District fires two whistleblowers

After a months-long investigation, two district employees suspended for blowing the whistle on a procurement contract switch from a white-owned to a black-owned enterprise last winter have been fired, according to a district source.

Procurement director John Byers and Francis Dougherty, who worked in Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery’s office, were fired March 30. A district spokeswoman said she wasn't aware of the matter and couldn't comment on personnel matters.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman placed Byers and Dougherty, along with four others, on a two-week, paid administrative leave in December pending an inquiry conducted by Pepper Hamilton LP, into "apparent inconsistencies in the distribution of prime contracts to vendors."

The other four staffers returned to work in January.

The firings of Byers and Dougherty, who the source says were fingered as the moles, will receive their last paycheck this week. The district filed their termination under “X/C” – terminated for cause, a firing severe enough not to receive unused, accrued pay for personal, vacation and sick time.

Pepper Hamilton traced electronic conversations between 35 district employees, including Byers and Dougherty, with the press and other outside sources.

Pepper Hamilton found that there was no evidence of any improper or unlawful motives behind the selection of the contractors used in the South Philadelphia High School camera project in December 2009.

State Rep. Michael McGeehan, a vocal critic of the district since the debacle began, had raised concerns about the investigation from the beginning.

"I haven't seen the documentation related to [the investigation or firings]," he said. "These firings are a result of the district's own preliminary investigation. We don't know the scope of it. I raised concerns of any self-directed investigation whether it was complete and objective."

In December, McGeehan requested that then-Attorney General Tom Corbett extend protection under the state's whistle-blower law to five district employees who were suspended as part of an internal investigation into the contract.

Corbett, then the attorney general, declined to get involved because of ongoing investigations already under way into the school district, he said.

The controversy stemmed from a decision on the part of Ackerman and her staff to give a contract to install surveillance cameras in 19 schools to IBS Communication Inc., a city-based black-owned business, after a white-owned suburban contractor began the work.
The district said that that company, Security and Data Technologies Inc., was never awarded the contract and had not completed the work.