First the breakup, then the requisite division of property.
Among the official belongings of Jack Stick, former general counsel for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, is one black leather executive chair — high-backed with a five-star wood capped base and closed arms. The state seal is subtly embossed, not emblazoned in gold leaf like many state chairs, but done “blind,” as the furniture makers say, with no coloring so it whispers with a certain dignity from behind the chair’s occupant.
On the back, an engraved brass plate reads “Deputy Inspector General” — Stick’s second-to-the-last job at the agency. A chair once used by Doug Wilson, Stick’s former boss before he, too, was asked to leave the agency, matches in every detail but the nameplate, which reads “Inspector General.”
At $2,809.43 apiece, they are quite nice chairs.
But it wasn’t until the two men departed in mid-December, that word of the purchases spread among staff. An order was placed by Stick’s office on Oct. 17, 2013 with Rockford Business Interiors of Austin. They were delivered to Cody Cazares, Stick’s chief of staff, on Feb. 21, 2014.
“I did ask for the same chair as the one in the House committee rooms,” Stick said in an email. “I don’t know what the cost was.”
The Office of Inspector General is that agency’s auditing arm, responsible for ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse.
“What’s disappointing about this is the purchases were made by the Office of Inspector General,” said HHSC spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman. “And I wonder if they (OIG) had gone out to one of our Medicaid providers, or contractors, who they were auditing and saw they had spent $2,800 on one chair, would they question that? We should hold ourselves to an even higher standard than we hold our providers to.”
After Stick’s abrupt departure, the question of what to do with his customized chair arose as staffers bundled up his belongings to deliver to his home. Cazares, Stick’s second-in-command before he was placed on paid administrative leave, told them to send the chair along, before another staffer pointed out that taxpayers might have paid for it.
Indeed they had, paperwork showed.
Stick confirmed he ordered the chairs, but said he never asked to keep his.
Stick and Wilson were asked to resign following the announcement that Texas State Auditor’s Office was investigating HHSC contracting procedures following the award of a $20 million fraud tracking software contract by HHSC to 21CT.
Cazares was placed on leave as a precautionary measure to guard against any conflict of interest during the review. Wilson’s wife, Frianita Wilson, who works for purchasing at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, also remains on leave. Erica Stick, Jack Stick’s wife and chief of staff to HHSC Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek, was also placed on leave but has since resigned.
Last month, Cazares’ salary, which rose from $52,000 to $112,200 between 2011 and 2014, was slashed to $55,000 after his job was reclassified. He remains on leave and declined comment, referring questions about the chairs to the agency.
As for what the agency will do with the chairs, they’re asking for suggestions.
“We’re trying to figure that out,” Goodman said. “We’re trying to look at that. Got any ideas?”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/02/03/left-behind-hhsc-departures-two-2800-chairs/.