We have long posed a nagging question: was former quality control office director Sherri Brokaw nothing more than a scapegoat to cover for failures at a higher administrative level during DISD's Procurement Card scandal?
We've posed questions like: how could such a junior administrator be held responsible for the massive failures engineered into the entire program--a program that was repeatedly called into question by high-level audits?
Tonight, we're asking another question: why did Dr. Thomas R. Kelchner, the Chief Hearing Officer at Brokaw's termination hearing lie to Brokaw's attorney, James Murphy, about the existence of the panel's report and findings?
Dallas.Org has obtained copies of letters that show Kelchner wasn't telling the truth about a very important fact at a very important time.
The big question, however, is: did Kelchner do it on his own, or did someone tell him to do it?
During the investigation of the $75 million dollar procurement card debacle, the Dallas Independent School District hired the law firm of Fish & Richardson to lead the effort in sorting things out.
After $1 million dollars had been spent, and a mere 200 of the 1,700 cards investigated, Fish & Richardson placed the blame largely on the back of Brokaw--a mid-level director tasked primarily with training and coordination.
Brokaw's "competence" was publicly questioned by former DISD spokesman Celso Martinez and Brokaw was placed on administrative leave.
Brokaw responded by filing a federal lawsuit against the District which is ongoing. Fish & Richardson, coincidentally, was hired to represent DISD against Brokaw.
A termination hearing, led by Kelchner, was convened last summer to sort through the District's charges against Brokaw.
A total of 4 hearings were held in June and July.
The panel deliberated and rendered it's findings on August 28, 2007 (though a typographical error said "2004").
Among the panel's findings (read the panel's complete decision here [requires Adobe Reader]) was that the District had virtually no evidence to support the majority of its allegations against Brokaw.
The panel was critical of the District's primary star witness: Associate Superintendent David Rastellini--Brokaw's direct supervisor who testified he knew very little about the whole affair.
"The Panel finds the decision of administration to utilize a representative who had no knowledge of the termination decision significantly impairs the administration's ability to bear the burden of proof in this matter," the report states.
The panel was also critical of testimony given by, now, convicted felon Gloria Orapello.
"The Panel, however, questions the credibility of this witness and the motive for testifying," the report states.
Orapello was convicted of embezzling $100,000 from DISD using her District-issued procurement card. Much of the evidence used to incriminate Orapello was uncovered by Brokaw.
The panel ultimately found Brokaw "guilty" of using "poor judgment" under certain circumstances--such as purchasing a department refrigerator using a fellow employee's procurement card number.
But did it recommend she be fired?
The panel recommended, on August 28, that Brokaw be disciplined, and demoted, but not fired.
So why, on August 29 (the day after the panel rendered its decision), did Kelchner write this to Brokaw's attorney on DISD letterhead (view the entire letter here [requires Adobe Reader]):
Did Kelchner decide to take matters into his own hands? Or did Kelchner show the August 28 report to a senior official at the District?
And did the senior official "go ballistic" and tell Kelchner to deny the report's existence until after Brokaw's contract, which was due to be up August 31, had expired?
Perhaps time, and a few depositions, will tell.
Report on official contradicts Dallas schools in credit card case (Kent Fischer, The Dallas Morning News)
Murphy's Law (Jim Schutze, The Dallas Observer)