The NOLA Public Schools district has ordered James M. Singleton Charter School, run by the Dryades YMCA, to remove its interim CEO — a former member of the Dryades board — citing a state ethics law that mandates a waiting period before he can be employed by the board.
But the Dryades YMCA board thinks the district is mistaken because interim CEO Samuel Odom is working on a voluntary basis.
After an investigation into suspicious background checks at the Central City school, Singleton’s CEO and CFO resigned in late March. That’s when board member Samuel Odom was put in charge of day-to-day operations at the school. A June announcement from the school said Odom was made interim CEO — which the district says violates state ethics law requiring board members to wait at least two years after board service before working for the entity.
State law requires former board or commission members to wait two years to “contract with, be employed in any capacity by, or be appointed to any position by that board or commission.”
Odom’s appointment, according to a district-issued warning letter from NOLA Public Schools’ Chief Portfolio Officer Thomas Lambert, “violated state law.” To remedy the problem the school must remove Odom from his interim CEO position and replace him with someone who hasn’t served on the charter’s board during the last two years, Lambert wrote. Lambert gave the board until Friday to act.
But in a Tuesday response letter to the district, Dryades YMCA Board Chairwoman Barbara Lacen-Keller said the group denies running afoul of state ethics law and criticized the district for not contacting the nonprofit before warning them.
“This could have been clarified with a telephone call prior to sending a notice of noncompliance,” she wrote.
The state Ethics Board has previously opined that a former board or commission member may provide unpaid services to the agency they previously served before the two-year waiting period is over. However, the law prohibits not only employment but board appointments before the end of the two-year period. And in a 2010 opinion, the Ethics Board said the law prohibits former board or commission members from accepting an appointment to an official position.
The school district’s letter was in response to a June 9 Dryades YMCA press release that began, “On behalf of the Dryades YMCA New Orleans Boards of Directors, we are pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Samuel Odom as Interim Chief Executive Officer (I-CEO) of this historic institution in service of the Metropolitan New Orleans community.”
Meanwhile, the district also recently ordered the school to redo background checks for some employees after irregularities were discovered during a March review. During the March review, district staff reported they could not verify all background checks with the Louisiana State Police and noted suspicious oddities such as background checks sharing audit codes, which are supposed to serve as a unique identifier.
The school’s former CFO, Catrina Reed, was arrested on June 1 after NOPD issued a warrant for her arrest in late May on 12 counts of injuring public records. She was released on her own recognizance the following day after a first-appearance hearing.
Singleton Principal Erika Mann said the group reran a set of the background checks the district required.
“Singleton was required to resubmit 17 background checks of which 16 were completed. One employee that is not returning was not able to be reached,” Mann wrote in an email this week. “This includes 12 background checks that were reviewed and validated by Paige Jackson, Director of School Accountability.”
Update: This story was updated with a response from the Dryades YMCA.