Perry makes pal's wife state's czar of fitnessPay for unposted job is $40,000 a year for 30-hour weeks, with work done from home
By POLLY ROSS HUGHES, Houston Chronicle
July 16, 2004
AUSTIN - State health officials, at Gov. Rick Perry's request, created a $40,000 fitness-promotion job for the wife of a top-dollar lobbyist with close ties to the governor.
Martha "Marty" McCartt began directing Perry's physical fitness brainchild, the once-a-year Texas Round-up festival, at the Texas Department of Health on July 1, according to an employment document created Wednesday. The Houston Chronicle had requested the document from the agency the same day.
McCartt, formerly a volunteer in the fitness program at the governor's office, will now work from her Austin home 30 hours a week and get a salary, said Texas Department of Health spokesman Doug McBride.
The job, planning a 10-kilometer run and annual spring fitness festival in which Texas communities compete, was not posted or advertised as normally required for state jobs at that level, Health Department records obtained by the Chronicle show. Instead, agency officials received a waiver of that requirement from Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins, who reports directly to Perry, McBride said.
The new employee is married to J. McCartt, treasurer of a political action committee that in 2001 successfully pushed a constitutional amendment to finance highway construction through the Texas Mobility Fund. The fund, a massive highway bond program voters approved, was a Perry priority.
J. McCartt also worked as an aide to Perry when Perry was lieutenant governor. In 2003, J. McCartt was the 33rd highest paid lobbyist in Texas, with contracts worth up to $1.29 million, according to Texans for Public Justice, a liberal government watchdog group. Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said Marty McCartt, 32, earned the job through her volunteer work.
"The recommendation for hiring Marty came solely as a result of the amount of work Marty did in helping to create, coordinate and successfully put on the first Texas Round-up," Walt said. "You don't want to create the wheel each time this is done."
But Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, criticized the circumstances of the hiring.
"This is a no-show position," McDonald said. "It raises interesting questions. It always gets more interesting when a top-gun lobbyist seems to benefit from a special favor from the governor's office."
McBride said funding for Marty McCartt's job will come from a vacant position the Health Department had not planned to fill.
The action comes during a year when state budget cuts have forced staff reductions of nearly 5 percent, which cost 230 full-time positions at the Health Department, according to the agency's budget documents.
"I know people who work there, and they can tell you how demoralizing it is to be on the hit list," said Eva De Luna Castro, budget analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin-based think tank that studies issues affecting moderate- to low-income Texans. "The process that you go through to fill a job like this is very important when there's already a morale problem."
Marty McCartt did not return phone calls or numerous requests for interviews Thursday. Her husband also declined to comment, said Bill Miller, founding partner of the lobbying firm Hillco Partners, where J. McCartt works.
"I did know she had taken the job," Miller said, describing J. McCartt as a "valuable" employee. "I would be reticent if my wife took a job like that to speak for her." A June 20 Health Department internal memo obtained by the Chronicle informed Health Commissioner Eduardo Sanchez that the governor's office requested the job for Marty McCartt. It further noted that McCartt has "extensive experience" as a consultant on "complex programmatic, financial and technical issues" concerning the state Web portal, www.texasonline.com, and that she "worked closely" with the governor's office in developing the first Texas Round-up.
The festival includes a 10K run, fitness celebrations and live music on the state Capitol grounds. The city or county with the highest participation rate is awarded the Governor's Cup. Texas Round-up also involves a Web site with online training activities.
"It is no small task to put together statewide physical activities," Walt said, adding it involves coordinating corporate sponsors, locating new sponsors, arranging booths and deciding which fitness activities will be conducted.
"I would certainly hope that critics are not saying that fighting obesity and promoting fitness are inappropriate," she said. "The position is there to promote programs to ... improve Texans' health."