Schoolhouse Rocked: Allegations of Conflicts of Interest at HCC

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​Things seem to keep getting uglier over at Houston Community College.

On Thursday, the board of trustees reportedly held a closed session to discuss an investigation into possible conflicts of interest by trustee Yolanda Flores and former trustee Abel Davila. The two are being scrutinized for allegedly having financial interests in companies that received contracts from the college.

According to a statement from board chairman Dr. Michael P. Williams, "The law firm of Smyser, Kaplan & Veselka was hired by the HCC Board of Trustees to review various compliance issues. The firm, represented by Larry Veselka, updated the board in closed session on the current status of his review. Mr. Veselka will confer with the Harris County District Attorney's Office regarding this matter. Therefore, the board and administration cannot comment further."

Both Flores and Davila have repeatedly denied doing anything inappropriate. And now, it seems, Flores is fighting back.

In an e-mail to her fellow trustees, Flores on Thursday expressed concern over another possible business-related conflict of interest, this one involving Chancellor Mary Spangler and Deputy Chancellor Art Tyler.

According to the e-mail, Flores states that Spangler and Tyler created a for-profit business called iCEPS International, which she believes may be profiting from HCC's relationship with Qatar. Earlier this year, HCC signed a $45 million contract with the Qatar government to develop and open the Community College of Qatar.

Hair Balls could not find any Website for iCEPS International, but Flores states that she did earlier this month, and that the company "announced on its website, teaching opportunities in ... Qatar as well as the recruitment of students to higher education institutions" in the Persian Gulf country.

States Flores, "In June 2009, I adamantly opposed Mary Spangler's request to allow her to form a 501(c)(3) corporation in her name that would allow her to use Houston Community College resources to develop initiatives in Middle Eastern countries. HCC resources, she claimed, could be used via the corporation to provide consulting and other services to Middle Eastern countries for which HCC would be paid. I pointed out legal concerns about forming a corporation in Spangler's name. The other trustees agreed and therefore did not approve her request. Spangler was visibly upset with the Board's decision."

Flores says that Spangler and Tyler proceeded anyway, despite the board's rejection of her request.

At the end of her e-mail, Flores closes by stating, "I also question whether the two top HCC officials are benefiting financially from their position with this institution, whether iCEPS International LLC was the headhunters who conducted the 'national search' to fill the many position in Qatar, whether the Qatar government paid iCEPS International LLC for this service, whether iCEPS International LLC has business relationships with any [other] foreign country ... how much of Dr. Spangler and Dr. Tyler's HCC time has been spent on the operation of their corporation in their efforts to find staff for the Qatar Community College, have any HCC resources been spent in the development of their corporation among other questions. I ask for a full investigation in all these questions."

Speaking on behalf of Spangler, HCC spokesman Dan Arguijo says that someone from iCEPS International will contact Hair Balls with a response to the allegations, however the company did not do so before publication. (We will update the story as soon as someone from the company calls us.)

In addition, a former HCC police officer has written a letter to numerous state and federal officials, including U.S senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, Republican U.S. Congressman Pete Olson, and the Texas Rangers, begging for someone to initiate an outside investigation into HCC.

The former officer, who was terminated by HCC and is one of four former HCC cops who have filed EEOC complaints alleging unfair termination, discrimination and retaliation, is asking the officials to examine several areas, including the HCC police department and its chief Gregory Cunningham, as well as iCEPS International and other financial matters relating to Tyler and Spangler.

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