APS Ethics Commission Investigating English, Johnson, Meister over Alisias

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(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.

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.
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. 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).
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 Board
of Education members seeking a ruling regarding the propriety of the removal and replacement
of officers of the Board.
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 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 at
least October 15 until early November or December. The Alisias Group provided services to Ms.
Meister during that time period.
Mr. White stated with regard to “Individual Elected Officials – i. Our work was provided to
individual 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.” 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.
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 Whole
meeting 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).
At no time did Ms. Meister indicate that she was doing business with or receiving free services
from The Alisias Group.
Said Board Member committed the following violations as per APS Board Policy BH – Board
Code of Ethics:
6. Avoid being placed in a position of conflict of interest and refrain from using his/her
position as a Board member for personal or partisan gain, including intervention in the
administration of the APS on behalf of any employee or entity doing business with the
APS.
As indicated above and in the attached documents, Ms. Nancy Meister received services
pro bono from the Alisias Group during the time that The Alisias Group was seeking a
contract with the Atlanta Board of Education. Ms. Meister received The Alisias Group’s
services from at least October 22, 2010 through November 19, 2010. The Alisias Group
bid on a Request for Proposal on October 15, 2010 and were proposed for a contract to
provide communication services to the Atlanta Board of Education on November 1, 2010.
At no time did Ms. Meister disclose her conflict, offer to recuse herself or move to reject
the contract.
12. Refrain from voting on or influencing in any way any decision or action by the Board
or any employee of the APS that directly affects him/her as an individual or any of his/
her immediate relatives, without public disclosure of the benefit to be derived from such
decision or action.
As indicated above and in the attached documents, Ms. Nancy Meister received services
pro bono from the Alisias Group during the time that The Alisias Group was seeking a
contract with the Atlanta Board of Education. Ms. Meister received The Alisias Group’s
services from at least October 22, 2010 through November 19, 2010. The Alisias Group
bid on a Request for Proposal on October 15, 2010 and were proposed for a contract to
provide communication services to the Atlanta Board of Education on November 1, 2010.
At no time did Ms. Meister disclose her conflict, offer to recuse herself or move to reject
the contract.
Said Board Member committed the following violations as per APS Board Policy BHA –
Conflict of Interest:
1) Any Board member who has a financial interest in any contract or matter pending before
the Board shall disclose such interest, in writing, and such disclosure shall be entered on the
records of the Board. The Board member also shall disqualify him/herself from participating
in any decision or vote relating thereto.
As indicated above and in the attached documents, Ms. Nancy Meister received services
pro bono from the Alisias Group during the time that The Alisias Group was seeking a
contract with the Atlanta Board of Education. Ms. Meister received The Alisias Group’s
services from at least October 22, 2010 through November 19, 2010. The Alisias Group
bid on a Request for Proposal on October 15, 2010 and were proposed for a contract
to provide communication services to the Atlanta Board of Education on November 1,
2010. At no time did Ms. Meister disclose her conflict, offer to recuse herself or move to
reject the contract.
6) Solicit, accept, or agree to accept gifts, loans, gratuities, discounts, payment, or services
from any employee, person, firm, or corporation that to his/her knowledge is interested
directly or indirectly in any manner whatsoever in business dealings with the APS or any
office, department, or agency thereof; provided, however, that an elected official who is a
candidate for public office may accept campaign contributions and services in connection
with any campaign.
As indicated above and in the attached documents, Ms. Nancy Meister received services
pro bono from the Alisias Group during the time that The Alisias Group was seeking a
contract with the Atlanta Board of Education. Ms. Meister received The Alisias Group’s
services from at least October 22, 2010 through November 19, 2010. The Alisias Group
bid on a Request for Proposal on October 15, 2010 and were proposed for a contract
to provide communication services to the Atlanta Board of Education on November 1,
2010. At no time did Ms. Meister disclose her conflict, offer to recuse herself or move to
reject the contract.

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)

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