Port of Houston hires defense lawyer, promises open book

May 24, 2011 4:34:35 PM PDT
We have new details in an investigation triggered by our 13 Undercover unit. The Port of Houston has hired famed criminal defense lawyer Rusty Hardin to help respond to the investigations into the port.

Tuesday was the first time the port commission met since we exposed questionable spending, possible conflicts, and ethics questions -- and you could cut the tension with a knife.

Supporters of the embattled port president held up signs and inside the meeting room, the District Attorney's Office was watching and so was a team from the County Attorney's Office. All these investigations now underway tabled a move to oust the port president, and there was interesting advice from a 28-year employee of the port who is retiring next week.

"Get this black eye off of us. Keep this out from the media. Mr. Dolcefino, I understand you've got a job to do. You want to make headlines and stuff. This is not the way to do it. Keep this behind closed doors," said Norma Copeland.

This, in a government agency that got $200 million of your county tax money the last few years. Of course that's exactly why so many officials are now criticizing the port for a lack of transparency. Port chairman Jim Edmonds promised an open book today -- ask any questions you want.

That's great news because we love asking questions. But tonight on Eyewitness News at 10pm you'll see what happens when we tried to open that book.

State senators want port review

Eyewitness News reporter Miya Shay was in Austin Tuesday where at least three state senators are asking for a full review.

The state senators who represent Houston have paid close attention to the 13 Undercover investigation of the Port of Houston, and State Senator John Whitmire says he wants the state of Texas to do a full review of the agency.

"They look at their operations, their code of ethics -- if they have any -- they look at their cost effectiveness, what it's doing to the taxpayers' pocketbook," said Sen. Whitmire.

He is trying to attach an amendment to a bill that would force the port to undergo a thorough review by the state's Sunset Commission.

"At the minimum, they need to be scrutinized. I think we need an audit by the state of Texas and the sunset process, that's exactly what it's meant," said Sen. Whitmire.

Among the many issues the senators want state staffers to look into are the internship program -- the one where children of port executives participated in and got paid.

"Had we not seen your report, I would have never known that they give maintenance internships at $5,000 a month. That's a lot of money," said State Senator Mario Gallegos.

Also, the document detailing a boat trip at the port was apparently changed at some point. And then there is the consulting relationship between the port Chairman Jim Edmonds and port vendor AECOM.

"It does not pass the smell test, and it would appear through the allegations, that there were some improper conduct," said Sen. Whitmire.

These Houston lawmakers say they're tired of getting the run-around from the port and they want answers.

"I didn't like what I saw," said Sen. Gallegos.

We also spoke to State Sen. Tommy Williams who said he's willing to carry the Sunset process in the next day or two which will mean a thorough port review.


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