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Lloyd Kelley

An opponent for the Controller

Big Jolly reports on a new candidate.

There are two powerful elected positions in the City of Houston: Mayor and City Controller. So naturally I was curious when I heard that someone was going to challenge the incumbent Controller Ronald Green. Meet Bill Frazer. The press release announcing his candidacy stated:

“The Controller is an elected position and should report directly to the voters, not to the Mayor or to City Council. The office should serve as a watchdog for the taxpayer dollars and not as a rubber stamp. It’s vitally important to make sure that Houston taxpayers are fully informed on a timely basis about all spending programs. I will make sure there is more transparency and easier access to the City’s financial information.”

Bill Frazer

Well, that was a good start – no elected official should serve as a rubber stamp for anyone. And the fact is that the City of Houston’s finances are a mess right now. And frankly, in four years, the incumbent, Ron Green, has done nothing to help. I mean, like, literally zero. So I decided to meet the challenger and find out if he is for real or a pretender. Fortunately, he’s the real deal – his qualifications for this job cannot be challenged.

[…]

Mr. Frazer is a past President of the Houston CPA Society and has served on the Board of Directors of the Texas Society of CPAs for the past 25 years. As such, he is in a position to be able to tell us the true position of the finances of the City of Houston. Although those finances are bleak, he didn’t come across as an alarmist at all. In fact, he seemed to approach the problem as something that can be solved if politicians are truly transparent and willing to fix them. I think that his frankness is rare these days – are you as tired as I am of “chicken little” forecasts?

When I pointed out to him that the incumbent has touted “transparency” in his tenure, Mr. Frazer objected, stating that transparency is more than simply putting out a report on Friday afternoon at 5:30pm with details buried in the content of a large “report”. For instance, did you know that the property valuation that the City of Houston can tax has declined by 14% during the period between 2003 and 2012? I surely didn’t – it is because of TIRZ’s and other “exemptions”.

The worst statistic that Mr. Frazer showed me was the increase in the amount of money that the City has paid in “fees” to service the City’s debt under the incumbent’s reign: the City has gone from paying $2.53 million per $1 BILLION in floating rate debt to paying $10.19 million. Why?

The full press release can be seen here. Frazer doesn’t have a webpage that I can find, and his personal Facebook page, which was created on February 19, is limited to friends, so this is all I know about him. I will note that his claim about property valuations appears to be wrong, according to one of the commenters on that post who did a little digging, and that explanation about TIRZes doesn’t jibe with my understanding of how they work. Perhaps this is a transcription failure on Big Jolly’s part, I don’t know. Be that as it may, as I noted the last time the subject of an opponent for City Controller Ronald Green came up, an incumbent Controller hasn’t faced opposition since 1997, when Sylvia Garcia defeated Lloyd Kelley.

Sumners for Controller?

Yeah, I don’t know about that.

County tax assessor-collector Don Sumners, who lost his bid for re-election in the May GOP primary, said Wednesday he is considering running for city controller next year.

“The part that has to be decided is whether I can actually win. I’m not a spring chicken,” said Sumners, 73.

Controller Ronald Green did not draw an opponent for re-election in 2011. He is eligible to run for a third and final two-year term in 2013.

For whatever the reason, incumbent City Controllers have been unopposed for re-election in recent cycles. The last sitting Controller to have an opponent was Lloyd Kelley, who was ousted by Sylvia Garcia in 1997. Since then – Garcia in 1999 and 2001; Annise Parker in 2005 and 2007; Green in 2011 – Controllers have gotten free rides after their initial elections. Sumners ran for Controller once before, in 1993, drawing less than 10% of the vote as one of three unsuccessful challengers to George Greanias. Green had some bad press earlier this year, but he can’t hold a candle to Sumners on that score. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, this is a heavily Democratic city. I’ll have more on this on Monday, but as was the case in 2008 the city of Houston voted over 60% for President Obama. Obviously, the electorate is very different in an odd-numbered year, but the point is that someone like Sumners has a much lower ceiling than Ronald Green has. So let’s just say I don’t think Green will lose any sleep over this.

DA clears Metro

Nice.

Months after prosecutors took boxes of documents from Metro’s downtown headquarters and experts examined the agency’s computers, the investigation into allegations that Metropolitan Transit Authority administrators illegally destroyed public documents has ended, Metro officials said today.

In a letter to METRO, the Harris County District Attorney’s office wrote, “Our investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and those allegations were unfounded.”

The letter clears the agency of any wrongdoing.

That sound you hear is the wailing of all the Metro haters, who were convinced that evil was afoot and are no doubt disappointed to come away so empty. To recap, back in February Metro was accused of shredding documents related to an open records request Lloyd Kelley made. The DA opened its probe a week later. Shortly after that, Kelley admitted he didn’t have any actual evidence to back up the original claim of document shredding, which may or may not have had anything to do with the nookie that then-CEO Frank Wilson was allegedly engaging in with one of his staffers. Said alleged nookie apparently never happened, or at least if it did it wasn’t done on Metro’s dime. Kelley eventually settled his lawsuit with Metro, with an acknowledgment that there was no evidence of any shredding; Kelley also never said just what it was he’d been looking for in the first place. A grand jury heard evidence related to the alleged shredding in May. And now here we are. About all that’s left from the last days of Frank Wilson is the Pauline Higgins lawsuit and the ongoing Buy America saga. I think that about covers it. Mary Benton has more.

UPDATE: Hair Balls has more.

The Metro settlement agreement

I presume we’ll get some more details in the morning, but for now I wanted to highlight one aspect of the story of Metro’s settlement agreement with Lloyd Kelley.

The suit accused Metro and several of its top officials, including then-President Frank J. Wilson, of destroying documents Kelley requested under the Texas Public Information Act.

The final judgment approved by state District Judge Al Bennett states that the parties agree that all investigations revealed no evidence that the transit agency engaged in any improper destruction of documents.

It recognizes that the Metro Transit Authority Board adopted a new document retention policy on May 18.

Emphasis mine. Now, an agreement of no wrongdoing is common in settlements like this, and there is still that ongoing criminal investigation, which could turn up anything, not to mention to Pauline Higgins lawsuit. But admit it: You were expecting Kelley to find something, especially after the hanky panky allegations were made. From where I sit, this doesn’t look all that much different from a dismissal. Maybe Kelley will have something to say about it tomorrow, maybe his still-unnamed client will speak up about why the suit was filed and what they thought they might find, and maybe that will change my mind. But right now, as I type this, it looks like it was a whole lot of nothing.

More on the Metro lawsuit settlement

As we know, the Metro document shredding lawsuit has been pulled from the court docket in anticipation of a settlement agreement. The Chron has more on what that settlement agreement might entail.

The proposed settlement of an open-records lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority would require Metro to pay the legal fees of the plaintiff, Lloyd Kelley, and to improve its policies for preserving public documents, Kelley said Monday.

The agreement, however, wouldn’t address the lawsuit’s allegations that Metro officials have improperly destroyed public documents, said Kelley, a lawyer and former city controller.

That issue would be left to criminal investigators, Kelley said. The Harris County District Attorney’s office launched an investigation in March.

My advice for Metro is to be prepared for sticker shock. You’ll want to know what those legal fees will amount to before you sign on the dotted line. We’ll see if that actually causes a problem in the negotiations.

As for the criminal probe, that’s the more appropriate vehicle for settling the question about what Metro may or may not have done. I have no idea when that may conclude. Houston Politics has more.

One Metro lawsuit pulled from court docket

Looks promising.

Metro expects to reach a settlement soon in an open-records lawsuit that triggered a series of accusations and investigations that gripped the transit agency for months, board chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

The trial of the lawsuit by attorney and former City Controller Lloyd Kelley, scheduled to begin Monday in state district court, has been pulled from the docket because of the settlement talks, Garcia said. Any settlement would have to be approved by the Metropolitan Transit Authority board.

Garcia declined to discuss details of the proposed settlement except to say he was confident the case would be resolved soon. Neither Kelley nor his attorney, Michael West, could be reached for comment Sunday.

This was the document shredding lawsuit, whose initial hearings led to allegations of hanky panky between now-former Metro CEO Frank Wilson and his chief of staff for which a subsequent forensic accounting review found no incriminating evidence. The lawsuit by Pauline Higgins, Metro’s former chief counsel, is still ongoing. If this does get settled, that will be one more thing that the new Metro board can cross off its to-be-dealt-with list. It will also almost surely mean we’ll never know what Kelley was looking for, or on whose behalf he was looking. I’ll take that trade, and I’m sure the Metro board will as well.

The question not asked

Lisa Falkenberg has a chat with Lloyd Kelley.

Kelley, the attorney whose lawsuit against the county unearthed embarrassing e-mails that brought down former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal a couple of years ago, is at it again, with his latest public document fishing expedition at least appearing to have reeled in another big one in Metro’s chief executive Frank Wilson.

Metro has hired a consultant to investigate allegations raised by Kelley’s attorney that Wilson is carrying on an inappropriate relationship with his chief of staff and misused public funds in various ways, including a trip to Spain in which the alleged “girlfriend” accompanied him. Wilson is also key figure in shreddergate, involving a criminal investigation into whether Metro destroyed public documents Kelley requested. Wilson maintains no wrongdoing.

I sat down with Kelley to ask what motivates him on these crusades and whether he gets the obvious irony of his involvement: the idea that a disgraced former public official accused of any number of shady dealings is now reinventing himself as a soldier of the public trust.

I would have asked him why he had no witnesses to present to back up his allegations about document shredding and Wilson’s alleged canoodling. Maybe his sources are reluctant to speak on the record, perhaps because they fear reprisals. Maybe he’s bluffing. I don’t know, but that’s what I would have asked.

Metro asks consultant to investigate Wilson allegations

We’ll see if there’s anything to the hype.

A consultant with expertise in identifying business fraud will investigate allegations that Metro’s chief executive used public funds in an inappropriate relationship with his assistant, the agency announced today.

David Wolff, the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board chairman, asked Jeff Harfenist, a managing director of UHY Advisors, to conduct the inquiry, Metro said in a statement.

The investigation stems from comments made during a March 10 civil court hearing by Michael West, who represents attorney and former City Controller Lloyd Kelley in an open-records lawsuit against Metro.

Well, at least Kelley will get something for his trouble, even if he couldn’t find a witness. I have no idea what this may turn up – again, despite the lack of evidence, it is entirely possible that Kelley is right, and it is entirely possible that he is full of it – but Harfenist seems to have solid credentials, so we’ll see. Hair Balls has more.

Got evidence?

If you saw Wednesday night’s rather sensational coverage of the allegations that Metro CEO Frank Wilson had an “improper” relationship with an employee, you would have come away with the impression that things were about to go all Chuck Rosenthal at that agency. But if you read this Houston Politics post about that hearing, you might wonder what all the fuss is about.

During Wednesday’s hearing in the open records lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority, an attorney for lawyer and former City Controller Lloyd Kelley acknowledged that he had no witnesses ready to testify that the transit agency had destroyed specific documents his client had requested.

Instead, attorney Michael West told state District Judge Al Bennett that Metro couldn’t be trusted to comply with the court’s order not to destroy any documents. West also said he could produce witnesses who would testify that Metro officials — particularly its chief executive, Frank Wilson — had strong motives to hide or shred documents Kelley wanted to see.

When Bennett questioned West about this, West stated in open court that Wilson had a “personal relationship that is inappropriate” with his chief of staff, Joanne Wright.

When I asked West later if by “inappropriate” he meant a romantic or sexual relationship, he said he wasn’t certain.

So Kelley has no witnesses to testify that any documents or emails he’s requested have actually been destroyed as he’s loudly been alleging for weeks now, and the best he can do is produce someone to testify that Wilson had motive to destroy documents – the documents he can’t find anyone to say were destroyed – because these documents might have to do with an inappropriate relationship, the nature of which he’s not sure about. It sounds a lot less sensational when you put it that way, doesn’t it?

This doesn’t mean that documents weren’t shredded, or that Wilson didn’t have an inappropriate relationship with Wright. All the things Kelley is alleging may be true. But he’s not acting like a man who has evidence of the charges he’s made, he’s acting like a man who’s hoping to find evidence of them. Those are two different stories.

Metro CEO accused of inappropriate relationship with employee

Well, at least we now have some idea of what Lloyd Kelley has been looking for.

The president and CEO of the Metropolitan Transit Authority was accused in open court Wednesday of having an improper relationship with a female employee who works for him. That alleged relationship may include taxpayer-funded trips to Spain, additional compensation and benefits, and other items the public paid for with tax dollars, according to the attorney for former Houston Controller Lloyd Kelley.

Attorney Michael West, who represents Kelley, told Judge Al Bennett he has information which leads him to believe Metro President Frank Wilson had substantial motivation to keep specific documents or e-mails from coming out.

Kelley had previously sued Metro, alleging it improperly destroyed public documents related to a public information request from Kelley.

Insert your own Chuck Rosenthal joke here. The difference at this point is that the allegations about Rosenthal’s abuses were concurrent with the discovery of the emails. We don’t have the emails here, maybe because they’ve been destroyed and maybe because they don’t actually exist. For what it’s worth, the KHOU broadcast I saw said that Metro continues to deny the allegations. I sure hope they’re right, but none of this looks good.

Criminal probe of Metro document shredding begins

I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has begun a criminal investigation into allegations that the Metropolitan Transit Authority improperly destroyed public documents, a prosecutor confirmed Friday.

The statement by Terese Buess, the head of the district attorney’s public integrity division, came during a hearing that ended with a new civil court order against Metro not to destroy any further documents, and with the prospect of forensic examinations of the transit agency’s computers.

Mayor Annise Parker and David Wolff, Metro’s board chairman, had asked the district attorney last week to investigate allegations that the agency destroyed some of the documents sought by Houston attorney and former City Controller Lloyd Kelley in a January open records request.

State District Judge Al Bennett said the district attorney’s investigators would have the first opportunity to inspect Metro computer equipment to try to identify or recover any deleted data. Kelley’s lawyers may conduct a similar review afterward, Bennett said.

The criminal investigation, Bennett said, should take priority, and “I am not going to allow the civil litigation to get in the way of that.”

Houston Politics has a Metro employee training video on the subject of document retention. There’s a whole lot going on here. We still don’t know what exactly Lloyd Kelley is after. As the story says later, and as you’ll see in this space next week, Metro is putting the responsibility for the shredding on Pauline Higgins, their former general counsel; she in turn claims she was fired after blowing the whistle on Metro over the shredding. Mayor Parker’s transition team has not issued its report about Metro yet. Wolff is still the Chair until Parker names a replacement for him. We are in for some interesting times.

Kelley claims Metro is holding out

So now the Metro document shredding case gets more interesting.

Documents supplied by the Metropolitan Transit Authority in response to Houston attorney and former City Controller Lloyd Kelley’s open records request were incomplete and “sanitized,” Kelley said Friday.

“I know for a fact that I didn’t get all the e-mails,” said Kelley, adding that people within Metro, whom he didn’t identify, have told him of documents responsive to his request that weren’t included in what he received from the agency. “They’ve definitely sanitized this stuff.”

Metro board Chairman David Wolff, who provided the same documents to reporters Thursday, said they were a complete response to the open records request.

Kelley’s comments came amid growing indications that two legal challenges to Metro — Kelley’s records case and an expected lawsuit by the agency’s fired chief counsel — will feature accusations that the transit authority hasn’t met legal requirements for retaining documents.

Kelley obtained a temporary restraining order Wednesday forbidding Metro from destroying any of the e-mails, travel records and other documents he requested in January. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.

Kelley said his open records request was made in connection with his representation of a client. He wouldn’t name the client or explain specifically what he hoped to learn from examining the documents.

It’s a little hard to judge Kelley’s accusations here without knowing those details. How can you know if he got what he asked for if you don’t know what he asked for? That said, this is Metro’s screwup. The onus is on them to prove they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and as noted by Mayor Parker later in the story, they do not err on the side of too much information with open records requests. I hope for their sake that the hearing on Friday will show that they have complied with Kelley’s request, but I won’t be surprised to find that they did not include some things.

Oh, and Metro does have a documents retention policy. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they’re any more transparent than Governor Rick Perry is.

Please don’t shred the documents

This isn’t good.

At a crucial moment in the development of its light rail system, Metro confronted accusations Wednesday that it shredded documents sought in an open-records request, then fired two attorneys who objected to its handling of the request.

State District Judge Robert Shaffer signed a temporary restraining order forbidding the Metropolitan Transit Authority from destroying records requested by former City Controller Lloyd Kelley.

In January, the Houston lawyer had requested travel records, e-mail and other documents involving several top Metro officials, Board Chairman David Wolff and an executive of an agency rail contractor.

In a hastily called news conference, Metro President Frank Wilson said one of the agency’s lawyers shredded some documents on Monday. When he discovered this, Wilson said, he ordered an investigation of what was shredded and the circumstances.

Wilson said he didn’t know whether the shredded documents included any sought by Kelley, but said he was confident Metro will produce the records Kelley wants.

“I’m not sure there was anything sinister about it,” Wilson said. “It may be very innocent and very coincidental.”

That’s usually not the way it is, and even if it does turn out to be the case, the timing is still lousy. Does Metro have a document retention policy in place, and if so was it followed? If it doesn’t have such a policy, now would be a good time to put together a team to create one. Just please make sure the process to create it is done openly, and allows for plenty of input from the public.

To its credit, Metro’s response is appropriate.

Faced with a lawsuit, an increasingly critical mayor and lingering questions about document shredding and high-level firings, Metro board chairman David Wolff took steps Thursday to prop up public confidence in his embattled agency.

Wolff released documents that he said was fully responsive to a January open records request by former City Controller Lloyd Kelley.

He joined Mayor Annise Parker in asking Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos to investigate the shredding of as-yet unidentified documents Monday by a Metro employee.

“It is very important to maintain public confidence in Metro, and that’s why I’ve urged the mayor to involve the DA’s office beginning today, if possible,” Wolff said.

Lykos, through a spokeswoman, declined to say whether she would comply with the request.

The best outcome is for the DA to investigate and determine that nothing sinister happened. Let’s hope that is the case. Martha and Hair Balls have more.