In case you missed it, Greg Groogan just reported on one of the most egregious political pay-offs I have ever seen. Several weeks ago, Harris County Commissioners Court to award a nearly $11-million contract to Elevate Strategies, LLC to do “vaccine outreach” in Harris County. Elevate Strategies is owned by Felicity Pereyra. It does not appear that it had any employees at the time of the award and apparently is operated out of an apartment in Montrose in this complex.
According to Ms. Pereyra’s LinkedIn page, she has zero public health experience. Rather, since getting her BA in History from UH, she has spent almost her entire career as a Democratic operative, including stints with the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and the mayoral campaign of Adrian Garcia, who voted for her contract.
The Request for Proposals set out a litany of requirements (see pp. 10 et. seq.) many of which Elevate Strategies patently does not meet, such as being in business for a minimum of three years. The County Purchasing Department has confirmed to Groogan that it was directed to waive some of the requirements for Elevate Strategies, including providing financial information. When questioned about Elevate Strategies’ obvious lack of qualifications, Hidalgo, with a straight face, defended the selection saying that running a vaccination campaign is the same as running a political campaign. You can’t make this stuff up.
The contract is to be funded from grants doled out by the federal government. To put $11 million of taxpayer money in some perspective, the average family in the US pays about $15,000 in income each year. That means that all of the income tax paid by about 700 families this year will go to funnel this money into Ms. Pereyra’s company.
Hidalgo came into office promising a new era of ethics and “best practices” in county government. Instead, she has presided over some of the worst corruption in the history of Commissioners’ Court. In nearly three years, she has still done absolutely nothing to resolve the high-profile case of the county spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to store a private art collection.
Of course, in Texas corruption is a bi-partisan sport. This $11 million boondoggle comes just a couple of months after our governor accepted a $1 million campaign contribution from the head of an energy company that made a $2.4 billion profit from the collapse of the energy grid in February. You may recall that shortly after the storm, Abbott’s then-head of the Public Utility Commission assured energy investors in a private telephone call that the PUC would resist any efforts to claw back the excessive profits made during the storm.
What is perhaps most perplexing about the corruption of today is that both the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are completely AWOL. There was a time when both were considerably more diligent on matters of public integrity. A decade ago, former commissioner Jerry Eversole was indicted and driven from office for allowing a long-time friend, who was also a county contractor, to pay for vacations they went on together. Not to defend that conduct, but the thousands of dollars involved in that case pale in comparison the $11 million doled out in this contract.
In most states, the state attorney general also has the power to bring corruption cases, but not in Texas. Theoretically, having another office looking into these kinds of cases would be a good thing, but I don’t know anyone who would want to give any additional prosecutorial power to the current ethically-challenged occupant of that office.
So, Texans’ only avenue to address the epidemic of corruption in all levels of our government is at the ballot box – by voting out this current batch of rascals. But to do that, Texans will have to look beyond their partisan loyalties and hold members of both political parties accountable.