Houston ISD hires new head of procurement

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The Houston Independent School District has a permanent, full-time procurement chief for the first time since administrators fired Stephen Pottinger in July.

Christopher Gross begins today as the new general manager of HISD’s procurement department, district Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett said in an e-mail.

Garrett announced Gross’ hiring on Thursday during a school-board workshop meeting.

“Chris has extensive knowledge and expertise in project management, contract administration, strategic sourcing and supply chain management,” Garrett wrote in an e-mail to HISD trustees and district staff members who directly report to Superintendent Terry Grier. Garrett shared with Texas Watchdog the e-mail announcement of Gross’ hiring.

Gross has worked within the University of Texas System and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center during the last 12 years, according to Garrett’s e-mail. He earned a master’s degree in business administration in 2007 from the University of Houston – Clear Lake. Gross earned his certified purchasing manager credentials in 2006.

“I know you will join me in welcoming Chris to TEAM HISD,” Garrett wrote.

Gross takes over the district’s procurement department after two separate audits of the department found multiple problems and a lack of transparency in the way HISD does business.

District officials released the draft report of a four-month audit conducted by the Houston accounting firm, Null-Lairson, last week. The Washington-based nonprofit Council of the Great City Schools published its review of HISD’s methods of purchasing goods and services in October.

Null-Lairson auditors found that HISD had “transparency questions” in how district officials disseminated information about bids for work with the district among the public, board members and its own staff. That report also noted that transparency issues arose due to a lack of “defined procedures” outlining when and how board members and vendors may contact one another.

The council’s report concluded that HISD’s practices “lead to a perception of manipulation of and distrust in the procurement process.”

Gross succeeds Pottinger, whose contract HISD officials chose not to renew after public controversy engulfed Pottinger last summer.

A district employee whom Pottinger supervised accused Pottinger of harassing him by sharing that employee’s personal e-mail address with an online dating service that specializes in connecting Russian women with American men.

That employee also said Pottinger harassed him when Pottinger and another HISD manager pretended that the employee had been fired.

When Pottinger was let go, he had been defending himself against two Equal Employment Opportunity complaints that began in 2009. And he was fighting accusations that he let inventory stagnate in HISD’s warehouse – about $800,000 worth of hand sanitizer that was near its expiration date being one example.

Pottinger denied all allegations against him and defended himself in subsequent interviews with Texas Watchdog.

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

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Photo of coins by flickr user Sharon Drummond, used via a Creative Commons license.

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