Image: PBK Architects’ political consulting division lists Conroe ISD as a client and provided extensive political consulting services to the school district during the failed $807 million bond and tax hike referendum, but Conroe ISD claims to have no contracts with them.
Conroe, May 21 – Conroe Independent School District’s (CISD) “PBKGate Scandal” continues to widen into even more major proportions, as the school district’s Board of Trustees continue to try to behave as though years of their failure to oversee the governmental entity have made no difference. PBK Architects clearly drove the failed $807 million bond referendum and tax hike, even going so far as to divide the primary vendors on each of the bond projects even before the voters approved those projects or the CISD formally approved them.
Why should anyone care? Because PBK, as a vendor to CISD, should be working for the taxpayers. Instead CISD and the taxpayers appear to be working for PBK, which seems to be the driving force behind CISD’s grossly-inflated cost expenditures on construction projects.
What has made the scandal significantly worse is the clear disconnect between CISD’s recent claim that the school district has no contracts or written communications with PBK’s political consulting division, “The Educated Vote,” juxtaposed against (1) PBK’s political consultants’ claims that CISD is a political consulting client of the political consulting division, and (2) the admissions of CISD’s political action committee that PBK’s employee Anna Chenier prepared the political advocacy materials for the pro-bond-referendum campaign.
On May 15, 2019, CISD’s General Counsel Carrie Galatas stated in writing that CISD has no invoices, contracts, emails, minutes of meetings, or notices of meetings in which PBK Architects or its affiliated division “The Educated Vote” provided any political consulting, political advice, public relations advice, or community relations advice, in response to a Texas Public Information Act request.
February 8, 2019, Board of Trustees meeting
Galatas and CISD directly lied about sub-part E, “All notices for the meetings…between Conroe ISD on the one hand and PBK Architects…on the other hand which contain political consulting, political advice, public relations advice, or community relations advice.”
Galatas and CISD said there were no responsive documents. Nevertheless, on February 5, 2018, there actually was a meeting at which representatives to PBK Architects appeared to provide advice to the Board of Trustees regarding electioneering during the May 4, 2019, $807 million bond referendum campaign. Two Board members, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from CISD and other Board members, confirmed that PBK representatives appeared before the Board on February 5 to give political advice.
PBK’s political consultants have listed CISD among their clients
While CISD won’t admit that PBK Architects’ political consulting division provides the school district and its political action committee with political consulting services, PBK Architects’ political consulting division, “The Educated Vote,” lists CISD as a regular client of the political consulting group at PBK.
PBK Architects’ involvement in the CISD’s failed $807 million bond and tax hike referendum
PBK’s Anna Chenier all of the political advertising materials for CISD’s recent failed $807 million bond and tax hike referendum. Nevertheless, CISD’s political action committee, Committee for Conroe ISD’s Future, never reported one penny of political expenditures or in-kind contributions for any of the PBK advertising services the political action committee received.
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.
Clearly, the citizens residing within CISD shouldn’t even consider any capital spending or any sort of bond referendum, until (1) CISD comes clean and publicly discloses its use of public funds for the political advertising of PBK and (2) CISD removes PBK Architects from its vendor list for any capital or bond-financed projects.