Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Whittington Long-Time Bush Crony

When Dick Cheney shot Harry Whittington in the face, he gave us the opportunity to revisit Bush in his days as Texas Governor, when he was honing his skills at corrupting government agencies.

Those who have long memories or live in Texas might recall a scandal from 1999 called Funeralgate, in which Bush was accused of using his office to pressure the former TFSC chairwoman, Eliza May, to back off an investigation of a large Republican donor, Service Corporation International.

After a lengthy investigation, a TFSC committee recommended that SCI be fined $445,000 for the violations. At about the same time that the agency began pushing for payment of the fine, the funeral giant was able to get extraordinary access to, and helpful intervention from, the staff of then Gov. George W. Bush.

Bush staffers, including Joe Allbaugh, held special meetings with SCI's CEO, Robert Waltrip. The executive director of the TFSC during the SCI investigation, Eliza May, was soon alleging that she was pressured by Allbaugh and other Bush staffers to halt the ongoing investigation into the company's misdeeds. She later sued the state for wrongful termination. In 2001, her lawsuit was settled when the state and SCI agreed to pay her an amount in excess of $200,000.

When she was hired, May was supposed to put a new face on the already scandal-plagued agency. Her predecessor, Wayne Butterfield, left the TFSC in 1996, after he was jailed on charges of aggravated perjury and witness tampering. Butterfield's predecessor at the TFSC left the agency after being hit with charges of sexual harassment.

When Ms. May proved to be up to the task of actually doing her job well, too well, she was replaced by someone who apparently fit in better at the TFSC. Harry Whittington was appointed chairman of the TFSC after her.

And the scandals didn't stop. In 2004, the TFSC was being accused of targeting a disproportionate amount of minority funeral homes for enforcement "because they didn't fight."
[Texas House, Rep. Miguel Wise, D-Weslaco] has asked both the Travis Co. District Attorney's Office and the Texas Rangers to investigate alleged wrongdoing at the agency. Wise says he is "amazed at all that crap that's going on" at the TFSC and calls it an "agency that is out of control."

Whittington felt differently.
The "board feels very confident in our executive director and the pattern we are pursuing," Whittington said.

But as always, I'm a day late and a dollar short. Shakespeare's Sister already blogged a little on his involvement in the TFSC, as well as other appointments he's had.

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