By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
A final report on the scandal surrounding a smear campaign launched to torpedo the candidacy of Dr. Craig Pouncey, for State Superintendent of the Department of Education is hidden away in the office of the man who ultimately landed the job.
Superintendent Michael Sentance is holding the results of an internal investigation into the Pouncey matter, claiming it is a “draft copy” of the final report. However, according to well-placed sources within the system, the report was not delivered to Sentance as a draft but as a completed document. These sources, not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, say Sentance is stalling for time. An email from the State Superintendent’s Office to APR said the report might be ready for the next Board meeting to be held this Wednesday.
The false allegations against Dr. Pouncey, in the form of an anonymous Ethics complaint, were exposed by The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) in August 2016. Claims made in the so-called complaint accused Pouncey of falsifying authorship of his Doctoral Dissertation, launched a myriad of conspiracies.
Many people believe these accusations cost Pouncey the Superintendent position which later resulted in a Senate investigation.
Pouncey filed a lawsuit against Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), Board member Mary Scott Hunter, Intreim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, and ASDE attorneys Juliana Teixeira Dean, James R Ward III, and Susan Tudor Crowther.
On Friday, June 16, of this year, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Roman Ashley Shaul received a motion to dismiss from the defendants.
It is widely speculated that some of the defendants, in this case, are fearful of what might be revealed in the report being held in Sentance’s office. Along with APR, several board members have called for Sentance to make the results of the investigation public.
Denying Pouncey the position of Superintendent is likely rooted in 2010 takeover of the State Legislature by the machine propelled by former Gov. Bob Riley, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, Business Council of Alabama (BCA) chieftain Billy Canary, and others.
Mere months after leaving office, Riley registered as a lobbyist, citing his desire to continue his administration efforts to reform education and promote economic development. Writing at the time for the Birmingham News, veteran reporter David White captured the moment: “Riley said he supports charter schools and merit pay for teachers, and he plans to form an education foundation.” Then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard offered his opinion: “There has been no greater champion for education reform and economic development than Bob Riley.”
Hubbard was convicted of using his office for personal gain and other felony acts of public corruption, including representing “education” clients. At the trial, Hubbard was accused of making the Speaker’s office an extension of Riley’s lobbying efforts.
BCA chieftain Canary has also sought to influence education through his connection with legislators and in the last ALSDE elections, contributing more than $150,000 to two candidates. Both lost their bid despite Canary’s generosity.
However, Pouncey’s troubles didn’t begin with the anonymous complaint.
In June 2016, Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) emailed members of the State Board of Education encouraging them to not rush in finding a replacement for State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice, who was forced from the position by then-Governor Robert Bentley.
In her email, Rep. Collins asked the Board to keep interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland “a few more months to work on efficiency and effectiveness of the Department and the programs.” But well-placed sources within the Department of Education believed Collins, a darling of the BCA, was part of the larger plan. Canary, Riley, and Associates were continuing to wrestle control of public education away from the State’s elected Board.
In her email, Rep. Collins discouraged the Board from considering Pouncy (sic)— who had served as Bice’s Assistant Superintendent—for the top job in education.
“Lastly, I’ve only been associated with one person that actually had a letter written to Dr. Bice from the Speaker, [Mike Hubbard] asking him to not send a person back to the State House, and it was Dr. Pouncy (sic). I hope you do not consider him, he does not fit the priorities you set as a Board,” wrote Collins.
However, in an APR report, Larry Lee confirmed with former Superintendent Bice that no such letter was ever received. Lee writes, “She [Collins] opposes Pouncey because former Speaker Mike Hubbard wrote a letter to Bice telling him “to not let Pouncey come back to the Statehouse.” He further wrote, “And what was the crime Collins is concerned about? During a Legislative hearing, Pouncey stood up for public education when a Legislator attacked public schools.”
At the center of the investigation now tucked away in Sentance’s office was an anonymous Ethics complaint, accusing Pouncey of falsifying authorship of his Doctoral Dissertation and using State personnel and resources to earn his doctorate.
A letter with emails from 2009 containing thin allegations against Pouncey was distributed to Board members by, a yet, unknown individual or individuals. Subsequently, ALSDE General Counsel Dean informed the State Ethics Commission of the complaint. Ethics Commission General Counsel Hugh Evans, III, responded to Dean in a July 15, email stating, “We have received a complaint alleging certain possible violations of the Ethics Law on the part of Warren Craig Pouncey.”
Even through the State Ethics Commission is prohibited from receiving anonymous complaints, much less commenting on them, Evan did both claiming the complaint was not anonymous because he received it from the ALSDE board.
In mid-August, 2016 APR requested a comment from Juliana T. Dean, about the anonymous ethics complaint and her involvement. APR received a response from Michael Sibley, ASDE Communications Director stating, “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.”
It is believed that the ALSDE investigation has been secreted away by Sentance to protect Hunter and others who may have played a significant roll in the smear campaign.
Even before the false complaint publicly surfaced, Hunter was telling individuals at a summer BCA gathering, that 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.
Later Senators Gerald Dial and Quinton Ross launched a Senate investigation into the allegations surrounding the leaked ethics letter and anonymous complaint filed against Pouncey. During one session of the Senate hearings, Senator Dial asked Hunter if, during the BCA meeting at Point Clear, she had spread a rumor about Pouncey’s ethic problems. Hunter said she didn’t remember. However, Dial then informed Hunter that she had, in fact, told him about Pouncey’s so-called problems during the BCA event.
While the Dial-Ross committee never resolved the issue as to who exactly plotted the dirty tricks to derail Pouncey’s selection as superintendent, it now appears that Superintendent Sentance is sitting on a report that might finally shed light on the scandal. As pondered by Larry Lee in APR, “Obviously, someone was trying to make sure Pouncey would not get the job. Why did they not want him?”
Was the Pouncey plot a conspiracy involving BCA, Riley Inc., or other special interests, or just loose confederacy of fools?
The public and press will have to wait until Sentance is forced to publish the ALSDE findings.