Investigation Maneuvers

ASDB decides to hire an outside investigator to look into complaints, but back in 2008 hiring an investigator just brought up other conflicts

This isn't the first time Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind board member G. Michael Williams was tasked to find an investigator to look into complaints made against the ASDB administration, which is why a 2008 incident has a few wondering if the board needs to reconsider this latest action.

Last month, students at the Tucson campus off Speedway Boulevard began protesting because a popular deaf administrator was put on leave in February and an agriculture teacher was fired by ASDB Superintendent Robert Hill.

From those protests, staff and parents came forward with concerns about an environment of fear and intimidation, as well as allegations of conflicts of interest between the ASDB board chairman Bernhardt Jones and Hill.

The fervor culminated at a special board meeting on Tuesday, April 30 with a standing-room-only crowd of more than 170 people in the governor's conference room in Phoenix, who addressed their frustrations, fears and concerns regarding a perceived business conflict of interest between Jones and Hill, along with a laundry list of complaints made against Hill.

The decision to hire an investigator, who will look at five complaints made by ASDB staffers, came after the board left executive session when it was announced that Williams is tasked with finding that person. But back in January 2008, when a ASDB staffer filed a complaint with the board against the school's human resource director and other top staff on the misuse of funds, Williams was charged with finding an investigator. Trouble is he never brought up a potential conflict until the woman who filed the initial complaint brought it before the board at a June 9, 2008 meeting.

Doris Woltman, the ASDB staffer and past intern superintendent who filed the 2008 complaint, was unavailable for comment to the Tucson Weekly. According to a video and a file provided about her 2008 complaint, it could have easily been business as usual if Woltman didn't speak up at the June meeting. The Weekly called Williams for comment on the current investigation, as well as the 2008 investigation, but we did not hear back from him as of press time.

During call to audience, Woltman brought up that one of Williams' clients as an Arizona lobbyist is the Arizona Police Association. The person Williams picked to be investigator of her case was Dale Norris, then-executive director of the Arizona Police Association. During the meeting, while Williams explained what happened with help from then-board chairwoman Orlenda Roberts, Woltman brought up another issue - the fact that the procurement office confirmed that Norris had been hired and already had an invoice for more than $4,000 - without the board taking the needed vote to hire him.

During the 2008 meeting, Williams apologized, saying that the board didn't have a chance to vote on the investigator because the last meeting was canceled. And when Woltman mentioned the procurement documentation, Williams and Roberts shook their heads no - no one was hired.

"This is all a show as far as I'm concerned," Woltman told the board, "not an honest investigation."

The board then went into executive session, and upon return voted on a new investigator. Sitting at the board table back then was Sami Hamed, a former state legislative candidate and staffer for U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva's Tucson office. Hamed was an ASDB board member appointed by former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2002, who also happens to be legally blind and is an ASDB alum.

After the board voted to formally hire a "new" investigator in 2008 that was different from Williams' Arizona Police Association pick, the board voted that Hamed work with Williams on the investigation in order to make sure there were no additional issues or perceived conflicts.

"Obviously the way he handled the first round, he bungled it," Hamed told the Weekly. "It showed a lack of regard."

Hamed said once the board appointed Hamed to work with Williams, the lobbyist had to run everything by the Democratic governor appointee. At the time there was no ethics policy for the governing board. "We policed ourselves. This was a safeguard."

What about what's going on now at his former school? Hamed says the board has always been difficult, but he's surprised at what he sees as a complete disregard for students and their family. The best thing that could happen now, he says, would be if Hill stepped down, as well as a majority of the board.

"There were some protests back at my time, but nothing as dramatic as we see now," Hamed says. "But if you look at the website and talked with parents, you realize this is a group that is not going to give up."

ASDB board members serve three-year terms. Hamed was one of Napolitano's first appointees when she became governor and he served two terms. In 2009, Hamed was replaced and Gov. Jan Brewer appointed Jones. "I knew she wasn't going to reappoint me."

What's taking place now, Hamed says it makes him sad, but he's also amazed by the determination of the students and parents. "But the board has to change, and hopefully the governor's office will move on that.

"Having been in these kids' shoes, I know we have one shot to educate them. Once they leave, it's too late and we've set them up for failure. I have a feeling we're doing that from what I've seen taking place right now."

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