State: former SRC chair violated ethics law

Robert L. Archie Jr. (File Photo / Staff)

Former Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. violated the state’s ethics act when he voted to ratify a contract between the school system and the production company responsible for a Tony Danza reality show shot at Northeast High, Ethics Commission officials said Tuesday.

In 2009, Teach Productions, Inc. agreed to pay the Philadelphia School District’s legal fees related to the TV show — legal fees that ultimately went to Duane Morris, LLP, the law firm where Archie is a partner. The ethics panel ruled that was “a transgression” of state law.

Archie must pay Pennsylvania $6,600. It’s believed to be the first time an SRC member was found to violate ethics laws.

A state investigation and subsequent negotiated consent agreement between Archie and the state absolved Archie of other violations, including allegations that he failed to file documents disclosing financial information.

The investigation also cleared him of allegations that he used his position on the SRC to steer contracts to firms he had ties to.

Under Archie’s tenure, Universal Companies Inc. was awarded contracts to run Audenried High and Vare Middle schools, two struggling district schools, as “Renaissance” charters. Foundations, Inc. was awarded a contract to run Martin Luther King High, but ultimately withdrew from consideration after a highly scrutinized process that included another education company, Mosaica, withdrawing from consideration.

Archie had previously done legal work for both Universal and Foundations. He did not vote on either contract, but did arrange — and was present for — a meeting at his law office with then-Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman and state Rep. Dwight Evans, who has ties to Foundations.

The Foundations contract was the subject of an earlier city ethics investigation released just after Archie’s resignation from the SRC in September, 2011.

The city’s chief integrity officer said that Archie, in one closed-door meeting over who would run King, told a Mosaica officials that “this is Philadelphia and suggested that things are different here.” The city report concluded that Ackerman refused to bow to pressure from Archie and Evans.

Archie emphatically refuted the city report's conclusions.

The state settlement also cleared Archie of wrongdoing in voting to award legal contracts to an attorney associated with Duane Morris, because the attorney had come from another firm already approved to do business with the SRC.

Archie, in a statement e-mailed to The Inquirer, said that he was “pleased that this matter has been resolved.”

When he resigned his seat on the SRC, he said that he was “satisfied that I have given the best service of which I am capable to the citizens of Philadelphia. At all times, I have acted in their sole interest and it has been a privilege and an honor to do so.

Read the full ethics commission document here.