OUR OPINION: Lee school allegations need full investigation

By NEMS Daily Journal

The arrest on Tuesday morning of Lee County Public School District business manager Randy Thweatt on warrants alleging he embezzled property from the district for his personal use opens an investigative path that should be followed to its end.
State Department of Audit officers, who have arrest powers as part of the department’s law enforcement functions, arrested Thweatt at his Lee County Schools office shortly after 8 a.m. He is alleged to have illegally transferred title of a Ford truck, purchased by the district, to himself, and to have taken a working air conditioning unit and had district employees install it at a mobile home he owns in Starkville.
The truck and air conditioner were recovered as evidence. State Auditor Stacy Pickering, who headed the investigation leading to Thweatt’s arrest, said the truck and the air conditioning unit will be returned to the district.
Pickering, serving his second term as auditor, said interviews in the case continue, but he did not elaborate on possible additional charges or more arrests.
The auditor’s office has 27 active investigations statewide involving alleged illegalities in school districts, Pickering confirmed during an interview with Daily Journal reporters and editors Tuesday morning. Pickering said none of the ongoing investigations involve the Tupelo Public Schools.
The department has about 200 total investigations under way statewide.
Pickering, who posted a video of Thweatt’s arrest on his YouTube channel, said people should realize that Smart Phones and video cameras easily capture images of alleged illegal activity, diminishing chances that thefts will go unnoticed.
Pickering said information produced in the course of audits and information received by his office prompted the investigation leading to Thweatt’s arrest.
Thweatt, as a school district business manager, is a public official, which makes the allegations against him particularly unsavory.
The allegations tarnish his reputation personally and bring negative attention to the whole district.
As Pickering noted, allegations of misuse of funds by public school officials and employees are particularly disheartening given the battles in recent years over adequate education funding.
That resources ultimately intended to benefit children could be taken for personal use by someone responsible for managing those resources is repugnant, if true.
Pickering noted that whistleblowers’ identities will be held in confidence unless revealed by court order.
The department’s web site says, “… Mississippi public employees are protected by the Whistleblower Act (M.C.A. 25-9-171 ET SEQ) from retaliation resulting directly from truthfully testifying or providing information of improper governmental action.”
Wherever it leads, get to the bottom of this situation.