One of the more troubling aspects of the search for a new state superintendent was an anonymous “smear sheet” given to state school board members on July 12. Though it was unsigned it somehow made its way to the Ethics Commission and on July 15 Hugh Evans, general counsel at Ethics, sent a letter to Juliana Dean, general counsel for the state department of education that they had received the complaint.
A copy of this letter quickly made its way to the media. Warren Craig Pouncey is named in it.
This episode got the attention of veteran state senator Gerald Dial who wanted to know how an unsigned complaint, that would not be investigated by the Ethics Commission, became public.
He and fellow senator Quinton Ross passed a resolution in the August special session to create a committee to look into this matter. Committee members are Dial, Ross and Senator Greg Albritton and house members Issac Whorton, Steve Hurst and Merika Coleman.
The committee held their first meeting today (Oct. 19) at the statehouse. Though it was primarily an organizational meeting with Dial selected as chairman and Hurst as vice-chairman, Othni Latham, Director of the Alabama Law Institute, did speak to the part of Alabama Code Section 36-25-4 dealing with public access to complaint, investigation, and disputes in the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission.
As Dial pointed out, lawmakers drafting ethics legislation had specifically tried to make sure what happened in the Pouncey case could not happen. “We need to find out what occurred and why and make whatever changes in the law that may be needed to see that it does not happen again,” said Dial.
Since an unsigned complaint is treated as if it never existed and is nothing more than a blank sheet of paper, the question of why it was given to the Ethics Commission with the intent to harm a candidate’s chances to be selected as state superintendent is important.
Dial indicated that the committee will meet again within a week or so and begin questioning those from the Ethics Commission and the state department of education who have knowledge of what transpired.
In addition to the work of this committee, the state school board passed a resolution on Oct. 8 to ask for an investigation by the Attorney General and the Ethics Commission into the same issue. And Pouncey has retained Montgomery attorney Kenny Mendelsohn to consider whether or not to pursue legal action.