News & Features » Street Talk (Old)

Schools' CFO: Give Me $25K, or the Wolf Gets It

Thomas Sheeran, Richmond Public Schools' outgoing chief financial officer, wants the School Board to cough up $25,000 -- or about two months of additional severance pay — or he'll sue members of the School Board.

More specifically, Sheeran, who resigned Nov. 19, charges that public comments made by Carol A.O. Wolf (and potentially other board members) concerning his financial stewardship — or lack thereof — amount to defamation.

Through an attorney, Sheeran notified the School Board last week of his request for additional pay, several board members tell Style Weekly.

Sheeran resigned in November after an internal audit revealed he had authorized, without the School Board's approval, more than $700,000 to move the school system's information technology department out of City Hall last summer. His employment technically ends March 31, and he's continued to collect an estimated $40,000 in salary during the interim, school officials say.

A Style reporter contacted Sheeran on his cell phone Monday, but the call was disconnected. He did not return subsequent messages. Richard Hawkins, Sheeran's attorney, would only confirm that his client has asked the School Board for two months of additional severance pay, which amounts to about $25,000.

Wolf has long been critical of Sheeran, especially over matters related to a 2005 federal court settlement requiring the school system to invest millions of dollars to bring school facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In August, Style quoted an e-mail in which Wolf told colleagues she had "no confidence in [Deputy Superintendent for Finance Tom Sheeran's] abilities to be in charge of RPS finances."

Wolf says this week she isn't backing down.

"I stand by all statements I've made about Mr. Sheeran and his job performance," she says. "I continue to be amazed that Tom Sheeran could not find a nickel for RPS to comply with a federal court order under the Americans with Disabilities Act, yet he could find $700,000 to move the IT department without even asking the board."

Reggie Malone, a former School Board member, says Sheeran's threat — pay the $25,000 or get sued — puts the School Board in a bind. If the School Board forks over the money, they're out $25,000. If they don't and Sheeran sues, the school system risks a full financial airing that could be even more damaging politically.

"I believe that this guy has got the School Board over a barrel," Malone says. "This guy was the CFO of the school system. He knows where every dead George Washington would be buried."

Schools Vice Chair Lisa Dawson stresses that as a legal and personnel issue, the matter ought to remain private but says the board is aware of the potential damage. "He's asking for $25,000 of the money given to the Richmond Public School children," Dawson says, "and that's something we'll be taking into account."

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