Law Firm’s Probe Clears School Chief of Wrongdoing in Surveillance Contract

The superintendent had been scrutinized for the installation of emergency cameras in 19 ‘persistently dangerous’ schools.
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A Philadelphia School District investigation has found “no evidence of wrong-doing” by the school superintendent and the superintendent’s deputy in awarding an emergency, no-bid contract for $7.5 million to install surveillance cameras.

Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery “have been scrutinized for the installation of emergency cameras in 19 ‘persistently dangerous’ schools,” Michael Davis, the district’s general counsel, said when making public a summary of the report of the investigation of the two officials.

The investigation was conducted by the law firm of Pepper Hamilton L.L.P.—which represents the school district—following a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer saying Ackerman had intervened on behalf of IBS Communications Inc., a small minority-owned firm to install the security cameras. In addition, Ackerman pushed aside another company—Security Data Technologies Inc.—which had begun preliminary work on the project in favor of IBS Communications.

Pepper Hamilton says it interviewed 32 unnamed district employees as part of its investigation. In addition, while details of the law firm’s findings were not made available, the district said the investigation cost nearly $173,000 for lawyers' fees and other administrative expenses.

Davis said Pepper Hamilton was engaged to conduct the investigation to determine whether any employees had violated the law or district policies and procedures, and to look at the effectiveness of the district’s procurement and contracting policies and procedures.

The report summary issued by Davis does not address Ackerman’s actions, but it does say investigators found no evidence of “improper or unlawful motives” behind the selection of IBS for the 19 schools or “the selection of the contractors used” in an earlier project at South Philadelphia High School.

In the South Philadelphia job, IBS was added as a contractor after the bulk of the work was completed. All that was left was the drawing of “as-builts,” schematic drawings of the equipment that was installed. Another firm had been willing to prepare the drawings for one-twelfth the cost.

Ackerman has denied ordering staffers to award the larger, $7.5 million emergency no-bid project to IBS specifically. But she has acknowledged that her aides learned about the company after she produced the firm's business card and told them to give IBS a portion of South Philadelphia work.

IBS is not on a state list of vendors that have been approved to handle emergency, no-bid work, and Security Data Technologies is on that list. The district has said that it was permitted to select IBS because it was on a city list and because the state takeover law that established the School Reform Commission in 2001 gives the district contracting flexibility.