An open letter to DeKalb citizens

The recent $7.5 million settlement in Heery case severely shortchanged the taxpayers and children in DeKalb County. Heery over billed and mismanaged the DeKalb Schools’ SPLOST program to the tune of approximately $100 million. I know that the case would not have settled for the full amount, however, we could have gotten $25-30 million in the settlement. That settlement range would have made DeKalb taxpayer whole. The court appointed “Special Master” assigned to review the claims of DeKalb and Heery all but dismissed Heery’s claims against DeKalb and found that DeKalb’s claims of over $33 million were credible. If you are confused by the “spin” from the current DeKalb administration and the media, take confidence in the Special Master’s findings. We should hold the Board of Education and administration accountable for not demanding a more favorable settlement.

The current Board of Education seemed held captive by a few people with narrow interest and did not receive a full briefing about the Heery case. The Superintendent seemed all too eager to want to check off a political block regarding the case. He and others have touted the settlement as a way to reduce DeKalb’s legal fees and inprove DeKalb’s bond rating. Nothing could be further from the truth. The school district long ago stopped paying King and Spalding legal fees for this case. The ongoing representative in this case was going to be at no cost to the district.

The Board of Education on which I served continued the suit for two reasons. We saw and studied the evidence that was compelling and we wanted to pay the taxpayer back from a suit that started before I even joined the Board of Education.

The public deserved better disclosure regarding the relationships that one board member* had with Heery and attorneys that represented them. Campaign disclosures show that a partner in Heery’s law firm contributed $500 to a board member. The same board member serves on a local board alongside a Vice President of Heery International. The board member should have recused himself from settlement discussions and the vote. Instead, he boldly took credit for the outcome in the media. DeKalb citizens should demand answers regarding this settlement and the relationships between various parties and board members.

I am not the most popular guy in DeKalb, but I tried to do the right thing for the district. If I were involved in these conflicts of interest, do you think the media would just let it go?

Quiz your current board members on the facts in this case and see what they really know.

This settlement sold out the children and tax payers’ of DeKalb County in order to gain political points.

I am angry and you should be too.

– H. Paul Womack, Jr.


[*DSW Note: He is referring to Marshall Orson in these statements]

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This entry was posted in Crawford Lewis, Heery Mitchell Civil Case, Paul Womack, SACS/Accreditation, School Construction, SPLOST III and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to An open letter to DeKalb citizens

  1. Jeff Parks says:

    Paul- The only ones getting made whole are the lawyers. Time to move on.

  2. You Are Superman says:

    I totally agree Paul!

  3. midvaledad says:

    Mr. Womack,

    I believe your sincerity. I think you are wrong.

    You were shown the facts that someone wanted you to see. If you still think the in-house and hired lawyers were honest with you, please go see your physician for a neurological exam.

    Also, you have a severe credibility problem. It is hard to believe you have the best interests of anyone other than yourself in mind based on your words and deeds while on the Board of Education. Before you go throwing stones at Mr. Orson, you should board up your glass house.

  4. concernedmome30329 says:

    The settlement stunk. The results of the the Judge Advocate in May certainly suggested DeKalb schools were due a larger settlement. Perhaps not large, but larger none the less.

    Heery could not lose this lawsuit, because of ramifications for its ability to do governmental work in the future. Certainly, we could have gotten at least a bit more $. It makes me frustrated and sad that our superintendent is simply checking things off a list.

    I realize this suit might not have been easily winnable but that presumes it would have gotten to court– it wouldn’t have. Thurmond continues his checking off the list movement. He will be gone in a year or so, and the students will still be here…

  5. @concernedmom: In addition, we have been told that Heery was bought out by a very large conglomerate. These people really needed this lawsuit to go away. They certainly would have been amenable to a more fair settlement for the taxpayers. As it stands, we probably suffered a $25-35 million loss in this whole deal. All that said, settling this case was imperative to DeKalb schools as well. It was a very important, necessary move in order to set the school system up for better educational days and to look more enticing for a highly qualified superintendent. It is thanks to Dr. Lewis, Pat Pope, the former school boards and King & Spalding that we are at this place in this time. And while we are very disappointed that most likely, tens of millions were left on the table, we are also very pleased that this is now in our history. So it’s done – but not done well. That will be a key point in the next election.

  6. Also, FWIW, the irony that one of our harshest critics in the past is now asking for our support is not lost on us.

  7. sameoldsameold says:

    Midvaledad nailed it in his post. I’m no friend of Orson but Womack was divisive, underhanded and unabashedly partisan. He is now, thankfully, irrelevant.

  8. Another comment says:

    The Facts xof the matter are this special master who was appointed was from Dekalb county. That alone brings a biased opinion. I have worked in the Design and Construction Management Field in Atlanta for over 30 years. Womacks accusations and Dekalb School District accusations are very far off Heery’s reputation over the past 30 years. Pat Reed and Crawford Lewis have both been convicted in regard to the Design and Contruction Contracts of this time period. The case simple was not ripe when it went DA James delaying the case. The thrown out items by the Special Master would have come back in on appeal and with the guilty plea. The conviction and the testimony that two board members would have known and they would not allow the firing of pat Pope. Remember that Heery was only the 49% Minority partner on this contract. I want to know the settlement they received from Mitchell in 2012. I guarantee they did not even get $1 Million form Mitchell. I also guarantee it included a termination for convince. This was all about the desire to go black and use connected Friends and Family.

    Thank Goodness Judge Becker sees right through this.

    Why didn’t Andrea Snyderman get to get out on Bond while her 5 year sentence for purgery gets appealed. This was by a black judge. But many in the black community are upset that Judge Becker put Lewis in Jail pending his appeal of his mere one year sentence. He should have gotten a total of 15 years.

  9. Dekalb Observer says:

    Thank you, Foghorn Leghorn.

  10. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Some posters seem to consistently let their opinions get in the way of the facts. Without question, Judge Becker had the discretion to disregard the plea deal Lewis negotiated with the DAs office. She let her personal feelings get in the way by not allowing him to post bail for the misdemeanor charge. How this was resolved appeared in the AJC,

  11. @Fred: I think the judge was a bit disgusted. As was I. All Lewis gave for testimony was his fear that Pat Reid Pope would tattle about his affair with a high-ranking DCSS administrator to his wife. Whoopee. He was handed a gift with a big old bow on it.

  12. Word Wall says:

    Crawford Lewis failed to satisfy the judge with his testimony concerning the conspiracy, and was jailed for four days. Since — typical of Dekalb — the judge made it all look petty and personal, he has the advantage right now, but if he succeeds in dropping his guilty plea and going to trial on the obstruction charge, will he convince the jury that he was not guilty? Entertainment for months to come! And l am sure the Clewlis one’s legal strategy will be “philosophy based, for the children.”

  13. Fred in DeKalb says:

    @DSW, I agree the judge was disgusted. It was very clear in her comments to Lewis. She had a right to be and used her discretion in rejecting the plea deal. Unfortunately two wrongs don’t make a right. In my opinion (and that of the State Appeals Court), she should have allowed him to post bail for the misdemeanor charge.

  14. True. The law is the law. The plea deal allowed Lewis to tell about his fear of his affair being exposed in exchange for a reduction in crimes from several felonies to a couple of misdemeanors. Certainly that includes bond. BIG GIFT from the DA. Even considering a few days spend in jail, he should be on his knees in gratefulness – especially in light of the sentences given his associates. Heck, even compared to others who spent considerable time in jail just for misusing their state-issued P-cards!

    ps – It was a bit entertaining that the judge was out of town and unavailable to listen to Lewis. How many times did all of us hear excuses like that from Lewis when we really needed his input or a listening ear? Karma baby… it always comes around.

  15. DCSD For Dummies says:

    I really miss the “like” comments. There were some people who abused it, but I never did. Please consider bringing it back.

  16. howdy1942 says:

    I appreciate and respect the comments of Mr. Womack, but disagree with him. The Heery case is over six years old and promised to drag on for several more. The courtroom drama diverted the attention of the school board and others away from our schools. The testimony in the Lewis case showed that the case rested in large measure on Pat Pope and she is now in jail.

    If Dekalb felt it had a persuasive case, then it should have pursued this case regardless of the Pat Pope case. Why didn’t it? If the abuse by Heery was so prevalent as cited by Mr. Womack, why didn’t the DCSS catch it long before it reached $100 the million level cited? Why didn’t the DCSS manage the Heery project(s) more closely and take quick action to rectify any shortcomings? Why did the DCSS school board spend $18 million in legal fees without getting any tangible results? Did it ever ask anyone as to why this was the case?

    I think that getting this case behind us was the right thing to do. Based on the record to date, we had little hope that any increased effort or expenditure would have produced any positive result for the County. Let’s get on with life.

  17. Truth Seeker says:

    Truthseeker @ Howdy

    Let’s look at some of your “facts”. The Mr. Womack you disagree with said all along that the Heery case had nothing to do with the Lewis-Pope trial. He also said that Pope was not critical to the Heery case. He did say that she discovered the “dubious” spending on projects and brought it to the attention of the Board. The Board before Womack chose Stan Pritchett to be COO. He was in way over his head. Of course he was chosen by county administration as “expert” in the field. You should be questioning the BOE before Womack. Have any of them come forward with information about why they pursued the suit against Heery? You need to know what they said and saw to draw conclusions about Womack’s actions.

    DeKalb did pursue the case. They delays were all Heery, the judge, and Heery’s attorneys. Ask Mr. Pritchett why he did not catch the shortcomings. He was in charge of reporting to the Board.

    The current Board cut and ran. They left our tax money on the table. The court master certified that DeKalb had $33.5 million in potential recoverable claims. It appears that the current Board stopped with the finish line in sight. Check Heery’s balance sheet or ask K&S if they had the money to pay the $25-$30 million that Womack asserts should go to the taxpayer and still stay in business.

    There would be no further cost to the county. K&S had said they would see it through to conclusion w/o charging another dime.

    Did you see any evidence? I assume Womack did. Most of the conclusions drawn by us in the public are based on 4 years of conjecture. Controversy sells newspapers. The AJC has a hard time selling them. Lewis was not convicted. How come? If they had the evidence they would have put him under the jail. The two assistant DA’s for DeKalb that did all the research on the Lewis-Pope case both left for Cobb county. Wonder why?

    In spite of some comments by others, Heery does not have a sterling reputation. They have been sued repeatedly and always got the other side to drop the case by outspending them. They did not pay $7.5 million because they were nice guys. They did not want to go to court. I wonder why?

    I agree with Womack. That was my tax money the Board gave away.

  18. dekalbite2 says:

    “The Board before Womack chose Stan Pritchett to be COO. He was in way over his head. ”
    So was Pat Pope.

    “Lewis was not convicted. How come? If they had the evidence they would have put him under the jail. ”
    He plea bargained so this is a moot point. Unless he backs out of the plea bargain. Then taxpayers will see if he is convicted or not. I think most taxpayers were unhappy to see a plea bargain.

    “They have been sued repeatedly and always got the other side to drop the case by outspending them.”
    So DeKalb Schools decided they had enough money to take them on? For less than $500,000 in invoices?

  19. hopespringseternal says:

    There’s been so much drivel posted on this thread. Truth seeker is correct on some points. The delays were due to Heery, along with the fact that because the civil case and criminal case were so intertwined the same parties weren’t going to provide testimony in the civil case which could bite them in the criminal case — so the judge allowed that criminal had to precede civil.

    Yes DCSS decided they had enough money to take them on over a half million dollar dispute. This in my view was stupid. This is just my opinion, but I think Heery decided to punish DCSS for having the temerity to take them on. And they got gift after gift handed to them in the form of corruption investigations. Just look at some of the court filings if you have about a month of free time. Heery consistently referenced the criminal allegations in trying to bolster it’s case. Some of Heery’s allegations may have been on point and others they just pulled out of thin air, but it made for great theater and several delays. And it drained the school system dry and promoted aggravation among taxpayers in the process. Further, Judge Seeliger showed not one iota of strong oversight of the case. It ran amok. And, it was Heery who made the original motion for a court-appointed Special Master (see the court filings) and who had to agree with the court’s selection thereof.

    However, I’m amused when I hear Womack or anyone else say that DCSS left gobs of money on the table and that DCSS would have prevailed. Um, the word CREDIBILITY comes to mind. And DCSS doesn’t have any. Thurmond gambled and probably wisely. A jury, made up of frustrated parents and business people, would love to punish the school system just for being wasteful and stupid if not liable. Could Thurmond have pressed for more in the form of a pre-trial settlement? We don’t know if he tried. But contrary to Womack’s statements, Pat Reid would have been front and center in a civil trial. And funnily enough, this settlement was birthed right after her conviction. So we know how that would have worked out.

    No, Womack wasn’t on the board when this nightmare was conceived. But he was part of a board which had the power to extricate the system before things got out of control.

  20. @hope: We tend to agree with you. There is the issue of credibility. Our two main ‘witnesses’ who would have had key roles in the construction during the dismissal of Heery are Pat Pope and Crawford Lewis. Lewis got lucky with a plea deal and Pope was sentenced to many years in jail for corruption. I think Heery had the upper hand in negotiating with DeKalb in this situation with the criminal trials. As we have posted before, Heery had a positive report from MGT America and then Lewis hired another company to evaluate them and they gave a bad report. It’s suspicious. Also, construction these days always — and I mean always — ends up in a legal battle in the end. Often in the offices of King & Spalding. It’s not unusual or particularly interesting that Heery had a history of legal issues with former projects. It’s the way it goes nowadays. We live in a litigious society. Yes, it is very interesting that the settlement came so close on the heels of the convictions and plea. DeKalb taxpayers are big losers in this all the way around. Even though we could possibly have settled for more money, in reality, we at the blog are very glad it’s over. We agree that DeKalb taxpayers really needed this to be over. Check a box for Thurmond. This settlement – regardless of the dollar amount – is a good thing.

  21. Ella Smith says:

    I respect Mr. Womack. He is sincere in his convictions.

    Things do not always work out in court the right and fair way. So many situations are definitely wrong but going to court does not always mean results that are expected as to who is right and wrong.

    No one really won in this situation except the law firms.

    I wish the school system had gotten more money than they did.

    I can understand Mr. Womack’s anger as this made the past school boards look like they were wasting the taxpayer’s money and Womack would not do this intentionally. None of the past school board members would have.

    I do not know all the facts. I have not seen the evidence. However, I do believe that Thurman was just trying to assure that the county gets off SACs probation and there is absolutely no doubt that the attitude of the past school board to keep pushing this lawsuit may have been something that SAC questioned. There was a great deal of money being spent in the past on this lawsuit verses meeting the needs of the students in Dekalb.

  22. howdy1942 says:

    One thing is for sure – the Dekalb taxpayer is the big loser in all of these proceedings. My perspective is that the Heery case dragged on for over six years. Other cases have been tried, appealed, and even reached the United States Supreme Court and resolved in less than six years. Yes, part of the reason was that the criminal cases for Lewis, Reid, and Pope were intertwined with the Heery case. But why did the DCSS and the District Attorney allow the criminal case to drag on for so long? Why did the DCSS School Board not pursue these cases aggressively? Mr. Womack was on the school board until January of this year, wasn’t he? Why was this case allowed to reach the level of legal expenses ($18 million) that it did all over a dispute of $500,000? Heery may have been completely wrong, but the DCSS didn’t place any priority on resolving the matter and, as the legal expenses mounted, Dekalb residents increasingly said that enough was enough – stop the nonsense. Maybe I missed something (you’re right – I am not a lawyer and realize that very few had the exposure that Mr. Womack had to the Heery case), but it just seemed to me that this case had no end in sight. Also one more thing is for sure – this case was a huge distraction for the school system, for the school board, for the administration, and for the residents of this County. It would have continued to project our County in a negative light, linked us perpetually to Lewis/Pope/Reid, continued to create an air of uncertainty from the perspective of others considering Dekalb as a business location or a place to live, and negatively impacted our property values. Because our tax base evaluations have remained subdued largely because of these legal issues, both our school system and our government have faced severe limitations in adequately compensating our teachers, providing the level of services desired by our residents, and maintaining the County’s infrastructure. We’ve lost so many good teachers, lost so many students to private schools systems or to other districts, created so much discontinuity in the classroom, and also created so much ill will in our County. We have simply got to get beyond the legal issues in the school district and the County, the school board issues, the accreditation issues, and get the focus back on the classroom. Crawford Lewis, Pat Pope, and Eugene Walker have administered a huge blow to all of us in Dekalb County and its time to put all of them and the whole sordid mess in our rear view mirror. Enough is, indeed, enough!

  23. Why does Womack choose to speak up now? Please tell me he isn’t going to be running for any new office anytime soon? A city office, to be more specific. Or a board seat?? Please tell me he would not possibly think the community is calling him back for a third time, would he?

  24. You are correct, Ella. As much as people like to say that the lawsuit had nothing to do with accreditation, SACS did make significant mention of how much money DeKalb spends on lawyers. And even though King & Spalding says they are no longer billing for the project, a recent board budget approved another half-million dollar payment to them. It’s good to have it gone. The whole thing was a big, heavy albatross.

    I disagree with Womack on his opinion of Lewis (who he gave a big raise to during the worst economy in decades!) Crawford Lewis was the very worst thing to ever happen to the taxpayers and students of DeKalb. He was the one to agree to SACS accreditation system-wide — previously schools had been accredited school by school. Dumbest move ever! He was in waaaaay over his head educationally speaking as well as in his ability to lead. He was a political player and not a very good one, at that! He would make only decisions that would please his cronies, insulate himself or make way for a free perk for himself. He used public money to fund his personal affair – going so far as to use his public credit card to pay for their tryst at the Ritz Carlton. What an out of control ego! Then he is lucky enough to get a gift of a plea deal and only offers testimony about his fear of Pat Pope ‘telling’ on his affair. In my opinion, he knew EXACTLY who he was hiring when he hired Pat – he already had her on the payroll and then ‘conducted’ a ‘search’ for COO – resulting in hiring Pat! Come On! Now, all of a sudden, after the DA figures out a way for Crawford to avoid jail time, the chips start falling and the criminal and civil cases get resolved in record time! Again — Come On! Taxpayers of DeKalb – you have all been had, IMHO.

  25. howdy1942 says:

    Just as I hope that Eugene Walker, Sarah Copelin-Wood, and Jay Cunningham are history, I also hope that Womack is history. I hope that Dekalb County is emerging from the deep, dark hour caused by these people. We have a ways to go, however. We desperately need a new school board that will listen to the concerns of the people and take the actions they want, a school board that will not just continue the status quo, and a school board that will make it a priority to find a new, permanent superintendent who will take the difficult steps needed to get our school system out of the ditch. If we can find such a person, then I would support paying him/her whatever. Compared to the price our kids are paying now and compared to the vast sums our school board and superintendent continue to waste, the price would be comparably small.

    On Crawford Lewis, he was and is a mature adult chosen to lead our school district. He accepted that position along with its responsibilities. He selected Pat Pope, tolerated her conduct, and remained relatively passive. He tried to blame the school board for what happened and just about everyone else. He also made just about every excuse imaginable for his failures and I think that is what really irked Judge Becker. I agree with her and highly commend her for her insight and courage to do the right thing. If we can get just a few more judges in Dekalb County like her along with some motivation in the District Attorney’s office, then maybe we can clean up Dekalb County and restore its greatness.

  26. Miss Management says:

    Lest we all forget the reasons we are so mistrustful of SPLOST promises and Admin leadership:

    Thursday, October 13, 2011
    Recall: $30,000,000 of SPLOST III went to administrative offices; not to your childrens’ schools

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012
    Open Records Request yields interesting information about SPLOST

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