Texas Scorecard recently penned an article on the plea deal signed by Richard Reynolds, a Louisiana attorney who used his law firm to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to corrupt Dallas County Schools officials. After years of hard work by taxpayers, elected officials, and investigative journalists around the state, justice is slowly being served in the largest political corruption scandal that Texas has ever seen.
This story started after I received my tax bill in the mail on a November morning in 2014. I was perusing the long list of entities that were charging property owners in Dallas County when the last entry labeled “SCH EQUAL” caught my eye. As a newly elected state senator and concerned taxpayer, I began researching this entity.
The “Dallas School Equalization Fund,” also known as Dallas County Schools (DCS), had 3,000 employees but no teachers, students, or schools. Its main purpose was student transportation. And while every property owner in the county paid taxes for it, only students from a handful of districts received its services. We found that DCS was involved in many deceptive practices, including the infamously corrupt “flash-to-cash” bus camera scheme. It was a financial time bomb, riddled with thieves. Eventually, I had to call on the Texas Rangers, the Dallas County DA’s office, and the FBI to formally investigate.
In the 85th session of the Texas Legislature, I authored legislation to abolish DCS. The governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House were, and remain, strangely silent on this massive scandal. In May of 2017, with DCS just two weeks away from finalizing the sale of over $50 million in new taxpayer-funded bonds, we coordinated with the Texas attorney general’s office and stopped the sale, starting the financial undoing of their elaborate scheme. Of course, the crooks took a final parting shot at our wallets, having wasted over $1.3 million fighting us with a fleet of Austin lobbyists. Per my legislation on November 7, 2017, the taxpayers voted to abolish DCS.
All told, DCS stole over $100 million from taxpayers. Five thieves, including the mayor pro tem of Dallas, are now behind bars for accepting millions of dollars in bribes. Mr. Reynolds is currently awaiting sentencing and will soon join them. But the injustice that was done to
taxpayers, and the breaking of public trust, continue to plague Dallas County. This 100-year-old government entity had become rotten from the inside out, overtaken with corruption and bribery. The elected board, DCS attorneys, bond underwriters, and senior staff must have been aware of the fraudulent scheme that was collapsing around them. Where are their indictments? And, despite its dissolution, taxpayers are still paying off the $100 million of debt incurred by DCS, which will take another five years to eliminate. I wrote my legislation with the purpose of ensuring that the debt-holders foot the bill—not the taxpayers.
Hopefully, we’ll soon see these errors fully corrected. In the meantime, there’s an important lesson to be learned. If private citizens hadn’t taken notice, if our investigators had given up, or if the reporters had backed out of reporting, DCS would certainly still be robbing taxpayers today. Elected officeholders make poor watchdogs for taxpayer money, as most work hard to avoid accountability to the people. As a senator fighting to help free my constituents from this disgusting agency, I found that most elected officials were content to let this abuse continue. But our hard work to bring down DCS paid off. Unfortunately, this is a rare outcome.
We deserve better from those in office and we should demand it. But even if things change, taxpayers must always be prepared to be their own fiercest advocates. Ask questions. Follow the money trails. Insist on more transparency. If we consistently do those things, we can ensure that nothing like what happened with DCS will ever be repeated.
This is a commentary submitted and published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to firstname.lastname@example.org.