HISD auditor grievance: suspended for being whistleblower

Tuesday, June 7, 2016
HISD auditor grievance: suspended for being whistleblower
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HISD auditor who was suspended days after telling HISD about FBI talks about the district's potential illegalities.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The Houston Independent School District in-house watchdog who was suspended months after he questioned top district officials' rationale behind the HISD's massive $211 million bond shortfall -- and days after he spoke with the FBI -- filed a formal grievance Monday with the school board fighting his suspension.

In the document, suspended auditor Richard Patton claims 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.

See a copy Patton's full grievance here.

Patton's attorney told abc13 that he talked to the FBI about issues in the district on March 7.

See that story here: HISD auditor says FBI asking questions about district

See the Ted Oberg Investigates report here: After blowing whistle on the cause of $211M shortfall, HISD auditor suspended

Patton's grievance also states that the HISD trustees, who Patton reports to, did not not start investigating those allegations until one month later on April 7. At that point, Patton received a memo from Trustee and Audit Committee Chair Jolanda Jones that "outside counsel was retained to investigate allegations of 'misconduct' involving" Patton.

On April 13, Patton said he saw for the first time certain "performance concerns" the board had with the auditor. They include, in part, "exceeding authority" and improper communication with coworkers, such as his being critical of HISD lobbyists for accusing them of providing misinformation to lawmakers.

A memo provided by Patton's grievance shows that HISD trustees claim that they discussed these issues with Patton in a public meeting. Patton states this never happened.

The grievance also provides the first glimpse at some of the red flags that Patton found.

Chiefly, the grievance outlines a practice known as splitting job orders, a violation of law by dividing pricey contracts into smaller amounts, usually to avoid having to put those deals out to bid. Splitting job orders also makes it easier for those in power to steer contracts to friends and family.

In late 2015, Patton states he went to the HISD chief of police with evidence of splitting job orders. HISD trustees did not respond on how best to proceed with Patton's findings, according to the grievance.

"It was also clear that the board president at the time, Rhonda Skillen-Jones was particularly perturbed" by Patton's audits that unearthed the job order splitting, according to the grievance.

Skillen-Jones said she had not seen the grievance, but would respond once she did. We will update this post as soon as we receive it.

In a previous interview, HISD Board President Manuel Rodriguez told us he was aware of the auditor's discussions with the FBI and said those discussions had no bearing on Patton's suspension.

Patton certainly has ruffled feathers in the upper echelons of the HISD administration and among some trustees when he blew the whistle in October that a $211 million shortfall in the district's $19 billion bond program was not due of inflation -- as HISD brass claimed -- but because of "scope creep by agreeing to work that was not in the original plan."

See that story here: Audit: HISD inflation claims as cause for $211M shortfall are false

Patton's personnel file shows he was a good employee who scored top marks.

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 reams of suggested changes.

By October of 2015, when the Institute of Internal Auditors returned, they gave the office under Patton the highest grades possible.

See other Ted Oberg Investigates reports on Patton's audit and the HISD shortfall here:

The new math? HISD rolls out explanation of $212M school building cost overrun

HISD superintendent email raises questions if bond promises will be kept

HISD superintendent's rush to vote on extra $211m leading to showdown

Despite long list of maintenance needs, HISD wants maintenance money to fill bond hole

HISD trustees approve plan to add $212M to bond program

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier long gone by the time audit complete