Macon's Promise Neighborhood program started with ambitious goals and high hopes for big federal grants.
It was intended to improve student achievement by boosting the quality of life in two Macon neighborhoods, Tindall Heights and Unionville.
That promise was broken.
The program never got off the ground, those big federal grants never came through, and two key figures face federal charges.
“It speaks for itself,” Cliffard Whitby said. “This is something that was done openly, it was done with the best intention.”
Those were the words of Macon Businessman Cliffard Whitby to 13WMAZ three years ago during an interview in December 2014.
He headed the Promise Neighborhood program, and was defending it, calling it ethical despite pledging taxpayer money to grants and a community center that never came through.
Whitby is now under federal indictment for his role, according to the Department of Justice.
Prosecutors accuse him and a Florida lawyer, Harold Knowles of paying former Bibb Superintendent Romain Dallemand hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support the project.
Dallemand also faces federal tax charges for the accepting the bribes. The school district says he also committed $19 million dollars to Promise Neighborhood, without the school board's approval.
With the allegations contained in the indictment now out in the open, we wanted to ask others involved in the program for their take on how this all went wrong.
Many key figures have left town.
Mercer University professor Peter Brown helped launched the program, and back then, thanked Dallemand for his support.
“We would not be where we were today if Superintendent Dallemand hadn’t seen that this fit very closely with his aims,” Brown said in an interview back in January 2012.
Brown no longer works at Mercer and lives out of state. Mercer administrators declined an interview on the topic.
Alveno Ross is the Chairman of the Central Georgia Partnership for individual and Community Development. That group guided the planned Promise Center.
He moved to Augusta as their Chief assessor, and didn’t return our calls.
We also could not locate Tommy Barnes, school board president during the Promise Neighborhood years.
Current board member Lester Miller says the silence comes as no surprise.
“What I say now is we hear crickets,” Miller said. We heard all these wonderful things were happening, but yah everybody has disappeared. I don’t hear anything from those people today.”
In addition to the indictments against Whitby, and Knowles, the group that backed the Promise Neighborhood, the Central Georgia Partnership for individual and Community Development is also under indictment for conspiracy to launder.
Miller says what he believes is the truth is finally coming to light because one person chose to cooperate with investigators, Romain Dallemand himself.
“In a strange way it’s the first thing that has done for Bibb County,” Miller said. “He finally did something for the children by cooperating with the federal government and giving this information that we needed.”
In his resignation letter as chairman of the Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority Whitby wrote: "I am determined to fight these allegations and maintain faith in the legal process that my record will show that I have always acted in a manner to better the community. I am confident that my name will be cleared at the end of the day.”
The Welcome Center was also built and created during the Dallemand era. It housed highly paid workers that just did clerical work, those hired were friends of Dallemand.
That building was turned into the Professional Learning Center when Bibb’s current Superintendent Curtis Jones came to town.
One thing that's still around is Mandarin Chinese.
It's still being taught in eight Bibb schools throughout the district.
That includes Vineville Academy.
The teachers are supplied from the Confucius Institute at Kennesaw State University.
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