Multiple investigations highlight of Port meeting

May 25, 2011 3:38:46 PM PDT
You could cut the tension with a knife, but that's just one of the headlines tonight in the widening scandal at the Port of Houston. The fate of the port president is still in limbo, and the promise of an open book for taxpayers may already have been broken.

Signs of a Port in turmoil -- signs of support for the embattled president were all over at the meeting.

The Port already has legal bills of $23 million in the last two years. So how they do navigate the waters of multiple ethics investigations sparked by 13 Undercover?

They pay another lawyer, and Rusty Hardin isn't cheap.

"I represent the Port as an entity, not any individuals, and I expect a very inexpensive role, Mr. Chairman," Hardin said.

"What does that mean? I don't know," Port Commissioner Elyse Lanier said.

Our Port-O-Plenty investigation is creating waves along the Ship Channel. Questionable spending, a lavish severance deal and possible conflicts of interest by the long time Port chairman, Jim Edmonds.

"I think we need to be more transparent and accountable," Port Commissioner Janeice Longoria said.

The woman at the center of a controversial catered trip on the Port boat was even there.

"I thought it was important to come here today to talk about the facts," Nora Brownell said.

Remember Alec Dreyer's defense for that trip?

"Nora brought to us a number of contacts, a number of people that we were not exposed to in the energy marketplace," he said.

So we've always wondered why it was called the "friends of Nora" trip. Now we know.

"They were really not there as energy companies. They were there as friends of mine, frankly," Brownell said.

Dreyer has denied he ordered a Port document to be changed to make the trip look more official. Brownell says she always intended to pay for the expensive catering. It just took her seven months to do it.

So did Lanier buy Tuesday's explanation?

"Not 100 percent because I've seen emails that conflict with what she says," Lanier said.

The fate of the Port president was put on hold pending all these investigations.

"There's been a lot of allegations flying back and forth," Edmonds said.

And what about the Port chairman's now ended consulting deal with port vendor AECOM? It came after Edmonds steered the port to help Libya fix up its ports, where AECOM has a huge business deal.

We asked again last night how long was the contract, how much was he paid?

"This is an open book anybody wants to look at anything in this organization is most welcome to it," Edmonds said.

Ready for the answers?

"I have no comments," Edmonds said.

"You were talking a lot about transparency. Here's your chance to be transparent," we told Edmonds.

"I don't care to talk to you about anything," he replied.

"Should he answer those questions?" we asked Lanier.

"Yes, I think all questions should be answered," she replied.

Rusty Hardin called us to announce his fee to the Port for helping out is $5,000 a month up to six months.

The Port commissioners didn't talk on Tuesday about that empty cruise terminal or the $108 million in taxpayers money that may have been wasted on it.


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