Houston First CEO defends L.A. film rep., agency's spending

Houston First CEO says film commission's L.A. rep Is a "proven" business model

By Mario Diaz - Reporter

HOUSTON - Sharon Adams enjoys a six-figure salary, pricey meals, red carpet galas and a condominium in Los Angeles.

All of it paid for with money provided through public funds generated in Houston.

VIDEO: Film commission spending defended

So, why is this government employee letting friends stay at her publicly funded unit for free? Should she be allowed to permit others to use the “free condo” as she describes it one email when she is out of town?

The property is subsidized at nearly $4,400 a month, with money from the city’s hotel tax.

And what has Houston gotten out of the deal?

Channel 2 Investigates wanted answers from the CEO of Houston First on her agency’s policies and spending.

Houston First scheduled 30 minutes for our interview with CEO Brenda Bazan. We ended up with 19 of those minutes.

During this time, it became clear that Bazan was backing the Houston Film Commission and its Los Angeles representative, Adams.

As Channel 2 Investigates previously uncovered, Adams earns nearly $175,000 to live and work out of a residential building near Beverly Hills. Her job is to bring movie and TV production to Houston.

Before Adams went to Hollywood, she served as the chief communications officer for Houston First.

Channel 2 Investigates asked how Adams landed her current role, and about her credentials. For example, does she have any film credentials or experience in the industry?

“I know she has a journalism background,” said Bazan, who then added, “What she is out there doing is selling Houston. Our mission is to sell Houston.”

Adams arrived in L.A. in January of 2016. She has yet to bring any blockbuster movies or television series to Houston, nevertheless Bazan still endorses the strategy.

“We’re using a business model,” she said. “(It’s) a proven business model that has been successful.”

The model has produced more than $150 million in economic benefit to Houston over the last three years according to Bazan.

Let's put that into perspective.

Dallas, which has a smaller film commission staff with smaller salaries, has produced an economic impact of more than $675 million over the same stretch.

Houston's strategy is a costly one.

Channel 2 Investigates found Adams racking up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card expenses for fancy meals and cross-country flights.

“Are Ms. Adams’ travel expenses and meal expenses acceptable to you?” we asked.

“Well, in general, the model includes going to where the decisions are made, and developing and maintaining relationships,” Bazan said.

Bazan's “proven model” also includes providing $4,400 a month for Adams’ Los Angeles housing -- a benefit not provided to any other city of Houston government employee.

When she is not in L.A., Adams offers up that publicly funded condo to her family and friends.

“Should Ms. Adams allow people to use the publicly funded unit when she is not in town?”  Channel 2 Investigates asked.

“The presence in L.A. is to sell Houston,” Bazan said.

One email reveals how others have taken advantage, of "free" stays in the L.A. condo when Adams was out of town.

When asked if Adams should allow other people to use the unit, Bazan answered, “I’ll have to check on that and see what the arrangements are, and we will get back to you on that.”

After careful review, Houston First said, Adams is allowed have family and friends stay in the publicly funded unit when she is not in town.

Adams' L.A. lifestyle includes attending red carpet premieres and galas on behalf of the Film Commission. In multiple cases, her daughter is along for the ride. 

“Should Ms. Adams be taking her daughter to events in Los Angeles?” we asked. “She took her to a premiere. Should that be taking place, in your opinion?”

Bazan responded, “Ms. Adams is out there to sell Houston. That is our core mission.”

Channel 2 Investigates then asked, “How does bringing your daughter to a gala, a red carpet gala -- how does that sell Houston?”

“Sharon is out there to sell Houston,” Bazan said.

“But shouldn’t she be inviting executives or producers from lots, from studios, as opposed to bringing her own daughter?” we asked.

“She is out there selling Houston. Like I have said before, the Houston Film Commission has delivered economic benefit of over $150 million over the last three years.”  

Houston First did provide Channel 2 Investigates with numbers showing film production expenditures in 2017 were at their lowest point since 2012 at $15,718,750.

In 2017, the Houston Film Commission’s annual budget increased by more than $326,000.  Their publicly funded budget now stands at over $1 million a year. 

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