Only in the Obama administration would a public official sanctioned for a form of malfeasance be honored as a speaker by the same organization that sanctioned him. It helps, of course, when he is a self-proclaimed Friend of the First Couple. It also doesn’t hurt that the administration already found it politically convenient to fire the inspector general, Gerald Walpin, who blew the whistle on his misdeeds.
Still, the public should consider it a brazen affront for this administration to feature Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson as a key speaker at a major conference sponsored later this month by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Common decency should disallow such a scandal.
On the grounds of image alone, Mr. Johnson sends the wrong message, considering that four different young women or teenage girls have accused Mr. Johnson of inappropriate sexual conduct. Three of the four were actually affiliated with the very institution, the St. Hope Academy, that was sponsored through CNCS grants. (CNCS is the parent body for the AmeriCorps national “volunteering” program.) In none of the cases were charges ever pressed, but one of the students said she was offered $1,000 per month in exchange for her silence, and two staff members resigned from St. Hope to protest how the academy tried (in the words of one of them) to “intimidate the student*.” And in the first instance, in the summer of 1995, Mr. Johnson at one point agreed to pay the girl $230,000, according to the Sacramento Bee, after protesting that he “didn’t recall us being a hundred percent naked” during the incident.
The sordid sex allegations weren’t even what caused Mr. Johnson, a former National Basketball Association star, to be sanctioned. Instead, he was found responsible for multiple financial misdeeds and ordered personally to help St. Hope repay nearly half a million dollars to AmeriCorps. Specifically, investigators found that Mr. Johnson and St. Hope misused federal funds to assign political projects to AmeriCorps workers; to have them run personal errands for Mr. Johnson, wash his car and drive him to personal appointments; to pay staff salaries at St. Hope from funds meant for AmeriCorps grantees; and several other similar improprieties.
Despite such flagrant abuse of CNCS programs, CNCS has invited this man to be a featured speaker at the June 28-30 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, which is advertised as “the world’s largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, government and corporate sectors.” Such an over-the-top level of inappropriateness is flabbergasting even for the O Force.
Throw in the unseemly sexual charges against Mr. Johnson, even if they were never prosecuted as crimes, and what you see is not somebody who should be giving lectures, but who should instead be lectured. For the new Obama AmeriCorps to honor him shows how little this administration understands real honor.