Audit Reveals Special Treatment for Some at Texas Agency

Some employees at the Texas Facilities Commission were hired without facing competition, promotions were made with little supporting material and people were being paid after they stopped working for the agency, according to an internal audit.

A review of agency records by the Austin American-Statesman also found that some of the individuals who seem to have benefited from the actions listed in the audit had personal or political connections to its executive director at the time, Terry Keel.

Keel said all employees hired during his tenure at the facilities commission "were eligible under agency policy and state law for the positions, were hired on merit and were outstanding hires for the agency," the newspaper reported Saturday.

The commission is charged with overseeing the state government's physical plants.

The Statesman said that in its review of thousands of pages of records obtained through 14 records requests under the Texas Public Information Act and other sources and interviews with current and former employees, it found various details about hiring at the commission, including:

The commission hired Keel's longtime executive assistant, who is the sister of his ex-girlfriend, and four people related or connected to her. Her son and her son's girlfriend were hired for job openings that were only posted for one day and faced no competition.

The agency hired the sister-in-law of Keel's law partner and the ex-wife of another lawyer connected to his firm. One submitted her application before the job was publicly posted, and the other was selected for a position before the minimum 10-day posting period for competitive jobs had expired.

The nephew of a state lawmaker was allowed to remain on the payroll and collect sick leave pay after he stopped working for the agency. Keel and the employee dispute the audit's characterization that the sick leave arrangement violated state law.

Barbara Jenkins, a former human resources director at the facilities commission who resigned in 2013, said Keel and his deputies sometimes fired employees with little reason and replaced them with hand-picked selections who didn't go through the regular hiring process.

"There's no position, there's no opening, and then all the sudden they would just show up. They did what they wanted to do," said Jenkins, who was forced out for allegedly being caught sleeping at work, an allegation she denies.

Keel, who is now an assistant commissioner with the Texas Department of Agriculture, said scrutiny of how human resources was handled at the facilities commission during his tenure doesn't highlight what improvements occurred at an agency that had previously been "awash with corruption," including construction materials and supplies being routinely misappropriated for personal use and on-duty drug use.

A review earlier this year of state employment records by the newspaper showed that several new hires at the Texas Department of Agriculture with close ties to Keel received speedy promotions and raises despite their short time with the agency.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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