City of Houston

Houston Public Works investigating employee wrongdoing allegations

Several employees are now out of a job, including one executive-level Public Works employee who has resigned and another, who admitted to steering contracts to family members, has been relieved of duty.

Photo outside of Houston City Hall
Daisy Espinoza / Houston Public Media

Houston Public Works said Friday it is continuing to investigate more alleged employee wrongdoing in its emergency contracting process with the help of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Controller's Office.

Several employees are now out of a job, including one executive-level Public Works employee who has resigned and another, who admitted to steering contracts to family members, has been relieved of duty. $48 million worth of emergency contracts were approved by Houston City Council in October to fix hundreds of water line leaks caused by the extreme drought. 11 contractors were awarded amounts that ranged from $3 million to over $11 million.

"Let me be very clear. No one is exempt from the ongoing investigations. We are turning over every rock, and OIG is conducting extensive inquiries," said Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock in a statement on Friday. "Our goal is to focus on rooting out the bad actors, while working to rebuild eroded public trust."

An investigation by the Office of the Inspector General began November 7 to determine the allegations. At that time, an employee was suspended which was first reported by KPRC 2. Houston Public Works said the employee did not disclose the conflict of interest.

The city also said that it had begun the process of terminating the emergency contracts with the contractor.

Prior to the emergency contracts, the city spent around $36 million to address the issue when at one point, there were about 1,000 water leaks a day. Houston entered Stage 2 of its Drought Contingency Plan this summer, after city officials said the excessive heat was putting strain on the main water system – putting the city under water restrictions.

Water leaks increased this summer from 100 to 500 a day since June 1, officials said. Mayor Sylvester Turner had put out a call for additional contractors, which at that time the city already had four, and that number had risen to 10. By the time the city had approved the emergency contracts, more than 4,000 leaks were repaired.

“Houston Public Works is taking proactive steps to restore integrity in this emergency contracting process," said Haddock in a statement. "As a public agency, we are accountable to Houstonians and will provide updates as soon as legally permissible."

As the investigation moves forward, Houston Public Works is asking for the public's assistance and Houston contractors to report any suspected fraud in the emergency contracting process by calling the Controller’s Office Hotline at 832-393-3542 or fill out the Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Form.