HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke with KPRC 2 Investigates on Friday in the latest chapter of the controversy tied to a book focused specifically on Turner’s time as mayor. The book was produced for the recent State of the City Luncheon and there were attempts for Houston First -- the city’s tourism and convention arm -- to pay for it.
“Houston First needs to account for the $557,000 in private funding that was raised for the State of the City,” said Turner following a public event.
This all comes in the aftermath of KPRC 2 Investigates first reporting a push for Houston First to cover $124,000 in printing costs surrounding the publication of 600 books highlighting Mayor Turner called, “A Winning Legacy.” It was an agenda item set for a vote at Houston First’s Board Meeting on Thursday.
However, Houston First pulled the item hours before and then provided all the financials to the media. The .pdf document detailed exactly where all the private donations for this event were spent. In a statement, Board Chair David Mincberg said, “Houston First plans to collaborate with the event chairs and fundraisers to develop a strategy to generate additional private funds to pay for this project.”
One Houston First official made it clear to us when we started asking questions that the tourism-focused corporation is “not in the business of printing books.”
On Friday, KPRC 2 Investigates asked Mayor Turner if he was concerned about the private fundraising strategy by Houston First and if it is operating outside of their wheelhouse. We also asked if this was the best use of public dollars in determining how to print his book.
“It’s not my book. This is a book that was for the State of the City. Which you’ll have misconstrued,” said Turner.
However, a source involved with the State of the City tells us, “the mayor’s office was in charge of the book” for the luncheon. The city has been highlighting the book on the website for the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Communications.
KPRC 2 Investigates also went to the office of Cindy Clifford in search of answers. Clifford is a very close supporter of Mayor Turner. She helped put the luncheon together, so we went to her office in search of further clarity. Clifford wasn’t there but did say in a phone call, “I thought it was very successful. I was honored to serve as chair and I am particularly appreciative of the sponsors.”
Clifford also made it clear that “I was in charge of the luncheon, not book.”
During our interview, Mayor Turner expressed he felt let down by Houston First over their take on the matter.
“A little bit disappointed in Houston First in how they presented it,” said Turner.
The mayor then revealed who was paying the six-figure tab when we asked about the fundraising plan.
“David Mincberg doesn’t have to come up with any funding, Sylvester Turner has taken care of that bill.”
So in light of Mayor Turner’s comments, we asked Houston First how he paid for the bill. Houston First pointed us back to the mayor’s office. We then asked the Mayor’s Communications Director, Mary Benton, the following questions:
- Did the mayor pay for this himself?
- If not – who did?
- Why is the mayor getting involved to pay invoices if his office clearly told me 48 hours ago, “the funds were raised and sent to Houston First to pay all invoices related to the state of the city’”?
- I also have been told by a source involved with the luncheon, “The mayor’s office was in charge of the book.” Who from the mayor’s office was involved?
Benton did not specifically answer our specific questions but instead, stated, “The mayor is taking care of it and there is no city/public money involved.”
KPRC 2 Investigates is not closing the chapter on this investigation but will continue to examine the publishing and costs surrounding “A Winning Legacy.”