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POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Nepotism Be A Lady Tonight A FAMILY AFFAIR The state’s hiring of Gavra Flood last spring seems rather unremarkable at first glance. The Health and Human Serney who specialized in contract law. Flood, who analyzed contracts for Bank One in Dallas, appears qualified. It turns out, however, that Flood also happens to be the wife of the agency’s inspector general. That raises the potential for glaring conflicts of interest between one of HHSC’s attorneys and its internal watchdog. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Brian Flood HHSC inspector general last October. His office monitors the agency and investigates wrongdoing in all departments. In March, HHSC General Counsel Steve Aragon decided he desperately needed to hire an attorney to advise agency officials about contracting with private companies. \(HHSC is ramping up the privatization of state programs under the social services overhaul passed during the last regular legGavra Flood had just moved to Austin. Agency documents, obtained by the Observer through the Texas Open Records Act, reveal that Aragon exchanged a number of emails with Brian Flood about the possibility of hiring his wife. “I have some potentially good news;’ Aragon wrote to Brian Flood on March 22. A week later, Aragon sent Commissioner Albert Hawkins a memo asking for permission to bypass the state’s job-advertising requirements and hire Flood immediately without a candidate search. After detailing Gavra Flood’s skills and work experience, the agency’s general counsel wrote, “I will accept responsibility to ensure and guard [sic] any conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety…. Ms. Flood will not be assigned any responsibilities relating to contracts, or cases of the Office of Inspector General!’ Hawkins approved the request. The $65,000a-year government opening was never posted publicly, and Aragon promptly hired Gavra Flood after one interview. In contrast, thousands of other state workers ensnared in HHSC’s reorganization haven’t been as fortunate. In June, for instance, HHSC advised nearly 70 human resources workers that their jobs would be opened to new applicants and they would have to reapply for their own positions. HHSC lacks a nepotism policy. Texas law, however, stipulates that no state worker at any agency can supervise or have any “personnel responsibility” for a close relative. Gavra Flood’s hiring appears safely within that boundary since the Floods work in separate departments of a massive bureaucracy, but the situation seems rife with potential conflicts. State contracts with private companies often come under scrutiny from inspectors general offices, so it’s likely that eventually Brian Flood’s office will probe work involving his wife. In a phone interview, Aragon defended Gavra Flood’s hiring as a rare opportunity to add an attorney who has experience with contracting in the private sector. He said that filling the public position without even posting the job wasn’t ideal, but the HHSC overhaul left his office desperate for more full-time help. “I had folks who were dropping like flies they were working so hard;’ he said. “I wanted to get them some help right away.” The agency’s general counsel conceded that employing Gavra Flood created the “potential” for conflicts of interest, but he expects those will be avoided. “I didn’t do this lightly,” Aragon said. “I will do everything that I can to ensure that we don’t have an irrevocable conflict. We’re definitely concerned and want to make sure we don’t create even the appearance of that.” But Aragon also admitted he can do only so much. He doesn’t always know what the inspector general is investigating, so it’s incumbent on the Floods to recuse themselves from any conflicts. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that three weeks after Gavra Flood started working at HHSC, according to agency documents, Aragon emailed his staff, including Flood, a notice about an upcoming legal seminar. The subject: “Ethics training for government lawyers.” TIGER TUSSLE TURNING? Greenpeace USA had a giddy week of successes in late May, but it will likely take stronger forces to sway its chief corporate foe, ExxonMobil. On May 19, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan granted Greenpeace’s motion for dismissal in a controversial case brought against the activist group by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. It all began on April 12, 2002, when two Greenpeace activists boarded the 965-foot APL Jade as it approached the Port of Miami. The ship carried in its hold 70 tons of mahogany cut from the Brazilian rain forest. Once on board, the activists unfurled a banner that read “President Bush stop illegal logging.” As is customary with such actions, the activists involved pleaded no contest to misdemeanors and were sentenced to time served and fined $500. A year later, the Justice Department went after the organization, wielding a federal maritime statute from 1872 that was designed to prevent brothel owners from boarding ships in port to entice sailors to their establishments. The law prohibiting “sailor-mongering” had only been used twice and more than a century ago on both occasions. Nonetheless, a U.S. attorney in Miami convinced a grand jury to indict Greenpeace under the statute. Shortly after the government presented its case in May, however, Judge Jordan abruptly ended the trial, contending that the boarding occurred six miles from the Port of Miami, too far to apply under the statute’s language that the ship must be “about to arrive” in port. Exactly a weeklater, on May 26, Greenpeace activists returned to Texas, where they are defending themselves in court against ExxonMobil over a direct action at the company’s Irving headquarters \(see “Tiger Tussle,” April campaign launched by Greenpeace to brand ExxonMobil as the corporate face of global warming. The group regularly castigates the company both for its efforts to debunk the science that proves climate change is underway \( unwillingness, as the largest oil company in the world, to embrace renewable energy \( 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/16 /04