Friday, September 11, 2015

HCDE Trustees and Contracts: A Board of Rubber Stamps? - Part 1

At the HCDE August board meeting, the two conservative trustees, Don Sumners and Michael Wolfe, questioned some of the cushy “consultant” contracts HCDE dishes out every year. Trustee Sumners even joked, “If I resign, can I get one of these jobs?

So I decided to look into one of these “consultant” contracts – one that only Trustee Wolfe voted against - to see exactly what Harris County public schools are getting for our money.

I chose HCDE’s contract with Elder Consulting.

Elder Consulting

Who owns Elder Consulting?

A former HCDE Trustee

                      Don Elder, Jr

         (what a small world!)

How much was this “consulting” contract worth in 2014-2015? 

How much was his last monthly “consulting” check from HCDE?

What “consulting” did Elder claim to do for HCDE to earn this $7,000.50?

Elder claimed to have worked for our Harris County
School Trustees a total of 14 whole days in May
at a rate of $459.00 per day + expenses.

Elder filed a handwritten account of each work day to justify payment from our county EDUCATION dollars. 

Some highlights of Elder’s May “consulting work” include:

5/6/15 – “Met with Mayor Fabol Hughes to discuss
                needs on construction for City of Katy.
                Visited Mayor Allen Owen of Missouri City
                to discuss O&M work in the future budget.”

5/7/15 - “…met with city administration on large amount
                of work they will need our help on in the next
                few months…met with Public Works Director
               to discuss Public Works Building…visited with 
               Roy Morales…”(ANOTHER former HCDE
                                          Trusteesuch a small world!)

5/11/15 –“Visited with Paul Duke Purchasing and 
                  Distribution Services for UTSA in San
                 Antonio on an Appointment”

5/12-5/14 –“Texas Association of County Auditors 
                     Conference in Austin. Worked booth 
                     and networked(Wife accompanied on trip
                     – HCDE paid extra for double occupancy)

5/27/15“Met with city administrator Byron Hebert
                  of Katy to discuss remodel of fire station

5/28/15 – “Visited with Gary Ridgeway of Facilities
                  Services on Katy Public Works Project.
                  Met with former KISD Superintendent
                  Dr Lenard Merrill to discuss Choice Programs”

To view Elder's handwritten expense log, click on page links: 

Page 1         Page 2         Page 3
Page 4         Page 5         Page 6
Page 7         Page 8         Page 9
Page 10       Page 11       Page 12
Page 13       Page 14       Page 15

Receipt showing extra double occupancy fee paid to
accommodate Elder's wife. Click to enlarge

Elder's Hotel charged to HCDE

UPDATE 9/21/15:
Elder participated in METRO board committee meetings on 5/18/15 and 5/19/15.

HUMMMMMM….. most taxpayers may have trouble understanding WHY Harris County School Trustees distributed $102,357.00 of our county EDUCATION dollars to a former Harris County School Trustee to “consult” with mayors and other city officials on city budgets, fire stations, and public works projects as well as to attend county auditor meetings.

But, a deeper look into Elder’s work claims in May, gives taxpayers even MORE to question about this “consulting” deal.

Document Comparison

Because many of the persons Elder listed on his meeting schedule are public officials or employees, I filed open records requests for their daily meeting schedules to compare to Elder’s claims.

Elder’s meetings with private companies are marked ** because private records are not available.

Sample #1 – May 4, 2015

Elder claimed to have met with three persons to earn his full day rate of $459.00:

1. Regina Stephenson of Katy ISD about vendor to clear land
2. Nash Industries to discuss Katy ISD work **
3. Peter McElwain Katy ISD architect about Bond Program

Neither Stephenson nor McElwain have a meeting
 with Elder listed on their calendars that day.

 Regina Stephenson of KISD
 Peter McElwain of KISD

Sample #2 – May 6, 2015

Elder claimed three meetings to earn his full day rate of $459.00:

1. Nash Industries on Katy ISD work **
2. Mayor Fabol Hughes to discuss needs on construction

    for city of Katy
3. Mayor Allen Owen of Missouri City to discuss O&M
    work in future budget

Mayor Hughes’ schedule shows Elder did meet with him and the owner of a BBQ restaurant at the Mayor’s office from 2-3pm concerning a restaurant site in WoodCreek.

Mayor Allen Owen had no records from my request.

 Mayor Hughes of Katy
 Mayor Owen of MC

Sample #3 – May 7, 2015

Elder claimed three meetings to earn his full day rate of $459.00:

1. City administration (Katy)
2. Elaine Lutringer of Public Works (Katy)
3. Roy Morales (also a former HCDE Trustee)
    of Lone Star Telemedicine Services for Katy ISD**

Byron Hebert’s calendar confirms meeting with Elder from 10-11am at City Hall concerning Public Works building.

Elaine Lutringer ‘s calendar reads: “Out of Office All Day

 Byron Hebert of Katy
 Elaine Lutringer of Katy

Sample #4 – May 27, 2015

Elder claimed three meetings to earn his full day rate of $459.00: 

1. Byron Hebert (Katy) concerning fire station remodel
2. Regina Stephenson (Katy ISD)
3. John Yeates for lunch**

Byron Hebert’s calendar did NOT include a meeting with Elder.

Regina Stephenson’s calendar did NOT include a meeting with Elder.

Elder turned in a handwritten receipt to be reimbursed for lunch for two.

B. Hebert of Katy
  R. Stephenson of KISD
 Lunch for 2


There are two major concerns I found in reviewing Elder’s May billing to HCDE:

#1: Lack of supporting documentation

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone forgets to document now and again.

But, for 6 of the 8 meetings sampled, public records do not back up Elder’s billing claims?

That means 75% of the meetings with public officials or employees that Elder billed HCDE in May, are NOT confirmed on other calendars? Did these meetings we paid for actually take place?

Looking at the detailed appointment records kept by some of these persons, do you believe 75% of the time these public employees “forgot” to document their meetings with Elder on their calendars? 

Especially meetings as important as city budgets and bond programs?

#2: Lack of “educational” purpose

Should the Harris County School Trustees really be using our county EDUCATION dollars to pay a “consultant” to meet with a small town mayor and a private business owner to select a new restaurant site?

Should the Harris County School Trustees allow our county EDUCATION dollars to be used for a consultant to treat a vendor to lunch or to pay an extra hotel fee so the consultant's wife can travel with him?

HCDE argues that this is standard practice in the business world and they are justified in using our county EDUCATION dollars to operate sideline businesses across the United States – even though the majority of the work has nothing to do with Harris County education - because they often bring in revenue.

But who is actually benefiting more from this “revenue” – Harris County public school students or former HCDE Trustees?

Fiduciary Oversight

The most important responsibility of board membership in any organization is fiduciary oversight. Watching the MONEY!

That is obviously NOT happening at HCDE. The majority of the board votes like robots -automatically approving payment after payment every month.

Are they REALLY that blind?

Or could there be another reason they look the other way?

Stay tuned for Part 2


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