In his final days in office, former Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner received a taxpayer-funded gift, a documentary highlighting the mayor’s tenure. 

A 30-minute video, produced by Houston TV for about $3,000, appeared on the city’s website, chronicling the mayor’s life from a child in Acres Homes to becoming the 62nd mayor of the fourth largest city in the country. While the amount may be trivial, this isn’t the mayor’s first time using public funds to solidify his legacy. 

At the Mayor’s final State of the City address in September, attendees received a 90-page book titled “A Winning Legacy – The Power of Vision, Collaboration, Resilience and Transformation” that also detailed the mayor’s path from childhood to City Hall. 

It later came out that Turner was pressuring Houston First Corporation, the city’s local government corporation that serves as its convention and marketing agent, to pay the cost of production, $124,000. The overall event cost the corporation more than $600,000.

An item appeared on the organization’s agenda to pay for the design, printing, and production of 600 copies of the book, which was the first most had heard of the entity being responsible for the cost. 

Much of the end of Turner’s term was focused on solidifying his legacy through long-form media interviews, documentaries, the State of the City book, and another book he alluded to writing. He also made sure to use his time during council to push back against criticism of his administration that came during the mayoral race, saying that he wouldn’t let anyone write his legacy but himself. 

The effort was likely to distract from other areas that plagued his tenure.

In his eight years in office, he failed to successfully negotiate with Houston firefighters or secure a contract with the union. Despite a high fund balance on paper, he left the city on an unsustainable fiscal course, with budget deficits in the hundreds of millions of dollars expected in the next few months as the new mayor builds his fiscal year 2025 budget. Crumbling water infrastructure has led to residents complaining about getting water bills totalling thousands of dollars, and there is a shortage of police officers during a time when crime has been a top priority for most citizens. 

Turner’s private office did not respond to comment about the documentary. However, on the legacy book, his press secretary at the time said:

Organizers raised $500,000 through sponsorships and ticket sales for the luncheon and transferred the funds to Houston First to pay invoices for all expenses, including the Mayor’s Legacy book. There is no tax money involved.

Despite that claim, the invoice was first sent to the City of Houston before being referred to Houston First and when asked about paying for it, Houston First said they would have to look for corporate donations to cover the cost. 

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.