APS Ethics Commission Investigating English, Johnson, Meister over Alisias
(APN) ATLANTA — The Ethics Commission of the Atlanta Public Schools voted in a meeting today, Wednesday, March 16, 2011, to open three investigations into complaints against Board of Education Members Courtney English, Yolanda Johnson, and Nancy Meister.
The complaints were filed by Janet Kishbaugh, an Atlanta parent. While the details of each are slightly different, the general nature of the complaints are that these Board Members received pro bono PR services from the Alisias firm while the firm was also up for bid for a contract with APS.
Kishbaugh also previously filed a similar complaint against Board Chairman, Khaatim El, although the complaint against El also alleged that El selected the Alisas bid out of several bids and placed a resolution to approve the contract on the agenda.
While English, Johnson, and Meister did not play a direct role in selecting the bid, they did receive the pro bono services, creating a conflict of interest, as documented in an invoice for billable hours by Alisias submitted to APS. Alisias not only sent out press releases on behalf of these the four BOE Members, they provided hours of consultation by phone, text, and email.
The APS Charter forbids conflicts of interest. It also forbids private communication with a vendor outside the bidding process.
English also has a separate complaint against him for deceiving the public regarding his misuse of an APS credit card. As previously reported by APN, the Ethics Commission has investigated that matter and will be holding a hearing on March 30.
“In the first part of the meeting, regarding the 3 additional complaints, it was clear that Karen Woodward, Dwaine Price and Charmaine Ward had read every word of the complaint and every document,” Kishbaugh wrote in a summary of today’s meeting obtained by APN.
‘When no one would begin discussion, Julia Neighbors asked for someone’s summary as an impression, and Mr. Price said that he understood the situation to be that the 3 received services from the Alisias Group, whether free or paid, and that at the time the Alisias Group was working with the individual board members, the company was put up for a contract, and that no one disclosed their conflict,” Kishbaugh wrote.
“The three who read the complaint all were in accord on that, and Mr. Dorsey agreed. Hunter made statements similar to that, Susan Langford continued to resist and offer alternate explanations for why the facts may appear the way they did, but in the end they voted unanimously to go forward to investigation,” Kishbaugh wrote.
Meanwhile, the Commission also went into executive session for about two hours to discuss whether to hold a hearing regarding the complaints involving El and Alisias [El also filed a complaint against himself], according to Kishbaugh.
However, the Commission did not reach a decision today and decided to reconvene on Monday, March 21, to continue discussing whether to hold a hearing regarding El.
APN obtained copies of the three newest complaints.
“Said Board Member committed the following violations as per Section 3-106 g. 1 – 7 of the APS Charter:
(3) Engaged in conflicts of interest
(5) Voted on or influenced in any way a decision or action by the Board or a school system employee that directly affects the Board member or any of his or her relatives.
(6) Discussed or otherwise communicated with vendors, individuals, or groups who are soliciting business from the school system regarding the subject of the solicitation or any matter related to the solicitation once the solicitation is issued by the school system and until such time as the Board has rendered a decision of the solicitation,” the complaint states.
“As evidenced in the attached documents, Ms. Meister received the services of The Alisias Group pro bono before, during and after the time when The Alisias Group was actively bidding on, and being recommended for, a contract to provide communications services to the Atlanta Board of Education,” the complaint states.
“On October 12, 2010, Chairman Khaatim El and Dr. Grant finalized the RFP for the development of a Communications Strategy and Plan and received proposals. On October 15, 2010, Rick White on behalf of the Alisias Group, sent a proposal to Dr. Grant bidding on the communication services contract. (Attachment A),” the complaint states.
“Rick White, CEO of The Alisias Group, indicated in a statement dated January 31, 2011, that the Alisias Group was contracted by Lightmas & Delk, the legal representatives for four individual board members, including Ms. Meister, to provide communication services during the trial period which he lists as October 22 – November 19, 2010. (Attachment B). The lawsuit was actually filed on October 27 by four Atlanta Board of Education members against five other Atlanta Boardof Education members seeking a ruling regarding the propriety of the removal and replacementof officers of the Board,” the complaint states.
“In his statement, Mr. White indicated that ‘Compensation for services rendered falls into two
categories, The Lawsuit and Individual Elected Officials.’ With the regard to the lawsuit, the Alisias Group provided 116.04 hours of service and sent an invoice for their work to Lightmas & Delk, which subsequently billed APS for this work. APS disallowed reimbursement for these services. Thus, the Board members received this work for free,” the complaint states.
“The time sheets from The Alisias Group indicate no fewer than 27 texts, emails or phone conferences with Nancy Meister in addition to any of the group phone conferences in which she may have participated. The total time attributed to Alisias’ work with Ms. Meister individually is almost 5 hours. (Attachment C). The Alisias Group was actively seeking a contract with the Atlanta Board of Education from atleast October 15 until early November or December. The Alisias Group provided services to Ms. Meister during that time period,” the complaint states.
“Mr. White stated with regard to ‘Individual Elected Officials – i. Our work was provided toindividual elected officials and NEVER to the Board of Education. ii. ALISIAS never expected compensation for our services provided to the individual elected officials. iii. Each year ALISIAS engages in pro bono work for public causes, as do many other companies. We viewed this as a community service contribution.'” the complaint states.
“Thus, according to Rick White, CEO of The Alisias Group, the individual members of the Board of Education, including Ms. Meister, received free services at the time that The Alisias Group was seeking a contract with the Board of Education,” the complaint states.
“On November 1, 2010, the Agenda for the Committee of the Whole Meeting included
under number 7 Board Resolutions: Item 7.01 (REPORT NO. 10/11 – 0105) – TO APPROVE THE ALISIAS GROUP TO PROVIDE COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTATION FOR THE ATLANTA BOARD OF EDUCATION. The Minutes of the Committee of the Wholemeeting reflect that ‘It was motioned by Mr. Reuben McDaniel and properly seconded by Ms. Brenda Muhammad to table Report No. 10/11 – 0105 until more information is received. Motion Passed Unanimously.’ (Attachment D),” the complaint states.
Incidentally, Muhammad is the only member of the Gang of Five who did not appear to partake of Alisias services.
“At no time did Ms. Meister indicate that she was doing business with or receiving free services from The Alisias Group,” the complaint states.
Atlanta Progressive News was the first news agency to report extensively on the relationship between BOE Members and Alisias.
(END / 2011)