APS Board Member Mr. English Apparently Lied over Credit Card Use

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(APN) ATLANTA — Courtney English, an Atlanta Public School Board Member, appears to have lied to the public and the media regarding his use of an APS credit card for personal expenses, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

Further, the APS ethics office failed to disclose the full extent of the violation by English, and did not recommend the sanction which may have been required by the  charter as it relates to Mr. English, that is, dismissal from the Board.

On July 30, 2010, English distributed a press release–which was forwarded by the Alisias PR firm and others–entitled, “I’ve made a mistake,” in which he admitted to the misuse of an APS credit card for personal expenses, but he insisted it was his first time and he did not know better.

However, the report issued on Tuesday, January 18, 2011, by AdvancED/SACS CASI, regarding the APS Board, noted that this was actually his second time inappropriately using an APS credit card, thus calling into question English’s honesty as well as APS’s own representations regarding the matter.

“Dear Atlanta Community Member, As an elected member of the Atlanta Board of Education, I’ve made a mistake and I hope you will accept my apology,” English wrote in the July press release.

“I did not fully understand the terms of use of a credit card issued to me by the Atlanta Public Schools.  I misinterpreted a document that accompanied the credit card when it was issued to me.  I mistakenly thought I could use the credit card for personal use as long as I immediately reimbursed the district for any charges incurred,” English wrote.

“This is not the policy.  I never should have made any personal purchases, period,” he wrote.

“I am responsible for $855.83 of disallowed charges made to the credit card between May 29 and June 30, 2010.  These charges included an airline ticket, food, gratuities, hotel charges, and other sundries. On July 14, 2010, I reimbursed the district in full for all disallowed charges.  I apologize for this mistake.  I take seriously my responsibilities as an elected school board member.  I will never make this mistake again.  Sincerely, Courtney English,” he wrote.

However, the AdvancED report states that this was in fact his second time misusing the credit card and that he clearly knew better.

“An additional public trust issue came to light when a board member used his school district-issued charge card to make personal purchases,” AdvancED wrote.

“The board member has demonstrated a complete disregard for following clear system rules and regulations concerning use of his charge card.  Not once, but rather twice, his improper use of the charge card came to light,” AdvancED wrote.

“In the first instance, he charged approximately $65 of personal charges on his school district-issued charge card.  He was counseled by the administration, repaid the amount and warned not to do so again,” AdvancED wrote.

“Failing to heed such counseling, the same board member proceeded to log $855.83 in personal charges on his school district-issued charge card.  This time the event became the subject of an ethics complaint, subjecting the board member to an ethics complaint protocol,” AdvancED wrote.

In a follow-up interview today, English told APN, “I don’t have any comment on that… I will rely on the statement I sent out earlier [the July press release].  That statement is 100 percent accurate.”

According to a copy of the APS Charter obtained by APN, the charter lists seven offenses which must result in dismissal from APS, which, per ARTICLE III, ETHICS AND PROHIBITED PRACTICES, SECTION 3-106, include engaging in fraud, as well as engaging in conflict of interest.

If any of these seven ethical violations are commited, the Charter states that “the Ethics Commission must find that the Board member should be removed from office.”

The Charter further defines conflict of interest, by stating, “Except as otherwise provided by general law, no elected official, appointed officer, or employee of the Atlanta school system or of any office, department, or agency thereof shall knowingly: … Use district resources for personal or commercial enterprise.”

The APS Ethics Commission received a complaint filed on July 21, 2010, by Ms. Veleter M.B. Mazyck, regarding Mr. English.

On August 19, 2010, all five Commission members present voted to initiate an investigation into the allegations.

The Commission found that English violated section 3-103 of the charter, Use of Public Property.

An October 18, 2010, resolution, considered adopting the Commission’s recommendations, including issuing a public reprimand to English; levying a 2,500 dollar fine; and revoking English’s APS-issued travel card privilege.

The resolution did not note that this was English’s second time commiting such a violation, nor did it find English guilty of a conflict of interest, which would have resulted in dismissal under 3-106, but with misuse of public property under 3-103.

Now that it has been revealed by AdvancED that it was his second violation–and herein by Atlanta Progressive News that English apparently lied to the public and the media about it–it is possible English could face a separate ethics investigation for defrauding the public, another one of the seven sins which would have to result in dismissal from the Board.

As previously reported by APN, Mr. English accepted the pro bono services of Glenn Delk, a pro-privatization Buckhead attorney, regarding his ethics complaint.

Late last year, APN spoke with English about his apparent use of PR services by the Alisias PR firm, which is also a pro-privatization think tank.  At that time, he sought to minimize the role of Alisias in sending out the press release.  He had said that Alisias was one of several entities that forwarded the press release on his behalf.

Therefore, it will be difficult for him now to allege that Alisias crafted or distributed the press release without his knowledge; or further, for him to deflect responsibility for the statements made in the press release which now appear to be deceptive and fraudulent.

AdvancED noted in its report that the APS Board even failed to read the reprimand against English into the record, suggesting that the Board majority was attempting to provide cover on English’s behalf.

“Unfortunately, the APS Board, on a 4 – 4 vote, failed to read into the record the reprimand.  This was recorded in the Board Meeting Minutes of October 18, 2010, Agenda Item 7.01,” AdvancED wrote.

“While some members on the Board explained that they knew the official sanction of the board member would take place within 30-days as a matter of law in the absence of an affirmative vote, others on the Board were not knowledgeable of their own ethics procedures.  According to in-house counsel, the board member’s reprimand became official after the Board failed to take an affirmative vote, but the Board must, according to policy, read into the Minutes the official reprimand, and this issue is expected to be placed on the Board’s next agenda,” AdvancED wrote.

“However, failure from the beginning to take action against a board member who has not complied with the Board’s own ethics policy is evidence of poor governance and self-management on the part of the Board,” AdvancED wrote.

(END / 2011)

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