Killing the Messenger Did DHS Retaliate Against a Whistleblower? BY BREIT CAMPBELL GEORGE GREEN IS an angry man. Since December 12, 1989, when he was fired from his job as the architect for the Texas been out of work. DHS claims that he was fired for abusing sick-leave time and making unauthorized telephone calls. He has been unable to find work with a private architectural firm. “No one in state government, much less the private sector, will even talk to me or give me a chance to make an honest living,” he said. He is under medical treatment for depression he contends stems from his dismissal, an action he insists was unjustified, and taken in retaliation for his persistent attempts to call attention to serious problems in the troubled bureaucracy of the DHS. On July 22, Green will attempt to prove his case to a Travis County jury,’ as his lawsuit against DHS, filed under the Texas whistleblower protection law, finally comes to trial, a year and half after his firing. In that lawsuit, Green intends to raise charges of mismanagement, incompetence, and waste of taxpayers’ money by state officials involved in state construction projects. Earlier this summer, the Travis County District Attorney’s office withdrew a criminal action against Green for the alleged abuse of sick leave and telephone calls; but the charge can be revived. Green maintains that DHS encouraged the DA to pursue the action to intimidate him, drain his savings, and prevent him from pursuing his quixotic search for justice. Green’s story, if true, raises troubling questions about government accountability, the safety of state employees, mismanagement by mid-level state bureaucrats, and lack of oversight by DHS upper managers. Because the matter is under litigation, Green’s adversaries in DHS have refused to respond to his charges for this story. Much of what follows is therefore based on allegations Green has made in court documents and depositions in his suit filed against the state. Green is seeking over $26 million in damages for lost wages, attorney fees, mental anguish and exemplary damages. While important parts of Green’s tale are supported by documents obtained by the Observer under the Texas Open Records Act, others rely on his word against those of DHS bureaucrats. It will be up to the jury to weigh the credibility of the antagonists. Nevertheless, the seriousness of the charges Green has raised deserve exploration here. Early Warnings George Green, a 1972 graduate of the Univer sity of Texas School of Architecture, is a voluble, articulate, 43-year-old Abilene native whose intensity and inflection give him a superficial resemblance to former Attorney General Jim Mattox. Green went to work for DHS \(then in 1983, after six years in private practice. He was assigned to the agency’s business management division and given responsibility for worker safety, leasing and renovating office space and energy conservation. Green was the only licensed architect in the division the sole in-house architectural advisor in the state for DHS. Green received consistently good evaluations “I tried to bring a sense of order and professionalism to the job, but I discovered I was in a world that didn’t accept those kinds of standards.” George Green from his supervisors at DHS, including letters of commendation from DHS Commissioner Marlin Johnston praising his work in energy conservation design. Another letter from chief applauded his work on the Winters Complex, the sparkling Austin headquarters of the agency, which opened in 1984. Green said he began noticing laxity in state construction contracts and standards in a 1984 project in Angleton, in which DHS was renovating a maintenance shed for use as a welfare office. Green was tasked with supervising the contract. At the same time, he was assigned to overhaul the procedures for obtaining “exclusions.” On most state projects involving architectural blueprints, the law requires the State Purchasing and General Services Commissions agency that will be using the facility can show that it has adequate in-house staff to manage the project, it can obtain an “exclusion” from SPGSC oversight. The managing agency must still meet all state fiscal, safety and other local standards as well as strictly meet the bid specifications. Angleton received such an exclusion, and on that project, Green said he saw the first signs of a pattern that would repeat itself many times over the next few years: the exclusion process was being abused for the convenience of DHS. “I tried to develop a real business standard to ap ply to those projects, and that immediately identified me as someone who was rattling the cage,” Green told the Observer. “I ran head-on into expediency, accommodation … political pressures. I tried to bring a sense of order and professionalism to the job, but I discovered I was in a world that didn’t accept those kinds of standards.” After he repeatedly pushed the agency to hold the Angleton contractors accountable for repairs under the terms of the contract, DHS told Green to back off. Eventually, he said, DHS took away his responsibility for certification of funds on the project; no longer would his signature be needed for state money to be spent on the project. The Dunbar School The Angleton project was an ominous portent. One of Green’s next major projects was the renovation of the Dunbar School in Livingston. DHS made a deal with Polk County officials providing that, in return for rehabilitating the old, burned-out school building for use as a human services center, DHS would receive rent-free space in the building from the county. Green, who was present at the bidding and made several inspection visits to the project, saw problems from the outset. The winning bid was 25 percent below the next lowest. According to Green, the successful contractor told Green that he was “going to pick every cherry he could to get that money back.” Green interpreted this to mean that the contractor intended to cut corners. A DHS memo obtained by the Observer confirms that the contractor said he had made a mistake in underbidding the project, and would not go through with the contract, though he did finally accept the award of the bid. Work began on the project in October 1985. On one of his inspections of the renovation, Green said he saw disturbing signs that the contractor was trying to pick some cherries. For example, Green said, the contractor was putting in plywood flooring over burnt-out floor beams instead of repairing or replacing the beams covering up the damage, but creating a safety hazard. Based on the observations, Green recommended that the project manager, SPGSC, institute more frequent inspections of critical stages of the project construction, instead of the infrequent periodic inspections normally used. According to Green, SPGSC refused until much later, when it was clear the renovation was running far behind schedule. The state file on the project contains a series of inspection reports filed by SPGSC inspectors, each of which details incidents of poor workmanship. It then shows an exchange of memos in which DHS and SPGSC tried to blame each 8 JULY 12, 1991
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