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COMPOSITE ART BY AMAR DASHTI, ALAN POGUE, AND SEAN FRENCH The Highwayman: Representative Mark Stiles The Highwayman Mark Stiles’s Conflicts of Interest BY JENNIFER WONG ENVIRONMENTALIST Roger Baker won’t soon forget the day Texas legislator Mark Stiles “threw a temper tantrum” after hearing Baker’s testimony befoie the House Government Organization Committee. On February 12, Baker and other environmentalists testified against the proposed Sunset bill for the Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation regarded as the most important and controversial Sunset legislation of the session. Like other witnesses who attended the hearings that day, Baker criticized the Sunset legislation as “gutless” and “totally inadequate” in its environmental protection provisions. Baker and others were also disturbed by the fact that the Highway Commission is headed by Robert Dedman, a Dallas billionaire developer who claims that, as a result of his .1988 purchase of a restructured savings and loan, he is the largest single landholder in Austin and a major landholder around the state. Baker pronounced Dedman’s presence on the commission “an obvious conflict of interest,” since real estate developers can profit enormously from roads built on or near their property. Developer Wayne Duddleston, who has built more than $1 billion worth of office buildings, apartments, hotels, and shopping centers over the past 33 years, also serves on the commission, whose three members are appointed by the governor. When Baker finished his alloted five minutes of testimony, Representative Stiles, a fiveterm Beaumont Democrat, launched into a prolonged verbal attack, as the many highway department officials and contractors’ lobbyists present that day looked on. First Stiles fired off several questions: “Have you been listening today? Do you know our state highway department is looked upon as a model in the country?” Stiles asked. “Do you know the people that are appointed to the highway commission board? Do you know any of those people, besides the fact of the allegation you made about some person [Dedman] owning $700 million of real estate in this town?” Stiles then said he knew “a lot” of people in the highway department, and vehemently attacked Baker’s assessment, which he called a “crack” and a “cheap shot.” Jennifer Wong is the Observer capitol correspondemt. “I’m tired of the press coming up with that and people coming up here saying things about that,” Stiles said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in the people that I serve, and it really makes me mad…. Ask him [Dedman] if it’s happened. Make him justify it, instead of saying it’s happened. Because it hasn’t happened, I’ll bet you.” This is the first time the highway department has gone through the Sunset evaluation, a process by which state agencies justify their existence and expenditures every 12 years. Environmental groups have used the process to introduce reform into what is considered one of the most powerful and corrupt institutions in state government. The highway department receives almost $1 billion a year in federal funds, and the Texas Highway Commission approves almost $2.4 billion a year building and maintaining Texas’s state high ways and public roads. OLLOWING THIS outburst, Stiles spent a few moments muttering to himself, then got up and stormed out of the room. He refused to return, even though William Bunch, an Austin environmental attorney, chased him down to tell him that before the hearing ended, he would offer proof of Dedman’s questionable dealings. “He didn’t want to hear it,” says Bunch, who has repre sented several environmental groups on highway-related lawsuits: But Stiles’s performance before the subcommittee seems to suggest something more than a bad temper. Stiles, who is executive vice president and general manager of the largest concrete company in Beaumont, has himself been accused in the past of ethical indiscretion. Last March, his opponent in the Democratic primary released documents showing that Transit Mix Concrete Company, managed by Stiles, had received about $3,000 from contracts with various state agencies. Such an arrangement appears to violate the conflict-ofinterest provisions in the Texas Constitution. According to state comptroller’s records obtained by the Observer, Transit Mix has sold materials to the Department of Highways and Transportation in 12 different instances during the past three years, totalling more than $3,000. The most recent transaction occurred on December 17 of last year. Stiles says he currently owns about 12 percent of Transit Mix stock. In addition, another concrete company partly owned by Stiles, American Builders Concrete Inc., has done, and continues to do, business with state agencies. The Houston Chronicle reported last March that in 1987 and 1988, the company garnered $15,538 in state contracts primarily through the highway department and 10 MARCH 8, 1991