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Aide says Perry comfortable with his pick for TEA job

Web Posted: 06/28/2007 10:47 PM CDT

Janet Elliott
Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry has no concerns about putting deputy commissioner Robert Scott temporarily in charge of the Texas Education Agency, the governor's spokesman said Thursday, despite questions raised in an inspector general's report detailing no-bid contracts that went to Scott's friends.

"None. The governor has complete confidence that he will do his job with the utmost integrity and professionalism, just as he always has," Perry spokesman Robert Black said.

Scott will lead the agency, which oversees public education for 4.5 million children attending Texas public schools, until Perry picks a permanent successor to Shirley Neeley, who left her job as commissioner this week after the governor decided not to reappoint her.

A former Perry aide, Scott previously led the agency between Neeley's appointment and the departure of her predecessor.

The inspector general's report released Wednesday chronicled instances when contracts that were not competitively bid landed with Austin attorney Emily Miller, described in the report as a friend of Scott's, or with his former executive assistant, Cory Rountree.

The report said it was often unclear how Scott's friends got the work.

The inspector general's report said the education agency failed to follow state contracting policy in awarding millions of dollars in competitive grants. It highlighted ambiguities in awarding grants from a $261 million partnership between the state and several private foundations for high school improvement.

"If there are gray areas in either TEA rules or state law regarding these types of contracts where ambiguities need to be clarified, then that needs to happen," said Black.

Perry returns from a trip to Israel and Jordan today but there is no timetable for naming Neeley's replacement, Black said.

Miller told the agency's inspector general, Michael Donley, that she negotiated two $100,000 contracts with Scott. The contracts were awarded by Education Service Center 12, based in Waco, for outside evaluation of the special education hearings process.

Scott denied dealing directly with Miller, and told Donley she was selected by ESC 12 director Tom Norris.

In an interview Thursday, Norris said that education consultant Jimmy Wynn asked him to select Miller. Norris said he later found out that Miller is Wynn's former wife.

Wynn is a family friend of Neeley, who was named by Perry to be education commissioner in January 2004. He served as Neeley's contract speechwriter for six months and then became a consultant to the Gates Foundation.

Neither Wynn nor Miller returned phone calls Thursday. Scott also did not want to comment but is preparing a written response to the report, said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe.

Miller received another $100,000 contract in 2005-06, although agency staff could not find a copy of the second contract, according to the report.

Miller told investigators she negotiated terms of the renewal with Scott. But he denied that, according to the report.

The report has been forwarded to state Auditor John Keel. He said he and staff will take several days to review the report and won't decide until next week "how much investigative work we want to do and what kind of records we want to look at."


Online at: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA062907.05B.tea_grants_.35f7a49.html

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