Two years later…
The Montgomery County Board of Education will meet this evening at 6:30 P.M. in an emergency session.
The topic? Firing embattled superintendent Joshua Powell. (Agenda here)
You can expect Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday to approve the termination quite quickly because of this.
Need to get caught up? Here’s what really happened in Montgomery County — click here.
We’ll get started shortly after 6:30 with updates. It won’t be super-detailed but you get all the important bits.
From what I can tell, the board is still in closed session. Will update shortly.
Aaaand they’re out of closed session. State Trooper’s present. More soon.
Hiring of Anna Powell, his wife, is a charge.
Failed to disclose a misdemeanor.
Improperly influencing site-based decision making councils.
Voted 5-0 to fire him!
Will update with some reaction in a bit. Along with some documentation. That happened unexpectedly quickly.
But it’s official. Termination now heads to Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday’s desk. He’s expected to approve.
Ready for the SIXTEEN-PAGE report?
CLICK TO ENLARGE — PDF
SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS
Following preliminary inquiry into the areas of concern identified by the Board as set forth in our retention, we defined specific items for review and investigation (“items for review”). These items for review included:
Personnel matters — specifically the hiring of Anna Powell, employment actions which have resulted in current litigation claims, other identified adverse employment actions involving District staff, and adherence to required credentialing for District employees.
Fiscal Management — specifically the purchase of ceiling fans for the Montgomery County High School (MCHS) gymnasium, and the renovation of the District’s maintenance building/operations center.
Disclosure on Application for Employment — specifically whether Superintendent Powell failed to disclose a conviction for a minor misdemeanor on his application for employment with the District.
Following our review and investigation we have concluded as follows:
- The hiring of Anna Powell to the position of Director of Special Projects violated KRS 160.380(2)(e) and the District has not taken appropriate action to redress this violation
- Superintendent Powell sought to assert improper influence on site-based decision-making council decisions.
- Superintendent Powell has exhibited poor management in his dealings with District personnel, which has resulted in morale issues within the District.
- Superintendent Powell failed to effectively manage personnel matters such as to reduce potential legal exposure to the District.
- We found no failure to ensure the proper credentialing of individuals hired by the District as required by the Education Professional Standards Board and Kentucky law.
- While the District may have failed to strictly adhere to all requirements of the Kentucky Model Procurement Code, there has been no material violation.
- Superintendent Powell failed to disclose a minor misdemeanor conviction on his application for employment with the District.
Hiring of Anna Powell
This hiring has already been the subject of investigation and review by the Auditor of Public Accounts for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Adam Edelen, whose office issued findings and recommendations December 17, 2013. Following our review of this personnel matter we are in agreement with the findings and recommendations of the Auditor of Public Accounts and incorporate those findings and recommendations here. Specifically we note as follows:
- It was repeatedly stated to the Auditor of Public Accounts and us as part of our investigation that Anna Powell was the most qualified candidate for the position. However, the issue is not whether Ms. Powell with (sic) the most qualified candidate, but whether she was an eligible candidate, such that her hiring was appropriate in accordance with provisions of KRS 160.380(2)(e), which places specific restrictions upon the hiring of a relative of the superintendent as an employee of the District.
- Based on the position description for the Director of Special Projects in effect at the time that the job was posted and interviews conducted, Anna Powell was not eligible for the position pursuant to the provisions of KRS 160.380.
- Following the recommendation of Anna Powell to fill the position, unreasonable modifications were made to the Director of Special Projects position description for the purpose of accommodating the recommendations of Anna Powell and to avoid violation of KRS 160.380.
- The changes made to the Director of Special Projects position description are inconsistent with the nature of the position and its required duties.
- Superintendent Powell knew, or at least should have known, that the hiring of Anna Powell as Director of Special Projects was contrary to law and, at minimum, carried an appearance of impropriety.
The State Auditor of Public Accounts recommended, in part, that “the board review the actions taken by the District personnel and discuss the matter to determine the appropriate actions necessary to ensure this issue is appropriately resolved.” It is our finding that the hiring of Anna Powell was contrary to law and that appropriate action in response to these findings and recommendations has not been taken.
Site Based Decision Making
Our investigation revealed more than one instance in which it was alleged that Dr. Powell sought to impose his personal hiring preferences upon, or refused to accept the personnel decisions of, the site-based decision-making counsel(sic). KRS 160.345 specifically vests authority in the site-based council to select personnel to fill vacancies at the school and provides that personnel decisions made by the council are binding upon the superintendent….
Amanda Reffitt is a former social studies teacher at MCHS who also served as the Post-Prom Project coordinator and Student Council advisor. Ms. Reffitt has brought a lawsuit against the District alleging gender discrimination and violations of KRS 161.750 for alleged failure to “provide a written statement containing the specific, detailed, and complete statement of grounds upon which the nonrenewal of contract is based.” Ms. Reffitt was notified by Dr. Powell on May 15, 2012 that her limited contract with the District would not be renewed for the 2012/2013 school year. The stated basis for non-renewal was that her “over all performance was unsatisfactory and not commensurate with standards set forth in the Montgomery County School District.” Review of Ms. Reffitt’s personnel records reflect that her evaluations were satisfactory. In addition, there is undated documentation concerning an alleged incident wherein Ms. Reffitt was alleged to have made an inappropriate statement in front of students.
Ms. Reffitt alleges, and Terry Rhodes, a former MCHS teacher and member of the site-based council confirms, that Dr. Powell refused the council’s recommendation of Ms. Reffitt to fill one of the open positions. Our investigation also suggests there may have been at least one other instance in which Superintendent Powell circumvented site-based decision making authority on personnel choices…
Inappropriate Workplace Behavior
Our investigation has permitted us to examine the issue of Superintendent Powell’s interpersonal actions with District employees. We believe that, at the least, Powell’s conduct constituted a poor management style toward those with whom he either had conflict or whom, for various reasons, wished to remove from employment with the District. Powell’s method of dealing with employees is unproductive and contributes to morale issues within the District.
Review of a number of personnel matters and records reveals questionable personnel documentation practices or a lack of documentation. Powell was known, and review of personnel records supports, to regularly use a “Voluntary Transfer” form to coerce employees who he wished to relocate to other positions, leveraging the threat of negative consequences… This includes an apparent pattern of “going after” employees whom he perceived had spoken negatively of him in conversation to others or through social media. Of concern is the fact that in some cases this belief appears to have been based on mere supposition.
A consistent theme throughout our interviews was the description of “bullying” and “threatening” behavior by Superintendent Powell in the workplace. This apparently repeated behavior lends credence to the existence of inappropriate workplace behavior. A number of individuals with whom we spoke described feeling threatened, badgered and berated. Such behavior is clearly inappropriate and an ineffective style of management and leadership which should not be tolerated in the workplace.
Two of the current lawsuits pending against the District involve claims of retaliation by District personnel, specifically Superintendent Powell.
Jennifer Hall is a former Childcare Worker… Ms. Hall’s suit against the District alleges violation of the Kentucky Whistleblower Act and wrongful discharge.
As part of our investigation we were able to interview Ms. Hall in the presences of her legal counsel who did limit the questions to which Ms. Hall would respond, as well as Ms. Kristi Carter, Director of Public Relations and Childcare, Mary Smith, assistant to Ms. Carter, and Kathy Boyd, Office Assistant at the Intermediate School….
Ms. Hall was ultimately terminated for alleged conduct which, in part, may or may not have included actions by her that may be deemed to have constituted protected whistleblowing activity.
This is juicy:
Ancillary to our review of the personnel actions involving Ms. Hall there is question as to the position of Ms. Kristi Carter. Ms. Carter is currently employed as the Director of Public Relations and Director of Childcare for the District. 922 KAR 2:110, Section 4(c), requires that the District childcare director “not be employed in a position other than an on-site child care director, or director of multiple facilities, during the hours the child-care center is in operation.” Ms. Carter indicated that her dual role was reviewed and approved by the Division of Regulated Child Care, but no documentation of this approval was contained in Carter’s personnel file.
As each of these matters is the subject of pending litigation and we are unable to fully interview and investigate the claims asserted, we decline discussion here of the various factual claims asserted by either party. While the stated reasons for nonrenewal of Ms. Hall and Ms. Wallace may well form the basis for such actions, the timing of these personnel actions, following engagement in potential protected activity, requires that such actions be taken subject to heightened scrutiny. The fact that an employee has engaged in protected activity is not a bar to a negative employment action if that action is properly supported, particularly by facts arising prior to any protected activity. The information available to date, however, indicates that Dr. Powell did not give serious consideration to protections that may or may not have been afforded Hall or Wallace under applicable law in making the decision to terminate employment, and, thus, failed to fulfill his responsibility to protect the interests of the District.
Here’s where things get crazy:
As part of our investigation we interviewed Assistant Superintendent Phil Rison, Greg Dunbar with the KDE’s Division of District Support and former KDE District Support employee Tim Lucas. We also reviewed records produced by the District, Mr. Rison and the the KDE.
1. MCHS Ceiling Fans
District obtained quotes on various options from Big Ass Fans, inclusive of both equipment and installation, and ranging in price from $49,172 to $51,085 with available discounts. Records suggest that District administrators began preparing paperwork for a related BG-1 (project application) request to the KDE and presented the above-noted options from Big Ass Fans to the Montgomery County Board of Education at an October 22, 2013 meeting, with a notation that “Superintendent recommends approval of Option 3 (the $51,085 option). It is unclear what action, if any, the Board took regarding those options at that meeting, but what is clear based on records from the District and testimony from Mr. Rison is that within a few days after the meeting Mr. Rison obtained additional quotes from WLC Enterprises in Illinois ($65,202.50) and Ducote Air, heat & Electrict, Inc. in Louisiana ($53,200), again inclusive of both equipment installation. Mr. Rison concedes that the project specifications he prepared for soliciting the quotes were written such that Big Ass Fans equipment would likely be the only product that would suffice.
By emails dated October 29, 2013., Mr. Rison sought the KDE’s permission to buy the equipment directly from Big Ass Fans without issuing an actual invitation for bids.
The possibility of finding a suitable alternative product to Big Ass Fans was not unfeasible, as Greg Dunbar informed us there is at least one other company that produces the type of fans the District sought.
Mr. Rison stated he received bids in response to the November 14, 2013 advertisement, which were presented to the Board of Education at a meeting on December 10, 2013. Review of the file and inquiry to Mr. Rison, however, indicate that in fact the District did not receive any new bids in response to the newspaper ad.
2. Maintenance Building
In Spring 2014, District officials decided they wanted to make improvements upon the District’s maintenance building with the ultimate goal of making it an attractive and functional operations center for the District.
In September 2014, however, state building inspector Ric McNees visited the site and discovered the project had expanded to include interior partitions and other material changes that would require the involvement of a design professional… Accordingly, Mr. McNees issued a “stop work” order and the KDE directed Mr. Rison to submit a board-approved BG-1 project application before proceeding further.
While Dr. Powell, as Superintendent, has ultimate authority and responsibility for the District’s obligation to properly carry our(sic) the management of the District’s business affairs in accordance with applicable laws … Mr. Rison indicated, and interviews with the KDE confirm, that he was the one directly responsible for the purchase/bid process for both these projects and acted under no specific direction of Dr. Powell.
Guess Phil Rison can kiss his career goodbye. No wonder he and Jacqui Johnston were in tears after reading the report.
It goes on:
DISCLOSURE OF MISDEMEANOR CONVICTION
While Dr. Powell asserts he was unaware of this misdemeanor conviction, the evidence suggests otherwise.
[T]here can be little question Dr. Powell knew he had been cited for disorderly conduct … By law, Dr. Powell himself was required “sign a plea of guilty” upon payment of the fine and costs.
Dr. Powell’s statements asserting a lack of knowledge appear to be disingenuous.
Dr. Powell sought to mitigate the offense before the EPSB by contending that a “minor misdemeanor” in Ohio is no more serious than a minor traffic violation, but the fact remains that it was a classified as a misdemeanor and further that it was not, be definition, a traffic violation. Moreover, not only is a guilty plea an admission of guilt, as a matter of law in Kentucky it is tantamount to a criminal conviction.
[W]e find that Dr. Powell knowingly provided false information in his application for employment.
Told ya so.
Now for some of the attorneys’ recommendations:
[T]he District should (1) conclude Anna Powell’s current appointment
The District should ensure that members of any site based council and the superintendent are fully aware of the duties and responsibilities of each with respect to the hiring of school personnel. It is recommended that the District develop training to educate members of the site based council as to their duties and responsibilities.
[N]o workplace should be governed by “bullying” and “threats” as described by one or more of the individuals interviewed. … [I]t should be stressed that “strong-arm” tactics rarely produce the desired effect.
The District should undertake a review of its Childcare programs, with particular reference to the 2012/2013 citations made by the Division of Regulated Child Care which cited the program for exceeding the permissible ratio of students to caregivers, to ensure compliance with state regulations.
The District should review the position descriptions for the Director of Public Relations and Director of Childcare, specifically the expectations, duties and time commitment required… It is further recommended that the District obtain review and written approval for this dual position from the Division of Regulated Child Care.
Going forward the District should take steps to ensure proper and complete documentation of all personnel-related actions/communications. Our review of personnel records revealed an absence of required evaluations in personnel files as well as the absence of documentation/correspondence referenced in other documents/correspondence contained within the same file.
The individual over personnel? Her name’s Jacqui Johnston.
A couple notes: School board members tell us attorneys did not review all Medicaid billing, so there’s no way to know if Cathy Bailey billed Medicaid. That’ll be examined as part of a later investigation.
I also suspect, based on, you know, not being a total idiot (and because I’ve spoken with more than a dozen people interviewed), that the board is withholding quite a bit of information for the inevitable lawsuit Powell will eventually fire alleging wrongful termination.
You’ll be hearing quite a bit more about this over the next couple weeks. But for this evening, we all need to digest this. It’s the just the beginning of what’s to come.