Playing the Race Card Paved the Way for Fraud in Seattle Schools
The Washington State Auditor’s Office has released a jaw-dropping report detailing fraud and questionable spending of $1.8m dollars belonging to the Seattle School District by a former employee. The scandal has implicated well respected organizations and individuals in Seattle’s African American community who the state auditor says received money for work that either didn’t benefit the district or was never completed.
Rumors have swirled for a few years that Silas Potter, as the director of the School District’s Regional Small Business Development Program, used district money to pay off some of the district’s harshest critics in the African American community who were upset about school closures and their impact on children of color. The audit found no proof of that, but it’s curious that once those individuals started getting money from the district by way of contracts, they mostly if not completely stopped criticizing school closures.
Some of the most prominent African American men and organizations in Seattle have been cast in a light less than flattering by the auditor’s report. Eddie Rye, Tony Orange, The Urban League, Charles Rolland- these are well known individuals who have been around for a long time.
Some people feel they represent a self-serving good ol boys club and others feel they’re leaders and trailblazers.
From 2006 to 2010 the Urban League received nearly $600k of district money, funneled through a specific department called the Contractor Development and Competitiveness Center. The CDCC assists small, minority and women owned businesses to increase their competitiveness in the world of contract bidding.
The Urban League was paid with school district funds to provide a database of business owners that would match those owners to contract opportunities with the school district. That in itself certainly isn’t a crime and is actually a good thing, but the district reported the database was not functional and they never used it.
The database represents only a tiny fraction of the money the Urban League was paid. The rest of it was a flat bill that ranged from 5 to 15 thousand dollars a month for administrative costs billed over the course of a few years. The state auditor found that this money was used basically to keep the doors open at the Urban League and did not benefit the school district in any way. The Urban League is not alone.
Eddie Rye is credited for leading the successful effort to have the King County emblem changed from a crown to the profile of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also received payments from Silas Potter’s department.
Charles Rolland was once our state’s democratic chair. Tony Orange is the former Executive Director of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. Both are named in the auditor’s report. Both refused to be interviewed during the investigation.
I’ve heard from a few people in the African American community who feel these folks are being unfairly targeted because of race. I couldn’t disagree more. We’re talking about minority and women owned businesses so naturally we’re going to be talking about people of color more than anyone else. They aren’t being targeted because they’re Black.
But there was a race card at play.
Silas Potter and his supervisor Fred Stephens, both Black men, didn’t go unnoticed during their time with Seattle Schools. Many employees complained about the culture of the Regional Small Business Development Program. Those employees were concerned about how money was used, and which ethics and laws were broken. They regarded Potter and Stephens as con-men.
Their complaints didn’t get very far. When school district employees complained, or tried to express concern, Potter and Stephens responded with bold threats. They told anyone who questioned them that their actions were based in racism. It was like ‘if you tell on us, we’ll tell everyone you’re a racist. Keep your mouth shut.’ So they did.
It is the race card personified. You know, the whole, “it’s because I’m Black.” An excuse injected into an otherwise cut and dry instance of wrong-doing. It is outrageous. It is disgusting.
Couple the trick play with a culture at Seattle Schools that discouraged employees from lodging complaints above direct managers and we have a recipe for disaster. Silas Potter went unchecked. He took advantage of that at every turn.
Sometime late last year he fled the state. Just a few days ago he was discovered hiding out in Florida.
He has no intention of coming back.
UPDATE: The Urban League has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday 3/2 at 10AM.