"The story they are telling now is ridiculous," Alice W. Ballard, one of Dougherty's attorneys, said Monday, "and it is a new story."
The district's stunning assertion in U.S. District Court is the latest twist surrounding the award of a controversial contract for surveillance cameras to IBS Communications Inc., which The Inquirer disclosed in November 2010 and which has spawned five lawsuits.
At various times, the district has said Leroy D. Nunery II, Ackerman's former deputy, or John L. Byars, the district's former chief procurement officer, pushed IBS for the camera contract. Until Friday's filing, the district had never claimed that Dougherty made the recommendation.
Attorney Joseph H. Tucker Jr., of the Tucker Law Group, who is representing the district in Dougherty's case and other IBS suits, said in an e-mail Monday that he was in Washington and not available for comment.
Dougherty's federal whistle-blower suit, filed in March, charges that Ackerman steered the no-bid contract to IBS and then wrongfully fired him in retaliation for reporting her action to the FBI, state officials, and The Inquirer.
"The wrongdoing and waste about which Mr. Dougherty spoke out concerned the award of public contracts on the basis of favoritism, personal connections, and race," he said in a civil-rights complaint lodged in February.
The district's answer disputes allegations that Ackerman or anyone on her staff had an inappropriate relationship with IBS, and denies that her "conduct constituted wrongdoing or waste or constituted a misuse of taxpayer funds."
The Inquirer reported Nov. 28, 2010, that Ackerman had pushed aside Security & Data Technologies Inc., a Newtown firm that had begun preliminary work on the project to install cameras in 19 city schools the state had deemed dangerous.
Sources said Ackerman ordered the emergency, no-bid contract awarded to IBS, a small minority firm then based in Mount Airy, even though the company was not on a state-approved list of contractors eligible for emergency work.
In its response, the district says Ackerman did not order staff to give the contract to IBS. Rather, the filing says, Ackerman directed Dougherty and his staff to develop a recommendation that included minority- and women-owned companies. The district says Dougherty returned "with the recommendation that the camera project contract be awarded to IBS."
Ballard called that contention ridiculous, saying the proposal Dougherty obtained from SDT for the project promised to provide 67 percent participation by minority-owned and women-owned firms.
Dougherty, she said, "was committed to including minorities. He was committed to doing things right. The SCT proposal accomplished both. The [district's] answer claims that he did not accomplish either. That is not Fran Dougherty."
The district's response says the Newtown firm had not committed to a minority participation rate. The district also says that because Byars, the former procurement chief, had mentioned that IBS had performed work for the city, district officials believed IBS had been qualified to work "by another government agency."
Dougherty and Byars were among six administrators placed on paid leave in December 2010 when the district launched a probe to determine who leaked the information about the camera contract. Both ultimately lost their jobs.
The SRC fired Dougherty in March 2011 on the ground that he had violated policies that prohibit disclosing confidential district information.
Byars was involved in the camera project, but the SRC said he had been fired for unrelated reasons. Byars, though, has said in court documents that he was made a scapegoat because of the controversy over the IBS contract. He challenged the district's efforts to oust him in spring 2011.
The hearing officer for the district who handled Byars' case upheld the firing. But in the report, the officer said that during a meeting with staff Sept. 23, 2010, Ackerman "instructed those present that IBS Communications Inc. would be awarded the contract for the surveillance camera project."
The officer found that Ackerman directed Byars to handle the matter and put the contract on the SRC's Oct. 20, 2010, agenda for a vote.
The SRC adopted the hearing officer's findings when it voted two months ago to terminate Byars as of March 24, 2011.
Byars' attorneys attached the unnamed hearing officer's findings of fact in documents they filed last month in Common Pleas Court appealing the SRC's decision.
The district's lawyers have not yet responded to Byars' appeal.
Dougherty's suit originally named the SRC members who had approved his termination, but they were dropped last month by court order. In addition to Ackerman, Nunery, and the district, the suit also names Estelle G. Matthews, a former top human resources official.
Ackerman, who left the district in August 2011, moved to Albuquerque, N.M., and set up an educational consulting firm. Friends and associates say she is seriously ill.
Contact Martha Woodall
at 215-854-2789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.