By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Wesley Owens, the chief internal auditor at the Dallas Independent School District, confirmed that he expects to initiate a preliminary investigation this week into allegations that some $10,000 in used equipment was improperly disposed of by employees in the safety and security department. Specifically, Owens will focus on charges that someone threw out used uniforms, computers for metal detectors, and police car light fixtures. He also will look into allegations that someone sold district weight-lifting equipment.
"I am in the process of assigning that," Owens said last week when asked about such an inquiry. "Depending on what I find in a preliminary investigation, I will refer it to the lawyers, the acting superintendent, and possibly the FBI."
Marshall Smith, the head of safety and security, a 132-employee department, denies that equipment has been improperly disposed of and argues that the allegations reflect a malicious campaign directed against his administration by his predecessor.
C.W. Burruss, the former head of safety and security, is indeed linked to the allegations.
Owens would not disclose who sent the tip to him about the possibility of irregularities. But Burruss, who was moved to the management division in June, says that he sent a letter to the auditor on October 7 requesting he look into the matters.
Burruss says he learned that a roomful of equipment in the division had disappeared. He says he understood that the weight-lifting equipment was sold to a school in the district. Burruss says the other inventory was thrown out in the trash. DISD rules, Burruss says, require that surplus supplies be disposed of through an auction. If the equipment was sold separately or put in the trash, such action would have violated district policy, he says.
Not surprisingly, this is not Burruss' only beef with his former department now that others are running it. Burruss and several other employees in the department were reassigned last summer by former DISD superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez.
Last week, Gonzalez pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of embezzlement. The superintendent agreed to the plea after prosecutors presented her with evidence showing she had used district funds to purchase $16,000 worth of furniture, including a bedroom suit for her home, and participated in a scheme to falsify documents to cover up the illegal buying spree.
Gonzalez's arraignment hearing last week brought an ironic end to a bizarre chapter in DISD history. In a matter of weeks, Gonzalez was transformed from a celebrated reformist who initiated anti-corruption investigations into a first-rate felon herself.
In late June, long before federal prosecutors had even begun questioning Gonzalez's furniture buys, the then-supposedly reform-minded superintendent ordered that Burruss step down from his job leading the security department. She moved him into the management division supervising quality control. Gonzalez replaced Burruss with Marshall Smith, who had been unit commander in the division. Burruss says Smith had received "below expectation" performance reviews. (Smith confirms he received bad reviews from Burruss. "He is a very nasty and vindictive man," he says of his former boss.)
Burruss claims that Gonzalez was seeking a yes-man, and that Smith fit the bill.
Before he was reassigned, Burruss says, he had locked horns with Gonzalez on a number of issues. He says he denied her request, for instance, to get access to a law-enforcement computer containing criminal histories. Burruss says he believed only law-enforcement officials should have access to the data bank. He also objected when he found out that her advisors leaked stories to the media about security issues. Additionally, he raised questions about possible violations of employees' civil rights when Gonzalez initiated searches of individuals leaving the administration building.
Others share Burruss' concerns about the team that Gonzalez installed in the security department.
"They are just running buck-wild down there," says Donavon Collins. Until he was moved by Gonzalez-appointee Smith in August, Collins had been in charge of all uniformed officers at DISD. He now heads up a youth-action facility at Roosevelt High School.
Collins corroborates Burruss' reports about the missing used equipment. Collins also is concerned that Smith has neglected pressing security concerns at district schools. Specifically, Collins says Smith has not attended to a number of broken metal detectors at schools throughout the district. Meanwhile, Collins says, Smith has expended tremendous energy and funds making sure his immediate surroundings are cozy. He has even acquired new furniture, Collins says.
Roy Russell, an assistant principal at Woodrow Wilson High School, has lodged a written complaint with the security department about his building's metal detector, which he says has not worked since the day classes started. "I feel uncomfortable about the situation," Russell told the central security department in an October 16 letter.
For his part, however, Smith contends that Burruss has launched a malicious and unfair campaign against his administration.
"I really wish my predecessor would get a life," he says. "He has been trying to get me since June. He lies. He has no problem spreading lies."
To combat Burruss' attacks, Smith says, he has asked to go before the DISD board and explain his department's operations to them. So far, scheduling conflicts have prevented such an appearance, Smith says.