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The Main Scoop

Did Archie violate state Ethics Act before Universal vote?

By by Benjamin Herold on May 3, 2011 02:07 PM

School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie has had difficulty staying firmly on the sidelines during recent decisions to award controversial multimillion-dollar charter contracts to organizations with which he has acknowledged ties.

Archie caused murmurs in the audience at last week’s public SRC meeting when he openly championed Universal Companies just minutes before a critical vote to award the organization two charters potentially worth $45 million over five years. Archie’s deep ties to Universal led him to abstain from voting, but did not stop him from extensively touting the organization’s accomplishments.

The incident was also surprising because it came just two days after Mayor Michael Nutter launched a fact-finding inquiry into the controversy at Martin Luther King High.  Archie has acknowledged participating in a closed-door meeting about the fate of the school despite his connections to one of its potential charter operators.

Beyond eliciting audible reactions, Archie’s comments before the Universal vote on Wednesday may have been a violation of Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act.

“The duty is to abstain, even from commentary,” said Robin Hittie, chief counsel of the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission, when asked what the Ethics Act requires of public officials who must recuse themselves from a vote because of a potential conflict of interest.

Hittie would not comment on any specific individual or scenario, but her explanation of the Ethics Act was clear: “The duty is to abstain completely. That’s not just from voting, but from any use of the ‘authority of office’ in that matter,” she said. “Advocacy by a public official would be a use of ‘authority of office.’”

Archie maintained after the meeting that he had not advocated for Universal. He has since refused further comment.

District General Counsel Michael Davis said that in speaking out on the Universal contract prior to the vote Archie had not violated “in any way” the District’s code of ethics for employees, which also applies to the SRC members.

Any concern about Archie’s conduct, said Davis, is “a question for the state Ethics Commission,” which he acknowledged has oversight of the SRC.

Advocacy or a 'refresher?'

Because it occurred in public, Archie’s conduct before the Universal vote was not as egregious as his behind-the-scenes involvement at King, said Michael Churchill, counsel at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

But it was still problematic, Churchill said.

“The actions that were taken to endorse and assist Universal were in conflict with the Ethics Act,” he said. “The bottom line is [Archie was] not supposed to participate, and he did.”

Archie has historically recused himself from voting on matters relating to Universal Companies because his long association with founder Kenny Gamble, his service on two of Universal’s boards, and his law firm’s legal work for the organization. 

But that did not stop him from speaking up for Universal right before his fellow commissioners voted 3-0 to award the organization charters to manage Audenried High and Vare Middle as so-called “Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter Schools.”

Archie’s public comments came at a crucial moment during last Wednesday’s SRC meeting. Commissioners Joseph Dworetzky and Johnny Irizarry were asking probing questions of District staff and Universal Executive Vice President Shahied Dawan, and it was not clear whether they had yet made up their minds to approve the charters.

After one of Irizarry’s questions, Archie jumped in to respond on Dawan’s behalf.

“Let me make this full disclosure,” Archie began. “Universal Companies is a client of Duane Morris. I sit on the board of Universal Companies.”

Then, he told Dawan, “You’re being very modest” and proceeded for almost three minutes to tout Universal’s accomplishments. Archie cited the company’s success in rehabbing houses and managing the Universal Institute Charter School, pointed out the prominence of some other board members, and highlighted other efforts, including an annual health fair.

Irizarry had asked for more details on how Universal planned to improve Audenried.

“How do you plan to turn Audenried around?” Archie prompted Dawan. “You can take Universal Institute Charter School as a prime example. You built the school. Literally, built the school.”

“They have a track record of basically turning around neighborhoods and using the school as a magnet for it,” Archie then told the assembled audience and his fellow commissioners.

Robert Archie’s comments about Universal.

Following the meeting, Archie explained his view that his remarks did not constitute advocacy for Universal.

“I was merely refreshing [Dawan’s] recollection as to what Universal had done when I sat on his board,” he said.

District General Counsel Davis offered a similar assessment.

Archie “was simply asking questions to make sure that full information was obtained,” he said. 

'Sloppiness' or a conflict of interest?

Archie’s actions before the Universal vote were clearly “unwise,” “sloppy,” or “inappropriate,” in the words of three attorneys consulted by the Notebook.

But determining if they were a formal violation of the Ethics Act – which could mean sanctions or even prosecution – depends in part on whether his law firm has an ongoing financial interest in Universal or whether Archie currently sits on one of the organization’s boards.  

Getting to the bottom of those questions, however, has not been easy.

Even Davis isn’t exactly sure about the details of Archie’s connections to Universal.

“His firm, Duane Morris, has represented and I believe, though I’m not sure, continues to represent [Universal],” said Davis, who also mentioned the “relationship that Archie has had with Universal over the years.”

Davis said he did not know if Archie currently serves on any boards connected to Universal.

In his remarks last Wednesday, Archie said that he sits on a Universal board.

That assertion contradicted his past statements. It was also at odds with statements provided by officials from both Universal and the District, who have maintained that Archie resigned from the boards of both the University Institute Charter School and Universal Community Homes upon his appointment to the SRC in April 2009.

But according to Universal’s most recent nonprofit filings with the Internal Revenue Service, Archie continued to serve as a director of Universal Community Homes until at least June 30, 2010, more than a year after joining the SRC.

Asked to clarify, Universal’s Dawan, who signed off on the documents, said the information in the tax filings reflected errors made by auditors who wrongly duplicated a previous list of board members year after year.

Dawan said that Archie resigned from the Universal Institute Charter School board on September 16, 2008 and that he left the Universal Community Homes board sometime between April 9, 2009 and its next meeting.

“Definitively, Mr. Archie is not a member of any Universal Board,” said Dawan, who added that Universal would amend their 990 filings with the IRS to correct the errors and said he was researching board minutes to provide documentation of Archie’s resignation from the board of Universal Community Homes.

At last Wednesday’s SRC meeting, Archie also said that Universal “is a client of Duane Morris,” the law firm in which he is a partner.

Dawan said that statement was also inaccurate.

“Duane Morris has not performed any school related work … since Mr. Archie’s appointment to the SRC,” he said, adding that Universal retained another law firm for education-related business and has not given Duane Morris new legal work of any kind since Archie’s appointment to the SRC. 

Any payments to Duane Morris after September 2009 were the result of closing out a small project that had begun prior to Archie’s appointment, said Dawan.

“Both Mr. Archie and Universal have worked very hard to make sure that we have followed every possible precaution to avoid a conflict of interest,” said Dawan. “[Universal has] a very good reputation of always complying with the rules. We established this reputation by years of hard work and service to the community. At some point, I hope the story can turn in that direction.”

A question of oversight

Under the Ethics Act, the District should have a written memorandum explaining the nature of Archie’s declared conflict.

Davis said that he has no such memo, an oversight for which he took responsibility.

“As counsel, I have not advised [the commissioners] of that requirement,” said Davis. “Until that issue came up in March, I was not aware of that requirement. I’ve got to go back and correct that.”

Still, he said, “The commissioners are very much on top of what their obligations are ethically. … There is no lack of clarity.”

Davis said he has concluded that Archie’s comments last Wednesday did not violate the District’s code of ethics.

“I really believe that what is required in instances like this is disclosure of the nature of the conflict,” he explained.  

At the state level, however, disclosure alone does not allow a public official to use the "authority of office” to influence a decision, according to Hittie’s explanation of the state Ethics Act.

“It is possible for someone who has a private interest to step out of their role as a public official and express a viewpoint, but he or she would need to be careful to do so fully as a private citizen,” said Hittie. “When you advocate on an issue and you’re wearing your hat as a public official, that’s using the authority of your office.”

It is unclear if there will be any continued fallout from the events surrounding last Wednesday’s vote. 

Hittie would neither confirm nor deny whether any complaints had been filed about Archie’s conduct regarding Universal, and the mayor’s office has confirmed that its fact-finding mission is limited to the events at King High.

This story is part of a news-gathering partnership between the Notebook and NewsWorks.

About the Author

Benjamin Herold is a freelance reporter.

Comments (31)

Submitted by Sanity N. Reason (not verified) on May 3, 2011 4:33 pm

Archie & Jughead must both resign. Archie has dirty hands with all of these dealings. The SRC was created to be the watchdog over the dealings of The School District and NOT A RUBBER STAMP snappy quid pro quo back-room dealings. He is dirty.
Jughead must go too. She is terrible. I can't think of one good thing to say about her. Now that the test score cheating has been exposed, there is no good reason to keep her on. She can't manage a budget. She can't even handle her own finances with all of her evident tax troubles. The Imagine 2014 plan has been exposed as just a recycled Dream plan that didn't work in San Francisco.
Arlene Ackerman was hired in March 2008. This article appeared in The San Francisco Weekly two years PRIOR - in February 2006. It’s just one of the many warning signs of the impending doom of Ackerman’s tenure here. How in the world did she ever get hired? Below is the essence of the article.
Extra Credit- Is outgoing school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman worth a huge severance package and $45,000 in credit card charges? By Matt Palmquist Wednesday, Feb 15 2006
Arlene Ackerman, who became superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District in 2000, announced last fall that she would be leaving her post at the end of this year because her strained relationship with several Board of Education members had become untenable. Her exit, however, has been just as rocky as her tenure. Amid contentious labor negotiations with the teachers' union, questions about the efficacy of her "Dream Schools" initiative, and the fiscally motivated closure and relocation of 14 schools last month, Ackerman negotiated a $375,000 severance package with the school district. Supervisors have passed a resolution asking Ackerman to rescind the money, followed by the disclosure that Ackerman racked up $45,625 in credit card expenses in 2005, mostly on fancy meals, airplane tickets, and hotels; the charges have been reimbursed by the district at taxpayer expense. Although Ackerman's contract authorizes a Diners Club account, board members have asked to see the receipts. Source:

Submitted by Sanity N. Reason (not verified) on May 3, 2011 5:17 pm

Archie must resign or be fired. Mayor Nutter or Governor Corbett should have the courage and decency to appoint a new chair to the SRC. We are in CRISIS here. I can think on no one better than Hope Moffett. For those unfamiliar with Hope, she was the outspoken Audenried HS teacher that was publicly flogged by Arlene Ackerman and relegated to The Rubber Room while her student's wasted away in custody of a babysitter. The queen underestimated Hope's resolve and lost on all fronts in this classic David VS. Goliath that played out in the media a few weeks ago. Hope Moffett is a superb person. She is full of integrity. I trust that - given the chance- Hope will (finally) lead the SRC down the right path and will always put the welfare of our children at the forefront of any business decision. Who can say that about Robert Archie?

Submitted by Helen Gym on May 3, 2011 5:31 pm

This statement in and of itself is alarming:

"District General Counsel Michael Davis said that in speaking out on the Universal contract prior to the vote Archie had not violated “in any way” the District’s code of ethics for employees, which also applies to the SRC members."

If the District's code of ethics don't abide by the state ethics commission, sounds like the entire code of ethics needs an overhaul.

Great reporting by the Notebook on another shocking action by the SRC.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 3, 2011 6:25 pm

Who the He$$ does Archie think he is? This is absurd! It shows you what Archie thinks of Nutter's "investigation." He flagrantly breaks the rules because he is above everyone else. What a crock.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 3, 2011 7:53 pm

Of course Mr. Archie should resign. Anyone with that many conflicts of interest has no business being on the SRC. He represents a whole bunch of private non-profits whose sole purpose is to make money and his law firm often represents the school district itself and profits from the school district.The supposed charter schools he created are pseudo charters and should not be confused with the many true charter schools that were legitimately created pursuant to the charter school law and the intent of the legislature when it was written.

There is a misconception going around that the School Reform Commission is merely an "oversight" body. They are supposed to be a "decision-making" body and have a duty to govern what is going on in the district. The State took over our schools and created the SRC to run our school system. The Governor, and the Secretary of Education are responsible for what is going on in the district. Their silence and inaction speaks volumes....

We will soon see the true mettle of their character when we see how the budget mess plays itself out and effects the school children of Philadelphia and their families.

Submitted by Veteran of WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on May 4, 2011 10:39 am

You make a good point, Joe, about the fact that it is the Governor and the legislature that should be held to account for the obvious incompetence and unethical behavior that now plagues our city's schools. Ironically, it was Dwight Evans who led the charge with Gov. Ridge and republican legislators in 2001 to enact the law that led to the state takeover with the intention of privatizing and charterizing the system to the greatest extent possible. Under that original arrangement, private for-profit Edison Inc., Nunery's former employer, would have been awarded a large number of public schools. Pushback from then Mayor Street and a coalition of activists led by the Phila. Student Union and Youth United for Change limited the extent of privatization that would have come all at once. But over time, we are seeing a steady increase in private contracting out of core education functions through charterization, curriculum outsourcing (Corrective Reading & Math to McGraw Hill), alternative schools, etc. And with those increasing contracts, there are increasing opportunities for conflicts of interest and decreasing likelihood that many of the non-profits that used to hold the line for public education can speak out. Only a handful are able and willing to challenge the district or the state. It will only get worse, the way things are going. This governance arrangement of the Philadelphia Public Schools has got to be challenged in court.

It is unfortunate that at a time when we should be pulling together to defend the local schools in light of a conservative state administration that would rather fund prisons and give tax breaks to corporations that plunder our state's natural resources, we have a school governance system that is so convoluted and an administration so corrupted (including the SRC) that they have lost the public's confidence. My level of distrust and lack of faith in the current administration makes it difficult for me to respond when the district asks parents and the public to march on their behalf. Perhaps some of the local non-profits will gain some steel in their spines and use some of their stored social capital to act together to demand more public accountability either through the courts or through a local coup. I could get behind either of those actions.

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 4, 2011 11:49 am

Yes, Veteran, you are correct. The bulk of research based studies on effective leadership points to "trust formation" as the key element of effective leaders.

As to challenging the governance structure of the district in court: Yes, there are several constitutional issues on which to base a class action suit. The problem is courage, money and the willpower to wage such a complex law suit. There is also the issue of "standing" to bring such a suit -- the question is who or which advocacy group has the "legal standing" to bring such a law suit.

It is ironic that the State takeover of our schools was based on an alleged "crisis" our city schools were in. There is now a greater "crisis" than we had then.

The privateers who funded Corbett's campaign are waiting in the wings to profit off of our school children. It is all just so sad.

We need to thank the Great teachers who are holding our schools together and teaching our children to the best of their ability. As Deidre Farmbry once said in the face of the State takeover, "Focus on the children and do not get caught up in the turmoil that surrounds us." What a wonderful superintendnet Deidre was....

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on May 6, 2011 7:40 pm


Can you contact me offline?

Ben Herold

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on May 3, 2011 8:44 pm

Of course he should be removed, especially considering Hope Moffet was removed for far less. It is problematic that Mr. Archie doesn't see his actions as crossing the line and being unethical. But ultimately the larger picture is that nothing is going to happen, and business will continue as usual.

Governor Corbett will allow the SDP to privatize or charterize schools. The dismantling of the union is ongoing. Our leaders are so busy doing "favors" for everyone else they have forgotten what they should be doing.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 3, 2011 8:20 pm

...and now I wouldn't hire him as a lawyer either!

Submitted by We Are Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2011 6:23 am

Who needs to file a complaint to get this ball rolling?

Submitted by Helen Gym on May 4, 2011 8:30 am

Anyone can file a complaint with the State Inspector General who will then refer all complaints to the appropriate agencies. Complaint form here:

Call here: (717) 772-2644 or toll free at (877) 888-7927


Submitted by We Are Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2011 8:48 am

I'm on it.

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 4, 2011 9:31 am

Thanks Helen, for the numbers.

But the issues go deeper than just Commissioner Archie's and Dr. Ackerman's back room ehics. The charter school law precludes any "for profit" from being granted a charter. In Section 17-1719-A, it also requires that a charter school contain certain elements such as a description of: "The proposed governance structure of the charter school, including a description and method for the 'appointment or election' of the members of the board of trustees." The charter school law allows private non-profits to "found" charter schools. The law does not allow them to "be" charter schools. Charter schools must be themselves separate non profits. Under the law, public schools can not be "given" to non-profits. The State takeover law allows the SRC to turn schools into charters. But each school, to be a charter school needs a separate board of trustees. Is the attorney general going to bring suit to see that the charter school law is actually followed?

What the SRC has done, is not to create true charter schools. There is a difference between a school board contracting with an educationl management organization to manage a school and a charter school. There is a a legal difference and a philosophical difference. Charter schools are supposed to be "public schools", not private schools funded with public dollars.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 4, 2011 11:11 pm

Your entire post is beautiful but guess what??? They don't care about the law or any aspect of it. They do exactly what they want, when they want and they use Charters as rewards for their friends with the quid pro quo alive and well. There should be a MORATORIUM on all new charters and let the feds continue to investigate the 25-30 charters that they claim to be doing. The whole thing is like a runaway train going backwards at 150 mph. We need to chill the process.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 7, 2011 7:08 am

You don't know what you are talking about. Every charter school does have its own separate board and undergoes an audit every year.

Submitted by Veteran of WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on May 7, 2011 9:53 am

See article re: District oversight of charter schools referring to Controller Butkovitz' report:

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 7, 2011 12:58 pm

I am talking about the charter schools that were created this year. Not the charters which were created pursuant to the charter school law. Universal and Aspira have their own boards for their own non-profits.Mosaica is a :for-profit" and therefore can not found nor be a charter school. Their plans do not include a separate board of trustees for Olney, Audenreid, or any other schools that they are slated to "manage." The charter schools that were created prior to Ackerman's regime were created properly. However, Mastery has now "morphed" into more of an educational management type organization. As to the present 'true charter schools": there is a legal issue brewing "how are their boards actually appointed or elected?" The issue is whether they are functioning as "public schools." I submit that if their boards are not elected by parents of students in the charter schools or appointed by elected representatives, they are not functioning as "public schools." It says quite clearly in the Charter school law that it is the intent of the legislature to give , parents , teachers and the local community control and responsibility over the instructional program at charter schools. If you like, reply to this with your e-mail address and I will send you citations to Commonwealth Court cases which have looked at those issues. Here are two questions for you. (1) How many boards of trustees in Pennsylvania charter schools are in reality "appointed" by the CEO's of the charter schools? (2) Is that an ethical situation?

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 8, 2011 10:22 am

Ironically, Multi-Cultural Charter School is a case in point. Thuy installed his own board of trustees and ran the school for his own best interests. That is called self-dealing and is a breach of fiduciary duties. He should be prosecuted and parents should be elected to the board of trustees. Thank the present trustees for having the courage to do the right thing....

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 8, 2011 12:56 pm

I agree but having parents on the board does not guarantee "excellence." Some parents are also very self-serving - they may do things which benefit their child(ren) at the expense of others.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 8, 2011 6:39 pm

Then the parents who vote can vote that parent off of the board of trustees. That is what happens in 98% of the public school systems in America. The residents of the school district vote for their school board and if they do not like what they see -- they vote the bums out. That is called democracy. That is the system of governance that we send our children to war in the mid-east to protect. I agree with the guy who says if a charter school board of trustees is not elected by the parents enrolled in the charter school or both parents and teachers of the school, the charter school is not functioning as a "public school."

And the best interests of the students will never be the standard unless it functions as a "public school."

Submitted by InNane (not verified) on May 8, 2011 7:35 pm

Funny you should mention Multicultural Academy...Not to be too much of a conspiracy nut, but...take a look at the Duane Morris law firm. Robert Archie works there and he's connected to Universal Companies who will be taking over public schools. He's also connected to Foundations, Inc. which prompted the recent "probe" by our highly ethical mayor. Alan Klein, a partner at Duane Morris, is on the board of trustees of the Multicultural Academy, whose CEO seems like a dictatorial thief who's received almost $3 million from the city over the last 15 years. Duane Morris, LLP also donated $60,000 to the Corbett campaign, so if you think the state is going to take Archie's hand out of the School District cookie jar don't hold your breath. How can a major American city allow it's school system to be gutted for financial gain? This seems like a HUGE scandal.

You can see some links here (with a dose of snarkiness):

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 8, 2011 7:30 pm

Does Alan Klein have a child who attends Multi-Cultural? If not, then what is he doing on the charter board of trustees? Even if he does have a child who attends the school, it is still an impermissible conflict of interest for him to be on the board and collecting money from the charter school.

Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on May 5, 2011 3:38 pm

School District counsel doesn't see anything improper here? Well there's a shocker...

Submitted by Sanity N. Reason (not verified) on May 5, 2011 8:31 pm

Where are the overseers of the overseers? Nutter, Corbett...are you paying attention? This is obscene. Archie is so dirty that his dirt is dirty.

Only in Philadelphia. I wonder if Nutter has his bro's back and Corbett is relishing in the self destruction of the district. Meanwhile back at the ranch, our children are being used and set up for a miserable future.
Where is the outrage?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 6, 2011 5:15 pm

I agree and nobody seems to care--just business as usual 24/7. Nasty people without any conscience whatsoever and yes, Corbett is laughing himself silly because Ackerman et al are doing his bidding for him. It's a perfect storm for Corbett.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 6, 2011 6:57 pm

Nutter rubber stamps everything Ackerman and her cronies do. It's over for us.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 7, 2011 6:32 pm

Hopefully, it's over for Nutter as well. Don't forget to vote this month!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 7, 2011 7:19 pm

Nutter is either totally in on the corruption or the most fearful Mayor in the history of Phila. With all the crap from Ackerman and all the rest, and he just seems to be fine with it. The whole thing works to Corbett's advantage. He must be laughing himself silly up in Harrisburg. I don't share your hope but I hope I'm wrong.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 7, 2011 7:37 pm

I wonder if they'll cover up the cheating at Roosevelt if it really occurred. Outsiders would never believe what these thieves are capable of and hiding in plain sight.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 7, 2011 8:52 pm

Gov. Corbett must be laughing all the way to the political bank. The number of political points deposited in the Republican Bank of Pennsylvania by: a black mayor, a black superintendent, a black SRC chairman, and a black president of the teachers' union must seem like a gift from the gods to Corbett's account. The allegation that a white-100 day governor is RESPONSIBLE for the sabotage of public education in Philadelphia is IRRESPONSIBLE. Corbett has absolutely no reason to "bailout" Philadelphia's incompetent, ethnocentric, and cynical leadership. One reaps what one sows. In the case of Philadelphia's leadership, which has sown a lot of hot air, a tornado is about to befall the city.

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