Well, as if things couldn't get any grander with Houston ISD investigating its own chief auditor who investigated it – and clearly found the district's oversight wanting in an audit report released last October – the silenced-by-HISD Richard Patton has hired Dolcefino Consulting to speak for him.
Told by HISD officials to sit at home and not to have contact with pretty much anyone about HISD business, Patton – barred from explaining his side of the still unknown allegations (HISD won't be specific) – has engaged the services of former super investigative reporter turned consultant Wayne Dolcefino.
Dolcefino, as is his wont, came out swinging. “Richard Patton is a man of integrity, and before our work to restore his good name is over every taxpayer and parent in the Houston Independent School District will understand exactly what happens when an HISD internal auditor tries to do his job to protect your money and your kids too thoroughly,” Dolcefino wrote in a press release (although his version was all caps, which makes our eyes hurt so we changed it for you.)
HISD had made its displeasure with the audit report known right away. In a late October board meeting then Chief Operating Officer Leo Bobadilla attacked the report, saying the only thing the audit team was supposed to do was check the administration's math to verify whether a projected projected $211 million building shortfall was due to massive inflation. “It was not designed to identify fraud,” Bobadilla wrote.
In case Patton didn't realize he was in trouble right then and there, some of his supporters reportedly urged him to retain a lawyer at that point.
Apparently attempting to handle the matter himself, on November 3, Patton sent the school board a letter in which he says :
“I have recently been alerted to media reports which indicate that some board members are not supportive of the work performed by the Office of Internal Audit. While I have detected this discontent through their actions as well as through verbal interactions, I have always had an open door policy and have invited all members of the Board of Education to drop by to review supporting documentation or discuss concerns but I have yet to have anyone take me up on the offer.”
Patton argued in his letter that: “the Office of Internal Audit needs continues freedom to conduct audits without fear or threat. We do not react to political or personal needs as we are professional auditors and base our recommendations on tangible evidence.”
“In all due respect, it is also difficult for the Office of Internal Audit to meet the demands of each individual board member, but we strive to do so.”
Patton also wrote that in his opinion the district's Construction and Facilities Services department was “in violation of HISD policy and State law” when it “split job order contract work orders in in order to fall below the State law maximum.”
“The split orders occurred at the same address and specific location, same date, sequentially numbered, and the work was performed by the same vendor,” said Patton, who wrote that he shared his concerns with Chief Robert Mock of the HISD Police Department on September 10.
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.
On January 14, this same board decided to significantly tweak its own ethics policy, voting 5-4 to allow trustees to accept up to $2,000 in a year from a single vendor or nonprofit organization before that trustee has to remove himself from any discussion or votes involving contracts or other business the board does with that entity.
Several trustees argued that the $500 cap was just too confining.