HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - Within a Harris County administration that touts so-called "Best Practices" on a near-constant basis, the recent delivery of an $11 million public outreach contract for "Targeted Community Vaccine Delivery" is drawing both scrutiny and concern.
That's because the winning bid belonged to "Elevate Strategies LLC" - until recently, a one-woman operation that's been in existence barely two years and headquartered at a residential apartment complex in Montrose.
More on that later.
At the August 10 meeting of Commissioners Court, Precinct 4's Jack Cagle asked who exactly was on the committee which chose a vendor with both sparse resources and limited health care communication experience.
"There was three individuals from the County Judge's Office and there were two or three individuals from the Public Health Group, " said DeWight Dopslauf, Harris County Purchasing Agent.
Translation - all the "deciders" on this $11 million contract answered directly to County Judge Lina Hidalgo with no input on the panel from any Commissioners.
As for Elevate Strategies LLC and its founder Felicity Pereyra, prior to starting the business in 2019, she had worked almost entirely for Democratic political campaigns, including those of Hillary Clinton and former Mayoral Candidate and now County Commissioner Adrian Garcia.
For Precinct 4's Cagle, that was a major "red flag".
"I did raise the concern that their experience was all with political campaigns and not health campaigns and I didn't like that and I still don't like it," said Cagle at the August 10 meeting.
Hidalgo defended the choice.
"It is grassroots outreach. It's the same kind of outreach you do with political outreach. We are at a point where it is a campaign for people to get vaccinated," said Hidalgo.
And yet both experts in the industry and county officials tell FOX 26, Elevate Strategies lacks the bare minimum of resources needed for a project of this scope and couldn't possibly have met the strict bidding requirements mandated by the County, including five years of annual billings and a qualifying financial balance sheet with audited income statements.
FOX 26 has confirmed no financial statements were required from Elevate Strategies LLC during the bidding process.
"This Commissioners Court has made it a priority to give opportunities to local, small, and minority-owned businesses who have the qualifications to serve their community," said Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for Judge Hidalgo.
Lemaitre says Elevate Strategies has a history of doing effective work for Harris County, most recently on the census.
"This firm was selected because they have demonstrated that they can reach people strategically and encourage them to get vaccinated," said Lemaitre in an e-mailed statement.