Thursday, April 23, 2015

Adrian Garcia's no-bid consultant, and Costello and Turner's Koch fight *Updated*

The Houston city political beat has gone fallow for the most part with the departure of the Chron's Teddy Schleifer.  Sources say there's a new reporter on the way, so we'll keep a look out.  In the meantime...

-- There's been a bit of scandal in Austin about no-bid contracts; now it looks as if something fishy (or maybe ramen noodly) has also been going on down at the Harris County sheriff's office.  More on this story from Ted Oberg at KTRK this evening, and I'll update tomorrow morning if anything actually breaks news.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia gave a consulting firm a no-bid contract worth more than a $1,000 per day.

To date, the firm's been paid $1.7 million from profits on the inmate commissary at the Harris County Jail. The consultant and the sheriff say the deal has saved taxpayers millions and that the consultant is worth every penny.

Ted Oberg investigates the deal and asks why if so much money has been saved why the sheriff's budget continues to expand.

Stace rolled out first, made the pasta connection, and has the sheriff's presser proclaiming the arrangement to be a grand bargain for Harris county taxpayers.

One thing I noticed from ABC13’s teaser is that the money paid to the consultant comes from profits from the jail commissary. So, that means that the overpriced ramen noodles, cupcakes, sodas, and other items bought by the inmates is paying for it. That’s a lot of ramen noodles eaten and no tax dollars wasted, at least at first glance.

I have to wonder if there’s a story to this. I would think the bigger story is that the price of ramen noodles is too damn high. Either that, or it’s sweeps week for the local news.

Smoke?  Fire?  We'll have to watch tonight and see.

Update: A little of both.  The consultant is question is former Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith, who was defeated in the Democratic primary in March of 2006 -- a bit of retribution exacted by the voters in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita -- but also under a swirl of controversy surrounding the construction of Ford Park, Beaumont's convention and fair facility, and (you guessed it) questionable contracts awarded.

Griffith probably gained the most notoriety in late 2005 when, frustrated by the all-too-typical sluggish federal response to Gulf Coast hurricanes, he told an assembly to seize supplies at gunpoint if they thought they needed to.

With homes smashed, trees and power lines downed and a looming shortage of food and water, one official even threatened to take federal relief supplies by force, if necessary.

"If you have enough policemen to take it from them, take it," Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith said Monday during a meeting of city and county officials.

The best source of ten-year-old reports online for the black clouds that followed Judge Griffith at the time is Operation Kleinwatch, which regularly reports on the screwy antics of one Philip Klein, an over-the-top conservative blogger, gun nut, private investigator, and legal gadfly.  Klein has been a foe to Griffith over the years.

So while Sheriff Garcia sings the praises of Griffith and his saving the taxpayers a fat wad...

Garcia said that the consultant, Griffith Moseley Johnson & Associates, headed by former Jefferson County Sheriff and County Judge Carl Griffith, has paid for itself and then some.

"He's a benefit to the taxpayer," Garcia said of Griffith. "I think they've done a phenomenal job. With the expertise, the breadth of experience. I think it's worth the investment."

... it's also true that he hired a consultant who carries a lot of baggage (that has almost fallen down the memory hole).

Update II: More here from Oberg and KTRK.

(Oberg) examined the contract and found that it's unclear exactly how much the taxpayers have been saved because of Griffith's work. The savings numbers the sheriff's office provided to ABC-13 in interviews and via email have wide variations.

Indeed, in a recent interview, estimates of the cost savings escalated continuously, with Garcia at one point claiming a savings of $60 million because of Griffith's work. Minutes later, Griffith said he saved the county $100 million. And then, after a few more minutes, the saving claim hit $112 million.

In an email to ABC-13 after the interview, the sheriff's communications staff calculated the savings at $123 million.

When asked to clarify the wildly fluctuating savings estimates, sheriff's officials provided an analysis of jail cost reductions with no dollar figure attached to it.

-- Stone Cold Steve Costello fired back at Sylvester Turner's calling him a Koch whore.  This is from the council member's e-mail this morning, under the subject line "Here come the attacks!"

As you can see from the email excerpt below, my opponent for Houston Mayor, State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), is already on the attack. As a career politician, it’s not surprising that he is using the same stale argument that his peers in Austin and Washington, D.C. have unsuccessfully used over the last two years. All it's gotten them is gridlock, and I'm not interested in playing those kinds of games.

Here's what Turner's page says (it includes the first sentence in the last paragraph below, from Turner in an e-mail to his supporters, that Costello references above):

Welcome the Koch brothers to Houston. Koch-funded groups are running ads on the radio this week attacking Mayor Annise Parker and me.

Our supposed transgression? We worked together to provide $70 million dollars of budget relief to the City of Houston. We took the first step toward pension reform by breaking a years-long stalemate between the city government and our firefighters.


I need your support today because one of my opponents, Stephen Costello, has hired the senior strategist for Scott Walker, a.k.a. the “King of Koch-World,” to run his campaign for mayor. So it’s no surprise that he too has attacked Mayor Parker and me...

Way back in January, Schleifer's bio of Costello consultant David Polyansky included this:

Polyansky consults for Republican candidates across the country, most recently advising new Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and now working with possible 2016 presidential candidate Scott Walker.

Honestly, the weird part isn't that Costello has a hired gun with a winning track record who rolls with the Kochs.  It's the two former Annise Parker people -- Ward Curtin and James Cardona -- working for Costello that baffles the hell out of me.

This is what gives Costello carte blanche to say he's running a bipartisan campaign in a non-partisan race.  Either that, or these political consultants are the real prostitutes.

Which do you think it could be?

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