Investigators in Harris County, Texas, are probing a possible conflict of interest regarding a prior consulting link between a top Port of Houston Authority official and Los Angeles-based design-builder AECOM Technology Corp., which does work for the agency.
After local media reports aired the connection, the authority’s commission requested the probe by the local district attorney’s office, and the agency will cooperate, a port spokeswoman confirmed. A spokeswoman for the district attorney would not confirm if the office is conducting a criminal investigation. Separately, a county commissioner has asked the county attorney’s office to look into the matter, according to Douglas P. Ray, an assistant county attorney.
The offices are looking into AECOM’s six-month consulting contract with authority Chairman James T. Edmonds, who owns a consulting business outside of his unpaid position at the agency. AECOM does work for the authority; however, Edmonds checked with legal experts in the agency before accepting the consulting contract, says the port spokeswoman.
AECOM spokesman Paul J. Gennaro confirms Edmonds’ contract, which ended in March. “He provided consulting services relative to corporate development and strategic planning … and explicitly excluded the provision of any advice or information regarding matters affecting, or in connection with, the Port of Houston,” Gennaro said in a statement.
At AECOM’s request, Edmonds formally notified port commissioners on Feb. 1 about his consulting agreement, say public documents. Edmonds stated that he would file a conflict-of-interest disclosure statement and asked a port commissioner to intervene on agency matters involving AECOM that the chairman normally would have handled.
District and county attorneys also are probing the use of a port-owned tour boat by authority CEO Alec Dreyer for a private party. Meanwhile, the state senate passed a ports bill that includes a new amendment seeking a government review of possible waste and inefficiency at the authority.