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.4,64WEa.. POLITICAL IN Spying and Splurging A QUIET VICTORY On October 10, the governor’s office quietly signed over all control of the Texas Data Exchange, or TDEx, to the Department of Public Safety. As Observer readers might recall, we first exposed the program this past April \(see “The Governor’s Database,” vacuum up information on every Texan, starting with those who had come into contact with law enforcement, and put the information into a searchable database. The governor’s office had control of the treasure trove of data and granted access to any law enforcement agency that wanted it. After the Observer story broke, a bipartisan group of legislators struggled to rein in the program, or at least transfer it from the political office of the governor into DPS, a professional law enforcement agency. The governor’s office and its controversial Homeland Security Director, Steve McCraw, fought the changes. In the waning days of the session, the authoritarian wing of the Republican Party managed to rescue TDEx. The Legislature adjourned with the program untouched. Now, for unknown reasons, Gov. Rick Perry’s office has decided it doesn’t want the hot potato after all. Interestingly, the October agreement ceding control of TDEx was not signed by McCraw but by Brian Newby, the governor’s chief of staff. The program will now be under DPS’s Texas Crime Information Center, where, according to a DPS spokesperson, “there are strict rules about how information is placed into the system and how it is accessed.” REGENT TO NOWHERE In October, Gov. Rick Perry appointed three new regents to the University of Texas System Board of Regents. The prestigious posts usually go to loyal party members who have donated generously to the governor. One of the new regents is James Dannenbaum, president of Houston based Dannenbaum Engineering, who has stuffed Perry’s campaign purse with $247,500 since 2000. That’s business as usual. What’s new is that Dannenbaum’s company is embroiled in a border scandal that involves a $21 million bridge that doesn’t exist, Mexican shell companies, and pending legal troubles. The story begins in 1991 when South Texas voters approved $21 million in bonds for the construction of an international bridge to connect the Port of Brownsville to Matamoras, Mexico. The Brownsville Navigation District tapped Dannenbaum Engineering to manage and engineer the job. Although the firm received $15.4 million, the bridge was never built. Presently, $9.2 million of the $15.4 million simply can’t be accounted for, according to the 2005 findings of a special investigator appointed by the navigation district. The investigator traced the sum to three Mexican shell companies with ties to Dannenbaum principal Louis H. Jones. The only products from the 17 subcontractors hired by Dannenbaum were 49 black binders with a few sheets inside. In February, the navigation district and Dannenbaum reached a settlement in which the district agreed to surrender its ability to collect on the missing funds. In exchange, Dannenbaum agreed to perform the equivalent of $2.9 million in engineering work on the U.S. portion of the bridge. The company has the right to recover that sum from whatever Mexican company is eventually selected for the Mexican half of the bridge. Navigation district commissioner and attorney Peter Zavalletta voted against the settlement, calling it “indefensible” at the time. “I cannot overstate how upset people were about that settlement,” Zavalleta tells the Observer. Now Zavalleta is suing Dannenbaum on behalf of nine taxpayers, of which he is one. “My case is a very specific challenge asking the court to rule that the settlement must be declared null and void,” Zavalletta says. He argues that Dannenbaum has violated the settlement because, eight months later, they haven’t bothered to start on the project. Meanwhile, a special grand jury is looking into the possibility of criminal 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 2, 2007