in Houston, Texas
Revolving door for public school administrators raises pension questions
Wednesday, Nov 02, 2011, 11:43AM CST
By Steve Miller
revolving door
It’s a skipping record, and no one ever picks the needle up and sets it down again. Public school teachers and administrators quit or retire and come back to their same district as consultants or assistants or whatever title someone can come up with, taking both a pension and a new salary from the same taxpayer account.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Dave Lieber describes the cozy arrangement of Vicki Burris, a former assistant superintendent in the Keller school district, in the monied suburbs north of Fort Worth.

Lieber lays it all out in frustrating detail:
(Burris) worked as a $120,000-a-year assistant superintendent of business for the Keller school district. In mid-June, two weeks before her scheduled retirement, she signed a one-year contract on behalf of her new consulting business, Results Centered Solutions of Northlake. Keller Superintendent James Veitenheimer also signed the contract.

The deal promises to pay her $60,000, half of what was her annual salary. Her job duties are essentially what she did before.

Her last day of work was June 30. On Aug. 18, the school board approved her company's hiring, retroactive to Aug. 1. A day after the vote, she was paid $40,000, with the remaining $20,000 coming at the end of her contract.
Results Centered Solutions doesn’t need a Web site and doesn’t appear to have one. What would be the point if there's only one gig? Burris registered the business with the state on April 22. The address for the business is her home in Justin. Burris did not return calls for comment, Lieber writes.

Burris first obtained her teaching certificate in 1978, according to state records, and was certified as an administrator in 1991. Her LinkedIn profile says she was “director of facilities, planning and analysis” at Forth Worth ISD from 2001 to 2007 but doesn’t mention the Keller gig, which entailed the same duties, according to the Lieber story.
 
We have to be curious about the status of her pension. She can still draw payments, but she must pay "surcharges" to the state teacher retirement system, the story says.

Since pension amounts are not public record, we have no way of knowing what that surcharge is, nor do we know what Burris is receiving in terms of pension and health benefits. So secretive are these amounts that the teacher retirement system has sued to keep from releasing some rudimentary numbers on retiree payments.

We’ve written about double dippers in the public sector and can’t help but wonder, if that could be addressed, perhaps Keller wouldn’t have had to lay off so many people as it did earlier this year. But if administrators like Burris were among those, their landing was no doubt soft.

And as the story points out, the chiefs at Keller seem absolutely delighted that they are getting the work of Burris for $60,000 while her salary was $120,000, plus bennies and pension. Lieber asks: "If an administrator making $120,000 a year can come back at half-time making $60,000 for doing mostly the same job, was the administrator originally overpaid or underworked?"
 
***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpaceDiggFriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of revolving door by flickr user Dan4th, used via a Creative Commons license.

Government’s poor record of data breaches highlighted
Monday, Jun 20, 2011, 02:08PM CST
By Kevin Lee
data

A retired school principal got the state retirement system to change its mailing procedures, after she realized the system was sending out letters with personal information viewable on the outside of the envelopes, according to a recent article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Because of her complaint, the Teachers Retirement System of Texas is using labels, instead of the see-through window envelopes, to obscure the information.

It’s an anecdote that highlights a larger problem, the Star-Telegram’s Dave Lieber writes, of government’s role in privacy breaches. Lieber’s story says that governments were responsible for nearly half of the personal records lost this year, including a breach at the state Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and the accidental release of personal information for 3.5 million Texans by the comptroller’s office.

The Star-Telegram piece shows we’re not necessarily safer with government keeping public employee information all to itself, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas writes.

There’s no hard evidence to support any argument that public information in the hands of the news media or even private citizens is putting anyone at risk. Government is responsible for most of the sensitive data-leaks all on its own.

FOIFT made the same point last December when the state Supreme Court ruled that state employees’ dates of birth should be kept confidential because privacy concerns outweighed the public interest.

Texas Watchdog wrote at the time that the ruling would prevent journalists from doing their jobs and give honest government employees a black eye.

***
Contact Kevin Lee at 713-228-3733 or kevin@texaswatchdog.org.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of data illustration by flickr user bionicteaching, used via a Creative Commons license.

Fort Worth assistant city attorney resigns after bungling hundreds of requests for public information
Monday, May 16, 2011, 02:43PM CST
By Steve Miller
fortworth

An assistant city attorney in Fort Worth responsible for responding to public information requests has resigned after it was discovered he was unduly delaying release of information.

This column in Saturday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that C. Patrick Phillips resigned last month after his boss discovered he had botched more than 300 requests for public information.

 

From the piece:

Since 2008, Phillips had not properly handled 327 requests, the city reported later. For the vast majority of those, Phillips had either missed the deadline for asking the Texas attorney general to exempt the information or failed to release information as the AG's office had ordered.

Star-Telegram's watchdog columnist Dave Lieber has been putting the pressure on Fort Worth, shining a light on the city's practice of delaying the release of information by appealing records requests to the Attorney General. In Texas, if a government agency has questions about whether a record is open, the agency may ask the AG's office to decide the matter. In practice, the appeals process for some governments becomes a knee-jerk reaction.

 

In Fort Worth, it got bad enough that Lieber filed a complaint with the state AG’s office, and even after that, it took almost two months for the city to comply with state law.

 

Lieber clarified the purpose of the appeals process:

The attorney general's office referred me to its open-records decision No. 684, dated Dec. 14, 2009, which offers a guide to governments about when they should seek its rulings.

 

The decision explains that it "is intended to encourage the prompt release of requested public information and increase the efficiency of the PIA [Public Information Act] review process by clearly identifying certain types of information that governmental bodies may withhold without the delay of requesting an attorney general decision."

***

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


Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpaceDiggFriendFeedand tumblr.


Photo of money by flickr user athrasher, used via a Creative Commons license.

Police records hard to get in Fort Worth
Monday, Apr 25, 2011, 09:58AM CST
By Steve Miller
police badge

Star-Telegram columnist Dave Lieber discussed in a weekend column his effort to obtain police records in Fort Worth, finding that the city unduly prolongs public records requests.

 

Lieber, who also runs an excellent blog called Watchdog Nation, was doing his own test of a Star-Telegram story last summer that found Fort Worth appealed to the state Attorney General’s office “far more than other Texas cities of similar size with questions or arguments about excluding or withholding records.”

 

Lieber asked for e-mails and personnel records for a police officer on Nov. 11. The request was appealed Nov. 29. The AG came back in favor of Lieber on Feb. 7.  Fort Worth finally released the records April 2, more than a month after Lieber filed a complaint with the AG.

 

For some commonly requested e-mails and personnel records, a wait time of almost five months.

 

And here’s the kicker: Lieber was requesting the same records that had been denied another requestor last year, with the city claiming that the e-mails had been deleted from the city’s computer server. 

 

There are too many agencies, cities and other public bodies skirting sunshine laws, most recently the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. We did a wrapup of open records issues in the state in 2010, and it appears things have not gotten much better.

 

***

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


Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpaceDiggFriendFeedand tumblr.


Photo of a police badge by flickr user davidsonscott15, used via a Creative Commons license.

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