Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Editorial: Anatomy of a Whitewash

There is simply no other way to put it: A whitewash took place on the Mississippi Today website Friday . The online newspaper funded by Jim Barksdale and Dickie Scruggs posted a story that whitewashed  Mississippi Education Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright's awarding contracts to her cronies.  Dr. Wright granted an interview to Mississippi Today Reporter Kate Royals, while avoiding JJ and the Clarion-Ledger when they published critical stories of how these contracts were awarded and who received them.  Ms. Royals "reported":

State education superintendent Carey Wright said all of the IT work performed by two companies with ties to her former coworkers in Maryland was necessary, and there was no duplication of work.

Wright came under fire this week for the awarding of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Blue Sky Innovative Solutions, LLC and DataOne IT Solutions to work on a new data system and a reorganization of the IT department over the past three years.
No one said there was any duplication of work nor accused Dr. Wright of any such thing.  Perhaps Ms. Royals should actually read the stories she is supposedly covering for MT.

Wright also hired John Q. Porter, the past president of Blue Sky and a former coworker from her time in Maryland, as deputy state superintendent in 2015. The Mississippi Department of Education had contracted with Blue Sky in 2014 for more than $200,000, including one 2014 contract that was modified from $29,050 to $69,450, adding only “continued review and oversight” and “development and implementation of a plan of action” to the scope of work.

 “There is no way that we could be doing some of the things we are doing now around data if we had not had the work of Dr. Porter and his team,” Wright said.

Past President? That is news. Ms. Royals neglected to report that he is listed as an owner on the company's corporate documents filed in Maryland.  Whether the omission is intentional is something known only to Ms. Royals.  It's also amusing that Ms. Royals only published the total amount of money paid to Blue Sky.  Ms. Royals conveniently left out the fact that MDE  awarded contracts to Blue Sky that were only a few months in length in ways that were required to avoid certain bidding and reporting thresholds.  The applicable term is "structuring". 

Unfortunately for the readers, Ms. Royals can't even get her basic facts straight.  The "$69,450"  is the amount of the increase and not the final amount as she reports.  The final amount of the contract was $98,500.  Keep in mind the contract was not extended.  That is important because the contract was clearly structured to avoid competitive bidding and any review by the State Personnel Board.  One can only assume this error by Ms. Royals was unintentional in nature.  Ms. Royals continues:

The blog Jackson Jambalaya first reported on the contracts Tuesday, raising questions about issues with Porter's salary and the companies' contracts with the department. Calls to Porter and Elton Stokes with DataOne were not returned.
There is no mention of the Clarion-Ledger story.  It's much easier to just mention a blog than include the fact that the state's major newspaper reported this story as well, if one is trying to make any reporting of these contracts seem less legitimate.  One can imagine her editors thinking "that is just a blogger, how dare he question anything much less write about itBloggers aren't legitimate anyway".   Make no mistake.  JJ made every effort to get this story right.  JJ obtained over 100 pages of records from MDE and reviewed the minutes available online.  This correspondent probably spent over a dozen hours reviewing records  and writing last week's post. 

The "article" then gets around to reporting on the State Auditor Angle. (Here is the link to the JJ post and the Clarion-Ledger story.)

The auditor’s office did get involved in May when Stacey Pickering wrote a letter to Wright. It stated Porter’s salary was a potential violation of the law that states certain employees’ salaries cannot exceed 150 percent of the Governor’s salary. As a result, the board voted at its May meeting to decrease Porter’s salary from $195,000 to $183,000 after receiving the letter, according to The Clarion-Ledger.
A copy of the letter was first posted on this website but we will not quibble about such things when Ms. Royals is misreporting change orders and contract amounts.  Ms. Royals then moves on to one Mr. Elton Stokes.

The Education Department also contracted with Elton Stokes, who's currently listed as an administrator in the Montgomery County School District in Maryland where Wright worked as an associate superintendent before coming to Mississippi. According to meeting minutes from January of last year, the board voted unanimously during executive session to hire Stokes as a consultant for an amount not to exceed $93,009.60. The board also voted to award one of Porter’s contracts for the same IT work the same day.

Wright said where Porter’s company focuses on IT infrastructure, Stokes is a “data warehouse guru.”
“There’s nobody inside the department that had the data warehouse skills … We advertised and advertised and advertised for that position, and no one that’s got the skill set to do it was willing to come to Mississippi,” Wright said. “… Part of your integrity as a department is the quality of data you produce.”
The part about Mr. Stokes being an employee of Dr. Porter at Blue Sky was conveniently left out of the article, despite Mr. Stokes admitting in a video that he went to Mississippi as an employee of Blue Sky and thus Dr. Porter.  Readers would never know that Dr. Porter was signing contracts and invoices for his Blue Sky employee while Dr. Porter was the Deputy Superintendent.   The LinkedIn  page stating Mr. Stokes was an employee at Blue Sky was suddenly removed.

Guess what else Ms. Royals left out?  Read the quote about Dataone IT Solutions again:
Wright came under fire this week for the awarding of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Blue Sky Innovative Solutions, LLC and DataOne IT Solutions to work on a new data system and a reorganization of the IT department over the past three years.
Dataone is owned by Sharon Semper Stokes although the contracts are signed by "Sharon Semper".  Ms. Royals doesn't report that she is the wife of Elton Stokes or that the contracts for the company have the same address as that of  Mr. Stokes' home.  All Ms. Royals had to do was look at the actual contracts, corporate registration, and property tax records - basic skills for any competent reporter.

So get this straight.  Dr. Wright gets some heat from the media over some no-bid contracts given out to her cronies (and usually behind closed doors) and runs to her friendly Mississippi Today reporter.  Said reporter once worked for The Parents' Campaign. The reporter publishes a story that gets basic facts wrong while omitting other key facts.  A reader must question at some point whether this was indeed a serious attempt at reporting a story or if it was indeed a whitewash.

Ms. Royals is a competent reporter.  She busted JPS for awarding a fishy multi-million dollar consulting contract nearly a year ago.  However, she is no longer working at the Clarion-Ledger but is working for an online newspaper owned by Jim Barksdale and Dickie Scruggs.  The same Jim Barksdale who funds the Parents' Campaign.  Stories such as this one are what some feared when the debut of Mississippi Today was announced.  The thought of Dickie Scruggs controlling journalism in Mississippi is troubling as well. Shades of Gail Wynand. 

One can only question why Ms. Royals got the final amount of a contract wrong, failed to report that an employee of Dr. Porter received consulting contracts, the employee's wife also received a consulting contract, and the contracts were all structured in ways that appear they were designed to avoid scrutiny. 

It is clear after reading this story that there will be no objective reporting on education at MT.  This story was nothing but a whitewash of something that would raise serious questions at any other government agency.  Did anyone forget Chris Epps?    Notice that the story does not link any reported stories from the CL or JJ.  JJ tries to link such stories whenever they are reported on this website.  JJ trusts the readers to read all the information they desire and form their own opinion.  It is called trusting the readers.  What a concept.

Then there is Dr. Carey Wright. This correspondent has called and emailed Dr. Wright's office before publishing these recent stories about Dr. Porter and the salary increases.  One expects a "no comment" from the subject of a story.  However, Dr. Wright doesn't just issue a no-comment.

Dr. Wright whined in a letter to the newspaper that a reporter didn't call her about a story and got basic facts wrong.  This correspondent called Dr. Wright the next day before posting a story about the many raises given at MDE under Dr. Wright's tenure. Dr. Wright never answered phone calls or emails.  However, she issued a press release later that day about "misinformation".  Apparently Dr. Wright likes to have her cake and eat it too.  She will complain if a reporter doesn't call her about a story but then refuse to talk to one if he does and send out a press release about "misinformation".   Can one say "cheap shot"?    What was interesting was her press release ignored the story itself and focused on something else entirely different.  It's called creating a straw man argument.

She used the straw man again in the MT whitewash.  JJ and the CL never reported on "duplicative" contracts but one wouldn't know that from reading Dr. Wright's comments.  The stories reported on the structuring, relationships, and possible cronyism.  Duplication was not even mentioned.  Dr. Wright sent a written statement to the CL and none to this website. Dr. Wright then runs to a friendly reporter and presto, we have ourselves a whitewash.


Anonymous said...

I doubt anyone's thinking "just a blog" while reading "just an online-only newspaper" that no one would have even heard of it you hadn't plugged it on this website.
In addition to clearly having an agenda, it is pretty dull. Mr. Barksdale will eventually get tired of throwing money at it and bugging people for donations.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

From Blue Sky's page:

Blue Sky Innovative Solutions, LLC (Blue Sky) is a Small Business Administration (SBA) certified Economically Disadvantaged Woman Owned Small Business (EDWOSB); Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) small business; and a Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB).

Why not get a minority or a handicapped person as part owner to qualify for more alphabet soup tax exemptions. I'm surprised the government isn't paying them simply for existing.

Anonymous said...

You mad?

Anonymous said...

I bookmarked the site and have been looking at it daily. It contains no information that I could use or want. As soon as I publish this comment I am going to delete the bookmark and go on with my life. A total waste of time. You have to remember that Jim Barksdale has a vested interest in the Ms Department of Ed. He gave them 100 million and wants to see his investment succeed.I don't blame him, but I can do without his blog.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a whole bunch of crooks. Is Ms. in that much need of criminals that they have to import them from other states?

Anonymous said...

Why would you expect anything less from Oxford's finest?

Anonymous said...

@11:31- your first comments are probably on target. But I'll have to disagree with your concluding thought. The amount of money Barksdale is putting into this effort is a drop in the ocean, not just the bucket. He doesn't mind throwing money at it all day long and will continue to do so.

Whats amazing is that he is actually trying to raise money for this venture - certainly not needed but a nice way to try to bring others into the fold. Would be interesting to see who is buying into this scam and actually contributing - from talking to my friends who received the first solicitation letter it seems like a strange mailing list for this venture.

Anonymous said...

It sucks trying to act competent while your boss insists you have to to carry water in leaky pails.

Wow said...


In any business, when a new CEO comes in, he/she has operations, etc. team of people from his or her previous experiences who they sometimes know they can trust to implement the changes they envision. Sometimes, they bring those team members in to do such work in the new organization.

You have your own agenda too. It's clear by your emotionally charged language using adjectives such as "cronies," etc.

I appreciate your work, but keep digging. Instead of just making blanket emotional arguments that sound like conspiracy theories, show me where the people chosen have not accomplished what they set out to do.

--Show me that these IT contracts and that these IT people have been a waste of money or that they had no business being awarded to those people.

--Show me that they have accomplished nothing in the past in previous work.

That, to me, would be the definition of a "crony." Or are you one of those people that don't think your argument through?

Let's see if I follow:
1) Big government sucks, it doesn't operate like the private sector.
2) MDE under direction of Wright may have possibly hired people they know from the past or know intimately (something the private sector does because it minimizes risk)
3) MDE is therefore hiring cronies

So what do you want? For the MDE to operate like a slow moving wasteful big government institution doling out work under percentage minority participation contracts? Or do you want them to get things done?

I noted your article where MS graduation rates are improving.

You also are straw man-ing yourself claiming this one article as the sole case, evidence, and argument for why stories from the MT will not be objective.

I appreciate your perspective, but you need to give more depth to what you are writing. Otherwise you're just putting up a bunch of smoke without any actual depth when you think about it.

The coverage so far from you has been about who got these contracts. Nothing about what they accomplished. But the who is being used as an argument for cronyism and failure. That, too, is also the definition of a straw man.

Anonymous said...

"Contracts between the Mississippi Department of Education and two of the state superintendent’s former co-workers appear to DUPLICATE technology-related services while costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars".

- This is a direct quote from the Clarion Ledger Article. Seems they did mention duplicative contracts Kingfish.

Anonymous said...

I commend ALL who have reported on these issues over the past few weeks. The story needs to be told and something done about it ALL. The reporters need to reach out to some of the employees who have been terminated over the past 9+ months(while MDE hasn't been under the SPB, for their convenience). There's a lot they can tell you about the day-to-day intimidation that has established since Wright arrived, lies from superiors who have promised pay increases, promotions, etc. and the fact that veteran workers are being released in order to allow friends and friends of family (who have NO IT experience, NO IT degree or NO degree at all) to be hired. There's a lot more going on than just misuse of money.

Anonymous said...

If 11:50 is referring to Mr. Scruggs, I think plenty has been said about him already.

Anonymous said...

Hold on a sec - isn't Mississippi Today supposed to be a nonpartisan not for profit? Shame on Ms. Royal for her lack of integrity. She WAS a good journalist.

Anonymous said...

So....what/where has all this gotten JPS? Are they much better off than before? What profitable or beneficial have these "consultants" done for JPS and its tax base?

Anonymous said...

This is all a distraction. What MDE is doing under Dr. Wright is working. Student outcomes are improving for the first time in a very long time. That is really all that matters.

Anonymous said...

... but you need to give more depth to what you are writing. Otherwise you're just putting up a bunch of smoke without any actual depth when you think about it.

Where can we read your work? Since, of course, you are an expert.

Anonymous said...

Patsy has be involved in pushing this narrative.

Anonymous said...

Seems they did mention duplicative contracts Kingfish.

But MT didn't mention or refer at all to the C-L reporting on this specific matter.

Anonymous said...

"The coverage so far from you has been about who got these contracts. Nothing about what they accomplished."

Dr. Wright could clearly have bragged on their numerous accomplishments if she had returned KF's phone call. OTOH, she could also have listed those sterling achievements to the MT "reporter". But she didn't - it's a fair question - why not, if those accomplishments actually exist? Those of us paying taxes would sure like to know what we're getting for the money entrusted to her.

I used to have a lot of respect for Barksdale as a successful businessman way back when, and for trying to improve the terrible state of education in his home state. I never had any respect for Scruggs. It is very sad Barksdale supports this deceptive "journalism" now.

Anonymous said...

Methinks this blog has been known to whitewash a story when it involves a friend of the publisher.

Anonymous said...

"Methinks this blog has been known to whitewash a story when it involves a friend of the publisher."


Right on the money.

Anonymous said...

I was really looking forward to this project and have had one big ho hum since it started. No updates, breaking stuff. Nothing.

Anonymous said...

@2:35 and @3:41 (Same person talking to themselves with a personal agenda)

Get your own blog or STFU. JJ is the most comprehensive outlet in the state.

Anonymous said...

--WOW. @1:17. You could have joined in with many others using your theory that Epps was accomplishing a lot at MDOC. Look at his 'eyz' rates of something. Look at his streamlining of MDOC. But, let's don't look at his following the law of how you are supposed to issue contracts for state government. Let's close our eyes to the buddy-buddy system of who gets what contract and to do whatever, as long as we can make the public think we are doing a good job.

In addition, there are few folks that believe Wright - not personally, but the entire agency she heads - is accomplishing much. That might be a matter of perspective, but the results are not good under an honest system of measuring. But that's beside the point.

Under her leadership the department is issuing contracts in a manner to circumvent state purchasing laws. And for her to say that finding someone that could do this work without her buddies getting the job, is there any evidence that she worked through the state agency responsible for that - ITS? Or did she just go get who she wanted and slip them a contract.

Anonymous said...

"The Education Department also contracted with Elton Stokes, who's currently listed as an administrator in the Montgomery County School District in Maryland where Wright worked as an associate superintendent before coming to Mississippi. According to meeting minutes from January of last year, the board voted unanimously during executive session to hire Stokes as a consultant for an amount not to exceed $93,009.60. The board also voted to award one of Porter’s contracts for the same IT work the same day."

Let me get this straight - who is it that's getting screwed here? Stokes (Porter's partner) gets a contract from Porter for $93k a year while he is employed (I assume full time) as an administrator with a Maryland School District.

When is he supposed to perform this great work - because he is such a warehouse genius - that is worth almost $100k while being a full time employee of Montgomery County Maryland? I would guess that maybe his wife was going to perform the work, but can't do that. She got her on contract.

Maybe they have some smart kids that can do the work while Daddy is at work.

Anonymous said...

2:35, how about we have one subject to each thread? Maybe with your help there can be another thread about other known whitewashing going on. Right now we are talking about the whitewashing on the Mississippi Today website. I do realize you would very much like to change the subject as it could be very uncomfortable. It needs to be uncomfortable. Too many times we have seen people brought in who then decide to bring in all of their crooked buddies to rape the tax payers of Ms.
Lets keep the number of rapes down to one each thread. The tax payers of Ms. are getting a little sore.

No Disagreement Allowed said...

4:19 is always harping like that. Anybody who disagrees with or calls JJ out needs to shut up and get their own blog.

Anonymous said...

I was really looking forward to this project and have had one big ho hum since it started. No updates, breaking stuff. Nothing.

And yet you read, and you comment ... as if you anonymously are a somebody.

But you're not.

Anonymous said...

"Methinks this blog has been known to whitewash a story when it involves a friend of the publisher."

A scurrilous lie!!!!

It is well known that the publisher has no friends ;-)

Anonymous said...

If people are so obsessed with Jim Barksdale maybe you should marry him.

Anonymous said...

I think the public would like to know what we got for all of this money. Can somebody please tell us? We hire a high-priced database guy and his sidekick warehouse buddy and spouse. For starters, how about explaining the difference between a database and warehouse. And what information are they storing and maintaining. Surely the board questioned this.

Let's get to the bottom of what the hell the return was for our taxes! Hopefully there's more to it than increasing the graduation rate by 2%. Mississippians have a right to know.

Anonymous said...


A Database is like a set of linked files, somewhat more sophisticated linked excel sheets in an excel book, in very simple terms. MDE Databases are mostly Oracle databases which is one of the leading database for handling Billions and Trillions of rows and work perfectly. Today's databases are at the minimum what we call object relational databases and the MDE databases are designed for online transaction processing (OLTP) which means you have to break the tables down into parent-child relationships (Like District-Data, School-Data, Student-Data, Student-Attendance-Data) . Each of these sets are different tables in the MDE Student Information System.

A Warehouse is taking the OLTP Data and flattening them into a reporting database from which you can extract smart information. For example, if you can create a table where you have a student and all his 12 years of attendance, detentions, scores, subjects, teachers and other events in one big row, it is easier to see how and what the student did in 12 years of school life. Creating a Data Warehouse is tricky if you have less expertise in the base technology.

The industry standard for Technological jobs is to have a degree in computer Science, or engineering and certification in associated technology. A Microsoft Warehouse Guru will have a Microsoft Certification an Oracle Warehouse Guru will have a Oracle Certification and an IBM Warehouse Guru will have a IBM Certification. In addition to that many experts write blogs which these vendors sponsor.

I am not aware of Porter or Stokes have any certification in Oracle which is the technology used for the Student System in MDE. I have not seen anywhere Porter having any university education in Technology either. I have not seen any oracle blog written by either of them.

I have been working with Oracle as long as Oracle has been in civilian existence, and that is Oracle Version 2. I would not have posted here if I worked with Oracle Version 1, because Oracle Version 1 was used only by CIA.

These are facts, I know these facts and they are verifiable, Neither Porter nor Elton are any Guru in the technology base of MDE as our Superintendent claims.

Anonymous said...

Heard it here first: Carey Wright will be led to the courthouse in handcuffs soon, ala Chris Epps.

Anonymous said...

The depth of the irony behind MT's sudden concern over MDE's $16,000 outside private investigator contract is that of a gaping chasm. Then you have Patsy's spin.

Anonymous said...

I am sick and tired of KF and every other Monday morning quarter back bitching about the cost of this and the cost of that....

quit your bitching!

If you want to do something....propose a GD solution....otherwise...its a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

I'm sick and tired of anyone who is sick and tired of KF but still here reading, commenting and bitching about KF.

If you want to do something....start your own friggin' gig....otherwise....its a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

9:27 has gone through life with a rich uncle... literally... or has been elected to office to carelessly spend "our' uncle's $$.

Anonymous said...

Hummm... let's think - all state tests tied to graduation are removed (or at least the requirement that the tests must be passed) and the graduation rate improves. Does any reporter ever ask these types of questions - or is it just easy to trumpet whatever MDE throws out as "improvement"?

Anonymous said...

8:14, funny that it works out that way. Kids that cannot pass a test and cannot graduate? Simple fix, change the rules so they can be as dumb as a rock and still graduate. Sort of like how job vacancies are filled.

Listen Up Y'all said...

Change the metrics and you change the outcomes. Fiddle with the grade structure and you improve the pass ratio.

For those of you who need help understanding that: If an F is now anything lower than a 58 instead of a 70, you have fewer failures. And if you no longer track failing grades but, instead, start tracking attempts and papers turned in, then grades improve.

And as a final result, you have chirpers on here claiming that goofy damned woman in charge of MDE is doing a grande job.

Anonymous said...


Wasn't one of the first contracts with BlueSky related to the development of the Statewide Accountability System that they were supposed to develop in what was then referred to as the Office of Management Information Services? I'm absolutely positive that that was not accomplished by Porter, Stokes, or any other of their direct reports during the scope of the initial contract. In fact, I'm pretty sure Porter awarded PITSS America over $200k to duplicate the work that a contract worker at MDE had already done to build the accountability system and wasted a significant amount of MDE resources in addition to those funds trying to get MDE staff to help PITSS do their job.

I'm fine with trying to move a discussion to something deeper, but to claim that Porter and Stokes did everything stipulated in their contracts is simply incorrect. In fact, they fired the most skilled database professional in the office, who months after being fired by them was hired by a fortune 500 company to manage several hundred applications and other data base administrators in several countries. I feel pretty confident in saying that Porter is completely incompetent in the technology field, but is an outstanding salesman and is capable of selling failures at full retail price to return customers.

Kingfish said...

Who can forget this whitewash?

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