Rodeo spending questioned by group

March 24, 2009 4:06:10 PM PDT
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has handed out millions of dollars in scholarships, but some local community leaders say they could do even more if they would stop spending money on items that they consider questionable. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Minority leaders say they're answering the challenge from the head of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. They've laid out the expenses they question and say it's time for Rodeo leaders to explain them.

Looking at the ledger for 2005 through 2006 which the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo recently provided to state Senator Mario Gallegos and local minority leaders, they highlight what they call questionable spending.

More than $18,000 for vice president's rings and spouse pendants, $2,000 for a mink poncho and vest, a $15,000 charter flight, nearly $60,000 for belt buckles, more than $32,000 supposedly for membership for River Oaks Country Club and $5,600 in gift cards to Cavendar's Boot City.

"These are just a few of the elaborate expenditures, when their mission goal is for scholarships and agriculture," said Gallegos.

Local minority leaders question whether that money could better spent.

"I think that needs clarification," said Ben Mendez, who's concerned about the spending. "I think the Rodeo needs to respond."

Rodeo Chief Operating Officer Leroy Shafer says each expense had a legitimate purpose, like that plane flight, a last minute charter he says, bringing in Clay Walker and other artists the day that Rascal Flatts canceled their rodeo performance in 2007.

And those buckles? Shafer says they were given to folks spending combined hundreds of thousands of dollars on livestock.

"Each one of them gets buckle, he said. "They're not extravagant buckles."

That mink poncho and vest, Shafer says, was purchased, like other items, for sale at a fundraising auction.

Those listings for country club memberships, he says, were actually expenses for galas or fundraising functions at those facilities.

"This show that has this prominence is not going to do anything that is unethical, illegal and we're gonna comply with all rules and regulations," said Shafer.

Though local minority leaders claim the Rodeo officials have refused to meet with them as a group to explain these expenditures, Shafer says they've never even requested such a meeting. He says his door is open.

Senator Gallegos is pushing for stronger legislation to make non-profit corporations like the Rodeo more transparent.

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