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Unethical Behavior at OPSB? Tell Us Something We Don’t Know.

Perhaps the University of Houston should review its screening process for job applicants.

On Monday, the U of H issued a press release announcing the appointment of Herman Taitt as Executive Director of Facilities Management for the university. The glowing announcement included a quote from Associate Vice Chancellor Emily Messa, who said:

“Herman’s extensive and diverse background will serve him well here at the University of Houston. We welcome him and know his knowledge and experience will be an asset for Facilities Management and the University.”

The University of Houston announced Taitt's hiring the same day news broke he was being charged by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
The University of Houston announced Herman Taitt’s appointment as Executive Director of Facilities Management.

According to the Louisiana Board of Ethics, Taitt’s “extensive and diverse background” includes abuse of office while serving in his previous role as the Executive Director of Operations for the Orleans Parish School Board. As outlined in charges filed earlier this month [see filing below], the Board of Ethics says Taitt pressured GCA Services Group, a private custodial and maintenance services company, to hire Andrenetta Thomas for a “coordinator” job that was not included in GCA’s contract with the school board.

As I noted in a previous blog post, Taitt openly allied himself with former OPSB President Ira Thomas during the latter’s effort to oust Interim Superintendent Stan Smith last year. At the time, a senior OPSB administrator told me that they believed Taitt and Thomas were colluding to remove Smith from office so the duo could steer district contracts to their “friends.”

Lo and behold, Ira Thomas was the first to come to Taitt’s defense when news broke of the ethics charges on Monday. In an interview with The Advocate, Thomas claimed he was “surprised” by the charges and said, “From the information I have, I don’t believe [Taitt] was in violation.”

Ira Thomas is possibly the only person in the City of New Orleans surprised by the recent ethics charges.
Ira Thomas is possibly the only person in the City of New Orleans surprised by the recent ethics charges.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Ira Thomas may be only person in the entire City of New Orleans surprised by the recent ethics charges. The incessant in-fighting and power struggles that have paralyzed the board over the last two years have largely centered around the issue of district contracts. Shady individuals and organizations take to the podium at every board meeting to browbeat board members and district administrators over the allocation of those contracts. Now we learn that a senior OPSB official is accused of twisting the arm of a vendor to provide someone with a job. The question raised by this incident isn’t “How could this have happened?” but “What other OPSB bombshells are just waiting to be uncovered?”

No wonder why some members of the school board seem so dead set against allowing the New Orleans Inspector General to audit the district’s finances. They’re no doubt afraid of what he would might dig up.

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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