By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The final report citing efforts to deny Dr. Craig Pouncey a fair chance at being selected State Superintendent of the Department of Education has been leaked to The Alabama Political Reporter. The report concludes that five individuals conspired together in a “scheme to malign Dr. Pouncey and prevent his selection as State Superintendent.”
The scheme, according to the report, was hatched and executed by Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) board member, Mary Scott Hunter, then-Interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, and ALSDE attorneys Juliana Teixeira Dean, James R Ward III, and Susan Tudor Crowther. The internal investigation also found unnamed individuals who may have participated in the plot.
“Most regrettably, these five participants have caused grave and serious harm,” the report states, “and cast a major shadow on the veracity and credibility of the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education (through no fault of the majority) that still lingers to the present day.”
It was widely believed that the findings of the internal probe would be released today at the board meeting. However, frantic meetings held with Balch and Bingham attorneys, including partner Dorman Walker, on the eve of the report’s scheduled release, led to State Superintendent Michael Sentance shifting course to protect Hunter and the others, according to those with knowledge of the meetings.
In a confidential memo released late yesterday, Sentance claimed the internal investigation conducted by attorney Michael Meyer, “was not designed to do anything more than the internal review of the electronic evidence.”
For days, Sentance has referred to the report as a “draft,” ignoring the 38 page document’s cover page stating, “Final Report and Conclusions of Dr. Craig Pouncey Investigation.”
For at least 10 days, Sentance has withheld what he knew was the final report (and not a draft) and directed his staff to mislead and mischaracterize the the report to board members and The Alabama Political Reporter.
Since APR first made known the existence and scope of the internal investigation, Sentance has been under pressure to alter the finding and sanitize its content, which shows Hunter, Cleveland, Dean, Ward, and Crowther colluded for months to tar Dr. Pouncey’s reputation.
Between June and August 31, 2016, there were almost weekly meetings and over 250 emails exchanged discussing how to smear Pouncey. The report found that the these five individuals — using state time, equipment, and resources — coordinated to disseminate, “anonymous and unsubstantiated ethical allegations to legislators, State Board members, governmental bodies, news and media outlets, and the public at large would effectively taint Dr. Pouncey’s credibility and candidacy to be selected as State Superintendent.”
In sworn testimony, ALSDE’s Chief Information Security Officer David Pope recalled how, on or around July 20, 2016, he was summoned by Cleveland and Dean for a, “telephone conference with Mary Scott Hunter on General Counsel Dean’s speaker phone.” At the heart of the matter was Hunter’s “demand” that Pope conduct a computer search, for all e-mails and documents relating to Pouncey. Pope also confirmed that Cleveland and Dean, “were in favor of Mary Scott Hunter’s demands and encouraged him to fully cooperate.” According to Pope’s testimony Dean, “further offered her assistance, including identifying search terms.”
The anonymous Ethics complaint filed against Pouncey consisted of “cut and paste” emails, which Pope later referred to as looking like something put together by the Unibomber (i.e. Ted Kaczynski), a infamous homegrown terrorist.
A memorandum dated July 22, 2016 shows Ward outlined four ways to discredit Pouncey. A copy was also sent to Balch Bingham attorney Walker. The emphasis was on speed, as the date to elect the next State Superintendent was fast approaching.
Leading up to the August 11, 2016, State Board meeting to select a new State Superintendent, the three attorneys Dean, Ward and Crowther, “direct[ed] their concert[ed] efforts and energy on a furious course to discredit Dr. Pouncey,” according to the report. Again, Hunter was the only Board member with knowledge of the attorney’s activities.
The report concludes that Board member Mary Scott Hunter, then-Interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, and ALSDE attorneys Juliana Teixeira Dean, James R Ward III, and Susan Tudor Crowther worked in concert to discredit Pouncey, and deny him the position of State Superintendent.
The report found, “the discovery of Dr. Pouncey’s innocence was concealed by Department Counsel Dean, Ward and Crowther, as well as Dr. Cleveland and Ms. Hunter.” It also states, “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 report calls what happened to Pouncey a “grave injustice” and a disgrace on the Department of Education.