Suspended HISD Auditor Richard Patton Accuses HISD of Retaliation, Asks for Job Back

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It's becoming a bit clearer why Richard Patton was, questionably, suspended from his post as the Houston Independent School District's chief audit executive in March, just months after HISD officials blasted him when he released the results of an internal audit that was unfavorable to HISD. And strangely enough, a drawing of a log cabin might be involved.

On Monday, Patton filed a grievance with HISD, claiming that he was suspended not for "allegations of misconduct and other performance concerns," as HISD board members have claimed but never explained, but for, well, doing his job: auditing. He claims that HISD retaliated against him for being a whistleblower after he alerted authorities to potential misdoing on the part of HISD officials, given he can identify no other justifiable "performance misconduct" reason. Except, maybe, just one.

So here's where the log-cabin sketch comes in: Over two years, Patton says in his complaint, he asked his assistant to scan several pages of personal documents for him, which board members confronted him about shortly before they decided to suspend him. The pages included, yes, a log-cabin drawing (because he and his wife wanted one), a mortgage application and a credit union document (among others), according to his consultant, Wayne Dolcefino.

If that's seriously why board members are suspending him, Patton argues, then retaliation must be what is driving them to do so. In his grievance, he asks HISD to give him back his job immediately and allow him access to his work email so he can produce the evidence necessary to prove his case. (At a meeting Monday, board member Wanda Adams said members couldn't comment because this is a "personnel matter," and HISD Interim Superintendent Ken Huewitt said he was unable to comment because he hadn't seen the grievance yet.)

Patton made waves last October when he released an audit report about how the district handled (or mishandled, rather) 2012 construction bond funds. The district had faced a massive $211 million building shortfall, and the HISD Audit Committee instructed Patton to find out how that happened. Former superintendent Terry Grier wanted to blame the shortfall pretty much entirely on inflation within the construction market. And while Patton noted in his final report that that may have played a part, the $211 million shortfall was also due to poor cost management, failure to undergo a competitive bidding process for other construction contractors and poor oversight of the contractors in general on the part of HISD. 

Some HISD officials were apparently so incensed by Patton's findings that they accused him of "bias," using "flawed methodology" and having a "profound lack of understanding of the Houston economic climate," as then-chief operating officer Leo Bobadilla wrote at the time. As we reported last October, the administration, with Bobadilla playing messenger, appeared to believe that the audit was not supposed to "identify fraud" (which Patton never explicitly accused them of), but should only be used to make sure officials carried their zeros when doing math involving millions of dollars. 

So apparently, instead of allowing the chief financial investigator to carry out his investigation, the district found out about his scanning those personal documents and decided to investigate him.

Less than two weeks after releasing his report, he sent a letter to the board on November 3, requesting "greater cooperation" from the board members — just letting him and his team do their jobs, Patton says in his complaint. In the same letter, he notified them that he had alerted the HISD chief of police that HISD's  Construction and Facilities Service Department had been splitting job order contracts so that each one always was less than $500,000 so they could avoid asking the board for approval — which is against the law. 

Patton thinks that it didn't help that, around the same time, he called up the Harris County District Attorney's Office when he received a tip on the hotline that newly elected board member Diane Davila hadn't lived in her district as long as she says she has. He also apparently refused to take back his answer on a "Due Diligence Questionnaire" that asked him whether the district was under civil or criminal investigation by any government agency, to which he replied "yes." (That being the FBI, thanks to Patton.) One day after he told the district's co-disclosure counsel that he refused to change it to "no," he was "called into executive session with the Board without any prior notice, aggressively cross-examined by [Rhonda] Skillern-Jones and Jolanda Jones regarding the scanning matter and was suspended," Patton wrote.

Either those log-cabin drawings contained something extremely inappropriate (one board member has already assured the Houston Chronicle that Patton's alleged misconduct "had nothing to do with sex or anything of that nature," however, so you can toss that theory out), or else we are stumped.

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