Will taxpayers foot the bill for $124,000 worth of books on Mayor Sylvester Turner's life?

Jessica Willey Image
Friday, November 17, 2023
Will taxpayers foot $124K bill for printing of Mayor Turner's books?
The Houston First Corporation board is due to decide what it will do with a $124,000 invoice payable to Mayor Sylvester Turner's office.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston First Corporation, the public agency that is supposed to promote tourism and attract conventions to the City of Houston, is expected to vote Thursday afternoon on whether to pay for nearly $124,000 in books about outgoing Mayor Sylvester Turner's life, given out during the State of the City luncheon.

The book "A Winning Legacy" was distributed to all 600 guests at the Sept. 27 event at the George R. Brown Convention Center following a jam-packed luncheon that included Turner's speech and a more intimate interview on his life and legacy.

Two months later, the bill for the books was due and sent to Houston First Corporation.

"Almost all the money that we have is taxpayer money," Bill King, a former mayoral candidate and now government watchdog, explained after first raising questions about who's footing the bill in his blog. "Why is the city and Houston First involved at all in printing this book?"

The agenda item for Thursday's Board of Directors meeting reads, "Consideration and possible approval of funding for design and printing services by Judson Design Services, Inc. for the State of the City Luncheon." The invoice is for nearly $124,000. You can also download the book for free on the City of Houston website.

"If somebody gave money to Houston First, then they need to spend it on what Houston First is supposed to be doing, which is promoting tourism and selling conventions to groups. They don't need to be spending it on publishing vanity books for the outgoing mayor," King said.

A spokesperson for the Mayor's office told ABC13, "Organizers raised $500,000 through sponsorships and ticket sales for the luncheon and transferred the funds to Houston First to pay invoices for all expenses, including the Mayor's Legacy book. There is no tax money involved."

In a statement, Houston First President and CEO Michael Heckman and Chairman David Mincberg said, "When this matter came to the attention of Houston First Corporation, we wanted to ensure a transparent process to reach a resolution. As such, we placed it on our public agenda so that the Board is able to review and discuss the item (Thursday)."

Mark Judson of Judson Design provided more details about the invoice to ABC13, writing in an email, "The invoice you are referencing has been inaccurately portrayed. In addition to the printing costs, the invoice includes all creative services related to the development of the book, including project management, creative direction, design, page production, copywriting, and interviews. The printing is only one aspect of the invoice. Of the 600 copies, 100 were hardbound, and 500 were softbound."

Records show the invoice was first sent to the City of Houston.

The Houston First board meets at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

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