Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The Stretch

Pete Peters never did take me out to the ballgame

January 30, 2002

Rich Oppel, Editor
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2002

Newspaper types get the feeling that our names appear on expense accounts more often than "miscellaneous." But the expense claim I saw the other day was a doozy.

Filed by Republican political consultant Pete Peters, the statement said: "American Statesman Editor Rich Oppel to Express game about regional roads and Austin challenges to area plan."

Let's back up.

Carter Nelsen, a staffer in our Round Rock bureau, reported Tuesday (page A1) on how Peters, 53, has achieved influence in the Williamson County political community. Peters helped county commissioners get elected, raised money from contractors and others to build roads and claimed expenses to promote a road bond issue.

When the reporter checked county invoices, he found the reference to me in a document filed by Pete Peters.

Peters claimed that he took me to the June 16 Round Rock Express game. He billed for two hours of work, at a rate of $130 an hour, for a total of $260.

Had I lost my mind?

Had I spent two hours with Peters and couldn't remember a minute?

Did I consider the virtues of "regional roads and Austin challenges to area plan" instead of talking with Express fan Trey Salinas about the third baseman, and with part-owner Reid Ryan about what it's like to run a ball club?

No, the fact is that my wife and I never saw Peters.

Alerted by reporter Nelsen's questions about the entry, Peters sent me an e-mail, in which he said in part:

"I used about two hours to create some information and a map to deliver to you at the (Dell) Diamond. I ended up having to leave the information at the press room door and was not able to see you (according to my notes) though I did hang around for the full game, looking in at various times . . . I apologize."

I'm glad Peters saw the full game; I never saw the "information."

Last week, Austin lawyer Pike Powers called to request a meeting in behalf of Peters. Powers canceled, but joining Peters was Ed Shack. He is the Austin lawyer you call if you're a politician with an ethics problem. Shack said the problem was that Peters, who heads a company called The Communicators, had been "inarticulate" in filing his expense claims.

Four hours after the meeting, I received a hand-delivered letter from Shack.

Shack argued that Peters' money raising was usual and normal by Texas standards; Peters' expenditures were in line with Texas ethics law; Peters did not take county funds inappropriately; and there was no fraud.

"His employers in these matters are completely satisfied with his work performance and his
explanation of this misunderstanding involving shorthand notations referencing work on a project," wrote the lawyer.

Shack probably is right. Our reporting hasn't turned up anyone in Williamson County political offices who is upset with all of this.

Then again, what do taxpayers think?

Have the politicians and the lawyers asked them?

They are the people we care about.


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