Weeks have passed since an indictment against Houston Community College Trustee Chris Oliver was unsealed, and now another board member has personally hired a firm to further the ethics investigation in the district.
Trustee Dave Wilson announced in a press conference at HCC that he hired Wayne Dolcefino and Keith Gross to conduct an unbiased investigation into board activities, while HCC’s administration has hired two investigators, Gene Locke and Vidal Martinez, to do the same. However, Wilson says that their past ties to the district should be cause for concern, so he decided to take matters in his own hands.
“Those two attorneys contributed to Oliver’s campaign. One of them got a quarter of a million dollars from the college last year,” Wilson said.
Calling them “political insiders,” Wilson feels that they were hired to whitewash rather than investigate, “A whitewash will not help HCC remove the stains of corruption from our image.”
This is why Wilson has hired disinterested investigators on his own dime.
According to the group, Gross will hire the legal portion of the investigation while Dolcefino will take care of the ethics portion.
Gross said his involvement will be pretty much limited to open records requests, which they plan to send a series of in the next twenty-four hours, if the documents aren’t produced voluntarily. They’ll be looking at – but not limiting themselves to – emails, phone records, vendor payments, and campaign contributions.
“We must restore credibility for Houston taxpayers and students,” said Wilson, “we will have a truly independent investigation, no conflicts on interest, no political insiders, no sacred cows.”
Wilson is right, Houstonians have plenty of reason to lack trust in their government.
Oliver was found guilty of accepting bribes in the form of cash payments from Karun Sreerama in exchange for contracts awarded to Sreerama’s construction firm. After that news broke, Sreerama – who had only recently been appointed as Houston’s Director of Public Works – was placed on paid leave and eventually parted ways with the city.
“HCC has a history of hiring people to not tell them what they really need to fix,” said Dolcefino, adding that this will be a “public investigation.” In a sense, Dolcefino wants to crowd source information. He asks that if anyone; students, board members, employees, or otherwise, have information, they reach out to him.
One of the initial areas that they’ll review is where the proceeds of the district’s $425 million bond from 2014 went to see “whether or not they got what they paid for.”
Wilson has long sounded the alarm regarding shady dealings within HCC and other Houston entities, and he doesn’t intend on stopping saying, “I definitely feel there is a pay-to-play culture in the whole city of Houston, Texas.”