Commissioner Rodney Ellis and the African Art Collection - The Public Deserves the Truth
Updated: Nov 8, 2021
In February 2020, Channel 2 News (click-2-houston.com) reported that Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis was secretly storing a massive, privately-owned African art collection in a refurbished Harris County maintenance shed. Commissioner Ellis was even shown on surveillance video giving personal tours of the art collection to his friends and family. When the media repeatedly asked Commissioner Ellis to explain the matter, Ellis was (and remains) evasive, to include who actually even owns the art collection. So, we have an evasive elected official using a taxpayer-funded county facility to store a private art collection (owner unknown), with no rental agreement, no rent being paid/collected, and no taxes paid on the inventory? Given all the irregularities, the Harris County District Attorney's Office Public Integrity Unit launched an investigation in late February 2020. As of October 4, 2021 (yes, 18 months later), the D.A.'s investigation is reportedly still not complete. In addition, the art collection is STILL being stored, at taxpayer's expense, in that county maintenance shed.
So, upon review of the media reports, did Commissioner Ellis spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to refurbish and use a county-owned maintenance shed for a private purpose? Did he utilize his elected Office to confer this benefit? If so, why? When discussing the artwork with his Pct. 1 staff, why did Commissioner Ellis use an email alias (“Glenn Rodney”), a combination of his first and middle names in reverse order? Was it to avoid public disclosure (via Open Records Requests; Discovery)? Who actually owns this massive art collection and how is Commissioner Ellis financially involved? Also, why has the District Attorney's Office taken so long to complete its' investigation and take action? The perception of a political "cover-up" grows as this matter continues to drag out. In 2018, when Democrats took control of Harris County government, the public was promised transparency. Let's practice what we preach. In addition to transparency, let's add some accountability, too.
For some of the media reports on this continuing story, please see the links below:
Massive private African art collection under control of commissioner Rodney Ellis remains in public shed (click2houston.com)
African art stored in Harris County shed to be moved, despite ownership not being authenticated (click2houston.com)
Email shows Ellis concerned over African art’s ownership months before KPRC 2 Investigates report (click2houston.com)
New details after Channel 2 Investigates finds art collection stashed in county maintenance shed (click2houston.com)
Surveillance footage shows Harris County Commissioner giving private tours of African art collection stored in shed (click2houston.com)
New agreement proposed by Ellis prompts more questions into ownership of African art stored in Harris County shed (click2houston.com)
UPDATE: On 10/28/21, a Harris County Grand Jury declined to indict (no-billed) Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis for corruption related to the African artwork he had stored in a Harris County maintenance shed since 2017 (see story above). In order to indict Commissioner Ellis under Texas Penal Code 39.02 (Abuse of Official Capacity), prosecutors would need to show that Commissioner Ellis obtained, or attempted to obtain, a "benefit" through his questionable actions. Since prosecutors still haven't been able to establish who actually owns the artwork, they couldn't establish that Commissioner Ellis obtained, or attempted to obtain, a "benefit" through this actions. In my opinion, Commissioner Ellis is avoiding criminal prosecution merely due to a lack of evidence, not because he is innocent. If more evidence comes to light, this matter could still be prosecuted in the future. Time will tell. In the meantime, I urge interested readers to click on the media links above and decide for yourself whether Commissioner Ellis' actions were proper for an elected official. Corruption is still corruption, even if you can't prove it (yet).
For the story on the Grand Jury No-Bill, please click on the link below:
Grand Jury Declines to charge Commissioner Rodney Ellis in African Art case (click2houston.com)
Texas Penal Code Section 39.02 - Abuse of Official Capacity (2019) (public.law)
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