HOUSTON - Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo fiercely defended a controversial $11 million COVID-19 outreach project awarded to Elevate Strategies - a one-woman company with a very short 19-month track record headquartered in a Montrose Apartment.
"Y’all bring it on! Bring it on! Because there is nothing here," said Hidalgo at the August 24th meeting of Commissioners Court.
But Rice Political Analyst Mark Jones called the deal a thinly veiled political pass through.
"This was an RFP (request for proposal) that was wired from the very start to go to Elevate Strategies to provide political money for Lina Hidalgo's supporters," said Jones.
In the days since Hidalgo's challenge, FOX 26 has sought and obtained public documents - the actual "score sheets" from the five-person committee evaluating four different proposals.
Turns out, Elevate Strategies actually lost the competition, coming in second behind the $7 million bid of The University of Texas Health Science Center, a renowned institution with plenty of resources.
But that's when this COVID-19 Communication saga reversed course.
Harris County Purchasing Agent Dewight Dopslauf tells FOX 26 the contract committee later contacted his office to disqualify UT-Health, claiming the winning bidder was behind schedule on an existing project with the County.
And just like that, runner-up Elevate Strategies was back in the game.
With Hidalgo's current chief-of-staff Alex Triantaphyllis as its ranking member, standard "financial fitness" requirements were eventually "waived" and the contract committee voted to recommend Elevate Strategies for an $11-million-dollar contract - a substantial $4 million dollar premium over the bid from UT Health.
"I have no personal interest nor political interest in any of this," claimed Hidalgo at the August 24th meeting.
Jones, however, finds that claim incredible.
"That's pretty laughable. I think we all know that Lina Hidalgo knew exactly what was going on and that she’s just trying to find some cover and for something that's blowing up in her face," said Jones.
FOX 26 sought and received a comment from Hidalgo spokesperson Rafael Lemaitre.
"The fact remains that there is no benefit to her personally, financially, or politically with this or any other contract awarded by the count," said Lemaitre. "This contract was awarded fairly and by the rules. It was advertised, discussed, and approved in open court and during that process, every member of the court and the public had the ability to ask questions about the process. It was approved 4-1, and included Republican support."
Any Republican support has since evaporated with Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey no one on-court knew the full story when this contract was first presented.
Ramsey tells FOX 26 he will ask for a re-vote at the September 14th meeting.