Further probe unlikely for Evans, Archie in wake of city’s corruption report
Without a deeper investigation, state Rep. Dwight Evans and former SRC Chairman Robert L. Archie could emerge legally unscathed from the Martin Luther King scandal, continuing the city’s culture of corruption, said one critic.
“Philadelphians should be appalled by the report’s picture of backroom dealings and political strong-arming,” said Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the political watchdog group Committee of Seventy. “It is not enough to say that people in highly influential positions of public trust acted improperly. If there are no consequences for their conduct, they and others in the public arena will continue to believe they can act with impunity.”
Findings released by the city on Thursday threw back the curtain of secrecy that long cloaked the behind-the-scenes influence of Evans and Archie, who allegedly steered the School Reform Commission toward a company to which they both had ties.
Stalberg said a deeper probe is needed.
“We don’t know the complete story because Dwight Evans refused to cooperate with the investigation. The fact that he didn’t demands further inquiry by someone with subpoena power,” he said.
Only a court can determine if the allegations in the report rise to the level of criminal activity.
But, without public pressure, launching an investigation could be difficult.
A source close the mayor said he is unlikely to press the matter further.
“He’s not going to throw anybody under the bus,” said an administration official.
Whether anyone else will remains to be seen.
State Rep. Michael McGeehan, long a critic of the district, said that at the moment he saw no reason to press ahead with a deeper investigation.
“I’m not willing to say that at this point,” he said, adding that the report could spur legislators to push for reform. “This report really points out the fundamental need to change … the business-as-usual atmosphere.”
Auditor General Jack Wagner is already investigating SRC probing the buyout of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. An official in Wagner’s office said Friday that she was unsure whether the latest report would spur further investigation. Wagner was out of the office and unavailable for comment.
Calls to the district attorney and attorney general’s offices demonstrated the difficulty of launching such an investigation without political support.
“We’ve not even received this report so there is no way we can comment,” said Tasha Jameson, spokeswoman for D.A. Seth Williams. “We have to receive the report and we haven’t.”
An official with the state Attorney General Linda Kelly’s office said that the A.G. typically gets involved only in cases involving narcotics trafficking, insurance fraud, organized crime, consumer protection, gaming enforcement and issues that might affect multiple counties. He added that it usually investigates after a receiving a tip or at the referral of a district attorney.
That did not mean the attorney general would not look into the case to see if falls under its purview.
“It’s very important, from our view, that the law is followed,” said Nils Frederiksen, press secretary for the attorney general. “We’re aware of the report and certainly anything of this nature raises concerns but we’re legally prohibited from confirming the existence of an investigation.”
On Thursday afternoon, the city’s Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman released the results of her investigation into Archie and Evans’ roles in securing a contract for Foundations Inc., a New Jersey based non-profit, to operate Martin Luther King High School. The contract went to Foundations despite the fact that the school’s advisory committee recommended a Georgia based company, Mosaica, to run the school.
Markman concluded that their “actions in this matter have compromised the School District of Philadelphia’s ability to … garner public confidence.” At its heart, the report suggests that both men violated the District and, perhaps, the state’s ethics policy.
Both Evans and Archie blasted the integrity officer’s findings and said in separate statements issued Thursday that they had only the best interests of students at heart.
Evans’ enormous influence is evident in Markman’s report.
“Numerous people with whom we spoke told that Evans was a politically influential player whose wishes concerning [School District] matters could not easily be disregarded.”
It also quoted an email Archie sent to District officials: “I, along with my fellow commissioners were appointed by politicians and for the public to believe that politics is not a part of the education system when the only sources of the District’s revenue are local, state, and federal funds further evidences the results of ‘poor academic achievement’ on the part of certain adults.”
Markman laid out the District’s ethics policy in her report and pointed out that since the School Reform Commission is a state body, members are subject to the state Ethics Code. Both bar public officials from engaging in conflicts of interest, which are defined as: “use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself … or a business with which he is associated.”
“To establish that a public official or employee is associated with the business, it must be shown that he, or a member of his immediate family, is a director, officer, owner or employee or has a financial interest in the business,” she said.
Both men had financial ties to Foundations Inc.
Archie, on March 16, recused himself from a vote over the future of MLK High, citing the fact that Duane Morris had done business with Foundations. He told Markman that neither he nor Duane Morris had represented the firm since 2002. He also told Markman that he and Duane Morris represented Evans in several legal actions.
Evans’ ties are well documented in campaign finance forms that show he has accepted campaign donations from Foundations Inc., and its top officials. A routine Google search turns up donations totaling more than $63,000 since 2000.
Penalties for ethics violations vary widely from fines — as little as $100 for violating the state Sunshine Law — to criminal charges.