Weatherford Democrat

March 17, 2013

Culprit in racial slur painted on ESD walls remains a mystery

Former contractor says he was targeted, while ESD officials have their doubts


Weatherford Democrat

— By CHRISTIN COYNE

Six months later, who painted a racial slur and obscene language inside the ESD No. 1 administrative building last year in an area serviced by an African American contractor is a question that remains unanswered.

Xavier Lamar Mottley, the district’s IT contractor at the time, recently spoke with the Democrat about the incident, saying he believes he was targeted because some firefighters didn’t want him working for the ESD.

He also claimed he and another IT company officer with C3 Computer Corporation repeatedly raised the issue of security in the office prior to the incident but were ignored, and that the ESD’s contract with his company was terminated following the vandalism.

However, district officials denied Mottley’s claims about security issues, raised the issue of Mottley’s criminal background and called into question his activities at the district building when the vandalism and theft were discovered.

Vandalism

When ESD board president Rena Peden made a trip out of town in August, “all hell broke loose,” Mottley said.

The Sunday evening of Aug. 19, Mottley said he received a notification through the Network Operations Center in New Jersey that a primary server was down.

Because the issue had to be physically dealt with and would prevent users from logging in the next morning when reporting for work at the ESD, he said he called company Chief Operating Officer Phyllis Johnson about the issue and was told to respond.

According to Mottley, he arrived around 9:30 p.m. and used his access number to enter the building.

Upstairs, inside the IT room, he said he found a racial slur, as well as a vulgarity followed by the name of his company painted across the walls and door.

“It definitely made me feel like an animal,” Mottley said, adding that he wondered if he was in danger.

Mottley said he immediately notified Johnson, who told him to document the incident and finish the job.

Mottley said he did so, rebooting the server, and left.

Johnson notified Peden the next morning, who notified ESD operations chief Eric Vinson.

Past issues

Mottley said he had worked with the district for about four years, and the vandalism wasn’t the first time Mottley said he was addressed in racist terms while working for the district.

Several years ago, Mottley made a complaint to then-district administrator Debbie McLemore regarding a volunteer firefighter with the Springtown fire department who, Mottley said, repeatedly called him “boy.”

Though the firefighter indicated it was a joke, Mottley said he found it disrespectful.

After he reported the conduct to McLemore, who said she informed the volunteer’s chief, it didn’t happen again, according to Mottley. However, his relationship with some of the district’s firefighters afterward was not the same, he said.

After he went to prison while working for the district, Mottley’s criminal background became an issue for some, as well.

In 2002, Mottley signed a statement in federal court agreeing that he used his position with a bank in early 2001 to deposit checks from 10 bank accounts into his own, intending to defraud the owners. He was sentenced to five years probation.

Several times the court found he violated the conditions of his probation and, in 2007, sentenced him to a year in prison, court records show.

In 2009, the federal court found he violated his supervised release by operating C3 Computer Corporation without prior approval of his probation officer, submitting incomplete and false monthly reports regarding the business and income, and buying a car without prior approval. The judge sentenced him to seven months in prison.

The ESD board at the time had the issue brought to their attention and chose to continue working with Mottley.

Mottley had been a significant help to the district in the past, from helping the district out of a difficult situation created by a former IT company, to providing some services without charge, to instituting a 24-hour help line, according to former district officials.

However, there remained some dissent among some on the operations side of the district that Mottley should not have returned to work for the district.

Mottley said his background and home address were researched by some volunteers with the ESD, something he found intimidating.

He didn’t report the issue to superiors, but it was well-known within the district at the time that some firefighters had issues with Mottley’s background, former employees and district officials who spoke with the Democrat, said.

One firefighter, who asked not to be named, confirmed that Mottley’s background was an issue for some firefighters, and he believed some were attempting to discredit Mottley based on things the firefighter witnessed, such as calls reporting down Internet connection when he was able to access it.

Former ESD Board President Greg Martin said no issues regarding Mottley’s services to the district were brought to his attention.

Martin resigned and was replaced in early July by Peden, who was appointed by county commissioners to the board in February 2012.

Security

Mottley and Johnson told the Democrat that they raised the issue of securing the IT room with Peden prior to the Aug. 19 vandalism incident. However, current district officials dispute that account.

Assistant Chief Mike Plumlee, who took on IT responsibilities with the district after the ESD management change that summer, said the room was locked with a key at the time and, following the departure of the district administrator in June, the room was re-keyed.

Peden said she does not remember Mottley raising the issue of security for the room housing the district’s servers.

However, three previous district officials who worked in the building said the door to the IT room was not locked prior to the incident.

Former district administrator McLemore, who quit in June, said she does not remember the door to the IT room being locked, and that access to the building was restricted to commissioners, administrative staff and Chief Vinson.

Former board member Buddy Martin, who resigned in July during the upheaval in the district, said he was often at the ESD office and regularly involved in the daily administrative affairs.

Other offices in the building had individual locks that were secured during evenings and weekends, but the server room did not, he said.

When they designed the building, they discussed the issue but opted not to put a lock on the room, believing that the limited access to the building would safeguard the IT system, according to Martin.

Mottley said that access to the building was broadened after the exodus of two commissioners and the administrative staff, something current district officials deny.

Martin said he personally saw two firefighters, men who should not have had access to the building under the previous administration, enter through a secure door as he was giving a tour in early July to two board members replacing him and his son, Greg Martin.

Danielle Douglas began working full-time with the district in July after the ESD’s three administrative employees quit and was terminated by the district earlier this year. Douglas said the IT room was never locked and that many firefighters, and others with the district who did not have offices in the building had access codes to the building during that time.

“I do remember Mr. Mottley expressing concerns about the security of the server room,” Douglas said. “He expressed them quite frequently.”

By all accounts, tensions between Mottley and some others at the district grew following the June resignation.

Mottley also claims board member Robert Wershay used obscene language and threatened his position with the district when he refused to provide the new board treasurer with access to information that had been restricted under prior district policy, something he said he brought to Peden’s attention.

Peden and Wershay did not respond to emailed questions about the incident by deadline.

“The relationship between Mr. Mottley and the firefighters was stressful,” Douglas said. “There was constant irritation between them. So much so that all communication between them came to a halt. All IT issues had to be sent to me, and I would have to contact Mr. Mottley.”

Mottley said he began discovering what he believed to be intentional tampering with the system he was responsible for and was concerned that some were attempting to discredit him.

One of the most concerning incidents occurred in early July, according to Mottley, who said he was called to the district for a problem and found that a cable to the security surveillance equipment had been physically unplugged.

Mottley claims he brought the incident to Peden’s attention and requested in writing that the door to the server room be locked, something Peden said she does not remember.

In emails provided by Mottley that appear to have been sent by Peden to board members, ESD staff and C3, Peden addresses the security issue hours after the vandalism was reported to her.

“Please clean this up and lock this area so no one with out a ‘need to know’ gains access and that should be with a board member present,” Peden reportedly instructs Vinson. “It appears as our attempts to be open and treat all with respect is not working.”

In a subsequent email Aug. 20, Peden states: “I have talked to Lamar and explained to him that we have decided that only select people will be allowed to access the ESD bldg. in the future.”

Peden did not respond when asked to explain the statements. 

Response

The incident was reported as a “possible burglary” by Vinson shortly after noon Aug. 20, according to an offense report released by the Parker County Sheriff’s Office. The only item noted missing from the room was a DVR device, the only way surveillance footage could be accessed.

The case was classified as inactive in November.

Mottley said the investigator told him when he was contacted weeks later that the district had filed a complaint against him and accused him of sabotaging their property.

He said he gave his side of the story, returned all calls and fully cooperated.

“There could have been several people who did it,” Mottley said. “Nobody wants to deal with it.”

However, the district says they were told Mottley could not be located and he declined to take a polygraph.

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Danie Huffman said the investigator spoke with the suspect in the case but declined to say whether everyone interviewed during the investigation fully cooperated with the investigator.

Mottley said he believes district officials put no real effort into finding out what happened.

Douglas said she believes the district handled the incident as well as it could have at the time, following the media storm after the earlier resignations. However, she said she believes the “graffiti was a way for the district to get out of their contract with C3.”

“It was well known after the departure of employees and commissioners last year that those within ESD No. 1 had questions about Xavier’s criminal past and wanted out of the contract with Xavier,” Douglas said.

Asked about the incident, current district officials questioned Mottley’s presence at the district building that night, stating district policy had been for Mottley to notify Vinson and board members when there was an issue.

However, McLemore and Buddy Martin, who had overseen day-to-day issues with the district until several weeks prior, disputed that claim. Mottley was given his own keycode for just such situations, the two said, and it was not unusual for him to fix an IT issue during evenings or weekends and later inform one of them.

When questioned by Peden on what the policy was, Johnson also told Peden that, according to emails provided by Mottley.

Because of Mottley’s criminal history, district officials also said they were not happy with the previous board that secured Mottley’s services.

He did not notify anyone that night and showed up again the next morning around 8 a.m., leaving without speaking to anyone, according to district officials.

While discussing allegations that Peden was notified of security issues prior to the incident and after being shown an email Mottley claims was sent to Peden in July, Peden said she believed the email may have been fabricated and terminated an interview between the Democrat and district officials.

“Re your request for a follow-up conversation, neither the District nor I have any comment on the fact that we were victims of a burglary at the district’s headquarters last August,” Peden later wrote in an email to the Democrat. “This matter was turned over to the Parker County Sheriff’s office at the time of the incident for further handling. I suspect his office is in a much better position to provide you with information.”

Mottley and Johnson also claim the ESD did not fully pay invoices and did not return company equipment.

Attorneys from both sides were involved before the issue was dropped by the company, according to Johnson.

Peden, Wershay and Vinson did not return phone calls or respond to additional questions by deadline, including ones about issues surrounding the termination of the contract with C3 during the following weeks were not answered.