Local NewsTaxes & SpendingHarris County $11 Million Vaccine Outreach Contract to One-Woman Firm Draws Scrutiny

Newly released documents show a $7 million bid was scored more highly, but Hidalgo’s office intervened to instead give nearly $11 million to a politically connected firm at a higher cost.
September 3, 2021
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Last month tempers flared at Harris County Commissioners Court after County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) accused Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) of telling a “bold-faced lie” when he referred to a vendor as a “one-woman company.” 

Although the expenditure had been approved months earlier in a 4 to 1 vote, little information had been provided to commissioners about Elevate Strategies, LLC, the winner of a $10.9 million contract to conduct vaccine outreach. 

It was not until August that commissioners learned that the company was only founded in 2019, listed a Montrose apartment as its business address, and only consisted of one person: Felicity Pereyra, a former deputy campaign manager for Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) and former employee of both the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Now documents from the county indicate that prior to evaluations, members of the contract committee from Hidalgo’s office requested changes to the experience and qualifications required to bid on the project.

For example, a requirement that firms have “a minimum of five years of demonstrated experience conducting quantitative and qualitative evaluations of large as well as small scale public health…media engagement,” was changed to a “minimum of three years preferred.” 

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Other experience requirements were also shortened by the number of years and changed to “preferred,” and a requirement for experience in market research services was removed entirely. 

Other documents obtained by FOX 26 reporter Greg Groogan indicate that Elevate Strategies was not the number-one scoring vendor.

In the initial scoring charts comparing four vendors, the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center earned a score of 240 to Elevate Strategies’ 204. Texas Tool Belt, owned by Kimberly Olsen of the Left-leaning Texas Organizing Project, came in third with a score of 184.

County records also indicate that Elevate Strategies had initially requested $19.3 million to conduct vaccine outreach, a figure two and a half times higher than the UT bid. 

While two committee members from the public health department gave UT Health Science Center high marks and only mid-range scores to Elevate Strategies, committee members Alex Triantaphyllis, Aaron Dunn, and Wallis Nader- all members of Hidalgo’s staff -awarded high scores to Elevate Strategies but not enough to offset the score strength for UT.

Although the UT Health Science Center came in first with a bid of $7.5 million, a member of the contract committee later told Harris County purchasing agent DeWight Dopslauf to disqualify UT, claiming they had “underperformed” on another project. 

During her dustup last month with Cagle, Hidalgo insisted there were no unethical issues surrounding the Elevate Strategies contract, and said, “I have no personal interest nor political interest in any of this,” and referred to news stories about the issue a “political hit job.”

New details about both the vendor and the selection process however have prompted Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct.3), who voted for the initial proposal, to call for reconsideration of the contract later this month.

“We know a great deal more now about the contract and how it was selected than we did when this was presented to court,” Ramsey told The Texan. “There’s clearly a lack of transparency in this and I will put this back on the agenda on September 14th and in light of all that we know now I will be advocating that we terminate the contract.”

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.

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