Bill King ethics reforms aims to bring transparency to city hall

Houston Mayoral candidate Bill King has unveiled a sweeping package of ethics reforms designed to safeguard against corruption and increase accountability and transparency within Houston city government.

“Everywhere I travel across this city, people are fed up with the pay-to-play and cronyism,” said King. “They are sick and tired of the fact that people who make large campaign contributions play by a different set of rules than everyone else. They have lost their patience with the city hiding how their tax money is spent.”

King’s plan includes creation of a truly independent Office of Inspector General who is not beholden to any one entity, but instead reports to a tribunal of the mayor, city controller and one City Council member selected by a council vote in which the mayor is not allowed to participate. Currently, the OIG is under the supervision of the city attorney who is hired by the mayor.

King also fully supports the End Pay-to-Play Petition to place new limits on city campaign contributions. If that petition effort should fail for any reason, King will place the reforms on the city council agenda for approval when he is mayor. All campaign contributions would be loaded into a searchable database that is more user-friendly than the current system.

Houstonians will be able to sign the End Pay-to-Play Petition until July 8. The petition limits contributions from city contractors and vendors to $500 per year, prohibits contributions from those sitting on city boards and commissions and prohibits contributions from strip clubs and other sexually-oriented businesses. Forty thousand signatures are needed.

The rest of King’s plan is focused on increasing fiscal responsibility and openness to public information. Contracts will be awarded based on lowest responsible bid rather than the current process that is very subjective and often results in costing taxpayers more money and fewer projects being completed. All contracts and vendor payments will be available in a searchable online database and all contracts that fall below the $50,000 threshold that triggers the need for City Council approval will be listed in the Monthly Financial and Operations Report. In addition, King will restore to the annual budget document hundreds of pages of details about how taxpayer money is spent that were removed by the Turner administration.

Finally, King would reform the way public information requests are handled. All documents for which the city has discretionary authority to release or withhold will only be withheld upon the approval of both the mayor and city controller.

“It will obviously take new leadership to reform City Hall,” King said. “But just new leadership is not enough. If we are to truly end the corruption and get back to the basics, we must overhaul our ethics rules and take steps to guarantee transparency in how the City conducts its business. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

King has challenged the other mayoral candidates, Dwight Boykins and Tony Buzbee to sign onto a “pay-for-play” petition.

In a statement to KTRH, Buzbee said, "When I announced in October, I made clear that I would ban any individual or entity who gives to a mayoral or council candidate from doing business with the city from one year of the donation. I also stated that I would put into place real ethics reform, with teeth. I will make lobbyists actually register, and I will make sure they report expenditures. I have made ethics reform a key part of my platform from the beginning—the other career politicians who are currently seeking the position of mayor never mentioned the issue until I did. Indeed, looking back at the previous mayor races—this only became an issue when I announced my intention to run. To back up my position, I am taking absolutely no campaign donations and will even give away my mayoral salary. I have challenged the other candidates to follow suit. Thus far, they refuse to do so, and continue to accept contributions from those who either do business with the city or likely will seek to do so. As far as the “petition” currently being circulated, it is being pushed by career politicians who know it has no chance of getting the required signatures in the required time. It is being used as a campaign prop to get votes. Indeed, one of the candidates who has “signed” the petition managed the worst pay to play offender in Texas history—the Linebarger tax collection firm; Linebarger is a firm that has given and continues to give millions to city council and mayor candidates all over Texas in exchange for multi-million city contracts. This is distressing to me, as I am taking no donations and legitimately intend to end the pay to play in Houston. This kind of hypocrisy makes it harder for us to end a practice that is keeping us from hiring more police, dealing with drainage issues, actually repairing our streets, or paying our public safety professionals fairly."

Boykins did not respond to our request for comment.

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