APS Receives Bill for Alisias PR Work for Board Majority
(APN) ATLANTA — Glenn Delk, a Buckhead attorney and pro-privatization advocate who some have described as an enemy of Atlanta Public Schools, billed APS for the cost of representing the new Board Majority in the recent lawsuit brought by the Board Minority challenging the Majority’s takeover.
Part of the bill included an attached invoice for Alisias PR work on behalf of Delk and four out of five Members of the Majority: Khaatim El, Courtney English, Yolanda Johnson, and Nancy Meister. For some reason, Brenda Muhammad, part of the majority, seems not to have partaken of Alisias’s services.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Alisias PR firm had covertly sent out numerous emails in recent months on behalf of El, English, Johnson, and Meister. While the emails did not say Alisias on them, APN was able to trace them back to Alisias, and Alisias CEO Rick White admitted to sending the emails in an interview.
White had told APN that he had performed pro bono services for the Board Majority, and that he had performed additional PR work for Delk, related to the lawsuit.
However, APN has learned that Delk attempted to bill APS for Alisias’s services.
According to a 21 page invoice, or “Activity Report” obtained by APN, Alisias billed his clients–listed as Defendants El, English, Johnson, and Meister–for over 116 hours of PR work.
According to the invoice, Rick White of Alisias had communications with all four Board Members as well as Delk, via email, phone, and text message, from October 22, to November 19, 2010.
Previously, English and Meister had tried to downplay their knowledge of Alisias’s work on their behalf, while White insisted that they had full knowledge of what he was doing.
In addition to allegedly doing pro bono work for the Board Majority, and in addition to doing work for Delk, Alisias was also seeking a formal PR contract with APS, which the Board tabled and did not approve.
As previously reported by APN, El had introduced a resolution to approve the Alisias contract even though it was not the lowest bid.
If indeed, Alisias was doing pro bono work for the Majority, there are some conflict of interest issues raised.
First, if El, or any other Members of the Board Majority, were considering approving an APS contract with Alisias, while benefiting from pro bono services from Alisias–essentially, an in-kind donation–that raises ethical questions.
Second, if the Board Majority was receiving an in-kind donation of pro bono PR services from Alisias, that raises the question of whether the donation should have been formally disclosed to, and approved by, the APS Board. The City of Atlanta, for example, must approve all donations to the City of Atlanta by a formal vote.
At the APS Board Meeting December 06, 2010, LaChandra Butler Burks, Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, and Emmett Johnson asked El about a bill or invoice they received from Alisias. El refused to answer.
“They went back and forth, Emmett Johnson asked if El was a dictator for refusing to recognize him. Brenda Muhammad came in with ‘y’all need to realize that we can lose our accreditation if y’all keep this up,'” one observer recalled.
The Board Majority seems to be using the threat of losing accreditation as a way to silence any questions or meaningful oversight from the Minority.
Harsch-Kinnane explained to APN how the invoice from Alisias came about.
“The action item [for the proposed Alisias contract] was brought. It was not brought again the next month. At the first December meeting… we posed the question, if it’s not an action, are we somehow covering this?” Harsch-Kinnane said.
“There was a bill submitted by Glenn Delk that was not very detailed. It had what looked like an Alisias bill attached to it,” she said.
“We questioned about needing more detail about the invoice. In that request to our legal counsel, we were provided a breakdown of any hours being billed by Alisias Group. It was an activity account. It didn’t have a monetary amount. It was 21 pages worth of hours,” she said.
“It’s quite interesting and alarming. She [Butler Burks] questioned work by Alisias attributed to all five Board Members, every text message, email and phone call,” Harsch-Kinane said. The fifth Board Member in the Majority, Brenda Muhammad, was not listed as a client, though.
“The follow-up was, Alisias was not going to get paid. Which begs the question, why was it included in the first place?” she said.
“He is now denying it, as are Board Members. You can deny it now, now that questions have been raised about the appropriateness of it. Clearly it was intended to be covered as part of a bill, or it wouldn’t be submitted,” she said.
“Now what they’re saying is the Alisias bill will not be covered, and Glenn Delk never intended for that to be paid. There’s work done Alisias feels was done on behalf of the five Board members he expects someone to pay for,” she said.
In any event, the whole thing raises numerous ethical issues, in addition to those raised above.
For example, some of the press releases went out, looking as if they were official press releases of the Board Chair, or in some cases, of the Chair and Vice Chair, using the title and bully pulpit of the Atlanta Public Schools. If they were not actually approved by the Board, then they may be misleading in that sense.
If they were private press releases, done for individual Members or their individual campaigns, then they should have clearly stated as such, and there should have been no effort to seek reimbursement from APS.
If, on the other hand, they were intended to be official press releases, then the rest of the Board should have at least been involved or made aware, even if the Minority was out-numbered.
Harsch-Kinnane believes at least one press release was also misleading in terms of factual assertions made in the release.
As previously reported by APN, the press releases went out without any contact information or identification of a publicist.
In addition, several emails went out from an unnamed Gmail account called email@example.com.
Other emails went out from a Gmail account for Richard Johnson, III. The fictitious person associated with the educationmattersinatlanta account would repeatedly reference back to emails allegedly sent out from Mr. Johnson, in an apparent effort to make the media believe there were multiple concerned citizens sending out messages supportive of the Board Majority.
Therefore, in addition to the questions raised above, it seems that some APS Board Members participated in a concerted campaign to deceive the public by creating fictitious emails from purported concerned citizens. If those Board Members sought to be reimbursed for the deceptive communications with taxpayer dollars, that raises even more concerns.
To that, it should be noted that the majority of emails went out from Gmail addresses associated with various Board Members, which are different from the email addresses they typically use in private or campaign-related communications. It is not immediately clear whether the email addresses really ever belonged to the Board Members, or whether they were fake email addresses created by Alisias to make it look like the Board Members were sending out the communications.
If Alisias created them, then that means any emails sent in reply to those email addresses, by members of the press or community advocates, may not have in fact ever been delivered to Board Members.
As previously reported by APN, 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.
Even though some Board Members want to characterize all of Alisias’s work as having been done by way of a contract with Delk, not all of Alisias’s PR work was done during the time period of the lawsuit.
Indeed, Alisias sent out an email on behalf of English apologizing for inappropriately using an APS credit card, long before the lawsuit began.
Alisias also sent out one email on behalf of educationmattersinatlanta, on October 20, two days before his alleged contract with Delk began. This raises the question, who was that work being done for? Perhaps that is the separate pro bono work White was speaking of.
As previously reported by APN, both Alisias and Delk are pro-privatization forces in Atlanta who ultimately seek to turn APS over to a charter schools model.
Several parents and community members have expressed to APN their concern that these privatization interests have manipulated the Board into behaving in a dysfunctional manner so to create the appearance of a need to embrace a new governance model.
Indeed, Delk, who chairs the Education Committee of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, has advocated a parent trigger proposal which would allow a majority of parents to demand change at their children’s school, where one of three options for change would be a charter school model.
According to individuals familiar with the matter, as well as an article in the Buckhead Reporter, Delk presented the proposal at a September meeting of the Buckhead group.
(END / 2010)