Coggins Report: How Ex-TV Reporter Rebecca Rodriguez's Screw-Up at DISD Became Mike Miles' Biggest Headache

Categories: Schutze

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Naughty little secret I will share with you from my own craft, the news business. In my line of work it is by no means unheard of for a reporter who is about to get sacked to suddenly invent an untrue story to the effect of, "They're trying to silence me."

In other words, "They're only firing me because they want to suppress my big story. I am not a screw-up. I am, in fact, a super-hero, and I want my cape now."

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Library of Congress
So one day Rebecca Rodriguez is sitting in her office, and she thinks, "Is Mike Miles trying to usurp my authority?"

Why would somebody say that if it's not true? I don't know. Ego. Wounded pride. Leverage in negotiating a severance package.

Rebecca Rodriguez, a former television reporter who was briefly head of communications for Dallas Independent School District, was already in the final stages of a seriously deteriorating relationship with school Superintendent Mike Miles when she went to an internal investigative unit in the school district called "OPR" and accused Miles of bullying her and retaliating against her.

In clearing Miles of those charges, an external investigative report by former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins points out that, "Superintendent Miles first communicated his intent to terminate, demote or at minimum remove her from his cabinet before he learned of the OPR investigation." The emphasis on "before" is Coggins', not mine.

One thing the Coggins report does not focus on: During her final days with the district, Rodriguez was negotiating what turned out to be a very tasty severance package. She reportedly got the district to pay her more in severance than she had earned during her brief tenure as an employee.

She won that award from Miles, even though she had called him "evil" and "despicable" and told district lawyers that Miles, her boss, had "usurped her authority," according to the Coggins report. The report says a district lawyer described Rodriguez to investigators as "almost hysterical."

Hysterical about what? Well, for one thing, Miles had found out that Rodriguez had seriously screwed up a major issue that was about to go before the school board.

You may remember that Rodriguez accused Miles of pulling a proposed contract from the voting agenda of the school board at the last minute. Her suggestion was that he pulled it for crooked or corrupt reasons. But that is not at all what Coggins found.

That contract was Rodriguez's deal. She had prepared the agenda item for the board to vote on, and Miles' decision to pull it was the cause for the wonderful "usurped my authority" remark from Rodriguez.

The Coggins report clears Miles on that one for several reasons, but the main reason is that Rodriguez had bollixed up the contract proposal so badly that the board would not have been able to vote on it intelligently or with due diligence. Coggins reports that Rodriguez had omitted crucial supporting documentation and had allowed the proposal to be written so badly that the board would not have been able to tell what they were really voting on.

In other words, Miles would have failed in his responsibilities as chief executive had he allowed the proposal to go forward to the board for a vote.

The internal OPR report also said this: When the whole contracting issue came up, Rodriguez, who had worked as a reporter and anchor at WFAA Channel 8 and KTVT Channel 11 television in Dallas, started warning people around her that she had friends in the media who would come to her defense if certain people weren't careful what they said about her.

So here is a former local TV reporter about to get fired over a screw-up after a very brief employment. She is not afraid to call her boss evil and despicable and accuse him of usurping her authority. She even files a formal complaint against him while whispering that this will all be on the news soon. And during this same time she is negotiating a very nice money package.

Allow me, please, to put another puzzle piece on the table. One of the major complaints against Miles is that he: 1) personally suspended the internal OPR investigation of himself, and 2) demanded that district lawyers take a look at it. According to the Coggins report, the first part of that is flat not true. False. Miles did not order the internal OPR investigation suspended. Board President Eric Cowan did that.

But Miles did ask the district's lawyers to take a look at the internal investigation while it was suspended. Why? According to the Coggins report, Miles wanted to know if the lawyers thought Miles had done anything that would give credence to Rodriguez's claims against him. Remember, this is exactly when district lawyers are at the table with Rodriguez's lawyer hammering out a severance package.

For one thing, it occurs to me that the report itself would have made tasty reading for Rodriguez's lawyers, if it seemed to support her claims. In fact I'm not sure how the district could have known exactly what kind of bargaining position it was in with her unless and until it took a look at the report.

I do get that people think Miles should have kept his pinkies off the OPR process and just let it run. But then, as a taxpayer, I can't help thinking about Rodriguez walking out the door with almost $50,000 of my money in severance, according to published reports. Maybe I'm glad Miles balked a little at that.

After rereading the Coggins report this morning, I called Coggins and asked him if there was other information about these issues that he knew of that was not brought forward in his report. He declined to answer, saying that was a matter he would discuss only with the school district trustees who hired him.

I want to know if the board of trustees understands these things: 1) All of this situation, the complaints against Miles and the investigations and so on, flowed from Rodriguez's accusations. 2) Those accusations flowed from a dispute over her competence. 3) During this entire period, Miles, as CEO, was also involved in deciding how much money he would hand over to Rodriguez as her reward for stirring up the whole mess in the first place. And 4) Rodriguez from the beginning was threatening Miles and the district with a media bashing.

I raise these questions because, for me, they leap off the pages of both investigative reports, the internal OPR report and the later external Coggins report, and yet no one seems to have focused on them publicly. All during the period of her battle with Miles, Rodriguez was negotiating for money. She wound up with some money in her hand that was not shabby, not shabby at all.

That's why I asked Coggins if there may have been other matters here that are significant and possibly exculpatory of Miles that were not discussed explicitly in Coggins' report. In our chat, he had already answered a couple questions on other topics, but he declined to answer that one on the grounds that it was the sort of thing he would discuss only with the board.

I also talked to him this morning about two other topics. One was my favorite, of course -- myself -- and why Coggins' people didn't call me before they put my name in the report. I'll tell you what he said about that one tomorrow. It's ... uh ... well, it's not very exciting.

The other one was better. I asked Coggins about information in his report concerning public relations consultant Lisa LeMaster and whether Coggins would admit his report said some things about her that were flat untrue. The answer to that one was much more interesting.

More on those tomorrow.



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75 comments
freddy
freddy

How would HPer Brett Shipp make a living if you keep undermining his 'stories'?

bruce.levy1
bruce.levy1

Apparently Mike Miles also has friends in the media, one of whom works for the Dallas Observe, who seems to have stars in his eyes when it comes to Mike.   How about commenting on the actual policies Miles is trying to implement.  Correct me if I am wrong: Wasn't it Miles who hired Ms. Rodriguez? 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

It's downright gruesome to watch the board gnaw off its own leg to get out of this trap they've inadvertently set for themselves.

Children? What children?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Had the district already been split into 5, the poorly performing employee would not have had the media leverage she employed to force an irrational severance package.

In fact, there would be no "communications" position in a smaller district.

And a former U.S. Attorney would have not accepted such an assignment by a smaller district to garner advertising for his private firm, for there would be no public interest, or press.

There would also be no "rock star" superintendent search to replace the last "rock star" superintendent hired to reform a system so big, it's too big to reform.

Too bad it's not too big to fail - us.

gregmarcydagama
gregmarcydagama

I love to read your reporting, Jim. Straight, sensible conversational tone is very hard effect to achieve consistently and comes only with years of practice. Well, that's one good thing that comes with getting older; a little wisdom! :) ~ / ~ OM 

Greg
Greg

The board may have made one blunder and be contemplating another.

Greg
Greg

Rumor is opr smith and miles did not see eye to eye from day one. Smith was hired by Hinojosa not miles. Smith has been trying to go under board and over audit since miles came to district. Smith thought the rodriguez complaint would help the board "see" the need to act on his request. He knew miles well enough to know that he would likely intervene at some point in the investigation. He was right and when it happened smith was quick to run to Cowan and say see I told you so. I need to be under the board so I don't have the superintendent telling me what I can or cannot do (sound familiar). People that used to work for smith said he has a hard time keeping staff. even people that used to work for him in the IRS left his department. One former investigator sued the district

Obummer
Obummer

Yo let JWP gots da super's job; he claims ta gots da answers, plus he needs da money fo' his legal defensez.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

It's absurd for people to think that Miles can't offer any defense for himself or any criticism of the board, but that the black anti-reform trustees can go around town calling him a bully and military dictator and all kinds of stuff. That's like marriage vows where my wife has to be faithful, but  I can bring home girlfriends.Well, let me re-think that. The last thing I want is girlfriends.  What about marriage vows where she is not allowed to spend any money on the garden but I can buy all the kayaks I want. No, I think that's called ... Heaven. OK forget it. 

Gabe48
Gabe48

Fascinating, but is there anything in the report about whether or not Mike Miles has tried the amazing barbecue at Mac's on Main St. in Dallas? Great ribs and jalapeño sausage, fresh fries not frozen. Mom and Pop operation, open only for lunch.

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

As I stated yesterday, another example of this superintendent being an amateur.


leftocenter
leftocenter

He's getting canned.  Coggins report, page 10, 1st paragraph, last line, ...his actions  constitute "good cause for dismissal."  That's all they need -- it's a done deal.

I'm right there with you wishing he had been successful, but he violated policy.  You can do a lot things, but you can't violate policy. 

He talked to witnesses while he was being investigated.  Regardless of the reason for the investigation, it creates the appearance he was trying to square his story up with those who would be interviewed -- and that's the kind, benefit-of-the-doubt interpretation. 

He had to know with the microscope he'd be under and the scope of the job he was brought in to do, that he could not make a single mis-step. 

So let's get back to JimmieS...what did he know and when did he know it?   The rest is over.

WylieH
WylieH

[The internal OPR report also said this: When the whole contracting issue came up, Rodriguez, who had worked as a reporter and anchor at WFAA Channel 8 and KTVT Channel 11 television in Dallas, started warning people around her that she had friends in the media who would come to her defense if certain people weren't careful what they said about her.]

Hmmm.... I know a guy at WFAA named Brett Shipp.... 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

Is it just my imagination, or do former TV newsreaders have a way of getting themselves into serious do-do lately?

hwy77
hwy77

The problem with these bureaucratic boondoggles is that they are too arcane and relatively low voltage to hold public interest long enough to really get the mess cleaned up. Compare to the recent JPMorgan $6 billion "London whale" episode, or the Enron collapse that actually sent people to prison. But the angle on this story that has  staying power is Channel 8's relentless hounding and mischaracterization of Mike Miles. Channel 8 is part of a publicly held company with deep pockets. The lawyers over there are the ones who should be poring over the Coggins report.

BabyJaneHudson
BabyJaneHudson

"When the whole contracting issue came up, Rodriguez, who had worked as a reporter and anchor at WFAA Channel 8 and KTVT Channel 11 television in Dallas, started warning people around her that she had friends in the media who would come to her defense if certain people weren't careful what they said about her."

Well, at least we know whatever happened to Rosemary's Baby. 

Who makes threats like that? And gets our tax dollars of $50,000 in severance?  That's a slap in the face.

The hardest part about all of this, is that no one will ever take Dallas seriously in regards to being a City that wants education reform, which results in corporate relocations and growth in our tax base, so we aren't carrying such a big load.  Maybe it's time for the Feds and State to step in.

Ron Schulz
Ron Schulz

Just nuts and they wonder why people complain about taxes and schools.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

broken record.

Pay him his severance and pay the consultants to pay for a new super to pay him his severance.....

SteveS
SteveS

So Miles hires the incompetent Rodriguez, then when employee (who has no ISD experience) screws up the paperwork, it's her fault, and he bears absolutely no responsibility for her failings? 

My wife works at a suburban district.  According to her, everything there goes to the Superitendent a week before it's supposed to go to the board.  Then the Supt can proofread, find holes in the proposals, see what kind of answers the board might ask (and have those answers ready) etc.

Didn't your post yesterday talk about how Miles is the final authority, he's got the power to pull stuff from the agenda at any time if he wants.  Then isn't he also responsible for the stuff getting ON the agenda in the first place?  If she was incompetent and screwed it up, how did Miles or someone else not catch how screwed up it was?  Did he have a chief of staff at that point, or was that after the felony indictments for him happened? 

I get that you're trying to defend Miles.  You think his style of reform is what DISD needs.  But stuff like this just makes me question his managerial competence.  She screws up, but he's got no system of catching the screw up before it gets to the board.  So your column makes her look bad. But it doesn't make him look good either.   

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Oh my dear Lord of the Rings!!!  I hope this man goes quickly so Schutze can write about something else. 

RHBlake
RHBlake

@Greg The OPR report wasn't the highest quality but anyone who read through the report in its entirety would have realized that there was insufficient evidence to Miles was in the wrong. Smith is an issue but a bigger problem is that Carla Ranger made the report public and did so in a very anti-Miles way by summarizing what she thought - Miles is a crook and then highlighting parts of it so that lazy readers would skip anything that favors Miles. So the DMN and some media made hay with it, riled up those looking for a way to get Miles out, and forced the Board to hire Coggins. I might be wrong about this but I think the pro-Miles and undecideds would have concluded on their own that the OPR was smoke and mirrors if they had time to analyze it without the public uproar caused by Ranger.

phipho5490
phipho5490

@JimSX Amen, it would seem that even if Jones et al get their way and get rid of Miles they will do so at the price of a very hefty severance package. you can not publicly belittle your employees and expect them to sit there and take it. Any attempt to fire him for cause would be met with a vigorous legal response. My advice to the board, support him and hold him accountable. you can do the two things simultaneously. Set goals cooperatively and see if he achieves them. If he doesn't say so long. Nothing ventured as they say. 

observist
observist topcommenter

@Gabe48  EARN $800 A DAY EATING BARBECUE!!!! My girlfiend's cousin's best friend earns REAL MONEY and all she does is eat BARBECUE and answer phone calls!  Checkout this website for details!   http:\www.fatpigseatingfatpigs.com

James080
James080

@leftocenter 

Coggins' report uses words and phrases which he was very likely directed to include in the report. I can imagine Cowen and the board asking Coggins to investigate these allegations and "provide us with legal cover for terminating the superintendent's contract." 

The offending conduct is reportedly the allegation of Miles having some hand in the Smelker resignation letter which "defamed" Trustee Elizabeth Jones. Miles' contract apparently has a clause requiring him to (and I'm paraphrasing) "maintain a good working relationship with the Board of Trustees." Think about this for a moment. At least four DISD Trustees have spent the past six months holding "we hate Miles" rallies in their communities and churches, they have been micro-managing his employees and threatening his cabinet members, demanding they ignore Miles' programs, but Miles is prohibited from criticizing, second hand, any of them including Jones' conduct.

I would argue that the only way Miles can develop a good working relationship with the DISD Board of Trustees is to let the public know the nefarious and incompetent behavior of the current board, and hope that Dallas' notoriously uninvolved, low information voters are sharp enough to elect a new board.Not bloody likely.



JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@leftocenter 

Good cause is a legal term. It means it meets the letter. It does not mean "good idea."

WylieH
WylieH

@leftocenter He talked to POTENTIAL witnesses, who also happened to work for him.  What was he supposed to do, exactly?  Avoid talking to his employees and retreat into a bunker for the entire duration of the bogus investigation?

observist
observist topcommenter

@bmarvel  Is there any profession that attracts a higher proportion of narcissists than TV newsreading?

James080
James080

@BabyJaneHudson  

In all seriousness, I doubt anyone outside of the Metroplex gives a second thought to Dallas politics or schools.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

@BabyJaneHudson I tried to make that point yesterday. Miles can't fix this, it's too far broken and too big a problem for him to fix. I don't think even Batman could fix this. It's going to take the Feds stepping in. I'd say the State but Austin is too concerned with abortion and Jesus on dinosaurs to be bothered with doing anything useful. 

wcvemail
wcvemail

@Sharon_Moreanus It's the SEARCH CONSULTANTS! They're fomenting and instigating, repeatedly, knowing that they'll keep lifetime work at high wages.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@SteveS Good half-point. Yes, he deserves criticism for hiring her, but pulling it from the agenda is an effective albeit late way of catching an error. Better late than never applies both to hiring decisions and agenda items.

I wonder if he hired her thinking she would provide some DFW-media-insider network support for him, perhaps seeing early on that she's not good at much of anything besides hissy fits but still stuck with her.

Edited to add: Eric answers my wonderment with what I suspected.

EricCeleste
EricCeleste

@SteveS For what it's worth: Miles, after screwing up his PR hire the first time, decided he needed some help with the next one. So he put together a panel of local PR experts that included -- wait for it -- Lisa LeMaster and (the person who runs Allyn Media) Mary Woodlief, among others. In other words, he went to what he thought were the best PR people in town to help him make that hire. After the interview process (which Miles sat in on), they recommended Rodriguez. Which now we know was the wrong selection, but how he could he know that? He did exactly what anyone would think he should do. So that criticism is off-base. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@SteveS 

So he shouldn't have pulled it? None of this would be an issue, none of us would even know about it, if Rodriguez had said, "Sorry boss, won't happen again," and gone back to her office. It's chickenfeed. It's only a big deal now because the people with a sub rosa agenda to get rid of Miles are grabbing every little chickenfeed issue and trying to turn it onto Watergate. That's not Miles' fault. What gets me is this whole idea that Miles is a bad superintendent because there's a bunch of bad stuff going on. Of course there's a bunch of bad stuff going on. That's how the status quo patronage machine always defends itself, by stirring up a bunch of bad stuff.  As a city we have to have the balls and the backbone to see through that. and we have to have the courage to persevere.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz 

Coming up soon: the important link between Frisco and future life in Outer Space. Promise.

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

@James080 @leftocenter Please keep in mind, board members are elected with a constituency.  A constituency that informs their representatives on a daily basis how they feel and react to the goings on in the district. The superintendent is an employee of the board.  The board is his boss.  In corporate America, disparaging your boss makes you ineffective and tarnishes your reputation.  It can also get you fired on the spot!

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

A good relationship with the board should not be impossible merely because he does not have a good relationship with each of the trustees. His first duty is to the District, if this required Miles to take actions some members of the board did not like, his first duty to the district should supersede his promise to be nice to the individual trustees.

leftocenter
leftocenter

While Miles has made some cringe-worthy missteps, the movement to oust him has been relentless and frankly, a bit shameful.

leftocenter
leftocenter

That makes sense, but it's not an argument that Miles could sell.

I wouldn't besmirch (sp?) Coggins though...it's legal-eze and he's a lawyer...it probably wasn't much of a stretch.  There's been more than enough besmirching.

leftocenter
leftocenter

Yeah, there is no place for good ideas in politics. 

Seriously, I think it's all they need, bad idea or not.

leftocenter
leftocenter

@WylieH He talked to a potential witness to "refresh his memory" about the issue -- not routine interaction.  I'm not judging either way.  The point is if they were looking to hang him he gave them the rope. 

Any of us could be found guilty of "violating policy" at our jobs in one way or another.  I'm just a spectator -- that is not my circus and those aren't my clowns.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@observist A true story:

One afternoon years ago a friend offered to drive me home after a softball game, but he wanted to stop off at a mens store and buy a briefcase. That was fine with me. He spent more than two hours in that store, trying out one briefcase after another, never bothering to open them to check out the compartments or try the lock, but posing with them in  the three-way mirror, turning this way and that to see how he looked with them, or, rather, how they looked with him.It was quite an exeecise.

My friend later moved to Miami where he became a TV anchorman.    

BabyJaneHudson
BabyJaneHudson

@James080 The first thing corporations look at is quality of life for their employees and that includes schools. How many corporations do we have to lose to the suburbs? 

When DISD gets out of its chair, pulls up its exposed bra strap and pushes its skirt back down, before going into the crowd to look for its next victim, how many really excellent candidates are going to look its way or make eye contact? 

stevesinbox2006
stevesinbox2006

LOL So that's supposed to make me feel better about Miles? So he doesn't know enough to hire one of his top assistants without expert assistance? And did the job description really not call for some kind of school district experience? So lemaster and woodlief recommend someone they probably know, and not someone with any knowledge of how to do the job. And Miles is okay with that. Again, you guys aren't making me feel good about Miles and his managerial expertise.

freddy
freddy

@BabyJaneHudson I agree, I am cynical enough to think it's part of their marketing strategy to sell papers in the suburbs.

However, the Advocate publisher sent his children to Lakewood, Long and Woodrow. They are doing well in great colleges - I know one is at Georgetown.

BabyJaneHudson
BabyJaneHudson

@RobertStinson

Sure it's minor because the News, D Magazine, the Advocate, etc, make tons of money from private school and real estate advertising. It is in their best interest to constantly bash DISD or be silent in defense of it, so readers can go, yeah, see I told you we made the right choice to send our kid to private school or move to the suburbs. 

If the media supported, offered assistance to the District, and told people to send their kids to public school, what private school would advertise? The Private School business is big business, so they will use DISD as their whipping boy, to make sure they don't lose it. 

As a highly skilled worker, I chose public school in DISD, with great success for my kids and their collegiate aspirations. It was not perfect, and we need to make some radical changes, but all in all, it was worth it.     

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

@BabyJaneHudson I think it's a bogus argument. The quality of public schools is a minor, not a major, consideration of businesses. I mean, how do you explain the influx of businesses into the Sun Belt?

Companies with many highly skilled workers who can pay for private schools care even less about the quality of the public schools.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@stevesinbox2006 You can and should say the same thing about the board - they don't know enough to hire a super without expert (and expensive) assistance. 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@stevesinbox2006 I believe he is saying miles went through the appropriate expected channels to get his candidate and it didnt work.  If miles had gone on his own, all you haters would be saying he is incompetent to hire his own people and should have gone through these other PR groups.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Myrna, the formula for answering one piece of doltery is not anther piece of doltery

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin You little fool.  Obama is absolutely brilliant.  His strategy of getting Putin to lean on Syria is pure genius.

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