"The trip is an opportunity to enjoy fly-fishing together, not to curry favor."
Excursion hosted by company with ties to government
Aug. 31, 2008
By RENÉE C. LEE
CONROE — Montgomery County Judge Alan B. Sadler says he went on a four-day fishing trip to Alaska last weekend with the company that manages the county's road improvement program and paid his own way.
''I paid 100 percent of my fee," Sadler said on Thursday.
Questions have been raised about the trip because Pate Transportation Partners, the host of the trip, has worked for the county for about four years, and Sadler's or any county official's attendance could be seen as a conflict of interest. The county has paid Pate about $11.4 million over that time period, records show.
"I would never take a trip of that nature on someone else," Sadler said. "I don't want there to be an appearance of a conflict."
Pate Engineers, which started Pate Transportation Partners three years ago as a separate company, has organized the fishing trip for its private and public sector clients for the past 11 years, said partner Jennie Taraborelli.
Both companies have clients — developers and elected officials — across the state. The trip is an opportunity to enjoy fly-fishing together, not to curry favor, Taraborelli said.
''It's not unusual for firms to host casual trips," she said. ''It's legal." Pate typically pays for the trip but some clients choose to pay for their transportation, lodging and meals, she said. Sadler said he paid about $3,700 for the trip with a personal check.
Sadler was the only Montgomery County official who attended the trip, Taraborelli said. Montgomery County Commissioner Craig Doyal said he was aware of the trip. He said he didn't see anything wrong with an elected official going on the trip if he paid his own expenses.
''As long as you don't let it influence the way you vote on a contract, I don't see a problem with it," Doyal said.
Pate currently has no contracts pending before the Commissioners Court and purposely waited several years until all road contracts were approved before inviting county officials on the trip, Taraborelli said.
Pate Transportation, which has an office in a Montgomery County building, oversees the county's road program, handling each step of road projects from the environmental study to the construction stage.
In addition to the $11.4 million paid to Pate companies, the county has also paid Houston-based Property Acquisition Services, a strategic partner of Pate Transportation Partners, about $1.6 million over the past two years to purchase rights of way. Mark Heidaker, president of Property Acquisition Services, also attended the fishing trip, Taraborelli said.
The county's road program is part of the Texas Department of Transportation's "pass-through" toll program. The creative financing program allows the county to use bond money to pay for roads upfront and the state reimburses the county over a 10- to 17-year period based on the number of vehicles using the roads.
Three years ago, county voters approved a $160 million bond issue to widen five major thoroughfares as part of the state program.
© 2008 The Houston Chronicle:www.chron.com
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