Moody's role in DeKalb construction case a twisting tale

AJC Investigation

David Moody, owner of C.D. Moody Construction Company, has been chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee since August 2008 and has served on the committee since July 2008, documents show.

The committee monitors construction projects, primarily focusing on whether the projects are on time and under budget. The committee informs the DeKalb school board of any delays or overruns, but does not get directly involved in the projects.

School officials do not plan to remove Moody as the group’s chairman — no criminal charges have been filed against him — but some members of the oversight committee are questioning whether he should remain while the investigation continues.

Moody is one of three business owners or businesses being scrutinized by the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office in its criminal investigation of the district’s former chief operating officer, Patricia Pope.

Authorities are probing whether Pope broke Georgia law by allegedly steering construction contracts to her husband, architect Tony Pope, Moody and a third company, Turner Construction, according to school district documents. In October, authorities searched the homes and offices of Moody and the Popes.

Pat Pope is friends with Moody and officials at Turner Construction, her husband has told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Moody, who declined to comment for this article, has worked on 19 DeKalb school construction projects since 2003, collecting nearly $40 million, documents show. All those projects had been completed by the time Moody joined the board, according to Garet Hayes, a public relations specialist who spoke to the AJC on Moody’s behalf.

Moody has previously said through Hayes that he is cooperating in the investigation.

But committee member Pam McCorkle Buncum said the committee cannot provide transparent oversight if Moody continues as chair.

“I just think it’s going to raise questions if he is still having that responsibility as chair,” said McCorkle Buncum, who does not object to Moody staying on the committee as a regular member. “How do we know we’re not getting maneuvered in a direction that they want us to go?”

Committee member Marshall Orson said he didn’t want to prematurely judge Moody, but said Moody’s connection to the criminal investigation “certainly makes it more compelling that he should not be on the committee.”

Other committee members, such as Will Thomas, disagree.

“Until there is an indictment or some sort of conviction, I have no problem with Dave being on the committee,” Thomas said.

Superintendent Crawford Lewis declined to comment for this article, school district spokesman Dale Davis said.

But in an e-mail sent to McCorkle Buncum, obtained by the AJC, Lewis made it clear that Moody was staying put for now.

“I am in ongoing discussions with our legal counsel,” Lewis wrote, “and we are in agreement that it would be premature to act on the matter of CAC officers as the DA’s investigation is ongoing.”

Moody does not intend to step down from his chairman post, Hayes said.

Patricia Pope served as the advisor to the oversight committee before she was removed from her position and replaced by Barbara Colman, the district’s interim chief operating officer.

Moody was appointed to the committee by school board chairman Tom Bowen, who described Moody as a friendly acquaintance. Each school board member and the board chairman appoint two people to the committee.

Bowen said he first met Moody in late 2001, during his first school board campaign.

Bowen said a mutual friend referred him to Moody, saying Moody was one of the “key business leaders in the district.”

“They said, ‘If you’re going to run for office, I think this is someone you should know,’ ” Bowen said.

The men stayed in touch over the years.

“We’ve talked on the phone,” Bowen said. “I would say we probably communicate a couple times a year, usually by e-mail or a phone call.”

Bowen said he appointed Moody to the committee because he is one of the area’s most successful businessmen and also lives in DeKalb County.

Unless Moody is charged with or found guilty of a crime, Bowen has no plans to ask him to step down.

“In the event that the investigation turns a different way, I would have to revisit the appointment,” he said.

Orson and McCorkle Buncum, arguably the two most vocal members of the committee, also questioned whether Moody should have ever been appointed to it, considering that Moody has regularly received multimillion-dollar contracts to build or renovate schools.

“You always want to maintain the appearance of propriety,” Orson said. “In order to build public trust, you need to instill the public’s trust. And you can’t instill the public’s trust if you include the people you’re overseeing as part of the oversight group.”

Thomas disagrees. If Moody was involved in a project being reviewed by the committee, he should simply recuse himself from those discussions, Thomas said.

It’s not clear from committee minutes or interviews with committee members whether the group reviewed any projects in which Moody was involved or any of the other projects under investigation.

Hayes, Moody’s spokeswoman, said the committee did not review any of Moody’s projects.

The two Moody projects that are under investigation — Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Center and Flat Rock Elementary — were completed before he joined the committee, according to the school district.

Moody plans to continue to bid on construction projects while he is on the committee, and would recuse himself if any of his future school projects were reviewed by the group, Hayes said.

Bowen and Hayes both said they believe Moody’s position does not create a conflict of interest because the committee has no regulatory power and does not award contracts.

“I would think that he would have to have some ability to influence construction in some way to benefit him,” Bowen said.

The AJC’s report last month that Moody was involved in two of the six construction projects being investigated by authorities prompted a flurry of calls and e-mails among committee members.

At the committee meeting on Jan. 14, McCorkle Buncum brought up the issue of Moody’s status on the board, considering the allegations.

Moody did not address her concerns.

Moody’s attorney, Richard Valladares, stood up and explained that he had instructed Moody not to talk.

“I just don’t want Mr. Moody’s silence to be misconstrued by the public,” Valladares said.

Moody did add one remark, telling McCorkle Buncum that he had no hard feelings.

“I don’t take any of it personally,” he said.

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