March 17, 2006
Another day, another memo

Another questionable memo from the Mayor Pro Tem's office has turned up, this time with the apparently forged initials of former Council member Gordon Quan, who was Mayor Pro Tem from 2002 to 2003.

The document with Quan's initials is dated December 2005 and appears to request that his council office be charged the cost of a newsletter to commemorate the end of his six-year council term. The memo refers to Quan as mayor pro tem, a post he left more than two years prior. It also bears a scrawled "GQ" that is different than other memos with Quan's initials that the Houston Chronicle has obtained since the pro tem bonuses were revealed Feb. 15.

"These initials are definitely not his," said [Alice] Lee, who ran the pro tem office, which handles some administrative duties for council members and their staffs, until fall 2004.

Quan was mayor pro tem — one year spending $50,000 less than his budget — until the end of 2003. He remained in his council office until the end of last year.

At the end of his council term, Quan said, he told pro tem employees he wanted to use surplus money from his council budget to pay for the cost of printing a final newsletter. After he had the work done, he said, pro tem employees rejected an invoice in January, saying it was too late for the transaction. So, Quan said he had to pay for the cost from his campaign funds.

But the pro tem office got credited as though it had paid for the $2,500 charge, according to budget documents previously obtained by the Chronicle. That and the disputed initials raise questions about where the money actually went, he said.

First, it looks like Quan did nothing wrong. He wasn't in the Pro Tem's office when this happened. As for Carol Alvarado, the good news is that this demonstrates that this stuff really did take place without her knowledge or participation. That's also the bad news, since one has to ask again why she was unaware of it, since it was her own staff that was responsible.

Next questions: Is there more of this? How far back does it go? My uninformed guess for the first question is Yes, and I have no idea about the latter.

On another note, you may recall Orlando Sanchez's globetrotting ways while in City Council. According to Houstonist, the DA's office will be looking at that, too.

When prosecutors went to the mayor pro tem's office Tuesday and confiscated truckloads of records, they were specifically looking into rumors about councilmembers' travel expenses.

"Charging things through the mayor pro tem's office, as opposed to their own budgets," confirmed Chuck Rosenthal, Harris County District Attorney.

11 News has obtained documentation of some of the travel that, we're told, piqued the DA's interest -- in particular, the travels of former councilmember Orlando Sanchez.

Sanchez flew extensively to U.S. cities like Washington, New York and San Francisco, as well as Latin and South American sites including Cozumel, Caracas and Rio de Janeiro and European cities as far flung as London, Budapest and Ploesti, Romania.

"There is quite a bit of travel associated with being an at-large member who chairs an international trade initiative and an international trade committee and sometimes would be requested by the mayor to represent him abroad," explained Sanchez.

He says routing travel expense reports through the mayor pro tem's office was standard, legal procedure. Sanchez points out that if he wanted to hide something, he would not have filled out public documents asking for reimbursement.

"All reimbursement requests for travel were done by forms that were filled out, signed by the councilmembers and then submitted to the pro tem's office" said Sanchez.

True enough. Maybe this is related to the "rumors" that DA Rosenthal has said he's heard and the tip from a "person he trusts" he said he got. Who knows?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 17, 2006 to Local politics | TrackBack

Wow. You've had excellent coverage of this whole affair, Charles.

I suspect most outside of Houston probably wouldn't follow this too much except that you boil it all down to the meat so nicely, I almost find myself waiting for another part of the saga to break just so I can read all about it.

Posted by: Vince Leibowitz on March 17, 2006 3:34 PM

OK, you need to come up with a moniker for the Rosenthal "person he trusts."

Deepthroat has been taken.

I'd help you out with this, but I got nuthin.

Posted by: Steph on March 18, 2006 10:19 AM

Ooh, good point, Steph. I'll have to think about it. Thanks!

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on March 18, 2006 11:02 AM