By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
This was no smoking gun--not even close. But Gonzalez conveyed no doubts that unscrupulous people were scuttling about inside the administration building, installing listening devices and plotting her demise. "There are obviously people who want me out of the superintendency, and they will stop at nothing to make this happen," she told the News. "...This is about millions of dollars in kickbacks, bid rigging, and everything else under the sun."
In her memo to the board about the matter, written that same day, Gonzalez maintained the shrill tone. "Here-to-fore [sic] I have ignored precautionary warnings from law enforcement and staff; however [sic] the discovery this week of an attempted wiretap in my office lead [sic] me to believe that I [should] no longer do so," she wrote. "This has become a high-stakes situation. As the investigations continue and reports start to emerge, I encourage Board Members to be cautious and watchful concerning your own personal situations as well."
The bugging device wasn't her only concern, Gonzalez told the reporters. She had received death threats. Dallas police chief Ben Click had come over to advise her that she move to a gated community patrolled by security guards "at the insistence of the FBI and DPD," Gonzalez told board members in the memo.
Hinkle fed reporters additional material for the under-siege angle. Mysterious tracking devices had been found on five senior staff members' cars this year, he claimed. Hinkle didn't name the staffers. But he was almost certainly aware that the reporters had heard--as had many people in DISD--that Matthew Harden had found such a tracking device beneath the bumper of his car that very week and reported it to police.
Gonzalez and Hinkle were on a publicity roll. First they'd held the public in rapt attention while Gonzalez steered a bulldozer into Reunion Arena, metaphorically squashing her many foes. Now they portrayed her as under fire from cowardly enemies within. Who wouldn't sympathize with a reformer who had to wage war amidst such unethical and possibly illegal conduct?
On closer inspection, however, Gonzalez and Hinkle seem to have manipulated the news about the superintendent's security woes for ulterior--if not entirely clear--purposes.
A week after Hinkle fed the news about the trackers to selected reporters, his assistant, DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, conceded to the Observer that the warnings about tracking devices--other than Harden's--really amounted to nothing more than suspicions that tracking devices had been planted. And very flimsy suspicions, at that. Specifically, Hinkle had found a dry spot on his car after a rainstorm where a tracking device might have been. Gonzalez had uncovered similarly vague evidence on her car a few months earlier.
Yes, the district was in a tizzy because suspicious dry spots had been discovered on a few staffers' cars.
Furthermore, a Dallas police detective who is familiar with the chief's discussions with the superintendent insists that no one from his department had advised Gonzalez to change residences. Officially, police spokesman Ed Spencer says the department will not comment on the security advice given to Gonzalez.
It's unclear why the superintendent chose to hype her own security concerns at a time when the district's chief financial officer had discovered and reported an actual tracking device on his car. Harden first asked police in DeSoto, where he lives, to investigate who might have installed the small device. When the department indicated it didn't possess the expertise to handle such an investigation, Harden turned to Dallas police.
Detective Terry Martin oversaw the probe. "We did recover a tracking device," Martin says. "We conducted a preliminary investigation to determine if there were any violations of criminal code. But no evidence was found to base the filing of criminal charges."
Dallas police had determined that Paul Beasley Associates, a local private-eye agency, had given the device to whoever put it on Harden's car. (Beasley Associates would not reveal to the Observer the identity of its client.) A tracking device works much like a cellular phone. It emits a unique signal, allowing one to identify and follow it.
The cops couldn't go any further, however, because simply placing a tracking device on a car is not illegal.
Without no avenue for relief from the criminal courts, Harden turned to the civil courts. He hired Bill Brewer, the name partner in the Dallas firm of Bickel and Brewer, to uncover the origins of the tracking device. Brewer, not coincidentally, also represents Ison-Newsome, the district's former chief of staff whom Gonzalez demoted to principal. Ison-Newsome has named Gonzalez, Hinkle, Dahlander, and special assistant Robby Collins in a lawsuit alleging that the group slandered her when they told reporters she had not followed district rules while adding bathrooms to her office building. The defendants have declined to comment on the suit.
Harden filed a suit that is much narrower in scope against the employee at the private eye agency who subleased the tracking device from its manufacturer, Teletrack. Brewer says he is seeking immediate discovery to determine who stuck the gadget on Harden's car.
The week after Gonzalez shared her security concerns with the media, the superintendent fronted the effort to get Harden to resign.