Feb 122016
 

whistle

Commentary by Dennis Reeves Cooper…….

How smart do you have to be to serve on the Monroe County School Board? This would seem to be a logical question considering the Board members’ history of dealing with internal theft of taxpayer money– as well as their treatment of whistleblowers. Surely you remember the infamous Acevedo scandal. It was former School District Financial Director Kathy Reitzel who uncovered and reported Monique Acevedo’s theft of $413,000 of School District funds. And she was also the State Attorney’s star witness in the case. Her testimony was instrumental in convicting Monique’s then-husband, Randy Acevedo, who was then Superintendent of Schools. He was charged with obstruction of justice for trying to cover up Monique’s criminal activity. And the case that Reitzel made was apparently also strong enough to convince Monique to avoid a trial by pleading guilty.

You probably recall what happened next. Monique was sent to prison. Randy was removed from office and placed on probation. Then, inexplicably, School District officials forced Reitzel to resign. In essence, they fired her. They fired their whistleblower! And they fired their key prosecution witness! In a commentary published here in The Blue Paper last December, I asked this question: What did the members of the School Board think would happen after they fired the whistleblower in what is probably the largest theft case in the history of the School District? What they should have known would happen is that, in future cases of theft, few if any whistleblowers would ever come forward. Few if any! Ever!

So . . . I hate to tell you I told you so. But I told you so. Now we have the apparent theft of almost $22,000 at Horace O’Bryant School– and nobody seems to know what happened to it. And when School Board attorneys sent an email asking a number of employees to come in and tell officials what they might know about the case, do you know what happened? None of those employees even responded to the email, much less showed up to talk to officials! And why would they, considering the Board’s history of punishing whistleblowers?! School Board members seemed surprised. Even shocked. Some have even asked the Board attorney if employees can be FORCED to blow the whistle– or at least answer questions. School Board member Ed Davidson was quoted in the Keynoter as saying, “Any staff member who refuses to cooperate should be suspended immediately without pay until they see the light and come to Jesus.” Of course, Davidson stopped short of warning potential whistleblowers that, once they have “ratted on their Conch buddies” (language used by Davidson during his interview with the Keynoter), Board officials might immediately fire their Conch asses– just like they fired Kathy Reitzel!

There is nothing complicated here. I would suggest that School District employees’ hesitation to cooperate has very little to do with potentially ratting on their Conch buddies– or even coming to Jesus. But it has everything to do with the School Board’s documented record of punishing– not rewarding– whistleblowers.

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Dennis Reeves Cooper
IN THE PHOTO: DENNIS REEVES COOPER PH.D AND BILL O'REILLY. Dr. Cooper founded Key West The Newspaper in 1994 and published the paper for 18 years, until he retired in 2012. In 2001, Key West Police Chief Buz Dillon had Cooper arrested and jailed, alleging that Cooper had violated an obscure state gag law when writing about a police investigation. The journalist-arrested story hit the national news and Bill O'reilly called and invited Cooper to appear on his show on Fox News. Dillon was also invited to appear, but refused the invitation. O'Reilly suggested that Dillon was "hiding under his desk." The ACLU also called and offered to sue the City of Key West on Cooper's behalf. Subsequently, the gag law was declared unconstitutional and the City settled out of court for $240,000. Also, the arrest was a factor in the creation of an independent police oversight board-- the Citizen Review Board (CRB)-- by Key West voters in November 2002. By that time, Buz Dillon had been unceremoniously fired.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------More Articles By Dennis Reeves Cooper prior to November, 2014.
 February 12, 2016  Posted by at 1:08 am Issue #153, Journalism as a Contact Sport  Add comments

  6 Responses to “The Missing $22,000 at Horace O’Bryant School: Why Potential Whistleblowers are Hesitating to Come Forward”

  1. dennis I’ll contribute a coloring book and some crayons to the school board?
    they gotta start somewhere don’t they? 😉 wjm

  2. Could not agree more!! Seems to me that Jack Nicholson’s famous statement in “A Few Good Men”: “Truth! You can’t handle the truth!” applies. That certainly describes the School Board when it comes to whistle blowers.

  3. Excellent analysis, Dr. Cooper! Allow me to suggest, for your consideration, an addition to the long list of the school board’s questionable actions: The purchase of Marathon Manor. Remember that li’l boondoggle? Has anyone yet figured out what to do with that property that would benefit the school district?

    In my view, that cost is far more than the whole Acevedo scandal. Just askin’…

  4. Offer something of value (immunity from firing?) to the first employee who comes forward with direct knowledge of the theft and agrees to testify against the miscreants.

    And I’m reminded, what’s up with Reitzel’s appeal of her firing?

    • Dear KWSHOES:

      The answer to your question is available by merely clicking on the link to your immediate LEFT here, under UPDATE: KATHY REITZEL..

      That’s Dr. Cooper’s comprehensive report on the whole sordid Reitzel affair. Great reading!

    • Concerning Kathy Reitzel’s appeal, her lawyers and the School District’s lawyers are in the process of exchanging briefs. Unfortunately, that process and a ruling could take a year.