HOUSTON -- So just how does the City of Houston roll with your tax dollars?
At a time of tight budgets, the I-Team researched how much the City spends on office chairs. It’s nowhere near what some Houstonians thought.
“I don’t know, 100 bucks?” guessed Wei Mo.
“More than $200?” said Sonol Mujmer.
“$300?” said Jackie Champion.
“$400? Am I getting warm?” asked Bobby Knight.
He was getting warm, but not quite there. The price tag for the office desk chairs used at the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department headquarters on South Wayside was $637.
And the Parks Department bought $70,000 worth. Add that to nine dozen conference room chairs averaging $526, a set of $1,026 “swank lounge” chairs in the lobby, and 14 leather lounge sitting chairs at $1,335, and the City spent nearly $175,000 at the Parks Department building.
So the I-Team put Parks and Recreation Department Deputy Director Mark Ross in the hot seat.
I-Team: “Do you need a $1,000 lounge chair? You can go cheaper.”
Ross: “Could go cheaper but this was the right pick for the right place at the right time."
Ross said the parks building was in bad need of renovation and was restored to preserve its historical value as NASA's original headquarters.
"We followed city process and we were really not concerned that they were overpriced," Ross said.
The I-Team found it's not the only city agency where price didn't seem to be a concern. At Houston's Emergency Center, fire department dispatchers sit in thousand-dollar chairs. And the reason why? We asked HFD Captain Ruy Lozano.
Lozano: “If that's the cost, that's what we go with because we have to ensure the safety of our members.”
I-Team: “Safety of your members? We're not talking about climbing buildings, Captain, we're talking about sitting in a chair.”
Lozano: “Yeah but prolonged sitting has proven to cause back injuries."
In all, the City of Houston spent $1.8 million chairs over the three years. But turns out, the City had a stash of used surplus chairs during that time that it sold for cheap.
And who has the most expensive chair the in the entire city? The priciest seat in the house? It belongs to Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, on the 16th floor of HPD headquarters. So what does it look like?
I-Team: “Can we see the chair?”
McClelland: “No you can't.”
That's right, the City’s top cop says you can't see it even though you paid for it: a “custom executive,” “Stetson leather” chair coming in at $1,773.25.
I-Team: "So you're the top cop, you get to buy top dollar?”
McClelland: “Well I think I deserve to sit in a nice comfortable chair, as many hours that I sit in my chair each day."
Chief McClelland said it should last ten years.
McClelland: “Works out to about 68 cents a day.”
I-Team: “You did the math.”
McClelland: “I did."
But the I-Team did some math too, and found other executive chairs at HPD cost 15 times less at just $113.
But there is someone in the city who is extra thrifty, someone you might not expect. Mayor Annise Parker’s chair is nowhere near new.
"It was a used chair within the city when I found it when I was Controller,” Parker said. “I've had in nine years now, it was a used chair and I dragged it with me when I left the controller's office down to the mayor's office."
And it is a bit torn, with black marker covering the tattered spots.
But Parker said she has no plans to buy a new one.
“I like my chair, it’s very comfortable,” she said.
Meantime, the Houston Fire Department emphasized it has a ten-year warranty on the expensive chairs, and the Parks Department said the chairs it purchased have a lifetime warranty. The upfront costs, officials said, will pay off in the long run.