Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bell busts Garcia on another questionable jail contract *updated*

It's time for this race to start heating up.

Mayoral candidate Chris Bell criticized former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on Wednesday for reportedly authorizing a $1.1 million jail ministry contract with a friend's organization – the latest in a series of attacks on Garcia's management record.

According to KHOU-11, Garcia signed a three-year contract with a group run by former Houston Oilers tight end Mike Barber, even though Barber's ministry provided similar programming elsewhere for free. Billing records also allegedly show Barber's employees charged for chaplain duties at the Harris County Jail while simultaneously clocking in at other correctional facilities.

"Houston City Hall is not for sale," Bell said at a press conference in front of the building. "If this was an isolated incident, it would be one thing. But it seems like every week something else is coming forward about the way the Harris County Jail was administered when Adrian Garcia was sheriff."

Bill King, as last time, piled on.

"This is more evidence that Adrian Garcia is not even remotely prepared to be mayor," King said in a statement. "He touts his record as sheriff, but the fact is he failed by almost every metric on which you can judge a sheriff's performance."

Garcia is feeling the pressure... and running away from it.

After taking heat for his management of the Harris County Sheriff's Office, Adrian Garcia ducked out of a Houston mayoral debate a half-hour early Tuesday, before moderators opened the floor for candidates to ask each other questions.

Garcia said he had to leave for a prior commitment, even after one of the moderators noted that appointment – an interview with the Chronicle's editorial board – was scheduled to begin nearly an hour and a half later.

In departing early, Garcia avoided a debate format that has proved tricky for him in recent weeks, as his competitors have taken aim at his record in the sheriff's office.

Even so, four of the five candidates on stage with Garcia used their rebuttals during a preceding round to criticize the former sheriff's management skills.

"The sheriff's office wasn't working when Adrian was there," businessman Bill King said, citing the decrease in the department's rape clearance rate under under Garcia's tenure.

With the former sheriff on the lam, it turned into a free-for-all.

City Councilman Stephen Costello, former Congressman Chris Bell and former City Attorney Ben Hall subsequently chimed in, calling attention to Garcia's use of an outside consultant during his tenure, as well as a mentally ill inmate left for weeks in a filthy cell in 2013.

"Adrian has to explain how it is that he had a sheriff's department that could have a mentally challenged person living in a cell for weeks without getting remedial care," Hall said. "I think that speaks to his management skill and he does have to answer for that."

There was more slugging each other on pensions.

Offered the chance to question Bell, with whom he spars infrequently, Costello asked about financing the city's unfunded pension liability.

"I do want to honor the defined benefit plan for the existing firefighters. I think everything should be on the table for the incoming firefighters, but I would like for them to be able to have a defined benefit plan as well," Bell said.

He then took swipes at his closest competitors.

"Whoever's sitting at that table should not have a dog in the hunt," Bell said. "I am not a city pensioner, like Adrian Garcia, and I'm not the hand-picked candidate of the Houston firefighters, like Sylvester Turner."

Garcia's issues have been well-documented in this space, as has my very public opinion that they render him unfit to serve.  I just hope the small number of Houstonians who will begin casting ballots in a few weeks can make the right choice for mayor, because there's too many wrong ones (besides Garcia, that is, the worst of all).


The Harris County Sheriff's Office has asked the Texas Rangers to look into alleged billing irregularities of a jail ministry hired by former Sheriff Adrian Garcia, providing fresh fodder for his opponents in the Houston mayor's race.

According to the sheriff's office, employees of a ministry run by former Houston Oilers player Mike Barber charged for chaplain services at the Harris County jail while simultaneously clocking in at other state correctional facilities.

Sheriff Ron Hickman terminated the three-year, $1.1 million contract in June, opting instead to hire three people for $40,000 each to coordinate volunteer services.

"We cut his cost more than in half," Hickman said, referring to Barber. "And most of the volunteers ... are still right where they were."

Hickman asked the Rangers to investigate the billing discrepancies in early September, the sheriff's office said. A Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman said Wednesday night that "the Texas Rangers are conducting an inquiry to determine whether an investigation is warranted."

Attempts to reach Mike Barber Ministries on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

I'm thinking that Adrian Garcia is really starting to regret quitting that job he had before lining up another one.  Aren't you?

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