HOUSTON — The Houston Community College’s board of trustees voted Thursday evening to censure board member Chris Oliver in the wake of Oliver’s guilty plea to federal bribery charges.
Oliver was arrested in March and pleaded guilty to bribery in May. The case was unsealed just one week ago. Oliver admitted in court records that he accepted bribes in exchange for helping a company secure contracts with the HCC, the fifth-largest community college system in the country.
The board’s eight other members voted unanimously to censure Oliver, which means he was ripped from his position as vice-chair of the board as well as his chairmanship of the board’s audit committee.
Trustee Robert Glaser said he was “frustrated and angry” about Oliver’s actions.
Trustees opened the meeting and went directly into an executive session to discuss the issue. The board’s actions are limited. For example, trustees cannot remove one of their own. Only a state district judge has the power to pry any trustee from the board, at least until Oliver is sentenced on Aug. 28. A convicted felon cannot hold the post.
Glaser said that he hopes the trustee who replaces Oliver will be ethical, high-minded, and keep the focus on education and students.
At the meeting, all of the trustees voiced their disgust at Oliver’s actions.
But trustee Dave Wilson accused some of the trustees of merely voicing “self-righteous indignation,” and implied that other board members may have also acted unethically in the past.
“People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” Wilson told The Texas Monitor.
Oliver has not resigned from the board. He has not responded to several calls left for him by The Texas Monitor.
Wilson, though, on Friday sent an open letter to Oliver and fellow board members asking for Oliver’s resignation.
“As an imperfect Christian I have asked God many times to forgive me for the sins I have committed,” Wilson’s letter reads in part. “‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8,9.’ I know you will do the right thing.”
Federal prosecutors allege Oliver got tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payments from Houston Public Works director Karun Sreerama.
Sreerama was listed as a victim in the court documents and Chip Lewis, Sreerama’s attorney, said Oliver preyed on Sreerama’s good will to shake him down for tens of thousands of dollars.
Sreerama was an HCC contractor at the time he gave money to Oliver. He is now the head of Houston Public Works, the city’s largest department with a $2.1 billion budget.
Oliver accepted $77,143 in unlawful payments from Sreerema, according to court records.
Sreerema has not been charged with a crime but was placed on paid leave Wednesday by Mayor Sylvester Turner.
In all, Oliver is accused of taking nearly $90,000 in bribes, some of which came in the form of Visa gift cards, according to court records.
Oliver pleaded guilty to only one of two counts on which he was indicted. In the other count, federal prosecutors allege he accepted $12,000 in bribes.
Oliver was first elected to the HCC board in 1995 and is the longest serving trustee on the board. His seat is up for election this year.
He is due to be sentenced on August 28.
See other reports on the HCC Trustee’s vote here:
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.