Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Now HCDE Hiding Foundation Problems


Most Texas school districts benefit from the added support of a local Education Foundation. Operated by local business and community leaders, their Foundations raise money to bring added financial support to their local teachers and students.

The funds flow FROM the foundation TO the ISD.



But that’s not how it works at the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE)– the ONLY remaining County School Board in Texas.


In 1993 HCDE’s Superintendent, Dr. Shirley E. Rose, filed Articles of Incorporation for HCDE to have its own foundation called the Education Foundation of Harris County. (EFHC)







Instead of volunteer community leaders operating EFHC, HCDE used education property tax dollars ($200,000+) to pay for EFHC’s “staff.” The “staff” made sure the basics were done - meetings held, officers elected, website maintained, IRS 990s filed, etc.













HCDE even had a separate budget code for tax funds going TO EFHC.



During Texas Senate hearings on bills to close HCDE in previous legislative sessions, Senator Bettencourt discovered that property tax dollars were flowing TO EFHC instead of FROM it, and in response, HCDE’s current Superintendent, James Colbert, implied that the practice would stop. 







The following year, HCDE’s budget showed NO funds going TO EFHC. It appeared all was well.












But documents acquired through open records show something different. 

After EFHC lost its HCDE funded “staff” - EFHC fell apart.

EFHC has not held a meeting since 2017.

EFHC hasn’t filed an IRS 990 form since 2017.

EFHC’s 2018-2019 budget shows $500,000 – the majority of its revenue – coming FROM HCDE, even though HCDE’s published budget no longer includes a page for EFHC.






EFHC’s website address www.efhc.org  hasn’t been active in the last year.





Further digging shows that EFHC has become an HCDE “SHELL CORPORATION.”  

There is no “Foundation.”  


It is simply HCDE employees using the Foundation name – without any written authorization -  to acquire grants from outside sources.










Then HCDE employees invoicing EFHC to transfer the grant funds to HCDE – minus a 1% cut for “administrative costs.”

Is that even legal?





Well, legal or not, whatever is going on is apparently SO IRREGULAR that a simple public information request – the communications between two HCDE employees and EFHC – compelled the HCDE attorney to get the Texas Attorney General to block the information from public release claiming “attorney client privilege.”


 
 
 

Interesting that the two HCDE employees hiding behind “attorney-client privilege” are the same two HCDE employees who have been signing EFHC’s “payment authorization” forms – Danielle Bartz and Jesus Amezcua.  Coincidence???



Other irregularities found through public information:




With no documentation showing a vote or appointment to office, HCDE’s superintend, James Colbert, somehow became an officer of EFHC and co-signs checks from EFHC to HCDE.



Without any documentation naming HCDE employee Danielle Bartz as the “Registered Agent” for EFHC, records show Danielle Bartz used her HCDE credit card online to file EFHC’s non-profit corporation documents with the Texas Secretary of State on 4/16/19. The funds used were from HCDE’s “Department Wide – Misc. Operating Cost” budget.







Without any documentation proving his election to the position, HCDE employee Danielle Bartz reported James Colbert as the Secretary of EFHC on official documents with the Texas Secretary of State on 4/16/19.


Notice the discrepancy between the officer list Danielle Bartz officially reported to the Secretary of State on 4/16/19 and the 2018-2019 officer list included in recent EFHC grant applications.






Also note the “under penalty of perjury” statement at the bottom of the document.






In 2018 without any documentation proving permission from EFHC to use their name, and without EFHC holding any EFHC meetings to vote on approval, multiple HCDE employees filed grant applications and received funds in the name of EFHC. Some examples are shown in the chart below:

HCDE Employee
Grant Application Recipient
Application Date
Sharvon Pipkins
Stewart J Rahr Foundation
2/28/18
Sharvon Pipkins
Aetna Foundation
4/18/18
Gayla Rawlinson
Brown Foundation
4/23/18
Danielle Bartz &
Joyce Akins
Wells Fargo
8/2/18
Sharvon Pipkins
Whataburger
8/27/18
Sharvon Pipkins Kamaya
Linde Engineering North America, Inc
8/31/18

Andrea Segraves &
Vida Avery
HEB
9/11/18
Trina Finley
Henderson Foundation
11/15/18
Lisa Felske
WATER
11/28/18





Records also show that HCDE employees:

- assisted in producing EFHC’s IRS 990 filings and IRS extension letter
- are serving as EFHC’s bookkeeper/accountant
- are making payments on behalf of EFHC








For example:

On 4/10/19 HCDE employee, Simone Llorens, used HCDE’s credit card to renew EFHC’s domain name www.efhc.org.  The funds used were from HCDE’sTechnology Support Services – Contracted M&r Networks” budget.








Most concerning to me is the Texas Attorney General allowing HCDE to  block release of communications between EFHC and HCDE employees…


                   
because of the parallels with the 








I knew something was highly irregular in 2016 when DCS used their attorney to try to block release of their stop-arm camera contracts in order to “protect” the business interests of Force Multiplier Solutions owned by Bob Leonard.

 
 
 

But I NEVER imagined the secrets they were attempting to hide would land both the Dallas County Superintendent and Bob Leonard in federal prison for 7 years each for what prosecutors said may be "the largest domestic public corruption case in history."

Makes me wonder just how deep the deception may be at HCDE and why the Texas Attorney General is helping them hide it.


Note: Supporting Documentation

I requested the following information from HCDE. HCDE claims there are no records responsive to my request.
1. Any document(s) showing (1) the date Danielle Bartz consented to be the registered agent for the Education Foundation of Harris County and (2) the person(s) assigning her that responsibility.
2.All communications received by Danielle Bartz instructing her to electronically file the April 15, 2019 Periodic Report for the Education Foundation of Harris County with the Texas Secretary of State.
3. All communications received by Danielle Bartz giving her the names and addresses of all directors and officers she listed in the April 15, 2019 Periodic Report for the Education Foundation of Harris County with the Texas Secretary of State.
4. Any document(s) showing (1) the date James Colbert became an officer of the Education Foundation of Harris County and (2) the title of his office with the Education Foundation of Harris County
5. Any document(s) showing authorization from the Education Foundation of Harris County(EFHC)  to the following HCDE employees allowing the HCDE employee’s to represent EFHC in the grant applications below:
HCDE Employee
EFHC Grant Application Recipient
Date
Sharvon Pipkins
Stewart J Rahr Foundation
2/28/18
Sharvon Pipkins
Aetna Foundation
4/18/18
Gayla Rawlinson
Brown Foundation
4/23/18
Danielle Bartz and
Joyce Akins
Wells Fargo
8/2/18
Sharvon Pipkins
Whataburger
8/27/18
Sharvon Pipkins Kamaya
Linde Engineering North America, Inc
8/31/18
Andrea Segraves and
Vida Avery
HEB
9/11/18
Trina Finley
Henderson Foundation
11/15/18
Lisa Felske
WATER
11/28/18



Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Who's on First at HCDE?


Tomorrow (2/11/19) at a special HCDE Board Meeting, we’ll learn whether the new Board has the backbone to clean up the mess at HCDE or if the only solution is to shut down this dinosaur.

The following seems like an Abbot & Costello routine. But it’s a summary of what’s actually happened. There are three organizations tangled up in this sequence: 

1) the elected Board of HCDE
2) the appointed Board of the Public Facilities Corporation (PFC) and 
3) the outside law firm paid by both Boards.

Try to follow this:

By law HCDE cannot issue bonds.


PFC sells bonds for HCDE WITHOUT any taxpayer vote or taxpayer notice.

The Board of the PFC has historically included the superintendent, two HCDE employees, and three elected HCDE Board members.

Not much attention is paid to PFC, except by the outside law firm, paid to keep things in order.

Last month the new HCDE Board asked the law firm which handles both organizations for a report on the status of the PFC, including an explanation of how the PFC Board is elected/appointed.

It appears that in preparing the report, the law firm found some embarrassing problems in PFC governance.

The PFC Board has not been following its bylaws.

Therefore contracts related to the $8.9 million to build a new ABS Campus have not been properly approved.

Payments have been made to these vendors without approved contracts.

PFC Board member(s) at the time(s) the contracts were engaged were apparently NO LONGER on the PFC Board and no longer even employed by HCDE. 

           OOPS!

The HCDE superintendent called a meeting of the PFC Board, inviting FORMER members from different years to attend and vote at the meeting.

It appears the superintendent wanted this patched-together “Board” to retroactively remedy the governance issues that had been discovered by the law firm - the SAME law firm that was paid to PREVENT these kinds of problems.

The ELECTED President of the HCDE Board tried to call an EMERGENCY meeting of the HCDE Board to address the superintendent’s unusual actions. The law firm involved ruled that the HCDE Board President’s call for an emergency meeting was “illegal.”

The law firm, however, was present at the hastily called meeting of the PFC Board, including a patchwork of former members because, apparently, the law firm saw no problems with that meeting.

The ELECTED President of the HCDE Board drafted a detailed letter to everyone attending the PFC Board meeting, pointing out the serious problems with that meeting. You can see his letter below:



Despite the objections and warnings from the ELECTED HCDE Board President, the unusual meeting of the patchwork PFC Board was called to order at noon on Friday, 2/8/19.

The 2 CURRENTLY ELECTED HCDE Board members serving on the PFC Board made a motion to table all matters on the PFC Board meeting agenda until the ELECTED HCDE Board could meet to remedy the credibility of all PFC Board appointments.

The superintendent, another current HCDE employee, and two former PFC Board members shuttled in for this meeting (including a retired HCDE employee and a FORMER elected HCDE Board Member) voted down that motion from the CURRENTLY ELECTED HCDE/PFC Board members.

You can view the meeting:



The unapproved contracts and disbursements, dating back at least 2 years, were approved retroactively by the patchwork  PFC Board.

The outside law firm said everything about this meeting was legal and proper.

WHO’S ON FIRST AT HCDE?  Does anybody really know?

Tomorrow (2/11/19) the ELECTED Board of HCDE will meet to attempt to clean up this mess.

Agenda item #5 is approval of a new law firm.

Well, that's a NO-BRAINER !!!!

I will be asking the HCDE Board to insist on a refund of all tax dollars paid to the original law firm for time billed related to PFC, especially time billed to compile the report about their OWN errors.



NOTE: In reviewing video I have taken of PFC meetings, I found another major error by the law firm. You can view the attorney stating that the PFC Board does not have to follow the Open Meetings Act and told me I had to leave the PFC meeting because a quorum of the HCDE Board was not present:  Here

But, Section 303.044 of the statute covering PFCs states that a PFC "and its board of directors are considered to be governmental bodies under Chapters 551 and 552, Government Code." In other words they have to follow both the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act. 

A quorum of the PFC Board WAS present, therefore The Open Meetings Act applied.

Another OOPS !!! 



Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com


Saturday, January 19, 2019

HCDE Takes a RIGHT Turn




While most of Harris County turned “left” in the 2018 November election, one countywide board actually took a sharp turn to the “right.” 

HCDE, the only school board in Texas elected by political party, replaced its two Democrat board members with two more Democrats as expected. 


But one of the RINOs, Louis Evans, was replaced by the STRONG conservative Republican, Josh Flynn. That seemingly minor change made a HUGE difference during their first board meeting on 1/16/19.

First, Josh Flynn was elected Board President, the first pleasant surprise at HCDE for Harris County conservatives in decades. 

Then, in total surprise for Harris County taxpayers, the Board voted to cancel their $220,000 a year lobbying contract with HillCo.

The discussion on the lobbying contract went as expected.

The Superintendent argued that the lobbying contract was necessary because he is too busy with his job at HCDE to pay attention to the Legislature.

Maybe he should stop playing golf on school time with $1,500 of taxpayer money ...or stop taking other HCDE administrators out to Perry’s Steakhouse with $741.92 of taxpayer money.

The Superintendent also argued that HCDE needs the “armor” provided by lobbyists to protect HCDE from the Legislature.

Is he afraid the Legislature will find out that HCDE opened and operated a high school last year with a FULL STAFF and ZERO students?

Or is he afraid the Legislature will find out that NONE of the four alternative schools HCDE operates are ACCREDITED by the State of Texas?

The best quote from the Superintendent came when asked by Trustee Danny Norris – one of the new Democrat Trustees - exactly what HillCo does for HCDE. The Superintendent answered,
 “I don’t like to share the playbook with the public because it defeats the purpose of the lobbyists.”
At least the Superintendent  admitted in an open meeting that he has been using HillCo to fight AGAINST the “public” – in other words – to fight against the taxpayers who pay his salary and all his expensive travel and credit card charges.

The lobbying contract discussion ended with a rant against Republicans and even Senator Ted Cruz by the biggest phony Republican in Harris County – Trustee Eric Dick. He made it clear that he does not understand the difference between hiring lobbyists with private funds and hiring lobbyists with taxpayer dollars.  Guess they didn’t teach that in law school.

If the first meeting of the new HCDE Board is any indication of what is to come, buckle your seat belts. This could be a great ride for Harris County taxpayers.

You can view the lobbying contact discussion:  here  
or view the full meeting:  here 


Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com