Publisher’s Note: The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, thanks the brilliant ladies, Kelli Cook and Cindy Muth Gaskill, for their excellent research which contributed to this article.
Conroe, May 12 – In rejecting Conroe Independent School District’s (CISD) $807 million bond and tax hike last Saturday, May 4, voters dodged an enormous attempt to manipulate them to support shoveling enormous chunks of cash to PBK Architects and its chosen CISD vendors. Three top-level insiders, on condition of anonymity to avoid certain reprisal, have come forward to speak with The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, to confirm the manipulative role of PBK Architects and PBK’s wholly-owned subsidiary “The Educated Vote,” which provided political consulting and legal advice to CISD as well as its chosen pro-bond political action committee.
PBK and The Educated Vote came into the process to corrupt what was seeming “transparency” and a seeming desire to provide better facilities for students and teachers. In reality, PBK’s and The Educated Vote’s clear purpose was to control the political process and funnel enormous quantities of public dollars into PBK’s coffers.
The three high-level CISD employees who have spoke with this newspaper during the past 48 hours hail from three different CISD departments – Finance, Purchasing, and Maintenance. The three employees, whom this newspaper have dubbed with the composite name “Shallow Larynx,” have confirmed that the primary contacts of PBK’s lead political consultants – Anna Chernier and Ryan Gregory – to CISD have been Curtis Null, the school district’s controversial Superintendent, Sarah Blakelock, the district’s so-called “Spokesperson,” and Carrie Galatas, the in-house attorney who has pushed CISD’s legal decisions well beyond the acceptable boundaries of the Texas Election Code.
It’s important to note that CISD is only the most recent example of PBK’s political manipulations. State Senator Pat Fallon, Republican of Prosper, has introduced Senate Bill 1569, which seeks to limit the educational funds school districts may apply to political campaigns. Section 255.003 of the Texas Election Code already makes it a crime to spend public funds on political advertising, although CISD and other school districts don’t seem to care when they break the law.
After his legislation passed the Texas Senate by a 23 to 8 vote on April 17, 2019, Senator Fallon, issued the following statement:
“Our taxpayers and parents are entitled to have their schools focus on our children’s education, not pushing for school bonds. The tax money we give our schools is supposed to be spent on the task at hand—educating our children. All their efforts should be spent shaping the future of our next generation, not pushing political candidates or bond issues.
“The vast majority of our teachers and ISD employees do a great job of preparing our children for their future. We honor them and know that most would never use school resources for electioneering. But we have some administrators who just can’t resist the temptation to use public equipment or work time to push for their cause. That isn’t right, and it can’t be allowed to continue.”
The Texas House of Representatives Committee on Elections has set Senator Fallon’s bill for hearing on Monday, May 13, 2019, at 10 a.m.
How the CISD-PBK scam worked
PBK Architects, based in Houston, but with offices throughout Texas, at first appears to be a regular architectural firm, which prepares designs for building projects and then manages and inspects the construction as it progresses. If that were not lucrative enough, however, PBK has gone much farther with its subsidiary, The Educated Vote, to which PBK refers as “A PBK Company” and which manipulates local voters, school district administrators and teachers, and other interest groups before a bond is put to voters for a referendum, during the referendum political campaign, and afterwards.
In CISD’s situation, rather than providing any sort of transparency to the process, PBK, The Educated Vote, Null, Galatas, and Blakelock sought to provide propaganda and political manipulations from the start to the finish.
What’s critical is that there is no aspect of the bond issuance process in which PBK’s and The Educated Vote’s manipulative hands don’t have direct involvement.
PBK’s political consultant group lists CISD, not the Community for Conroe ISD PAC, on its client list for political consulting services.
Here’s what PBK did for the CISD’s $807 million bond campaign, as Shallow Larynx has confirmed:
- One of PBK’s first actions was to work with CISD’s Null, Blakelock, Galatas and other top-level administrators to determine the amount of tax hike and bond financing PBK Architects and CISD wanted the voters to pass. PBK and CISD developed a spreadsheet of spending in which PBK and CISD actually determined the identity of the companies which would receive the contract awards for the entire bond! Clearly, CISD had no intention of engaging in competitive bidding, as the school district and PBK had pre-determined which firms would receive the awards for which projects under the bond package. The following spreadsheet is a bit difficult to read, but the list of the architect identity for each CISD bond project appears in the fifth column from the left. It’s important to remember that CISD made clear during the $807 million bond campaign that CISD had no real estimates, bids, takeoffs, or proposals from anyone, either outside of CISD or inside of CISD.
- PBK then helped CISD select the individuals who would serve on the so-called “Facilities Planning Committee,” which was supposed to be a group of citizens who would assess facilities needs and then recommend a bond package to the CISD Board of Trustees. PBK, Null, and Blakelock made sure that each person named to the Facilities Planning Committee understood that PBK and CISD expected them to serve on the political action committee to support the bond politically as well.
- PBK’s Chernier and Gregory and their The Educated Vote team then produced all of the multimedia presentations and graphics to support CISD’s $807 million bond proposal set for referendum on May 4, 2019. The Educated Vote prepared the presentation made to the CISD’s Board of Trustees which they approved on January 15, 2019.
- PBK assisted CISD in coordinating with Population and Survey Analysts of College Station to produce a demographic study favorable to the proposed bond.
- PBK’s Chernier then worked with Conroe attorney Bryan Fowler to form the Community for Conroe ISD’s Future PAC with Fowler as Treasurer. Chernier provided all of the PAC’s direct mail and marketing media, the PAC’s website, the attack ads focusing on bond opponents Kelli Cook, April Andreski, and others.
- PBK’s Chernier developed the timeline and campaign budget for the pro-bond PAC’s campaign.
- PBK worked closely with Null to provide him with his “carefully-scripted presentations” as Null characterized them.
- PBK sent representatives to meet with CISD’s Board of Trustees in a secret “executive session” to give them legal advice on campaign laws. The PBK representatives at that meeting were not attorneys or licensed to practice law.
- PBK organized volunteers for CISD’s campaign to make the pro-bond campaign appear to be a grassroots campaign.
- PBK, as the architect on past CISD jobs and on the future $807 million bond construction jobs, was, of course, in a wonderful position to engage in fundraising, especially from corporations engaged in the construction business who wanted contracts from CISD for construction under the lucrative bond package. Therefore, PBK’s Chernier managed the political fundraising which primarily came from CISD construction vendors.
- PBK’s political consulting work did not appear as a political expenditure in the PAC’s Campaign Finance Reports. PBK bills CISD directly for its political consulting services under other architectural contracts, as Shallow Larynx (all three of them) made clear.
- After the bond passed, of course, PBK, as lead architect, would then manage the almost $1 billion bond package’s construction.
- One interesting additional service PBK regularly provides is that it “manages” citizen review groups who oversee bond construction. In other words, PBK and its school district clients establish fake oversight processes to fool the citizenry into believing there is genuine citizen oversight, when, in fact, there is nothing of the sort.
- As PBK’s Gregory’s online resume (at end of article) makes clear, his job is to “provide thought leadership” with respect to school district bonds. In other words, PBK worked with CISD to manage the thoughts of CISD voters. If that’s not crass manipulation, then nothing is.
PBK and its company, The Educated Vote, have described the entire process below.
Readers may view PBK’s political consulting website at www.edvote.com.