Probe studies use of school personnel

Published 1:40 pm Saturday, November 22, 2008

WINDSOR — Among the accusations leveled at former Bertie County Schools’ Superintendent John Smith is improper use of school personnel.

A report authorized by the Bertie County Board of Education that has been forwarded to a variety of public officials, concluded Smith and former Board Chairman Gary Cordon has misled the school board and others. The subject of the report is a mobile home owned by Smith that was allegedly hooked up to the wastewater treatment plant at the former C.G. White Middle School in violation of permits and without the authorization of the Bertie County Board of Education.

The investigation and subsequent report were done by Richard A. Schwartz, an attorney with the law firm Schwartz and Shaw. Among the findings in the report are several times in which Smith allegedly had school personnel conduct personal business for him during the work day.

The first such incident reported was when Smith originally purchased the mobile home at 111 N.C. 42 in Powellsville.

“On or around April 25, 2001, John Smith purchased a lot adjacent to the C.G. White property,” the report said. “The property was purchased at a foreclosure sale. Mr. Smith authorized Tom Perry, who was then the Director of Maintenance for the Bertie County Schools, to purchase the property for him at the foreclosure auction, which took place during the work day.”

Later, Perry told investigators he was pressured to agree that he had never shown Smith the permit with the language prohibiting an additional hookup. Perry refused.

“After that, Mr. Perry states that Mr. Smith turned against him and essentially ousted him from his position,” the report states.

From there the allegations are less substantiated with only information provided by employees that certain other employees provided the hookup from Smith’s mobile home to the C.G. White wastewater system.

According to the report, Perry did not know how the hookup came into existence, but heard rumors that school district employees George Askew and Marvin Clark performed the work.

Smith reportedly told Bertie County Inspector G.T. Pittman the hookup on the mobile home had been approved by Askew, who was then Director of Maintenance. Askew denies the allegation.

There are also allegations in the report that William Capehart, who was a school system employee, worked for Smith during the work day.

A letter from Smith dated May 24, 2004 gave Capehart permission to handle all business related to placing two mobile homes on the Woodard Road.

“In addition, several employees stated that they often saw Mr. Capehart’s truck at Mr. Smith’s property during the workday,” the report said.

Interviews with several school district employees also indicated Smith’s possible misuse of employees.

Matthew Bond indicated he was asked to do electrical work at the mobile home, but refused.

Charles Cobb was asked to run an electrical line out from the school to the mobile home and also refused, but did not remember who asked him to perform the work. He also indicated in the interview there was anger from neighbors around the school because Smith was allowed to use the C.G. White system and they were not.

Fay Leggett, another district employee, said she was 95 percent sure the school district paid for the piping, but invoices are only kept for three years. She also indicated she found a memo regarding a meeting with Jason Jernigan and Jamie Johnson, also employees, in the back of a file cabinet.

In the memo, dated March 16, 2004, Smith told them he met with the two men concerning the wastewater facility at C.G. White and the mobile home hookup.

“During our conference, I shared with you information concerning the steps taken to get permission to hook up the mobile home to the wastewater treatment facility,” Smith wrote. “I also shared with you information concerning the steps taken to rectify any matters associated with the proper procedures and an appropriate permit for the mobile home hookup.

“Please be reminded that the matters discussed during this conference among the three of us should not be discussed with others,” Smith continued. “Should you have any other concerns, please feel free to contact me directly.”

According to the report, Askew did speak about the situation, but said he did not perform the work to hookup the mobile home and that he believed it was done by an outside contractor though he did not remember at whose direction of the name of the contractor.

“Numerous attempts were made to speak with Mr. Clark and Mr. Capehart, but they declined to respond,” the report said.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald will continue to update this story.