METRO flip-flops about using tax dollars for table at social gala

June 22, 2012

When some local government officials expressed concern about METRO spending taxpayer dollars on a sponsorship at an upcoming gala, InstantNewsNetwork attempted to get to the bottom of who was paying for the sponsorship.

As the news organization asked more questions, METRO’s answers seemingly changed.

Questions were raised about METRO spending $5,000 to sponsor a table at the Houston Area Urban League’s upcoming 2012 Equal Opportunity Day Gala when the transit authority is considering eliminating its general mobility program, which provides funding to its 14 multi-cities.

All of the multi-cities are at risk of losing mobility funding for road construction projects and would still have to contribute a portion of their sales tax revenue to METRO unless they can get support from the Texas Legislature to opt out of the transit authority.

The multi-cities that are part of METRO include Bellaire, Bunker Hill Village, El Lago, Hedwig Village, Hilshire Village, Humble, Hunters Creek, Katy, Missouri City, Piney Point, Southside Place, Spring Valley, Taylor Lake Village and West University Place.

InstantNewsNetwork contacted a number of officials for comment but no one wanted to comment on the record.

“The Good Neighbor Sponsorship” gives METRO one table at the gala, video recognition at the event, a listing in all printed materials and a listing in the annual report as an Urban League Supporter.

METRO Board Chair Gilbert Garcia has also been named honorary chair for the gala.

InstantNewsNetwork contacted METRO’s media department on Tuesday asking to confirm that the transit authority has purchased a table at the event and how they can justify using taxpayer money for the function.

METRO spokesperson Margaret O’Brien-Molina responded to the message asking the news organization to let the transit authority know “who came forward with the complaint and when.”

After responding that InstantNewsNetwork does not divulge its sources without prior permission, METRO’s spokesperson issued a response saying that the upcoming gala is a platform to promote its transit agenda.

“The Authority has purchased a table for the gala and will make the most of the sponsorship package. One of METRO’s strategic priorities is to be a trusted regional partner.  We will always seek opportunities to partner with other organizations that give us a platform to promote the use of transit,” O’Brien-Molina said in a statement. “The Houston Area Urban League offers services that benefit our communities and promote METRO’s principle of Sustainability through programs like workforce development and workforce training which are currently in progress. The Good Neighbor Sponsorship allows METRO to publicly acknowledge its partnership with HAUL and promote our regional transit agenda.”

When asked on Thursday to clarify specifically what fund METRO was using to pay for the sponsorship, O’Brien-Molina contradicted her original statement saying that “the purchase is not being made with METRO funds.”

“METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia is putting the money up for the sponsorship,” she said. “I am not sure if it is through his company, or his personal contribution. I believe he is a former member of that board.”

InstantNewsNetwork has submitted a public information request to METRO relating to the Houston Urban League’s gala.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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