in Houston, Texas
Former Houston ISD procurement chief says he's '99.9 percent sure' Paula Harris contacted him about friend's firm
Friday, Aug 05, 2011, 06:14PM CST
By Mike Cronin
Inbox art

Former Houston schools procurement director Stephen Pottinger said today that he is “99.9 percent sure” that board president Paula Harris contacted him to review why a company run by a friend of Harris was not chosen for a contract last year.

“I wouldn’t have e-mailed Harris otherwise,” Pottinger said during an interview at his home in Friendswood on Friday morning.

Harris on Thursday denied speaking with Pottinger about a contract for Westco, a company owned by Harris' close friend Nicole West. During a June interview with Texas Watchdog, Harris said she had never discussed with HISD officials about West doing business with the district.

But Pottinger said that he is almost certain that Harris contacted him after other companies finished ahead of Westco during a blind-bid process -- meaning vendors seeking business with the Houston Independent School District were not identified by name, only a letter, during the bid-review process.

Companies not chosen may file a complaint and meet with district officials to learn why they were declined, Pottinger said.

A Nov. 15 e-mail written by Pottinger to Harris outlines the meeting he set up with Westco:

"As we discussed, we have scheduled meetings with the following Suppliers," Pottinger wrote to Harris in the e-mail. The next sentence said, "Wednesday, November 17, 2010: 9 AM – 10 AM WESTCO," and a note about a subsequent meeting with another firm, The Woodlands-based Sparks Construction Services.

"Please feel free to join us if your schedule will permit," Pottinger invited Harris. "If not, I will be happy to recap both meetings for you in an email."

Harris later wrote back to thank Pottinger but said she would not be available for the meeting, though records released by the school district do not include any summary by Pottinger of what was discussed with Westco at the Nov. 17 meeting.

The e-mail from Pottinger was sent to Harris and was carbon-copied to Melinda Garrett, the school district’s chief financial officer. Harris told Texas Watchdog this week that she had contacted Garrett, not Pottinger, about Westco.

Pottinger also confirmed Harris’ statement yesterday that the two did not have a professional or personal relationship.

“I purposely kept a distance between the board members and myself to ensure no unethical conduct occurred,” Pottinger said. “If a board member contacted me, however, I would respond out of professional courtesy.”

HISD officials did not renew Pottinger’s contract last month. He had been employed by the district for more than 11 years -- all of them as head of procurement. HISD personnel accused Pottinger of allowing expensive supplies to pile up in the district’s warehouse, and that he played inappropriate practical jokes on a subordinate, including signing up the employee on Russian online dating sites without the employee’s knowledge.

“The accusations against me aren’t true,” Pottinger said. “I just want to clear my name so I can work again."

See the original Texas Watchdog story about this issue by clicking here.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo by flickr user 10ch, used under a Creative Commons license.

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