Houston Public School Employee Needs Time Out After Prank on Co-Worker

Prank on Co-Worker A procurement manager in the Houston public school system is under fire after two internal investigations showed that he solicited a mail-order bride for a co-worker and performed another office prank while hundreds of thousands of dollars of supplies sat idle in warehouses.

The Houston Chronicle reports that twin investigations by the Houston Independent School District concluded that Stephen Pottinger harassed two of his employees and that the district had $800,000 worth of unused hand sanitizer, bought at the outset of the swine flu scare in 2009, that was about to expire, as well as vehicle parts worth more than $113,000 that hadn't been used since 2008.

The newspaper received the investigative reports this week in response to public-information request, it said.

Pottinger apologized for the pranks, but this week denied that he had harassed staff and said he tried to sell the old vehicle parts back to suppliers.

"One of my objectives was to turn inventories consistently," Pottinger told the Chronicle on Thursday. "One of the suggestions [from a colleague] was, 'Let's just throw them away,' " but, Pottinger said, he didn't believe that was a good use of taxpayer money.

Pottinger confirmed to the newspaper that he signed up an employee on an Internet dating site for Russian women without the employee's consent. While records show that Pottinger used a personal email account, he forwarded responses from interested women during business hours.

"He had mentioned that he wanted to get back into dating," Pottinger said of the employee. "We have a long-standing joke that when he starts talking, a lot of people start falling asleep. So I said, 'Maybe you should start dating someone who doesn't speak any English. They can just nod and smile.'

"It was a joke that kind of went too far," Pottinger said, "and I deeply and sincerely regret it."

Pottinger was hired by the district in 2000 and quit in 2007, but returned after a few months. According to the documents obtained by the Chronicle, he is one of the district's highest paid employees, with a base salary of $155,358.

Pottinger no longer serves as the district's warehouse manager, but still oversees 36 employees in procurement. That's likely to leave many Houston-area residents to wonder if his stellar pay is itself a good use of their tax dollars.

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