The Darian Ward investigation that led to her resignation almost never happened

13 Investigates
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Embattled press secretary Darian Ward resigned Friday after an ABC13 investigation uncovered Ward was caught spending countless hours of city time on personal projects and lied to her boss in response to an open records act concerning the matter.

RELATED: City press secretary has little to say when confronted by ABC13

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City press secretary has little to say when confronted by ABC13

"Darian Ward served the city as a key communicator for many years and has our thanks for working in public service," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. "I hope she is successful in her next endeavors."

Mary Benton will fill the role in the interim, Turner said.

Turner was in Washington, D.C. Friday for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In her three sentence resignation letter, Ward said she had become a problem to Turner's "message" and needed to step aside.

"My job is to get the City's and your message out, not to be a distraction, therefore, I think it is in the best interest of the City that I resign effective immediately," Ward wrote

But the investigation almost never happened.

The first request came from Trent Siebert, a reporter at the Texas Monitor. His request for emails Ward was sending on private projects only came after Ward repeatedly refused to return his calls as press secretary, Siebert said.

Had she returned a press call, a key component of her job, Siebert would never have sent the initial request, he said.

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Houston's embattled press secretary Darian Ward resigns.

The resignation is not the end of the road for Ward, however. More emails have yet to be released and the district attorney is reviewing the case for possible violations of the state's open records act.

A second batch of emails from the inbox of Ward released Thursday showed a years-long campaign of use for side projects, ranging from her work with a charity to a representative of an airline showing serious concern he was being asked for consideration from a government employee. The founder of that charity then implied Ward use her connections to get someone in a "powerful position" to make it happen anyway.

Read the second batch of emails below - on mobile? Tap here to read open the documents full screen

Ward's emails became the focus of scrutiny when it was revealed she lied to her boss about how many emails she had relating to personal projects she had done on city time. When a journalist asked for those emails, Ward told him and Alan Bernstein, director of communications, she had 30. A secondary search done by the city's Office of Inspector General found 5,000 pages.

Turner's punishment of two weeks without pay didn't satisfy critics, who said the violations of city policy were a fireable offense, including former mayor Annise Parker. Parker told the Houston Chronicle she didn't know what Ward was up to.

RELATED: Press secretary used city TV show to promote her projects

Turner has said he considered the case closed after he suspended Ward for two weeks. While paid to speak to the media, she wouldn't speak to Ted Oberg or other members of the media.

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In a screen capture from a Houston TV program, press secretary Darian Ward hosts contestants to her reality show.

There are still another 1,200 emails yet to be released, but late Thursday, city attorneys sent ABC13 a notice citing "third party" objections to releasing all of the information. They claim the release would "implicate third party" interests, however acknowledge they did not follow state law in requesting an opinion from the state about whether or not they were allowed to do so. The city missed a mandatory 15-day deadline.

In the most recent batch, Ward kept up her campaign of trying to pitch reality shows and revealed the seventh show she had tried to get off the ground, a show about the parents of young music stars.

Perhaps most concerning, a request to Southwest Airlines for advice on how to get cheap airline tickets for girls involved in the nonprofit Ward was working with. The representative replied with "real challenges" that Ward was sending him requests as a government employee with a government email account.

"[C]haritable requests cannot come from a government worker or email system," he wrote, saying a committee made decisions on those things anyway.

The request was not coming officially from the city of Houston or Ward as a representative of the city, despite the fact she signed the email with the city seal, her city title and city email address.

Later, the founder of the charity Smahrt Girl Foundation Pamela Ellis, suggested to Ward she get "someone from a powerful position to make a call."

Ellis told ABC13 that Ward was never paid to lobby on behalf of the organization and served as a volunteer and an advisor. Ellis' IT business was shopped around the city by Ward in the emails, but Ellis was never hired, she said, nor did she ever attempt to get hired by the city.

The emails also show Ward used her influence to get city of Houston proclamations for her friends and colleagues under both mayor Annise Parker and Sylvester Turner.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Turner was in Baltimore for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He was in Washington, D.C.

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