Insider

Board Out of Its Gourd!

"Well, I don't think this is the book she wants us to read."

On the other hand, visitors to recent board meetings are often shocked by the manner in which Austin, Garcia, and Davila berate Burgos-Sasscer and seem openly contemptuous of her.

Westchase District director Jim Murphy has a close working relationship with the Burgos-Sasscer administration. He agrees that the board could do without the "posturing and a chip on the shoulder mentality, which has gotten very volatile lately. Its hard to have a discussion when one of the parties is yelling, or interrupting."

Vidal Martinez, Burgos-Sasscer's lawyer, is a Houston Port commissioner who has served on the UH Board of Regents. In his view, the personal attacks on the chancellor by some trustees have gotten out of hand.

"It has seemed to deteriorate into a fairly personal, and fairly strident relationship with each other," says Martinez. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was the attorney who helped the last TSU president negotiate a buyout of his contract. "Some of these people are just parachuting their way in once a month and just blowing the system up. Instead of being an inside-the-tent finesse player, they insist upon tossing hand grenades in from outside the tent."

Trustee Davila, who is running for Houston City Council, makes no apologies for the board's conduct. "You know, when a person makes $200,000, it amazes me that there's any type of criticism of how they are being treated when we are doing it on a volunteer basis," he says. "Respect has to go both ways. If someone wants respect, they have to give respect."

Davila criticizes the chancellor for pushing a plan to relocate HCC administrative offices to a downtown building he labels "an asbestos-filled Taj Mahal." Davila himself has been pushing for HCC to take over the former Milby Bus Barn on the eastside, despite studies that have shown dangerous levels of chemical pollution there. An HCC source notes that Davila did not oppose the downtown office building until Burgos-Sasscer refused to back the acquisition of the bus barn site.

Austin and Davila indicate their patience with the chancellor is nearly at an end. But the patience of some Houston business leaders with board antics is also running thin.

Port Commission Chair Ned Holmes, who also is the departing president of Greater Houston Partnership, says there is growing unease in the partnership over the continuing instability at HCC. He recalls that during similar turbulence at HISD, the group mobilized and supported trustee candidates that it felt would work responsibly with the superintendent.

"We may well get to the same level of activism on the community college," says Holmes. "I don't think the partnership is yet up to speed enough to feel comfortable wading in, but that does not mean it won't get there."

Attorney Martinez, also a member of the partnership board, figures it's just a matter of time before political forces are brought to bear to clean up the HCC mess.

"When you have institutions that go out of control like this, when the gyroscope just gets so screwy that it spins out of control, it comes to everybody's attention," says Martinez. "And frankly, the business community is able to raise money and put candidates in place."

With three trustee positions up for a vote this fall, including Oliver's swing position, Martinez predicts the competition for the seats could suddenly intensify.

"So far, most of these people have run unopposed," notes the lawyer. "The political winds may not be so charitably inclined this fall if these guys can't get their business straight."

Martinez pauses. "That's not a threat, it's just life in the big city."

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