13 Investigates: Turner forcefully defends record in face of questions over housing deal

BySarah Rafique KTRK logo
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Turner defends record in face of questions over housing deal
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was forceful as he defended his decades of public service and his former business partner as he continues to face questions over the housing deal.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner forcefully defended his record of public service Wednesday as questions continue to swirl over a multi-million dollar housing deal.

"I welcome anybody's review, but I know in my own experience, people can throw out a whole lot of stuff, but that doesn't make it true," Turner told city council members. "I have an impeccable record of integrity in how I conduct business over 30 years. And I'm going to stand on that."

Turner's defense of his career and current work comes one day after 13 Investigates confirmed the Harris County District Attorney is asking questions about city spending and policies that govern it.

RELATED: Harris County DA asks for documents on City Hall spending, payments to Mayor's former law partner

District Attorney Kim Ogg asked for all city procurement policies last week, according to a letter obtained by 13 Investigates. The city said it complied. In a separate inquiry, 13 Investigates learned the DA's office is examining specific city payments to ICF, a company hired to do outreach, intake and case management for Harvey victims. Documents 13 Investigates reviewed also suggest the DA is looking at four specific payments to Turner's former law partner Barry Barnes in 2018 and 2019.

Turner called these questions 'a storm' and said he is willing to weather them, not just for his sake but for future Houston mayors.

"We have weathered together many storms and challenges over my last six years. Many. This is another and it is important to weather," Turner told council members. "[I will weather] this one for future leaders who will come behind me and if you allow me to say this, who look like me. ... It's important for me to weather this storm for the future leaders who will sit in this chair, who may look like me, and that's important to me."

Turner said he's done nothing wrong on the current housing deal or ever in the past, and on Wednesday brought up the involvement of his former law partner. Barnes is listed on state documents as part of the team developing the now-questioned Clear Lake complex and has done other work for the city during Turner's six years in office.

13 Investigates examined Barnes' work on a Harvey recovery contract in 2018. Back then we reported Barnes' expected work under the contract tripled as it was being approved. It was never fully realized as the Texas General Land Office took over the city's struggling Harvey recovery effort.

SEE ALSO: Questions surround former Katrina contractor in line for Houston recovery contract

Everyone involved back then denied any wrongdoing. ICF, the company involved in the Harvey recovery, has not returned our requests for comment this week.

In the last two weeks, Barnes hasn't returned any of 13 Investigates' numerous attempts to speak with or get a comment from him.

Documents show Turner dissolved his partnership with his former law firm days before taking office in 2016.

On Wednesday, Turner suggested it shouldn't prevent his former partner from getting business.

"I don't know how long my former Barnes and Associates have to be blackballed from the city. I guess they're not entitled to do any business," Turner said.

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