in Houston, Texas
Houston school district approves new contracts after auditors, Texas Watchdog raised questions about original bid process
Tuesday, Jul 24, 2012, 10:19AM CST
By Mike Cronin

Satisfied with the rebid process of two problem contracts, the Houston school board has unanimously approved district agreements with Westco Ventures LLP and Southwest Wholesale Nursery.

Houston Independent School District officials decided to put those contracts up for rebid in April after Texas Watchdog and an independent audit of HISD’s procurement processes raised questions about them.

Westco is among four companies that have been awarded a $2 million painting contract. Southwest Wholesale Nursery is receiving $600,000 to do landscaping work.

A close friend of last year’s board President Paula Harris owns Westco. Texas Watchdog reported in August that Harris intervened with district staff on behalf of West after Westco did not receive a contract.

Unlike in April, Harris kept her promise during Thursday night’s board meeting of no longer voting on contracts with Westco. Harris was away from her seat during the 5-0 vote.

Auditors from Null-Lairson, a Houston accounting firm that became Whitley Penn in May, told HISD board members that documents were missing from the Westco contract file during a March presentation.

Texas Watchdog reported last week that HISD Inspector General Robert Moore issued a report earlier this month, three months after he promised it.

That report concluded that some documents remained missing and that district officials could improve their methods of tracking, filing, archiving and accessing public records. Moore found “no evidence of malicious intent” with respect to the missing documents.

Texas Watchdog reported in August that Southwest Wholesale Nursery won a contract despite its bid being nearly twice as high as the lowest bidder on the project and higher than seven other firms that bid on the job. The difference between the low bid and Southwest Wholesale's bid was about $205,000. That would pay the annual salaries of about 4.5 teachers on the lowest rung of HISD's teacher pay scale.

Procurement experts in Texas and at other school districts throughout the country, such as the Miami Dade County Public Schools, reviewed documents for that award provided to Texas Watchdog by HISD. Some did not see documentation that explained why the winning companies obtained the contracts.

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

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Photo of HISD board from the Houston Independent School District website.

Enquiring Minds
Wednesday, 07/25/2012 - 06:35AM

How did documents conveniently end up "missing"?

Is there a connection to SW nursery and someone on the board or close by? There is no reasonable explanation to spend so much with a company when others could achieve the same for so much less. How in the world can this board continue allowing these contracts between board members and friends? I hope others are as outraged as I am at this incredible waste.

Lee Ann O'Neal, Texas Watchdog
Friday, 07/27/2012 - 09:29AM

Enquiring Minds, we'd be interested in hearing more if you have tips related to the latest contracting process. We're at news(at) I also wanted to share our earlier story about the initial award to Southwest:

Thanks for reading and commenting.

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