Scapegoat

How Michael Hinojosa escaped blame in the DISD credit card scandal

Safe to say, this was a class of people even more hammered to keep up with their daily duties than the card-holders themselves. So they didn't keep up, either, and nobody found any of the abuses until after blogger Allen Gwinn put all of the credit card records up on his Web site, Dallas.org.

It was months after Gwinn published the records on his blog that Kent Fischer at the News began dredging through them looking for hot spots—exactly what a reporter should be doing. He found a handful of good examples. Definitely some low-level people had misused the cards.

But then there was the matter of the hype. The stories had promised much more than small-time screw-ups. In tones worthy of Watergate, the News had announced its own story as: "An iPod on Christmas Eve: $399, Boxes from The Container Store: $2,489, Gift cards from Toys "R" Us: $3,100, Shopping with a DISD MasterCard: Priceless. Exclusive: A Dallas Morning News investigation found thousands of suspect purchases on district credit cards—and serious questions about whether anyone is watching how the tax dollars are spent."

Michael Hinojosa had two years to clean up the credit-card mess.
COURTESY OF DISD
Michael Hinojosa had two years to clean up the credit-card mess.

Ironically, the only really serious question—where in the hell was the superintendent of schools in all this?—was never touched by the News.

The program may have predated Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, but why had he and his entire administration done such a piss-poor job of getting a $70 million-plus spending program under control after he took over two years ago?

In an affidavit which he signed in order to clear himself of any responsibility, Hinojosa said: "I do not have any personal, specialized, or detailed knowledge of the specific practices and procedures of this program."

And, uh...that's a good thing?

The district had already thrown Brokaw to the wolves by the time the investigative report came out basically clearing her. The district had initiated procedures to fire her, and Celso Martinez had already trashed her name in public in what sure sounded like a statement of top-level district policy. And the Morning News was committed to finding high crimes and treasons not including the superintendent.

And then there was another little problem the district and the News had to deal with. Brokaw had availed herself of an internal grievance procedure called a "judicial commission." It's a panel made up of three district employees with no dog in the hunt who listen to the facts and render an impartial finding.

I have strong reason to believe that this body has already made its finding and that the finding clears Brokaw again. In any event, the finding should have been released a week ago, according to the district's own timetable, and I can't get anybody over there to say boo about it.

To recap, the school district gets the law firm report which either clears Brokaw or at least fails to nail her. Then, as I believe, Hinojosa finds out to his great chagrin that the judicial panel is going to clear his scapegoat. Again. The people at the News begin to feel their prize package coming unglued. So here's how they do it:

Two weeks ago the school district withdrew its formal intent to terminate Brokaw. They announced instead that they were going to decline to renew her contract. That allowed the Morning News to run a story under the headline: "DISD fires workers after credit card problems: Chief of corrupted credit card program not rehired; scores let go."

What does that sound like to you? I know what it sounded like to me. It sounded like Sherri Brokaw got canned for being corrupt.

Then school district spokesman Jon Dahlander told the News in an e-mail, "Ms. Brokaw's contract expired with the district on Aug. 31 so the termination process was made moot."

I just don't think so. I don't think Sherri Brokaw is moot. She is a human being, a mother with children whom I have met and who seems to me like a nice person. She has been pilloried and scapegoated mercilessly by people who signed affidavits attesting to their own fecklessness.

Those people have ample evidence on their hands to show that she should never have been held up to shame and ridicule by the school district in the first place. And none of that is moot.

Her name is not moot. Her name is Sherri Brokaw.

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