Consulting company could cost city money

HOUSTON City of Houston airport employees work at airports across the country and around the world, making some money for the city, but not focusing on Houston. It was a simple money-making idea when it started eight years ago, but now there's nothing simple about it.

If this airport project worked well, it could lower your airfare a few dollars. Your airport parking fees could go down and City Hall could even make a little cash for all of us.

"I think it's critically important that taxpayers and citizens of Houston understand what's going on. Government should be transparent," said Anthony Hall of the City of Houston.

The city doesn't really know if this is a good or bad thing. It hasn't exactly followed its flight plan so to speak. City Controller Annise Parker said it a little less gently.

"We don't know what the hell is going on," said Parker.

In 2001, the City of Houston spun off a company called HASDC which traveled the world looking for airport consulting jobs for City of Houston workers. So far the spin-off signed deals in Costa Rica & Ecuador, but also created more spin-offs in the British Virgin Islands. Those were deals the city didn't know about.

Parker knows there is no financial risk for Houston taxpayers, but until she and the mayor can untwist it all, Parker suggests the city stop working with the spin off.

"Until we absolutely get to the bottom of it. Yes, absolutely," said Parker.

That could be a problem since HASDC is managing projects like this airport under construction in Ecuador and it brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars last year for the city.

The mayor's office doesn't share Parker's view.

"I have not heard any responsible person say we shouldn't do this at all," said Hall.

Hall is looking into the side deals, a review that should be done by mid-August.

Even before the review started though, the spin-off created friction between Mayor Bill White and his aviation director. Richard Vacar abruptly resigned in May, apparently after Mayor White questioned how much time he was spending building the outside business.

"It was a concern of the mayor's that he was not entirely focused on the HAS as much as he should," said Hall.

That may be the biggest concern of the city's, just how much time city airport employees are spending on outside projects that may turn into lucrative jobs once they leave the city payroll.

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