Alisias PR Firm Aided Delk, Played Covert Role in APS Board Crisis
(APN) ATLANTA — An Atlanta PR firm and think tank which is a force for privatization in Atlanta, Alisias, has been engaged in a covert media and publicity campaign involving the Atlanta Public Schools.
Alisias’s clients appear to include Khaatim El, the new Board Chair; Courtney English and Nancy Meister, Board Members; and Glenn Delk, an activist and supporter of privatization of public schools, who–as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News–also legally represented both English and the new Board majority in two separate matters.
Atlanta Progressive News has uncovered quite a tangled web involving Alisias, Delk, and the new Board majority.
Apparently, Alisias is doing work for both Delk and the Five. Rick White, CEO of Alisias, told APN in a phone interview that work related to the court case was done through a contract with Delk; and that his work for the APS majority was done pro bono.
Alisias was recently considered by APS for a public relations contract with the School Board. However, El and English both tell APS that the contract was not approved due to the controversy and has been tabled indefinitely.
Still, that has not stopped Alisias from doing a covert PR campaign benefiting the new Board majority and Mr. Delk.
El would not tell APN whether Alisias was doing work for him, and would not answer any other questions, except via email.
English admitted Alisias forwarded an email on his behalf, but said he could not afford Alisias’s services.
English said he had no control over who forwarded his emails. He said he did not intend to support the Alisias contract with APS. He said there was no private contract between the Board majority and Alisias.
“No such contract existed,” English said.
“Alisias was brought on by Delk,” English said.
“Alisias was hired by Glenn Delk to assist in any direction he thought it should go,” English said, adding that he does not know the specific details of the contract between Alisias and Delk.
“Absolutely no School Board dollars have been spent. Alisias was brought on by Delk,” English said.
Board Member Nancy Meister said she was caught off guard when advised by APN that Alisias had sent out numerous emails for the Board majority, including one for her.
She said she was not even aware that Alisias had forwarded a statement she had written on her behalf, and asked APN to email her a copy of it.
White emphasized that English and Meister must have been confused.
“They were fully aware of what I was doing. I wasn’t trying to hide anything. This was done in collaboration with the individual Board Members, their names were on it,” White said.
“I was sending it on their behalf and on their direction,” White said.
“Anything I sent out was with the full knowledge of people I was working with. I wasn’t doing this on my own. I was doing this in consultation with the Board. I wasn’t just out there freelancing,” White said.
“She’s [Meister] probably misunderstanding what you’re asking her. She’s fully aware of everything that I’ve done,” White said.
White offered to get Meister on a three-way call to clarify later in the interview, but abruptly ended the interview after saying he had run out of time.
More on Alisias and their interests in privatization follows below.
Alisias has produced numerous emails for El; at least one coming from El and former Co-Chair Yolanda Johnson; at least one email for English; at least one for Buckhead-area Board Member Nancy Meister; and several emails from an unnamed Gmail account called educationmattersinatlanta.
The press releases or, in some cases, press releases disguised as personal emails, had no contact information or identification of a publicist.
However, they contained at the bottom an unsubscribe button, linked to a webpage on teamforte.info. Teamforte.info’s homepage is a blank webpage, but APN searched the WHOIS database to find that Team Forte is an Atlanta-based marketing company.
Alexander Smythe, CEO of Team Forte, said Team Forte was not the one creating nor sending out the press releases.
“My interest with Atlanta Public Schools is through the Rotary Club and through charter schools,” Smythe told APN.
“We share a server with another group that uses an email management. They do work for the Housing Authority. I’m not aware of what they’re doing for the School Board but they could be,” Smythe said.
When asked if Alisias was the one sharing the server with Team Forte, Smythe said yes, adding that he had not paid much attention to it. He said he probably should look into a way for the emails to say Alisias and not Team Forte in the unsubscribe links. He also asked APN to forward him copies of the emails.
A review of recent emails from Rick White of Alisias, or various representations of the Atlanta Housing Authority, shows they are in the same format of the APS emails; also come without contact information; and also are routed through the Team Forte server.
Press releases from El, with no contact information or identification of a publicist, included “Enough with Distractions” on October 27, 2010; “Court: Board of Education Complied with The Law” on October 29; “The Current Circumstances” on November 08; and “APS Board agrees to move forward without delay or division.”
A press release from El and Johnson, “Statement from APS Board of Education Chair and Vice-Chair,” came on November 20.
Alisias also appears to have emailed out the statement from English, where he apologized for using an Atlanta Public Schools debit card for personal expenses, “I’ve made a mistake,” on July 30, 2010.
A press release from Meister, “The current dispute regarding board leadership,” came on November 09.
Several press releases are disguised as personal emails from firstname.lastname@example.org, often linking to articles on APS and the CRCT investigation.
“What a mess. This is deeper than they are letting on. This is from this morning’s Fulton County Daily Report,” one Alisias email began.
Alisias did all this work pro bono for the Board Majority, and for Delk, while pursuing the contract with APS.
Why would Alisias do all this work for APS pro bono?
“I firmly believe that the majority rules, and whenever you get to a place where a Board of Education cannot function because there’s distractions and other things, if the majority decides to replace the leadership, they should have that option available to them,” he said. In other words, out of altruistic concern and the kindness of his heart.
According to open records reviewed by the AJC, El had selected Alisias’s bid out of several public relations bids for APS, even though it was not the lowest bid. Alisias had made a bid for 23,000 dollars to provide three months of crisis communications counseling. El announced his selection of Alisias in a November 01 resolution.
According to the AJC, White appeared at a hearing involving the dispute between the new Board majority and the Board minority; he told the newspaper he was there at the behest of Delk.
The AJC also reported that although Alisias “employs former Atlanta school board member Norman Johnson, who was forced to resign as board president in 1998…White said Johnson does policy work for Alisias and would not be involved in its work with the board.”
Alisias originally had a plan to have a public relations firm, a think tank, and a news service which was called Georgia Online News Service (GONSO).
APN was the only media outlet who dared question the conflict of interest between Alisias and GONSO, which later folded in the following months.
Prior to his departure from Creative Loafing magazine, former senior editor John Sugg told APN that he was working with Rick White, and that he and White would be working on a think tank whose premise was to bring new solutions to Georgia’s problems involving the public sector and the private sector working together.
Sugg at that time told APN that he believed privatization was the best thing that could be done for Grady Hospital as well as for Atlanta public housing.
Alisias’s more controversial work has involved putting a happy face on the mass demolitions of Atlanta public housing, in a formal contract with Atlanta Housing Authority.
White explained Alisias’s policy philosophy to APN: “Are we a right-wing think tank, the answer is no. Are we libertarian, the answer is no. All of us are liberals, we happen to believe that you can use the capitalist system to advance liberal ideas, and that’s what we try to do. And we firmly believe that if you find effective public-private partnerships that deliver better services for less money, that that’s a valuable outcome,” White said.
White also said he was a supporter of charter schools in some cases.
Alisias does not reveal its client list and generally tries to operate in secret. Known clients include AHA, [at one time] Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large), the new APS Board Majority, and Delk.
Delk has still not responded to APN’s previous request for comment.
(END / 2010)