OEDEL: Silence descends on the controversy involving Bibb Schools

March 23, 2014 

Many who once celebrated former Bibb school Superintendent Romain Dallemand and his Macon Miracle have now firmly, grimly clammed up. Bibb Board of Education member Ella Carter responded testily, “I’ve got no position that I want to share,” about Dallemand dealings.

Carter and fellow BOE members Tom Hudson and Wanda West appear resigned to relying on their identical records of voting to hire Dallemand, purportedly extend his contract, purportedly ratify his wrongful spending and give him one heck of a send-off, complete with promising a publicly paid criminal defense.

West will be the first to test the public’s views of that cabal’s Dallemand days stewardship when she stands for re-election countywide May 20. Will a majority of Bibb’s voters ratify their record?

Bibb BOE members Jason Downey and Lynn Farmer both voted to ratify some of Dallemand’s unauthorized deals, and also voted for Dallemand’s stunning severance. Downey and Farmer are among the few still talking.

“I’d vote for that severance deal if it came up a million times,” Downey told me proudly March 18 -- as if Bibb’s taxpayers had to pay Dallemand $350,000 for a flight to Haiti. Given what was already known about Dallemand’s unauthorized spending, Dallemand’s only valid employment contract should just have been allowed to expire last June. Yet Farmer, like Downey, still defends the severance bonanza. “I would make the same decision knowing what I know now,” she wrote last week.

As for the criminal defense indemnity sweetener, Downey explained that he knew “for sure” that such a provision wouldn’t be enforceable because one can’t commit crimes in good faith. “Let him sue us,” Downey said.

But then Downey said that he didn’t think any crimes had been committed. So wouldn’t that suggest Dallemand might have a fair claim to exercise the criminal defense indemnification provision?

Besides, lawyer Downey probably knows it’s not a bright idea to invite a lawsuit by entering into a contract disingenuously, believing its terms unenforceable. It violates the implied duty of good faith to endorse a contract secretly thought invalid.

Conversely, Downey defended ratifying some of Dallemand’s no-bid and/or unauthorized tech deals because board counsel warned that the deals might generate litigation. Why so fearful of litigation on apparently unenforceable contracts plainly beyond Dallemand’s authority and outside board policy, but not fearful of more dicey indemnification litigation concerning the severance deal if you believe Dallemand committed no crimes? It doesn’t add up.

With a wall of silence quickly descending, it’s time for U.S. Attorney Michael Moore to start issuing subpoenas. He should include Dallemand, Promise lease mastermind Cliffard Whitby and critically positioned former school system officials like Tom Tourand, who supervised the tech purchases. Also on the list should be the principals from all firms identified in the Mauldin & Jenkins audit that did irregular no-bid and/or unauthorized tech deals with Dallemand’s administration, including Progressive Consulting Technologies, Pinnacle, United Data Technologies, ADCAP Network Systems, Comp-tech Computer Technologies, Layer 3 Communications and Diversified Computer Solutions.

If they have nothing to fear, then they should welcome those subpoenas.

A grand jury is overdue. A state grand jury, impaneled for six months starting August 2012, was led by foreman George Israel, who’d previously served eight years as Macon’s mayor, simultaneously serving on the BOE. That grand jury, through Israel, approached Greg Winters, then serving as district attorney for Bibb County. Winters was embroiled in a re-election battle that he ultimately lost to present District Attorney David Cooke.

Winters pleaded lack of capacity to investigate financial suspicions about Dallemand raised by Israel on behalf of the grand jury. Later, after Cooke defeated Winters, Israel approached the district attorney’s office again before Cooke took office and was given the same answer. Doubly rebuffed, the grand jury pressed no further.

Was there a lack of official fortitude to assist the grand jury in pursuing a prominent black official, even though Bibb school system’s chief financial officer, Ron Collier, another black official, was alleging financial improprieties? Let’s hope Moore issues subpoenas soon and gets to the bottom of it. The only relevant color is green.

David Oedel teaches law at Mercer University law school.

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