Whistleblowers In Leon School Construction Probe Face Job Uncertainty

Nov 12, 2014

A monitor in the Aquilina Howell building records the proceedings as the Leon School Board hears an update on its construction policies.
Credit LHatter / WFSU News

A sixth investigation into school construction funding practices in Leon County has turned up no criminal wrongdoing. Now the jobs of several district employees trying to claim whistle-blower protections are on the line.

A notebook disseminated earlier this year to various media outlets outlines charges Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons awarded school construction projects to his political donors. But an examination of the documents by the hired by the school board, has found no direct evidence of that.

 “Are there been allegations? Has there been conjecture? Yes. Is there any direct evidence that we’ve identified that supports a quid pro quo that this firm gets this business in exchange for this contribution or this favor? No, we have not," said Jacksonville attorney Hank Coxe.

Coxe however did find problems with the way the district justified its decision making. Notably, a lack of documents to back up its choices. Those missing documents Coxe says, have left the district vulnerable to allegations of wrongdoing. The missing documents are part of by a federal grand jury’s probe into how the district awards contracts worth less than $2 million. That’s the threshold needed before a project has to go through a competitive bidding process.

Coxe’s report is now the sixth one that has reached that conclusion. And District Superintendent Jackie Pons says it qualifies what he’s been saying all along—the attacks are political.

“As time is going by, everyday it’s becoming clearer and clearer what’s been going on.  Clearer and clearer what’s been going on, who’s involved and what this is all about.”

District officials are angry. The fate of the four people trying to claim whistle-blower protections has not been resolved. Outgoing School Board Chairman Forrest Van Camp, direct quotation from the district’s policies foretells the employment fight yet to come.

“Employees are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination for purposely, knowingly or recklessly making a false report under this policy," Van Camp says. "So there is provision within our policy to deal with those who come forward with false information.”  

Former Leon High School Principal Rocky Hanna was the first to come forward for his involvement in distributing what’s now being called, “the book” –the documents that outlined the allegations against Pons. Lively Technical Principal Woody Hildebrandt is also claiming whistleblower protections. Two additional district employees also filed paperwork claiming whistleblower protections. Whether they actually have it will be up to employment lawyers to determine.