February 28, 2006
Time to break out the damage control

You can give it whatever fancy name you want. I know damage control when I see it.

An investigation into payroll padding at City Hall intensified Monday, as Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado spoke for two hours with Houston police soon after hiring a new communications firm and prominent defense lawyer Rusty Hardin.

"She came out from that very pleased with the conversation," said her new spokesman, Joe Householder, of the Austin-based firm Public Strategies Inc.

He did not provide details of the interview at the Houston Police Office of Inspector General's office on Riesner, except to say that it wasn't adversarial.

He said Alvarado believes the investigation could lead to improved procedures for preventing the possible payroll abuses that have led to suspension of four employees in the Office of Mayor Pro Tem. "She views this investigation as a first step on the road to reform," Householder said.

The interview occurred hours after Householder confirmed that Alvarado, who represents City Council District I, had hired Hardin. Lawyers from his firm attended the police interview with the councilwoman.

Alvarado hasn't been implicated in the probe into $143,000 in what city officials say were improper bonuses collected by Office of Mayor Pro Tem employees. No one has been charged with crimes.

Hardin and his associates were retained to provide guidance to Alvarado during the ongoing criminal investigation and any future involvement by Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, Householder said.

It gives me no joy to blog this stuff. I like Carol Alvarado. I don't want to see her disappear from the public stage. It's important to realize that she herself did nothing wrong. Her sin was of omission. How big the price she pays for that will depend in large part on how much the wrongdoers got away with while she wasn't looking closely enough. Getting to the end of the daily drip of stories and having it all go to the DA's office where the news will slow down considerably will help her recover. I'm sure she can't wait.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 28, 2006 to Local politics | TrackBack

Though not a Houston resident, I've followed this item pretty closely. I think I disagree - an act of omission can still be construed as doing something wrong. It ought to have been an important part of her job to supervise staff in the pro tem office. Apparently she even neglected to read routine budget reports. Why did she think they were being produced, I wonder?

Posted by: Dennis on February 28, 2006 11:42 AM

I think I disagree - an act of omission can still be construed as doing something wrong.

Usually, whether it's considered to be "wrongdoing" or not -- and whether or not a politician receives the benefit of the doubt -- depends on whose ox is being gored, whether the person has a "D" or an "R" next to their name, and the political tendencies of the person making the judgment.

I dare say that very few who give Alvarado the benefit of the doubt would extend the same to (say) Tom DeLay, and vice versa. It's too partisan, and it's a sad commentary on what politics have become.

Posted by: Tim on February 28, 2006 2:52 PM

C'mon, Tim. There are two huge differences between Alvarado and DeLay. First, as the story says, Alvarado has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, and there's no evidence at this time that she's done anything other than be negligent in overseeing her office. DeLay has two or three felony indictments to his name, pending the latest round of appeals.

And even if you think that the indictments against DeLay are wholly motivated by base partisan concerns, it's still the case that what he's accused of is abuse of power. Even if you assume the worst about Carol Alvarado, nothing about this story suggests anyone involved did anything to enhance their political power.

There's nothing partisan in saying that some crimes are worse than others. If Carol Alvarado is ever accused of a crime - and again, unlike Tom DeLay, she has not been - then we can talk about goring oxen. I've not defended her actions - indeed, I've said that I'm okay with calls for her to resign as Mayor Pro Tem - but whatever punishment she may deserve ought to fit the crime, don't you think? Equating her with Tom DeLay is just plain silly.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 28, 2006 3:19 PM

Equating her with Tom DeLay is just plain silly.

Actually, I wasn't attempting to equate specific acts.

If it makes you feel better, feel free to replace DeLay's name with some other relatively scandal-free Republican. He just came to mind as a popular Democratic whipping boy -- no more, no less.

Posted by: Tim on February 28, 2006 3:41 PM

Alvarado appears to continue to making the same risky decisions that originally landed her in hot water, not to say that she won't prevail.

Sorry about the clich├ęs but I can't help it. You learn a lot about someone by how they handle stressful situations. Want to see how much a politician is really worth? Subject her to difficult decisions under stress. Anyone can captain a ship in still water.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on February 28, 2006 7:58 PM

Alvarado has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, and there's no evidence at this time that she's done anything other than be negligent in overseeing her office.

I don't know that this really refutes Tim's comment. There was a time when it appeared that Ronnie Earle was not going to indict Tom DeLay, but there was still a pretty steady roar from the left blogosphere about the matter.

A good test of the Tim's thesis will be if the left blogosphere is fully supportive of Chuck Rosenthal's Public Integrity Unit if/when it takes up a broader investigation of the Mayor Pro Tem's office.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on February 28, 2006 9:20 PM

And if you go back through my earlier posts, you'll see that I've already said that I support finding out what happened and handing the relevant data to the DA's office. Whatever happens from there happens.

I honestly don't think I'm being partisan here, and I'm a bit mystified why it's being brought up. We all agree that as yet there's no evidence of malfeasance on Alvarado's part. We all agree that the DA should take over once all the evidence is collected. Where are we disagreeing?

Now, it may come to pass that I'll disagree with Rosenthal's interpretation of the evidence presented before him. If so, we can judge at that time if I'm being reasonably objective or not, just as we judge the objectivity of those whose interpretations of the evidence against Tom DeLay differs from Ronnie Earle's. Sound OK to you?

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 28, 2006 10:17 PM

Her political affiliation is irrelevant to me, and in fact I really don't know whether Alvarado is an R or a D. But as an elected official, she - not the "trusted staff" - was in charge of the pro tem office and it was her obligation to monitor it's budget. She may have committed no criminal wrongdoing, but it appears she was not doing her job.

Posted by: Dennis on March 1, 2006 9:22 AM