Saturday, January 31, 2009

And its not the cheese

Why were procedures ignored?

Why did it take so long for the audit report to be disclosed?

Methinks something may be rotten in the State of Denmark.

Judson ISD becomes target of probe
By Lindsay Kastner - Express-News

The Judson Independent School District is now the target of a federal probe, spurred by an audit critical of its construction practices.

“The FBI is looking into the matter,” agency spokesman Erik Vasys said Friday. He would not elaborate.

Judson school board President June Adair said she was aware of the situation but had not spoken about it with the superintendent and did not know what federal agents might have requested from the district.

“I have not been contacted by the FBI — yet,” Adair said.

Board member Johnny Harris, whose questions led to the audit, said he had heard from employees that federal agents have started combing through district records.

A spokesman for the district issued a statement saying it will cooperate with any law enforcement agency that contacts it.

“I think really it's all been good news,” Harris said. “There's too many unanswered questions and too much slight of hand.”

Last spring, the district hired a law firm to look into its construction program after problems arose with several projects and both Harris and the public began to raise questions.

The audit found district leaders disregarded everything from state procurement laws to the Texas Constitution to in-house policies, leaving the district vulnerable to legal attacks.

Harris said he welcomed any investigation from both the FBI and Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed, who has issued a subpoena for the audit report. A spokesman for her office said she is awaiting a response from trustees.

“Temporarily this is terrible,” said Orlando Lopez, a district resident who helped form the Judson Accountability Group about a year ago to press the district for more information about how it is spending bond money.

But in the long run, an investigation may be the best thing for Judson, Lopez said.

“I hope that if there is any criminal activity, that those who participated in it are found out and that justice is served,” he said. If so, “the bottom line is that they stole from our kids.”

The fast-growing district is in the midst of work on a $236 million bond approved by voters in 2006.

The audit detailed how the district handed hefty design contracts to PBK architects, promising the firm work from the 2006 bond in exchange for earlier free services. In one instance, the district requested bids for design projects but offered the jobs to PBK even though the firm was not among the 17 to return bids.

Joel Hernández, PBK's partner in charge for San Antonio, has not returned repeated calls for comment.

The audit report — marked attorney-client privileged — was kept under wraps until it was leaked to the media last week, although trustees George Flores and Richard LaFoille had voted in October to make the document public.

Adair said she would plan a board meeting for late next week — after some other board members return from a conference in Washington. — to discuss these latest developments.