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Houston Community College Trustee’s Ethics Reform Quest Bears Fruit

Mary Ann Perez has made an undeniable impact as a member of Houston Community College’s Board of Trustees.

In the less than two years since she was first elected, Perez helped institute a set amount on how much board members can spend on meals. She pushed for vendors to not speak with trustees while bids were under review by the administration and a recommendation was given to the board. The board implemented a formal policy last year.

She also was appointed to a subcommittee in charge of addressing some of the financial challenges at the school.

Perez was unanimously chosen by her colleagues as vice chairwoman in just her second year on the all-volunteer board, which is a rare occurrence for a new trustee.

“She was able to do a lot of work in just one year. Not many people can do that, but she sure did,” says Dr. Renaldo Garay, director of student services at HCC, who served as a guidance counselor while Perez was enrolled at the college before she graduated nearly 13 years ago. “That just shows the dedication and work she puts into the position.”

One of the biggest praises Perez receives is for her work on board policy.

Prior to Perez joining the board, it went through some turmoil when four current and former board members were accused of using their influence to help family and friends obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in contract work at HCC.

According to a Houston Chronicle article, HCC commissioned a report that detailed how trustee Yolanda Navarro Flores’ son, Larry Flores, was paid nearly $165,000 between December 2008 and October 2009 as a subcontractor to the school. Also, former board member Abel Dávila is accused of helping a family friend receive a $1.5 million HCC painting contract, according to the Chronicle. Perez acknowledged that it was a rough time for the 75,000-student school, one of the largest community colleges in the nation.

Perez’s District III houses the college’s southeast campus, which has shown the highest student population increase over the past three years.

“I don’t think [the current and former trustees] were ruining the school financially, but they were in a position to help themselves,” says Perez, the only trustee who is an alum. “That put a bad reputation on the college. HCC is a very good school, and it was disappointing to see what was going on.”

During her first year as a trustee, Perez was responsible for overseeing the governance committee, which offered recommendations on how to change and incorporate new rules and regulations into board of trustees bylaws. For example, trustees could spend any amount of money on meals when traveling because a set amount was never in writing. Today, trustees are allotted $85 per day to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Perez also extended a “black out” period between vendors and the trustees. The old rules allowed merchants to submit proposals on certain projects and still be able to communicate with trustees while documents were under review.

A portion of the bylaws now state that an invitation for bids, requests for proposal and requests for qualifications “between a potential vendor, service provider, bidder, broker, offerer, lobbyist or consultant and any Trustee, Senior Staff, or any member of a selection or evaluation committee” is prohibited.

“I was like, ‘Wow. There are no rules. We need to fix this up immediately,’” Perez says. “It is better to have everything in writing, in my opinion. Just to make sure everything is done right.”

Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Schechter praised Perez for speaking out on critical topics when necessary.

“She does not speak all the time. … She doesn’t play games. She saves herself for the important issues. She has a knack for spotting critical issues and going to the heart of the matter,” Schechter said. “She worked very hard on ethics reform. She will stand by those reforms even when it is uncomfortable. I can’t help but appreciate that.” So does HCC Chancellor Dr. Mary Spangler.

“It used to be a five-four board. It is not a split board anymore,” she says. “Her presence on the board has helped to ask the questions to challenge some of her colleagues to think about their positions.”

Perez was born in Los Angeles and moved to Houston when she was 2. Amid personal strife and the challenges of raising two children, it took eight years to receive her associate’s degree in arts in December 1998. Exactly five years later in December 2003, she graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Houston.

Two months later in February 2004, she established Perez Insurance Agency in Houston.

Amid the challenges of running her own business and serving as a HCC trustee, the Mexican-American entrepreneur also is a member of several organizations including the National Hispanic Professional Organization, the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and one she co-founded this year with fellow HCC trustee Eva Loredo called the Hispanic Scholarship Council.

“Even then [as a student], she was a fireball like she is now,” Garay said. “She had family obligations when she was a student, but she stayed focused and achieved a high grade point average [3.87]. She was and is still determined to make sure all students are benefited here at HCC.”

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