If you're a taxpayer in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner is not your friend.
It looks like Mayor Turner may have violated city rules while spending over $400 million. According to Houston city law, the mayor can sign contracts up to $50,000 without city council approval. Turner has apparently spent just a little bit more than that amount (supposedly by millions of dollars).
It's no secret that the Mayor uses this rule to pay his crony friends. The lawyers he hired to go after the fire department were all his close personal pals. Turner someone managed to make over $400 million disappear and if you want to know where it went you have to pay $2.8 million.
Under the Texas Public Information Act (“TPIA”), the City is entitled to recover its costs in producing any documents. Last week we received a letter from the City Attorney stating that the cost of copying the contracts would be $2.8 million and if we would send over a check for 50% of that amount, they would begin copying the contracts.
The cost estimate stated that it would take 155,000 hours to assemble the documents. That is 75 people working full-time for a year.[ii]
There are two possibilities here. The first, and I think most likely, is that the cost estimate is a desperate attempt to conceal what is in those contracts. The other is that Turner has actually entered into so many contracts that were not approved by Council that it would take 75 people working for a year to copy the contracts. I am not sure which of those two possibilities I find more disturbing.
If you value transparency in government (or if you just dislike blatant cronyism) Mayor Turner just slapped you in the face.