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HCC Board condemns Dave Wilson

Well, who doesn’t?

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Trustee Dave Wilson was issued a public reprimand Thursday by a majority of his colleagues on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, an action that effectively condemned several of his actions that board members said “are harmful to the institution.”

At issue was whether Wilson violated board bylaws and inappropriately piled up legal bills for the college system. The board voted for the public reprimand 6-1, with two abstentions. Wilson, who often is the lone no vote on issues, was the only vote against the action.

The reprimand, which is a literal public announcement of condemnation, will not stop Wilson from doing what he feels is right, he said.

“When I see a situation where I think there’s an injustice going on, I’m going to give them my attorney’s phone number and do it again,” Wilson said. “This reprimand is never going to stop me from doing that.”

The board originally intended to vote on a possible censure, which could have led to Wilson being stripped of some board privileges. Trustee Zeph Capo suggested the board instead vote on a public reprimand, which would spotlight Wilson’s action for the public.

[…]

Wilson said that college officials unlawfully overpaid when they spent $8.5 million on a former Conn’s building for the district. Investigators found no evidence of a crime.

Tamez said in the past two years Wilson incurred almost $273,000 in legal fees to the college, including when he filed a complaint with the Harris County district attorney in the Conn’s dispute, according to Tamez.

Wilson also is under fire for giving his attorney’s contact information to a group of HCC nursing graduates. His attorney filed suit on behalf of 19 nursing students who say the college is withholding graduation documents, keeping them from getting jobs or taking the state licensing exam, in an effort to boost test scores in the program.

Here’s a story from before the board vote with a bit more detail. Wilson filed the complaint over the Conn’s deal last August, and it was dismissed by the DA’s office in March. Here’s the relevant bit from that story:

The college paid $8.5 million for the former big box store – $3.2 million higher than the building was originally valued just months before the purchase. The higher value, by the same appraiser, reflected a planned five-year lease of the building to Tesla Motors that never materialized.

HCC is nearing completion of a separate agreement to lease out the property to another entity – a step college officials have tried to take since they purchased the building more than a year ago.

After reviewing documents from the college, Tesla Motors and the Texas Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board, the DA’s office wrote to Wilson on March 4 that it did not find any evidence of criminal activity and was closing the investigation.

[…]

College leaders, including Maldonado and several trustees, have said the former Conn’s building was a good investment, even if it wasn’t to be used right away. It was the only building in a former shopping center that is now HCC’s West Loop campus. By buying the Conn’s store, HCC officials have said they were completing the campus and would make up the purchase cost by leasing it.

The college has not said to whom the building will be leased.

The DA’s office declined to comment.

Wilson said investigators told him a bad business deal doesn’t rise to the level of a felony.

“I get tired of that excuse – ‘It’s not a crime to be stupid,’ ” Wilson said. “The undisputed fact remains that the college overpaid millions of dollars of taxpayer money for a piece of property the school does not need.”

I don’t have any opinion about the Conn’s deal. It clearly didn’t work out as intended, but life is like that sometimes. One can certainly criticize it as a bad investment, and one can criticize the judgment used in making that investment, and one can call into question the competency of those who made those decisions. Filing a criminal complaint says to me that one has reason to believe that one or more people involved in these decisions stood to profit from them in some illegal way, or that someone involved in the deal deliberately lied about it in some fashion. These are very serious charges to make, and if you go back and read that first story, there’s no evidence given to suggest either of those things were possibilities. Filing a criminal complaint about this, which not only wasted a bunch of time that the DA’s office could have been using on more productive pursuits but also needlessly inconveniences a bunch of people who did nothing wrong, is a massive overreaction and calls into question the judgment of the filer. Why would we believe anything Dave Wilson says about the activities of the HCC board after crying wolf so loudly?

As for the case of the nursing students, I have no idea if there’s any merit to their protest or not. If there is, I wish them all the best in getting it resolved. Regardless of that, having a sitting Board member refer his personal attorney to them seems like a really bad idea, and a potential conflict of interest. How do we know Wilson isn’t just spoiling for a chance to make some trouble after coming up empty with the Conn’s complaint? Again, there are plenty of things Wilson could have done to show solidarity with the students and criticize perceived wrongdoing on HCC’s part without giving them his lawyer’s phone number. It’s also true that sometimes a system is so broken the only way to effect change and get things done is to go outside the system. It helps if you document the brokenness of the system first, so people can understand the futility of working within it and understand the need to subvert it. Otherwise, one risks looking less like a visionary and more like a crank throwing a temper tantrum. The former can inspire the change they seek, while the latter do little more than pile up reprimands and failures. Well done, Dave.

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One Comment

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    The Conn’s “deal” reminds me a lot of “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” or the Harris County Toll Road telling voters who would approve the bonds that the roads would become freeways after the bonds were paid off. The public/taxpayers were told the building would be leased out to help defray the cost while HCC waited to use it for a future purchase.

    Dave Wilson has baggage, but I don’t see anyone else at HCC doing anything but going along to get along.