Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado has written a letter to her constituents and another to the public taking full responsibility for what happened in her office. The public letter is printed as an op-ed in today's paper. I've got a copy of each and am reproducing it beneath the fold. I don't have time to comment on this now, so read for yourself and see what you think.
WHEN I first learned that certain employees of the office of the mayor pro-tem had been systematically awarding themselves improper bonuses and pay raises, I was hurt and outraged. As mayor pro-tem, I put my trust in these individuals and believed I had every reason to do so.
More important than my personal anger, however, is the perfectly appropriate anger felt by city of Houston taxpayers who have been let down by this incident.
As mayor pro-tem, I accept responsibility for what happened — as well as the responsibility for making sure it never happens again. I employed these individuals and gave them my trust, and I trusted that the systems the city has in place to make sure we properly handle the taxpayers' money worked. I was wrong on both counts.
The appropriate authorities are investigating this matter to determine if any individuals should face criminal charges. I have pledged my full support and urge that everyone involved do the same. In my view, this investigation is the first step on the road to reform.
Meanwhile, at City Hall, I intend to work with Mayor Bill White and his Finance and Administration Department, City Controller Annise Parker and her staff as well as all of my colleagues on City Council to refine the process to ensure that this sort of thing cannot be repeated.
In my District I City Council office and in the office of the mayor pro-tem, I intend to make sure the people I employ are of the highest ethical and moral character, as well as the most professionally skilled individuals available. I will supervise them intently.
It would be easy for me to point fingers of blame and attempt to deflect responsibility for this violation of the public trust. It is the unfortunate nature of politics to take credit for the good news and lay blame for the bad. But I refuse to do that. Instead, I do accept responsibility for what occurred under my watch, and I accept the responsibility of fixing the problem and maintaining the confidence of the people who have elected me to this office.
For any government to meet the needs of the people it serves, it must have an effective mechanism in place to manage all of the matters for which that government is responsible. It must also have the right people, both elected officials and professional staff, who are dedicated to ethically and efficiently getting the job done on behalf of their constituents.
In my four years as the council member representing Houston City Council District I, I have seen countless examples of how the system and the people who manage it have worked in concert to serve all of Houston's citizens. Each instance has made me proud. I have also seen instances in which one or the other has failed and the people have not been well served.
In such cases, it is the responsibility of elected officials like myself to diagnose the problem and make the changes necessary to solve it.
Clearly the process of adjusting employee pay must be changed. Having one process for traditional raises and another for performance bonuses leads to confusion and creates the opportunity for fraud. In addition, we must no longer allow staff to sign off on pay adjustments on behalf of elected officials. Such a delegation of signing authority, if permitted at all, should only be allowed for matters of the most mundane nature. Other possible reforms may become evident when the investigation is complete. I am eager to pursue them as well.
Even if what occurred resulted in the misuse of only a single taxpayer dollar, as opposed to tens of thousands of dollars, it cannot be tolerated.
The disturbing series of facts that have emerged offer an unfortunate instance in which both the system and the people hired to manage it failed to serve Houston taxpayers. Corrective action must and will be taken.
Council Member Alvarado¹s letter to her constituents reads as follows:
Dear Friends and Residents of Houston City Council, District I:
It is my firm belief that the people of District I, and all the people of
Houston, deserve a government that is worthy of their trust and respect. I
am at City Hall every day and I work with people who believe the same and
strive to do their utmost to make sure you are well served and can be proud
of your local government.
That is why it is particularly distressing when I learn of incidents in
which you are not well served. In recent weeks there has been extensive
(and appropriate) news media coverage of one such incident - and
unfortunately it is an incident that occurred under my watch.
When I first learned that employees of the office of the Mayor Pro Tem had
been improperly manipulating the system to award themselves undeserved
bonuses and pay raises, I was both saddened and angered. As your Mayor Pro
Tem I am committed to making sure that the office operates with the highest
standards of ethics and efficiency. In this case, due to the actions of
others without my knowledge, I have been unable to keep that commitment.
I want to be perfectly clear - although certain staff members under my
supervision acted improperly without my knowledge, the responsibility is
mine. More importantly, it is my responsibility to make sure nothing like
this ever happens again.
The appropriate authorities are investigating this matter to determine
whether criminal charges should be filed against the individuals involved
and I pledge my full support for that investigation. Meanwhile, I will work
with Mayor Bill White and his Finance and Administration Department,
Controller Annise Parker and her staff and all of my colleagues on City
Council to address any deficiencies in the bureaucracy that allowed these
individuals to betray both our city and your trust.
I am honored to serve as your representative on City Council and as Mayor
Pro Tem. I am humbled by the faith and trust you have placed in me. And, I
am committed to doing all I can to maintain that faith and trust and serve
you in the manner you expect and deserve.