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Another HCC lawsuit

Hard to keep track of them all.

The former top attorney and acting chancellor of Houston Community College filed a lawsuit Monday alleging she was fired because she told the FBI of her suspicions that board members sought to use bond funds to award kickbacks.

Renee Byas, ousted in August, said in the lawsuit that some of HCC’s elected board members wanted to change procurement rules “so they could hand out bond-related contracts to friends or family.”

The whistle-blower lawsuit is the latest in a series of accusations of improper business dealings involving one of the nation’s largest community colleges. And it alludes to renewed interest in the institution by federal investigators.

Neeta Sane, chairwoman of the HCC board, denied that Byas was fired in retaliation for talking to the FBI and said she did not know of any instances in which board members tried to steer contracts to preferred vendors.

HCC won voter approval in November 2012 of a $425 million bond issue, the largest in the college’s history, creating numerous construction projects to put out for bids.

“I’m just so disappointed in all these allegations,” Sane said.

The lawsuit alleged that Sane and trustee Chris Oliver met with Byas for four hours in January “trying to convince her to abandon the strict procurement rules because people in their districts ‘wanted contracts.’ ”

“At one point during the meeting,” the lawsuit continued, “Ms. Sane showed Ms. Byas a list of firms who were supposed to ‘get’ contracts.”

Sane said she recalled looking with Byas at a list of project managers included in a public meeting agenda, but Sane said she never asked the acting chancellor to select certain firms.

“I would never be involved in a meeting like that,” added Oliver, the board’s vice chairman.

[…]

Byas, represented by high-profile Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, also alleged in the lawsuit that Sane and trustees Dave Wilson and Robert Glaser “cornered” her at a conference in Santa Fe, N.M., and questioned why she couldn’t revise the procurement process so that local firms could be given contracts for bond projects.

See here for some background. I’m amused by the presence of Dave Wilson’s name in this lawsuit – he has faithfully sent me a press release every time there has been news about his battle with County Attorney Vince Ryan, but radio silence this time – and not amused at all by the presence of the other names. HCC does a lot of good, but their governance has never not been a mess. There may be nothing to this lawsuit, but it’s not like anyone can say that with confidence. Campos and Hair Balls have more.

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