Former Galveston County employees file whistleblower suit

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Jul. 24, 2012, 5:10am


GALVESTON - Three local men previously employed by Galveston County claim the county retaliated against them in response to their blowing the whistle on possible misuse of government funds.

A lawsuit filed July 15 in the Galveston federal court claims Robert Powell, Brad Bicker and Kirk Greene were fired from their positions with the county's information technology department because "they complained of wasted taxpayer money and other matters of public concern."

Powell served as the county's chief information officer while Bicker and Greene were its assistant chief information officers whose responsibility was to manage the IT department.

The suit states that the plaintiffs drew the county's concern when they moved to fire IT department employee Chris Gonzales for violating the its email usage policy in late 2011, stating the plaintiffs' actions were called into question during an executive session meeting and in the press.

The original petition asserts the men abided by human resource policies in connection with their decision regarding Gonzales, a member of Galveston City Council who was previously the target of a 2011 defamation lawsuit filed by former Galveston Police Chief Charles Wiley.

However, according to court papers, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry placed the plaintiffs on administrative leave for what was perceived to be an "allegation of mismanagement of the IT department" with no disciplinary meeting scheduled or ever held.

After the complainants were put on paid leave, a Nov. 11, 2011, article in The (Galveston County) Daily News including statements made by Henry insinuating criminal wrongdoing on the part of the former ran.

The suit then states the county judge entered into a supposed professional services agreement with NSD which "effectively replaced (the plaintiffs) prior to any investigation and prior to being informed of termination," adding the defendant issued each of them notices of termination the next month.

According to the complainant, grievances were immediately filed though they "were delayed due to various reasons."

In early February, the plaintiffs fielded a whistleblower complaint pertaining to "instances of misuse of government funds, breaches of the public trust, and mismanagement of Galveston County Government" and sent it to law enforcement and other authorities including the respondent and the Texas Attorney General's Office.

Notable among the issues were the NSD contract, the Gonzales dismissal and the thwarting of the complainants' grievances.

The suit contends that county commissioners met in April and voted to kill the grievances which "specifically thwarted the ability of the plaintiffs to have a hearing and present their complaints regarding adverse employment actions, suspensions, terminations, and other actions by Galveston County, regarding the First Amendment rights of the plaintiffs and the reports that Plaintiffs made pursuant to the Whistleblowing Statute of the State of Texas."

Consequently, the complainants seek unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.

They are represented by attorney Thomas H. Padgett Jr. of Bellaire.

Case No. 3:12-cv-215

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