Archive for September 16th, 2014

17,000 plus at The Yard last night saw Jose Altuve get three base hits last night to put him at 209, just one behind B-G-O. We also put a damper on Cleveland’s faint hopes of making the playoffs. Commentary also snagged foul ball numero six of the season.

When B-G-O got his 210 base hits in 1998, he was only third in the MLB in base hits. Name the players ahead of him that season?

This past Saturday the Chron E-Board kind of put it on HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson, HCC, and a procurement deal investigation – if you want to call it an investigation. Of course, rumor is Trustee Robinson wants to run for another office – maybe City Controller – so this is certainly a distraction. Here is the entire E-Board take:

A Houston Community College trustee may have been cleared of ethical violations to a recently publicized summary report, but something still stinks. The exculpatory conclusion reached by the Gardere law firm, which HCC hired to investigate a contracting scandal last year, doesn’t do a good enough job connecting the dots. This report looks more like a cleanup operation than an investigation.

Taxpayer dollars and bond initiatives don’t exist to reward friends or pay back community supporters. HCC’s public dollars must be spent efficiently and effectively to educate students. That’s not what is happening at HCC. Instead, subcontractors are being selected based on connections over skill and politics over policy. Meanwhile, trustees are promoting agendas that would discourage whistleblowers from coming forward.

This all began at the end of last year, when allegations arose that Trustee Carroll G. Robinson helped a personal friend land a $1.4 million subcontract with Jacobs Project Management, a major HCC contractor. The million-dollar subcontract was for public relations work. The friend’s firm, Five Woods, specialized in landscaping and janitorial work. Whether or not Robinson violated board ethics rules and suggested a subcontractor to a vendor, this mismatch of skills smacked of poor public policy. In fact, the odd arrangement was so striking that it caught the attention of Michelle Morris, an attorney HCC retained to monitor procurement.

As she wrote in a lengthy internal e-mail at the time, “No one had ever heard of the company […] and Jacobs has not ever used this firm before.”

When Morris asked Jacobs representatives to explain the deal with Five Woods, they revealed that “the Five Woods representative was ‘sent’ to them by Trustee [Carroll] Robinson,” she wrote.

In her letter, Morris also described the response to her questions as “a nervous one,” and added, “they outright told me that they are in a ‘precarious position’ (their words not mine).”

Apparently the situation was so precarious that, upon Gardere’s investigation, the Jacobs representative denied making any such statement. According to Gardere’s report, there was simply no reliable evidence that trustee Robinson improperly tried to help Five Woods land the contract.

What the study fails to address, however, is that Robinson proposed the automatic suspension of any HCC contract upon allegations of impropriety. The proposal also called for the automatic termination of a contract if the board of trustees determined that allegations of impropriety were proven to be true. This policy would have punished Jacobs for its whistleblowers, cutting its contract for employees admitting that they were pressured to take part in HCC’s improper practices. After Robinson put forth this policy, the Jacobs employees changed their story.

How convenient.

So while HCC may have received an official clean bill of health, the whole thing still looks sick to us. After all, the report does confirm many of the concerns raised last year:

Five Woods lacked relevant experience.

The “price and scope” of Five Woods’ proposed services were “inconsistent” with HCC’s needs.

Jacobs selected Five Woods because of “relevant relationships” at HCC.

Relevant relationships? That just sounds like code for cronyism.

According to the report, Robinson was responsible for connecting Jacobs with Five Woods during HCC’s 2012 bond campaign. Jacobs selected Five Woods based on its relationship with HCC trustees. Despite this selection, Five Woods was not qualified for its subcontract. If Jacobs employees admitted that they were pressured to hire Five Woods, Jacobs could have lost its entire contract. Yet somehow, all of this does not violate HCC’s ethics code.

Whether or not there was an official policy violation, the whole thing is far too reminiscent of the ethical improprieties that tarnished past HCC board members. The fact that Robinson himself declined to be interviewed by HCC’s law firm should also make the end report all the more suspect. When news first broke, we wrote that any investigations should include statements taken under oath. Apparently neither HCC nor Robinson seemed to think that was necessary.

When interviewed last year by education writer Ericka Mellon, Robinson said that he didn’t “appreciate anybody dragging my good name through the mud.”

This isn’t about Robinson’s reputation. This is about HCC. Our community college helps train the important middle-skill laborers who make our energy economy hum and fill Houston’s middle class. These scandals leave a mark on the institution and distract from its true educational mission. These scandals also cost money: Gardere has charged HCC $271,500 for its investigation, and two more invoices are expected.

Taxpayer dollars should be spent educating students, not cleaning mud off trustee members. But until elected officials stop trying to play fast and loose with public funds, HCC will remain an institution in need of a deep cleaning.

Trustee Robinson tried to hit back yesterday with his own email, of course, he doesn’t have the reach of the E-Board. Here is his email:

The flawed logic and ignorance of the facts expressed in the Houston Chronicle editorial “HCC problems” (September 12, 2014) are stunning and amazing but not surprising. They reflect the continuing decline in the quality and objectivity of the Chronicle. Our city deserves and truly needs a quality flagship daily newspaper right now, that’s not the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle’s editorial complains that the $400,000 HCC investigation that determined that I did nothing wrong in regards to the allegation that I tried to help a friend get a contract at HCC “doesn’t do a good enough job connecting the dots.”

Essentially, the Chronicle editorial was written to continue its ongoing attack against me and to undermine my efforts to improve local small business participation at HCC by asserting that my efforts are intended to only “reward friends or pay back community supporters.”

When did local elected officials supporting local businesses and community organizations become a bad thing?

Taxpayer funding is used to support the Greater Houston Partnership, the biggest local business advocacy organization in our area. Does the Chronicle consider that improper? Should the member businesses of the Partnership be disqualified from doing business with local governmental entities?

Let’s connect the dots on the HCC Jacobs issue.

First, the procurement staff of HCC (including Michelle Morris who the Chronicle portrays as the star of their editorial) recommended Jacobs along with its subcontractor Five Woods to the Board of Trustees in June of 2013 as qualified to be the Program Manager team for the HCC Bond Program. This was months before Michelle Morris would write her memo saying that a representative of Jacobs told her I “sent” Five Woods to them. If that was the case, why didn’t the Jacobs representative say so before they and Five Woods were recommended to the HCC Board of Trustees in June of 2013 to be awarded the contract to serve as Program Manager? (This was also months before I made my policy proposal that the contract of businesses accused of wrongdoing be suspended.)

It wasn’t until after the Board of Trustees voted to select Jacobs in June of 2013 and their contract was signed that anyone (including Michelle Morris) started complaining that Five Woods was unqualified and that I allegedly “sent” them to Jacobs.

If Five Woods was unqualified, then it was the HCC procurement process and Michelle Morris that failed. They were the ones who recommended Jacobs and Five Woods to the Board of Trustees in June of 2013 and said nothing about Five Woods being unqualified at that time.

Second, the Chronicle is now asserting that it is improper for anyone who knows an elected official to do business with the governmental entity represented by that elected official.

If that is the Chronicle’s new standard, then I look forward to all their forthcoming editorials on all the friends of elected officials in our area – not just the minority ones – doing business with governmental entities.

Third, the Chronicle now says that suspending the contract of a business that is accused of possibly engaging in improper conduct is an attempt to prohibit whistleblowing.

Why should taxpayers continue paying a company that might have agreed to violate the law?

The Chronicle’s logic amounts to advocating that taxpayers should pay a business who may have broken the law to confess that they did break the law. What kind of logic is that?

Finally, I agree with the Chronicle that HCC wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer’s dollars. It wasn’t however because HCC was trying to clean mud off my name. It’s because no one had the courage to connect the dots and point out the simple fact that Michelle Morris’ allegations did not add up.

Instead of speculating and making things up, the Chronicle should deal with the facts and get out of the business of writing fiction.

Its time for the Chronicle to deal with the reality that the problem at HCC is not the Board of Trustees but rather, a broken procurement system and a lack of commitment to local small business contracting. (Maybe this will change now that HCC has a new Chancellor. I hope so.)

Fighting to improve the contracting process at HCC and strengthening the System’s small business program is not unethical or illegal.

It’s time for the Chronicle to move on and stop attacking HCC.

What I want to know is why didn’t Trustee Robinson just allow himself to be interviewed by the law firm? Also, I don’t know about waging war against the Chron. Oh well!

The Vikings are letting Adrian Peterson play this weekend. Here is what the owner said: “To be clear, we take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child.”

Here is what the owner was thinking: “To be clear, we take very seriously winning.”

Just an FYI: To those of us that have been using the Holy Name near north side Early Voting location the last few cycles, we are back at Moody next month.

In 1998, B-G-O had 210 base hits and trailed Dante Bichette with 219 and A-Roid with 213 of course.

All eyes will be on Altuve tonight for sure as he now holds an eleven point lead in the batting title chase.

Read Full Post »