Misconduct is defined as mismanagement of responsibilities. Reprimands are then issued if the behavior does not reflect compliance, followed by consequences. As The Weekly Newspapers learned from Tuesday night’s Monroe County School Board meeting, so far there hasn’t been any evidence of misconduct, or in this case theft in the Monique and Randy Acevedo investigation, just alleged incompetence and inefficiency.
“Either they didn’t know they existed, or they were not enforced. What you had is widespread ignorance of the policies and procedures,” Latour “LT” Lafferty, an attorney with Fowler White Boggs out of Tampa addressed the board. Lafferty is a legal expert in White Collar Crime and a Corporate Compliance and Ethics Leader. “We do feel that is a violation of procedures.”
“But not theft?” Board Chairman Andy Griffiths asked for specific clarification.
Lafferty explained there are not any findings signaling employees were stealing from the school district.
Tuesday’s meeting is another chapter in the scandal involving Monique Acevedo, the wife of suspended Monroe County Superintendent Randy Acevedo, and former adult education coordinator for the schools. Allegedly, she misused her p-card, or school issued credit card, to purchase personal items worth $180,000 dollars over the course of several years.
Included are silk ties, sunglasses, DVD box sets, bar stools, spear gun accessories, Red Bull energy drinks, the assorted list goes on.
Acevedo has been arrested and so has her husband for possibly covering up her possible actions. Randy Acevedo cannot be fired since he is an elected official, but Governor Charlie Crist has suspended him without pay.
“Based on the investigation, it’s readily apparent,” Lafferty told board members, “there’s been some gross oversights in the finance department and a failure to enforce the p-card policies already in place. There’s a requirement supervisors approve the p-card transactions.”
Monique Acevedo never submitted back-up documentation.
When the crisis originated in 2009 the district’s credit card administrator Linda Walker brought the questionable purchases to the attention of the Finance Director Kathy Reitzel. They were the two who brought the spending to the attention of the school board. But, here’s the catch. Lafferty does not think they have whistle-blower protection because in order to qualify, there needs to be a paper trail. There isn’t any record Reitzel ever wrote anything down and a verbal disclosure does not qualify.
“Here’s the dilemma as I see it,” Chairman Griffths weighed in. “There are a lot of technical problems as to what denies a whistle blower. If you were to take action, then you are really sending the message future whistle blowing is discouraged.”
Punishing Reitzel, according to Lafferty, sends a message and would create a chilling effect.
Dr. Duncan Mathewson said it is possible to take both routes.
“We could recognize the failure for oversight, that person would get a reprimand, but the board can still accept a recommendation to renew the contracts.
Board member John Dick said a reprimand is not action he can accept when the card was being circumvented by the Director of Transportation as well as the Director of Maintenance.
“I look at this. We laid off 27 teachers, other people are going to be told they don’t have a job. They didn’t do any of this stuff. What you’re telling me is we issue a reprimand, but we’re going to tell other people they’re laid off?”
Lafferty responded by advising the board to pursue a better course of action because there is a significant difference between fraud and misconduct versus dereliction of duty.
The Acevedos are gone, Monique – for sure Board Member Steve Pribramsky pointed out.
“Randy was the one violating our policies and we formally reprimanded them,” Pribramsky said. “I understand there needs to be consequences, but I don’t think that’s fair.”
Dr. Debra Walker reinforced the need to a build a paper trail.
“I think training, signing a form saying you understand it, then we have a paper trail. I would like to see the paper trail thickened so we can document people are following procedure,” Dr. Walker offered.
Looking at the salaries, one of Walker’s colleagues pointed out, they are highly paid employees and should be expected to perform their jobs.
Dick said, “With the salaries we’re paying them, shouldn’t they be able to understand?”
The incident was the perfect storm Pribramsky pointed out.
“I agree with Mr. Lafferty. We need to start changing the culture. Hindsight is 20/20.”
Those changes start with staff training, setting new procedures, requiring certification and ethics training, and developing a list of expectations for the auditor to change the fiscal culture.
11 Candidates have submitted their request to be the interim superintendent. The monumental task in front of the board will be to set an agenda and lead by example. Some believe this begins with implementing an appointed superintendent versus an elected one, changing the dynamics of district leadership.
School Board members listen intently to the legal advice of Latour “LT” Lafferty at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. Pictured from left to right are Dr. Duncan Mathewson, Chairman Andy Griffiths, Dr. Debra Walker, and John Dick.