By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
A teacher put it best in The Dallas Morning News: There's the real Dallas Independent School District--where kids go to school and learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic--and there's the surreal district.
No doubt about which one has gotten the most media coverage during the last several days.
It's the surreal district, of course, that place where the married superintendent was accused of writing sexy cards and notes to a top administrator and attaching a tracking device to his car. It's a place that's still roiling with allegations, investigations, and litigation.
Matthew Harden Jr., the Dallas public schools' chief financial officer, made the tantalizing missives public this Monday when he included the cards and letters in a lawsuit against DISD superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez and other top administrators. Harden attached the correspondence as evidence to support his allegation that Gonzalez had made "perpetual personal overtures and demands" on him.
In his suit, filed in state district court, Harden alleged that Gonzalez had not only pursued him romantically against his wishes, but that she also tried--after he rejected her overtures--to railroad him into resigning, and placed a tracking device on his car. Harden also alleged that Gonzalez conspired with DISD administrators Robert Hinkle and Robby Collins to ruin the careers of other DISD employees they knew to be honest.
Just four days after Harden filed his lawsuit, as this issue of the Dallas Observer was going to press, Gonzalez tearfully announced her resignation as superintendent at a Tuesday night press conference. She denied all of the allegations in Harden's lawsuit, and said that she had never sexually harassed him.
Responding to the news, rookie trustee Ron Price said, "Justice must prevail. If she was innocent, she wouldn't have resigned."
Soon after the resignation, Harden issued a written statement: "With the actions taken tonight, I am gratified that a major step has been made toward resolving these matters [in the lawsuit]. The past several months, and especially the past few days, has [sic] been a time of great personal turmoil.
"The issues involved are both sensitive and complex," the statement continued. "I regret the disruption this may have caused in the day-to-day management of the district, but ultimately I know I did the right thing by coming forward. I now hope we can return to a focus on educating the children of Dallas, and the business of running this school district."
A spokeswoman at Bickel & Brewer, the law firm representing Harden, said Gonzalez had agreed to resign in exchange for Harden dropping his lawsuit. As part of the settlement, Harden had also agreed not to release any more information regarding his allegations against Gonzalez.
The image of Gonzalez--the smiling, charismatic Hispanic leader who'd received much praise for her courageous stand against a small group of militant black leaders--scrawling mash notes to a subordinate, and then stooping to plant a tracker on his car when he failed to respond favorably to her advances, had sickened the city.
Earlier on the day that Gonzalez resigned, at least five DISD trustees--Hollis Brashear, John Dodd, Yvonne Ewell, Jose Plata, and Ron Price--had told reporters that they were prepared to suspend the superintendent during a scheduled Wednesday afternoon executive session. Votes from five of the nine trustees would have constituted a majority.
"We can't get to the bottom of this if she is still controlling the investigation," said Brashear, the board's first vice president. "We need to put the investigation under direct control of the board."
Said Price: "It's impossible for [Gonzalez] to be a role model now. All kids of all races are being damaged by this. The school district is the laughingstock of the country. Kids are making jokes about this."
Harden's lawsuit, filed on September 12, capped a trouble-filled week for the DISD superintendent.
On September 10, the Observer had published a cover story ("See Yvonne run from the truth") that detailed the superintendent's numerous misstatements and misrepresentations and revealed that Gonzalez may have been involved in placing a tracking device on Harden's car. Gonzalez declined to speak to the Observer for that story.
Shortly after he discovered the tracking device under the bumper of his car in mid-August, Harden filed a separate lawsuit against Dennis Hazlewood, the private eye who'd been under contract to physically attach the small device, which emits radio signals, to the administrator's Mercedes. Harden used the lawsuit as a tool to discover who had paid Hazlewood for use of the monitoring device.
Harden and his attorney, Bill Brewer, say they found out last week who ordered the tracker to be placed on Harden's car. Hazlewood had testified in a deposition that he'd been hired by Security Information Services, the agency Gonzalez had contracted with to handle DISD security matters. Hazlewood stated that he understood from SIS officials that Gonzalez had sought to have the tracker placed on Harden's car, and that he'd been paid $930 in cash so no record of the transaction would exist.
That apparently gave Harden enough ammunition to file his lawsuit against Gonzalez the next day.
Gonzalez reacted swiftly to Harden's lawsuit. Although she did not explicitly deny any of the allegations, she told news reporters last Friday that she would unveil a new fraud investigation on Monday, implying that it would address some of the allegations Harden had raised.