Here’s What Really Happened In Montgomery Co.

Many have asked for it, so here’s a rough look back at our Montgomery County coverage. Not everything is included but this will give you a semi-decent understanding of what’s going on in that small Central Kentucky community.

Our coverage started in October 2013 after spending a couple months in the area of North Carolina in current Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday’s neck of the woods. You’ll hear more about Holliday in the months to come. Joshua Powell was mired in messes left and right and he had just illegally hired his wife.

From the onset, we had sources throughout the district and were able to publish email and other insider documents — even text messages — as events were unfolding. As time went on we developed better ties, better sources, better information. Dedication to the story paid off.

Once Powell had hired his wife, as we first reported he would, we started to document the world of Joshua Powell and his inner circle. We also started monitoring local media non-coverage of it all.

In unsettling turn after unsettling turn, it gradually became clear that State Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen and his staff had been ignoring quite a bit in Montgomery County. Due to the mounting pressure from our coverage, Edelen’s office was forced to investigate the hiring of Powell’s wife, Anna.

Powell promptly started using his three friends on the school board to falsely give the impression that they’d hired his wife, not him. That wasn’t exactly legal. Then local media started loosely paying attention.

Our coverage continued, highlighting the reality that Powell and his cohorts changed his wife’s job description in an attempt to avoid a legal nightmare. Powell’s team attempted to block auditors at every turn but the investigation continued. Just weeks after we broke the news, Edelen released a damning report revealing that he’d found Powell’s wife had been illegally hired.

All hell broke loose with Powell’s friends at the local newspaper allowing him to spin freely. We uncovered information that suggested he’d even paid employees bonuses for participating in the investigation. And caught him pushing money around in an attempt to hide it from the investigation. The local newspaper’s coverage was embarrassingly bad. And the nepotism train rolled on while the obfuscation bus sped down the highway.

In an attempt to cover up what the State Auditor had revealed, Powell and his friends on the board pushed reports from their “independent” auditor that claimed everything was puppies and rainbows and the local paper swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

While all that was going down, Powell signed an agreed order over scandals that had followed him from his previous school district in Union County. The problems had cost taxpayers, Powell claimed, more than $500,000. Various employment scandals started popping up and Powell’s team took to making anonymous attacks.

As our investigation continued, questions arose over the validity of surprise test scores. Education officials started asking questions and Powell’s evaluations started to tank. It was more than clear that Terry Holliday had been meddling on Powell’s behalf. But they didn’t back down from their false narrative.

The scandals just kept floating to the top. One of the bigger ones involved a Title IX complaint that the district tried to settle. But that didn’t work out, as Powell and crew didn’t keep up their deal.

The local paper tried to cover for him but we, ahem, blew that out of the water quite handily.

It started becoming clear that Powell was appointing people to various positions who were unqualified — something he’d been reprimanded for in his previous jobs.

He started paying for silly ‘awards’ to make the district look good on the surface.

He started firing people who wouldn’t stand in solidarity with him and replacing them with his friends. We were, unsurprisingly, able to dig up that back story. And started to uncover a problem or two with Powell’s involvement at Morehead State University.

Powell and his team hatched what they thought was a genius plan — attacking his critics on gutter gossip website Topix. But when the citizens of Montgomery County started standing up for themselves, Powell decided to go on a bizarre and personal fishing expedition with taxpayer dollars in a failed attempt to identify them. Local television got excited and then lost interest. The local paper half-assed a couple stories and then we proved what a farce it was — that Powell’s entire team were spending countless hours on the very site about which he was feigning outrage. They continued their hypocritical witch hunt.

In the midst of all that, we uncovered evidence to support what had previously only been rumor. Powell and his wife were abusing their positions of authority in order to take their kids out of school for two-week vacations. It was beyond absurd and sad.

Like clockwork, scandals we uncovered turned into lawsuits.

And then we uncovered the biggest scandal yet. Involving outlandish text messages and intimidation from two troopers with the Kentucky State Police. No one knew it at the time but that turned out to be one of the biggest unresolved scandals of the entire saga.

As the days went on, more and more patterns of discrimination and retaliation emerged while local media turned a blind eye.

We continued to publish insider text messages revealing the extent to which Powell and his team had gone to ruin his perceived enemies. It was the absolute height of small town hypocrisy.

More and more Powell friends were being placed in jobs for which they were not qualified.

Citizens started finding their voice and expressing outrage.

Powell got so panicked that he started using his friend at the local paper to attack me personally. Which didn’t end well for them because the truth was easy to uncover.

So they started attacking and retaliating against a known whistleblower.

Powell’s world was crumbling under the pressure of a mountain of investigations and he was losing at his own game, forced to reinstate people he’d wrongly terminated.

Legal problems were mounting and we discovered that Powell was receiving a free ride with his private personal lawyer fees being picked up by the taxpayer.

More investigations came to be. Because the Title IX mess wasn’t over for Powell or the district. The Office of Civil Rights proved our coverage spot-on and revealed that Powell and crew had committed myriad wrongs.

In order to throw everyone in the district into confusion, Powell went crazy cutting jobs and moving people around. He was attempting to sow seeds of uncertainty.

But we didn’t stop piecing the puzzle together. Or highlighting the absurd when it came to be — like covering potentially illegal hirings.

To assuage the fear his inner circle had expressed about being found out, Powell ratcheted up with an effort to give them $20,000 to $30,000 pay bumps. It was unreal.

Unfortunately for them, the investigations and complaints kept coming.

Unfortunately for Montgomery Countians, the local paper continued to misinform.

Everyone from legislators to Joe Everyman had begun following our investigation and they were all constantly stunned by the little bits and pieces of intimidation and control we were able to suss out.

Then we let the cat out of the bag with the most explosive story yet (and our most popular story in our history until the day he was suspended… and then the following day) about daycare official Kristi Carter allegedly sending photos of a young child to some random old man she allegedly had a beef with/disliked. The Office of the Attorney General was involved and the scandal reached a fever pitch.

One of Powell’s friends ended up getting nabbed by the feds for alleged drug trafficking. Which… hoo boy.

Local teevee folks started swiping our work.

The headaches in Mt. Sterling were as intense as ever. Powell’s team lived on Topix, spending countless hours of their work day gossiping and defaming innocent people asking honest questions. We continued to uncover more scandals and repeated instances of retaliation.

In a bizarre twist of retaliation, Powell and his team started to go after school board member Alice Anderson because she dared ask questions and never played his games. His team filed a complaint with the Office of Education Accountability, which essentially ended up saying Powell’s folks were full of it, vindictive, corrupt and wrongly going after Anderson, who was exonerated.

There was also a glimmer of hope with the local paper but that was short lived, to say the least.

After months of research and countless interviews, we uncovered another scandal involving alleged retaliation and intimidation. Michelle Goins-Henry had been manipulated and threatened by Powell and we published explosive secret audio recordings of those treats. It was a nightmare that would eventually turn into a lawsuit. The heat was on.

And the sad local paper was in defense mode.

It was at that point Joshua Powell and Terry Holliday started circling their wagons and pushing for secrecy at the EPSB, which eventually backfired. Their effort to con Governor Steve Beshear into pushing for secrecy never got anywhere because he was quickly clued in to the mess.

During it all, mess after mess was uncovered. Everything from police incidents to student smoking scandals. Our coverage ended up blowing the lid off most of Powell’s outlandish claims — one of which specifically pushed a myth that all of his schools were smoke-free. Whoopsiedaisy.

Retaliation continued and Powell’s team grew stressed. The pressure they were under led to incidents involving children that not only put them in danger but risked their lives. They lied to the local press about it all. Then the state stepped in to investigate.

With a little bit of effort, we were able to prove that Powell’s Topix fishing expedition was just a ruse to stoke fear and to intimidate. So Powell panicked and started withholding public records because he knew he’d been caught red-handed.

Members of the inner circle became more and more clear, as their outside activities started to morph into scandals involving the district.

Then Powell started his hypocrisy tour, giving speeches about respect and dealing with difficult employees. His storyline about being a victim had begun.

Because so many were interested in the inner workings of the school board, we started an extensive series of video coverage. Which allowed us to catch his pals on the board in lie after lie. Whitewashing was the norm.

Powell ended up getting sued over the Title IX scandal. That scandal roared back to life. With tons of evidence flowing out.

Anti-Powell school board candidates started popping up.

Powell’s team, facing serious heat, started to lie about everything they could. Including discussion of exorbitant legal fees. Thankfully, we had video evidence to prove them wrong.

He was spending at a rapid pace, taking trips on the taxpayer dime as frequently as possible.

Slowly but surely, the retaliation against the iPad whistleblower became clear. Powell took to extremes and fired her. It was a serious mess that isn’t over yet.

Then the school board started to hide from the public.

A look a Powell’s playbook was eye-opening.

The local paper surprisingly covered the Title IX lawsuit and things got dramatically worse for Powell.

Concerns over test scores have lingered for months and months.

Along with pretty obvious outrage over extreme frivolous spending.

Because of spending mishaps, new investigations by government agencies were launched — relating to everything from alleged kickbacks to the ongoing Title IX problems.

Our coverage also turned things up a notch when we revealed additional audio involving Michelle Goins-Henry’s case. We also uncovered quite a bit of supporting documentation.

While at the same time proving yet again that Powell’s Topix witch hunt was just an intimidation stunt. Which caused us to dig further into just how much Powell has cost the taxpayer. It’s obviously a ton of money involving cross country trips and reimbursement for his personal attorney. That led to the school board being forced to publicly cut him loose on the legal front but they never enforced it (we even had video of it all). Despite reports from the auditor, of course.

You thought everything was over? Hardly. Even Powell’s legally-required training was questioned and our minds were blown.

That particular training was required as an outcome of his previous EPSB case. A case that revealed Powell had allegedly violated the law, lied and the like. The charging document alone from that case was a real eye-opener.

Despite repeated claims from Powell, the Office of Civil Rights continued to reveal that the district wasn’t in the clear over the Title IX case. It still isn’t.

If the myriad scandals weren’t enough to cause your eyes to roll back in your head? Powell took international trips to give speeches about “Promoting Dignity and Justice at work” — seriously.

Things just got crazier from there, as Powell tried to bring the people from his scandalous past to Montgomery County Schools.

We had to take time out to explain why we were focusing on the district.

Then members of Powell’s inner circle started to get charged by the EPSB. His right hand, Phil Rison, was under investigation.

Even scandals involving childcare raged on.

We uncovered more and more evidence pointing to Powell intimidation.

Highlighted his time in Union County and specious departure.

Broke news that he’d hired financial employees from other troubled districts.

And just generally shook our heads in disbelief.

Unable to escape the facts coming out, Powell’s tiny group of loud supporters started showing up at school board meetings to call anyone questioning him a terrorist. We quickly profiled the people responsible for such outlandish claims but the crazy continued.

We continued to catch that crew — including the former school board chairman — in lie after lie.

More questions about the district’s legal insurance policy started to bubble up.

Surprise! Another spending scandal was uncovered involving Powell’s assistant superintendent. The cherry on top was unveiling how those scandals were going unnoticed. Discussion was rampant about potential kickbacks and back scratching.

When more public outrage started to manifest, Powell got upset, blamed everyone but himself and started on a mission to shut down public comment. We captured it all on tape as he claimed his constitutional rights were violated when members of the public questioned him, a government official appointed by an elected body.

News about financial problems just wouldn’t quit.

A mini-scandal involving an extremist church continued to fester.

The Title IX mess got worse with evidence of illegal no-bid contracts surfacing. We published the evidence.

Even money players in town were threatening witnesses against Powell and people who were suing him. Crazy, indeed. Corrupt beyond belief.

Toward the end of September, school board members started to suggest to us that they believed there was potential legal insurance fraud going on. And we’ve all seen how that has played out. Stories like this didn’t help.

Neither did the continued world of inappropriate and wasteful spending.

Highlighting instances of hiring people with drug histories absolutely didn’t help.

But what really sent people into a rage was an effort to spend millions of dollars on unnecessary computer equipment while much of the district sat without necessary textbooks.

Powell got those monstrous pay bumps for his friends pushed through.

Sensing the end was nigh, Powell’s partners on the board started going berserk. But not before giving Powell even more questionable cash.

Powell’s illegally-hired wife scored a new assistant.

Physical properties within the district suffered under poor upkeep and lack of attention.

One of Powell’s minions lost her job and ended up volunteering for Alison Grimes’ ill-fated campaign.

Under increasing pressure to give back to his supporters, Powell continued trying to hire their friends and family as payback.

The back scratching was non-stop.

More of his revisionist history was revealed to be just that — bogus.

And for the second time we learned that a huge portion of Powell’s claimed test score advances were a result of self-scoring.

In early October, Powell kicked things into high gear with a public disinformation campaign utilizing a man named Richard Hughes. They plotted and schemed to take out full-page newspaper ads playing the victim and attacking the EPSB for doing its job.

Meanwhile, the faux test score hyping continued unabated. But everyone knew better than to take anything at face value. Because it was all a distraction. Just like the continued spending spree to give back to his few supporters. Really, it was spend spend spend. Even though the district couldn’t afford basic science equipment.

Having grown tired of being allegedly pressured to take part in questionable activity, the school cop left the district.

News broke of Powell’s wife supervising employees despite previous claims otherwise.

But we were able to start digging in to the Richard Hughes connection. While the local paper published huge spreads of nonsense from Powell without ever questioning him.

The school board was once again forced to address improper use of legal insurance. It just kept coming up at every turn.

All kinds of people were running for school board on a platform of removing Powell.

Shortly after the election, we caught wind that Powell had once again been discovered to have employed people who didn’t have proper certification.

The misinformation/disinformation in the Montgomery County paper continued with Powell running massive op-eds that went on for pages and pages.

During an employment hearing, the iPad lady apparently came clean. And then started denying it again.

Wait, you thought the test scores scandal was over? Far from it.

The nepotism ring was also alive and well. Some would say thriving.

By mid-November we’d uncovered information to prove the EPO scandal involving Powell and his wife was anything but simple, despite what they claimed during an illegally held board meeting and in the local paper. We published the EPO along with more than a dozen 911 calls made by Powell’s wife and her relatives.

In an attempt to prevent the public from asking questions about why they were lied to, Powell and his team on the board essentially shut down open discussion. Then the board pulled its usual stunt — hiding from the public to avoid scrutiny.

As a special Thanksgiving treat, it was discovered that — wait for it — folks in Powell’s world were being paid more than they were supposed to be paid. Everyone knew about it and no one batted an eyelash.

The Michelle Goins-Henry mess?

She grew tired of the retaliation and filed suit against Powell and the district.

The district was suffering under Powell’s leadership and incidents of violence began popping up.

Powell and the district were SUED AGAIN!

We found out Powell’s personal attorneys, at taxpayer expense, were representing his entire inner circle.

The local paper allowed Powell to spin quite a yarn about being sued again and never said another word about it. In fact, the paper went on a CYA spree for Powell, saying one thing and doing another. Meanwhile, those legal messes weren’t going anywhere.

By mid-December it had become clear that Powell wasn’t escaping his EPSB trial. The entire school board was served with subpoenas to testify and we were there to capture it all on video.

Which meant that Richard Hughes character started meddling again. This time with members of the school board.

So we launched a multi-part investigation that unveiled collusion like no other. We uncovered documents, thanks to sunshine laws, proving Powell’s assistant superintendent was under investigation by the EPSB and Powell was pulling all the puppet strings.

It shook him to his core.

Then we published more proof of Powell’s coordinated attack on those government officials tasked with investigating him. He claimed it was all fabricated out of thin air, he was innocent, even tried to blame Page One for all of his problems.

Unsurprisingly, that didn’t end so well for him. Because we were able to publish proof — yet again — that Powell, with the assistance of Richard Hughes, was on a mission to destroy everyone standing in his path.

The local paper ignored everything and continued with spin.

By then, members of the school board were beginning to question frivolous spending. Some were even brave enough to begin questioning potential insurance fraud.

Folks at OCR confirmed that the district still isn’t in Title IX compliance.

Game playing with hiring and firing continued.

We caught the former board chairman in another lie.

And we finally dug up proof that Terry Holliday had not only refused to act on a previous Powell investigation and resulting findings… the man recommended him for awards.

Powell is apparently quite forgetful. Especially when one’s trivial misdemeanor past comes into play.

As word started to spread that the school board planned to fire Powell, his attack dog, Richard Hughes, started intimidating relatives of the school board.

Unfortunately, the Powells couldn’t stop blaming the EPSB for all of their troubles. So we took a look at Anna Powell’s sworn affidavit and ripped it apart.

Then we published dozens of emails that Powell told us didn’t exist that highlighted an extreme world of retribution, public spin, an obsession with Topix (like this), buying meaningless awards and even revealing that board member Donna Wilson was a player in his inner circle.

But back to the EPSB… Powell showed up at a public meeting of the EPSB on December 8 and went on a five-minute rant where he openly threatened the organization’s attorney. You can listen to it all for yourself. As outlandish as ever.

Then Powell coordinated with Richard Hughes to not just go after the Montgomery County Board of Education but to threaten and intimidate EPSB officials from his government email account. It was extreme, to say the least, with dozens of pages of attachments. But at least one person wasn’t having it and stood up.

Powell started serving his own subpoenas for the EPSB trial. Rather, he used taxpayer dollars to serve them while at the same time intimidating witnesses. One of the guys he used ended up getting a sweet promotion just a couple days later.

As if to bury the problem, Powell decided to admit school kids didn’t have necessary books. All the other messes provided great cover. No one was paying attention.

A new school board was sworn in the first week of January (2015) and the fireworks started. Alice Anderson, a woman Powell has fought for years, was elected chair of the board. Powell, along with everyone else, was surprised.

The board entered an extensive closed session but we were there to capture the swearing in and election of chair on video.

Then the real fun began with another special session of the board.

State Police troopers showed up, Powell’s sister threatened everyone from Jake to random people in the audience, his tiny group of supporters held vigil and he was ultimately suspended.

Finally, after more than a year of investigation, Powell was kicked out pending an internal investigation. A new board attorney was named. Powell’s legal insurance was cut off. His free ride was over. But it didn’t end there.

The Fargo in Mt. Sterling Saga continued on Saturday, January 10 AND on Monday, January 12 with two more special sessions.

Meanwhile, Powell and his family were still attempting to blame us for all of his problems.

NOTE: This is becoming a living story in order to document the Montgomery County mess.

Before those meetings could take place we discovered one of Powell’s new attorneys was in the midst of potential ethical quandry. He had represented a woman on the opposite side of the case from Powell, creating a serious conflict of interest at worst and major appearance of impropriety at best.

Word also broke that the Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, a member of the EPSB, would be testifying on Powell’s behalf at his upcoming trial. That’s effectively allowing a juror who will decide innocence or guilt to testify on behalf of a defendant after being made privy to the prosecution’s inner workings.

To appease Powell, the school board held another special session — with a much more in-depth agenda — to suspend him a second time.

On January 12, 2015, Powell’s hearing with the Education Professional Standards Board began. Via sources connected to Powell, we were able to obtain the EPSB’s pre-hearing memo that detailed the litany of charges against him.

One of Powell’s attorneys started facing ethical complaints and people on the other side of the case came forward in writing to confirm everything.

Things only got worse a few days later when an examination of Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday’s book about it being okay to break the law revealed what appeared to be an alarming roadmap to describe Joshua Powell’s efforts in Montgomery County.

One of the biggest stories in the book that has become Montgomery County Schools, former employee Jennifer Hall blew the whistle on some problems within the district. She faced retaliation, retribution and firing. That all came to a head when Hall filed suit against the school district. Hall’s suit was the biggest to be filed, as it was the first time district employees could come forward without fear of retaliation. It was also the first suit to be filed that Powell’s personal attorneys wouldn’t be handling.

Throughout the month of January, Montgomery County was swarmed with questions about a new Chromebook project popping up left and right. Key players and defenders of corruption took matters into their own hands and went on nasty personally attack sprees that only served to create more public outrage.

For the first time in (literally) years, the new school board held meetings that weren’t contentious and focused on doing the right thing for the school system and the taxpayer.

Doubts about Commissioner of Education and Powell defender, Terry Holliday, continued to increase. Board members from surrounding school districts came forward to ring alarm bells about Holliday and the Kentucky Department of Education turning a blind eye to massive spending problems.

The final week of January 2015 was a rough one in Montgomery County, as we uncovered new mountains of dirt regarding the iPad whistleblower case and the ensuing retaliation/retribution scheme.

We got to hear in her own words that Kristi Carter admitted under oath that her iMessage account was synched, meaning she sent photos of a young child to random old man.

And an absolutely scandalous police report revealed that superintendent Joshua Powell, along with his cohorts, plotted a bizarre scheme — with the assistance of willing participants at the local newspaper — to make the public believe iPad whistleblower Jennifer Hall was being frog marched under arrest. Despite countless attempts by law enforcement to tell him that wasn’t possible, of course. It was quite possibly one of the most damning documents to be uncovered in the multi-year investigation that’s left the small Central Kentucky county in turmoil. But unanswered questions still remain.

To make matters worse, we published a salacious letter from Powell written to school board members that many consider an act of career suicide. It was filled with outlandish and defamatory claims involving murder threats, racism and fraud. The document was so unbelievable that one would be hard pressed not to view it as the straw that broke the camel’s back, finally ending Joshua Powell’s career as superintendent of Montgomery County Schools.

The local newspaper in Montgomery County provided yet another spectacular look how everyday citizens without internet access are being kept in the dark. Naturally, we ripped their coverage apart.

And then promptly published the crazy letter the newspaper attempted to use as the basis for its hatchet job of a story.

In early February 2015, the Montgomery County Board of Education hired a major new law firm and launched a full-scale investigation into allegations against Joshua Powell.

Just days later, the board took further action against Powell, going so far as to reveal that his legal team had taken part in a massive conflict of interest scheme that left the community baffled. As a result, Powell’s lawsuit against the board was revealed to be built upon that very conflict of interest.

The scandal got so bad that Circuit Judge Beth Maze, in her official Order of Recusal, said she believed Powell had broken the law.

Many in the educational and legal communities viewed it as a dark sign for Powell and a glimpse of what’s to come.

Like clockwork, the small town newspaper gave Powell page after page to live out his Tom Clancy fantasies.

Without a doubt, the long, drawn-out soap opera officially revealed itself to be representative of the good old boy corruption nightmares Kentuckians have grown to expect since the 1970s.

After a year of pressure, Montgomery County Schools was finally forced to hand over a report on the iPad scandal. Page after page — hundreds of them, though many illegally redacted — confirmed everything we’ve reported on the scandal.

The very next day we caught district henchwoman, Jacqui Johnston, attempting to mislead and illegally withhold public records. She produced and charged us for a 671-page PDF document that not only had nothing to do with an open records request but was literally random newspaper clippings.

Last year superintendent Joshua Powell and two of his pals on the former school board thought it’d be a good idea to restrict public comment during meetings. The current board realized that was kind of illegal and took action to reverse course.

Despite a motion by the Montgomery County Board of Education to assert a conflict of interest with Powell’s legal team, we discovered that those attorneys refused to abide. It was also revealed that Powell had exhausted the school district’s legal insurance benefit for the entire year.

Weeks of waiting gave way when Powell’s suit agains the district over what he alleged was an illegal suspension was assigned to a Circuit Court Judge in Pike County.

In a surreal I-told-you-so moment, it was revealed that Powell sealed a deal for the infamous Chromebooks months before receiving official approval.

A few days later, word broke that teachers hadn’t even been trained on the equipment. And the trainer had no idea what was going on.

Powell’s remaining crew within the district, sensing the end was nigh, attempted to insert themselves in the search for his replacement. Of course, that didn’t end well for them at all. The individuals they put together as a team had quite a history of involvement with Powell.

It didn’t take long for the hilarity over Judge Maze’s recusal to reach a fever pitch in Montgomery County.

In a scenario that can only be called par for the course in Montgomery County Schools, we stumbled upon a bit of a problem for the district. Because it’s head school psychologist had apparently been practicing for more than 16 months without being properly licensed.

As in intentionally practicing. Because we were able to uncover email records proving the psychologist had attempted to practice without a license and asked state government officials if it was okay.

We caught Jacqui Johnston in a bit of a pickle for falsely claiming reciprocity. And discovered that the psychologist’s job description required licensure, something she did not have.

It took a year but we finally found out why the Kentucky Education Association representative for Montgomery County was abruptly moved.

Turns out he was knee-deep in Joshua Powell’s shenanigans.

In early March it was revealed by sources in the district that acting superintendent, Phil Rison, couldn’t… well… be acting superintendent.

A belated flashback took place when we shared audio of Jacqui Johnston during an employment hearing.

It was all kinds of troubling because the recording proved she was not only aware of the iPad scandal but was intimately involved.

Joshua Powell’s testimony during that same hearing was entertaining, to say the least, revealing quite a bit of professional hypocrisy.

The second week of March was an anxious one in Montgomery County.

But a Circuit Judge told Joshua Powell that the school board not only had the authority to suspend him but that he wouldn’t issue an injunction to allow him to return to work.

After we started filing open records requests, subjects of our investigation saw fit to start jumping ship. The first to go was technology director Brett Higgins.

As if anyone needed proof that the school district’s Chinese language education program was a disaster?

It was revealed during a school board meeting to be a farce. But that didn’t stop the local paper from misleading with far-fetched headlines.

The school board eventually started the search for an acting superintendent.

That same week we found out that Public Relations Director, Daycare/Childcare Director and iPad lady Kristi Carter was potentially holding multiple positions in violation of state law.

And then found out Carter, Powell, Johnston and crew had been misappropriating tens of thousands of dollars for several years. Which only added to the mountains of financial impropriety we already knew about.

The school board thought it’d try secrecy on for size and we promptly shut that down.

In a shock to the community, the Mt. Sterling Advocate did the unthinkable in allowing Joshua Powell to bury himself. To suggest it was funny would be quite an understatement.

Donald Pace was hired by the board to serve as acting superintendent and the housecleaning started. In fact, longtime Powell supporter, Donna Wilson, cast her vote for him.

More and more Powell confidants jumped ship. One of them was Shannon White, the double-dipping high school principal Powell hired after retaliating against Jim Dusso.

April 1 (not a joke) brought news of our prediction coming true. Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday resigned with a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars left on his contract.

People aligned with Powell started quitting in droves out of fear of being pink slipped.

Sources close to the Education Professional Standards Board hearing revealed to us that more than 14 days of evidence had been presented against Powell.

A Powell critic and new state legislator — someone who campaigned against him — introduced a presidential candidate.

After months of criticism from us, the school board finally decided to take action. On the evening of April 9, the board held an emergency meeting to read more than 16 pages of charges against Powell.

But not before we broke the news of the Kentucky Department of Education rebuffing Powell in a letter that can only be considered damning.

But about those 16 pages of charges against Powell… the school board voted 5-0 to fire him. And we published the scandalous document in its entirety.

Page after page contained evidence of financial impropriety like bid rigging, bullying, retaliation, nepotism, sexual harassment, violation of childcare regulations and quite a bit more we’ve covered through the years.

While the mess in Montgomery County doesn’t end with Powell’s termination, this final report sheds light on a reign of terror that should have ended years ago.

After Powell’s termination, the cleanup got under way.

Just days beyond Powell’s dismissal, we uncovered documentation from the Education Professional Standards Board highlighting Phil Rison’s confession to what was essentially bid-rigging.

We found out just how deeply connected Joshua Powell was to Terry Holliday. Discovered Powell was still in deep with finances. And found out he’d actually lectured against the very thing for which he was fired.

In late April we highlighted just how disconnected from reality Montgomery County administrators were on the financial front.

Test scores started dropping.

The world got a glimpse at just how far Powell had gone in his attempts to retaliate against those holding him accountable.

Powell tried to get a job in Florida. That didn’t go anywhere. Though, we found out Powell was still listing Holliday, his attorneys and other key players in the saga as professional references.

His unnecessary and wasteful Chinese language program was canceled.

The Powell inner circle was just quitting in droves.

Then we shared a fascinating look at the documents Powell has kept hidden from his personnel file in Montgomery County since 2011.

We found out that Jacqui Johnston, one of Powell’s remaining confidants, attempted to subvert the state’s open records laws. Unfortunately for her, the Office of the Attorney General backed us up.

On May 1 the school board shut down some questionable financial activity and announced a new auditor was coming to town.

The rush to flee Montgomery County Schools was on.

Information popped up left and right suggesting that Joshua Powell had a supervisory role over his illegally-hired wife.

We started to get a good look at key players in the Powell world. People like Lisa Stone, who had flown under the radar until this year.

The inner circle was jumping a sinking ship. Larry Bailey fled to West Virginia.

The Education Professional Standards Board wrapped up its monstrous 22-day hearing of Powell’s latest mess.

The board moved to eliminate unnecessary positions

By the second week of May we’d uncovered a massive spending scandal involving Phil Rison and others involved in the Title IX mess.

Powell sent an unbelievably threatening letter to interim superintendent Donald Pace, sparking an inquiry by local law enforcement.

Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday made it clear the board of education had every right to oust Powell in a massive letter.

The Office of the Attorney General shot down Jacqui Johnston’s secrecy attempts for a second time, revealing that Joshua Powell had not undergone a background check in Montgomery County as he claimed.

People fleeing the district, like Larry Bailey, mere exchanged one good old boy network for another.

Mid-May came with a bang when we published a secret audio recording taken by a school police officer. The recording further proved that Powell, Rison, Johnston and others conspired to retaliate against whistleblower Jennifer Hall.

A few days later the Kentucky Department of Education confirmed that it had uncovered testing violations in Montgomery County involving Phil Rison. It was clear at that point that special education had emerged as a troubling point for the district.

In an unsurprising development, the Kentucky School Boards Association referred a candidate for superintendent who had hired his wife. Because that’s just what Montgomery County needed — more allegations of nepotism.

The local newspaper continued its marathon of dishonest, misleading coverage of the myriad scandals.

On May 26 we broke news that then-chairwoman of the Education Professional Standards Board, Cassandra Webb, had a troubled past. She’d faced her own inquiry by the EPSB prior to being appointed to the board. And, uh, she wasn’t even qualified to serve.

Powell went out of his way to avoid returning the school district’s property.

Matthew Thompson was hired by the board to serve as Montgomery County’s new superintendent. The board was wise enough to include a morals clause, no doubt prevent countless Powell-esque dramas.

The never-ending Chromebook scheme got worse. District leadership couldn’t get its budget in order and the board was fed up.

We finally got a good look at how much Joshua Powell has cost taxpayers in legal fees.

June opened with news that Phil Rison still hadn’t reported a several hundred thousand dollar expenditure to KHSAA/Title IX. Which led to the discover of a booster spending scandal that baffled the entire community.

Powell still refused to return the district’s equipment.

We nudged the board into reexamining Powell’s legal invoices.

And Phil Rison chose to retire instead of face the music for his actions.

In spectacular fashion, Joshua Powell and his wife, Anna, attempted to pull a fast one over on the district. But the superintendent and school police officer were having none of it.

That was quickly followed up by Powell’s push for a pointless and wasteful due process hearing.

We spilled more tea on the EPSB.

After an expensive and lengthy investigation, we were able to conclude that records didn’t support Montgomery County/Phil Rison’s Title IX booster spending claims.

A thorough review of Powell’s Cloverport Independent Schools personnel file revealed he’d been at the center of poor communication, bickering, turmoil, staff and student problems and a lack of professional ethics. It was, to say the least, a period of conflict that the district was happy to see end.

By mid-June the school board decided to demote Jacqui Johnston by changing her job description. She no longer handles money or serves as the board’s treasurer.

We caught Johnston attempting to withhold public records for the hundredth (thousandth?) time.

One of Powell’s holdouts, Kristi Carter, found herself in yet another situation where she allegedly exhibited terrible judgment.

TELL Survey scores dropped, surprising absolutely no one.

A judge ordered Powell to turn over the equipment he’d been refusing to return.

More and more spending confusion surfaced at the board of education.

Powell violated the judge’s order to return the district’s equipment. He finally handed things over when it became clear he could ultimately be face charges for theft.

At the end of the month it was revealed that a bookkeeper who had been targeted by Powell and Johnston was keeping her job.

School board folks confided in us that they were considering a forensic examination of the equipment Powell returned, as he’d only done so after wiping every drive he could get to.

Early on in the month we got a good luck at Anna Powell’s attempt to get a job in Florida. That didn’t pan out, either.

Joshua Powell was deposed for 9.5 hours by the board. 9.5 hours! During the deposition it was revealed that Powell used district employees like Phil Rison and Kristi Carter to stalk his targets.

The Judicial Conduct Commission complaint Powell filed against Judge Beth Maze — for being honest — was finally dismissed.

Rather than face further retaliation (allegedly. cough.) from Powell, one of his former colleagues resigned abruptly.

Joshua Powell’s due process hearing started at the end of the month. And, as if things couldn’t get more crazy, it was revealed that he’d been dropped by his attorney. Richard Hughes, of retaliation infamy, served as his helper.

During the hearing Powell revealed he’d made secret recordings of various meetings — including closed school board sessions — and threatened to share them. Then all hell broke loose when his pal, Tim Southern, got threatening with the board after he attempted to attack and defame several individuals.

After several days of struggling to get anyone to serve as witnesses at his hearing, Powell rested his case. Then he told the local paper that the hearing had been a “huge win” for his legal team… which literally, according to him, was Google.

While the due process hearing was going on, we got our hands on evidence that suggests someone retaliated against an individual speaking out against Powell. Twice. By slashing tires on two separate vehicles.

After the end of Powell’s hearing, we got our hands on the deposition of Terry Holliday and made some eye-opening discoveries. Holliday had sources in Montgomery County, he conveniently forgot a lot, Powell’s attorney attempted to hold Holliday responsible for Powell’s behavior, Holliday claimed he wasn’t close with Powell, he was well-aware of the shenanigans in Montgomery County and more.

Shortly after that, we uncovered a paper trail raising concerns about the validity of some of Holliday’s testimony.

The dog days of summer rolled into Kentucky with Phil Rison and his KASA buddy, Wayne Young, attempting to subpoena Jake in an attempt to identify confidential sources. Despite Kentucky’s shield law for journalists, Rison and his representation took the corrupt route in an effort to gain information to retaliate against those helpless in Montgomery County.

It grew into such a situation that we were forced to relive Rison’s own myriad scandals.

In apparent reaction to the years-long mess in Montgomery County, State Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen released 75 recommendations to help school districts become more efficient and effective in their use of taxpayer dollars.

Dawn Cockrell, an early Powell target, got some vindication when she was appointed interim principal. It was a real snub toward Powell, as Cockrell’s situation was the one referenced by Judge Beth Maze in her epic letter of recusal.

The new board continued to prove itself by handling sticky topics with ease.

More lawsuits bubbled to the surface.

The iPad whistleblower case was amended to include both Joshua Powell and Kristi Carter.

And emails revealed that Phil Rison appeared to have meddled during the Office of Civil Rights Title IX investigation.

18 thoughts on “Here’s What Really Happened In Montgomery Co.

  1. Excellent work. I can’t imagine the amount of time it took to write that and link it as you did!

    The amazing thing is that this story isn’t over yet.

  2. The depth and breadth of this mess continues to astound me. And you are right, it’s far from over. There is still much to be exposed and much to be dealt with before our district can begin to put the pieces back together. What many people don’t understand is that once Powell and his mafia are all sent packing, there will be many employees left who drank that koolaid and will no longer have his protection; those are the ones that need to be closely monitored and put on notice that the harassment and bullying that has been rampant under Powell will no longer be tolerated.

  3. Reading this article was overwhelming. As someone affected by Josh Powell’s first reign of terror in the Cloverport Independent School District, I can relate to and sympathize with the people of Montgomery County. I have tried to not keep up with him over the years and had no idea what was happening in your county. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of his bullying, lying, manipulating and hurting others.

  4. The lies that are the “best lies” are those that have a tiny grain of truth. For example, Dr Powell’s sister did attend the last board meeting and she did ask Jennifer Hall not to take her picture. She did NOT yell, threaten anyone, shout homophobic anything, have any sort of pictures on her phone sent by her brother or anybody else, almost get escorted out by the police or anyone else. She was very polite and kind to anyone who wanted to talk to her without flashing a camera in her face, and she supported her brother just by being there- you know, like any good sister would do. That simple. That is a prime example of the stretching and lying and bending and twisting of facts and stories that have been done to draw readers to this page. These bogus claims are nothing but misrepresentations of events, and that makes them lies. This is the most pathetic thing I have ever seen in my life! This site is not news any more than my piece of used toilet paper is a thesaurus! If you want to know what “really happened” come see for yourself. And hey, pro tip- when considering the source of information to determine if it is a reliable one, you must first consider motives of the source. Oh, but hey, that’s probably above your level of journalism as it is a concept taught in elentary school library classes all over this district. Yeah, I understand why you think this is news now. Step out and let someone else do the reporting if this trash is all you have to offer.

  5. In the past year, I have met and spoken to many people who have experienced the Joshua E Powell slash and burn, do-as-I-say-or-else style of school administration and the stories are all the same. We knew this before he was ever hired. Former colleagues, employees, and communities tried to warn us, but the people in the decision-making position chose to ignore those warnings. Those same people continue to, without much enthusiasm, cling to the notion that they made the right choice. It’s almost pathetic the way they protest the validity of the facts and evidence. The misguided minority of district employees who continue to sing the praises of Joshua Powell and his “accomplishments” should be prepared to face the hard questions and investigations that will be coming, because they will be the ones left holding the bag; trust me, Powell will leave you high and dry. Nothing is ever his fault, and when there is no where else to turn, those misguided souls who supported him will see his finger pointing at them. After he and his family are long gone from this community, those people will still be here; and as the tough and delicate work of undoing the damage and rebuilding the trust begins, those will be the faces that remind us to be intentional in who we entrust the care and education of our children to and will cause us to reconsider their roles in that process. As the old saying goes, when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. And the fleas also need to go.

  6. Take Powell’s sister out of it. Take away every word that’s been written. Just look at the government documents, audio, video, police reports, lawsuits containing sworn statements from complainants and witnesses, investigations from five agencies, thousands of pages from open records requests, even documents from previous trials.

    Misrepresentation of events? Bogus claims? Just to draw readers in? Sorry, the facts speak for themselves. Without words, without elaboration, without any explanation.

    Any reasonable person merely examining all the documentation and evidence would reach a much more harsh conclusion than they would without having someone to explain it to them. Maybe I’ll just start publishing things as they happen, with no explanation, and let the crowd mentality take over, assuming what it wants, believing what it wants, never trying to get to the bottom of anything. Maybe I’ll also start allowing the thousands of hate-filled personal attacks people leave in comments about Powell to come through. They’re not just coming from a handful of disgruntled former employees. And maybe, instead of just focusing on the professional (and only the personal matters that have directly involved law enforcement), I’ll also focus on the personal lives of all parties involved. That should be a lot more fun.

    It’s fine to be upset because your small town crime ring has just been broken up but give the spin a rest. Move along so you have the ability to get a job in the future without having to move hundreds of miles away.

    There’s a reason small town Kentucky has had a horrible reputation for decades. It’s because a handful of people get sucked up in low-level shakedowns of local government and then have to attack anyone attempting to shine a light on what’s going on. Usually involving instances of harassment, retaliation, threats, occasional theft. When the walls come crumbling down, the inner circle lashes out, tries to eat everyone alive. And usually? People in small town Kentucky have the temerity to stand behind what they say and do by using their name. They usually have the guts to stand up in person.

    But you folks are cowards and have been since day one. You’ve lied, cheated, stolen, threatened, intimidated, fired, scammed, launched huge campaigns of deception. You’ve consistently tried to take down anyone and everyone asking questions. Without ever bothering to work things out, to explain, to do the right thing. That tells people everything they need to know — that they’re right.

    Now all you’ve got is this last tiny shred of what you wrongly believe is anonymity, attacking the messenger, still not realizing that your circus has been run out of town. Coming for me won’t change anything.

    No matter what happens with the EPSB, Joshua Powell’s contract isn’t being renewed. The current board isn’t working with him and will not keep him around. They’ll suspend him and shut him out every week if they need to. They’ve made that abundantly clear with their actions.

    There are many more people who oppose the tripe you’re cowardly pushing than support you. With or without me, they’re going to continue standing up for themselves whether you like it or not. There’s nothing you can do about it.

  7. The truth is just straight up foreign to Powell and his bunch. It would almost be sad, but the damage those lies have done outweigh any empathy they might elicit.

  8. @Nope what’s amazing you use a person’s name to whom Powell’s sister threatened but I don’t recall Jake’s story mentioning a name…therefore you have admitted Powell’s sister is guilty in my opinion.

    I also noticed you seemed to ignore the fact Powell’s sister blowing kisses to a man whom she thought was someone else…the gentlemen had to finally approach her and tell her…he was not who she thought he was…but not to be deterred Powell’s sister then approached a different man accusing him of a blatant lie which Powell is accused of doing during a board meeting a few months ago Powell accused someone else of the very thing he’s named in a lawsuit over….

    I’m inclined to believe Powell’s sister thought her bullying tactics of verbal threats would scare people not to take her pic or give Jake info…it didn’t work all of MoCo is talking about what happened…which thanks to Powell’s sister’s poor decision to behave as a bully Wednesday night it only leads the community to believe Powell’s whole family might have lived their lives on bullying,threats and intimidation..

    What’s the reason now these people are now back paddling is it possibly because her husband is a KSP and the backlash is more than the Powell mafia assumed it would be…..its apparent it’s more than a few disgruntled employees or Nope wouldn’t be trying to deny what happened.

  9. Thank you for letting what evidently is one of his few minions (‘nope’) speak. Just her comments alone further exemplify the misguided light he has shed unto his blind, dare I say it, pitiful followers. Without any connotation thrown into the evidence, it still stands. Facts, dear friends, cannot be refuted. The collosal mountains of evidence against this man is mind numbing. If you, the ‘still follower’ have an shred of common sense (not taught in grad school nor any elementary school library) you should go into self preservation mode, just as your Dr. Powell was hard wired for when his tenure began. Because as a life long member of this community, I am increasingly getting curious as to WHO YOU are and where exactly YOU fit into our educational structure in Montgomery County. As for you Jake, you can print this on line, on a billboard or on toilet paper if you want. I will continue to read and be informed of unrefuted facts you present regarding the injustices our school system has systematically suffered through-carry on.

  10. Something I left out a person went to the KSP officer and told him, Powell’s sister was harassing people at the board meeting..the person also told the KSP officer..Powell’s sister should be escorted out.

    But of course this didn’t happen….that’s a fine example of a KSP officer helping a brother officer’s wife…while taxpayers were being subject to Her harassment…this is sickening it gives the KSP another bad name especially after the manner the two KSP officers treated the Lady about the Ipad..

    Then KSP wonders why people are reluctant to come forward when a crime has been committed

  11. Jake this is an excellent recap of the corruption leading up to today. You’ve done well over 100 stories on the corruption in this small town. Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as the investigations will uncover a lot more corruption.

    Powell and his posse are desperate and have been for some time. That’s why they want to hide behind names here and on Topix. They want to attack anonymously hoping they can get the uncovering of his corruption stop.

    @Nope, I was there the other night. I seen the actions of Jeana, Powell’s sister. Falsely accusing people taking her picture. The actions of Dena Amburgy begging people to take her picture. The actions of Sammi Hatfield giving the peace sign and saying God Bless. The actions of Powell’s posse drawing attention to themselves and then claim they was being harassed. Mind blowing.

  12. With all of this going on with Powell, where does Rison stand with EPSB board regarding illegal hiring of his daughter and son in law?

  13. Another pro-tip: People who aren’t homophobic? They don’t sit by, apologizing as their relatives use taxpayer dollars to push homophobic personal attacks.

    Especially not when that relative is tasked with supporting and protecting thousands of young people and hundreds of adults, many of whom are gay or know someone gay (or LGBTQ). Any person able to reach the level of superintendent — particularly one frequently claiming to be a psychological mastermind — would be familiar with the psychological and emotional damage one can cause young people or people in vulnerable states with such official homophobic remarks. They weren’t made in private and no effort was ever made to clarify. The intent was clear.

    When a ‘leader’ does something like that, young people can suffer severe emotional trauma. With the gay youth suicide rate as high as it is, it’s just disgusting and discriminatory. In some communities it would be illegal to make such remarks on the government dime and on government time.

    This is not 1950. The APA says sexual orientation is not a choice. The only people suggesting gay people are immoral, unhealthy or unworthy are those suffering from their own fear of inadequacy. The only people defending homophobic actions are homophobes — people enabling homophobia. Enabling homophobia is far worse than calling someone a “fag” because you’re angry.

  14. Jake the recap you gave in this story is fantastic! Another great story…thanks for the countless hours you have put in the Powell corruption..

    Also if I were this Jennifer Hall mentioned in Nope’s comment…I would be very careful…it sounds like she’s definitely a target of Powell and his mafia….by Nope using a name further proves this comment is from Powell’s inner circle…it’s chilling to think innocent people might be in danger for doing the right thing

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