A top-ranking county official in one of Texas most conservative counties is facing harsh criticism for attempting to use his political position for personal gain.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley recently pushed to improperly award a “no-bid” contract to a client of his government-accounting firm, Whitley-Penn.
During a November 8th, 2016 meeting of the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court, Judge Whitley championed the idea of greater efficiency in county employee health care.
There was an urgent crisis and Whitley had the solution—pay $5,000 to a vendor, Integer Health Technologies, to study the county’s healthcare data. Then examine their findings and award Integer a $400,000-$500,000 annual contract.
The three County Commissioners present, along with several staffers, did not share Whitley’s enthusiasm for the deal.
Both Commissioners Johnson and Brooks were not pleased when It was later revealed that the initial cost rose by $12,000. Commissioner Brooks, a reliable ally of Whitley, stated, “I must admit that we’re not starting off real well going from a $5,000 expense to a $17,000 expense.”
Commissioner Nguyen firmly voiced concerns about fair bidding practices, as are required by state law. Awarding Integer the initial contract without seeking alternative bids would give them an “unfair competitive advantage” over another vendor who could later bid for the same contract.
Whitley and Integer attempted to improperly use an exception to avoid competitive bidding by claiming the company was the “sole source” for this technology. Sole source is a label applied to companies for which there is no competitor. But Integer is not the only company who offers this service.
Later in the meeting, Jack Beacham from the Purchasing Department expressed his desire to delay the deal and actually investigate Integer’s claims that they are sole-source. Whitley insisted this could be done after approving payment for the initial study. According to Whitley, Integer would eventually be proven to be the only provider, so the county should just go ahead with the deal.
Whitley had clearly not done his own due diligence, as Integer’s sole-source claims were false.
A compelling motive for Whitley oversight was later revealed. Integer is a client of Whitley-Penn, the public accounting firm of which Whitley is a partner. This is the typical back room deal cronyism that plagues politics. Integer gives its business to Whitley-Penn, and then, Whitley turns around and gives Tarrant County’s business to Integer.
If it were not for the insistence of Commissioner Nguyen for the investigation into the sole-source claims, along with questions raised by other commissioners, the Integer deal would have sailed through. Without citizens engaged, many do.
It raises several important questions: What other conflicts of interest exist between Whitley and his accounting firm, considering his firm is one of the largest in the state? How many similar deals get pushed through city councils and school boards every week?
It is imperative that we watch each and every official we elect to office. Choosing your candidate and voting is not enough. Citizens must hold their elected official accountable for each vote they cast.
The term “cronyism” is often used to describe back room dealing made between special interests and politicians in Washington D.C. or Austin. Yet cronyism happens at all levels of government, especially at the local level. For a recent example, look no further than Tarrant County.