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Posted in: Exclusive, Local News, School Board

Superintendent Pons, Paul Byrd, Traded Ownership of Franklin County Property in 2008 and 2010.

Posted on May 4, 2014

Superintendent Pons, Paul Byrd, Traded Ownership of Franklin County Property in 2008 and 2010.

Public records indicate that Superintendent Jackie Pons bought a vacant piece of property from Paul Byrd for $200,000 in 2008 and then, despite a decline in property values, sold it back to Mr. Byrd for the same amount in 2010.

Both transactions were deemed by the Franklin County Property Appraiser to be “unqualified sales.”

This means that the sale was not an arms length transaction and that other factors were involved in the transaction that would affect the sales price.

Paul Byrd, who was recently arrested after deputies said they found cocaine, prescription medicine, a set of digital scales and more than $1,600 during a traffic stop, was an assistant superintendent of Leon County Schools.

Tallahassee Reports was able to confirm that between 2008 and 2010 Mr. Byrd had responsibilities over maintenance and construction of school facilities.

Superintendent Pons and the Leon County School Board have come under fire for approving no-bid construction contracts to campaign donors.

According to Franklin County property records, on April 30, 2008 Superintendent Jackie Pons and his wife paid Paul Byrd and his wife $200,000 for a vacant lot located at 401 West Bayshore in Franklin County.

The Franklin County Tax collector listed the fair market value of the property as $352,000 in 2008. Superintendent Pons also listed the value of the property as worth $352,000 on his 2008 Form 6 Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interests form filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics on January 9, 2009.

On September 23, 2010, Mr. Pons sold the property back to Mr. Byrd for $200,000. Again, the sale was listed as unqualified.

The Franklin County Tax collector listed the fair market value of the property as $160,000 in 2010.

Tallahassee Reports reached out to Mr. Pons but was unable to get any comments on a number of questions.

First, given the fact that the two sales of this property were listed as “unqualified”, what factors made this transaction something less than an arms-length transaction.

Second, what factors allowed for Mr. Pons to recover his initial investment two years later despite an estimated 50% decline in property values.

And third, is it appropriate for the Superintendent of Leon County Schools to engage in such a transaction with an employee of the School Board.

Leon County School Board policies address employee behavior that may result in conflicts of interest. One policy states:

No employee shall engage in or have a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in any activity that conflicts with the employee’s job duties and responsibilities in the school system. 

Another policy on conflicting employment or contractual relationships states:

.. it is the policy of the Board that no District officer or employee, including but not limited to Board members, administrators, instructional staff members, or support staff members, shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create any conflict

Tallahassee Reports will continue to investigate.

15 Responses to Superintendent Pons, Paul Byrd, Traded Ownership of Franklin County Property in 2008 and 2010.

  1. Ben Poitevent Reply

    May 4, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    I do nor know Mr. Pons but I feel obliged to comment on your story which implies unethical behavior by him. Again, I must state my opposition to stories that imply, rather than prove, allegations against elected officials. Mr. Pons sold land back to the original seller for the price he paid, even though land prices had depreciated.
    How does that do anything more than suggest unethical behavior, and suggest impropriety rather than establish it?
    To suggest or imply unethical behavior by any elected official carries the duty to provide sufficient evidence to support it. Anything else reduces the allegation to the level of town gossip, without legal substance.
    Buying land in another county and reselling to the original seller for the same price in a suppressed market does not meet the legal challenge of ethical impropriety. It certainly has nothing to do with the Leon county school system,
    Implications, in the absence of legal support, are meaningless and are intended to create controversy where no real issue exists.
    TR should focus on real ethical, not manufactured ones.

    • Steve J Reply

      May 5, 2014 at 8:58 am

      Mr. Poitevent,

      Mr. Byrd is under the direct supervision of Mr. Pons. Engaging in personal financial transactions, particularly unqualified transactions, between a supervisor and a subordinate is certainly a matter of concern. Such actions show poor judgement on the part of both parties to the transaction. Mr. Pons is a high ranking government official with decision making authority over the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. He must hold himself to a high standard and he has an obligated to explain the matter. To date he has remained silent. You are willing to let this slide, but I see a potential problem. If there is nothing here, Mr. Pons could have cleared the air quickly, before Tallahassee Reports published its story. The longer he waits, the worse it becomes.

      • Ben Poitevent Reply

        May 5, 2014 at 11:40 am

        Steve,
        Did you ask Mr. Pons and Mr. Byrd for an interview prior to publishing?
        I certainly understand your concern regarding a business transaction between a superior and a subordinate. The potential for mischief is certainly present and misuse of a public position may exist in this circumstance. That’s why I strongly support continuation of your investigation. Find the smoking gun that establishes ethical impropriety then, and only then, accuse all you like. The public needs to know if if Mr. Pons is misusing his public position. The public also needs to know if he is carrying out his official duties in an ethical, honorable manner. I am confident you will continue your efforts to get the full story, whichever way it goes.

        • Steve J Reply

          May 6, 2014 at 8:48 am

          Mr. Poitevent,

          I am not who you think I am. I am a consumer of Tallahassee Reports, not a contributor. To answer your question, the article states, “Tallahassee Reports reached out to Mr. Pons but was unable to get any comments on a number of questions.” That tells me that an attempt to interview Mr. Pons was made and that he declined. That action makes the issue ripe for publishing.

          • Ben Poitevent

            May 6, 2014 at 12:03 pm

            Steve
            Thanks. I have stated earlier that this matter demands further investigation and an interview of both men should occur. A list of questions does not have the detail and accuracy of a face to face interview. A lack of response by the subject of the investigation to written questions is not as meaningful as a refusal to grant an interview.
            I have faith TR will continue its effort. They certainly get credit for breaking the story

  2. Hope Reply

    May 4, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Money laundering?

  3. Hope Reply

    May 4, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    …Or…Byrd was somehow set-up by the good ole boy network over a business deal that went south. This story gets better by the day.

  4. bob fulford Reply

    May 5, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Mr. Poitevent:
    Using the facts given in the Tallahassee Reports article how would you write the story and avoid the implications of unethical behavior.

    • Hope Reply

      May 5, 2014 at 5:40 am

      I believe the only way to please Mr. Poitevent would be to NOT print the truth. This real estate transaction is significant and – public record – that citizens and taxpayers have a right to know. Tallahassee Reports scoops Gabordi once again.

    • Ben Poitevent Reply

      May 5, 2014 at 7:13 am

      Bob,
      The story cannot be written without implying unethical behavior by Mr. Pons, and that’s exactly my point. In the absence of anything more than suggestion, innuendo or implication, the story simply was not ripe for publication. It is a story that needs to be followed up, more information developed, more facts found and I am confident TR will pursue it further, at least I hope so.
      Possibly the better story is the issue of no-bid construction contracts being issued to campaign donors, if, in fact, it has occurred.
      I will always support investigations of elected officials, most especially in matters related to the misuse of their public position for personal gain. However, I will always oppose the publication of personally harmful or embarrassing allegations that are not, or not yet, supported by demonstrable evidence.
      Maybe Mr. Pons did act in an unethical way, but this article doesn’t show it, only implies it. I encourage TR to find to continue this investigation, but be a bit less anxious to print an incomplete story to the detriment of any citizen, elected or not.

      • W Reply

        May 5, 2014 at 3:40 pm

        You sound like you are on the LCSB payrole! Or maybe you are just a friend of the family! If it smells like $#!T, Looks like $#!T… guess what?

      • Steve J Reply

        May 7, 2014 at 9:09 am

        Ben,

        Corporate and government ethics rules generally prohibit financial transactions between supervisors and their subordinates. The transaction between Mr. Pons and Mr. Byrd violates that precept. To make matters worse, these were less than arms length transactions. Mr. Pons was asked to respond to questions posed by Tallahassee Reports, and he declined. I am confident that Tallahassee Reports would have accommodated Mr. Pons if he objected to the format of the interview session (written questions vs. face to face interview). Ultimately, Mr. Pons chose not to respond. You say that this is a matter that should not have been publicized. What more could Tallahassee Reports do to get to the bottom of the story? If Mr. Pons remains silent, the story does not move forward. Therefore, according to your position this story should be published only if Mr. Pons decides to cooperate. That puts Mr. Pons in control of the story. Government officials serve at the pleasure of their constituents. Constituents need to know about questionable acts of their leaders, especially when they ignore legitimate accusations.

        If there is a reasonable explanation for his actions, don’t you think that Mr. Pons would be eager to clear this up immediately? Don’t you think you need to know about this?

        • Ben Poitevent Reply

          May 12, 2014 at 2:22 pm

          Steve,
          My suggestion was that interviews be conducted solely because of their greater accuracy, rather than submitting questions. If that request had been made, it was not clear to me. An interview gives both parties the opportunity to fully clarify the questions and answers.
          After an investigation, If a request for an interview is declined, every reasonable effort has been made to get the facts clarified and the story is ripe for publication.
          Now, of course, Mr. Pons has lawyered up and has issued a letter in regards to this allegation. Retaining legal counsel in a matter like this is Mr. Pons right and best course of action. It should not be interpreted as an assumption of guilt.
          I applaud TR for their continuing investigation.

  5. Will Reply

    May 5, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    It all smells like fish. Time for a change of command at the good ol LCSB. I know someone that works for the LCSB in the Maintenance Division and he says the place is ripe with crony-ism, not to mention several Principal’s getting hired cuz they was friends of… Ya dig what I am saying. But remember, “We are here for the kids!” RIIIIIIIIIGHT!

  6. Chuck Reply

    May 6, 2014 at 9:20 am

    In my experience dealing with questions of ethics it is all about the perception.

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