Mayoral candidate's mural stirs controversy

June 24, 2009 4:57:09 PM PDT
A large mural meant to symbolize life in Houston is now at the center of a debate. Some are questioning if the donated art should have been put on the exterior wall of Hubbard Financial Services, the side of a building located on Montrose at California Street that is owned in part by Houston's City Controller, Annise Parker, and her partner, Kathy Hubbard.

The $25,000 project is the first public art project in the city dedicated to honoring Houston's diversity. It was unveiled earlier this month, and it was paid for through donations to the nonprofit group Leadership Houston. It's not a permanent exhibit, but there are no plans to move it unless the building is sold or torn down.

"Whenever you make an improvement to a private property that increases the value that someone benefits from, that clearly can be a conflict of interest," said City Councilman Michael Sullivan.

Sullivan calls the artwork's placement troublesome not just because it's on Parker's building but because the Controller's Office issued a press release on the projecton the City of Houston's website, written by a city employee, paid with your tax dollars.

"You need to know where the landmines are," Sullivan said, "and you need to stay away from them."

The artwork's placement is also of concern also to Roy Morales, who, like Parker, is running for Houston mayor.

"I'm just going to ask the question, 'Are these considered in-kind contributions?' Ms. Parker put it on her mayoral website, so it links it together.'" Morales said.

Parker's office insists the project was not and is not being used as any campaign tool, although there are campaign signs in the front window at the building adjacent to the mural.

Janice Evans-Davis, a spokesperson for the Controller's Office, says the artwork was not a gift to Parker," and that she receives no personal benefit from it.

"Since the piece can be removed and is not owned by Ms. Parker, this is not a property or donation to her," Evans-Davis said.

Leadership Houston, in fact, says the art is basically on loan at Parker's building, there for the public's benefit, as some 33,000 cars pass by the wall daily.

"Literally they are the easel on which the art canvas sits," Leadership Houston CEO and President Marilyn Brown said.

Brown insists Parker receives no unethical or illegal benefit from the artwork.

"As a matter of fact," Brown said, "they made a gift to the city by allowing us to have the side of their building to display this artwork."

Parker refused ABC13's request to speak with her directly and would not appear on camera.

Leadership Houston said it is happy to place artwork on property owned by each mayoral candidate if they'd like, just to make things equal.

After all, they say, this project was about bringing public art to the people.

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