A DeKalb County school board member said he is in the dark about actions by the district's embattled construction chief and wants the board to conduct its own investigation.
The board will meet behind closed doors Feb. 8 for an update on the district attorney’s investigation of Pat Pope, the district’s former chief operating officer, board chairman Thomas Bowen said.
On Wednesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Superintendent Crawford Lewis said in an interview taped in 2008 that he had concerns about Pope hiring her friends and associates for school construction projects.
After reading the story, board member Eugene Walker requested the board conduct its own investigation into Pope's activity.
“It’s very troubling,” Walker told the AJC. “I’m hoping as a board we can look at these things. We’ve seen all of this damaging information coming out in the media and we need to get to the bottom of it. The board will certainly look into it.”
Bowen said he is not aware of any call for an investigation by the board, but said the board will be updated about the case at its next session.
Walker said he had hoped to skirt the issue while the district attorney completed the investigation. But he became concerned after learning the extent of Pope’s involvement in pushing contracts to her associates.
“You’re handicapped and you don’t know what to do,” said Walker, who represents District 9. “But we can’t ignore all the information you are reporting.”
The district attorney is investigating whether Pope, who oversaw all school construction, broke the law by allegedly steering contracts to her husband Tony Pope's architecture firm and two other construction companies where she has connections.
While under investigation in 2008 for purchasing a school district car and questionable purchases on his district credit card, Lewis told investigators he was concerned about Pope’s management of construction projects.
“What we are finding out is that anybody that Ms. Pope has ever worked with ... in some form or fashion, they are architects now for the system, they are contractors doing work for the system, they are with management firms doing work for the system,” Lewis told an investigator.
Despite this misgiving, Lewis renewed Pope’s contract with the school system.
Walker, Bowen and board member Don McChesney said they have not heard Lewis’ taped interview.
McChesney said he could not comment on the investigation.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” he said Wednesday. “We are not at liberty legally to make any comments on that case.”
The board's vice chairman, Zepora Roberts, said she would only comment after the investigation is closed.
“I will not be a part of you running these stories,” she said. “Whatever I have to say, I will say it in my deposition and to the court. I’m not going to say it to the media.”
Board members Jim Redovian, Pamela Speaks, Jay Cunningham and Sarah Copelin-Wood did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.
Lewis did not return a request for an interview.
Pope has declined to talk to the AJC and her attorney said Lewis’ statements were “self-serving” and without merit.
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