In April 2005, Frances Davis (Chief Human Resources Officer) requested a check for $1,000 payable to Hopewell Baptist Church, with no reason or documentation given. Upon further investigation, this payment was a donation or honorarium for a celebration honoring the church’s pastor.
On April 25, 2005, Ms. Davis completed and signed a Check Request Form for payment of this honorarium from a school district account. We have knowledge of, but no evidence in-hand, of other payments made to this church.
The fax below shows CFO Jeff Weiler questioning Davis about this check and her response, telling Weiler not to worry about it because Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks had already given the "ok for payment."
Weiler chose to further pursue this matter due to the obvious legal ramifications for the school district. Davis responded by leaving a voicemail that again tried to downplays the situation as no big deal and questioning his authority to investigate the issue. Weiler. in turn, sent a memo on May 12 (at bottom of entry). The memo included this excerpt from Article I, Section II, Paragraph VII of the Georgia Constitution.
Paragraph VII. Separation of church and state. No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.
When Weiler took the information to Wilbanks, he responded by saying that “this should have never come to you like this” and proceeded to right a personal check for the full amount of $1,000.
Of course, there is no doubt in our minds that Wilbanks and Davis chose to try and sneak this payment out of GCPS (and taxpayer) funds, only to change when caught in the act. We are confident that further research into GCPS accounts would provide proof of similar payments that were made and not caught by employee audits.
According to Laura Diamond's article in the AJC, Gwinnett School Board Chairman Robert McClure reviewed these allegations with Wilbanks. He told the paper that the money was paid to Hopewell Baptist to recruit prospective employees. However, no documentation of these recruitment ads has been provided. No answers have been provided as to why Wilbanks chose to write a personal check for this payment either.
To further cloud matters, one former GCPS employee has stated that he was instructed to provide on-site technical support for the church after hours. Questions have also been raised about the church donating computers to the church as well.
According to McClure, "this is all a bunch of nonsense." It appears many citizens in Gwinnett County seem to disagree.