An amazing board meeting today at the Harris County Department of Education. There was a protest, lots of citizen participation, arguing among board members and a vote to censure an elected board member. Hey, it’s Harris County’s own version of a Donald Trump presser!
Honestly, I wouldn’t have even been there today if it weren’t for an email that I received via our Contact Page.
I’ve been told that you may be interested in hearing that Gary Pollard is up for consideration for the board attorney for the Harris County Department of Education. Also up for consideration is Briscoe Cain’s firm, Strahan Cain. I’m hosting a press conference at noon at HCDE (6300 Irvington) tomorrow to state a desire for them to keep their current, unbiased education specialist board counsel. Contact me at (xxx) 289-6333 if you have any questions.
That came from Andrea Duhon. I didn’t know her, so I did the Google thing and found out that she ran for the HCDE board last November and narrowly lost to Josh Flynn, who is currently the HCDE Board President. And on Facebook, where I found that she is currently running for Trustee Mike Wolfe’s At-Large Position 5 spot, which is up for election in 2020. It turned out to be more of a protest than a press conference.
That is Ms. Duhon with the bullhorn. Here is an information sheet that they handed out. The three points that she made were:
- Re-hire Hillco to lobby for the HCDE
- Don’t fire the current HCDE attorney
- Save the Department
The funniest parts of the protest to me were the boos at the mention of Rep. Briscoe Cain’s name and saying that Sen. Paul Bettencourt hated education. Clearly these protesters have never met either man.
The meeting wasn’t all that heated
After the protest, I thought that the meeting might get out of control. Fortunately, it didn’t. A few of the citizen speakers did make baseless charges towards the board but as far as meetings go, it was fairly tame. Clearly there was a conspiracy to keep me from speaking. When I signed in and signed up to speak, there was only one person signed in, Colleen Vera of TexasTrashTalk.com. Board President Flynn kept calling names, but not mine! Then he declared that all signed up speakers had had their turn and they were moving on. I was like, hold up! I signed up! For whatever reason, Mr. Flynn didn’t have the original sign in sheets but when another guy said that he too signed up, we were allowed our five minutes of fame.
I won’t bother to go through every agenda item, you can view the video if you wish. I’ll simply give you my thoughts on the interactions of the board and the HCDE employees.
It is clear that board members and staff do not trust and/or like each other. I’ll put part of the blame for this on the Superintendent, James Colbert, Jr. Mr. Colbert’s body language and actual language shows a clear dislike for some of the board members. He comes across as arrogant and smug. A Superintendent needs to build bridges and try to create consensus. After talking to a former HCDE board member after this meeting, I understand that Mr. Colbert, Jr. has had to fight for his job for quite some time. That is no excuse for such a defensive attitude from a leader. Suck it up buttercup and build a team. It can be done, I’ll help you if you want.
But I won’t lay all of the blame on the superintendent. This board clearly has issues. I don’t know the Democrats on the board but I do know four of the five Republicans. They can do better. Much, much better. And frankly, I was impressed by one of the Democrats, Danny Norris. He seemed to be playing the role of peacemaker and spoke with a gentle, yet firm voice. Kudos.
Dick and Wolfe feud
I don’t know what has caused these two former allies to become bitter enemies and I don’t really care. But it isn’t good for the Harris County Department of Education. For the last few weeks, Mr. Dick has been saying things about Mr. Wolfe in various places, including Facebook, his paid air-time radio show and via email. Today there was an agenda item and an executive session about the allegations that Mr. Wolfe sexually harassed an employee of the HCDE.
Prior to the meeting, I asked Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Dick for a quote about the feud. Mr. Wolfe referred me to his attorney, Jared Woodfill, who had this to say:
The allegations are false, manufactured, defamatory, and politically motivated because Mr. Wolfe failed to vote the way Mr. Dick demanded. Mr. Wolfe voted consistent with his values and campaign promises, despite pressure to vote otherwise.
Mr. Dick told me:
The victim called me crying. I just want to know the truth.
I had to leave during the executive session, which lasted about 2 hours. When the meeting resumed, the board voted to censure Mr. Wolfe at a later meeting. Mr. Dick went far beyond that, calling for Mr. Wolfe to resign and calling Mr. Wolfe a pervert. Video of the vote and Mr. Dick’s comments:
You will notice that the vote to censure Mr. Wolfe at a future meeting was 6-0-1, with Wolfe abstaining. Obviously I don’t haven’t read the investigative report and don’t even know who did the investigation. But a unanimous vote to censure Wolfe by several of his friends and allies is not nothing.
I asked Jared Woodfill for a followup comment after the meeting and this is what he provided:
He [Dick] needs to be censured for the false allegations, defamatory Facebook posts, and the political vendetta that is motivating his vicious attacks to destroy a good man’s name. The Board needs to afford Michael his due process rights and allow him to confront the accusations, challenge the testimony, and test the credibility of the witnesses. If not, it will be complicit in a political smear job based on Mr. Wolfe voting his conservative values. Unlike others, Mr. Wolfe voted against using taxpayer dollars to fund big lobby contracts, has pushed to eliminate the Board, and has refused to support people simply based on politics. Mike Wolfe should be commended, not vilified by some elected officials who have forgotten that it is we the people who elected them to be good stewards of our tax dollars.
Like I said earlier, this board has issues. Mr. Colbert, Jr. needs to step up and help to fix these problems.
Working with state representatives
Here is a suggestion for Mr. Colbert, Jr. – work with the elected officials in Harris County. Build relationships. Tell the HCDE story directly.
I had the impression that the HCDE staff has not reached out to the elected officials that were mentioned by citizens during the open forum period and in the protest prior to the meeting. So I asked Sen. Bettencourt if he had heard from anyone at HCDE. Here is his response:
Not to try and build a relationship, LOL, at all…So No. I believe their former lobbyist firm called Jan. 22nd for a potential appt next day, Jan 23rd, but we had a major Senate finance hearing on Texas Government so it was declined. No further attempted HCDE communication has occurred since then.
Here is Rep. Cain’s response:
I have never been contacted contacted by anyone on the staff of HCDE about anything.
That is what is so frustrating to me as a citizen watching governmental bodies spend taxpayer funds hiring professional lobbyists to go to Austin for them. As I said in the open forum for citizens, it is immoral to use taxpayer funds to wine and dine elected officials when we literally have people starving on our streets. I was stunned at the so-called civil rights groups that protested before the meeting demanding that taxpayer funds be used to pay lobbyists.
HCDE deserves better
The Harris County Department of Education is a great example of a governmental body that actually works to improve the lives of taxpayers. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot improve. We heard today that they are spending $1,000,000 (that’s a million dollars for those of you from Pasadena) a year on one of their schools that has 6 students enrolled. You read that correctly, 6 students, one million dollars. Fortunately the board voted to require Mr. Colbert, Jr. to present a plan at the next board meeting to get that enrollment up to the projected 100 students.
There are countless items like that that can be improved. But it won’t happen if the board continues the infighting and the staff continues to ignore the board’s requests.
Mr. Colbert, Jr. it’s time for you to step up to the plate and do your job. The former board member that I spoke to today had high regard for you and told me that you could do it. So do it.