If you believe Renee Byas, her tenure at Houston Community College was an incredibly rocky one. Shortly after joining HCC as general counsel in 2008, the college, one of the country's largest community college systems, was rocked by allegations that board members shuffled contracts to family members and demanded kickbacks from vendors. She hired an outside firm to launch an internal investigation, which found that several trustees abused their office.
By 2012, as HCC prepared a record $425 million bond package that voters would ultimately approve, the board of trustees promised change. Byas helped draft new rules meant to quash any hint of favoritism in handing out contracts - the new rules banned vendors from giving gifts to trustees, limited financial contributions from vendors to trustees' political campaigns, and expanded conflict-of-interest questionnaires, among other things.
But the trustees bristled at one new rule in particular, according to a counter-suit Byas filed in court this week: instead of handpicking the numerous contractors for each of the bond's 14 major construction projects, the new rules required that the board tap 14 "construction managers at risk," general contractors large enough to put up a $2 million bid bond. Those firms would then tap the numerous local subcontractors to finish the job.
Meaning the trustees - if they wanted to - would have a tough time micromanaging the bond and shuffling contracts to friends and family, as they've done in the past. But Byas claims that's exactly what HCC trustees wanted to do this time around. In a counter-suit filed this week, Byas claims HCC terminated her because she wouldn't play ball - and because she talked to the FBI when federal investigators came sniffing around HCC last year.
Byas alleges her firing "is HCC's attempt to silence a public servant who refused to let HCC's Board of Trustees use a $425 million public bond project as a private slush fund." More »