Dallas County Health Director Zachary Thompson gathered the media on Monday to address reports, from Unfair Park and others, that there was a federal investigation into the department's use of funding designed to treat people with HIV. To be clear, Dallas County Health Department Director Zach Thompson declared, there is no investigation into the department. And, he said, it was racist to report otherwise.
This began a couple weeks back, when NBC5 broke the news that federal health officials would look into how money is being distributed by the Ryan White Planning Council, a committee, appointed by County Judge Clay Jenkins, that distributes federal money to poor HIV patents.
County health officials were adamant there was no investigation, but reporters were adamant there was -- because a federal spokesman insisted his office had questions about the spending and would investigate.
But that office, and that spokesman, are now backtracking. Officials at the federal Health Resources and Services Administration's Division of Metropolitan HIV/AIDS have since clarified in a letter that there is no investigation into the department itself, although they're still suggesting that there is a question about how the money is being distributed by the Ryan White Council.
"I am partly to blame for this," HRSA spokesman Martin Kramer told Unfair Park. "What the Division of Financial Integrity was looking into was a complaint about a subgrantee."
"That's a lie that said we were under federal investigation," Thompson told reporters at the press conference, repeatedly singling out reporters for their "misleading" information. Toward the end of the conference, Thompson became agitated and left the room before his colleagues.
But that wasn't before he accused local media of racism for questioning whether the department is under investigation:
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"For me to be targeted as Director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, that at no time -- I have not been implicated in any of these matters," he said. Thompson elaborated that there must be an underlying "motive."
"I've been followed for two blocks and asked questions that I have no comment on," he said, referring to NBC5's Scott Friedman, who attempted to get a comment from Thompson outside the office. "I don't see anybody else being followed for two blocks."
But whether or not the feds are specifically investigating Thompson's department, that department's relationship with the council appears broken. Ben Martinez is a community HIV/AIDS advocate and vice-chair and community member of the Ryan White Council, appointed by Judge Clay Jenkins. He spoke with Unfair Park last week about the ongoing mystery surrounding the department, and spoke frankly of a hostile working environment within the department, describing staffers who are afraid to disagree with Thompson.
"Director Thompson has created a culture of fear," Martinez said. "Both the staff are afraid of him, and the agencies who receive money from him. Not just Ryan White, but other groups are afraid of him." Louis Henry, an ex-community member of the Ryan White Planning Council, also described a lack of dialogue within the Council. "During the time I was a member, all the members were just yes members," he said in an e-mail statement to Unfair Park. "Most of us did not fully understand the process 100 percent."