On Thursday I reported that Kevin Johnson, former NBA star, mayor of Sacramento, California, and friend and political ally of Barack and Michelle Obama, was scheduled to speak at an AmeriCorps conference in New York at the end of this month. Johnson’s participation in the conference struck some observers as odd, given that just two years ago the inspector general of AmeriCorps found that Johnson had misused hundreds of thousands of AmeriCorps dollars at a non-profit educational organization Johnson founded called St. HOPE. Under an agreement with the U.S. Attorneys office in Sacramento, Johnson and St. HOPE were required to repay the government more than $400,000.
“This is worse than finding a fox in the chicken coop,” said Gerald Walpin, the inspector who discovered Johnson’s misuse of federal dollars. “This is inviting the fox in and honoring him.”
Now comes word that Johnson will not be speaking at the conference after all. On Thursday afternoon, his picture and biographical sketch disappeared from the conference website, and today the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which oversees AmeriCorps, confirmed that Johnson will not be there.
CNCS officials say they never invited Johnson in the first place. “He was invited by Cities of Service, which is working to harness the power of volunteers in cities across America,” said CNCS press secretary Ashley Etienne, referring to a New York-based group which says it was created “in partnership with CNCS.” “He’s participating in a panel organized by Cities of Service, and we were not involved,” Etienne said.
Walpin was skeptical of that claim — he pointed out that the conference was clearly a CNCS affair — but whatever the case, Etienne now says Johnson won’t be there. “We’ve learned from Cities of Service, the organizer of the panel, that Mayor Johnson is not attending the conference,” Etienne said Friday. So not only is Johnson no longer speaking, he will not be there at all.