HISD is 'hide-and-seek ISD' for keeping investigation under wraps

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The embattled HISD auditor who was shown the door says he was very disappointed that he could no longer serve as a watchdog for taxpayers. (KTRK)

Just a day after embattled HISD auditor Richard Patton was shown the door, he spoke out for the first time, saying that he was "very disappointed" that he could no longer serve as a watchdog for taxpayers and the public interest.

"I feel embarrassed to even be here today," Patton said. "I'm sorry to the taxpayers for not being able to stand up for you and protect your money."

Trustees suspended Patton from the Houston Independent School District in March, months after he questioned officials' rationale behind the district's massive $211 million bond shortfall and days after he spoke with the FBI.

RELATED: District trustees give HISD auditor the boot

He described the last five months as "an emotional roller coaster" and said that his image and reputation have been damaged. Patton did not take questions.

He was briefly brought back to work earlier this month and, on Aug. 10, filed a lawsuit against the district. Trustees did not renew his contract Wednesday.

Patton attorney Chris Feldman said that Patton was suspended -- then, given the boot -- to "hush up" the auditor and keep him from investigating too deeply into the actions of HISD trustees. Indeed, HISD officials have moved the district's ethics and compliance office into the legal department, which will potentially keep much of what the office does from public view.

"It's like the fox guarding the henhouse, no question about it," Feldman said. "It's an easy way to cloak any complaint in the context of attorney-client privilege."

RELATED: HISD audit: Inflation, 'nonexistent policies,' and lack of oversight led to $211M shortfall
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Outside experts looking at HISD's 2012 bond suggest the district has plenty of homework to get the bond program on track.

HISD officials said in a statement released late Thursday that they emphatically deny "unfounded assertions made by Mr. Patton in his latest press conference."

The statement also claimed that Patton made "critical errors" in an audit.

A spokesman said that was a reference to an audit last year in which Patton said that "incomplete project assumptions," "weak or nonexistent policies" and "scope creep" were some of the chief reasons for HISD needing a $211 million taxpayer bailout in its $1.9 billion bond program designed to build or rehabilitate 40 schools.

HISD's administration blamed inflation for the $211 million spike in school costs.

HISD spent $17,000 to conduct its own internal investigation into Patton that might shed some light into why Patton's contract was not renewed, but HISD officials have been fighting to keep that report under wraps.

Feldman said it was troubling that the district is keeping that report secret.

"Houston ISD? Is it hide-and-seek ISD," Feldman said. "That's kind of what it's feeling like right now. They won't even release this report."

Patton has previously said that the only thing he was asked about prior to his March 10 suspension was scanning a few personal documents on an HISD scanner. Scanning a minimal amount of personal papers is perfectly legal, according to board policy.

Other potential concerns: Patton suggested through Feldman that the district should stop construction on its $1.9 billion bond construction until problems are addressed. Patton also expressed great concern about the chilling effect his removal has on the people who are left to watch taxpayer dollars at HISD.

Patton made waves in the district last year in sounding the alarm and the bond's cost overruns.

HISD administrators at the time lashed out at Patton's audit by saying it was "reckless and irresponsible."

Patton's personnel file shows he was a good employee who made top or nearly-top scores in the categories in which he was judged.

He also shook up the HISD auditor's office.

Just before Patton arrived at HISD, a 2013 report by the Institute of Internal Auditors gave the HISD office miserable scores and recommended a slew of changes.

By October of 2015, when the Institute of Internal Auditors returned, they gave the office under Patton top scores.

Before taking the post at HISD, he worked at the Duke Energy/Panhandle Energy/Texas Eastern Transmission in Houston and with Boardwalk Pipeline Partners LP/Entergy Koch LP, where he served as the chief compliance officer.
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newsTed Oberg InvestigatesHISDhouston isdHouston
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