The news that Craig Pouncey, Jefferson County school superintendent, took legal action against state school board member Mary Scott Hunter, former interim state superintendent Phillip Cleveland, department legal counsel Juliana Dean and two of her staff attorneys spread like gossip in a small church yesterday.
The lawsuit was triggered by an effort last summer to discredit Pouncey’s reputation and prevent him from being selected state superintendent. You can see the entire court filing here.
The suit contends that those named above played a key role in an anonymous smear sheet alleging that Pouncey did not author his own doctoral dissertation in 2009 for Samford University.
We have put up a number of posts about this situation over the past months. Now the media has joined the fray. You can see some of their reports here, here and here. They do an excellent job of detailing the allegations and providing background info.
The state department attorneys said in a statement, “The selection process for the State Superintendent of Eduction was conducted with integrity and fairness. The allegations of the lawsuit are unfounded and baseless, and we have no choice but to vigorously defend against these claims and to take any appropriate action.”
But what about the testimony already given to a legislative committee where Mary Scott Hunter admitted that she gave the anonymous letter to Cleveland, who gave it to Dean? And her testimony that she also called Tom Albritton, head of the Ethics Commission to make sure he knew about the complaint? And her testimony that she told legislators at a Business Council of Alabama meeting that Pouncey would not be considered because of an ethics complaint?
All of this was done with integrity and fairness in mind?
Or what about the fact that after Mike Sentance withdrew his application in writing, Dean, at the urging of Hunter, called Sentance and asked him to reconsider? Or what about the fact that another applicant, Dr. Steven Paine of West Virginia, a former state superintendent with experience as a teacher, principal and local superintendent, as well as experience administrating a state education budget, was NOT called and asked to reconsider when he withdrew?
Is it fair to ask one applicant to not withdraw, while not asking another with a far superior track record, to do the same thing?
This will all play out in court in the days ahead. And will be watched very closely by many.
But it is a dark day for public education in Alabama. And while only one board member is named in the lawsuit, every member of this body is being painted as being part and parcel to a process that was seriously tainted and should have never happened.