If the school board doesn’t look too closely, maybe it won’t see anything.
The Board of Education and the Dallas Independent School District administration rattled through the month of November with the press-fueled controversy surrounding, of all things, the purchase of air conditioning filters for the city’s 185 schools. There were secret meetings, tape recordings that have – yes – gaps, and even an internal investigation to find out if a D1SD department was in cahoots with a private contractor.
It was a lot of noise. And there is little, if anything, to show for it – despite what school trustees apparently saw as explosive information in a report of the investigation by Price Waterhouse & Company, copies of which not even they could keep. Their continued secrecy about the matter has only blown more smoke over an ill-conceived probe prompted not by a scrupulous public servant or concerned third party, but by another contractor.
D Magazine has obtained a copy of the Price Waterhouse report, and its message is this: Different people remember things differently, and accounting and bidding procedures can always be tightened up. No fraud was uncovered, but then it real-ly wasn’t sought: Price Waterhouse inter-viewed those who sold filters and those who bought them, and whatever incon-sistencies arose were printed as the heart of the findings. Still, the trustees won’t talk openly about the report, although they say they now believe their questions have been answered. But their questions weren’t really theirs.They were brought forward by Jerry Bartos, who left school board members with the impression that the Support Ser-vices division of the school system was corrupt. Bartos is past chairman of the Federation of Dallas County Chambers of Commerce, a group that has been a com-munity advocate for the D1SD, and he was recently named to serve on the Tri-Ethnic Committee, a court-appointedgroup that assists in implementing the desegregation order. Trustee Gerald Stanglin describes Bartos as a “friend” of the district who gets attention when he wants it: “He’s not just anybody.”
Bartos also owns Bartos Inc., a firm that in the past has supplied air conditioning filters to the DISD, but which this year was out-bid by a competitor, Century Sales Inc.
Although Bartos did not lodge any complaints in writing, he was granted the opportunity to plead his case in private at the board’s October 18 executive session. It was taped by a DISD attorney, except in one spot where Bartos didn’t want it taped. Despite all the soft-pedaling, Bartos made it clear he felt the Support Services division was rigging the bidding procedure to favor Century and, if the board members would only look closely enough, they would find the kind of government-contractor backscratching that could only be called hanky-panky. Stanglin says he left the meeting thinking about kickbacks.
Supt. Nolan Estes called on Price Waterhouse to investigate. The school trustees wanted a report that would get to the bottom of this. They didn’t get it. They did get a report that showed that a DISD official wrote bid specifications almost perfectly describing a filter offered by Century – a circumstance that clearly narrowed the field of potential bidders. But Bartos’s heaviest claim to prove D1SD favoritism toward Century involved shipment of nearly 3000 DISD-owned filter frames to Century’s warehouse for storage and possible sale. Price Waterhouse said the frames were nearly worthless – but they were shipped to Century, contrary to school policy.
That was it. Top secret. After reading the report in ; closed session and then giving it back to Price Waterhouse, the trustees breathed a sigh of relief. And they stopped there. Harryette Ehrhardt now smoothes over the whole episode, simply claiming there were some poor business practices that needed cleaning up within the DISD. Stanglin, who headed the board’s subcommittee that first heard Bartos’s complaints, says he is confident there is no wrongdoing (“I couldn’t make anything of it,” he says). And Brad Lapsley takes it even one step further: Not only did Bartos’s charges not “bear out,” he says, “they were 99 percent fallacious.”
Why, then, was the report withheld from board members and the press? Some trustees say lit would embarrass those whose recollections differed from others’ – including Bartos. But it also seems clear a release of the report would have embarrassed the board itself – for acting on the in formal charges of a man who is both a school booster and contractor, and conducting a transparently thin departmental review.
Covering up information the board doesn’t think the public can handle is nothing new, either. We saw the same stalling over the release of a report on teachers’ aptitude test scores, and again over the religious questioning of candidates for superintendent. Like the filter saga, those affairs were bungled.
And in this; most recent brouhaha, the board stands responsible for having spent time, money, and credibility in a slipshod investigation of Bartos’s allegations. “They bent over backwards to keep Bartos on their side, and be friendly,” says Brad Lapsley: of other trustees. “But maybe we should have cut him off at thepass.”
Or maybe the board should have just listened to Bartos seriously enough to initiate a thorough review. There is no telling. What began as Bartos’s complaints ended as vapor after the board got through with them. Nothing was in writing; no sworn depositions were taken.
Bartos, not surprisingly, is disappointed. But the board will see more of this contractor who vows to never bid another DISD filter contract. “1 won’t give up,” he says. “You don’t know how incredibly difficult it was to get this far. Board members told me they can’t get at the truth.”
That is a claim that doesn’t need in-vestigation. – Leonard Re
Is the “News” Going Republican?
After decades of steadfast support for the Democrats, the Dallas Morning News has split its endorsements between the two major parties in the last two general elections. Among the 17 Republican endorsements were some startling firsts: candidates for governor and U.S. senator, and four candidates for state district judge, an office that carries local patronage.
One reason for the shift is the retirement of longtime editorial director Dick West, a fervent Democrat. West’s successor, Jim Wright, seems more flexible about party lines. “We look at the race and the people,” he says. “We don’t really look at the party.” The advent of single-member districts has also nudged the paper to support more Republicans: Gone are the days of powerful conservative Democratic slates running countywide.
Wright is quick to deny a deliberate leaning toward more Republican endorsements. He says the paper will continue to endorse qualified conservatives, regardless of party. West, for his part, seemed a little miffed at some of the GOP support offered by the paper. “The News is still a conservative Democratic newspaper,” he says. “Had I still been there, I might have argued with the endorsement of Clements. I don’t think Hill was as liberal as a lot of people think.”
– Jim Atkinson
Clean Sweep at the Polls?
Dallas County Republicans came away from the 1976 elections feeling that they’d been had. “There’s no question that votes were stolen in 1976,” said John Aronson, in charge of ballot security for the Dallas County GOP. “We were just too naive to know how to keep it from happening to our candidates.” Republican pollwatch-ers in many precincts were neutralized by election judges – virtually all Democrats – who either kept them out of the polls or kept them from functioning by ordering them to sit still and keep quiet.
This year, things were different. Dallas Republicans assembled a small army of pollwatchers, and dispatched many of them to those South Dallas precincts where election fraud has been an issue. The pollwatchers were backed up by armed, uniformed deputy constables on loan from bosses with Republican sympathies. Volunteer lawyers stood by at GOP headquarters, ready to go to the precincts to read the riot act to anyone who tried to manipulate the election.
Pollwatchers were given written instructions like these: “If you suspect anything, stop all the election proceedings and call our ballot security team. . . . Don’t argue with the [election] judge, just say that if he or she will not stop the violations, the sheriff’s deputies will be called in and an arrest made.”
Much of the GOP strategy was a bluff. The deputies had no authority to arrest anybody for election-code violations. The precinct election judge, usually the Democratic precinct chairman, is the law at the polling place on election day.
But the bluff apparently worked. Many Dallas Republican officials are convinced the election was conducted fairly.
GOP congressional candidate Tom Pauken isn’t convinced. Defeated by incumbent Jim Mattox by less than a thousand votes, Pauken said he thinks the typeof fraud which has become a tradition inSouth Dallas occurred again this year.Shortly after the election, Pauken wasconsidering filing what would be the thirdSouth Dallas vote-fraud suit in threeyears. – Rowland Stiteler
OFF THE RECORD
● In a laudable philanthropic gesture, the Dallas County Ford dealers got together to buy 40,000 tickets to the SMU-Arkansas game, but the inspiration wasn’t theirs. It was the brainstorm of the irrepressible Russ Potts, SMU athletic director and architect of Mustang Mania. Potts was thumbing through a magazine when he spotted an ad for the new Ford Mustang. He thought of his own Mustangs and of quarterback Mike Ford, and presto! 40,000 tickets.
●Back in 1977, when then-mayor ofFort Worth Clif Overcash lost to HughParmer despite an apparently overwhelming early lead, it was widely believed that Dan Rundell, Overcash’s campaign manager, would never work in politics again.But state senator Betty Andujar resurrected him for her 1978 reelection campaign,and she won. Now Blanton English,father of Andujar’s opponent, RoyEnglish, has filed a $550,000 slander suitagainst Andujar, Rundell, and two Andujar campaign workers. The suit allegesthat the Andujar workers, acting asagents for Rundell and Andujar, toldpeople at community meetings in TarrantCounty that Blanton English was a racistand had burned blacks in effigy duringthe Fifties.
●Don’t believe all the talk about apatronage bonanza for the GOP now that Bill Clements has been elected governor. Most of the posts the governor is empowered to fill are still occupied by Briscoe appointees with unexpired terms. For the present, the new governor will be able to fill only the secretary of state’s office, the adjutant general’s office, and a handful of executive commissions. Significant GOP penetration into the Austin bureaucracy will have to wait at least two years.
● The opulent Spanish-Baroque Shepherd King mansion on Turtle Creek at Gillespie has been a white elephant for several years. Built for King, a Dallas cotton merchant, in the Twenties, it served as headquarters for an oil company, and more recently passed into the hands of University Computing and then Republic Financial. Now Hunt Properties holds an option on the mansion and is doing a feasibility study on converting the existing building to a restaurant and erecting a small luxury hotel on the grounds. How much luxury? Hunt spokesman Steve Sands says room rates will probably be 20 percent higher than those at the Hyatt Regency, which would put the proposed hotel in the $100-a-night class if it were to open today.
●Dallas Times Herald management often claims to have no sacred cows. Oh yeah? How about the city of Piano? In a column about the Highland Park – Piano football game, Times Herald writer Bill Porter-field paraphrased William Faulkner and called Piano people “the scum and salt” of the earth. Executive editor Ken Johnson saw the line in an early edition and had it pulled before it reached Piano. He said he found it “offensive.” Piano is the target of a Herald circulation drive.
If the school board doesn’t look too closely, maybe it won’t see anything.