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Texas Lottery under the microscope in hearings

Nov 9, 2005, 7:12 am

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Texas Lottery

Texas Lottery officials were summoned Tuesday to testify before a legislative committee for the second time in five months, this time over allegations of mismanagement brought by a lottery systems analyst who was fired the same day the Houston Chronicle reported his concerns.

Shelton Charles, who oversaw much of the lottery's technical operations before his firing Friday, planned to testify Monday at a hearing of the House Licensing and Regulation Committee, which oversees the lottery.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Kino Flores, called the hearing after receiving e-mail from Charles last week accusing top lottery management of misleading lawmakers about an emergency control center that he said doesn't work, blocking open-records requests and bullying employees into keeping quiet about problems at the $3.5 billion agency.

"If this is the case, we'll get to find out and hopefully, we can try to come up with some remedies to fix the problems," said Flores, D-Palmview.

Flores said he felt he owed it to the state to air the concerns in public and to give lottery officials a chance to defend themselves against the claims.

The lottery's spokesman, Bobby Heith, has declined to comment on Charles' claims, saying the agency doesn't discuss personnel issues. But he said Tuesday that acting lottery Director Gary Grief and other officials who were summoned to the Capitol welcome the opportunity to tell their side.

Charles wasn't sure how much a hearing would accomplish.

"A hearing is a great thing, but unless they have some ability to do something, what good is a hearing?" he said. "You need a major investigation to clean up the Texas lottery."

Lottery officials were last called to the Capitol in June, after lottery officials admitted inflating several Texas Lotto jackpot estimates advertised on billboards across the state. The lottery's executive director, Reagan Greer, resigned two weeks after he acknowledged approving the estimates.

The incident opened the commission to media scrutiny in which former lottery employees aired concerns about a culture of fear and intimidation at the agency and questionable firing practices of apparently well-performing employees.

Charles' accusations echo what other former and current employees have told the Chronicle in the past several months.

Charles claimed that the lottery's disaster-recovery or business-resumption site — a steel-reinforced concrete bunker estimated to have cost more than $1.3 million — "has never been operational."

Texas law requires state agencies to maintain disaster-recovery sites that would keep state agencies operational in the event of an emergency.

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