02/07/10 — SBI to investigate Duplin schools expenditures

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SBI to investigate Duplin schools expenditures

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on February 7, 2010 1:50 AM

The State Bureau of Investig-ation is examining Duplin County Schools' funding and expenditure practices.

The investigation is in response to a letter signed by three Duplin County commissioners and three citizens sent to District Attorney Dewey Hudson on Sept. 14, 2009.

"The SBI has assigned an out of county agent to handle this investigation. Once it is complete, I will review the findings of the investigation and take appropriate action," Hudson said Thursday in a released statement.

After receiving the letter, Hudson assigned a senior prosecutor to review the audit of the school system that was conducted in 2008 by Florida-based company Evergreen Solutions.

"Many of the issues, we thought were ethical and civil issues," Hudson said.

Hudson said that when he examined the audit, he felt asking the SBI to investigate every aspect of it was "preposterous, because they don't have the manpower" to conduct such an investigation. That was why he had a lawyer look at the allegations and concerns before sending it on to the state, he said.

"I directed a letter be sent to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation on Oct. 27, 2009, asking that one particular matter be investigated," Hudson said.

The matter involves relocation funds that were allegedly paid to former Duplin County Schools director of special programs Nathan Currie in 2007, a source said.

Hudson declined to comment on details of the ongoing investigation.

"Normally, at this state, such an investigation would not be publicly announced, but I understand there has been much talk in the community about this issue as well as an article in a statewide publication about this matter. It would be inappropriate at this time to comment further on the details of this investigation," he said.

The investigation does not automatically mean that a crime has been committed, he said.

"First thing, we're trying to tell whether any laws have been violated," Hudson said.

Although Hudson sent a letter to the SBI in October, it has taken a while for the agency to get to the investigation, likely due to the bureau's backlog of cases, he said.

"They're probably trying to deal with murder cases and other things. The SBI does not work for me, they are the agency under the attorney general," Hudson said.

Hudson said that the timing of the investigation, and his press release response to it, do not have anything to do with his recently announced decision to run for public office. Hudson plans to run for Charlie Albertson's seat in the state Senate.

"No, ma'am, it doesn't, people are alleging that a crime has been committed. I'm just doing my job," he said.

Duplin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Cary Turner said he was one of the people who sent the letter.

"I'm speaking for myself, not the Board of Commissioners," he said.

The concerns regarding the school system funding started more than a year ago, which is why Evergreen was hired to audit the county schools, Turner said.

"Instead of them telling us what the needs were, we wanted to see what the needs were by calling a professional audit," Turner said.

But the school system "resisted the audit," he said.

"Their board attorney tried to delay the process. When we first started calling for the audit, they said that we couldn't come in because there was another annual audit going on. OK, that was agreeable, so they set the date when (Evergreen auditor) Ms. (Linda) Reccio could start the audit," Turner said. "Two working days prior to the date they set for the audit, (Duplin County school board attorney) David Phillips calls her and says, 'You can't come.'"

The county then had to pay for the company's plane ticket, he added.

"It surprised me that David Phillips took it upon himself to do it," Turner said.

And members of the Board of Education did not know about the decision, he said.

Turner said he also had concerns that the school system did not allow Evergreen open access to all of its staff.

"That just caused me to have doubt," he said.

Another concern was regarding the school board's meetings and what Turner called a "total disregard for transparency."

During at least one meeting of the Board of Education, citizens were stopped from commenting on personnel issues, including one meeting where Phillips interrupted a speaker to prevent the speaker from saying the word "superintendent."

By not allowing citizens to speak on certain issues, the board is taking away citizens' First Amendment rights, Turner said.

"You can't say this, you can't say this, and that's not right," he said.

The commissioners also sent a request to the Board of Education requesting that the board record their meetings, and the county information technology director offered to set up the recording system, Turner said.

"They totally ignored us," he said.

Turner said there have also been communication difficulties with Hudson's office.

"There were three commissioners and three taxpayers, and when we submitted a request to Dewey Hudson's office, about two weeks later he acknowledged that he had received the request," Turner said.

But it has been months since Hudson has had contact with any of the six people regarding the incident, he said.

"We haven't had any updates, nothing, from his office."

Turner said he did not think there was an issue of conflicting interest when the three commissioners signed the letter, despite the ongoing litigation between the two boards, because the commissioners signed the letter not as a board but as individuals and there were grounds for the investigation.

He declined to comment further due to the ongoing investigation, but said that after the investigation is concluded, "I would be willing to repeat everything that has occurred since last February."

School board member Jennings Outlaw said Thursday he had no information regarding the investigation.

"I don't really know much about it, just a rumor," he said. "I'm not aware of anything officially happening at the Board of Education."

School board Chairman Reginald Kenan said he has been out of the office and would not comment on the investigation at this point.