$16,000 in public funds spent on relocating private art under scrutiny

Lately, a Harris County owned warehouse on Reed Road has drawn plenty of scrutiny.

It's where more than 1,200 pieces of privately owned art have been stored at public expense on the order of Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

"It's part of a broader arts program. We've done a lot of great stuff. I'm working with County Attorney's office to clear it up," said Ellis in an interview with FOX 26.

Unfortunately, much remains unclear about the giant collection, like who owns it? How much is it worth? And why did the warehouse undergo more than $100,000 in roofing and atmospheric upgrades before the art arrived?

There is new information about how the art was moved to the warehouse and who paid the tab.

A signed Precinct 1 acquisition form for the "Relocation of African Art" places the cost at $16,000 - public money apparently spent to transport private property.

"This is highway robbery on taxpayers in the County, that's really what it is," said State Senator Paul Bettencourt.

Bettencourt believes the transport tab is just the latest hard proof Commissioner Ellis abused his power.

"It makes me sick to see the fact that a County Commissioner would take that art, transport it to the facility, put on a new roof, line it so it doesn't have moisture and then fumigate it against powder beetles from Africa. It is preposterous," said Bettencourt.

FOX 26 has confirmed Harris County taxpayers funded the specialty extermination of bugs infesting the trove of private art.

Two experts familiar with the process placed the cost at more than $15,000.

In response to our inquiry, Ellis' attorney Cris Feldman said, "It has always been clearly and publicly stated that Precinct 1 paid for fumigation and moving expenses as part of its public art program."

The private art was ordered moved and stored at public expense by the leader of a Democratic majority on Commissioner's Court who supported the biggest Harris County tax hike in a generation.

According to taxpayer advocate Charles Blain, nothing about this scenario "smells right."

"To find out we just spent $16,000 moving art that we don't own, that isn't ours, but I spent money for, is absolutely absurd. So there's more here. We have to keep digging and it's starting to smell like three-day-old fish in a garage," added Blain, founder of the advocacy Group Urban Reform.

Attorney Feldman says he's been hired by Ellis to recommend reforms that will "maintain public confidence.”

Bettencourt believes the Commissioner has clearly broken the law and should be held accountable.

MORE: Follow the latest local news