Controversial $95,000 city internship puts Mayor Turner under fire

Mayor Sylvester Turner is under heavy scrutiny after the revelation he triggered the creation of a $95,000 a year, publicly funded internship at the Houston Airport System for recent law graduate Marvin Agumagu.

Today the Mayor defended the decision and criticized the reporting that brought the issue to light. 

"It's an excellent program and we have done it in many categories, but it's about developing new talent, new leadership so we don't have anybody left out. In fact, I'm going to speak about it a little bit later on, and in fact KPRC intentionally left out key information," said Turner.

A spokesman for the Mayor today said the well-paid internship awarded Agumagu was not unique and is on par with compensation with other senior staff analysts.

But by mid-morning, Houston Council Member Dwight Boykins, who chairs the Ethics Committee and is also running against Turner, announced the opening of an investigation into the propriety of the position.

"You have city employees e-mailing me daily, on the hour, about how long they've been working and not earning that kind of salary," said Boykins.

Mayoral Candidate Bill King crunched the numbers and says the intern's salary is a slap to the face of other Houston City workers.

"This young man, because of some personal relationship with Sylvester, gets a job making more than 95 percent of the other city employees, city employees ought to be outraged about this," said King.

Candidate Sue Lovell said voters should be disturbed Turner denied knowing Agumagu in the face of overwhelming photographic evidence that he did.

"Are we to a point that interns can call department heads and say the Mayor says create me a job and it gets created within 20 days? You can't even get a permit from the City of Houston in 20 days," said Lovell.

And it was Mayoral Challenger Tony Buzbee who went the furthest, saying he believes Turner is personally "compromised" and he's asking the Governor and Texas Attorney General to investigate.

"I think it was common knowledge that this Mayor and this intern spent a lot of time together and I think it's going to compromise his ability to be the mayor," said Buzbee.

Spokespeople for the Mayor say Agumagu is highly educated and deserving of an executive level position. They also say the "hiring freeze" did not apply to the Houston Airport System.

In a statement, Mayor Turner today acknowledged knowing Agumagu saying he was caught off guard by the reporter's question.

Mayor Turner has released the following statement concerning the matter: 

"When I came into office, I said I wanted to build a city for the future and that meant recruiting talented  millennials to work in municipal government.  I believe they bring energy, innovation and a fresh perspective to help create a stronger and more efficient city government.  

"The Executive Internship Program at the Houston Municipal Airport and other select city departments should not be compared to a typical internship for high school or college students. The position created by Airport Director Mario Diaz is a leadership development training  program to identify and train young professionals on all facets of the organization's operations and administration.

"We will continue to recruit young people out of college and will encourage them to consider a career in public service. We cannot compete with salaries and benefits in the private sector, but we strive to offer incentives that are commensurate with a person's experience and education. The city has provided opportunities to several young professionals to work in executive level development positions and I have appointed several young professionals to serve on city boards and commissions.

"In addition to Marvin Agumagu, I am proud of the young professionals I brought with me from my office in the Texas Legislature to work at city hall. The following list is not inclusive of all young people I have helped, but they represent a diverse group of talented individuals that I mentored and helped to advance their careers in public service.

Danielle Bartz – (former) Director, Boards and Commissions

Jeff Syptak -  Mayor's Administrative Assistant and lead event advance

Maria Montes – Director, Boards and Commissions

Carnell Emanuel – (former) Mayor's Office of Economic Development

Kimberly Hatter – Mayor's Office, Project Manager, Bloomberg Associates

"It is time to move past the misinformation and distractions and start focusing on daily city business and issues that need our attention. I hope young professionals are not discouraged from working in the public sector, because Houston needs are best and brightest minds to lead us into the future."