I lauded County Judge Lina Hidalgo for committing to not take campaign contribution from county contractors shortly after she was elected, a campaign finance reform I have long supported. I congratulated her when she returned a campaign contribution from a strip club owner, something practically no other politician has done.
But, folks, there is no way to sugarcoat this. When Hidalgo told Harris County residents at the last Commissioners’ Court meeting that there was nothing irregular about the $11 million contract to a one-person company run out of a Montrose apartment, she lied.
In his blockbuster report, Greg Groogan has laid bare just how rotten this deal is. Groogan obtained documents that show Elevate Strategies did not win the ranking competition by the committee as Hidalgo represented. In fact, it came in second behind UT Health Science Center (UTHSC), a sixty-year-old institution with 5,600 employees, nearly $600 million in annual revenues, and a half-billion dollar endowment. Here were the original rankings by the selection committee:
Of course, you will immediately note that Elevate Strategies’ bid was almost three times than the next bid (by UTHSC) and that its score was 20% lower than UTHSC. But it gets worse.
Three of the five committee members highlighted above (Triantaphyllis, Dunn, and Nader) work directly in Hidalgo’s office. I was not able to find any public health experience or education background for any of them on their online profiles. The other two members (Sasu and Lofton) do not work directly for Hidalgo. Sasu has a master’s in public health and spent seven years with the CDC. Lofton works for the Harris County Public Health and has a master’s degree in public health from UT.
Bottom line: Were it not for the political appointees in Hidalgo’s office with no public health experience, UTHSC’s score would have been more than double that of Elevate Strategies.
So, how did a company that bid three times higher than the next nearest bidder and was scored by the only healthcare professionals on the committee as half as qualified end up with the contract while still charging the County $4 million more than the second highest bidder? According to Groogan’s reporting, the Purchasing Department received instructions from Hidalgo’s office to disqualify UTHSC because they were “late” on other county contracts. To date, no one has specified what those contracts were, nor has anyone provided any documentation regarding basis for the disqualification.
From the moment the details of this contract began to come to light, it reeked of corruption. But these additional revelations are stunning in just how blatant and shameless this bid rigging was. And, by the way, there are more revelations to come.
To take money that was supposed to be dedicated to saving peoples’ lives by getting them vaccinated and to instead diverting it for naked partisan, political purposes as Hidalgo is facing re-election next year, is inexcusable and unforgiveable. Hidalgo should immediately resign from office and if she fails to do so, she should be removed. Also, the Harris County District Attorney and the U.S. Attorney should immediately open a criminal investigation into this contract.