HISD Audit Chief's Alleged Misdeeds Kept Under Tight Wrap

Audit committee member Diana Davila and new committee chair Jolanda Jones (with gavel)
Audit committee member Diana Davila and new committee chair Jolanda Jones (with gavel)
Margaret Downing

Did Richard Patton do such a good job investigating in-house corruption as chief auditor for the Houston ISD that members of his own board (made uneasy by his unrelenting queries) turned against him, as was suggested in a Houston Chronicle story Thursday?

Or was Patton leading some kind of double life, presenting a facade of Calvinist righteousness publicly while engaging in reprehensible conduct elsewhere, perhaps preying upon the very district he had sworn to protect?

Or did aliens come down from the planet Zartog and inhabit Patton's body, causing him to behave in strange and unacceptable ways?

Take your pick. Or come up with another theory of your own. But whatever you do, don't bother attending meetings like Thursday's gathering of the HISD Audit Committee if you are seeking info about what Patton is alleged to have done.

Lips zipped, wagons circled, information held breathtakingly close to their vests. Check, check and check.

“I think HISD wants to make sure that HISD doesn't violate any laws about personnel stuff because we have an obligation not to do that,” said newly elected chair of the Audit Committee Jolanda Jones, who at least stayed after the meeting adjourned and answered (some) questions.

Patton, who uncovered a number of problems in the district in recent years and whose reports sometimes criticized the district for its contract oversight (or lack thereof), has been ordered to sit at home while an investigation into his own activities continues.

His homebound status, first revealed by the Chronicle and KTRK (Channel 13) after their public records requests, shows that he received a letter on March 10 relieving him of his duties and assigning him to (undisclosed) home duties.

On Thursday, the Houston Press obtained a copy of the letter, signed by Gloria Cavazos, chief human resource officer in HISD's Human Resources Department, in which she wrote that “allegations of misconduct and other performance concerns” had been made against him. It directs Patton “not to have contact with staff, students, parents, colleagues, or participate in any district activities regarding official HISD business.”

Aided by attorneys sitting by, Jones declined to answer questions when asked about who had requested the investigation, who decided the allegations were worth investigating, who assigned the investigation to the Audit Committee and who decided Patton should sit at home since March 10 while this was all playing out.

Asked what she knew about Patton, Jones said, “I don't know anything about Mr. Patton. I'm a baby board member.” Later she said: “I will know if Mr. Patton did his job well after the completion of the investigation.”

Jones, who was nominated to be chair of the three-member Audit Committee on Thursday by Diana Davila and elected in a 2-1 vote (Anna Eastman, who has been on the committee for several years, abstained), made it clear she doesn't think much of former superintendent Terry Grier telling the Chronicle that this investigation may be retaliation by some board members against Patton, supposedly because they didn't like the questions he was asking.

“My opinion is, who is Dr. Grier? I mean, he's got axes to grind with the district as well. No disrespect intended, but he doesn't have the vote on this. That's another reason I ran for the school board. Because of him, my son couldn't go to Yates. So all I'm saying is I don't know why he's weighing in on this. He's the ex-superintendent.”

Jones stressed that she is in no way involved in or micromanaging the law firm assigned to investigate Patton. “The best case is we need to stay out of it and let them do what they do.”

Patton came to work for the district in February 2010 as its new E-Rate compliance officer, with a $150,000 annual salary, after the district had gotten itself in so much trouble for its bidding process (vendors were supposedly gifting board members to affect their votes) that the feds suspended its E-rate program funding, which offered discounts on technology. The district reached a settlement with the government and paid $850,000 – but clearly lost a lot of funding while everything was on hold.

Patton graduated from Ole Miss with a BA in accounting and had worked for energy companies before coming to HISD, where he had several evaluations resulting in promotions and pay increases.


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