Angela Kennecke gets former Office of Indian Education director LuAnn Werdel to finally come on camera to talk about the contradictory signals she sent about mishandling of GEAR UP funds at the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative back in 2011.
Recall that last week, the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee (which meets today in Pierre for a surely contentious hearing) released written responses (and non-responses) to questions about the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal from surprisingly still-Secretary of Education Melody Schopp. Schopp’s submission included e-mails from Werdel from January 10–11, 2011, when Schopp assumed office and asked Werdel to resign. Werdel complained in writing of corruption in the management of the GEAR UP and College Access grants, then contradicted her statements with a series of apology e-mails in which she signaled her “utmost confidence” in Mid-Central exec Dan Guericke and GEAR UP program manager Stacy Phelps (both of whom now face felony charges and will likely be introducing Werdel’s apology e-mails into evidence for their defense).
Werdel tells Kennecke that she didn’t mean those apologies:
“The only mistake I made in all this was sending out those emails apologizing. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have apologized,” Werdel said.
Werdel says she only apologized on the advice of a mentor because she was worried about the repercussions and her own future in Indian education. She also wrote an email to the U.S. Department of Education expressing confidence in Dan Guericke and Stacy Phelps to run a different grant program.
I’m tying up loose ends. I’m still fearful for friends and colleagues working on these grants, not wanting their livelihood to be impacted. Never once in that email did I say I expressed confidence in Stacy and Dan about GEAR UP or College Access [Angela Kennecke, “Former Education Official Explains Her GEAR UP Warnings,” KELO-TV, 2017.08.28].
Ms. Werdel, I’d say your mentor gave you some bad advice. We have on the record two contradictory statements that give Schopp and the state cover from accusations that they had credible warnings about corruption at Mid-Central in January 2011.
Never apologize if you don’t mean it. Take your lumps, but stick with what you believe.