November 10, 2005
More hearings for the Lottery commission

What the heck. It's been a few months. Let's have some more State House hearings on bad mojo at the Texas Lottery Commission.

Texas Lottery officials were summoned Tuesday to testify before a legislative committee for the second time in five months, this time over allegations of mismanagement brought by a lottery systems analyst who was fired the same day the Houston Chronicle reported his concerns.

Shelton Charles, who oversaw much of the lottery's technical operations before his firing Friday, planned to testify Monday at a hearing of the House Licensing and Regulation Committee, which oversees the lottery.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Kino Flores, called the hearing after receiving e-mail from Charles last week accusing top lottery management of misleading lawmakers about an emergency control center that he said doesn't work, blocking open-records requests and bullying employees into keeping quiet about problems at the $3.5 billion agency.

"If this is the case, we'll get to find out and hopefully, we can try to come up with some remedies to fix the problems," said Flores, D-Palmview.

Flores said he felt he owed it to the state to air the concerns in public and to give lottery officials a chance to defend themselves against the claims.


Charles wasn't sure how much a hearing would accomplish.

"A hearing is a great thing, but unless they have some ability to do something, what good is a hearing?" he said. "You need a major investigation to clean up the Texas lottery."

What good is a hearing? Dude, do you have any idea how slow the months of November and December are for political news, once the elections are over? Rep. Flores is doing us all a favor by giving the scribes in Austin something to do. Let's show some gratitude for that, shall we?

Seriously, though I doubt anything will come of it, firing Shelton Charles was another egregious act in a long string of them at the TLC, and getting the facts of that firing into the public record is a good thing in and of itself. So gavel it to order and let's get going.

UPDATE: Well, maybe this hearing could be interesting after all.

Wednesday, the committee received a letter from the lottery's acting executive director, Gary Grief, pointing out the limits to what information could be disclosed publicly.

The letter was sent a day after Bobby Heith, the lottery's spokesman, said that Grief and other officials welcomed the chance to explain their side to lawmakers.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Chronicle, Grief agrees to provide information the committee has requested, but warns of the criminal penalties associated with disclosing information the commission deems "confidential."

"Please note that we have labeled the requested information 'confidential' and request that you keep it secure and that any copies which may be made or any notes taken will be destroyed at the end of their use," Grief wrote.

He also cites a section of the State Lottery Act that makes confidential "security plans and procedures of the commission designed to ensure the integrity and security of the operation of the lottery."

Milda Mora, the House committee's chief clerk, said lawmakers certainly respect security concerns but she wondered if the broad warning would restrict lawmakers' ability to discuss the matter publicly.

"It seems like they're trying to put some roadblocks up there and put some fear into the employees," Mora said. "We want to get to the bottom of it, but I don't know how much you're going to be able to talk about it if everything is confidential. I don't know if that's their way of hiding things."

Mora said she didn't think the secrecy would inhibit the committee from eventually getting to the truth, but that it would complicate the process and force lawmakers to speak in general terms during the hearing.

Secrets! Threats of prosecution! Warnings to destroy all notes! Given all that's been said about Gary Grief so far, he couldn't be any more stereotypically evil if he came with a handlebar mustache that he twirled on his finger. Will someone please attend these hearings and liveblog them for me? Thanks.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 10, 2005 to Jackpot! | TrackBack