The Johnson Treatment

Council candidate presides over a rather unique substance abuse program

The Golden Eagle Leadership Academy is the successor to the Institute of Healthy Families & Community, which in 1991 began operating out of what was then known as the Recovery Campus of Houston. Last year, the campus was rechristened the Barbara Jordan Recovery Center. It remains an arm of the University of Texas Health Science Center, which doles out funding from TCADA to subcontractors who run the center's treatment programs.

In late 1993, shortly after he was elected to City Council, Yarbrough and his chief of staff Johnson joined the Institute's board of directors. Johnson eventually became board president, and in late 1994 or early 1995, he hired Quanell X to implement a military-style treatment program.

A tireless self-promoter, Quanell drew national attention in October 1995 for comments he made at the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. Speaking to a Chicago Tribune reporter, Quanell advised American Jews to "knuckle up, put your boots on, because we're ready and the war is going down." Prior to the November 4 referendum on the city's affirmative-action program for minority and women contractors, Quanell warned white voters they could expect trouble -- perhaps even violence -- if the program were rejected.

While his credentials as a revolutionary are well-established, staff members who have worked alongside Quanell X say he knows little about treating substance abuse. Shortly after he took charge of the Institute of Healthy Families, there was a spate of ugly incidents at the facility -- at least one of which was the subject of a complaint filed by an Anglo counselor with TCADA in 1995.

"Quanell had a group of young men that he called his 'lieutenants,' " recalls a former staffer who left the Institute about a year and a half ago. "When we would have kids on the unit who were acting out, he would give orders to his lieutenants to go in and beat up on these kids."

The former staff member says that "some of the things Quanell was espousing" led to a brawl between Institute residents and clients of a similar program on the Recovery Campus run by the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans. Some of the 15 or so youths involved in the fracas required medical treatment.

Such allegations of violence led Elmer Bailey to stop sending juvenile probationers to the Institute. Bailey says he notified both program administrators and TCADA about the complaints he received.

"I thought they would figure this deal out, and we'd be back in business with them," Bailey says. "As it's turned out, they didn't and we're not. There's been no change, to my knowledge."

According to former members of the Institute staff, neither TCADA nor the University of Texas Health Science Center were inclined to take action --despite the history of trouble at the facility. "I know they knew what was going on," says a former administrator at the Institute. "But TCADA and UT didn't appear to want to get involved."

Lisa Hernandez of TCADA's sanctions department acknowledges that the state agency investigated allegations of client abuse at the Institute on two occasions in 1996, but says that "no action was taken." A third investigation was launched earlier this year, but the specific allegation that triggered it is "confidential" for now, Hernandez says.

Nonetheless, the state has proven itself generous with Johnson's program. On September 1, the Golden Eagle Leadership Academy -- after changing its name from the Institute of Healthy Families & Community -- received $565,752 in state funds through UT for fiscal year 199798.

Golden Eagle was not required by the state to submit a budget detailing how the money would be spent. Instead, it was given an extension of the Institute of Healthy Families & Community's 199697 contract --even though, according to TCADA, the Institute has been ruled ineligible to receive state money until it produces an audit of its 199596 operations.

The Institute received roughly $460,000 that year. According to a one-page "budget worksheet" provided to the Press by UT, more than 80 percent of that funding -- almost $380,000 --was set aside for employee salaries and benefits. Just $9,133 was earmarked for direct costs of residents, including a mere $1,333 for food. By way of comparison, a total of $9,173 was budgeted for office supplies, meals and entertainment and travel expenses.

It should be noted that Richard Johnson was the treasurer of at least one of Michael Yarbrough's election campaigns. The councilman has made a habit of failing to file timely campaign-finance reports, as required by state law. Among the reports that Yarbrough has yet to submit is the one that was due in January 1996.

At the time, undercover FBI agents posing as investors were dangling bribes before councilmembers who were preparing to award a $155-million contract to build a convention center hotel. Johnson, who has not been implicated, was the only Council aide called to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the bribery allegations. Earlier this year, Yarbrough was one of six people indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges resulting from the FBI sting. This week, both Yarbrough and Johnson were charged with misdemeanor campaign reporting violations.

The troubling allegations of abuse and racial bias at the Golden Eagle Leadership Academy further muddy a campaign that's already been defined by the color of the candidates' skins.

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