Friday, July 02, 2010

"Being a crony of Perry is a very profitable endeavor, because, as a career politician, he takes care of his friends as they take care of him."

Perry picks former aide to 'modernize' TxDOT


The Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2010

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry's former chief of staff will be paid more than $303,000 over 14 months, plus benefits, to help modernize the Texas Department of Transportation, according to an interagency contract signed Friday.

Jay Kimbrough, who previously served as Perry's go-to person to lead reforms at the Texas Youth Commission after an abuse scandal, has been special adviser to the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. He also served as Perry's homeland security director and was deputy attorney general for criminal justice under Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Kimbrough emphasized that his 12-month base salary of $260,000 will remain the same as it was for being special adviser to the A&M regents: "I ain't getting a raise."

He said of his new post, "The data is there. We've got to make sure that the Legislature and the leaders can make the decisions based on a clear and accountable discussion of what the data is."

Rocky times recently

His salary of $303,338 and benefits totaling $58,787, including health insurance, are detailed in a $385,481 interagency contract between TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M. The contract ends Aug. 31, 2011.

The funds will come from TxDOT's administrative budget, agency spokesman Chris Lippincott said.

TxDOT has 12,000 employees and has gone through rocky periods with lawmakers and members of the public. A report in 2008 by the Sunset Advisory Commission staff found concerns that TxDOT was "out of control" in the wake of controversy over planned public-private partnerships on toll roads, the now-fizzled Trans-Texas Corridor transportation network and questions about finances.

Critical of pick

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White's campaign, which has accused Perry of a politically-driven governing style that rewards friends who help him, seized on Kimbrough's appointment as another example.

"Being a crony of Perry is a very profitable endeavor, because, as a career politician, he takes care of his friends as they take care of him. Perry has frequently called on Kimbrough to clean up his messes, from sexually abused children to massive fiscal mismanagement. Perhaps Kimbrough's first step at TxDOT will be to purchase a calculator so he can avoid billion-dollar accounting errors," said White spokeswoman Katy Bacon, referring to a $1 billion accounting error uncovered by a 2008 audit of the agency.

A prominent Democratic House member, Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett of El Paso, expressed confidence in Kimbrough, saying he "has got a reputation for turning stuff around. He's done this many times before, and I have a lot of confidence in him."

© 2010 The Houston Chronicle:

Former Perry aide, corporate lawyer to head TxDOT overhaul


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2010

The reconstruction of the Texas Department of Transportation took on two experienced architects Friday.

Jay Kimbrough , a former chief of staff for Gov. Rick Perry, will be paid almost $360,000 in salary and benefits over the next 14 months to run the day-to-day operations of a small team being assembled.

Howard Wolf, who retired from the Fulbright & Jaworski law firm in 2003 after 44 years and is acting chairman and general counsel of Falcon Seaboard Co., a corporation owned by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst , will assume more of a chief executive officer role, officials said.

Wolf, 75 , is serving as a volunteer and will not be paid a salary.

Their task: Take the voluminous analysis and recommendations of a recent, 627-page management review of TxDOT, as well as earlier critiques by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission and various auditors, and make genuine change at the agency in charge of Texas highways, airports, rural transit and ferries.

Given the $2 million cost of that management review released in late May, Kimbrough's compensation and what will be paid to other team members, managing an overhaul of TxDOT could cost something close to $3 million. Bill Meadows, who serves on the five-member Texas Transportation Commission, which brought on Kimbrough and Wolf, said it would be money well-spent. Meadows said although the agency's district offices do yeomanly work building and maintaining transportation facilities, he has been less satisfied with what's going on at the top.

"My frustrations have really been more management, vision, direction," Meadows said. With money drying up for TxDOT, Meadows said, "we better be creative, we better be innovative, we better be open. My experience is that we are not always there."

Kimbrough, 62 , has specialized over the past 15 years in parachuting into troubled Texas government bureaucracies and, through an aggressive management style appropriate to his early adulthood as a Marine, making things change. Aside from his most high profile jobs, serving as conservator briefly of the Texas Youth Commission in 2007 and as Perry's chief of staff in 2008 and 2009 , Kimbrough also intervened at the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the Texas Commission on Private Security and, most recently, the biodefense program at Texas A&M University. Until this hiring Friday by TxDOT, he was a special adviser to the A&M board of regents.

Kimbrough has "a great track record," said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso , chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "I know the guy. He's not going to take any (guff) from anyone, including me."

Wolf, aside from his long and varied service as a partner with Fulbright & Jaworski, has served on a number of corporate boards over the years, often as chairman. He has been in private law practice in Austin since 2004 . He served two terms on the Sunset Advisory Commission, starting in 2003 , as a Dewhurst appointee.

The massive review of TxDOT by Grant Thornton , one of the six largest accounting firms in the world, cited TxDOT's insular culture of engineers — overwhelmingly with degrees from the University of Texas and Texas A&M — as "a tremendous strength, but also can act as a tremendous inhibitor to internal change and to the ability to understand, accept and respond to an evolving external environment."

© 2010 Austin American-Statesman:

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