"Sources: Abbott Will Wait to Decide on Janek's Future" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Amid calls for Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek to resign over a contracting scandal, sources close to Gov.-elect Greg Abbott said Thursday Abbott won't make a decision about Janek's future until after the completion of state investigations.
Also on Thursday, Janek's chief of staff, Erica Stick, told Janek she would leave her job Feb. 6, citing in her resignation letter the ongoing reviews of the agency. Stick, whose husband, an agency executive, resigned in the wake of the scandal, had been placed on paid leave during the investigations.
Meanwhile, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Garnet Coleman, both Houston Democrats, called on Janek to resign immediately from the commission, which has been the subject of heavy criticism for awarding a $110 million contract outside the competitive bidding process.
"I believe it is abundantly clear that you have conflicted yourself out of being capable of running this crucially important state agency," Whitmire wrote in a letter to Janek, who once served in the Senate with him. "I ask you to do what is in the best interest of the state of Texas and resign immediately."
Added Coleman: "I have served with Kyle in government for the last 20 years and it is with a heavy heart that I join Sen. Whitmire in calling for his resignation."
Asked for comment on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission pointed to a December interview in which Janek was asked whether he would step down. He answered that he would rather stay to fix a problem, especially if the problem happened on his watch.
"His response would be the same today," commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said Thursday.
The sources close to Abbott did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
Abbott on Wednesday announced the creation of an independent "strike force" to review the commission, specifically how it awards contracts to private vendors. The state auditor is also reviewing the agency, as is the state public integrity unit. The Austin American-Statesman reported, citing anonymous sources and a state legislator, that the FBI is also investigating.
Last month, Whitmire called for a criminal investigation by the public integrity unit into how 21st Century Technologies, a relative newcomer to contracting in Texas, was selected for an untested Medicaid fraud software tool. That followed revelations that the commission's chief counsel, Jack Stick, had ties to the company's then-lobbyist. Stick has since resigned, and Gov. Rick Perry demanded the resignation of Stick's former supervisor, Doug Wilson, the commission's inspector general.
Along with Erica Stick, two other employees with close ties to the commission's executive staff were placed on paid leave during the investigations.
"The last several months have presented challenges for this agency and while I had hoped that a speedy resolution to the various reviews would soon allow me to return to the job that I love, it is increasingly clear that a resolution will not come any time soon," Erica Stick wrote in her resignation letter.
Erica Stick declined to comment further on Thursday. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Abbott returned a $10,000 campaign contribution from the CEO of 21st Century Technologies, a spokeswoman for the governor-elect said Wednesday.
Among other revelations was the fact that a member of the executive staff, Casey Haney, a former aide to both Janek and Jack Stick when the two were both in the Texas Legislature, was working on a $97,020 MBA at taxpayer expense. The arrangement, which violated commission policy, was approved by Erica Stick and was given final approval by Janek.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Whitmire said he doesn't buy Janek's recent statements that he was misled about the 21CT contract.
"I don't think Kyle has the credibility to have a fresh start there," Whitmire said. "I've been at this 42 years and seen a lot of scandals and conflicts, but this one has taken first prize."
Sen. Whitmire's Request for 21CT Probe
State Sen. John Whitmire's Letter Calling For HHSC Head Kyle Janek's Resignation
Erica Stick's Resignation Letter to HHSC Commissioner Kyle Janek