Why is a taxpayer-funded company involved in a multimillion-dollar campaign cover-up not at their listed address? Why is another company there instead?
In July, Texas Scorecard detailed how the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) and the City of Dallas renewed their agreement for a “use less water” initiative, a five-year marketing campaign promoting water conservation costing taxpayers a pricey $3.3 million. The arrangement between the governments originally began in 2009, and this year the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD)—whose service area includes parts of Collin, Kaufman, and Hunt counties, among others—joined the deal.
The agreement is structured so that Dallas and the NTMWD pay the TRWD, and TRWD pays the businesses contracted for the marketing campaign. That means all money for the marketing campaign flows through TRWD.
Texas Scorecard wanted to find out which businesses were benefitting from the campaign, so we submitted an open records request in July to TRWD requesting “all contracts” related to the campaign.
In response, TRWD appealed to the Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, arguing that releasing the contracts would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Due to the Texas Supreme Court’s Boeing decision from several years ago, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has, for the time being, allowed the contracts to remain hidden from taxpayers. Legislation passed earlier this year eliminates this exemption and will go into effect on January 1, 2020.
Despite this, in TRWD’s appeal, they did name two of the companies benefitting from the campaign: Charlie Uniform Tango—which proudly displays communist imagery in its office—and RO Two Media, which has offices in both Venezuela and Colombia. Both companies clammed up when asked about the $3.3 million taxpayer-funded campaign.
To get to the bottom of the situation, we went to RO Two Media’s address but discovered empty offices; their company name was nowhere to be found, even on the directory of the building.
We took a look inside what was supposed to be their suite and found only empty cubicles and a different company’s name on the door—Richards/Lerma.
Richards/Lerma is an advertising company run by Pete Lerma that focuses on the Hispanic marketplace. They appear to be a subsidiary of the massive Dallas-area marketing agency “The Richards Group,” with Lerma listed as a staff member.
Vallejo and RO Two Media cannot be found anywhere on either Richards/Lerma’s website or The Richards Group’s. What, then, is the connection between these organizations and TRWD’s water conservation campaign, and why did Vallejo list Lerma’s office as the address for his company?
A whole trail of scandals and questions continues to follow TRWD’s handling of taxpayer money: earlier this year they were caught blowing $41,000 of taxpayer dollars on giving water accessories to elementary school students. They are also at the epicenter of the billion-dollar Panther Island boondoggle, a massive and failing redevelopment plan overseen by the son of U.S. Rep Kay Granger.
Local taxpayers concerned about their money and this marketing campaign may contact the City Council of Dallas, the appointed board of NTMWD, and the elected board of the TRWD.