HOUSTON – It was last May when Houston First CEO Brenda Bazan defended the Houston Film Commission and its Los Angeles representative, Sharon Adams.
Bazan told Channel 2 Investigates at the time, “The presence in LA is to sell Houston.”
The monthslong KPRC2 investigation revealed Houston First used public dollars to subsidize Adams' Los Angeles lifestyle. Adams earns an annual salary of nearly $175,000, along with $4,400 a month to live in a condo/office unit located a short walk from Beverly Hills.
KPRC also discovered Adams and her boss, Rick Ferguson, each make $100,000 more than the film commission director in Austin. The state capital city has a much better track record of attracting TV and film production in recent years.
Adams landed the LA gig in October 2015 after she was reassigned with Bazan's blessing from her role as Houston First's Chief Communications Officer. The publicly funded corporation admits the full-time, six-figure job was never posted.
When Channel 2 Investigates asked if Adams had any film credentials, Bazan said, “I know she has a journalism background. What she is out there doing is selling Houston.”
Bazan made another key point in our interview, saying, "We're using a business model, a proven business model that has been successful."
Two months after our first report, we heard a change in tone from Bazan herself. The proven business model Bazan touted in May was suddenly a "three-year pilot program,” as described in a letter to Channel 2 in July. Bazan also signaled a possible change in her letter by stating, "As we approach the three year mark, we will conduct a review to determine the most efficient and cost-effective path forward.”
In June, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner acknowledged the lackluster results of the LA office over the last three years during a press conference outside City Hall. At the time, he said: "Yes, the economic multiplier. There are a number of commercials, (but) they are not the big films."
Those reports sparked many questions from City Council members. Councilman Dave Martin, who serves on the Houston First board, told KPRC2, "A proven business model is one that has a return on your investment that supersedes anything that you are putting on your expense side. So proven? I'm not sure about."
His colleague, Councilman Michael Kubosh, also weighed in.
"A proven business model. That is what Ms. Bazan said, a proven business model. I haven't seen any business model, I haven't seen documentation of a proven business model, and I think that needs to come forward," Kubosh told KPRC2.
Bazan's internal evaluation is not the only one in the works. On July 11, the city's fiscal watchdog, Controller Chris Brown, announced a complete audit of Houston First in 2019. Martin, who serves on the Houston First board, says it may be time to rewrite the script at the Houston Film Commission.
"In lieu of your reporting and your investigative journalism, I think it is something that has been brought to our attention, and I think we need to make some changes," Martin told KPRC2 investigative reporter Mario Diaz.
Channel 2 Investigates requested an update from Houston First regarding its review of the Film Commission’s future. The organization responded by acknowledging a review is taking place as part of its budget and planning for 2019.
The organization also added in its statement, “This process which is currently underway, certainly includes the Houston Film Commission and its Los Angeles initiative.”
Channel 2 Investigates also has learned from Houston First that Adams remains based in LA as the Houston Film Commission’s Los Angeles representative.