State school board accepts report saying 5 schemed against Craig - Montgomery Alabama news.

State school board accepts report saying 5 schemed against Craig Pouncey

(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)

The Alabama State Board of Education voted Wednesday to accept a report about the investigation into allegations against former Assistant Superintendent Dr. Craig Pouncey.

After more than an hour of heated discussion, the vote was 7-1 in favor of accepting the report.

READ MORE: Pouncey says he feels vindicated by the report.

Superintendent Michael Sentance tasked Alabama State Department of Education attorney Michael Meyer to investigate anonymous allegations that created questions and concerns about Pouncey's ethics. The tip accused Pouncey of falsifying his dissertation to earn his doctorate and came as board members were considering him as a candidate to be the state's next superintendent last summer.

Board members found copies of the letter with pieces of emails cut and pasted to a piece of paper “Unabomber style,” as it was referenced in the Wednesday’s meeting.

Meyer concluded his investigation and submitted his report to the superintendent June 6. Sentance told the members of the board he considered the report a "draft" until he signed off on it.

"A report isn't done until I say it's done and bring it to the board," Sentance said at Wednesday's special called meeting.

In a memo emailed to the board Tuesday night, with Meyer's report attached, Sentance said "after reading and discussing the matter with him, I expressed serious concerns."

It went on to say he sought out an independent perspective.

"I reached out to the Honorable Bernard Harwood, Jr., a former member of the Alabama Supreme Court, to review the material," Sentance's email stated.

Meyer stood by the conclusions in his report in Wednesday's meeting.

"In my opinion, this could have been resolved and refuted very shortly after the anonymous allegations," Meyer told board members.

His report concluded:

  • The three (3) Department attorneys (Juliana Dean, James Ward, and Susan Crowther) named in the Pouncey lawsuit, were integral components in a scheme to malign Dr. Pouncey and prevent his selection as State Superintendent.
  • Dr. Phillip Cleveland, as Interim State Superintendent, was aware of the scheme and actively participated and promoted in the furtherance of the scheme and objectives.
  • State School Board member Mary Scott Hunter actively and publicly furthered the theme that Dr. Pouncey had "ethics issues and problems" and, because of these issues and problems it would be difficult to hire as then new state superintendent.
  • A yet-to-be-named individual and source within the Department gathered certain emails from Dr. Pouncey's computer while he was employed at the Department. These emails were later used against Dr. Pouncey in a "cut and paste" manner during the anonymous disbursement within each Board Member's packet for the July 12, 2016 meeting.
  • The evidence collected decisively established Dr. Pouncey’s innocence and positively absolved Dr. Pouncey of any “ethical issue of problem.” However, the discovery of Dr. Pouncey’s innocence was concealed by Department Counsel Dean, Ward and Crowther as well as Dr. Cleveland and Ms. Hunter. Numerous parties and entities should have been notified of Dr. Pouncey’s innocence immediately upon the undisputed conclusion that Dr. Pouncey had not plagiarized his doctoral thesis as alleged in the secret distribution and anonymous “cut and paste” e-mail allegations as contained within each board member packet.

“The allegations against Dr Pouncey were refuted. He earned his doctorate,” Meyer told the Board.

Per Sentence’s memo, Meyer “did not conduct a full investigation of these matters as we were simply trying to expedite another regulatory body’s work.”

So the only person officially deposed in Meyer’s investigation was ALSDE’s head of Information Services, Dave Pope.

“I think what happened, information was collected over several years,” Pope told board members. He said, at one time, the timer on ALSDE’s computer screen locks was set at 30 minutes, and locks were just installed on doors in the Department in recent years, giving someone enough time to go through someone else’s email and print things off. But he “can’t prove it."

He does believe the “Unabomber style” note was an inside job.

“Someone had been holding on to those emails a long time. It has to have been someone who worked here," Pope said.

Board member Mary Scott Hunter, named in the report, called its findings “bizarre” and a “hack job.”

“This report is incredible in its assertions,” Hunter told her peers. “This is inaccurate.”

She said there was never “ill will” towards Pouncey at all.

“I hold Craig Pouncey in very high regard. This report doesn't connect to the facts," Hunter said.

Harwood also questioned some of the connections made in Meyer’s report.

“I've got hundreds of questions after reading this report,” Harwood said. “The conclusion was that there were five equal participants in scheme. I have questions about whether the evidence supports that.”

Harwood also stated he didn’t find the connection of Susan Crowther connected to a “scheme” as stated in the report, nor did he find enough evidence to support that James Ward was part of a scheme.

When the discussion was over, the board voted 7-1 to accept Meyer’s report. Hunter was the only one who did not vote in favor of accepting the report. She later said she would have accepted it if Harwood’s review had also been included. Later, member Cynthia McCarty changed her vote to abstain, saying she thought her vote did include Harwood’s review.

The board’s next step appears to be hiring a new attorney to represent only the Board, not the entire department or superintendent. ALSDE General Counsel Juliana Dean said an Attorney General’s opinion states that she represents the superintendent, the department, and the board, but Ella Bell expressed frustrations over Dean’s “attorney/client privilege” preventing her from discussing certain matters related to the Dr. Pouncey issue.

Members voted 7-1 to seek its own legal representation and counsel. Again, Hunter was the only member who did not vote in favor of this matter.

The board will hold another special called meeting Friday at 10 a.m. to discuss the process of hiring an outside attorney.

Copyright 2017 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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