Councilman soliciting donations from contractors?

August 26, 2010 11:50:54 AM PDT
There's new evidence a Houston councilman's office is soliciting donations from city contractors. There's a reason city councilmen have to file financial disclosures -- so you know where they get their money from, and that is why this story is one to watch.

Drive down parts of Antoine and you'll see a war zone. You'll also see glimmers of hope.

Apartment complexes are being redone with your money.

"Without the government, it wouldn't happen," apartment redeveloper Tom Miller said. "Game Over."

Take the Sterling Grove Apartments. The city is spending $11 million just on that extreme apartment makeover alone.

A month before Houston City Council gave the OK, Councilman Jarvis Johnson's office thanked the developer for wanting to fix the place up. Then his office hit him up for a donation.

It was a good cause: the councilman's fourth annual Christmas party for the students of District B called 'Winter Wonderland.'

The councilman told us, "The only benefit to me comes in seeing the smiles on the children's faces when we can make their Christmas a little brighter."

It's also provided political mileage for the councilman in his unsuccessful run for congress.

Sponsorships for Winter Wonderland went for up to $5,000. Union Pacific kicked in $2,500.

The contributions were made payable to D.A.R.E. America, which was handling the money for the councilman's special event. THe councilman told us, "all money was raised for projects such as our annual Christmas party and back-to-school drive."

But special events is where Johnson claimed the D.A.R.E. connection stopped.

In an e-mail from the councilman he wrote, "My office has never solicited funds specifically for D.A.R.E."

But in a letter to an aspiring city contractor signed by the councilman on city stationary, asking for money for D.A.R.E. Houston -- money to rent baseball fields, fix up scoreboards, restrooms.

And there's plenty more solicitation letters to other companies -- and not all are city contractors.

So what's wrong with wanting to help a national anti-drug organization?

"That's potentially a criminal issue, is it not?" 13 Undercover asked Houston City Attorney David Feldman

"It could be," he responded.

Why? Look at Jarvis Johnson's financial disclosure. He's on D.A.R.E.'s payroll, paid $51,500 last year.

D.A.R.E. told us "Jarvis is a consultant" and "has done a fabulous job establishing critical programs for kids in Houston" for the oversight of the Houston P.L.U.S. program. It's the same organization he's soliciting donations for, using city equipment and personnel.

"Anybody who's been in government in any period of time is aware you cannot use public letterhead for private business or personal use," ethics expert Fred Lewis said.

The solicitation letters say contributions can be mailed to Councilmember Johnson, but make the checks out to D.A.R.E. Houston.

Johnson's chief of staff even asks his wife to proof read the letters before they were sent out.

But along Antoine, folks just want their neighborhood to be a better place to live.

"I'm so excited," Cynsquinthia Hooks said. "Everything is going to be new, and it's just going to be awesome; and really, this is going to be my first new apartment."

Linda Vista is one of the apartment complexes waiting for a City Council-approved makeover.

Last December, the company which owns the apartment, gave the councilman one of his larger political contributions -- $3,000.

In March, the councilman's schedule includes a dinner with the property manager, who wanted a list of contractors the councilman might have for the renovation project.

In April, an e-mail from Johnson's office identified the contractor for the district as Jamail and Smith.

"I am not in a position to tell you what my office is or is not doing with the information," Feldman said.

On Tuesday night, we told Jamail and Smith's lawyer is Michael Harris. He's also the councilman's longtime friend and current lawyer.

"How's that look?" 13 Undercover asked Lewis.

"Much worse," he responded.

The councilman won't talk to us on camera, but his interest, he says, is just in jobs for District B.

A week after the councilman's office provided the name of the contractor, a letter was sent to Linda Vista. The councilman now wanted a donation for D.A.R.E.

"It's certainly a practice I would advise against," Feldman said.

So what about all the money the councilman's office was trying to raise for the kids of northwest Houston? We've been asking for days about how much was raised, a place the money was spent, a billboard, a restroom, anywhere. And the councilman has not answered our questions.

Load Comments