in Houston, Texas
New city of Houston inspector general says there's 'a place to come' with allegations of wrongdoing
Friday, Dec 17, 2010, 09:41AM CST
By Steve Miller
magglass

Houston's newly crowned inspector general Robert Doguim is still working out the details of how his office will report its work to the public, as it moves from the umbrella of the Houston Police Department into its own investigative unit. But he says the public has "a place to come" with complaints or allegations of wrongdoing, and that his team is working about 20 cases it inherited from the old office.

Doguim, a former FBI agent handpicked by Mayor Annise Parker, started Nov. 22 as part of a retooling of the city's overall ethics policing and a name change for the city’s ethics board, from a committee to a commission apparently to make it more formidable-sounding. All of this comes with the backing of City Attorney David Feldman, who was hired in April.

The Office of the Inspector General is now focused on policing those working for and doing business with the city, with HPD using its own team to investigate its problems. But the office is still looking at just how it will report to the public and exactly what its focus will be, while other, larger cities have entrenched inspector general offices that show very real results.

In Philadelphia, the city's Office of the Inspector General saved the city $4 million through its investigations, including suspensions, terminations, salary reductions and forfeited pension funds, according to its annual report last year.

In Chicago, the city inspector general’s investigation into a satellite office of the city clerk found multiple people handling cash with a risk for loss. An audit was ordered and completed last month, potentially stemming malfeasance.

 

And in New York, the city’s Department of Investigation listed its accomplishments for fiscal 2010 in a report, announcing the arrest of 822 people, many of them city employees who misbehaved. 

 

Doguim’s office has seven employees, including four investigators, three of them retired city of Houston police officers.

 

But what will Doguim’s office focus on? Is there enough bad behavior among city employees and elected officials to keep himself and his staff busy? How will he earn his $145,000 a year salary? Texas Watchdog sat down with Doguim this week and asked a few questions.

 

Bob DoguimDOGUIM
Texas Watchdog: Why would a city have an inspector general?

Robert Dogium: When you consider the size of the city, the number of employees, various positions, budgets regarding those city employees and departments, I think it makes all the sense in the world, really, to have an OIG. For better or worse, there’s enough business to go around for everybody.


TW: The city of Philadelphia’s inspector general’s office announces the firing of people. Do you expect people to be fired as a result of your work?

Doguim: I don’t know what kind of cases we're going to get. Criminal allegations or allegations that may be criminal in nature -- and those are certainly things that we are going to investigate -- and will somebody ultimately get dismissed over it? That’s not for this office to determine. This office will determine if in fact there is some validity to the allegations.

 

TW: You are going to receive a lot of information, and a lot of it won’t pan out. How do you know when not to chase something?

Doguim: I don’t know that every allegation merits opening an investigation. I would like to see our office, and we are starting to do that, start what I would term is an initial inquiry or prelim inquiry to make sure there is some foundation there to the allegation before we start spending a lot of manpower and chasing rabbits. That [complaint] really might be more of someone who’s just upset, and they’re checking as many boxes of a complaint as they can because they want to get some attention.

 

TW: In Los Angeles the OIG is strictly for police. How do you handle that?

Doguim: HPD has its own internal affairs division, which is more than capable of handling their own complaints or allegations from within the Houston Police Department. That’s not to say that someone might come to the OIG and say, ‘Hey, look I know this about HPD employee so-and-so.’ That would be referred back to the Houston Police Department.

 

TW: Most other OIGs issue reports, usually annually. How about your office?

Doguim: I think there is room for that kind of reporting. I think it's important for us to do kind of a state of the union, you know, ‘This is what we’ve been doing, this is where we’re going, this is what we need, this is what we have found.’ I think people have the right know what your OIG is up to, what kinds of cases we’re working. I don’t see that as an avenue for laying out the results of the investigations of allegations but an overall summary. I can see that as appropriate. What we wouldn’t include are necessarily the results of a particular investigation.

 

TW: How about naming names and who is sanctioned?

Doguim: I could see that coming throughout the year. I don’t think you have to wait until an end-of-the-year report.

 

TW: So, will we name names when someone is let go as a result of your investigation?

Doguim: My responsibility will be to conduct the investigation and then turn the investigation over to the department head or city attorney and say, ‘Here are the findings.’ I don’t see my role as running out and holding a press conference every time I come up with the end of an investigation.

 

TW: How will the public know if you are investigating someone in, say, public works? How would we know to ask? If we don’t know what you are investigating, how will we know what to ask for and how to oversee the OIG office?

Doguim: Well, you’re not going to know that we're doing an investigation before it ends. And before there are sustained allegations, it would be inappropriate to divulge details of an ongoing investigation. At the end, when the investigation is complete and there are sustained allegations, even that would be limited, because remember this person has his or her rights as they move forward. I don’t know that it would be the OIG making the final declaration of what happened.


TW: You were hired by the mayor. How would that affect any investigation of the mayor's office?

Doguim: It wouldn’t keep me from doing my job.

 

TW: You have been given a staff that you didn’t hire. Would you like a say in who is on your team?

Doguim: Yes, moving forward I think I should, and I think I will. This is the group that was brought over, this was the decision that was made, and we're going to bring them over. You have to have a starting point, and I understand that. I am going to inherit certain things and personnel. I won't be shy in saying if I need to change personnel -- I’m not shy in that regard. You want to have a say, but by the same token, coming in I have the responsibility to evaluate what I already have. Those [employees] may be the biggest heavyweights I ever met, I don’t know. And they deserve the right to be evaluated, and they deserve to understand what the vision is, where we're going, and how we do things.

 

TW: If you could compare this office to those in other cities, what would it be closest to?

Doguim: We have to grow in the capability, more the kind of structure the city of Chicago has to the extent that we could feasibly show the independence of the OIG. I think we have the responsibility to do that, to the extent that we can show the OIG is an independent and stand-alone type of function. How will that look a year from now, six years from now? I can't tell you.

 

TW: When you need money, do you go to the Houston City Council?

Doguim: Right now, the OIG exists under the umbrella of the city attorney and his budget.


TW: Did your office inherit any cases?

Doguim: At last count 20-some-odd cases. Some were inherited that in my view needed to be resolved, closed and moved on.


TW: Who are going to be your sources for these investigations?

Doguim: Right now we're getting them in written complaints, signed complaint forms. Do I foresee that as the only way of getting business? No. When people get to recognize the newly formed OIG, what kind of cases we are going to be looking at, we’re going to see more, I hate to put it this way, more business rolling in. If there are those allegations and concerns out there, that will cause people to come forward. There’s a place to come, and someone who is going to address it regardless of who the allegation will involve.

 

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

 

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Photo of magnifying glass by flickr user Auntie P, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
ubu roi
Wednesday, 12/22/2010 - 02:43AM

Same old "Office of Imposture General" -- It's just to give the city a facade of doing something about corruption. Toothless and impotent, a place to bury cases,not investigate them.

Deputy Sheriff
Thursday, 12/23/2010 - 07:35PM

They should have investigated Robert Doguim before they hired him. Jack Heard Jr. was his partner in the Security Business and now in the Federal Prison. Robert Doguim was asked to leave the FBI and he did not retire.

Doguim was nothing but problems at the Harris County Sheriff's Office and could not get along with none of the employees. THANK YOU CITY OF HOUSTON he won't last.

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