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Bettencourt’s Sudden Resignation Raises Serious Questions

Controversial county officer should explain under-the-table job offer, late night resignation and election misconduct
Less than six weeks after asking Harris County voters for another four-year term as Tax Assessor Collector, Republican Paul Bettencourt is bailing out on them – perhaps to avoid answering legal questions about pending litigation charging him with illegal partisan activity. Bettencourt’s resignation comes just one day after a federal court was asked to schedule a deposition to require him to testify under oath about his involvement in alleged partisan efforts to avoid counting thousands of provisional ballots cast during the November General Election.

In a press statement made very late Friday, December 5th, Bettencourt made no mention of the pending legal complaint, but instead said he was leaving office to accept a lucrative offer from the private sector. (Houston Chronicle, December 6, 2008)  He refused, however, to identify his new employer and failed to comment on the terms of the offer, stating that providing the name of his new employer would violate conflict of interest statutes.

Using some very “creative” logic, Bettencourt rationalized that identifying his new employer now would create a conflict of interest, but that it was okay to meet with and negotiate an employment agreement with the employer while he was a county officeholder in the midst of an election campaign.  Bettencourt’s backroom deal deserves even more scrutiny after ABC13’s Miya Shay speculated that Bettencourt will, “be fighting people’s property tax hikes for a fee.” ( ABC13 Political Blog )

Questions for Paul Bettencourt

  • Who will you be working for?
  • Does your new employer have business before Harris County?
  • How long have you been in contact with your new employer?
  • How was contact with your new employer first initiated?
  • When was compensation discussed and when was it agreed upon?
  • If publicly identifying your new employer creates a conflict of interest, why wasn’t it a conflict of interest before when you
  • met with them privately and secretly to negotiate your employment?
  • Did you seek the guidance of the county attorney or other legal counsel before and during your negotiations with your new employer?

Who is Paul Bettencourt?

Paul Bettencourt, described as a “staunch partisan” by the Houston Chronicle, is the Tax Assessor Collector who oversees elections in Harris County. (Source: The Houston Chronicle, October 26, 2008) Bettencourt has used his official role as Voter Registrar for partisan purposes throughout his tenure, including:

  • Rejected voter registration applications that “provided Social Security numbers in lieu of license numbers – but failed to check the box that says they lack a license.” (The Houston Chronicle, July 28, 2008)
  • Rejected voter registration applications from voters who had recently moved because his office was using outdated property records. (The Houston Chronicle, July 28, 2008)
  • Bettencourt was “the most vocal witness for a photo ID law,” a debate intensified by Bettencourt’s unsubstantiated partisan charges about voter fraud. (Austin American-Statesman, January 26, 2008)
  • Created a massive backlog of voter registration cards that prevented voters who had registered legally from casting regular ballots in 2008. (The Houston Chronicle, October 18, 2008)

Time-line raises suspicions

The time-line of events leading to Bettencourt’s sudden resignation leads to questions about whether the pending lawsuit was related to the resignation.

November 4, 2008
Election Day

November 10, 2008
Texas Democratic Party files suit for failing to register voters and refusing to release provisional ballots for tabulation

November 12-13, 2008
The bipartisan Harris County Early Ballot Board determines Bettencourt’s office has incorrectly recommended standards for counting numerous ballots and begins re-doing Bettencourt’s voter registration work. White out and correction tape is found on election records provided by Bettencourt’s office. Bettencourt leaves nasty phone messages with the chair of the ballot board threatening him should he authorize the counting of provisional ballots.

December 1, 2008
TDP amends lawsuit to add various matters, including claims under the Voting Rights Act. Individuals who were disenfranchised by Bettencourt are also added as Plaintiffs. Lawsuit makes clear that provisional ballots were only a small part of the claims and that Bettencourt’s organized efforts to disenfranchise voters would be part of comprehensive legal action and investigation in 2009.

December 3, 2008
TDP requests the Court move up a scheduled January 2009 conference so discovery can go forward before Christmas. Counsel for Bettencourt is copied on this request. Bettencourt learns depositions and documents requests will be issued to investigate his voter registration activities.

December 4, 2008
Bettencourt delivers to Judge Emmett a letter of resignation asking it not be made public.

December 5, 2008
Late in the evening, news is leaked Bettencourt that will resign. Bettencourt does not make himself available for comment.

December 6, 2008
Bettencourt alleges he is taking another job opportunity but refuses to disclose his new “employer.” Bettencourt notes he wants to be out of office by Christmas, before any discovery will take place.

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