Coggins Report: How Ex-TV Reporter Rebecca Rodriguez's Screw-Up at DISD Became Mike Miles' Biggest Headache

Naughty little secret I will share with you from my own craft, the news business. In my line of work it is by no means unheard of for a reporter who is about to get sacked to suddenly invent an untrue story to the effect of, "They're trying to silence me."

In other words, "They're only firing me because they want to suppress my big story. I am not a screw-up. I am, in fact, a super-hero, and I want my cape now."

Why would somebody say that if it's not true? I don't know. Ego. Wounded pride. Leverage in negotiating a severance package.

Rebecca Rodriguez, a former television reporter who was briefly head of communications for Dallas Independent School District, was already in the final stages of a seriously deteriorating relationship with school Superintendent Mike Miles when she went to an internal investigative unit in the school district called "OPR" and accused Miles of bullying her and retaliating against her.

In clearing Miles of those charges, an external investigative report by former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins points out that, "Superintendent Miles first communicated his intent to terminate, demote or at minimum remove her from his cabinet before he learned of the OPR investigation." The emphasis on "before" is Coggins', not mine.

One thing the Coggins report does not focus on: During her final days with the district, Rodriguez was negotiating what turned out to be a very tasty severance package. She reportedly got the district to pay her more in severance than she had earned during her brief tenure as an employee.

She won that award from Miles, even though she had called him "evil" and "despicable" and told district lawyers that Miles, her boss, had "usurped her authority," according to the Coggins report. The report says a district lawyer described Rodriguez to investigators as "almost hysterical."

Hysterical about what? Well, for one thing, Miles had found out that Rodriguez had seriously screwed up a major issue that was about to go before the school board.

You may remember that Rodriguez accused Miles of pulling a proposed contract from the voting agenda of the school board at the last minute. Her suggestion was that he pulled it for crooked or corrupt reasons. But that is not at all what Coggins found.

That contract was Rodriguez's deal. She had prepared the agenda item for the board to vote on, and Miles' decision to pull it was the cause for the wonderful "usurped my authority" remark from Rodriguez.

The Coggins report clears Miles on that one for several reasons, but the main reason is that Rodriguez had bollixed up the contract proposal so badly that the board would not have been able to vote on it intelligently or with due diligence. Coggins reports that Rodriguez had omitted crucial supporting documentation and had allowed the proposal to be written so badly that the board would not have been able to tell what they were really voting on.

In other words, Miles would have failed in his responsibilities as chief executive had he allowed the proposal to go forward to the board for a vote.

The internal OPR report also said this: When the whole contracting issue came up, Rodriguez, who had worked as a reporter and anchor at WFAA Channel 8 and KTVT Channel 11 television in Dallas, started warning people around her that she had friends in the media who would come to her defense if certain people weren't careful what they said about her.

So here is a former local TV reporter about to get fired over a screw-up after a very brief employment. She is not afraid to call her boss evil and despicable and accuse him of usurping her authority. She even files a formal complaint against him while whispering that this will all be on the news soon. And during this same time she is negotiating a very nice money package.

Allow me, please, to put another puzzle piece on the table. One of the major complaints against Miles is that he: 1) personally suspended the internal OPR investigation of himself, and 2) demanded that district lawyers take a look at it. According to the Coggins report, the first part of that is flat not true. False. Miles did not order the internal OPR investigation suspended. Board President Eric Cowan did that.

But Miles did ask the district's lawyers to take a look at the internal investigation while it was suspended. Why? According to the Coggins report, Miles wanted to know if the lawyers thought Miles had done anything that would give credence to Rodriguez's claims against him. Remember, this is exactly when district lawyers are at the table with Rodriguez's lawyer hammering out a severance package.

For one thing, it occurs to me that the report itself would have made tasty reading for Rodriguez's lawyers, if it seemed to support her claims. In fact I'm not sure how the district could have known exactly what kind of bargaining position it was in with her unless and until it took a look at the report.

I do get that people think Miles should have kept his pinkies off the OPR process and just let it run. But then, as a taxpayer, I can't help thinking about Rodriguez walking out the door with almost $50,000 of my money in severance, according to published reports. Maybe I'm glad Miles balked a little at that.

After rereading the Coggins report this morning, I called Coggins and asked him if there was other information about these issues that he knew of that was not brought forward in his report. He declined to answer, saying that was a matter he would discuss only with the school district trustees who hired him.

I want to know if the board of trustees understands these things: 1) All of this situation, the complaints against Miles and the investigations and so on, flowed from Rodriguez's accusations. 2) Those accusations flowed from a dispute over her competence. 3) During this entire period, Miles, as CEO, was also involved in deciding how much money he would hand over to Rodriguez as her reward for stirring up the whole mess in the first place. And 4) Rodriguez from the beginning was threatening Miles and the district with a media bashing.

I raise these questions because, for me, they leap off the pages of both investigative reports, the internal OPR report and the later external Coggins report, and yet no one seems to have focused on them publicly. All during the period of her battle with Miles, Rodriguez was negotiating for money. She wound up with some money in her hand that was not shabby, not shabby at all.

That's why I asked Coggins if there may have been other matters here that are significant and possibly exculpatory of Miles that were not discussed explicitly in Coggins' report. In our chat, he had already answered a couple questions on other topics, but he declined to answer that one on the grounds that it was the sort of thing he would discuss only with the board.

I also talked to him this morning about two other topics. One was my favorite, of course -- myself -- and why Coggins' people didn't call me before they put my name in the report. I'll tell you what he said about that one tomorrow. It's ... uh ... well, it's not very exciting.

The other one was better. I asked Coggins about information in his report concerning public relations consultant Lisa LeMaster and whether Coggins would admit his report said some things about her that were flat untrue. The answer to that one was much more interesting.

More on those tomorrow.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze