Billy Townsend: Re-open the Florida DoE/Jefferson bid corruption probe
Billy Townsend keeps an eye on privatization shenanigans in Florida. This tale is a bit complicated, but is at root a stunning example of self-dealing. Reposted with permission.
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and Senior Chancellor for K-12 Jacob Oliva should both immediately resign over the state Department of Education’s Jefferson County state bid corruption scandal. If they don’t, Gov. DeSantis should fire them.
That’s how bad it is. The scandal already quietly took down Melissa Ramsey, former DoE Executive Vice Chancellor for the Division of Public Schools, and former state Board of Education Member and Chairman Andy Tuck. Their resignations were first reported — a month after they happened — by Jason Delgado of the “Florida Politics” website. But Delgado’s story did not detail the most overtly corrupt act.
In sum: Melissa Ramsey directed her immediate DoE subordinate to draft a proposal response for Ramsey and Tuck’s personal company to a DoE Request for Quote (RFQ) to support Jefferson County schools as they transition away from charter school control back to district control.
Just days before, at Jacob Oliva’s direction, this same subordinate had personally drafted the same Jefferson RFQ that Ramsey was now directing her to respond to on behalf of Ramsey and Tuck’s company — known as Strategic Initiatives Partners, LLC (SIP).
To restate because it sounds crazy: over a few days in November, DoE Senior Chancellor for K12 Oliva (legitimately, it appears) ordered a state employee to craft a state RFQ for the Jefferson County support work. Vice Chancellor Ramsey then ordered this same state employee — her direct subordinate — to write SIP’s proposal responding to the same government RFQ that same subordinate had just written.
Ramsey then submitted the proposal — with sitting Board of Education member Tuck’s enthusiastic support. At the time of the submission, the company’s documents also listed Oliva as a company official along with Tuck and Ramsey.
Executive Vice Chancellor Melissa Ramsey resigned the same day she was interviewed by OIG investigators (Nov. 22) after they twice caught her lying in her testimony. BoE member Tuck first agreed to meet with OIG investigators on Nov. 17, then backed out after talking to a lawyer. Instead of submitting to an interview on Nov. 17, Tuck abruptly resigned from the BoE, retroactive to the previous day (Nov. 16) for some reason. OIG has still not interviewed Tuck — and does not plan to. It considers the investigation closed.
Really. That all happened. It’s clearly, unequivocally documented in the DoE’s Inspector General report. Oliva has been cleared of wrongdoing. We’ll come to that in a second, as well as a deep dive on the entirety of the scandal.
But politicians of both parties should demand that the state re-open this investigation and provide a full account of the almost casually comprehensive corruption at work here with DoE’s operational leadership.
It’s not remotely surprising to me that Florida’s awful, cynical state Department of Education and Board of Education have now shipwrecked themselves on blatant conflict of interest in the tiny, poverty-stricken, majority-black, three-school Jefferson County system.
Five years ago, DoE worked closely with openly conflicted legislators to turn Jefferson County public schools over to charter company Somerset. Here’s how Florida NPR reporter Jessica Bakeman put it in her excellent and thorough 2019 account of the Jefferson charter “experiment.”
In particular, Senate education committee chair Manny Diaz, Jr., a Hialeah Republican, helped secure legislation and funding in 2017 that aided Somerset’s efforts in Jefferson County. Then a committee chairman in the state House of Representatives, Diaz was instrumental in making the district’s transition to charter schools possible.
Diaz is a top administrator at a private college also affiliated with Academica. Doral College was created in 2010 to offer advanced courses at charter schools, including Somerset Academy schools. Somerset alone pays Doral College more than $100,000 a year in public money for delivering college-level courses at the network’s schools, including in Jefferson County. And Diaz’s boss — the president of Doral College — has led the transition to charter schools in Jefferson as a consultant for Somerset.
Now the charter company — Somerset — is quietly dumping all the kids of Jefferson, as charter schools tend to do. It doesn’t want to operate Jefferson’s schools any more.
It’s not really clear why Somerest is bailing on Jefferson at the end of its 5-year contract; but I suspect it’s because serving Jefferson’s challenging, traditional school enrollment isn’t easy or profitable enough. When you’re a franchise-based “choice” business like Somerset, it doesn’t pay to operate in places that take a lot more overhead than you’re willing to commit to “succeed.”
Keep that in mind while considering the detailed educratic nihilism I’m about to show you. This massive, barely-reported DoE scandal makes it easy to forget the flesh and blood kids and teachers and communities that become the playthings of grift. We shouldn’t. And we’ll come back to Jefferson in more detail in part 2.
Public corruption and leadership paralysis
Oliva immediately submitted to an OIG interview on Nov. 16; and the investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. But I have many unanswered questions about what Oliva knew and when he knew it.
The investigation report is clear: Ramsey and Tuck thought Oliva was part of SIP — their company. Tuck put Oliva’s name on the company’s founding papers. Oliva acknowledges having some level of discussion with Tuck and Ramsey about joining the company, although he said he never gave permission to use his name. Oliva also had advance warning — not clear how far in advance — that Ramsey planned to submit the corrupt proposal. He warned Ramsey not to submit it.
I believe Oliva when he testifies that he wanted no part of the corrupt bid. And although it’s really weird, I guess I believe that Ramsey and Tuck formally drafted Oliva into their company without his knowledge through some wishful thinking fantasy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
But I can’t account for Oliva’s leadership paralysis.
In DoE’s hierarchy, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran — a famously combative anti-public education politician and lawyer — sits at the top as the voice of the governor. Gov. DeSantis directly appointed his one-time Republican gubernatorial rival to the post shortly after his 2018 win.
As Senior Chancellor, Oliva is essentially the DoE operational leader for K-12 schools. Executive Vice Chancellor Ramsey specialized in public school “turnaround,” the word often used for punishing poor zoned neighborhood schools whose aggregate test scores aren’t high enough. Jefferson traditionally produces some of Florida’s lowest test scores. I would expect Ramsey to answer directly to Oliva on the org chart; but it’s not clear to me from the investigation that she did.
State Board of Education members like Tuck are political appointees who act essentially like unelected state school board members. (Tuck’s 27-year-old daughter, Kaylee Tuck, is the Florida legislator who sponsored last legislative session’s bill that became law banning trans children from competing in school-sanctioned sports in their non-birth sex.)
So, why did Oliva not report any of this bid corruption to his boss, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran? Why did he not order Ramsey not to submit the corrupt proposal? Was he not her supervisor? Why did Oliva not report this to DoE legal or OIG? Or anyone in government? Or hell, to the media, to make it public and thwart it? Or did he, quietly?
It’s not clear; and nobody asked him.
Oliva’s apparent uselessness in the face of blatant public corruption is enough for the relevant leader to resign, in my opinion. Oliva should also resign because Jefferson County’s K-12 schools fall under Oliva’s direct supervision. Because of this corrupt bidding process that Oliva did not stop, DoE and Florida taxpayers now must start all over on trying to fix the mess left by Somerset abandoning Jefferson.
This investigation should not be closed. Law enforcement should take over.
As I just noted, with the sudden, quiet resignations of Ramsey and Tuck, OIG considers the matter closed. That seems quite convenient.
Richard Corcoran, who owns this Florida DoE culture of corruption and cynicism, summed all this up as just an honest — but negligent — mistake:
[Tuck and Ramsey] have great hearts and they have done wonderful things in education for the state of Florida. What they did was not malicious, it was just gross negligence. As soon as they were shown the error they both did the right thing and resigned. I wish them both nothing but the best.
But investigators noted something intriguing about Corcoran from Ramsey’s testimony: Ramsey thought she and Tuck were pitching their corrupt proposal directly to Corcoran himself. Note the part in bold:
Ramsey denied ever seeing the draft or final RFQ. Ramsey detailed that she did not have any duties in reviewing or creating the RFQ and explained that she was under the impression that Commissioner Corcoran would be the one reviewing and approving the proposals submitted in response to the RFQ.
The OIG investigators did not follow up to determine why Ramsey had the impression Corcoran would decide the bid winner. They just let it dangle, albeit with a quite conspicuous footnote that clarifying that “Commissioner Corcoran” does, in fact, refer to “Richard Corcoran, FDOE, Commissioner” — just in case anybody was wondering.
This passage certainly makes me wonder about Corcoran’s incentives to quietly let Ramsey and Tuck resign over this massive act of public corruption while praising their “great hearts.” Gov. DeSantis should consider those incentives too, if he ever returns from his strange hiatus from public life.
The reference to Corcoran’s role also makes we wonder who within DoE Oliva could have reported this corrupt bid in the making to — even if he wanted. And it’s clear to me that an independent law enforcement agency should re-open this investigation.
Questions to ask Corcoran — and DeSantis
With that in mind, I sent a note a few days ago to DoE spokesman Jared Ochs, who seems to be out of the office. My questions:
How did Melissa Ramsey have that impression? Did she and Richard Corcoran discuss the Jefferson RFQ? And did they ever discuss the idea that Ramsey might submit an application?
I haven’t heard anything back. So let me add additional questions here for investigators or reporters:
- Did the DoE’s inspector general interview Corcoran about Ramsey’s testimony — and her perception that she and Tuck were pitching to Corcoran himself? If not, why not?
- Is it fraud to include someone on official business documents without that person’s permission? Did Tuck commit fraud in including Oliva on SIP’s documentation without Oliva’s permission?
- Can DoE’s OIG effectively investigate this scandal? Should an independent agency take over?
- Is it illegal — criminally illegal — to lie to an OIG investigation?
- Is it illegal to direct your taxpayer-funded subordinate to prepare your private company’s corrupt proposal responding to an RFP you oversee — perhaps on on taxpayer time?
- Has OIG made any criminal referrals?
- If what’s in this investigation is true, why was Ramsey allowed to just resign with Corcoran wishing her “nothing but the best?” Why are Corcoran and DeSantis content for Tuck to stonewall investigators?
- Gov. DeSantis, you talk a lot about education. Are you confident in Corcoran’s DoE leadership given this blatant act of public corruption on his watch?
Remember, presumably Corcoran has read the same investigative report I have. And he said this about it:
“[Tuck and Ramsey] have great hearts and they have done wonderful things in education for the state of Florida. What they did was not malicious, it was just gross negligence. As soon as they were shown the error they both did the right thing and resigned. I wish them both nothing but the best.”
The mid-level official at the middle of this scandal has a name: Caroline Wood.
Her title is Senior Educational Program Director with the Bureau of School Improvement. She was ordered to write an RFQ on behalf of taxpayers. Then her boss ordered her to respond to that RFQ on behalf of her boss’ personal LLC with a sitting state Board of Education member.
Listen to what Wood had to say about that “not malicious” experience, as quoted by investigators:
… I should have known better, I just, I trusted a lot of people that I shouldn’t have trusted and um, I put myself in a position to be reprimanded and in trouble and potentially losing my position when that’s never what I had hoped, never wanted…
Who exactly is going to “reprimand” her at DoE? And who could she have possibly reported this “not malicious” position to?
“I trusted a lot of people” is quite a statement. “A lot of people” is more than one or two. Who — by name — is she talking about? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Corcoran says Ramsey, the powerful person who most directly did that to Caroline Wood, has a “great heart,” like Tuck. Corcoran says Ramsey and Tuck both “did the right thing” as soon as they were “shown the error.”
Really? Remember: Ramsey resigned the day she was interviewed by investigators (Nov. 22) after they twice caught her lying in her testimony. Tuck first agreed to meet with investigators on Nov. 17, then backed out after talking to a lawyer and resigned immediately, retroactive to the day before, in fact. Tuck has not submitted to an interview.
Is Corcoran just blatantly lying about “the right thing” — or does he have no idea what “the right thing” ever is? Both are grounds for resignation or firing. On top of that, Corcoran fully owns the corrupt, self-interested grifter culture of Florida’s entirely state-run education system. He should resign — or be fired — for that, too.
A chronological deep dive into bleak, cynical state DoE corruption
From here on, I’m going to document with a timeline and details the misadventures of disgraced former Florida Board of Education Chair Andy Tuck and disgraced former Vice Chancellor for K-12 Strategic Improvement Melissa Ramsey.
This expands and provides detailed back up for what I’ve summarized above. You don’t have to read it; but I think you should. It’s not redundant. It’s a story of very cynical corruption among Florida’s state education “leaders.”
It provides a very important, granular look at the broken morality that makes Florida’s state-run school system America’s worst. It will deepen your understanding and context for what happened. If you skip the timeline, you should still read my conclusion at the very end.
Working backward from a little-noticed Dec. 23 news story
For me, this all started when reporter Jason Delgado, working for Peter Schorsch’s Florida Politics website, broke the DoE/Jefferson County resignations in the media dead time right before Christmas. You can find the actual investigative report linked and readable at Delgado’s story.
DoE did not provide a press release; and I’m not sure how Delgado got wind of the story. I rather suspect DoE engineered it, given the timing and the venue. That’s not a dig at Florida Politics. It’s almost impossible for one standard news story to capture what’s in this investigative report — including all the holes and unanswered questions. Getting a somewhat superficial resignation account just before Christmas was maybe the best way to address the story without generating much wider public attention. Very few people noticed; but I was one.
And when I finally looked closely at the investigative report, I began to see this was a much bigger, more comprehensive scandal than straight “daily” news stories are equipped to explain.
The genesis: Tuck, Ramsey, and Oliva have a chat “one night” about forming a “turnaround” company. It’s not clear when
This whole sordid mess seems to have started with “a conversation one night.” It’s not clear when or where that conversation occurred, but it involved Oliva, Tuck, and Ramsey. It appears to predate the August creation of the Tuck/Ramsey LLC.
Here’s how Oliva put it:
Just for the record that, that conversation around the company was, I never gave authorization for my name to be submitted, I never knew they [Ramsey and Tuck] intended to file an LLC. It was just a conversation one night about doing, um, turnaround work in other states like Texas and California that Florida has a proven track record model. The other people that are listed on that were talking about how they [Ramsey and Tuck] were transitioning to new career opportunities and I was just, my whole point of that conversation was ‘Good luck’.” — Oliva testimony, Nov. 16, 2021
From here, we start to get some dates.
August 26, 2021 — Strategic Initiative Partners, LLP, is born
Strategic Initiative Partners, LLC (SIP) is formed. It is still listed as active today, as shown in screenshots below. Tuck is the “registered agent.” For some reason, Melissa Ramsey uses the name Melissa Hancock as an “authorized person.” I do not know why; but the investigation is clear they’re the same person.
This is from the investigative narrative, from Ramsey’s PoV:
During Ramsey’s interview [on Nov. 22], she testified that SIP is the name of the proposed business between Tuck and herself. Ramsey explained that, once Tuck’s term expired with the State Board of Education and she retired from FDOE, the plan was to form SIP and assist schools in need by utilizing her and Tuck’s shared experiences and knowledge in Education. Ramsey explained that Tuck was the one who filed the paperwork to create SIP in late August of 2021, and the names listed on the business were Tuck, Ramsey, and Oliva (Exhibit 12). Ramsey testified that she never officially signed any paperwork regarding the creation of the LLC, and reiterated that Tuck was the one to actually file the paperwork.
Also from the narrative, from Oliva’s PoV:
During Oliva’s interview [Nov. 16], the OIG inquired if Oliva had a role in Strategic Initiatives Partners LLC, and Oliva responded, “I do not.” In regards to Oliva being listed on any documents related to SIP, Oliva reported, “I have learned that I am, yes, and I have requested immediately to be removed…Monday (November 15, 2021) when I found out…
[Previously quoted portion about conversation “one night” with Tuck and Ramsey here. Then adds:]
“Never signed anything. Never wrote anything, giving consent to put my name. Nothing.”
Oliva stated he is not aware of who submitted the paperwork to establish Strategic Initiatives Partners, LLC…Oliva stated it was a verbal conversation with Ramsey to have him removed from the company, and Ramsey told him that she was advised she needed to submit a form, which would take seven days to process. Oliva stated he had no intention of joining SIP as long as he is an employee of the State of Florida.
Ramsey stated that Oliva was being removed from the company because he no longer wanted to be part of it. In regards to the timeline in which Oliva asked to be removed from the LLC, Ramsey testified that Oliva was asked to sign up to be a lobbyist when he was promoted to senior chancellor, and he expressed concerns with a potential conflict of interest between the LLC and becoming a lobbyist. Ramsey explained that Tuck then attempted to remove Oliva from the LLC; however, he was unable to figure out how to do so.
A few points here:
- Because Tuck has thus far refused an investigatory interview, the public does not know his version of events.
- Tuck, like all state Board of Education members, was a political appointee. He was a former elected Highlands County School Board member appointed to the Board of Education by Rick Scott in July 2014. He served as BoE chair from July 2019 to July 2021. (Fun fact: he was replaced as chair by Tom Grady, who was recently prosecuted and acquitted on misdemeanor charges of illegal excavation. It’s been an eventful year for recent BoE chairs.)
- Tuck is a politician. He has no particular operational experience in “turnaround work.” It is not clear what his operational or capital role would be in the SIP company.
- That last paragraph is very interesting. It suggests Oliva, long before the SIP bid, 1) Wanted to be part of SIP 2) Thought better of it and backed out 3) And then Tuck couldn’t figure out how to remove him. It also bears on the date that follows.
August 30, 2021 — New DoE leadership structure finalized/announced, Oliva promoted.
Florida Politics reports changes to the DoE leadership team — including a title promotion for Oliva.
“For the last few months, we’ve been working as an interim leadership team. This week, we made the interim status permanent,” Ochs said. “Bethany Swonson will be Chief of Staff instead of Interim Chief of Staff. Eric Hall will continue to be a Senior Chancellor, as he was during the interim, and Jacob Oliva will be Senior Chancellor and remain over all K-12 education as well as Early Learning.”
According to the investigation, Ramsey told OIG in her Nov. 22 interview that she informed Swonson, Hall, and Oliva that she planned to submit the Jefferson proposal before she submitted it.
“I felt I was not in conflict because I had talked to three senior leaders, you know, and it was a proposal, again, not a executed contract.”
Without using the word “lie,” the report says Ramsey changed her story about those senior officials quickly, during the Nov. 22 interview. Here is the relevant passage. Note the part in bold, right at the start:
During Ramsey’s interview [on Nov. 22], she stated that she notified Oliva, Chief of Staff Bethany Swonson, and former Senior Chancellor Eric Hall of her intention to submit the proposal on behalf of SIP. Upon further questioning, Ramsey acknowledged that she was unable to speak directly to Swonson until after she submitted the SIP proposal. Ramsey additionally stated that her conversation with Hall centered around her intentions to retire and pursue opportunities through SIP. When asked who submitted the SIP proposal, Ramsey indicated that she submitted the proposal.
Ramsey testified that if her proposal would have won, “…it would be a conflict and I’d have to retire, early retire or resign and get my ducks in a row to actually execute a contract and go to Jefferson.” Ramsey divulged “I felt I was not in conflict because I had talked to three senior leaders, you know, and it was a proposal, again, not a executed contract.”
The August promotion to senior chancellor for Oliva seems more formal than substantive, with the role largely unchanged — except that someone asked him to become a lobbyist. It’s not exactly clear who asked him to become a lobbyist and for what — but there’s nothing inherently sketchy in the request.
I’m told that government employees who “lobby” the Legislature have to register as “lobbyists.” So there’s nothing wrong with Oliva becoming a lobbyist as senior chancellor, registered to the DoE building address in Tallahassee.
But that new role sheds some light on Ramsey’s testimony:
Oliva was asked to sign up to be a lobbyist when he was promoted to senior chancellor, and he expressed concerns with a potential conflict of interest between the LLC and becoming a lobbyist.
So we see evidence here Oliva expressing both interest in and concern about his connection to SIP way back in late August/early September.
October 7, 2021 — BoE meets to punish local districts over mask mandates
The state Board of Education holds a meeting focused on punishing local districts that defied DoE/BoE and imposed mask mandates during Florida’s deadly Delta wave.
On October 15, Oliva blasted teachers for talking about the COVID threats they face and quality of life in Florida schools. He blames them for the state’s teacher shortage:
“When you create this narrative that schools aren’t safe, then wonder why people aren’t entering the profession, I would challenge the leadership,” K-12 chancellor Jacob Oliva said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
“It’s conflicting, it’s reckless, and it needs to be clarified,” Oliva said.
I include this as context for what was happening at DoE — and where energy was focused — when SIP/Jefferson bid corruption was about to unfold.
Oct. 29, 2021 — Ramsey goes on 2-week leave
Melissa Ramsey goes on “annual leave” until Nov. 15, the day the SIP proposal is submitted and the investigation triggered.
It is unclear when Ramsey decided to have SIP propose on the RFQ for Jefferson County. That RFQ did not yet exist when she went out on leave on Oct. 29.
At some point, Ramsey and Oliva had a confrontation about SIP submitting a bid on the Jefferson County work. It is NOT clear when that happened. But Oliva warned her not to submit and said he wanted nothing to do with it. We don’t when or where that confrontation went down; but here is how it went down, according to Oliva and the investigation:
During Oliva’s [Nov. 16] interview, he explained, “Melissa Ramsey came to me and said that she was thinking about applying and responding to the RFQ…I advised her that I didn’t think that she could apply, that I think it would be a conflict of interest. If they [Ramsey and Tuck] intend to do that, that I don’t want my name anywhere near or associated with this application, that I am an employee of this department and I don’t think that we have the ability or you [Ramsey] the ability to engage in this work. You’ve been a part of these conversations…I told her [Ramsey] that I can’t control what she [Ramsey] does or does not do. I don’t want any part of this.”
Oliva reiterated, “I told her [Ramsey] I did not want, I can’t have my name anywhere near this. I don’t want to be on any application. I didn’t think that it was a good idea. She [Ramsey] felt like it was something that she [Ramsey] wanted to explore. I suggested she [Ramsey] go talk to other members of senior leadership, before applying. She [Ramsey] said that she [Ramsey] did and that they didn’t share any concerns.”
Did this happen on Nov. 15th, the date of submission? While Ramsey was out? Before? In DoE offices?
We don’t know when Oliva became aware that SIP planned to submit. Answering that question seems pretty important to understanding how all of this this could happen.
Nov. 5, 2021 — Oliva instructs Wood to create the Jefferson RFQ
While Ramsey in on leave, Oliva instructs Caroline Wood, Senior Educational Program Director, to prepare the RFQ for the Jefferson County work. The investigation notes that Wood was a “direct report” to Ramsey at this time. Ramsey was her direct supervisor.
Again, it is unclear from the report if Oliva knew that Ramsey, Wood’s boss, was planning to submit a proposal from SIP to the RFQ he asked Wood to produce.
Wood had never before produced an RFQ. She was given three days — until Nov. 8 — to develop it. Oliva gave her a template to use from an old draft master services agreement with a company.
Wood explained that Oliva gave her a deadline of November 8, 2021, to complete the RFQ and provided a document titled
“Master Engagement Agreement By and Between Jefferson County Schools Succeed, LLC and The Florida Department of Education” (master agreement) to help develop the RFQ. The master agreement prescribed a proposed scope of engagement between MGT of America and the department. The OIG found no evidence that the parties ever formalized the proposed agreement. Wood explained that she did not have any experience writing RFQs and had only worked on Requests for Applications, so she was unsure how to compose the RFQ.
Wood stated that Chancellor Oliva did not specifically instruct her which sections of the master agreement language to use, but she recalled that the document included a scope of services table. Wood highlighted parts of three pages from the 15-page document that she recalled using to draft the RFQ, (Exhibit 3) including the section that she titled as “deliverables.”
This whole sequence, to me, illustrates what a disgustingly low priority Jefferson County — the great demonstration project — was for DoE at this time. And it seems terribly unfair to Caroline Wood.
It was about to get much worse for her.
Ramsey would soon tell Wood — her taxpayer-funded employee — to use the same template agreement she used for the RFQ to build the SIP proposal response to the RFQ on behalf of the Ramsey/Tuck company, with which Wood had no role.
Let that workplace and ethical dynamic sink in for a second.
Nov. 8, 2021 — RFQ released to 25 vendors. SIP is not one.
DoE sends the Jefferson RFQ to 25 vendors. Only one will respond. SIP is not one of the vendors sent the RFQ. Its proposal — submitted on Nov. 15 — is unsolicited.
Between Nov. 8 and Nov. 15, 2021 — Wood prepares SIP proposal with Ramsey
I’m a little reluctant to characterize what happened in development of the proposal. It’s somewhat difficult to decipher — starting with when and where Wood and Ramsey started working on the proposal.
But two really striking/shocking facts, already discussed, clearly emerge from the report narration:
- Wood clearly worked to build the SIP proposal for her boss Ramsey, under some level of instruction from her boss Ramsey, who was out of the office until Nov. 15.
- Wood used the same template Oliva gave her to help craft the RFQ to help craft the SIP proposal response.
Here’s how investigators put it. Note the crucial part in bold again:
On November 19, 2021, the OIG re-interviewed Wood, as a witness regarding this matter. Wood confirmed that Ramsey provided her with the master agreement [See Attachment 8] in order to create the SIP Proposal. Wood reviewed the master agreement and the SIP Proposal and confirmed that she copied and pasted entire sections from the master agreement to the SIP Proposal. Wood reiterated that Oliva was not involved in the creation of the SIP Proposal and testified that she did not believe that Oliva had any involvement in the matter. Wood testified that Ramsey would have been the person who submitted the SIP Proposal.
Here’s an additional piece of detail from the report. Note parts in bold:
Wood explained that she used her jump drive to work on the SIP Proposal and provided the proposal to Ramsey using the jump drive, rather than emailing it to her. Wood stated that she may have a version of the proposal on her desktop, but she was not positive. Wood stated that she did not see the final version of the SIP Proposal, so she was not sure if Ramsey made any changes to the draft that she had worked on. Wood testified that she had no knowledge about the SIP Proposal being withdrawn. Wood stated, “… I should have known better, I just, I trusted a lot of people that I shouldn’t have trusted and um, I put myself in a position to be reprimanded and in trouble and potentially losing my position when that’s never what I had hoped, never wanted…”
I have all sorts of lingering questions here.
- Did Ramsey, while she was out, just call up her public servant subordinate Wood and order her to build out a proposal for Ramsey’s company with the template Wood had just used to build the RFQ?
- What is this “trust” thing? Was Wood lied to? By whom? “A lot of people” is much more than one. Who else is she referring to?
- Was Ramsey working on the proposal from home while she was out?
- Was Wood going to get compensated somehow for the private work she did for immediate supervisor Ramsey? What did Tuck know about Wood’s work?
- Did Wood and Ramsey use the jump drive to purposely avoid creating an email record?
- How much of this happened on DoE time?
OIG Investigators asked and answered none of these questions.
Nov. 15, 2021
Ramsey submits the SIP proposal via email to Janice Brown, DoE’s assistant deputy commissioner for the division of finance and operations.
From the investigative report. As always, note the part in bold:
During Ramsey’s interview, she stated that she notified Oliva, Chief of Staff Bethany Swonson, and former Senior Chancellor Eric Hall of her intention to submit the proposal on behalf of SIP. Upon further questioning, Ramsey acknowledged that she was unable to speak directly to Swonson until after she submitted the SIP proposal. Ramsey additionally stated that her conversation with Hall centered around her intentions to retire and pursue opportunities through SIP. When asked who submitted the SIP proposal, Ramsey indicated that she submitted the proposal.
Ramsey testified that if her proposal would have won, “…it would be a conflict and I’d have to retire, early retire or resign and get my ducks in a row to actually execute a contract and go to Jefferson.” Ramsey divulged “I felt I was not in conflict because I had talked to three senior leaders, you know, and it was a proposal, again, not a executed contract.”
Ramsey stated that she did contact Tuck before submitting the proposal, and reported that he was excited about the opportunity. Ramsey further explained that she mentioned her plan to leave the department should SIP win the proposal to Hall in order to be as transparent as possible.
Almost immediately upon submission, someone, it’s not clear who, reports the corrupt bid to someone.
Before the end of the day, DoE’s General Counsel sends a complaint to the DoE Inspector General. OIG immediately begins investigating Ramsey, Oliva, Tuck, and Wood.
But OIG investigators never interview Swonson or Hall; it’s not clear why.
On this same day, someone files a notice of “Dissociation or Resignation” from SIP on behalf of Oliva, signed by Oliva.
Nov. 16, 2021
Janice Brown receives an email from SIP — unclear who specifically sent it —withdrawing the proposal.
Oliva promptly sits for an OIG interview. He’s the first interview subject and seems eager to clear his name.
Investigators eventually conclude: “[Oliva] was shown through evidence and testimony to not have any involvement with the SIP proposal, and in fact, had requested that his name be removed from the company before the proposal was submitted.”
Ok sure. I don’t see any evidence of personal corruption by Oliva, either. But investigators never try to establish what “before” means.
And some really, really sketchy stuff went down in his area of oversight. He’s the K12 guy — and we still don’t know when he knew what.
We also see no public evidence that Oliva took any personal risk on behalf of Wood or the taxpaying public to correct the gross workplace culture on display here. Why not? When did Oliva know Wood had drafted the proposal at Ramsey’s direction? What moral leadership — beyond obvious, self-protective ethical steps — should we expect public institutional leaders like Oliva to show?
On the same day, Nov. 16., Andy Tuck attends what will become his final Board of Education meeting. It’s focused on more COVID-related fighting and grandstanding with local districts and the federal government.
At some point during this day, OIG investigators call Tuck to set an interview for the next day (I wonder if he got the call at the BoE meeting.) Tuck agrees to the interview at first; and then he backs out after talking to a lawyer.
Nov. 17, 2021
Tuck resigns from the BoE, retroactively effective to Nov. 16, the day before, the day of his last BoE meeting. LOL. I wonder what the crazy legal reason is for that. Does that mean he wasn’t officially in attendance as a board member?
OIG interviews Caroline Wood the first time — as a “subject” of the investigation.
Nov. 19, 2021
OIG interviews Caroline Wood the second time — this time as a “witness.”
Nov. 22, 2021
OIG interviews Melissa Ramsey. Investigators report twice catching her in lies, although they do not use that word.
The first, already noted, is the idea that she notified DoE Senior Chancellor of Innovation Eric Hall and Chief of Staff Bethany Swonson of her intent to submit a bid for SIP before submitting it.
Upon further questioning, Ramsey acknowledged that she was unable to speak directly to Swonson until after she submitted the SIP proposal. Ramsey additionally stated that her conversation with Hall centered around her intentions to retire and pursue opportunities through SIP.
Here’s the second lie. Note the parts in bold:
During Ramsey’s interview, she initially denied reviewing the SIP proposal before submission. Ramsey explained that she gave Wood direction regarding the financial figures to use in the proposal. When Ramsey was shown the email from herself to Wood containing the MGT master agreement (Exhibit 8), Ramsey revealed that she sent Wood the document in the context of “here you want to see this? This is what they [MGT] submitted a long time ago.” When shown the side-by-side comparison of the MGT transition plan and the SIP proposal, Ramsey was surprised to see how much of the documents were identical. Ramsey then testified that she did in fact review the proposal that Wood provided her; however, only at a cursory glance, and only made changes to the name of the company and certain dates.
Ramsey resigned that day, Nov. 22, although investigators were not notified until Dec. 8. As part of her Nov. 22 interview, OIG noted the following about Corcoran in their report, as I previously mentioned:
Ramsey stated that she didn’t have much knowledge or understanding of the RFQ as it was drafted while she was on leave. Ramsey denied ever seeing the draft or final RFQ. Ramsey detailed that she did not have any duties in reviewing or creating the RFQ and explained that she was under the impression that Commissioner Corcoran would be the one reviewing and approving the proposals submitted in response to the RFQ.
There’s no indication they’ve interviewed Corcoran to ask about that perception.
Dec. 13, 2021
OIG submits the investigation summary. Conclusion:
Melissa Ramsey and Andy Tuck, the two subjects involved with the SIP proposal that created the potential conflict of interest have both resigned their respective positions. The third subject, Jacob Oliva, was shown through evidence and testimony to not have any involvement with the SIP proposal, and in fact, had requested that his name be removed from the company before the proposal was submitted. Based on those facts, no further investigation is warranted at this time. The OIG considers this matter closed.
Dec. 23, 2021
Florida Politics breaks the story. People barely notice. But I’m one of them.
Dumb is not the problem; nihilistic, grifting cynicism is. We have to fight it by documenting and punishing it.
Before I spent time with the actual investigative report, I was pretty perplexed by what I was reading from the handful of news accounts.
Why? For one, the Caroline Wood part — the most blatantly corrupt part — was largely ignored or covered only superficially by media. It’s hard for institutional media — with all its stifling conventions and time demands — to report honestly what’s at the core of an investigation.
The cynical, corrupt, deeply immoral official abuse of Caroline Wood and Jefferson County in the service of official grift is the moral heart of this scandal.
Without understanding that, which one cannot do without spending hours with this dense, convoluted investigative report, it all looks head-scratchingly simple. The answer is easy: Ramsey and Tuck are just dumb. So dumb.
Dumb to the point of ignoring any basic sense of self-protection in a public bureaucratic setting. Dumb to the point of ignoring a boss telling you: “don’t do that thing you’re telling me you’re going to do.”
Ramsey and Tuck stepped in front of a freight train any normally ethical, self-protective human being would have seen coming a mile off. (Oliva saw it.)
And that suicidal behavior wasn’t sitting right with me. How could anybody—even senior state education officials—be that suicidally dumb? Bureaucrats and politicians are stereotypically self-protective. Florida’s as much as any.
Then I got the report and spent hours with it — because somebody has to. And “dumb” is not the issue at all.
I have to conclude from the evidence that Ramsey and Tuck cheerfully stepped in front of that ethical and moral freight train because they thought it was a hologram. They thought it would pass right through them; and they’re not entirely wrong. They’ve both been allowed to quietly quit with the sweet praise of Richard Corcoran, to whom Ramsey thought she was pitching her corrupt proposal, burning their ears.
There’s a reason that Ramsey and Tuck behaved as if the ethical bomb they were building in plain sight wouldn’t go off — in exactly the way it went off — if they lit the fuse. The public — in Jefferson County and beyond — deserves to know that reason.
Indeed, the convoluted investigation buried in the holidays is a scatter-plotted, partial portrait of moral and executive rot at the top of DoE. Having read it, I can see how people might think they can get away with anything — or get consumed in such cynicism that they give up caring at all about anything but self-interest.
And that, dear readers, is the true scandal. If we’re going to rebuild our state’s education system and our country, we’re going to have to purge and punish this kind of cynicism.
Detailing it is an important start.