Taxpayers pay for Mayor Turner and 16 guests' trip to the Super Bowl

Friday, April 28, 2017
How Mayor Turner used tax dollars to take guests to the Super Bowl
Ted Oberg takes a look at how Mayor Turner used tax dollars to take guests to the Super Bowl.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Just a day after Mayor Sylvester Turner warned as many as 2,200 city workers could lose their job if a pension plan isn't approved, we're still asking questions about how taxpayer money was spent on some "unbelieve-a-bowl" deals after Super Bowl LI.

The seats for the Mayor's guests were worth $2,300 a piece. In all, Mayor Turner gave out nearly $37,000 worth of taxpayer-funded tickets.

The money might not seem like much, but $37,000 goes a long way in the city budget, now faced with potential cuts.

While the money for the tickets doesn't come from the same place salaries come from, $37,000 could hire another police dispatcher, animal enforcement officer or inspector for neighborhoods and restaurants.

The city's tourism board, Houston First, spent $1.5 million of your dollars sponsoring the game and got dozens of tickets for what they called "high-profile" sponsors and clients.

City records show Houston First gave 16 taxpayer-funded tickets to Mayor Sylvester Turner, who then gave them to good friends, political supporters, business clients and a relative.

(In February, we showed you how the NFL avoids paying Texas sales tax on tens of thousands of game tickets, how tax dollars paid for hotel rooms for football players and other big perks for those who helped put the Super Bowl together)

Getting in the game yourself would've cost you big bucks.

The mayor says the tickets went to a state representative from Dallas and supportive faith and business leaders, some who worked on his transition team -- people he says help move the city forward. One pair of tickets went to the mayor's brother. We're not sure how he fits into that mix.

Regardless, you paid for his trip to the Super Bowl.

"I had the opportunity to extend the invitation to him," Mayor Turner said. "He accepted."

The people on the mayor's list don't want to say much to us. His former campaign treasurer and political donor Thomas Jones didn't return numerous calls or emails about the tickets Houston First says he received.

Jimmie Lee Solomon, the mayor's law school classmate and political supporter, is also on the list for two tickets. He didn't return calls or emails for comment.

Two pastors who've supported the mayor got a pair of tickets each.

So did someone named Steve Little, according to Houston First. Numerous aides in the mayor's office said they had no idea who he is.

"He's in real estate and has been very, very helpful to me," Turner said.

Little is a real estate salesman in Sugar Land.

"One would hope those tickets, this coveted resource, were used to benefit the city and not advance his personal interest," said Cris Feldman, an expert in Texas ethics and public integrity law.

Using $37,000 worth of tickets (again, paid for with taxpayer funds) raises questions about whether they were used to help the city, Feldman said.

"You and I and everybody watching paid for these tickets in a roundabout way and the mayor then used them in some manner that is open to question," Feldman said.

Dallas state representative and longtime Turner friend Helen Giddings got a pair of tickets but didn't return phone calls asking for comment.

FILE - Rep. Helen Giddings, left, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, center, and then Rep. Sylvester Turner, right, listen to testimony during a hearing on July, 2, 2013.
AP Photo/Eric Gay

One lucky recipient willing to talk about the tickets was Ollie Hilliard, who hired Mayor Turner's former law firm to help when her charter school got into trouble, paying the firm at least $25,000 dollars a year.

Hilliard, who posted a photo of the tickets online first described the tickets as "God-given," then admitted she'd given them to relatives.

"I think everyone can agree it was an outstanding Super Bowl," Turner said.

Likely even better when taxpayers picked up the tickets.

During February, ABC13 looked into the cost of the Super Bowl to Houston - and to you the taxpayer. From free parking to some, to no sales tax charged on tickets, to free hotel rooms to millionaires: ABC13 Investigates Unbelieva-bowl

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