After reading the investigative report about the allegations against Harris County Department of Education Board Trustee Mike Wolfe, I think the place is a lost cause and needs to be blown up. It really is an amazing report on the conduct of Wolfe and Trustee Eric Dick as well as an indictment of the way the place is run.
At least the Public Information Request office is well run. They sent me the report less than 24 hours after I requested it. I wish all public agencies responded that quickly.
Now, here are a few quotes directly from the report (but please, do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):
As I learned from my conversations with Mr. Dick, and looking at his marketing materials, while Mr. Dick is pleasant and chatty, he is prone to irony and drama.
The accusation by Mr. Flynn against Mr. Dick as to an underlying motive of political ill will has more credibility. Before I discuss this, I should point out: people often, or even usually, have mixed motives.
11.1. I find Mr. Dick does believe Jane Doe’s story, does believe Mr. Wolfe sexually harassed and retaliated against Jane Doe, and yet also find Mr. Dick was frustrated by Mr. Wolfe’s political stances on terminating a lobbyist contract, abolishing HCDE, favoring Mr. Flynn over Mr. Dick for the presidency of HCDE, and even failing to pay back (or properly disclose) large campaign loans of $28,000 by Mr. Dick to Mr. Wolfe.
“I [Eric Dick] have a friend. She’s in her early 30s. She applied for the position of Board Secretary. Mike, Louis Evans and I were going over resumes. We were the committee. I told Mike and Louis: ‘Full disclosure. She’s my friend.’ We chose seven candidates to interview. She was one of them. She goes over to Chris Daniels’ office. And she says Mike [Wolfe] had her in an office, closed the door, and asked her out on a date.”
14.9. All the Board members confirm this: Messrs. Dick and Wolfe “got two” of their friends or “hand-picked” committee favorites and they all made the final seven, despite not having being the top seven in the objective criteria. One of Mr. Dick’s “picks” was Jane Doe. One of Mr. Wolfe’s picks was Melissa Smith, the eventual hire. Both Ms. Doe and Ms. Smith would not have even made the group of 17 if judged initially on their scores.
For instance, Ms. Doe is one of only 14 in the 45 without a degree, one of 8 without clerical experience, had the third least “total related experience,” and was one of only two without MS Office skills, but got to the finals. Another of Mr. Wolfe’s picks, Jennifer Tashenberg, had the least clerical experience (none) and least technical knowledge out of the entire group, yet made the final seven.
Mr. Evans says it was “not optimal.” He said: “I’m used to doing it the right way. I’ve managed for 30 years.” What did he think should have happened? “A hiring manual. Training. We all need a refresher on the law.”
15.1. Mr. Wolfe (who met me at his lawyer’s office, voluntarily) freely admitted:
“We wanted to bring people in who were more friendly – politically and otherwise – to our philosophy; people we could trust. We all had people we wanted to apply for the position. I had two, Eric had two, Louis had one, one was an existing employee, a black lady in her 50s or 60s, and one was from the outside who just had a resume that looked good. She was the no-show.”
My impression was that Mr. Wolfe did not even know that what he had just told me was a boon to any decent plaintiff’s attorney who might want to accuse HCDE of deviating from their objective criteria to disfavor and discriminate, and that he was oblivious to the law.
Mr. Evans essentially confirmed my impression:
“Mike is a bit less formal than he should be. I did have to tell him not to ask certain questions. Illegal questions. I don’t think he’s ever held a management position.”
Mr. Flynn flat out told me:
“Michael is a child. He doesn’t even know what he is saying. He may be autistic.”
17.1. Mr. Dick invited Mr. Wolfe to the San Jacinto Day Dinner in March of 2017, as a guest at Mr. Dick’s table.
17.2. Mr. Dick wanted to set him up with Ms. Doe, who Mr. Wolfe says “looks half Asian,” after telling Mr. Wolfe for a long time he needed to date an Asian.
17.3. Mr. Dick’s table had prominent local Republicans, including attorney Chris Carmona, a good friend of Ms. Doe.
17.4. Mr. Dick introduced Ms. Doe to Mr. Wolfe, and during the dinner, texted Mr. Wolfe to move to sit by Ms. Doe. Mr Wolfe said it made him angry.
“It ticked me off because Eric told me ‘you need to get an Asian girl’ and then he popped this on me.”
My hunch and Ms. Doe’s fears were correct. Mr. Wolfe has tried to sabotage Ms. Doe.
Jeff Yates, Executive Director of the Harris County Republican Party [see editor’s note at the bottom of the page], told me Mr. Wolfe “blackballed” Ms. Doe when she was applying for a job with state congressman Dennis Paul:
“I know [Jane Doe]. I run campaigns. We were looking for campaign manager. I had an established State Representative, Dennis Paul. My employee and I met with the young woman. She was absolutely a finalist. Not the final two. Top five. I’ve known Michael for 15 years, in Republican circles. He called me and said ‘You do not need to hire her.’ This was July or August of last year. He definitely called me and said that. Unsolicitated. Came out of nowhere. He didn’t have a good impression of her. If she had made the final two, I would’ve asked more details.”
21.1. This is wholly unacceptable, and cannot be minimized with the Flynn approach (“he is a child” or “he’s probably autistic”). Mr. Wolfe has told me, even in the context of an investigation (in the presence of his own lawyer) that Ms. Doe sleeps around to pay her rent, without any factual basis, and is trying to ruin Ms. Doe’s career in her chosen party.
21.2. Ms. Doe is not seeking to sue HCDE, nor does she even want to receive an apology. What Ms. Doe wants is to move on, and be free to pursue employment within the Harris County or Texas Republican “orbit” without fear of Mr. Wolfe and his allies spreading Mr. Wolfe’s brand of disparagement. It was Mr. Wolfe who brought this whole investigation on, with his attempts to cost Ms. Doe a job; Ms. Doe had moved on, but one can understand why she would draw a line at a concerted effort to cut her out of GOP jobs. As Ms. Doe said:
21.3. HCDE has a strong interest in stopping Mr. Wolfe from spreading baseless rumors, and ceasing any efforts to harm Ms. Doe’s career.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Knowing Ms. Doe was seeking a job with HCDE, Mr. Wolfe asked Ms. Doe out on a date after closing the door to his office. She accepted just to leave the office, went down to her boyfriend in the car, cried, and immediately declined, telling Mr. Wolfe she was busy.
- Mr. Wolfe asked Ms. Doe out again, after the interviews, during which—and this is not clear–he was perceived as harsh to her. She declined.
- Mr. Wolfe told a decision-maker for a prospective employer, Jeff Yates, connected to him politically not to hire Ms. Doe.
- Mr. Wolfe made a baseless claim that Ms. Doe sleeps around to pay her rent, during this investigation. When challenged to give a basis for this disparagement, he was unable to do so. He also makes non-credible claims of Ms. Doe “stalking” him.
- Ms. Doe is not seeking money or fame; she is a reluctant witness, who wants only for Mr. Wolfe to cease and desist from interfering with her career.
- In addition to being unwise, putting his own interests ahead of HCDE’s, and exposing HCDE to risk of a lawsuit, Mr. Wolfe’s actions described in Findings 1-5 (and the description in this Report) violate Board Policy BBF (LOCAL), the principles underpinning the Board, Policy DIA (LEGAL), Policy DIA (LOCAL), and the common law governing defamation.
- Mr. Wolfe’s conduct during the process, and thereafter, brings the Department into disrepute. He has made highly disparaging statements about Ms. Doe’s reputation without a shred of knowledge, and tried to sabotage her job hunt elsewhere, whilst even trying one last time to ask her out (after she was rejected by a committee he sat on). For all these things, he should be censured.
- Mr. Dick should have relayed the claims of Ms. Doe to HCDE’s HR Department as soon as he was able, and in a completely confidential way; however, reports do not need to be “immediate” or motivated only by pure goals. Mr. Dick can and should do better, but it is unlikely this exact scenario will play out again. Still, I recommend Mr. Dick not serve on any committee with Mr. Wolfe. It would be a recipe for disaster, as this feud is long from being over.
- The process of hiring the Executive Assistant was tainted by Messrs. Dick and Wolfe. Transparency was sacrificed in the cause of political cronyism. The testing/ranking process was turned into a sham. The way Messrs. Dick and Wolfe, in particular, pushed their less-qualified friends and allies into running for the job of Board Secretary opened HCDE up to charges of favoritism and bias, caused employees to lose faith, and rendered the process arbitrary.
- Mr. Wolfe should not do interviews or recruiting for HCDE any longer, and should be removed from any committee which does this. Further, Mr. Wolfe should have to complete training in effective communications, as a condition of his trusteeship, and to pass the training, should be able to demonstrate awareness of legal risks from his communications.
Well, if you’ve made it this far, congratulations. Unfreaking believable. Burn the place down. I don’t know if the entire report is factually true, particularly when it comes to he said, she said statements but there are enough things in it that are institutionally true to earn anyone’s wrath.
The worst part of all of this? Everyone mentioned in the report is a Republican. Way to go dumb-asses. So much for the old “Harris County Works because of Republicans” campaign.
Mike Wolfe and Eric Dick should both resign from the Harris County Department of Education Board. And then issue an apology to the Harris County Republican Party.
The report incorrectly identifies Jeff Yates as the Executive Director of the Harris County Republican Party. Actually, Mr. Yates is a former ED of the HCRP and has been a private consultant for many years. Makes you wonder about the overall quality of the report, doesn’t it?