The City of Houston Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently investigated Councilmember Stephen Costello. He was accused of a conflict of interest stemming from his role as the Chair of the Flooding and Drainage Committee and also being awarded a $1.7 million city contract to his company, Costello, inc.
CM Costello’s company received the contract in October 2009 before he was elected, although he was a candidate at the time. After he was elected, Mayor Parker appointed him as Chair of the committee that oversees the very thing his company handles.
CM Costello said, “Why is it any different — an engineer being on council — than having three former city employees on council making decisions on group health or pension plans or contracts? It’s the same thing. We all bring an interesting perspective to Council.” It is different. Former city employees (CM Bradford – former chief of police, CM Gonzalez – former HPD officer, and CM Adams – worked in the mayor’s Citizens’ Assistance Division) are no longer employees and get no monetary value from their votes. CM Costello is still an engineer and still profits from the decisions he makes.
Many people knew that CM Costello owns a company that deals with flooding and drainage, and many people knew that he was the one pushing Proposition 1, yet they still voted for it anyway. I am surprised by the OIG decision, but if it was a conflict of interest, it surely was a public one. So now we spent tax dollars for the OIG to investigate something everyone already knew about. The real issue here is that candidates for a city position, elected officials, and city employees shouldn’t be allowed to receive contracts with the city. This way there will be no questions of impropriety.