Despite state and federal probes into the criminal actions of Beaumont Independent School District electrical contractor Calvin Walker, and official state debarment keeping any version of Walker’s company from doing any business with the state of Texas for the next four-plus years, the BISD Board of Trustees voted to keep the embattled electrician on the public’s dime for a fourth consecutive year.
In a split vote of the BISD trustees, four members (Terry Williams, Zenobia Bush, Woodrow Reece and Gwen Ambres) elected to renew Walker’s contract for a fourth consecutive year during a routine board meeting Tuesday, June 11. As part of his job with BISD, Walker has been allowed to charge for multiple unnamed employees at an hourly wage and add a 10 percent markup to products allegedly used for BISD electrical projects, although he is not required to submit a paid invoice for the materials billed to the school district.Reports indicate that, in addition to the millions of dollars in bills Walker sent the district for the work he did – and some he didn’t do – as part of the $388 million 2010 bond initiative, Walker has charged the district in excess of $380,000 for miscellaneous electrical projects since August of last year. Walker’s accounting methods, such as submitting invoices for BISD reimbursement on products without ever producing a paid receipt for the goods, caught the eye of Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, whose office filed the required paper- work necessary to have Walker, his company, and any version of his company excluded from conducting business with any state agency for five years, beginning in August 2012. Combs’ office specifically cites Walker’s “accounting practices” with BISD as the catalyst for disqualifying Walker from working with state agencies. In particular, Combs’ office defers to a signed plea agreement between Walker and the federal government wherein Walker admitted invoices submitted to BISD in order to secure payment were altered. “The plea agreement plainly reflects submission of a bid document to appear as an invoice for materials,” Comptroller staffer Ron Pigott wrote to Walker’s legal team affirming Walker’s debarring. “That altered ‘invoice’ was accompanied by a check which was never presented to the sup- plier as payment for the materials which were never delivered. These two actions in concert constitute sufficient admitted evidence of fraudulent behavior in a procurement set- ting.”
Walker’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, stated that Walker never admitted to submitting the invoices; rather the invoices were submitted to BISD by his wife, Stacey Walker, company secretary, by mistake. The altered invoices were actually meant for someone else, he said. Still, while the admitted evidence was enough to convince the Texas Comptroller that Walker was guilty of committing fraudulent activity in order to get a BISD paycheck and therefore should be deemed unsuitable as a vendor, the BISD board majority did not reach the same conclusion. BISD board attorney Melody Chap- pell advised the board that the entity was legally allowed to do business with Walker, citing an apostrophe (or lack thereof) in “Walker’s Electric” as a loophole to Walker’s state debarment, offering up the fact that the school district was not technically termed a “state agency” as an excuse to continue contracting with the company since the Texas Comptroller’s Office excludes all ver- sions of the company name, Calvin Walker, and his wife from the state vendor list.
When considering the renewal of an annual contract with Walker, BISD Trustee Mike Neil said, “We’d be crazy to consider renewal,” to which, Trustee Bush retorted that she was, indeed, crazy, and was supportive of Walker’s contract renewal.
“There is a whole other side of the community who doesn’t feel the same way as (Walker detractors),” she said. Trustee Gwen Ambres said no additional information could change her mind to the point where she did not support keeping Walker.
“Our job is not to be swayed by emotion,” Ambres said, before calling for an immediate vote to approve Walker’s contract with BISD for an additional year. “The prudent thing to do is to step up and vote on this.”
Board president Woodrow Reece said he had intended to seek a compromise in the con- tract renewal of Calvin Walker and possibly ask for a more thorough examination of Walker’s practices, but changed his mind after hear- ing public outcries asking for the board not to approve the electrical vendor.