Sunday, April 03, 2016

Harris County Commissioner's race updates: Locke in, Ellis' bond deals

Gene Locke lied finally and publicly changes his mind about running for the job to which he was appointed 'interim'.  Here's what he said on January 22nd.

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, "My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family,." (sic)

Never-corrected punctuation error Chron's.  Here's what he told the Chron a month later, a few days after Carl Whitmarsh outed him on Facebook.

Locke said he has not made a final decision, but his statement signals a shift for the former city attorney, who previously said he intended to return to his job as a lawyer and spend time with his family after the end of the current term in December.

It also would conflict with County Judge Ed Emmett's previously stated desire to appoint a caretaker commissioner who would not seek the job beyond Dec. 31.

"It's the number of people who I respect that are asking me to consider it," Locke said. ...

He declined to name those asking him to run and said he needs to talk to his family about it. He did not give a timetable for when he would make a decision.

You can find oodles and oodles of blogging about his bid to become mayor in 2009 and the subsequent bitter runoff that year with Annise Parker.  (I received a telephone call intimating physical violence to me during that period as I wrote about Locke.)

Parker defeated him and his African American/Republican coalition of smear merchants and homophobes and hate-mongers in founding her legacy as Houston's CEO.  But that conservative coalition of hate prevailed in the HERO campaign last year, and we see those efforts being duplicated now in North Carolina.  Ashton Woods, who also blogs at Strength in Numbers, summarizes my objection to Locke's candidacy in less than 140 characters.

All of this would be of interest to me as a constituent of Locke's and formerly one of the 130 Democratic precinct chairs who will vote for him -- or one of the other politicos seeking the office -- in an election to be held at the Democratic county executive meeting in June.  But as my disinterest in local politics has swollen, I just haven't taken it as blogworthy ... until the Chron took note of Rodney Ellis' lucrative bond lawyering over the recent decades, and the various ethical dilemmas one can find oneself tangled in (if ethics is ever a concern, that is).

Over the past 26 years, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has voted to confirm gubernatorial appointments to the Lower Colorado River Authority, a powerful electric utility in Central Texas. During the same time, financial firms he either owned, worked for, or owned stock in have profited handsomely by helping underwrite $3.7 billion in bonds sold by the authority.


... (B)ecause of Texas' lax ethics law, much less is known about Ellis' equally impressive career in the lucrative government bond business, which repeatedly has placed him in a position to exercise authority over local governments and public agencies whose bond proceeds were being used to pay Ellis' firms. His dual role as lawmaker and bond underwriter has left him straddling the line between politics, municipal finance and public policy, raising questions about potential or actual conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflicts.

You should probably go read the whole piece -- you know, if you're interested in this sort of thing -- but here's one more excerpt.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a nonprofit watchdog group, has watched Ellis in action from the start of his legislative career. During that time, Ellis has taken the lead on ethics issues, from requiring more disclosure to overhauling how judicial campaigns are financed, Smith said.
"There's the good Rodney and the bad Rodney. The good Rodney knows what needs to be done, but he also has made a lot of money off of connections, knowing who to talk to, and selling bonds," Smith said.
On several occasions, Ellis has defended his work in public finance by noting that legislators receive only $7,200 a year in salary. Ellis said in 2013 that he wouldn't run for Congress because he couldn't take a pay cut. Congressmen are paid $174,000 a year.

Here it might be important to remind everyone that a county commissioner's salary is currently -- as of two years ago -- $165,900 annually plus a $550/month auto allowance (that some commissioners take and some don't).  So since this number appears to be in the range of a Congresscritter's jack, you might ask yourself, or Senator Ellis: what has changed about Senator Ellis' financial stipulations for accepting a new job?

Do you think he'd be willing to disclose his tax returns so that the public can help him assess whether he's being market-appropriately compensated for his work?

I'm guessing without asking anybody that it's the side jobs that county commissioners get paid for that appeal to Ellis, and I don't mean the high-dollar commissions for bond lawyers (since those will have to go away for him, see story).  The most polite way of referring to this income is campaign contributions, and here you might be reminded that the dearly departed El Franco Lee left behind a campaign war chest of $4 million, despite not having either a Democratic or Republican challenger for decades.  Questionable ethics seem to be the standard among state senators as we know, and that's why several of the also-rans in the commissioner's race -- you can find their names in some of the links above -- will focus their attention on replacing Ellis in Austin as soon as they lose this very special election.

Because even though the stated pay grade is poverty-level, some of these guys are becoming millionaires while serving the public interest.  And that apparently is fingerling potatoes compared to what a county commissioner can grift earn.

Indeed, the best democracy money can buy.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

Ellis is sounding a lot like Royce West and his hot mess on the Dallas Inland Port and other things.