Philly school superintendent Ackerman silences five whistleblowers

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Update on 12/15/2010:

The identities of the five suspended employees were reported today, and they are: John L. Byars, senior vice president of procurement services; Francis Dougherty, a key aide to Deputy Superintendent Leroy D. Nunery II; and Patrick Henwood, senior vice president for capital programs. Two are top information technology staff members – Robert Westall, deputy chief information officer, and Melanie Harris, the department head.

Original story :

A new development in the controversy regarding a $7.5 million contract that was allegedly steered to a small firm by Philadelphia School District Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, was reported today by The Philadelphia Inquirer. State Rep. Michael P. McGeehan said that the district suspended five employees, after notifying them in writing on Monday that the district was investigating the disclosure of sensitive school documents.

McGeehan said that he would ask the state’s attorney general to investigate the suspension and whether it violated the state’s whistleblower protection.

A press statement issued on Monday evening by the school district said that an outside expert had recently been hired to review its business operations.  The statement said, “Apparent inconsistencies in the distribution of prime contracts to vendors, as well as questionable practices in other areas of business and facilities operations, as reported by multiple firms hoping to do business with the school district, led to these new aggressive steps.”

Philadelphia school superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman suspended five employees on Monday claiming that they had leaked sensitive school documents. Others say that the employees are whistleblowers, exposing improper procurement practices inside the district. (photo:The Philadelphia Inquirer)

The statement claimed that an investigation began about two weeks ago, but that it had been more complicated than expected, making it necessary to hire the expert, whose identity was not disclosed. The investigation followed closely the first published report in The Inquirer on Nov. 28 that Ackerman had abruptly pulled a $7.5 million contract for surveillance camera systems at 19 area high schools, and handed it off to a little-known firm, IBS Communications, that was not qualified by the state to handle emergency work, as provided by the contract.

At McGeehan’s request, the state’s acting secretary of education is also investigating the matter to determine if procurement rules were violated and the district officials acted improperly.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

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