Former Philly schools official planning lawsuit

Posted: November 19, 2011

The Philadelphia School District's former senior vice president for procurement has submitted court papers signaling that he intends to file a slander and libel suit against the district, the School Reform Commission, former Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, and other district officials.

John L. Byars, whose name surfaced during the controversy over the SRC's awarding of a $7.5 million no-bid contract for security cameras in October 2010, filed the preliminary document in Common Pleas Court on Monday.

"This is a notice that a suit has been commenced," James A. Wells, one of Byars' attorneys, said Friday.

Wells said it was premature to comment on Byars' potential claims because a complaint has not yet been filed.

"We can only say he was accused of being involved in things he was not involved in," Wells said.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said, "We don't comment on pending litigation."

Byars was among six employees suspended with pay in December while the district investigated leaks about the no-bid contract awarded to IBS Communications Inc., a small minority-owned firm then based in Mount Airy. The contract was for surveillance cameras and consoles at 19 schools on the state's list of persistently dangerous schools.

IBS received the work after Ackerman, according to district sources, abruptly directed her staff to have IBS replace a firm that had begun preliminary work on the project.

Byars prepared the written justification for the emergency spending on the surveillance cameras, according to an SRC resolution.

IBS was then based at the Business Center at New Covenant Campus, an incubator for small business on Germantown Avenue where Byars was a board member.

A School District spokeswoman said last fall that Byars' role at New Covenant played no role in the contract award.

According to a district-prepared summary of the investigation's findings, the inquiry cleared Ackerman of any wrongdoing. The district has refused to make the complete report public.

Four of the administrators suspended by the district during the review returned to work, but Byars and Francis X. Dougherty, the deputy chief business officer, were never called back.

Estelle G. Matthews, who oversees human resources in the district, notified Byars and Dougherty last spring that she would recommend to the SRC that they be fired.

Before the SRC moved on his case, Byars challenged his termination and requested a district hearing. He is in the midst of that process.

Dougherty, who was fired by the SRC in April, filed court documents in June indicating that he intended to sue the district for wrongful termination under the state's whistle-blower protection law. He has not yet filed a complaint.

In addition to Ackerman, Byars' suit names Matthews; Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery 2d; current SRC member Joseph Dworetzky; and former members Robert L. Archie Jr., Denise McGregor Armbrister, and Johnny Irizarry.

Jamilah Fraser, the district's former communications chief, and Shana Kemp, a former deputy chief, also are named in Byars' action.


Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com

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