November 04, 2005
More attacks on the Texas Lottery

Today is apparently Release Embarrassing Emails Day. Next up, the Texas Lottery Commission, an agency that ought to be pretty accustomed to embarrassing revelations these days.

The House committee that oversees the Texas Lottery is investigating claims by a senior lottery systems analyst that agency management misled lawmakers about an emergency control center that doesn't work, blocked open record requests and bullied employees into secrecy at the $3.5 billion agency.

Shelton Charles, a network analyst who oversees much of the lottery's technical operations, made his claims in an e-mail he sent Wednesday to state Reps. Corbin Van Arsdale and Kino Flores, who chairs the House Licensing and Regulation Committee.

"I have been at the lottery for almost 10 years," Charles wrote. "I have reached the point where I want to speak out on these issues. I hope that there are still people who want to give the Texas Lottery back to the PEOPLE of Texas."


Charles' first accusation is that the lottery's disaster recovery or business resumption site a concrete bunker which the Legislature required state agencies to develop in the mid-1990s, "has never been operational."

"Management has been hiding this fact through their lies and manipulation of information," Charles wrote. "Employees have been threatened with their jobs if (they) spoke about this to anyone."

Charles' comments on the site echo those of several former employees interviewed by the Chronicle in the past few months.

The Austin site, which cost more than $1.3 million to build and maintain, includes a steel-reinforced concrete bunker-like structure with walls 3 feet thick, according to several employees who have seen or helped develop the site.

"It could probably take a nuclear blast," said Bill Hensler, a former network services manager for the lottery. "It was overkill. It was purely overkill."

Hensler and Charles both say computer equipment was installed at the site, but it didn't properly receive data that would have enabled lottery employees to carry out their duties if a disaster destroyed the lottery's downtown Austin headquarters.

"Millions have been spent on the site and the cover-up continues," Charles wrote.

Having a disaster recovery site is a good thing, and frankly it was pretty forward thinking of the Lege to mandate them back in the 90s, when a lot of stuff was still done on paper. I'm not sure that every agency needs its own separate site - surely a few could be combined; it's not like the bandwidth and disk drive space is expensive nowadays - and of course it isn't much use if you don't actually copy any of your data to it. But having one is a fine idea.

Charles said he hopes his letter will inspire an "open investigation" into his claims.

He wrote that he made the assertions at the risk of losing his job, but that he decided to go public when he received a negative evaluation, which he took to mean that that the agency was going to fire him.

The TLC sure does have its share of employees and former employees who carry a grudge after a bad evaluation, doesn't it?

UPDATE: This should come as no shock at all.

Shelton Charles told The Associated Press he was fired this afternoon for insubordination after he refused to answer lottery officials' questions about the emergency operations center unless they put them in writing.

Lottery spokesman Bobby Heith said he couldn't discuss Charles' allegations and couldn't confirm or deny his firing because both are personnel issues.

Charles' Wednesday e-mail to state Reps. Corbin Van Arsdale and Ismael "Kino" Flores, chairman of the House Licensing and Regulation Committee, was made public in today's editions of the Chronicle.


Charles said he wasn't surprised he was fired, adding that he decided to go public with his concerns when he received a negative job performance evaluation, which led him to believe he was going to be fired anyway.

"When I made the decision, I made it with the understanding that this could happen," he said.

Charles, who is black, said he recently filed an employee discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing unequal salary, treatment and advancement opportunities at the lottery.

Oh, goodie. As a reminder how the Lottery Commission is prepared for lawsuits:

[Lottery Commission Human Resources Director Diane] Morris defended her right to fire employees without warning or reason, saying due process was unnecessary. She acknowledged that the agency doesn't document employee problems in some cases.

That shocked Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Tomball, who asked how the agency might defend itself against a discrimination lawsuit.

Sworn testimony, Morris replied.

"So," Van Arsdale continued, "he-said, she-said and you just hope the jury sides with you?"

Morris paused, then nodded.

"Wow," Van Arsdale said.

Maybe they could all hide in the disaster recover center so they could avoid being deposed.

Oh, and to answer Nick's question in the comments: Hey, we'll need some kind of revenue stream in the event of a disaster.

UPDATE: Fuller story on the firing is now up.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 04, 2005 to Jackpot! | TrackBack

Um, call me crazy, but if a disaster strikes the Lottery's offices in Austin, aren't there likely to be N different problems more important than keeping the lottery running?!?

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot on November 4, 2005 5:42 PM

As of 5pm today, Shelton Charles got fired. I guess the "at will" policy at TLC is still in effect.

Posted by: Rico on November 4, 2005 10:09 PM

I guess one of the easiest things to do in this world is other people's hard-earned money. You'd think every one of us would understand this concept and elect to NOT go this route. There just simply aren't enough of us that will step up and break this cycle. Amnesia usually sets in and the pattern continutes. Power Corrupts - Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. All I know about the Texas Lottery is: I have been since they lottery began and Im in the way in the hole because the games are too tight. The Texas Lottery Comission constantly brags about all of the billions that go to the school system and the state. Neither of which needs the money. Billions!!!! Why not elect to NOT bite the hand that feeds you and give more back to the players. They might just see sales increase and everyone wins.


Posted by: Kim on September 4, 2006 9:58 AM