February 16, 2006
Investigation at the Mayor Pro Tem's office

Nothing like allegations of unauthorized bonuses paid to City Hall staffers to shake things up downtown.

Four employees in Houston City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado's mayor pro tem office were placed on administrative leave today after city officials said "payroll irregularities" were discovered.

The pro tem office, separate from Alvarado's district office, handles administrative functions for the 14 council members. The office was empty this afternoon.

Houston Mayor Bill White's spokesman, Frank Michel, said an internal investigation has been launched to look into the "payroll irregularities," which were discovered by the city's finance officials in recent days.

Mayor Bill White said the allegation under investigation is that four employees in the office somehow received unauthorized bonuses totaling $130,000. Investigators are trying to determine how that would have been arranged, and whether it would require cooperation by employees in other city departments.

"It's a betrayal of the public trust," White said. "We will follow it through to the full extent of the law."

Alvarado confirmed the investigation this afternoon, but did not provide details.

"I am deeply disappointed to learn of these alleged irregularities. I support the investigation and fully intend to cooperate. I want to get to the bottom of this matter as quickly as possible."

Here's her full statement. Her City Council staff, which is separate from the Mayor Pro Tem office, is not involved.

This updated story has more from Councilmember Alvarado.

Houston City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado deflected responsibility today for the improper bonuses city officials say some of her employees received, saying she trusted subordinates to oversee payroll administration.

"There is no way that an elected official can police every single iota, every single detail, that goes on in their office,'' she said this morning. "My job is to delegate, to hire people, to trust people that will bring forward any types of irregularities.''

The four employees, who work in the mayor pro tem office that Alvarado oversees, have been placed on administrative leave pending a police investigation into how they received more than $130,000 in extra pay since late 2004.

"Something slipped through the cracks,'' said Alvarado, whose district office employees have not been implicated in the investigation of the separate mayor pro tem operation.


Asked whether someone might have forged her signature, or she might accidentally have signed off on the payments, Alvarado said, "There is something that doesn't smell right here. There's no way in hell I would ever authorize an increase of that magnitude.''

Ask whether she felt responsible, she replied, "My responsibility, once something is brought to my attention, is to correct it, to make sure procedures are put in place, to make sure that something like this never happens again.''

One never looks good in a story that says one has "deflected responsibility" for something bad. This has been a rough couple of months for Carol Alvarado. She's in her last term of office, and this is not the sort of way that one wants to make an exit. She may be right about her delegations, and it may well be that she hasn't done anything different than any other Mayor Pro Tem did, but the "I didn't know" defense is never flattering. I like Carol Alvarado and I hope she survives this, but she's going to take some lumps for it.

As noted by Houstonist, the Chron did not print any names, as the people involved have not yet been charged with a crime, but KHOU did. There's also some more quotes from previous Council members Mark Goldberg and previous Mayor Pro Tem Gordon Quan.

UPDATE: One of the employees involved speaks to KPRC. Houstonist thinks there's more bad news to come for Carol Alvarado.

UPDATE: The ubiquitous Bob Stein chimes in. Link via South Texas Chisme.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 16, 2006 to Local politics | TrackBack

Alvarado also had a recent problem with decorum during City Council meetings. You're right; it has been a rocky time for her of late.

Posted by: kevin whited on February 16, 2006 2:27 PM

Heh. I guess the "Scandalized" category is reserved for Republicans. :-)

Posted by: Tim on February 16, 2006 6:52 PM

Well, they are so much better at it. :-)

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 16, 2006 7:41 PM

"There is no way that an elected official can police every single iota, every single detail, that goes on in their office," she said this morning. "My job is to delegate, to hire people, to trust people that will bring forward any types of irregularities."

I am quite disturbed by this quote. She is saying that it is not her job to pay attention to her job, and that no one can blame her because she is not even trying to pay attention to her job.

Lee Brown, move over. We have a new mayoral hopeful who aspires to your levels of mediocrity.

Posted by: Dalicious on February 17, 2006 3:02 PM