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Tell us more about these HCC concerns

The Chron expresses some concerns about recent happenings with the HCC Board of Trustees.

As many longtime Houston residents are well aware, HCC has too frequently been plagued by problems involving the approval of contracts to board members’ supporters and relatives.

Our endorsement of the bond issue was conditioned on the assurance that such problems would not arise as this bond package was being parceled out for needed expansion of facilities. We endorsed the $425 million in large part because we were persuaded that HCC had cleaned up its ethical act.

Under the guidance of then-chairman Richard Schechter, the HCC board two years ago committed to “doing things the right way,” as HCC Board Chairman Bruce Austin wrote in a recent Outlook piece.

We hope so. But based on what we’ve been seeing from the board since the turn of the year, we have some concerns. They include:

1) The decision to return former board member Herlinda Garcia as an interim replacement for outgoing chair Mary Ann Perez, who resigned following her election to the Texas House of Representatives. Out of a presumably large universe of possible replacements, why the choice of Garcia? She returns with baggage from her former service, including well-remembered inflammatory remarks that essentially sabotaged efforts to bring suburban districts into the system. Why her and why now?

2) Why the sudden resignation of Schechter? It was under the Houston attorney’s strong and progressive leadership as board chair that much-needed reforms were initially negotiated and put in place. Why is Schechter leaving so quickly after re-election? Does his leaving signify a shift in power on the board that might lead some members to believe they can move away from commitments to transparency and arm’s length, especially in the area of assigning contracts?

We hope not. But already, we are hearing word of board members with agendas focused on jobs and contracts for favored groups.

These are valid concerns, but I have to say, I’d take them more seriously if the Chron took HCC more seriously to begin with. For instance, the first place that I heard about Herlinda Garcia’s appointment to replace Rep. Mary Ann Perez was this HCC press release, which I came across while researching my first look at the 2013 elections post. I had started to write that I had no idea how the HCC Board of Trustees went about filling an unexpected vacancy, and decided to Google around rather than publicly admit my ignorance, and in doing so I found that story. The Chron had no news of this until nearly a week later when they wrote about Schechter’s resignation, mentioning the Garcia appointment in passing. As for Garcia’s baggage, that’s the first I’ve heard of it. Neither a Google search nor a Chronicle archive search yielded anything relevant; this 2003 story about the election Garcia ultimately lost to Diane Olmos Guzman didn’t mention anything specific. Those “inflammatory remarks” may be well-remembered, but they’re sure not well known or well publicized. How about a profile of the new trustee so you can inform the rest of us about this baggage, Chron editorial board?

As for Schechter’s resignation, once again it would be nice if the Chron did more to investigate their concerns rather than merely editorialize about them. I will also note that the HCC Board is soliciting applications from qualified members of the public to be considered for an appointment to fill Schechter’s position. But don’t get your hopes up about this – the application deadline was Monday, and the Board intends to pick the lucky winner at today’s Board meeting. We’ll see how long it takes the Chron to write about that.

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2 Comments

  1. Jj says:

    Make a phone call or two. Lots of people will tell you what’s going on and why the media can only talk obliquely. It is the same story as HISD and why Natasha Kamrani served only one term.

  2. I’m suggesting that the professional newsgathering organization find someone to make those phone calls, and not wait for the amateur who’s doing this for free in his spare time to get around to it. In the case of Herlinda Garcia’s “baggage”, they apparently already know what the story is, so all they needed to do was have someone peck out a couple of paragraphs. I don’t think I’m asking for anything unreasonable here.

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