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Bush calls for school lunch probe (UPDATE with video)

ALBANY, Ga. — The Dougherty County School Board on Monday evening voted to hire an outside, independent attorney familiar with federal law to examine the law and U.S. Department of Agriculture protocol and report back to the board within 30 days to determine if an investigation of the school lunch program should be undertaken.

The 5-1-1 vote was taken at the board’s meeting Monday night with board member Darryl Ealum voting against, because he wanted to hire someone to perform a full audit of the program, and Milton “Junebug” Griffin abstaining from the vote for an undisclosed reason.

Board member Velvet Riggins, who was arrested last week on alleged lunch application fraud and offense by a public official, voted in favor of the hiring of an attorney.

“I don’t want to be divisive, I really don’t,” Ealum said in explaining his “no” vote. “I just think this is a very important issue as far as the public is concerned. We need for people to believe in what the board is doing, and I felt like we should have been more definitive in our action.”

The decision to hire a lawyer experienced in federal law came about because the board is unsure exactly what information investigators will be privy to.

At the school board pre-meeting briefing, DCSS Finance Director Robert Lloyd said he had contacted the Southeast Regional Director of the USDA and was told the board “had the authority to review the procedures used to process reduced or free lunch applications but not to review the individual applications.”

“Only the state or USDA can undertake a complete audit of the program,” Lloyd said.

YouTube video

School Lunch Probe

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Board member David Maschke, while agreeing with Ealum, said he felt some guidelines first needed to be established.

“I think Darryl’s argument makes sense but is premature,” Mashke said. “We have to make this first step before we can move forward.”

Board Chairman James Bush said at the moment the school system is not sure what materials will be available for review.

“I hope we will take a good look at who will be a good fit for this investigation,” Bush said. “I want a U.S. attorney who is familiar with federal law. We’ll make some calls and find the right person.”

Earlier in the day, Bush had called for a independent investigation of the lunch program during a special legislative session at the DCSS Administration Building.

With state Reps. Ed Rynders, Winfred Dukes and Carol Fullerton listening intently, Bush jumped into the middle of the system’s ongoing school lunch crisis and upcoming CRCT cheating report.

“We have a mess with our school lunch program, and we’ve got to clean it up,” the school board chairman said. “We need help to find out what is going on in that program. We need outside people like a retired federal prosecutor to come in here and look at every single application.”

Last week, Riggins was charged with two counts of misdemeanor fraud for allegedly falsifying information on a free or reduced lunch application in addition to one felony count of offense by a public official.

Riggins attended the morning meeting with legislative officials but left before the end of the session and before Bush raised the possibility of the independent probe.

Last month, Morningside Elementary School Principal Gloria Baker and her husband, John, were each charged with three counts of misdemeanor fraud for allegedly falsifying lunch application information.

“We have to restore the school system’s credibility. Period,” an animated Bush said later. “I’m not going to sit around and watch this school system be destroyed. I want an outside investigation. I want to find out if others are doing this (falsifying information). I don’t know now, but we’re going to find out.”

Bush also added that the upcoming CRCT tribunals could actually help with an anticipated $9 million budget shortfall next year, intimating some teachers lost in the fallout would not be replaced.

“The CRCT investigation could help in regard to some of our money problems,” Bush said. “We don’t know the exact number of people who are involved, but we have a general idea.”

Comments

whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

If the Board does not cause an independent investigation to be made, one will be made despite their desires. The rug is not big enough for this one to be swept under and the citizens won't tolerate it any longer.

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ObjectiveEyes 2 years, 7 months ago

Once the investigation is completed, the deficit will be more than $9 million. There will be major funds to be paid back to the feds. How bold (or stupid) is the school board when they ask for "flexibility" when one of their own was arrested last week? Flexibility? haha. That's a GOOD one!

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 7 months ago

They really have no back bone at all. You are right, ObjectiveEyes.

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

The budget shortfall is likely primarily salary money since the bulk of system funds goes to salaries.

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TheBoss 2 years, 7 months ago

I wonder if the State Legislative delegation called the meeting with James Bush to tell him what an embarrassment the Dougherty County School Board is to the people of Dougherty County and the rest of the State of Georgia.

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Amazed2 2 years, 7 months ago

Remeber that Rynders, Dukes and Fullerton are all politicians so they want to act like this is all new stuff that just came to light so they can say they acted. Bush spent many years in poititics so he knows the way this works. He wants to take the position now that we need and OUTSIDE source to deal with the latest FREE LUNCH scandle. Why do we always need to bring in somebody from Atlanta or somewhere to clean up the mess or tell the local officials how to handle a matter. The resolution is simple and can be handled with present staff. Simply audit all DCSS system personnel on the FREE Lunch program to see if they comply based on the submitted forms and the payroll records. That is a starting point. Identify the ones that need to be further looked into and if they are found to have submitted fraudulent info then simply FIRE them. I would think between the District Attorney's office, the DCSS Police Dept, Albany City Police Dept; Dougherty County Police Dept; and the Dougherty County Sheriff's Dept that we have enough qualified people already on the taxpayers payroll to handle a school system employee or parent cheating on the FREE Lunch program.

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

In this case, help from within the local groups won't have near the credibility of a "real" investigation from outside. There are too many relatives, friends, and friends of friends relatives employed within the different groups. We need a "junkyard dog" on this one.

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bubbavet 2 years, 7 months ago

IF BUSH WANTS SOMETHING IT HAS TO STINK. HE MUST HAVE A FINANCIAL REASON TO WANT AN OUTSIDE REVIEW

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herewegoagain 2 years, 7 months ago

Bush wanting an outside view...I am betting even more hands will be caught in the cookie jar aka freelunches for all..

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Abytaxpayer 2 years, 7 months ago

Sounds like it is getting HOT in the Kitchen and the RATs are running.

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Amazed2 2 years, 7 months ago

So far the only consequences that the Principal caught up in submitting Fraulent financial forms has incurred is 1 week off With pay by Mr. Murfree and then later 15 days off without pay by vote of the DCSS Board. This principal makes $90,000/yr and lives in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Albany and has the nicest estate in the neighborhood complete with gated entrance, swimming pool, horse stables and manicured lawn. The DCSS Board has kind of set maximum level of the the punishment to be incurred by others commiting Fraud in obtaining FREE Lunches so unless the District Attorney's office is going to step up and prosecute these cases there is not too much for Velvet and any of the others to be too concerned about. That is unless Greg Edwards office steps up and decides to prosecute these cases.

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Amazed2 2 years, 7 months ago

James Bush is a smart man he knows politics and he knows he has to run for election again in the future either for the school board seat of some other office. That is why he wants an OUTSIDER to come to Albany and tell the local authorities just how bad it is. That way he is not directly responsible for investigating his supporters. HE knows the answer to what the OUTSIDE Investigator will find that is why he wants them to be the bearer of the news.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 7 months ago

If I remember correctly, didn't most of the money for the lunch program come from Federal Stimulus money or maybe it was just used last year? The Feds need to be the ones investigating and not a former Fed prosecutor. Bush is just grand standing.

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Amazed2 2 years, 7 months ago

KaosinAlbany, I would think you are basically correct that the funds or at least a portion of the funds are from FEDERAL sources. Possibly matching Fed and State Funding??? FOR sure there are STATE of Georgia funds involved here even if not FEDERAL. I am sure this is public info and I sure all the officials know very well how the system is funded. I doubt the Feds really want to pursue this issue and they are hoping nobody officially tells then about it with the election coming. Maybe now that Rynders, Dukes or Fullerton are "involved" one of them will call for a "FEDERAL INVESTIGATION".

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rock 2 years, 7 months ago

I do believe that an outside, independent, investigation is called for. Whether Mr. Bush has any motives at all is not a matter in question. He is correct when he said the DCSS is in trouble and needs to be fixed. The investigator should be a former LEO, without any ties to the DCSS or Albany as a whole anbd reports only to the Ga. AG's Office. Then if criminal intent and actions are there, the chips fall where they may and the offenders can be charged.

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

Agree, rock. Sounds like a plan. There are too many people related to or friends with those who are likely involved or likely to be part of a team of local investigators. Do it right--and do it once. No repeat of problems inherent in the initial CRCT investigation. And those who were "smart enough" to come in recently to change forms from wrong to right after the first kimshee hit the fan--no DCSS/CRCT erasures please--should be put in the guilty pile.

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TheMember 2 years, 7 months ago

Coachjohnson42's internet must be out today, surely he has some reason this all makes sense or is a continued witchhunt. Be patient everyone he will log on sooner rather than never I'm sure.

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coachjohnson42 2 years, 7 months ago

I believe Mr. Bush made the right call by asking for an outside investigation. However, its possible he is being motivated by outside forces. Even if he isn't, and is just trying to do the right thing......the haters of this system will never give him credit for cleaning up this mess. Its in their nature to be nasty.....But I still applaud him for making the first step. Can you say that???

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TheMember 2 years, 7 months ago

I will be more than glad to give credit where credit is due. But the fact he wants to spend the extra money to bring in is questionable. Why can't he forget who is involved and simply look at the charges and make a decision on ethics? I can't understand it, why does he have to say, she is a friend. I will really be proud of him if the facts are correct and she is convicted, then he comes out and denounces her actions, that will be what I want to see. Believe me, I understand we are getting the media version, but if she is guilty, put the "friendship" aside and encourage others that she did wrong.

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coachjohnson42 2 years, 7 months ago

Wow....I actually agree with you......(something is wrong here)

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TheMember 2 years, 7 months ago

What??? somebody has hacked into coaches computer!!!! LOL

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MRKIA 2 years, 7 months ago

HELL NO, HE SHOULD HAVE ASKED FOR IT WHEN THE SUPERINTENTANT WAS HIRED.

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VSU 2 years, 7 months ago

Yo, Coach! Bush is being motivated by the fact he doesn't want to lose his spot. Bush cleaning up the mess? He's part of what has caused this mess. He's just trying to divert attention away from himself to make himself look good and a hero in the end.

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coachjohnson42 2 years, 7 months ago

Just remember, while all these charges are being brought up....these people are still innocent until proven guilty. So, before you start nominating new board members and Principals, you better "slow your roll" and wait on the court system.......because if these people are found innocent, the DCSS will really be in financial trouble because they will be broke as hell from all the law suits that will follow.

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

Did I understand from the video Ealum thinks all these forms could be fully audited and results reported in 30 days? Sound wasn'r great but that seemed to be what was said. If so, it ain't going to happen, Darrell, Things don't work that way.

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Amazed2 2 years, 7 months ago

Here we go with the spin factor. Now the DCSS needs to hire a special attorney to review the FREE Lunch LAW. Seems to me we have two totally seperate issues here. We have the Fraud issue with a Board member and a DCSS Principal providing false financial information with others expected to have done the same but not yet discovered and named. Then I guess we have the percieved issue of needing an attorney other than Tommy Coleman to review the school lunch program criteria to be sure it is being properly interpreted. Hard to believe that DCSS has been dispersing these FREE Lunch program $$$ funds for years now and all of the sudden they are not sure they know the exact requirement.
This all is typical Albany, we have boards and board members who are not willing to do what they need to and let situations like this just grow into a big mess. We have on staff a City Attorney a County Attorney and a School System Attorney and now we need to hire a special attorney to help determine if Fraud is really Fraud. Welcome to the Good Life City!!!!!!!!!!!

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Sister_Ruby 2 years, 7 months ago

Seem that maybe Mr. CoachJohnson has the inside scoop on this situation? Maybe he know that the real deal is to get these ladies a few million in Sue Money due to improper Search and Seizures? I mean they's a lot of money out there to be had viz a viz the Black Farmers Settlement (over 1 Billion Served) and the Sherrods. I think he's on the right track.

"The love of money is the root of all evil" God Said It!

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TheBoss 2 years, 7 months ago

Stupid Junbug can't vote? What is he there for?

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PatrickY2K 2 years, 7 months ago

Credibility started being a problem when the DCSS did a nation-wide search for a superintendent, only to hire the 34th most qualified candidate who worked two miles away. Every mistake he has made has been a reflection on that decision (obstructing the CRCT investigation, the Atlanta trip, the early release day, etc.). The Board not disciplining Mr. Lloyd, Ms. T. Williams, Ms. Baker, or Ms. Riggins properly also has not helped credibility. If the School Board wants to restore credibility, stop ignoring what is right to take care of your own, and start doing what is right for the students.

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Martian 2 years, 7 months ago

When in doubt, hire an outside consultant and waste more of the taxpayers' money. Clearly there's a problem with the school lunch program. Why do we need to spend money on a consultant to tell us the obvious - investigate and prosecute. I give that advice for free, unless the school system wants to pay me $50,000.

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Sally_O 2 years, 7 months ago

Even if these people got fired, does anybody honestly think they will be replaced by better people? You don't accomplish anything by replacing bad apples with bad apples. With that being said, you have to start somewhere and hope this is a wake up call, as someone has been asleep at the wheel for too long.

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herewegoagain 2 years, 7 months ago

We can fire the next bunch of bad apples.... I know too many quality educators and administration professionals looking for work not to give some of them a shot. Many of them are being overlooked because of their skin color.

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Sally_O 2 years, 7 months ago

That's just it...will the right people get hired?

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herewegoagain 2 years, 7 months ago

Not as long as the ones in the office that does the hiring now. CLEAN HOUSE and START FRESH!

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Albanite 2 years, 7 months ago

Retired Federal Prosecutor- Really?? This is a job for an audit firm. A lawyer is not qualified to conduct an audit and would be in over his or her head in seconds. Doesn't the school board have an internal auditor who does not answer to Lloyd but answers directly to the board? If not, WHY NOT?

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

I can tell you what I was told as the head of a Federal internal audit group the day I reported for duty: "Remember, independence only goes so far". A very true statement I later learned. Most organizations don't want an "independent auditor"--they want to control the process in-house. Do you really think there would be any semblance of independence with DCSS?

No, it is not a job for a lawyer but a prosecutor who is used to analyzing evidence could do the job. When one goes into an area with fraud known at the start, it is good to have one who knows law on the team--not neccessary to lead it but to see what others come up with.

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Albanite 2 years, 7 months ago

The blame for not checking applications falls squarely on Lloyd. In fact, most of the school board's problems are attributable to an inept and incompetent "Finance Director". If you aren't going to check applications, why have them?

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

This one has my full support. No one wanted to check the applications. . The buck stops with Lloyd.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 7 months ago

Then why did he whistle blow if it is only going to get him into trouble? Just curious...

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herewegoagain 2 years, 7 months ago

I would be willing to bet he reported the abuse and was told that the Superintendent's office would address it. Mr. Lloyd probably should have contacted the USDA directly with the misappriations and misuse but knowing how that outfit works (Sharrod Case) they would have taken years to decide it was worth looking into. I think letting the Media know was the proper way to make sure the public knew so that we can cause enough uproar to have this issue addressed. I firmly believe many that are getting free lunches really do need them. But you take a principle and a board member that thinks just because the single mother of 3 that is working her tail off at a minimum wage to provide a roof over her families head, that they are ENTITLED TO A FREE LUNCH FOR their kids is just wrong. The two in question at the moment should have never had the gall to fill out the application to receive the benefit. I believe in Entitlement to the needy is a great thing. However, I like the idea of "What do I do with my Entitlement" How can I help my fellow neighbor with what I am given?

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps he wants it to look to those who come in to check--which was going to happen anyway--that he is interested in cleaning up the problem, Or, perhaps there are bigger things to worry about that we don't know about--keep your eye on this shell while I move the pea.

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Gabrielblows 2 years, 7 months ago

Albanite has hit the nail on the head. According to the 2011-2012 free and Reduced Price Lunch Application, all forms are carried by the student or mailed to Eva Holiday, Office Mgr./Aplication Clerk, Child Nutritional Services Staff, DCSS. What SHE does with them I do not know. However, the form instructions do state that if an application isn't approved, then the parent/guardian can contact ....are you ready???? Mr. Robert Lloyd! Now if we(the DOCO taxpayer) have to foot the bill for a legal eagle to come in to tell us what we can/cannot do with these forms as Mr. Bush's motion states, then what the heck are paying Lloyd for??? Does he dispense his knowlege without a legal leg to stand on or at the very least, consult a legal authority?(Tommy Coleman??) The bottom line is we want to know is "who" verifies the income reported on these forms-pure and simple question, isn't it? Then we can go from there!

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

I think the answer to your question is "no one verifies". I think they are received and filed with perhaps a challenge being made if the applicant is not liked by those who see the forms. Frankly, I wouldn't take a legal opinion from Lloyd--or Coleman when he is wearing the DCSS hat.

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brudderfromannudermudder 2 years, 7 months ago

Why not ask the USDA to come in and perform the audit? I am sure they or one of their contractors can perform the audit and it probably won't cost the city any money.

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waltspecht 2 years, 7 months ago

I believe if you check, the only ones with the appropriate access and authority to audit the system at the individual level are the State and the USDA. I haven't seem where either of them has made a move to do so. So why pay a consultant to tell you what is spelled out in Federal Statute. By the way, this program and Food Stamps are the majority of the funds in the Farm Program.

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Amazed2 2 years, 7 months ago

You must have read Junebugs member profile on the DCSS site.

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