It was a trial reconciliation that was never going to work and late yesterday, the Houston Independent School District made it official: Chief Auditor Richard Patton is out of a job.
Sent home in March after his audit team issued a report critical of the district's oversight of construction projects, Patton was only summoned back to work a few days before school started in August. Two days later he had filed a whistleblower lawsuit.
According to HISD, Patton was investigated for having had a staffer scan some of Patton's personal documents. After spending $17,000 on an investigation, the district cleared him to return to duty five months after it suspended him.
Patton and his team say he was suspended after notifying the FBI, the HISD police chief and the Harris County District Attorney's Office about possible illegalities in the district's construction contracts.
There were also those questions raised about the activities of some school board members — the travel of trustees Jolanda Jones, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Diana Davila to California on a trip initially paid for by the vendor Scholastic but later reimbursed by the trustees. Patton's department also looked into whether newly elected trustee Davila had lived in her district as long as she had said she did. Recently State Senator Paul Bettencourt entered into the mix by proposing that the Texas Education Agency be given its own Inspector General's office, specifically citing Richard Patton's case as to why it was needed.
Even when Patton returned, his job didn't carry its previous authority. The district re-arranged reporting duties, moving members of his team to the HISD legal department.
Late Wednesday, the law firm of Feldman & Feldman, which was retained by Patton, issued a statement calling the district's decision "retaliation." Wednesday was the last day of Patton's contract and a letter from Board President Manuel Rodriguez informed the chief auditor the contract would not be renewed.
In the report that got Patton crosswise with some trustees and members of the administration, it blamed mismanagement for huge extra costs in the 2012 bond program, rather than on inflation, as the district insisted. A recent independent report from KPMG agreed with HISD that most of the added costs were due to inflation, although it also noted weak oversight of the bond program by the district.
Update: 5:15 p.m. September 1, 2016
HISD just issued a press release responding to media reports of Patton's last day as follows:
The Houston Independent School District emphatically denies the unfounded assertions made by Mr. Patton in his latest press conference. The Internal Audit Department made critical errors while under Mr. Patton’s direction, including faulty and improper conclusions made during a review of bond program expenditures. These critical errors made under the direction of Mr. Patton were confirmed by an independent external audit. In addition, a review by outside counsel for HISD confirmed the audit department under Mr. Patton’s guidance failed to apply the correct legal standards for job order contracting, resulting in faulty audit findings by the department.
The Board's decisions about staffing and organizing the HISD Internal Audit Department are based on the need to ensure that HISD has an effective internal audit function that operates according to best practices. Mr. Patton’s public statements to the contrary are false.
The Board will discuss at subsequent meetings the issue of appointing an Interim Chief Audit Executive and a search for a full-time Chief Audit Executive. In the meantime, the Internal Audit Department will continue to execute on its annual internal audit plan and report on those work activities to the Board.
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