Press secretary used city TV show to promote her projects

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Darian Ward, mayor Sylvester Turner's press secretary, used city resources and television time to promote her own side projects while being paid by Houston taxpayers, according to thousands of emails released late Friday.

The 1,691 pages of emails, a subsection of some 5,000 pages she apparently sent using city-owned computers and email addresses, show years of Ward's side projects. She pitched at least six reality shows, worked with more than a dozen other agencies and companies, and spent countless hours working on projects that had nothing to do with the city of Houston.

Ward, who was working on a program called "My First Million", interviewed six of the women slated to be contestants on her program on "Press Pass to the City" which is produced by city employees, produced in the city television studio and show on Houston's public television station.

Ward was on the show in her official capacity as press secretary.

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Darian Ward walks out to the mayors news conference in January 2017.

The emails make clear just how many side projects Ward was working on while being paid to represent the city.

One of the reality shows pitched was a show that would follow former Texans star Andre Johnson. It fell apart.
Another on astronaut's wives never got off the launch pad.

"My First Million" was pitched as "Shark Tank in stilettos."

All of the emails released were sent or received from her official city of Houston email address.

In many, Ward signed the communication with the city of Houston seal and her official city title, sometimes mixing city business with side business in the same document.

At least once she pitched a city agency to be a production partner on her private show. There's no evidence the city agency replied.

In another instance, she discussed her private projects with a city employee who worked with HTV, seeking information and advice for her project.

The issue came to light when Ward was asked by a journalist for emails related to her side business in November.

Ward did the search for records herself, turning over only 30 pages. Her boss, communications director Alan Bernstein, challenged the amount and asked for a search by the Office of Inspector General, who found the 5,000 pages.

Ward was suspended for two weeks without pay, which was a punishment more severe than recommended by city legal or human resources.

Ward's actions may have broken state law and is being looked into by the district attorney's office.

In a news conference where Ward was present, but not permitted to speak to reporters, Turner said she had done her job well and considered the matter closed.

Ward has refused multiple requests for comment.

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