Da thug

Rojas proves he'll slap around board members to get what he wants -- an Edison deal

Both notes contain plaintive, almost pathetic pleas that Rojas take Parrott's phone calls. The second note contains the statement, "If you want my vote on your big project, you will have to call me and negotiate."

Nowhere is there even a faint suggestion that Parrott's vote for the "big project," presumably Edison, is tied to Vestal's promotion.

According to Becky Vestal, it was Rojas who called her hours before the Edison vote, brought up her promotion, and then asked for her help in getting Parrott's vote.

Waldemar Rojas and Becky Vestal, in better times
Waldemar Rojas and Becky Vestal, in better times

In several interviews and written statements last week, Vestal, a longtime DISD employee who trains administrators, told me the details of her conversations with Rojas. She said Rojas gave her an urgent summons on October 28 to leave her office in Oak Cliff and get to 3700 Ross as fast as possible in the final hours before the vote.

"His secretary called me about 2:30 p.m. and said, 'He wants you here in the office now,'" Vestal says.

When she arrived in Rojas' office, Vestal says, he made small talk and then began discussing a job promotion he had talked to her about several months earlier. Rojas said there were problems with the promotion.

"But he said, 'That's not to say something can't happen in the next few weeks.'"

Rojas, according to Vestal, said, "I need you to get to Lois and get her to vote my way on Edison."

Lois Parrott is blunt about what she thinks happened here. She thinks Rojas tried to buy a vote with a job promotion, failed, realized he could get in trouble, and rushed to U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins as a preemptive strike.

"A lady who worked for the district was called in and promised a promotion," Parrott says. "That's why Rojas went to Coggins, to cover for himself."

There is a long shadowy back-story here: Apparently Parrott and Vestal dined with Rojas several months ago. At that meeting, Parrott and Vestal say, Rojas promised to promote Vestal into a public relations position so she could work for Parrott and the rest of the board, putting out newsletters.

Why was Parrott messing around with a personnel decision? She says she did it because the job she wanted for Vestal was as staff to herself and other board members. "I'm drowning in work down there that I can't get done," Parrott told me.

Why do board members need a newsletter editor? I don't know. But the point is this: Vestal says she's willing to put her hand on the Bible and swear to her version of what was said in the October 28 meeting with Rojas.

In a telephone conversation last week and in a written statement to the Observer, Rojas told me that the Vestal-Parrott story is totally untrue. He called the story "a ludicrous and desperate measure," and he challenged Parrott to swear to it in court.

In the written statement, he also said this: "I met with Ms. [Becky] Vestal and explained to her that Dr. [Lois] Parrott was continuing to place enormous pressure for her to have an elevated position with additional salary for her vote on my big project. I told her to tell Dr. Parrott that she should back off and as I had expressed to Dr. Parrott on her weekend call to me to vote for the Edison Schools on its merit."

Parrott says there was no weekend call. But here is the bigger question: Why would the superintendent call in his own employee on an emergency basis hours before a critical board vote and order her to tell a board member to stop trying to sell him her vote? This is his employee. If she's messing around with board politics on a key issue, why doesn't he just fire her? Or reprimand her? Or ignore her? Why does he have to call her in and ask her to ask the board member -- whose calls he doesn't take anyway and whose vote he knows he doesn't have -- to stop oppressing him?

You do the math.

Some of Rojas' public behavior has become chillingly odd. After he lost the Edison vote, he called a press conference and showed reporters two tin cups with Parrott's and Brashear's names taped to them, suggesting they should go beg in the streets for money. And what could anyone say to that? Should some reporter at the press conference have asked very meekly, "Dr. Rojas, are you supposed to take some pills every day, and did you possibly forget this morning?"

Maybe you chalk all of that up to politics, to Dallas school politics in particular. Obviously, it's not easy these days to feel sorry for members of the Dallas school board.

But these are unpaid volunteers, after all, who are actually trying to do what they believe is right. They have families and roots in the community. They care about the community, or they wouldn't be there. Brashear is an independent engineer. He bids for work. His livelihood is dependent on his reputation for personal integrity.

Parrott is a professor and a mother. Her own students and the kids at her kids' schools watch the TV news.

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