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The Brief: Dec. 22, 2014

The Austin American-Statesman and Houston Chronicle delved further in their Sunday editions into the circumstances around the no-bid Medicaid fraud software contract awarded to Austin technology firm 21CT.

Former HHSC Inspector General Doug Wilson, left, and his former second-in-command, Jack Stick.

*Correction appended

The Big Conversation

The Austin American-Statesman and Houston Chronicle delved further in their Sunday editions into the circumstances around the no-bid Medicaid fraud software contract awarded to Austin technology firm 21CT. All this comes in the aftermath of the decision on Friday to fire Health and Human Services Commission Inspector General Doug Wilson and place on leave three other employees.

The Statesman's Andrea Ball and J. David McSwane report on documents suggesting a lengthy relationship between 21CT and Jack Stick, the recently resigned HHSC general counsel whose advocacy for 21CT has spurred questions about the propriety of the process to award the $110 million contract.

Ball and McSwane wrote, "An audio recording of Stick speaking about the company at a staff meeting, as well as the Statesman’s review of three years of Stick’s travel records and state calendar, indicate his relationship with 21CT goes back to the early days of his state job. Those documents show Stick met with 21CT executives more than 40 times, including for at least one sales pitch meeting with a potential 21CT client."

In addition, the reporters talked to former 21CT lobbyist James Frinzi, who said the unusual decision to channel the 21CT contract through the Department of Information Resources gave the company easy entry to other states:

The so-called cooperative contract 21CT had obtained through the Texas Department of Information Resources was, in essence, a passport to a fortune, Frinzi said, because with that contract the company could easily secure dozens of deals across the country.

That was a key component for Stick’s plans for the company, Frinzi said.

“It was always coming through questions,” Frinzi said of his conversations with Stick about 21CT’s future. “What if we got Illinois? And Wisconsin? How big would that be? You could tell he was doing the math in his head.”

The Chronicle's Brian M. Rosenthal, meanwhile, highlights the familial connections among staff at HHSC, which are receiving greater scrutiny now with the revelations about the 21CT contract. Rosenthal wrote:

When then-Texas health official Jack Stick suggested earlier this year that a company he had helped land $20 million in no-bid state contracts might get another one through a sister department, he was referring the firm to a familiar face: Frianita Wilson, wife of Doug Wilson, who as Stick's boss was overseeing the first project.

Of course, Stick - then the top lawyer at the state health commission - could also have turned for help to his own wife, Erica Stick, who served as chief of staff at the mega-agency, which runs all health and human services and has a $33 billion annual budget.

And that wasn't his only family connection at a state agency. His brother, Jeremy Stick, worked at the same department as Frianita Wilson.

The Day Ahead

•    Swearing-in ceremony for state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, in the Texas Senate chamber. A public reception will follow the 12 p.m. administration of the oath of office.

•    Would-be candidates for the special elections in Senate District 26, House District 17 and House District 123 must file their applications with the secretary of state by 5 p.m.

Trib Must-Reads

Old Ruling Keeps Counties From Mineral Rights, by Bobby Blanchard

Analysis: Picking Straus, Taking Names, by Ross Ramsey

Gay Marriage Ban on Precarious Legal Ground, by Alexa Ura

Elsewhere

Federal agency's shelter oversight raises questions, Houston Chronicle

Texas employee retirement system sounds alarm on unfunded balance, Austin American-Statesman

Texas lawmakers worry state agencies are going rogue, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

State-funded steroid tests likely ending, Amarillo Globe-News

Long in the minority, Texas Democrats in Congress look beyond legislation for impact, The Dallas Morning News

Fikac: Former foe says Patrick could be 'great’ leader, San Antonio Express-News

'Homeless female wanted' ad: Prank or clue in sex trafficking?, Houston Chronicle

In Kaufman County, death sentence for DA’s killer brings a sense of relief, The Dallas Morning News

Former Houston mayor Bob Lanier has died, Houston Chronicle

Quote to Note

“If I could have kissed him on his bald head, I would have kissed him right there.”

— Former state chief revenue estimator Billy Hamilton, recalling his feeling of relief at a meeting with Exxon's chief economist more than 30 years ago. At the meeting, the Exxon economist said he did not know which way the price of oil was heading, thus vindicating Hamilton's own lack of certainty on the direction of the commodity's value at the outset of what proved to be a historic oil bust.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation With Senate Caucus Chairs Kirk Watson and Joan Huffman on Jan. 12 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation With House Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock on Jan. 22 at The Austin Club

Correction: An original version of this story misspelled the last name of J. David McSwane on second reference.

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