Net Compensation

The city's sparing no expense for its youth soccer director

Doc Lawson is a hard-working guy. As director of the Houston Metropolitan Area Youth Soccer League, Lawson has been averaging a 40-hour work week since he took the job in November 1994. Not an unreasonable load, considering the complexity of putting together Mayor Bob Lanier's pet recreation program, which debuted last spring and is now entering its second year of operation.

What's more impressive is how Lawson juggles his full-time Houston job with his other demands: the former Dallas Sidekicks defender simultaneously holds two other jobs as a consultant to the municipal soccer programs in San Antonio and Dallas, which he helped found. In addition, he works as a consultant to Snickers candy bars, a major sponsor of youth soccer leagues nationwide, and serves on several soccer-related boards and committees.

Just how he manages such an intense schedule might be cause for concern, considering the problems the city's program has had getting off the ground: as previously reported in the Press, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department recently fired, suspended or otherwise disciplined more than 30 employees for allegedly failing to market the youth soccer league properly. What might be even greater cause for concern is the fact that, as one parks administrator says, "Lawson isn't around all that much."

Given the parks department's huge budget overruns, a good chunk of which are attributable to the soccer program, one might think that a little oversight of such trifles as salaries might be in order. But so grateful is parks director Bill Smith to have the former pro player at the helm that virtually no expense is spared. Lawson totes a city-issue 800-number pager, and the department picks up the tab for his cellular phone, which last year totaled about $4,600, easily the agency's heftiest (Smith tallied only about half that amount on his).

On top of those perks, Lawson pulls down a decent wage. For the first six months of his contract, he was paid $24,000 out of a fund administered by the Parks Board, the nonprofit adjunct to the city department. That amount, paid in a lump sum on May 4, was the maximum allowable under an initial six-month contract the department signed with Lawson that expired at the end of last April.

But for a 15-week stretch beginning in January 1995, Lawson was also receiving payments from the city through a temporary agency, ITC Personnel Services. With that supplement, Lawson's total take exceeded his salary cap by almost $7,500. City records indicate that Lawson apparently double-billed the Parks Board and the city for the same work.

Department spokeswoman Susan Christian says the dual salary arrangement makes sense. The Parks Board fund, which is fed by contributions from such corporate sponsors as Fiesta and NationsBank, is occasionally depleted by expenses. The temp agency is simply a stopgap until enough cash accumulates in the fund to pay Lawson his due. The fund, Christian says, is supposed to reimburse the city for the temp agency payments. However, according to Parks Board records, no such reimbursement has been made. And city records show that seven other soccer employees are paid through temp agencies.

As for giving Lawson 31 percent more than the top dollar allowed in his contract, acting deputy parks director Sara Culbreth says the explanation is simple: the actual deal with Lawson calls for paying the soccer chief $60,000 a year. Asked where such an agreement might be documented, Culbreth fidgets nervously. "That's what I've been told," she says.

In fact, because the city's deal with Lawson expired last April, the city has no valid agreement with him at all. Still, he's drawn $14,582 from the Parks Board account since last May and is currently getting weekly checks from another temp agency, All Temps.

The city tried to formalize the arrangement with Lawson last June, drawing up a contract that would make the Parks Board the official employer. The board tentatively accepted, pending a legal review of the contract.

However, such a review was never completed and the contract never signed, though board chair Peter Wareing says the review is now under way, eight months later. Asked why the department would need such a contract, when the board simply acts as a pass-through for soccer-program cash, Susan Christian says it's a matter of accountability. "It's just a lot cleaner when you have an agreement," she says.

Wareing agrees. "I think it's just good business practice to try to do that, if it's gonna be a long-term deal, and evidently this is," he says. "This is a program that the mayor wants to do. It's his idea. And so if we can be of assistance in trying to help him accomplish it, that's what we're here for."

In any case, the draft contract limits Lawson's compensation to just under $48,000. How Lawson will be paid the balance of his phantom $60,000 agreement remains as much a mystery as the agreement itself.

As for some of Lawson's other perks, Susan Christian says the department is reviewing his cellular phone records, and if any calls unrelated to city soccer business appear, he'll be asked to pay for them. The 800-number pager will continue to ride Lawson's hip.

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