DeKalb County school official Patricia “Pat” Pope hired a family friend from Washington, D.C., to work as a furniture consultant on three school construction projects, and the school district paid for the woman’s plane tickets, hotel stays and car rentals when she traveled here, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.
Around the same time, Pope also hired an Atlanta interior designer to serve as a furniture consultant on two other projects.
Both hirings apparently violated school district policy. When asked for documents to show that purchasing policies were followed, the district could not produce any.
Records show that Pope’s construction program paid D.C.-based furniture consultant Judy Hasbrouck $108,730 for three contracts between 2007 and 2009 for her work and travel expenses.
Pope also paid $19,263 to Atlanta interior designer Vanessa Shorter, an acquaintance who later went to work for Pope’s architect husband, for furniture consulting work in 2007.
The revelation about those contracts is the latest in a series of AJC articles about Pat Pope and her involvement in the construction projects under criminal investigation.
Hasbrouck and Shorter began working for the district after Pat Pope cut ties with a retired employee on the grounds that she had a full-time employee who was ready to take over the work. The retired employee had been working part time for the system.
Within a month, Pope fired the full-time employee and brought Hasbrouck and Shorter into the picture.
The school district doesn’t have records to compare Hasbrouck’s and Shorter’s workloads to that of the retired employee, but Hasbrouck alone made nearly as much money in half the time, documents show.
Neither appear to be involved in the criminal probe and the school district has not made any claim that the consultants did anything wrong by accepting the opportunity to work on DeKalb school projects.
Pat Pope declined to comment when reached by phone and referred questions to her attorney, Manny Arora.
Arora disputed that Pope violated any guidelines, but would not cite any board policies to support his claim. Instead, he released a statement by e-mail on Pope’s behalf.
“Ms. Pope has worked in the construction industry for over 30 years and has developed professional relationships and consulted with numerous colleagues from all over the country,” he wrote. “Ms. Pope is an asset to DeKalb County schools and her decisions, based on her vast experience, have saved the school district millions of dollars over her tenure.”
The statement, however, did not acknowledge the personal connection between Pope and Hasbrouck, which the AJC confirmed through Pope’s estranged husband, Anthony “Tony” Pope.
Hasbrouck declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday.
Shorter said she was not aware that Pope may have violated policies when hiring her.
“Absolutely not — I knew nothing about that,” she said when reached by phone Wednesday.
In an earlier phone interview, Shorter said she knew Pat Pope before getting the work, but said the two were acquaintances — not friends. Shorter later went to work for Tony Pope’s architecture firm, but she was recently laid off.
Hasbrouck worked on three of the six construction projects that are the subject of the investigation by the DeKalb County district attorney’s office. Shorter worked on two projects, one of which is part of the district attorney’s investigation.
School systems spend millions on desks, chairs and other items to furnish schools. But hiring furniture consultants is unusual for school systems in metro Atlanta. The school districts for Atlanta and the counties of Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton do not hire them, according to those districts.
All but one of the districts have employees who perform those tasks.
DeKalb has one, too, but has relied on outside help in recent years. The person who previously helped with furniture purchasing was described as a consultant, but was more comparable to a part-time employee, school district spokesman Dale Davis said. He was paid by the hour and did not sign any consulting contracts.
Pope’s hiring of Hasbrouck and Shorter was not only unusual, but apparently violated school district policies. An attorney for the school district confirmed a policy existed that should have been followed
Two of Hasbrouck’s three contracts were worth more than $25,000 and should have been competitively bid through public advertisements, according to the school district’s policy for purchasing goods and services.
The third Hasbrouck contract — and Shorter’s single contract — were worth more than $10,000 and should have been approved only after the district got two written quotes from possible vendors.
Pat Pope is a central figure in the criminal investigation. She was removed from her post as the district’s chief operating officer and reassigned when the probe intensified in October. Authorities are investigating whether she broke the law by allegedly steering contracts to her husband’s architectural firm and construction companies where she has connections.
At the probe’s outset, DeKalb schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis told authorities that, three years into Pope’s employment, he learned that those close to Pope were making money off the school district through a variety of contracted jobs.
Lewis, who himself has since been placed on leave after investigators searched his home, did not name Hasbrouck or Shorter.
The owner of Hasbrouck Associates, Hasbrouck worked on the Columbia High School, Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy and Arabia Mountain High School projects, according to documents obtained by the AJC through an Open Records Act request.
The school system paid Hasbrouck $20,497 for Columbia, $48,000 for McNair and $36,000 for Arabia Mountain, documents show.
While Hasbrouck was paid lump sums for each project, Shorter made $27.50 per hour for her work on the Evans Mill and New Rock Chapel elementary school projects, documents show.
Their job duties involved working with the school district to select and purchase furniture for the schools, and to coordinate its delivery and installation.
In prior years, the school district had relied on a retired employee, Gerald Bowen, to assist in those duties. Bowen retired in 2003 from the district and began working part time soon after, according to his personnel file.
In March 2007, Pat Pope cut ties with Bowen. At the time, she complimented his work and attributed the change to a succession plan.
“The support provided by the two is greatly appreciated,” Pope wrote in a memo dated March 15, 2007, referring to Bowen and another part-timer. “Unfortunately, the positions have been filled with employees that are now ready to take on the roles of these positions, successfully.”
Pope added that the two part-timers “allowed for a smooth transition and again we appreciate them.”
Five days later, though, Pope hired Shorter, records show.
Bowen declined to comment for the article.
One month after Shorter started, Pat Pope fired the full-time employee whom Pope had described in the memo as ready to do the work. In a letter detailing the termination, Pope said the employee had “not been able to meet deadlines” nor “expectations outlined for her.”
The same month, Hasbrouck was also brought in to consult on the furniture purchases, though her first contract was not signed until six months later, documents show. She also was paid in full for that contract before it was even signed.
In a phone interview, Tony Pope acknowledged a longtime friendship with Hasbrouck. He said that his wife met Hasbrouck through him.
“Judy and I grew up in Washington, D.C., together,” Pope, 52, said.
Tony Pope acknowledged that he and his wife — the couple separated in October — have spent time with Hasbrouck socially, but said that “Judy is more of my friend than Pat’s.”
Tony Pope and Hasbrouck also worked together on the Columbia High construction project, and it appears Pope was paid $52,000 to do much of the same work, including furniture selection and overseeing its installation, for which Hasbrouck was hired, records show.
Tony Pope declined to comment on the apparent overlap in work.
Arora did not respond to an inquiry about it, nor would he address why Pat Pope chose to hire a consultant who lived several states away.
Two of Hasbrouck’s contracts were lump sums that included the cost of travel expenses.
But for the first project, at Columbia High School, Hasbrouck billed the school district separately for her travel expenses, offering a glimpse into the costs footed by taxpayers.
The total bill for travel on that project: $4,297.
Hasbrouck was reimbursed for four flights to Atlanta between April 2007 and August 2007. Some of the costs of her flights: $628 and $538.
The school district also paid for her hotel bills and car rentals. On two trips, Hasbrouck stayed at a local Marriott. During one stay, she racked up a $877 hotel bill and a $473 car rental bill.