Inspectors general in other cities root out fraud, conflicts of interest; Houston's IG only has power to investigate complaints of vulgar language, unlawful tamale sales
While Philadelphia's inspector general was stamping out contracting schemes between vendors and city officials, Houston's counterpart spent the past year fielding complaints of poor work performance evaluations, harsh language and other petty grievances best suited for an HR department.
And the office that was once said to be revamped via an executive order from Mayor Annise Parker has yet to issue a report on its findings over the past year.
The former FBI agent, Robert Doguim, hired to lead the office, stepped down. His last day was Friday. He lasted 14 months in the job and left on what he said were good terms. He also provided some candid advice to City Attorney David Feldman on how the office might operate in the future.
“I talked about the three cornerstones for a successful, true OIG operation,” Doguim said. “That is independence, proper authority and transparency. And I also believe that whoever serves next as the inspector general should have a fixed term.”
With his departure, Doguim said, the city is now in a position in which it can build a true OIG office like the ones in other cities the size of Houston. Or not.
"I said that when they are hiring the next inspector general, before they do, they should know what they want at the city," Doguim said. "Do they want to build the Federal Reserve, or do they want to put an addition on the house?"
The complaints received by the OIG office in the past year tell a story of an office with little legal heft, besieged by concerns that are mostly personal and often more concerned with perceptions rather than reality.
One employee filed a complaint stating that unauthorized vendors were selling tamales at the Houston Police Department.
Another claimed there was trouble in the city’s wastewater department: “...I have felt discriminated because I am Hispanic and I feel also retaliated and besides that I have been sick because of this situation, they do not treat me as a good hard worker. …”
Then there are also substantial complaints regarding misuse of funds and labor kickbacks that, if proven, would seem to lead to bigger cases or illicit activity.
One accusation, also from the wastewater department, alleges a supervisor misused funds and was given free work in exchange for directing contracts to certain vendors. The claim was backed up with 17 pages of emails.
There remains fallout from the Houston Fire Department fiasco from 2009. A May filing accuses a supervisor of downgrading an employee’s evaluation because of a “racially charged assessment."
The complaints came from across the spectrum of the city’s 21 departments and offices. Engine operators, inspectors of all kinds, city council members and even City Attorney Feldman were named in complaints.
That account alleged that Feldman, in a department meeting, entered wearing “a pair of brightly colored feathered earrings…
"The earrings strongly resembled the same type of earrings sometimes worn by Council woman Jolanda Jones. As Mr. Feldman entered conference room number 382, several employees laughed, however, the majority of the employees were not laughing. Mr. Feldman approached the podium and laughed himself! He then started to speak, but did not make sense in what he was saying. He stated (in a different tone than usual) 'I have had a hard life.' I had to walk several miles to get to school and Oh, did I mention I am a lawyer". 'I am a lawyer'. It then appeared that Mr. Feldman was clearly mocking Council woman Jolanda Jones in both her attire and demeanor.”
Doguim said he wanted to look into the allegation but was overruled by Mayor Parker, who sent it over to the Houston Police Department for investigate.
Feldman declined to speak with Texas Watchdog.
There are complaints of name calling, including numerous racial epithets, complaints against judges’ rulings, as well as complaints of inappropriate language, in one case citing the use of the words ‘damn’ and ‘hell.'
In another protest, a retired worked claims, “On July 29, 2011, Mr. Jackson came to my work station and called me ignorant. ... I have retired and no longer work for the city.”
Still another alleged that he was denied a promotion. One person filed a complaint against “someone in IT (information technology)” who had changed the passwords while that complainant was out of the office.
While Doguim professes admiration for Feldman, he said that in the end, “the authority is just not there.”
“I had always argued that the office should not be under the city attorney,” Doguim said. “Mr. Feldman never pushed back on anything I recommended, or tried to influence anything. But at this level, even the appearance of a lack of independence is a problem. It makes it look like someone is saying, ‘I have an OIG,’ but they don’t want all the things that come with it.”
Assistant City Attorney Lynette Fons will serve as interim IG until a replacement can be found. Fons is a former litigation attorney at Beirne, Maynard & Parsons.
Texas Watchdog will be releasing all of the 342 pages it obtained from the city in the coming weeks.
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo of Houston City Hall by flickr user J Jackson Photography, used via a Creative Commons license.
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Sherry Gregory Nassar
Saturday, 02/11/2012 - 01:28PM
Tried to send email to firstname.lastname@example.org but it bounced back. per your request to let you know when someone publishes/copies one of your stories, I posted your story about the Houston Investigator who quit. Have heard rumblings and overt complaints against city employees for years as they held the city (which lives in terror of lawsuits) hostage. It took years to get an unqualified Vet out of BARC. He killed many of the animals he attempted to spay and neuter. His reputation as a poor excuse for a vet was known all over the city. It took years but - finally the city has been working very hard to do the right things for the poor homeless and stray animals who end up at BARC through no fault of their own.