Courtney English Faces New APS Ethics Complaint

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(APN) ATLANTA — An Atlanta parent, Kim Kahwach, has filed what is now the second ethics complaint against Atlanta Board of Education Member Courtney English, this time for defrauding the public regarding his misuse of an APS credit card, according to a copy obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

As previously reported by APN, the report by AdvancED/SACS CASI revealed that this was English’s second time misusing an APS credit card, not the first.  APN reported that English had misled and deceived the public with a July 2010 press release which asserted there was only one incident and that he did not know better.

Kahwach argues that, even though the APS Ethics Commission had already recommended sanctions against English for the misuse of the credit card in one instance, the Commission should separately review the issue of deceiving the public, which has only now come to light.

Kahwach believes the Commission should recommend dismissal of English from the Board, which was what the law requires for fraud.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper reported in September 2010 that English also misled APS when first questioned about the credit card use; his story clearly changed.

“The system’s top financial officer flagged the purchases on July 1. According to affidavits obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Georgia Open Records Act, CFO Chuck Burbridge said English initially told him his mother accidentally used the card to help him buy return airfare when he was in Boston.  Burbridge also said English indicated he wanted to contest most of the charges,” the AJC reported.

“English, however, said in his affidavit that a 16-year-old cousin actually helped him with the airfare, and then later used the card without permission to spend $73.60 on food and a haircut.  English indicated in that affidavit that the other charges were his,” the AJC reported.

Several parents have complained about the Ethics Commission altogether.

Particularly they question the Commission’s failure to recommend a harsher penalty for English regarding the second credit card misuse [though the public was not advised it was the second].

Previously the Ethics Commission had recommended a penalty for the single misuse of the credit card under a separate section dealing with misuse of public property, which carried a lesser penalty than conflict of interest.

English had his credit card revoked, paid a fine, and was issued a reprimand.  However, according to AdvancED, the Board did not follow its own procedures and failed to read the reprimand into the record.

Neither the reprimand nor the resolution accompanying it state that this was English’s second violation, suggesting that either the Ethics Commission or the current Board leadership also misled the public regarding the extent of the violation.

The Ethics Commission also failed to look at the multiple fraud issues involving Mr. English, despite the fact that APS’s own documents show inconsistencies in Mr. English’s statements over time, and the fact that he misled the public in a press release.

Interestingly, Susan Pease Langford, who heads the Ethics Commission, was previously the head City Attorney for the City of Atlanta, where she also was involved in a potential misuse of a credit card.

According to a 2002 report in Creative Loafing Atlanta magazine, she billed the City of Atlanta for trips to New Orleans where she served on a Board there that was considering selecting a private firm to run the City’s water system at the time.

In other words, she was investigating English for misusing a credit card, despite the fact that she may have violated credit card rules in her last public position.

State Board of Education Member James Bostic criticized Board Members in August 2010 for what he described as conspiring to protect English, according to the AJC’s Get Schooled blog.

Indeed, English has benefited greatly from aligning himself with the Gang of Five, in terms of his ethics complaint.  Pro-privatization attorney Glenn Delk, who also aided the Five in their lawsuit, represented English in his ethics complaint.  And pro-privatization PR firm, Alisias, aided English in his PR, including forwarding the deceptive July 2010 press release widely in his behalf.

Bostic also criticized Langford and the Ethics Commission.  “Langford gained notoriety for responding ‘I don’t recall’  more than 50 times under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sally Yates during the Campbell corruption trial… ‘She needs to get the hell off that board.  Let someone else go and run that commission,'” Bostic said.

The full text of Kahwach’s complaint follows:

“As a resident of the Atlanta Independent School System (“APS”) District, I respectfully submit on behalf of all APS district stakeholders this formal filing of ethics violations against the APS Board Member Courtney English as related to the lack of adherence to the APS Board’s Charter, its Policies and its Protocols commencing on July 30, 2010,” the complaint stated.

“Said Board Member committed the following violations as per Section 3-106 g. 1 – 7 of the APS Charter:
(1) Violated local, state, and federal laws, policies, rules, and regulations regarding fraud and fraudulent activities,” Kawach wrote.

“(3) Engaged in conflicts of interest as set forth in Section 3-101 Conflict of Interest of APS Charter (8) Use district resources for personal or commercial enterprise,” Kawach wrote.

“On July 30, 2010 Courtney English released a statement to the APS district stakeholders via email in response to an ethics complaint filed against him for misuse of a district-issued credit for personal use.  In that statement Mr. English stated that ‘… 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,'” Kahwach wrote.

“However, with the January 18, 2011 release of the AdvancED Report of the Special Review Team for Atlanta Public Schools, it has come to light that Mr. English did in fact knowingly misuse his credit card at that time because he had previously misused the same district-issued credit card.  The report stated ‘… board member [Mr. English] has demonstrated a complete disregard for following clear system rules and regulations concerning use of his charge cared. Not once, but rather twice, his improper use of the charge card came to light. 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. Failing to heed such counseling, the same board member proceeded to log $855.83 in personal charges on his school district-issued card,'” Kahwach wrote.

“As evidenced below, Mr. English violated local, state, and federal laws, policies, rules, and regulations regarding fraud and fraudulent activities,” Kahwach wrote.

“1) Mr. English falsely stated to APS district stakeholders in his July 30, 2010 press release the material fact that he ‘… 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,'” Kahwach wrote.

“2) Mr. English had knowledge at the time of release that his statement to APS district stakeholders was untrue as he was fully aware that he had been previously cited and reprimanded for misuse of credit card issued to him by the Atlanta Public Schools for an incident totaling $65,” Kahwach wrote.

“3) Mr. English’s intent in releasing his statement was to deceive APS district stakeholders by omitting reference to his previous offense and mislead them to believe that he ‘… 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,'” Kahwach wrote.

“4) APS district stakeholders justifiably relied on the truthfulness of the Mr. English’s statement as they were not aware of the previous offense and had no other reason to question the truthfulness of Mr. English’s statement,” Kahwach wrote.

“5) APS district stakeholders suffered injury as a result of Mr. English’s deception which has resulted in the accreditation of the district being place on probation by AdvancED and the very possible loss of accreditation,” Kahwach wrote.

“As evidenced above, Mr. English engaged in conflicts of interest as set forth in Section 3-101 Conflict of Interest of APS Charter (8) Use district resources for personal or commercial enterprise,” Kahwach wrote.

“The countless APS district stakeholders that support this action demand that the Ethics Commission response be swift and decisive. And, furthermore that this Board Member be punished to the maximum limits. As set forth in Section 3-106 g. 1 – 7 of the APS Charter, “if the Ethics Commission finds the Board member has … [committed any of the items outlined Section 3-106 g. 1 – 7 of the APS Charter ] then the Ethics Commission must find that the Board member should be removed from office.” This is an emergency and we expect the Commission to act accordingly. Thank you in advance for your response to this matter,” Kahwach wrote.

(END / 2011)

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