HOUSTON - It is an undeniable fact that the position of Precinct 1 Commissioner in Harris County is a powerful one, controlling hundreds of millions of public dollars to provide services for more than one million people.
It's also a fact that on March 3, Democratic voters will decide if incumbent Rodney Ellis should continue to hold the post.
In political contests, name identification is critical and Commissioner Ellis has made sure anyone in Precinct 1 with a mailbox is fully aware who he is.
"Rodney Ellis has a tremendous monetary advantage and he's taking his incumbency advantage and putting it on steroids by abusing the public trust by using taxpayer funded money for his campaign effort," said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.
Jones who reviewed data obtained by FOX 26 through a public records request to the Harris County Auditor.
Those records show that during the past three months, Commissioner Ellis expended more than $316,000 on postage and printing for what his spokesperson says were 16 different mass mailings.
"It gives him an unfair advantage against his opponent. I think you can look at the other County Commissioners and see if they are doing something similar and the numbers show they are not. They are not spending one-tenth of what he's spending combined, so that would suggest he's doing this for political purposes in an attempt to win the support of voters," said Jones.
FOX 26 reviewed postage and printing expenses since November for the other four members of Commissioner's Court and Jones is close. The highest amount was racked up by Precinct 4's Jack Cagle who spent roughly 10 percent of Ellis's outlay over the same period.
"The sad part is he (Ellis) has millions of dollars in his campaign account. This is just an example where he decides to have the County pay for something he could very well pay for himself, just like storing his art," said Jones.
In an e-mail to FOX 26, Ellis spokesperson Maureen Haver said the direct mailings included information regarding Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, Transit service, community meetings, County construction projects, policy updates and a newsletter.
Haver also says $96,000 dollars of the postage expense reported by the Auditor's Office has yet to be used by Precinct 1 which she says is committed to providing "regular, transparent information and resources to residents.”
In a statement to FOX 26, Ellis' Democratic primary opponent, former felony court Judge Maria Jackson contends the Commissioner has "continually misused tax dollars" and the flurry of opportunistic mass mailings is, in her view, another example.