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When Networking Looks Like Quid Pro Quo
Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Setting up a senior center in your council district is good for the community and the councilmember. In San Antonio, Councilman Ray Lopez thought it might also be of personal benefit.
The legislator met with representatives of WellMed, a company that operates 23 clinics in the Texas city. In a follow-up email with the company vice president, Lopez mentioned he had a consulting group with experience in IT support, and requested a meeting to discuss how he could provide services to WellMed.
This kind of “networking” may be common practice in the private sector, but the city’s ethics code prohibits officials from “soliciting outside employment that could be expected to impair independence of judgment.” The code makes no reference to the difference between seeking employment and being hired.
After a discussion of his qualifications, Lopez was asked to intervene on behalf of WellMed to secure a special program from the AT&T Foundation. He contacted the former mayor, a current executive with AT&T. “I thought it was a great service. It’s almost an expected engagement from somebody in public office to try to do outreach and facilitate partnerships where they can happen,” says Lopez.
Ultimately the contract went to WellMed, although they were already under a cloud in the wake of the resignation of another member of the council, Jennifer Ramos, who resigned from a job with WellMed’s charitable arm. Lopez did not end up working for the company.
These types of relationships raise serious concerns about fairness and integrity. Lopez, admitting the lucrative contract is a good deal for WellMed, said “They’ve pretty well cracked the nut.”
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