The Elmore County Board of Education (ECBOE) refuses to offer an explanation after documents prove that the Child Nutrition Program (CNP) director used government funds to purchase supplies for a family member's wedding, misused school accounts, and made other questionable purchases, including 12 flat-screen TVs and diet supplements.

The audit

In September 2023, the Alabama Examiners of Public Accounts (EPA) released an audit report on the ECBOE from Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022. The report detailed a deficiency in the ECBOE's handling of public money, specifically in the CNP department.

The report stated that an unnamed CNP employee used federal CNP dollars for personal uses and ECBOE's accounts to make tax-free purchases with a personal banking card.

The ECBOE held a session in October 2023, where a summary of the audit report was delivered by EPA examiner Chris Newton. Newton essentially read from the published report, offering no new information.

The findings in the audit and the full audit report are not subject to public scrutiny under Alabama's open records law. Alabama Head Examiner Rachel Riddle told 1819 News what little information she could provide, but not the employee's name or the audit report's details.

1819 News learned independently that the unnamed employee was CNP Director Cacyce Davis. After filing an extensive public records request with the ECBOE in October 2023, the files were made available in January of this year.

The files show that Davis used CNP funds and CNP store credit to purchase food supplies for a family member's wedding. Some of those purchases were made at a Tuscaloosa Sam's Club, over 100 miles from her office in Elmore County. The timeline of the purchases and social media posts suggest it was her daughter's wedding in Tuscaloosa. Davis also used the board's tax-free Amazon account to make multiple purchases using her personal card, some of which appeared to be for wedding supplies. While 1819 News asked directly to see the Amazon purchases using Davis' card, the documents were not included in the roughly 1,500 physical pages ECBOE allowed to be viewed.

1819 News independently obtained copies of the personal purchase receipts, which is how their exclusion was discovered.

When confronted, the ECBOE responded through its representation with the following:

"[F]ollowing your email of last night, the District has confirmed that there were transactions made with the employee's personal bank card, but those transactions were processed through the Board's Amazon account. As such, those records do qualify for inspection under the Act and copies of those pages (Bates 1389-1407) have been provided herewith at no charge. Thank you for bringing this to my attention."

The audit mentioned personal and tax-free purchases. However, no mention was made of their intended use or the wedding.

Documents showed that Davis paid back a total of $710.65 for purchases made at Sysco, Sam's Club, and Amazon taxes owed after being confronted. Elmore Autauga News quoted ECBOE Chief School Financial Officer Jason Mann as saying that "no more than $600" was misused.

While the wedding supplies and Amazon purchases were vaguely addressed in the audit report, it additionally stated that inadequate documentation of expenditures meant other unallowable expenditures were possible.

Diet supplements, flat-screen TVs and furniture purchases

1819 News' investigation revealed several other questionable purchases using CNP funds on Amazon.

1819 News requested all Amazon receipts from Oct. 1, 2021, to Oct. 17, 2023, encompassing the time covered under the Examiners' audit. Documents showed at least one purchase using CNP funds was delivered to Davis' home address.

The CNP Amazon account was also used to purchase several pieces of furniture, including three love seats. One purchase was for a women's backpack.

Additionally, Davis Purchased 12 flat-screen TVs with CNP funds between January and September 2022, along with several TV wall mounts. The TVs range from 50-86 inches and cost a combined total of just over $6,500.

Davis TV Alabama News
Receipts from ECBOE showing one of many TV purchases by CNP Director Cacyce Davis using public funds.

Other purchases were for diet supplements in the same order as single orders of diet and sugar-free drink mixes. The order included 100 grams of Guarana powder, described as a "caffeine energizer supplement." The same order contained an order for Keto electrolyte powder and a drinkable aloe vera gel for "heartburn relief."

Davis Diet sups Alabama News
Receipts from ECBOE showing online purchases for diet supplements made by CNP Director Cacyce Davis.

Davis, ECBOE Chief School Financial Officer Jason Mann and ECBOE Superintendent Richard Dennis declined to comment during this investigation, leaving multiple unanswered questions regarding the wedding, other questionable purchases, any disciplinary actions against Davis and the board's actions during the investigation.

Dennis' assistant sent the following message in response to 1819 News' multiple questions.

"The Central Office respectfully declines any further response or comment about last year's audit and its CNP program. Following investigation and consultation with the Ethics Commission, District Attorney's office, Justice Department, State Department of Education and the Public Examiners, as well as implementing a corrective action plan to ensure future compliance, the matter has been closed."

The funds used by the CNP office are federal since the audit shows no influx of cash to the CNP from the ECBOE general fund. The USDA distributes funding for CNP programs, which are subject to federal guidelines and requirements.

It is unclear if Davis is somehow permitted to spend ECBOE funds, but records suggest all the funds Davis used were federal.

Angelice Lowe, the State CNP director with the Alabama Department of Education, told 1819 News that the furniture and diet supplements are not allowable expenses for CNP. She said TVs could be used only "if it is being used in the cafeteria to promote/advertise the menus and provide nutrition education." These purchases were not included in what Davis was compelled to pay back. Lowe also stated that CNP employees are not permitted to order items to their home address nor use CNP funds for personal reasons, even if they intend to pay it back.

Lowe later declined to answer follow-up questions from 1819 News.

Internal concerns and threats of a lawsuit

Documents obtained by 1819 News showed that some within the ECBOE structure were concerned about Davis' actions. CNP accountant Valerie Hodges shared with Mann her suspicions that Davis had used public funds for far more than what is mentioned in the audit, including unapproved travel costs, employee gifts and additional food purchases made with CNP funds and accounts.

One ECBOE board member was also looking into Davis' actions, leading a legal firm representing Davis to email the entire board, threatening potential legal action against the ECBOE and the board member.

The lawyer claimed the board member was engaging in "ongoing workplace harassment, the creation of a hostile work environment, obstruction of her ability to perform her job duties effectively, unwarranted targeted attacks, conspiracy, and intentional and reckless infliction of mental and emotional distress."

"Upon information and belief, you have unlawfully conducted your own personal and unfounded investigations into my client in the name of the ECBOE but without the appropriate authority or authorization to do so," the letter read. "We believe that you have conspired, on multiple occasions, with an ECBOE employee, instructing this employee to operate outside of established ECBOE policies and procedures in order to conduct your own unauthorized and unlawful investigations. You have unlawfully shared information received during your "investigations" during executive sessions, depriving and denying my client of due process."

It is unclear who informed Davis or her attorneys about what occurred in an executive session since disclosing executive session proceedings is prohibited. In the incidents in which 1819 News witnessed the board calling itself into executive session, Davis was not present. Executive sessions are the only avenue in which it is appropriate to address the "good name and character" of other employees.

"Not only have you subjected yourself, and potentially the ECBOE to legal liability, there are a number of actions we are prepared to take if your actions continue," the letter continued. "Namely, we will happily file a formal complaint of our own with the Alabama Ethics Commission, outlining in great detail your aforementioned actions. We will also file a formal complaint with the ALSDE."

The letter goes on to threaten to contact the board member's personal employer for some unspecified reason.

"We expect a formal withdrawal of any and all 'investigations' by you or anyone on your behalf within seven (7) days, or a response from your attorneys, who are copied here. We do not take to kindly to your actions and are offering you an opportunity to stop on your own accord or we will stop it for you," the letter concluded.

Dennis again declined to answer if any action was taken against Davis for the letter.

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