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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