Criminal complaint filed against Houston mayor after controversial $37M recycling contract approved for company
HOUSTON — A criminal complaint has been filed against Mayor Sylvester Turner, accusing him of illegally withholding public emails in regards to a controversial recycling contract, which has recently been approved by the city.
According to the lawsuit filed by Dolcefino Consulting, the emails in question involve Turner’s communications with his political confidante, Maya Ford, who allegedly detailed possible ethical misconduct by city garbage boss Harry Hayes and big landfill companies.
Documents released by Dolcefino Consulting lists the offense of “failure or refusal of officer for public information to provide access to or copying of information.”
The summary of statement says, “Sylvester Turner, The Mayor of the City of Houston, is using a law firm e-mail account at Barnes and Turner to routinely conduct city business, avoiding appropriate scrutiny by the public.”
Houston City Council voted Wednesday to approve a new 15-year, $37 million recycling contract. The deal allows for the recycling of glass and plastic bags — and went to the same firm, FCC Environmental — twice for bidding before the company won the contract.
Dolcefino Consulting that the city rigged the bid to exclude a company called Ecohub, which has been a vocal competitor.
“Everyone is going to fight and compete until the end, until this is done. That’s the nature of business,” Turner said Wednesday. “I mean, it’s a business deal. So, what has clouded this is we have mingled things together.”
Ecohub founder George Gitschel says he has worked with the city for nearly six years on a plan to reduce garbage routes and save the city up to $40 million dollars a year. He says he even offered to share profits with the city to help get pay raises for Houston firefighters.
“The Mayor has betrayed taxpayers today,” Gitschel said Wednesday. “I worked with the city for years in good faith and kept my word they would be the first Ecohub in the country. I am disgusted and will fight to uncover the truth. Houstonians should be outraged at the secrecy. This deal is smellier than a landfill.”
Ecohub hired Dolcefino Consulting in December 2016. The consulting firm claims that for more than a year, the city has fought the release of records on city garbage contracts, even ignoring a judge’s order to produce them for inspection last week.
“Let me be clear. This is not the final chapter of this fight,” said Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “I heard the mayor says no one has questioned his transparency and fairness. Well we are, and we have notified the mayor we are asking the district attorney to do her job and subpoena these records immediately. We have proof he is hiding damaging records that protect his communications on an e-mail account registered to his law firm.”
On Nov. 30, 2017 Dolcefino Consulting requested all e-mails sent between Turner and Ford on any device since Jan. 1, 2016.
Dolcefino claims the mayor provided just a handful of e-mails.
“We have a smoking gun that he didn’t give them all to us,” said Dolcefino. “This is a mayor who didn’t fire his press secretary when she was caught covering up e-mail evidence she ran her production company on city time and city equipment. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
City council approved the 20-year deal with foreign recycling company FCC. Only councilmembers Brenda Stardig, Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh voted against the contract.
Councilman Michael Laster, who chairs the city council committee that reviewed the deal, said he would have voted “no” as well, if he had been at the meeting.
“Every councilmember who voted for this contract while this charade of secrecy exists will wear this ethics vote,” said Dolcefino.
The mayor’s office released the following statement:
“The mayor is not aware of any relevant email that has not already been provided in response to a public records request. Any suggestion to the contrary comes only from a consultant paid to confuse the public about the City Council’s approval on Wednesday of a recycling contract that the consultant’s client originally wanted to have, but then never bid on.”