The countywide school board launched its first ethics probe of a board member in recent history yesterday. The probe is the result of a complaint filed by school board member Martavius Jones in December against fellow board member David Pickler.
Jones believes Pickler violated the school board’s code of ethics when he voted for a budget that included $12 million for the Tennessee School Boards Association trust. The trust employs Pickler’s financial services firm.
Pickler denies he did anything wrong.
The $12 million in question comes from the Memphis City Schools. Pickler argues that the Memphis schools decided to invest the money before the merger when Pickler was still a member of the Shelby County Schools board. He contends that the Memphis City Schools superintendent and chief financial officer decided to put the money into the Tennessee School Boards Association trust.
“It’s basically a matter of timing that the ethics committee has to sort out here,” said Senior Reporter for the Memphis Daily News Bill Dries, “as well as the intentions—what did David Pickler know? Did he benefit personally?”
On the committee deciding Pickler’s fate are school board members Teresa Jones, David Reaves, and Oscar Love. Dries believes their task will be difficult, “It’s a very complex financial transaction,” said Dries, “Pickler and Jones are both in the financial services industry, that’s their day job.”
Before the two boards merged, Pickler headed up the Shelby County Schools board and his accuser Jones headed up the Memphis City Schools board. Pickler and Jones worked together on a court settlement that laid out the groundwork for the merger of the two school systems and on the Transition Planning Commission, which formed a detailed blueprint for consolidation.
“That is what is so surprising here,” Dries said. “They had managed to work together fairly well … Now that this allegation has come up, it is doubtful that there is any relationship left between the two of them.”