Saturday, July 10, 2010

Embattled Skiatook, Oklahoma School Board President Kenneth Cooper resigned from the board Friday, saying he hopes his move can help the community heal.

Embattled Skiatook School Board President Kenneth Cooper resigned from the board Friday, saying he hopes his move can help the community heal.The seven-year veteran of the board resigned in a letter to Skiatook School Board Vice President Tim Allen. Cooper stepped down three days after receiving a Tulsa County grand jury notice seeking to remove him from office.A hearing on that matter had been scheduled for Thursday."May my resignation help begin the healing process for our community," Cooper wrote. "My prayer is for our community to move forward, learn from what has happened to our school and as citizens to better serve our children."Unsealed Tuesday were two indictments against former Skiatook Superintendent Gary Johnson alleging embezzlement and bribery of a public official.The indictments came four months after a state audit indicated the school district paid Oklahoma City middleman Rick Enos -- through his companies E&E Sales and Austin Security -- $570,000 more than it would have paid for custodial supplies and security equipment had it bought them directly.Grand jurors also stated in a report they had "no confidence" in interim Superintendent Steve Williams.Jurors said Williams didn't appear to understand the duties of his job or have adequate knowledge of the district's finances. The grand jury accusation against Cooper alleged he was guilty of official misconduct from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2008. While reviewing invoices from E&E Sales Inc./Austin Security Co., he failed to request proper supporting documents, per his duty, records show.
"As a result of his habitual neglect of duty, and/or willful mal-administration," Cooper allowed payments to be made to the company exceeding open market prices by $238,000, as evidenced by the state audit report, the accusation claims.Cooper answered questions in a prepared statement faxed to the newspaper by his friend, attorney Kevin Jordan. "I was as shocked as anyone when this slowly unfolded over a year ago," Cooper wrote. "We had independent auditors in place and were following all of the procedures provided us by the OSSBA (Oklahoma State School Board Association). Despite that, the system failed. We have been devastated and angered as a community and a board by this, and we want our money back." Cooper wrote that although he was proud of his service, "I want to be an agent of reconciliation and unity in the Skiatook community, and as there are no charges against myself or any other board members, I do not see the need to go through any additional delays or costs." Johnson, 55, has requested a preliminary hearing on his felony counts. Court documents filed Thursday by defense attorney Rob Nigh state that Johnson "specifically reserves his rights to challenge the indictment on its face for procedural irregularities in the grand jury process." With grand jury indictments, a defendant is not guaranteed a preliminary hearing, which is when a judge determines whether probable cause exists for a defendant to face trial, said Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris. However, prosecutors or the defense attorney can request a hearing. The bribery charge alleges that Johnson received money as superintendent with the intent to give preferential treatment to Enos' companies. He allegedly did so by directing the school board to approve all recommended payments as charged by E&E Sales Inc. for custodial supplies and security equipment at prices greatly in excess of open market prices, documents show. The embezzlement charge claims Johnson, in an effort to benefit himself, caused documents to be falsified $25,000 above open market prices to support the charging invoices of Enos and his companies, records indicate. Both alleged crimes took place in 2008, documents claim.In a response to an independent audit conducted for Skiatook schools, Johnson said he had "known Enos and done business with E&E Sales dating back to when I was a principal some 20 years ago," the audit states.Nigh has said Johnson will enter not guilty pleas at his arraignment scheduled Wednesday.

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