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Federal officials say Fort Worth firm’s work passes muster

FORT WORTH — A local minority-owned property management company for years has been touted as a key example of how to earn federal grants.

Having landed $71 million in Department of Housing and Urban Development grants in a single year — and more than $280 million in grants since 2004 — Harrington, Moran and Barksdale Inc. of Fort Worth was named last year among the companies most successful with HUD.

Now the company that began in 1993 under the tutelage of two local former Reagan administration officials is caught up in the latest round of publicity surrounding former Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson and an investigation into whether HUD contracts were awarded to his friends.

This, despite federal housing officials saying the company's contracts have been reviewed and passed muster.

"When a small company off the beaten path goes from 0 to 60 like a race car, you have to ask what happened," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. "This company isn't the only one. There are other companies scattered around that seemed to develop pipelines into HUD.

"When someone goes from not having much to having a great deal, questions will be asked and good answers need to be forthcoming."

Some say this is simply politics as usual.

"Doesn't politics usually get into these things?" asked Andy Hansz, an associate finance and real estate professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. "That's usually the way these things work."

The company

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This company, which specializes as a commercial real estate agent, gets contracts to put foreclosed HUD properties back on the market to sell, HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said.

Many of the contracts were at least partially based on criteria that the company is small, veteran-owned, minority-owned and black American-owned.

Records show HBMI has about 300 employees and reached $50 million in sales in 2006. The company Web site indicates the company provides service in 10 states — Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

The officers

Barksdale, a graduate of the old I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth, is known locally in the black business community.

Devoyd Jennings, a fellow Terrell graduate, said Barksdale was about 10 years ahead of him at school, but he was among those who went back to visit.

"They were up and coming positive role models," said Jennings, president of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce. "They'd come back ... and talk about what they were doing in their careers.

"They were encouraging you to look for a business career," he said. "That was very positive to us. It wasn't very often we'd see African American businessmen in our community doing well."

Barksdale also was a member on the black chamber of commerce board until he resigned to serve in Reagan's administration.

"We were very proud to have a guy from Fort Worth, Texas, go to serve in the Regan administration," Jennings said. "I knew I could call up there and have one friend. It was all very impressive."

Moran, a former criminal prosecutor, has ties to key Republicans as well.

Moran in the 1990s was named by then-Gov. George W. Bush to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. He also is a former assistant secretary for community planning and development at HUD during the Reagan years.

'Undergone scrutiny'

Before Jackson joined the Bush administration, he served as president and CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority, also leading Texas' General Services Commission.

A Washington Post review showed that HMBI was one of a few companies to win more than $100 million dollars in HUD contracts despite staff inquiring whether the small companies could handle the work load.

HUD officials say regulatory-required analyses were conducted to make sure contractors could handle the contracts. Beyond that, HUD officials say the HMBI contracts were reviewed by the federal Government Accountability Office and traditional courts of law.

"There have been no problems found with that company," said Brown, the HUD spokesman. "They have undergone scrutiny and they stood up.

"The bottom line is there are certain contracts set aside for women owned businesses, not to mention minorities and those with disabilities. The goal is to give those people an opportunity."

'Politics as usual'>/h2>Last year, the U.S. Small Business Administration released a report: "Top 100 Small Business Government Contractors," listing 100 small businesses that received the most federal dollars in 2006, to show initiatives to improve small business access to federal contracts. HMBI made the list.

Also last year, the Affordable Housing Finance magazine put out a list of three Sec. 8a firms "that have been very successful with HUD." One of those was HMBI.

The list noted that the company picked up $174.6 million in HUD contracts from 2004 to 2006 and "went from zero to $71 million" in contracts in fiscal 2004 alone. It also noted that in 2000, Moran contributed $1,000 to the Republican National Committee and $1,000 to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2002.

Jennings, whose wife went to school in Dallas with Jackson, said much of what is going on is "politics as usual."

"Anybody who doesn't realize that the Bush administration totally is under attack is blind," he said. "The fact remains, as in any administration, that everything doesn't go well.

"It's political season and these things happen."

Researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report

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