Texas aide hired without competition, granted tuition money

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

AUSTIN, TX -- A top deputy at Texas' massive state health agency received the job without any competition and then was granted nearly $100,000 to pay for his graduate school tuition, according to state records.

Casey Haney, a former aide to Gov. Rick Perry who also previously worked for state Health Commissioner Kyle Janek, was hired in 2012 as Janek's deputy chief of staff at $159,000 a year, without a formal application process. Janek later approved a $97,000 payment to Haney to pursue a master's degree in business.

Both moves appear to violate agency policy that calls for jobs open to external candidates to be posted online and for tuition payments to be reimbursed after graduation.

Janek also approved $37,000 in up-front tuition payments for Deputy Commissioner Patricia Vojack, whose salary is $165,000 a year, to pursue an executive master's degree, records show.

There was no formal application for Haney's job because officials thought Haney was well qualified, agency spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman told the Houston Chronicle. The agency also pays tuition for three to five employees a year, she said.

Goodman also said the agency has changed its tuition payment policy to put applications before a review panel, and to only cover 50 percent of programs that cost more than $5,000.

Both Haney and Vojack have agreed to return half of the tuition reimbursements they received.

The state health commission already is facing a criminal investigation into a recently awarded no-bid contract.

Travis County prosecutors are looking into a now-canceled $110 million contract to an Austin technology company that was put through a no-bid program for much smaller purchases. Two agency officials, Inspector General Doug Wilson and his deputy Jack Stick, have resigned. Stick was a former lobbyist for the company that was granted the contract.

Haney worked for both Janek and Stick when they were state legislators, then moved to Perry's office. Vojak also previously worked for Janek, who was appointed by Perry as state health commissioner in 2012.

Jack Stick's wife, Erica, served as Janek's chief of staff, supervising Haney and signing off on his request for the prepaid tuition, according to state records. She has been placed on leave.

Jack Stick's salary was $200,000. Erica Stick was paid about $160,000.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said Friday that the state budget will require agencies and universities to meet new reporting requirements before entering into contracts worth more than $10 million and purchases worth more than $1 million that were not competitively bid.