When Representative Mike Ritze went to Superintendent Jim Sisney’s office in August 2008, he asked Sisney if he was stealing from the District. Sisney didn’t answer the question directly, but instead called in Ann Wade, the CFO who had started working for the district a month earlier. Sisney told her what Ritze had asked, and Wade laughed at the idea, saying to Ritze that Sisney couldn’t steal from the District because he didn’t know the financial codes.
This is an oddball exchange.
First, why wouldn’t Sisney answer the question? His stance all along has been that he was just trying to do his job when he was unfairly accused, ganged up on by crooks trying to hide their scheme, and wrongfully terminated. If he was absolutely without question NOT stealing from the District, why didn’t he tell Mike Ritze so when he asked?
Second, why would Wade make a statement that implies that the only way to steal from the District is to know the financial codes? Clearly there are other ways to steal from the District; one of them is the method Sisney accused board members and maintenance department employees of doing. They would not need the codes to approve bogus invoices and fake work orders, allow Air Assurance to overcharge and do unnecessary work, and block all other vendors. Presumably, according to Sisney’s scenario, Air Assurance bilked the District out of money and split it with the three maintenance employees and the three board members who were in on the scheme. No one involved in this scheme would need financial system codes.
Likewise, Sisney would not need the codes to request purchase orders for things he was not authorized to spend money on. He did not need the codes to get a $5000 purchase order to hire an attorney on behalf of the District. He stated that he intended to hire this attorney “to balance out” the law firm the 3 board members hired, RFR. (The attorney accurately informed Sisney that he would need to personally hire an attorney for his purpose; Sisney did not use the PO.) Also from Sisney’s deposition, we know he hired two other law firms without board approval, and gave out more than $250,000 in bonuses to certain employees without board approval. What else did he spend the District’s money on without board approval?
In his deposition, Sisney described an “orchestrated effort to make it look like I had caused an issue with the fund balance.” None of his other “orchestrated effort” accusations have amounted to anything; it doesn’t appear that anyone was “out to get him” after all. Could it be that it looked like he caused an issue with the fund balance because he really did? CFO Trish Williams may have refused to cover up the problem he created, and that may explain her departure for TPS in April 2008, in the midst of this, as Sisney said, “with her issues”.
With what we have seen of Sisney’s pattern of unauthorized spending, it would not be surprising to find that he created the fund balance issue. That may explain why he got so worked up about the unexpected – but fully authorized and and legitimate – Air Assurance invoices (the infamous $77,000), and resorted to inventing a problem with Air Assurance that he had to “investigate” before the invoices could be paid. He just didn’t have the money, and didn’t want anyone to find out why. The finance department had to lower another PO to pay the Air Assurance invoices; Sisney objected to this, later claiming that Trish Williams had defied his orders not to pay the AA invoices.
Ann Wade laughed off the possibility that Sisney was stealing from the District, explaining that it would be impossible without the financial codes. As an experienced school finance expert, it seems unlikely that she was naive enough to think there was no way a superintendent could defraud the District without the codes. Sisney had invited Ritze to his office; he knew he was coming that day. The exchange with Wade seems forced and awkward because it was planned. Wade’s response was scripted in hopes of giving more credibility than a simple denial by Sisney would have.
Wade had been with Broken Arrow Schools for only a month when Ritze showed up in Sisney’s office asking if he was stealing from the District. How much did she know about the fund balance issue, Sisney’s unauthorized spending, and the false accusations made against Air Assurance to cover up the shortfall in funds? How much did she know about what Jim Sisney had been doing before she got there? Would she even know if he had been stealing from the District?