Joseph Burke / news-press.com file photo
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The Florida Department of Education will investigate claims Lee County Superintendent Joseph Burke mismanaged funds and closed an active local employee investigation.
There is no time frame for when the investigation will be conducted or completed, but information will be gathered from the district and school board, said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the department.
On Tuesday, the Lee school board voted 3-2 during a special meeting to request the state lead the investigation. Burke has been under fire in the past few weeks for mismanaging funds and stopping an investigation into now South Zone Operations Director Deedara Hicks in January 2012. In February, DOE ruled that no further action by that office was warranted in the Hicks case.
“That’s interesting. I’m glad they are going to do this,” said board chairman Mary Fischer, adding that she was surprised to hear about the decision so soon.
Fischer said the board hadn’t formally submitted the request for the investigation as of Thursday evening, however the board’s attorney did send Inspector General Mike Blackburn notice of the decision.
“I will be in touch with (Blackburn) first thing in the morning and will let him know our letter will be coming,” Fischer said.
Burke announced his decision to retire in June in a March 25 memo to board members. However, he stated Wednesday his decision depended on the outcome of medical tests for both him and his wife.
The issue has caused conflict on the board and led to requests for Blackburn to investigate school board members.
Board member Tom Scott requested Blackburn investigate fellow member Jeanne Dozier for fraud and bullying.
“It’s my understanding anytime someone submits a request then that investigation will happen,” Scott said. “The one I requested, with all the documentation I included, they would at least have to give that a close examination.”
Scott said that during a previous board meeting, Dozier brought forward fraudulent emails against him and the district’s Chief Administrative Officer Alberto Rodriguez. That prompted him to contact the IG.
“She brought it forward and she needs to answer for it,” Scott said.
Prior to Scott’s request for an investigation, Dozier called for Blackburn to investigate any wrongdoing by board members from the start of their tenure at the March 12 meeting. The board voted 3-2, with Scott and board member Don Armstrong dissenting, to make that request.
Dozier said she couldn’t comment on Scott’s investigation request.
“I can’t respond, and I’ve been advised by (an attorney) not to talk to the press about this issue,” Dozier said. “He is making specific allegations. I was just making general allegations. He’s making specific allegations against me. Because of what he has done, I’m now being counseled by an attorney.”
Etters said Dozier’s investigation request into Sunshine violations have been referred to the state department’s division of ethics. No decision on Scott’s request to investigate Dozier has been made, she said.