By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a scheme to derail the candidacy of Dr. Craig Pouncey for the job of State Superintendent, now threatens to crush the man tasked with investigating the smear campaign.
Apparently, corruption is written into the DNA of the Department of Education. Every year, hundreds of millions of federal and state tax dollars pour into Alabama’s education system, but the State remains near or at the bottom of the heap by every legitimate metric.
Investment versus outcome in the State’s education system should alert even the dull-witted, that available dollars are being squandered, misappropriated, or stolen in devious ways that involve legal and illegal corruption.
If in fact, the love of money is the root of all evil, then believing there is evil intent to gain control of the billion dollar school funds is not hard to understand.
Almost immediately after State Superintendent Michael Sentance tasked staff attorney Michael Meyer with conducting an internal investigation into events surrounding an anonymous ethics complaint against Pouncey, he discovered that he and his wife were also targets of a proposed ethics complaint.
Meyer’s report presented to Sentance on June 7, 2017, found that the plan to discredit Pouncey was devised and executed by ALSDE board member, Mary Scott Hunter, then-Interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, and ALSDE attorneys Juliana Dean, James R. Ward, III, and Susan Tudor Crowther.
Just days after accepting Meyer’s report, which found evidence of wrongdoing, Sentance backed away from its findings, calling it a draft, even though it was, in fact, the final report. It was accepted as such by the State Board of Education on a 6 to 1 vote, with Hunter as the only no vote.
But even the Board’s approval to send the report on to the Attorney General and Ethics Commission isn’t slowing the effort to discredit the report. If anything, the plan has accelerated the urgency to paint Meyer as a disgruntled employee out for revenge.
The story line that Meyer is a man hell-bent on retaliation leads back to a memo composed by Chief Counsel Juliana Dean in January 2017, claiming that Meyer and his wife Tracey, also an employee at the Department of Education, were in violation of provisions of the Ethics Code.
But, what were the crimes Dean was accusing the Meyers of doing?
According to Dean’s memo in June 2013, Meyer’s wife Tracey used her ALSDE email to “solicit a position” for her husband. She also claimed Michael Meyer had used his work email account to set up interviews with CNN and Good Morning America about a Christmas video that showed their then-11-year-old son receiving tickets to the National Championship without filing for leave time. She further claimed Michael Meyer used State time and resources to complete course work related to earning the rank of Lt. Colonel in the military. She admitted that in this instance he had sought leave time, but she didn’t believe the leave covered the time he must have spent on the course work. Dean concludes her memo stating, “I believe these acts are in violation of Alabama Code 36-25-5.”
So, in January, as Meyer embarked on his investigation, was Dean trying to smear him to stop the investigation, or as a reason to claim the final report was biased because of her ethics memo?
To think that Dean and Hunter were clever enough to pull off such a coup by themselves is to stretch reason beyond the breaking point; confirmed by how easy it was to catch them in the act as APR did in June 2016.
Many questions remain:
Why did Ethics Director Tom Albritton expedite a letter acknowledging the anonymous complaint against Pouncey?
Why did Hunter, Dean, and others not inform the Board that they were sending the complaint?
Did any of the five cited as conspirators in Meyer’s report know the anonymous complaint against Pouncey was false before it was sent to Ethics?
Did anyone receive a thing of value to distribute this false allegation?
Who composed the complaint with cut and paste emails?
How were the emails obtained, through a former lawsuit or perhaps a secretary?
Were any documents destroyed?
Why did Meyer not demand copies of the text message between the five and others?
Why did Dean and others receive advice from attorneys at Balch Bingham?
It is unclear how the Attorney General’s Office or the Ethics Commission will proceed. But the latest plot to crush Meyer should have a chilling effect on every State employee, because if a false Ethics report can smear Pouncey and Meyer, no one is safe.