May and her investigators. But during an interview in late April, Robbins and Kubicek said two file boxes full of S.C.I.-related materials had suddenly materialized in the Commission’s file room, in their rented office space in downtown Austin. “Two boxes just appeared,” says Kubicek. “Either I’m the most inept investigator ever to put on a pair of cowboy boots, or information just arrived.” Neither of the men offered any explanations on how or why the files could have been removed and later replaced. But it seems the magical reappearance of the files will help the Commission pursue its case against S.C.I., though it’s not clear to what extent Robbins and Kubicek will fight to maintain the $445,000 fine imposed against the company. Robbins said he would not testify during the administrative hearings, because he was not at the funeral agency during the time of the investigation. Instead, Kubicek, who was also working elsewhere at the time of the investigation, is likely to be the Commission’s chief witness. According to the two men, only one Commission employee still with the agency, Earl Monreal, an inspector, was on the payroll at the time of the S.C.I. investigation. They were not sure if Monreal will be asked to testify. The confusion over the preparation of the S.C.I. case and the cost of a hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings has put Robbins under a great deal of scrutiny. The Commission, which has ten employees, operates on just $501,000 per year. And Robbins doesn’t know how his agency will be able to afford the hearing, which is expected to cost at least $20,000. “We are going to do the best job we can,” he says. THE DIRECTOR’S CASKET Robbins says he applied for the job at the Commission because he “wanted to make a difference.” He is very proud that Commission investigators have closed dozens of complaint files since he took over the executive director’s job. But Robbins’ personality and management style have irritated a lot of people in the funeral industry. Several funeral directors complain that the Commission has not processed their new license applications. One funeral director, Pat Graham, testified at the March 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 28 Commission meeting that his license has been delayed for more than five months, even though the state has cashed his check. Graham owns a retail casket store and has been at odds with Robbins over casket retailing. Robbins has complained publicly about retail casket sales, and has since asked Cornyn for a ruling on the legality of such sales. At the March 28 meeting, Graham complained about the agency’s apparent refusal to issue his license and wondered aloud if his license was “backed up for political reasons.” Graham later told a reporter that he would like to see the Commission cleaned up, but that “the first problem I see is Mr. Robbins.” A John Cornyn Graham and other funeral directors were dismayed at the March meeting when Robbins launched a vitriolic attack on lawyers from the Attorney General’s office thus perhaps estranging the very lawyers who are appointed to represent his agency. Robbins then gave a rambling monologue defending his work: “If you are not doing your job,” he said, “everybody likes you. And furthermore, you may get indicted.” He announced he had been “misquoted” it from three sides but I’m not complaining,” he continued. “I get it from the consumer, I get it from the funeral directors, who are also my consumers, and I get it from the legislators.” Robbins’ comments brought snide remarks and a flurry of angry responses from many of the funeral directors in the room, some of whom are angry with Robbins for his handling of a regulatory issue in the Dallas area. The North Texas Funeral Directors Association has filed a formal corn plaint against the North Texas Cremation Society, claiming that it is violating Funeral Commission regulations. Beverly Henley, the president of the funeral directors group, says that Robbins has been less than truthful in his discussions with her about the complaint, adding, “Robbins’ resignation is in order.” The funeral directors have taken many of their complaints to State Representative Jim Pitts, the Waxahachie Republican who last session helped write the legislation that now governs the Commission. Reggie McElhannon, Pitts’ chief of staff, said the legislator is concerned about Robbins’ relations with the funeral directors. “Because of the history of problems with the Commission and recent concerns that we had legislatively, I think everyone involved needs to be very conscientious and be very careful about comments that are made in public meetings,” McElhannon said. Robbins insists that being attacked is “part of the job.” When asked if he could have been a bit more genteel in his handling of agency business, he responded, “I don’t play politics. I’m politically astute.” Astute or not, Robbins faces some tough times in the coming months. The case against S.C.I. will help determine the credibility of his agency, and also perhaps determine if it remains independent or becomes part of the Department of Health. Many funeral directors are hoping that the Funeral Commission remains independent, because they believe it will be more nimble than a big agency in dealing with their concerns. But given all the plot twists of late, and the possibility that the future president of the United States will end up on the witness stand to talk about the funeral business, don’t be surprised if one of the smallest agencies in the state pops up in a ratings sweep. Frequent Observer contributor Robert Bryce is a staff writer at the Austin Chronicle, where a version of this article first appeared. He can be contacted at [email protected] . JUNE 9, 2000 ,
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