What do the Shoe and Rubber Fund and "Porgy and Bess" have in common? Don't bother, you'll never guess. They both share Linda Hilliard Moody, president of the D.C. Congress of Parent-Teacher Associations (the citywide PTA) and a former member of the D.C. Board of Education.
The Shoe and Rubber Fund, created years ago by the PTA and funded by the United Way, is supposed to be a source of financial help for D.C. public school teachers and counselors who discover disadvantaged students in need of footwear or clothing.
Now to "Porgy and Bess."
Moody said in an interview this week that when she assumed the PTA presidency in July 1999, she learned that the show was on world tour and had scheduled a one-day stop at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington. It so happens that Moody's son Dwayne, an opera singer, was a member of the visiting "Porgy and Bess" production.
Moody said she thought it would be great if the PTA sponsored the show. So the PTA board of directors, at her urging, agreed to sell tickets for $50 each. Sure enough, a press release was issued announcing the "DC PTA Benefit Performance of Broadway's 'Porgy and Bess' " at the Lincoln Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 1999. The release, which touted a "newly reorganized" PTA under Moody's leadership, also stated that Mayor Anthony Williams's mother, Virginia Williams, would be appointed an honorary board member and would introduce the performance, after which she would be seated in the mayor's official box at the historic theater.
Alas, with the performance just around the corner, Moody said the show's producer said an insufficient number of tickets had been sold and thus the show could not go on. At this juncture, I should note that Anthony Robinson, a PTA board member and the current treasurer, recalls the event differently. The show, he said, did go on. But unpaid bills, to the tune of $19,000, remained behind.
Regardless of which version is accepted, we now come to the nexus between the Shoe and Rubber Fund and "Porgy and Bess."
Yes, you guessed it. Moody acknowledges that she tapped the PTA's special fund for shoeless kids to pay for the "Porgy and Bess" production, which, only by coincidence, she says, included her son. So here we are: Four years later the Shoe and Rubber Fund is still out the $19,000 that Moody "borrowed" for a "historic" event that proved to be a financial flop.
Moody said she withdrew the money from the fund with her board's approval. Robinson, demurring, said that the board learned about Moody's withdrawal after the fact but that members grudgingly agreed to treat the expenditure as a PTA obligation to save the group from embarrassment. At my request and to support her claim, Moody agreed on Wednesday to provide minutes of the 1999 meeting at which the board gave its approval. I'm still waiting.
What does any of this have to do with the great issues of the day? Stacked up against the prospects of a terrorist attack and a war with Iraq, probably not much. But considered in the context of public education in the District and the need for an effective group that links home to school and parents to teachers -- one that can forge a beneficial relationship between the school system and the taxpayer -- the city's PTA is pivotal.
Public education in this city has already suffered a blow with the exposure of massive corruption in the Washington Teachers' Union. A discredited PTA would remove another pillar of support from an already weakened school system.
But what has the PTA come to?
In addition to the "Porgy and Bess" fiasco, the PTA's books have not been audited in several years, despite bylaw requirements. Financial records since the last audit in 1996 are either incomplete or missing. The 2000 tax return that Moody filed with the Internal Revenue Service is, by her own admission, inaccurate and must be amended. One creditor has threatened to sue the group for nonpayment, causing Moody to advise board members via a Dec. 24, 2002, e-mail that if they didn't back her on paying late bills, she would consider bankruptcy. And despite requirements that PTA checks be signed by two officers, Moody on occasion has written checks without the required co-signer. Photocopies of six such checks are on my desk. There are, however, no indications at this stage that Moody wrote checks for personal purchases (though the "Porgy and Bess" benefit was hardly about support for the three R's).
Since Kenneth Robinson assumed the treasurer's post in July 2001, the PTA's books reportedly have been put in better shape. But he is scrambling to find an outside firm to provide audit services for the 1999-2002 period, which coincides with Moody's tenure.
And if only the tale of missing audits began and ended with the city's PTA. Or, for that matter, the Washington Teachers' Union.
Members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee are also demanding an audit of their party's books. Oh, yes -- Linda Moody is a D.C. Democratic State Committee member and the party treasurer.
Although the party's bylaws require annual audits, the last accounting was at least two years ago, according to Moody. Why demands for audits? Some state committee members note that the party's recently resigned executive director, Gwendolyn Hemphill, is one of the three former Washington Teachers' Union officials who an FBI affidavit says misspent at least $2 million of union funds. The American Federation of Teachers, which is now running the teachers union, alleges that Hemphill and the other two leaders stole more than $5 million.
Some PTA members and Democratic State Committee folks wonder if they have a teachers union problem on their hands. Sorting it all out won't be easy.
Even with Marion Barry off the scene, the District, under Tony Williams, remains an insiders' game in which things move and shake according to the dictates of a nest of operators with interlocking relationships.
That helps explain how Hemphill could manage to be executive director of the Democratic committee, a top assistant to the ousted teachers union president, Barbara Bullock, and co-chairman of the mayor's reelection committee, while her husband is a top Williams administration appointee and her son-in-law holds a well-paying D.C. government job. It sheds light on how Hemphill's friend Moody became Democratic State Committee treasurer even as she held the nonpartisan post of PTA president.
To appreciate the District in 2003, it's also helpful to understand that the official city hall attitude toward potential conflicts of interest and the misuse of authority is, at best, cavalier.
The whole stinking mess cries out for cleansing by an army of civic reformers who can no longer stomach the grade-B characters with big titles who have wrapped their tentacles around the District's governmental, civic and political institutions. It's time to take back our city.
Reformers don't have to be saints, for goodness' sake. Just let them be the kind of folks who are too decent to rip off teachers' dues or too bothered by conscience and a sense of right and wrong to misspend money from a fund set aside for poor kids who need shoes.
Is that asking too much?