Federal probe of Bibb County school system, County Commissioner calls for investigation of Macon’s Promise Neighborhood

On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen asked a Grand Jury to investigate recent actions of Bibb County Board of Education, as well as the Board’s dealings with the Macon’s Promise Neighborhood.
Allen made the request for a Federal Prosecutor during a news conference at the Bibb County Courthouse, informing the people of Bibb County that his purpose is to investigate the Bibb County School Board, current and past Board members.
The commissioner said in the conference, “The allegations that surround the School Board must be addressed by an outside authority with subpoena power. These allegations must be investigated immediately by a Federal authority, as the facts show a possible misuse of Federal funds, not to mention State and local money as well.”
Allen made this request as a citizen of Bibb County and the state of Georgia, not on behalf of the Board of Commissioners.
As an elected official of Bibb County, Allen said he felt that he felt a certain responsibility about these kinds of issues. He stood up for the Bibb citizens’ right to have the truth separated from fiction, even if no wrongdoing has occurred.
According to The Telegraph, Allen made the request in the wake of lawsuits detailing “a lack of school board oversight in the Macon Promise Neighborhood program.”
A Telegraph investigation showed Bibb County Superintendent Romain Dallemand pledged more than twice as much funding for the neighborhood improvement program than the school board authorized him to do, which adds up to be a $19.3 million school system commitment to the program.
This money is slated for the former Ballard-Hudson Middle School building, which was auctioned off for $220,000 in 2009.
Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier has sought a lawsuit to cancel the school system’s lease for the building and called it illegal. According to an audit report of the district’s finances, the school board did not approve the lease before it was signed by the Superintendent.
Allen never specified exactly what he wanted investigated, and he refused to say whether it was tied to Collier’s lawsuit or other claims, according to The Telegraph.
However, Allen did specify four areas he wanted addressed.
First, he requested that the Grand Jury should look into any practice of additional compensation for the members of the Board of Education that should not have been received.
Then, the investigation should examine companies doing business with the Board where funds might have been used unlawfully to benefit certain members of the Board.
Thirdly, the prosecutor should examine employment practices of the Board wherein undue hardship or punishment was placed on Board employees “in retaliation for exercising their normal duties as those duties pertain to overseeing the spending guidelines of Federal money given to the school board.”
Lastly, the investigation should cover if any bidding procedures have been violated by the Board.
According to 13WMAZ, Monday, Jan. 28 was the first time participants of the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative officially met since two of its partners were mentioned in a lawsuit.
At this meeting, Diana Glymph, chair of the initiative’s advisory board, worked to clear up the matter for Macon Promise partners.
In order to combat the negative attention Macon Promise received after the first Telegraph article, Glymph reassured residents and members at this meeting that the program would not be withdrawing from the neighborhood because of finances and lawsuits.
Although Mayor Robert Reichert was similarly disappointed with Promise Neighborhood’s negative attention in the media, he encouraged partners to look at the situation in a positive way and to continue to attack their goals with vigor.
“The controversy is not about the families and it’s not about the services to the families,” Glymph said, according to 13WMAZ. “It is an outside controversy that is tied to a project within the Promise Neighborhoods and would be an asset to our work, but the work is going on with or without [a] Macon Promise Center.”
Glymph also said Promise Neighbrohood is not about to give up. They are planning to reapply for a $30 million grant over five years to initiate programs they have determined necessary in the Unionville and Tindall Heights neighborhoods.
Until a grant is approved, Macon Promise has several initiatives in progress.
“[O]ne partner has secured funding for a school-based health center at Ingram-Pye elementary. There are 70 tutors and 52 mentors from Mercer and Central Georgia Tech working with students, and Central Georgia counseling services is offering counseling for families in the neighborhood through the initiative,” said Candace Adorka of 13WMAZ.
The Promise Neighborhood initiative is a partnership made up of several dozen community organizations, including the Bibb County school district and Mercer University.
The project received a $500,000 federal planning grant in 2011 to begin work on programs which would improve the lives of students and families at Ingram-Pye and Hartley elementary schools, as well as Ballard-Hudson middle and Southwest high schools.