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Lots More to Come in Saga of Suspended School District Sleuth

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The Dallas Morning News has an editorial this morning suggesting that the Dallas school district put a top internal investigator on leave last month to cover something up. The editorial is a development of some good writing Mike Hashimoto has been doing on the paper's opinion blog, and, for once, I do get it.

But the paper and Hashimoto will turn out to have it wrong. Instead when this story is fully told it will be but one more disappointing chapter in that never-ending school board saga, "The Gang That Not Only Couldn't Shoot Straight, It Shot Itself in the Ass."

Jeremy Liebbe, 35, was a respected sleuth in the Dallas Police Department before going to work as a civilian detective in the Dallas Independent School District 10 years ago. Recently he was the lead investigator in the district's sports recruiting scandal. His work enabled Superintendent Mike Miles to go after a really tough, seemingly intractable corruption problem that was never resolved, in fact was never even touched by half a dozen superintendents before him.

So Liebbe is a person with a long record as a respected investigator. The Morning News raises an absolutely fair question: Why was he frog-walked out of district headquarters last month and placed on leave? Did it have anything to do with some embarrassing information he dug up about his boss' teenage arrest record?

No. I have been aware for some time from multiple reliable sources within DISD headquarters that the facts in the Liebbe case, though very complicated, will be pretty plain in terms of why he was suspended. And it won't be retaliation.

To put this in context we have to go back almost a year to the story of Don Smith, head of something called the "Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR)" in DISD. Smith and OPR have since been brought to heel, somewhat, in a reorganization of the district's auditing function, but a year ago OPR was operating as the personal Keystone Kops for a minority on the school district who wanted Miles fired.

The question was always who works for whom? Smith thought he had carte blanche to investigate anybody he wanted, any time he felt like it, whenever or wherever he personally thought he smelled a rat. Miles thought he was Smith's boss. He thought Smith should investigate when Miles told him to, not investigate when Miles told him not to.

I don't think Smith ever went to the media, but when Miles told Smith to chill, those school board members who wanted to get Miles did go. It was gigantic mess. Miles survived it. But I think most of us can understand that the boss has to be the boss; the board can fire him if they think he's no good; but individual board members can't reach down into the boss' staff and tell them to defy the boss. That's a junk pile.

That's what the Liebbe matter will be. I don't have specifics on who did exactly what. I do know that this has nothing to do with Liebbe's boss' problems as a teenager. This will turn out to involve spy cameras planted in offices at school district headquarters in direct defiance of a directive from management, probably in response to board pressure.

I don't know what Liebbe's personal role is alleged to have been. (I have a call in to his lawyer.) I don't know enough to tell you now if the ultimate finding will be that the cameras in question were, indeed, off-the-books spy mechanisms or normal security equipment installed to protect school district employees from danger.

But I do know what the accusation is and that the district's police department is investigating: whether somebody was sneaking around headquarters at night planting spy cameras in people's offices, even after having been told directly not to do it. And, if so, why? Who put them up to it?

Let's hope Liebbe comes out of it with a clean bill of health. Certainly his resume would indicate he should. He has earned respect in his career, and he serves the benefit of the doubt now. But if those cameras were rogue spy devices and if board members were involved, somebody ought to go to jail for it.

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