By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Earlier this week, the Alabama Political Reporter asked why the Ethics Commission had inserted itself into the selection process for the next State Superintendent of the Department of Education.
Building upon the investigation into what appears to be a smear campaign against Dr. Craig Pouncey, a candidate for superintendent. New information indicates the Ethics Commission was an unwitting participant in the scheme to derail Pouncey’s candidacy, according to multiple sources.
At the center of the turmoil was an anonymous Ethics complaint, accusing Pouncey of falsifying authorship of his Doctoral Dissertation and using State personnel and resources to earn his doctorate.
An anonymous letter with emails from 2009 containing thin allegations against Pouncey was sent to the Ethics Commission by Juliana T. Dean, General Counsel for ASDE, at the urging of Board member Mary Scott Hunter, according to sources inside ASDE and others close to the situation.
APR called Dean’s office on Wednesday morning. Rather than being connected to Dean, the call was transferred to Dr. Michael O. Sibley, Director of Communications for ASDE.
After informing Sibley that our sources confirmed Hunter had directed Dean to send the alleged complaint to Ethics, he said he would track down the answers with Dean. The question were as follows:
How did you receive the anonymous allegations?
From whom did you receive them?
Did Hunter alone ask you to contact ethics?
At approximately 9:15 Sibley assured APR that he would speak with Dean. At 11:45 ARP received a reply from him with Dean’s response.
The statement reads, “The Ethics Commission did reach out to the State Department of Education (SDE) for a copy of the letter, after the Commission was informed of its existence, and was asked what needed to be done. Government agencies have mandatory reporting requirements pursuant to the Ethics Law.”
The operative words in Dean’s carefully crafted “non-responsive” response are, “after the Commission was informed of its existence and was asked what needed to be done.”
Who informed them?
Who asked what needed to be done?
Armed with the new information the July 15 letter sent from Hugh Evans, III, General Counsel for the State Ethics Commission to Dean, appears to be an acknowledgment that Ethics had received the complaint.
Sources close to the situation allege board member Mary Scott Hunter directed Dean to forward the anonymous allegations to Evans. Hunter, who represents District 8 on the Board of Education, according to her website, claims, “Her core values are Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all she does.”
During the recent Business Council of Alabama (BCA) gathering in Point Clear, Hunter stated Pouncey had serious ethics problems and was “out of the running” for State Superintendent, according to at least two sitting State Senators and lobbyists who asked not to be named.
At the luxury resort, Dr. Joe Morton, former State Superintendent who currently chairs BCA’s Business Education Alliance, issued the group’s third annual report, “Exceeding Expectations: The Keys to Alabama’s Student Success.” According to BCA, it proposes, “new measures of student achievement adopted to judge progress toward Plan 2020’s goals.”
Hunter received $75,000 from BCA’s Progress Political Action Committee in 2014 for a total of $90,000 to date.
Since 2014, BCA’s contributions to Board of Education candidates demonstrate a growing interest in who controls education in the State. BCA’s total contributions from 2000 to 2012 were $122,500 over the 12 year period. In 2014, the business group contributed $245,000 to campaigns and another $353,385 in 2016.
BCA’s CEO Billy Canary has repeatedly expressed his interest in influencing education, and is a fierce advocate of Common Core Standards. Canary was a member of convicted felon former Speaker Mike Hubbard’s “kitchen cabinet.” Canary’s wife, Leura serves as legal counsel for the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) where the new Superintendent would have a vote on the billion dollar funds board.
The political machinations surrounding the attempt to tarnish Pouncey, has all the earmarks of dirty tricks often employed by dark, political operatives.
“I’ve been doing campaigns in Alabama for 20 years, and I’ve seen this done to dozens of honest people,” said veteran politico, Jon Gray. “My first campaign was with Steve Windom in 1997, when the trial lawyers executed one of the most brazen smear campaigns in history, against Steve. What you’ve [APR] shown me about Dr. Pouncey is a textbook smear campaign, coming up at the eleventh hour, offered anonymously, based on emails obtained under questionable authority.”
Credible witnesses referenced in the emails that form the foundation of the claims against Pouncey, have come forward to contradict accusations made against Pouncey.
APR received a letter addressed to the board from Dr. Shelley Vail-Smith, an adjunct professor at Samford University for 12 years, who served as a member of Pouncey’s dissertation committee in 2010.
“Having seen the article in today’s Alabama Political Reporter regarding Dr. Pouncey and allegations regarding his character, especially in regard to the authorship of his dissertation, I feel compelled to speak on his behalf,” wrote Dr. Vail-Smith. “As a member of his dissertation committee in 2010, I was a part of the process that he went through. I participated in the entire process of his writing the dissertation, as did the other committee members. In my opinion, it would have been impossible for anyone else to have written any part of this for him.”
On Wednesday several boxes were delivered to ASDE containing Pouncey’s yellow legal pads on which he wrote his dissertation.
Vail-Smith, in closing, reminds the Board of its weighty task: “So much rests in your hands, and I know that you will do your best to make the decision that is right for our state, our families, and our children.”
Two individuals, with an extensive background in Alabama ethics code, contend the anonymous allegations about Pouncey, in their opinion, does not rise to the level of even an investigation. They also said that the Commission doesn’t investigate unsigned complaints.
Later today, the Board will cast votes to select the next State Superintendent of the Department of Education.