Houston ISD’s Auditor Richard Patton filed a whistleblower grievance against the district’s board today. The grievance cites the board’s discontent with Patton after alerting HISD Police Chief Robert Mock of budget discrepancies.

Patton was placed on suspension in March and has been largely quiet about the suspension. Now he is saying that it is retaliation from the board for his actions.

Patton specifically alerted Mock of the violations he found while conducting an audit of the bond shortfall. Patton determined that much of the shortfall was due to Job Order Contracts (JOC) that were being split and strategically submitted in order to come under the dollar amount that would require approval by the school board.

“It is also clear that the Board President, at the time, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, was particularly perturbed by Grievant’s audits of the JOC program and his conclusion that the law was being violated…”

The grievance continues to read:

“[Skillern-Jones] took a number of steps to retaliate against Grievant, including trying to change the performance evaluation that had just been given to him by the Audit Committee and helping to instigate the suspension and investigation of the Grievant…”

Similar to Frank Hodges — the HISD employee who repeatedly alerted the board about issues he discovered — Patton believes that his suspension was directly motivated by his whistleblowing activities. He also feels he was targeted for reporting a complaint to the Harris County District Attorney alleging that newly-elected Trustee Diana Davila was not living in-district during her campaign.

Additionally, Patton feels he was targeted was for his response to a Due Diligence Questionnaire the district had to respond to.

As the auditor, he had to respond to a bond questionnaire, which asked the question: “Has the District been the subject of any material civil or criminal investigations, formal or informal, by any federal, state or local government agency within the past 24 month?” The FBI had been investigating some of Patton’s earlier grievances so he answered “yes,” but was reportedly ethically bound from providing such information to any third party. When pressed by the district to change his answer, he refused, and the following day he was called into a meeting with Board Members Skillern-Jones and Jolanda Jones — where he was aggressively questioned and then suspended.

Patton’s grievance asks for:

“Immediate reinstatement to duties as Chief Audit Executive with reasonable measures put into place to ensure no further retaliation against Grievant. In the interim, Grievant should also be permitted access to his e-mails, records and personnel, so that he may more fully present his Grievance.”

When Patton’s suspension was announced it drew questions from many familiar with the district. As the Chief Auditor, he alerted the public of the bond discrepancies and pushed back against the administration’s willingness to blame it on inflation.

For an auditor that serves on a year-to-year contractual basis at the pleasure of the board, it is hard to find someone who will be more accountable to the public than to the board. Patton has pushed for increased accountability and transparency — it’s time to hold the board to that same standard.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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