Thursday, June 10, 2010

Walpin-gate offender featured speaker at AmeriCorps conference

In November, I wrote about the hit job termination of career public servant and AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin here and here.  Walpin's investigation of AmeriCorps found former NBA star and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had misused federal grant money for his personal benefit.  Additional allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Johnson surfaced during the investigation.  When the White House tried to sweep the whole thing under the rug, Walpin protested and was eventually fired.

Kevin Johnson is back in the news in an unbelievable editorial at The Washington Times:
Only in the Obama administration would a public official sanctioned for a form of malfeasance be honored as a speaker by the same organization that sanctioned him. It helps, of course, when he is a self-proclaimed Friend of the First Couple. It also doesn't hurt that the administration already found it politically convenient to fire the inspector general, Gerald Walpin, who blew the whistle on his misdeeds.

Still, the public should consider it a brazen affront for this administration to feature Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson as a key speaker at a major conference sponsored later this month by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Common decency should disallow such a scandal.

On the grounds of image alone, Mr. Johnson sends the wrong message, considering that four different young women or teenage girls have accused Mr. Johnson of inappropriate sexual conduct. Three of the four were actually affiliated with the very institution, the St. Hope Academy, that was sponsored through CNCS grants. (CNCS is the parent body for the AmeriCorps national "volunteering" program.) In none of the cases were charges ever pressed, but one of the students said she was offered $1,000 per month in exchange for her silence, and two staff members resigned from St. Hope to protest how the academy tried (in the words of one of them) to "intimidate the student*." And in the first instance, in the summer of 1995, Mr. Johnson at one point agreed to pay the girl $230,000, according to the Sacramento Bee, after protesting that he "didn't recall us being a hundred percent naked" during the incident.

The sordid sex allegations weren't even what caused Mr. Johnson, a former National Basketball Association star, to be sanctioned. Instead, he was found responsible for multiple financial misdeeds and ordered personally to help St. Hope repay nearly half a million dollars to AmeriCorps. Specifically, investigators found that Mr. Johnson and St. Hope misused federal funds to assign political projects to AmeriCorps workers; to have them run personal errands for Mr. Johnson, wash his car and drive him to personal appointments; to pay staff salaries at St. Hope from funds meant for AmeriCorps grantees; and several other similar improprieties.
The Washington Examiner has more:
A spokeswoman for the Corporation for National and Community Service says CNCS had nothing to do with selecting Johnson and that the Sacramento mayor will appear at the request of a group called “Cities of Service.” “He was invited by Cities of Service, which is working to harness the power of volunteers in cities across America,” says CNCS press secretary Ashley Etienne. “He’s participating in a panel organized by Cities of Service, and we were not involved.”

“Cities of Service” is an organization founded last year by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as part of President Obama’s “United We Serve” initiative. According to the White House website, Cities of Service was created “in partnership with CNCS.” Bloomberg heads the host committee for the CNCS conference and his group is a “local co-host” for the event.

The claim that Johnson was invited by Cities of Service, without any involvement by the national Corporation for National and Community Service, strikes Walpin as implausible. “This is a CNCS/AmeriCorps conference,” he says. “I can’t believe that CNCS doesn’t control who is invited and who speaks at a CNCS national conference.” And even if Bloomberg’s group wanted to include Johnson, Walpin says, what was CNCS’s reaction? “Assuming that the invitation was tendered to Johnson by Cities of Service (hard to believe without CNCS approval), when CNCS learned about it, what did it do?” asks Walpin. “Did it, as it clearly could, being the host, tell the supposed independent inviting entity that CNCS would not allow it?”

Johnson’s presence on the list of speakers answers that question. And so the man who spent hundreds of thousands of AmeriCorps dollars for his own personal purposes will speak to the very people whose grants he misused.

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