The gist of the accusation is that several of Locke’s clients while he was a lawyer/lobbyist at the well connected Andrews Kurth firm had significant ties to the city government and entities with whom the city had interlocking ties (Metro, the Houston-Harris County Sports Authority, and the Port Authority). The Parker campaign says Locke benefited from these relationships by at least $17 million, and that if he is elected mayor, he would have “inescapable conflicts of interest.” As the release points out, the mayor makes appointments to the boards of all these entities, all of which are represented by Andrews Kurth. Is anybody surprised? Not I. There have always been ties between city hall, the mayor, the politically connected law firms, and (before the oil bust of the eighties wiped them out) the big banks. If you go back to the seventies, lawyers who were close to then-mayor Fred Hofheinz wrote the legislation creating Metro and then became Metro’s law firm. It has been ever thus. The release follows: The Parker campaign today released information revealing that Gene Locke and his law firm have profited by over $17 million from his legal and political relationship with local taxing authorities in just the last six years – a situation that constitutes a serious conflict of interest. “If elected, Gene Locke would have inescapable conflicts of interest,” said Parker. Lawyer-lobbyist Locke has billed local government agencies like Metro at rates of up to $640 an hour. He billed $574,000 in fees to the Sports Authority alone in the last 30 months. Locke is a partner in the politically-connected law firm of Andrews Kurth. The firm has made more than $17 million in the last six years alone from the City of Houston, Metro, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Port Authority of Houston, the same public agencies whose boards Locke would appoint members as Mayor – while his law firm, Andrews Kurth, continues to work for the City and each of those agencies. The mayor of Houston appoints half the members of the Sports Authority, five of nine members of the Metro Board, and jointly appoints the Chairman of the Port Authority. Andrews Kurth represents all of those agencies. Andrews Kurth also does millions in legal work for the City of Houston. Locke has not said whether his law firm would continue to seek business with the City and those agencies if he serves as mayor. Nor has he said what continuing financial ties he would retain with the firm, including payout and divestment plans. The city’s ethics law specifically prohibits any city official from holding a financial interest, directly or indirectly, that would even “tend to create a conflict between the public trust held as an official of the city and the official’s private interests.” “Voters have a right to know if their potential leaders can serve free from bias,” said Parker. “They deserve a mayor who does not have to choose between what’s good for his law firm and what’s good for Houston. It’s time for Mr. Locke to come clean about his conflicts.” Locke has withdrawn as General Counsel to the Sports Authority, but that doesn’t solve the ethical problem of his past and continued connection to Andrews Kurth and clients they do business with. Locke has refused to answer questions about his potential conflicts, responding only that he would make decisions “solely on what is best for Houstonians.” Parker said, “That’s not good enough.” “Mr. Locke’s intertwined legal and lobbying relationships are so massive that he may literally be unable to serve effectively as mayor,” Parker added. “Locke is in an ethical trap. He would either violate city ethics rules or serve under a constant cloud of suspicion because of the appearance of impropriety involving business with his former associates or render himself incapable of discharging his mayoral duties by recusing himself from votes critical to the future of our city. It is unethical for him not to recuse himself and it’s impossible for him to serve effectively if he has to recuse himself from all business involving Andrews Kurth, Metro, the Sports Authority and the Port Authority.” Parker demanded that Locke answer the following questions: 1. Will you release within one week your divestment and payout plan with Andrews Kurth? Will Andrews Kurth’s future income affect the size of your payout? Will you retain any interest in a pension or retirement plan or any other interest tied to the income of Andrews Kurth? 2. Will you permanently resign from Andrews Kurth if elected mayor and enter into a legally-binding agreement never to have a financial interest or association with the firm or any relationship with the firm after you leave the office of mayor? 3. Will you as mayor recuse yourself on all questions involving clients of Andrews Kurth, including all business with Metro, the Sports Authority and the Port Authority and bond transactions and other business done by Andrews Kurth for the City? 4. Will you prohibit Andrews Kurth from representing the city and affiliated public agencies during your tenure as mayor, so as to avoid the inevitable appearance of impropriety involving any city business done with your partners and firm? “Our city spends literally billions of dollars each year,” said Parker. “It cannot function in the best interest of taxpayers if a cloud of impropriety hangs over major financial decisions. The voters deserve an answer to these questions by Mr. Locke.”
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