Acknowledging that "the public trust that we've had is really waning" and that "there's an appearance of impropriety," Houston ISD board trustee Anna Eastman said today she believes the district should have "a third party to audit our bidding and procurement procedures."
In recent months, increasing questions have been raised about whether Board President Paula Harris should be voting on the contracts of her good friend Nicole West, who operates a construction firm. Previously, Harris has defiantly said that she's not going to give up her friends and that there's nothing wrong in her voting on business involving them.
Harris did not return phone calls from Hair Balls on Thursday. She has told the Houston Chronicle that she would start abstaining from votes involving West.
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Criticism has also been leveled at board member Larry Marshall for his trip to Costa Rica, to which he responded in an earlier board meeting that he was doing good work, looking for better ways to fund health care. The Chronicle reported this week that Marshall had approached both Superintendent Terry Grier and Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett about hiring Kenneth Wells, a Houston doctor who accompanied Marshall on the Costa Rica trip.
HISD board policy states that trustees are not supposed to talk to potential vendors about upcoming business with the district between the time the bidding process starts and the board votes on it.
Stressing that she wasn't pointing the finger at any fellow board members, Eastman said what she's looking for is "at least recommendations for higher standards and control."
"I think it's very clear at this point that no laws have been broken," Eastman said. "I'm not in the position to accuse anyone. I just think it's incredibly important for us to be beyond reproach."