s race, there likely isn’t the room for all of them to run viable campaigns. At some point, it’s going to make sense for someone to shift to another race, whether the open At Large #4 race, for which there is currently one candidate, or a challenge to an incumbent. We are still very early in the cycle, so there is plenty of time for things to happen.

Another HCC lawsuit

Hard to keep track of them all.

The former top attorney and acting chancellor of Houston Community College filed a lawsuit Monday alleging she was fired because she told the FBI of her suspicions that board members sought to use bond funds to award kickbacks.

Renee Byas, ousted in August, said in the lawsuit that some of HCC’s elected board members wanted to change procurement rules “so they could hand out bond-related contracts to friends or family.”

The whistle-blower lawsuit is the latest in a series of accusations of improper business dealings involving one of the nation’s largest community colleges. And it alludes to renewed interest in the institution by federal investigators.

Neeta Sane, chairwoman of the HCC board, denied that Byas was fired in retaliation for talking to the FBI and said she did not know of any instances in which board members tried to steer contracts to preferred vendors.

HCC won voter approval in November 2012 of a $425 million bond issue, the largest in the college’s history, creating numerous construction projects to put out for bids.

“I’m just so disappointed in all these allegations,” Sane said.

The lawsuit alleged that Sane and trustee Chris Oliver met with Byas for four hours in January “trying to convince her to abandon the strict procurement rules because people in their districts ‘wanted contracts.’ ”

“At one point during the meeting,” the lawsuit continued, “Ms. Sane showed Ms. Byas a list of firms who were supposed to ‘get’ contracts.”

Sane said she recalled looking with Byas at a list of project managers included in a public meeting agenda, but Sane said she never asked the acting chancellor to select certain firms.

“I would never be involved in a meeting like that,” added Oliver, the board’s vice chairman.

[…]

Byas, represented by high-profile Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, also alleged in the lawsuit that Sane and trustees Dave Wilson and Robert Glaser “cornered” her at a conference in Santa Fe, N.M., and questioned why she couldn’t revise the procurement process so that local firms could be given contracts for bond projects.

See here for some background. I’m amused by the presence of Dave Wilson’s name in this lawsuit – he has faithfully sent me a press release every time there has been news about his battle with County Attorney Vince Ryan, but radio silence this time – and not amused at all by the presence of the other names. HCC does a lot of good, but their governance has never not been a mess. There may be nothing to this lawsuit, but it’s not like anyone can say that with confidence. Campos and Hair Balls have more.

Interview with Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver

There are two contested races for HCC Trustee seats this year. Chris Oliver is the incumbent in District IX. He was first elected in 1993 and first served as Board Chair in 1999. Oliver is a businessman who has also worked in the U.S. Department of Labor as an EEO specialist. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

HCC Trustee sues HCC Board

Back in April, the HCC Board of Trustees censured Board member Yolanda Navarro Flores after an investigation reported that she had engaged in unethical behavior. Here’s the Chron story from the time, which I did not blog about:

The Houston Community College board on Thursday censured trustee Yolanda Navarro Flores after a yearlong investigation found she used her influence to direct work to her son’s construction company and to obtain free consulting from a vendor.

The investigation – which also found troubling behavior by Trustee Chris Oliver and former board members Abel Dávila and Diane Olmos Guzman – called into question the business practices at one of the nation’s largest community college systems.

HCC Board Chairman Richard Schechter pledged a review of the college district’s policies.

“This board has zero tolerance for this kind of conduct,” he said.

Schechter said the investigation portrayed Flores and Dávila as the most egregious offenders, with the two appearing “to have been engaged in a relentless pattern and practice of conduct designed to enrich at a minimum their family and friends.”

Flores, who was not present for the 7-0 censure vote, told trustees afterward that she was unaware her son did work for HCC.

Dávila and Guzman have denied wrongdoing, and Oliver apologized for making an “honest mistake” by voting on a contract for a company with connections to his construction cleaning firm. Oliver, the report said, had filed the required disclosure paperwork.

Trustee Navarro Flores has now filed a lawsuit against her colleagues over that report.

In court papers filed Thursday, Yolanda Navarro Flores accuses the defendants of subjecting her to “character defamation, libel and slander” under the pretext of investigating possible inappropriate actions by HCC trustees and her potential conflict of interest with an HCC contractor.

“Specifically, defendants conducted a program of attack upon plaintiff’s character, reputation and integrity through malicious action based on false information that defendants knew was false or should have known was …false had their investigation been conducted in a prudent, fair and unbiased manner,” the suit claims.

[…]

Named in the lawsuit are HCC Chancellor Mary Spangler, HCC Deputy Chancellor Arthur Tyler, HCC Board of Trustees legal counsel Jarvis Hollingsworth, HCC general counsel Renee Byas as well as trustees Oliver, Richard Schechter, Michael Williams, Bruce Austin, Mary Ann Perez, Sandie Mullins, Neeta Sane and Eva Loredo.

The suit has been filed in the 61st Civil District Court. I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that one way or another, someone is going to be embarrassed by the outcome of this lawsuit. Beyond that, all I can say is that I’m looking forward to doing HCC candidate interviews even more now.

The other races

In addition to the city of Houston races, I am trying to follow the HISD and HCC Trustee elections as well. I say “trying” because there’s just no information out there that I can find. For one thing, though there are seven such races this year – four in HISD, three in HCC, including one open seat – I am unaware of a second candidate in any race. HISD Trustees Paula Harris, Carol Mims Galloway, Manuel Rodriguez, and Juliet Stipeche are up for election. None have opponents that I know of, though there’s a group calling itself “Educators For A Better District IV” that has been attacking Harris and claimed to have a candidate for that race at one point, though that fell through. As for HCC, it’s not at all easy to figure out who’s doing what. You just can’t easily tell from the biographies or from the past election results on Harris Votes whose terms are up. I know Richard Schechter will be on the ballot, and I know that Carroll Robinson is running to fill the slot that Michael P. Williams is leaving behind in his run for City Council, and somewhere along the line I managed to determine that Christopher Oliver was the third one in. At least, I think so – I was unable to duplicate whatever method I used back then to draw that conclusion. There’s got to be a better way than this.

And campaign finance reports, forget it. Google “HISD Trustee Campaign Finance Reports” and you’ll find this page, which contains exactly two reports, Juliet Stipeche’s from January and July. Google “HCCS Trustee Campaign Finance Reports” and you get a Carroll Robinson press release from January and a few links about Jay Aiyer. In other words, a whole lot of nothing.

So I’ll ask you. What do you know about any of these elections? Are there candidates out there, even rumors of candidates, that I’m not hearing about? Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.