County commissioner getting extra auto perks?
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Don't you think it's your business how your money is being spent and who is breaking the rules? Now, our watchdog, 13 Undercover, is watching because it looks like others are not.
Times are tough and these days there aren't too many bosses who give you a car allowance, or better yet, a take-home car. But we know a guy who gets both, and you're paying for it.
El Franco Lee leaves his home in the Third Ward. It's mid-March, and 13 Undercover is watching.
He's driving a Chevy Tahoe. The license plate confirms it's a county car. And El Franco is on his way to the county administration building.
Like other commissioners, he's powerful. He gets to decide who gets to drive a county car and who doesn't. So if he wants to drive one, no one is going to tell him no. He even has his own parking space downtown, with his name on it.
"Why don't you let me get caught up?" Lee said.
Why? We've been asking his office the same question for weeks. If El Franco Lee has a county car, why is he also getting a large car allowance every single month to use on his own car?
"You guys think it's nonsense?" we asked Assistant Harris Co. Auditor Mike Post.
"We think that it should be prohibited," Post replied.
"When they tell me that, then I'm going to deal with it accordingly," Lee told us.
El Franco Lee is one of 315 county employees who get a car allowance. Then add 208 other county employees who get to take home cars you paid for instead. But we can only find one person who's been able to do both, and his name is El Franco Lee.
"It looks like a perk and it stinks," Texas Watchdog Editor Trent Siebert said.
"Do you think it's fair that you get a car allowance and you drive a county car?" we asked Lee.
"Well if I was doing both, whatever is in the rules, I'm kinda abiding by the rules," he said.
Really? County policy says an employee assigned a county vehicle is not eligible for a vehicle allowance.
"On the surface and on the subsurface, I never put myself in a position to cheat anyone, and I'm not a cheater," Lee told us.
And Precinct 1 says that car we've seen El Franco driving week after week, it's not really his county car; it's what they call a pool car. So let's jump in.
"I'd be curious how many other employees have gotten to drive this car. If I had to guess, it would be one county employee and his name is El Franco Lee," Siebert said.
So we asked to see the records of who else uses that car. They don't have any.
"But it doesn't seem right if you have a county car and a car allowance," Post said.
To make sure your money isn't abused, last November, the auditor created Form 1240. If a county employee who gets an allowance has to use a county car for some reason, they have to say why and why they couldn't use their own car. It's a sworn affidavit. You know what that means.
But El Franco Lee, well he's has never bothered to fill it out.
"Do you know there's a form you're supposed to fill out when you use a county car and you have a car allowance?" we asked Lee.
"No, the process has been changed. I haven't seen," Lee told us.
"It was changed five months ago," we said.
"Yeah, but I haven't looked at the car allowance and that whole issue in some time," he said.
Really? The auditor's office tells us they talked to Commissioner Lee about this car issue again just two weeks ago.
"I can't tell you what they told me," Lee told us.
"Why not? This is none of the public's busines?" we asked.
"So you're now representing the public's business, the county business?" Lee told us.
"Yes," we said.
"Ok," he said.
So you'd figure by now after weeks of our questions, the auditors too, the commissioner got the message. But wait, look behind the wheel of that very same county car just this week. Is that El Franco Lee? Yep, sure is, still driving, still collecting the cash.
"Doesn't that practice send a horrible signal to other county employees?" we asked Post.
"I suppose it could send a signal, yes," he said.
"Bad signal?" we asked.
"Not a good signal," Post replied.
"But you're still doing it?" we asked Lee.
"No, no. What I need to do is understand your question in relation to the rules," Lee replied.
Friday, if he's breaking the rules, why isn't anyone in county government trying to get you a refund? Stay tuned.
13 undercover, wayne dolcefino
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