Of the many dubious characters involved in Seattle Public Schools' financial scandal, Fred Stephens seems one of the biggest puzzles. Stephens was the direct supervisor of Silas Potter, the ex-furniture repairman who ran the small-business program that according to the state auditor's office wasted close to $2 million. Clearly, Stephens utterly failed in that capacity--and yet he later got a plum job under Gary Locke at the U.S. Department of Commerce. One piece of the puzzle may lie in a tragic event that surely preoccupied Stephens for part of his time at the school district.
The two-hour video captured the two men lounging with friends in the 106-degree pool after a night of drinking beer, Red Bull, vodka and snorting what a defense attorney called a "golf ball-sized pile of cocaine."
But what originally started as horseplay between Hessemer and Stephens in the hot tub escalated to violence once the two men were left alone. In the soundless surveillance video, Hessemer and Stephens could be seen fighting minutes before Stephens drowned.
Hessemer was found guilty of manslaughter the following year.
At the time of the young Stephens' death, Potter was ramping up his program. Then in its second year, the program's expenditures rose from $657,000 in 2007 to nearly $762,000 in 2008, according to figures supplied to Seattle Weekly by the auditor's office. They would top $1 million in 2009.
Stephens, the district's facilities director, already had cut Potter way too much slack by the time of the killing. When questions arose about false information supplied by Potter in 2007, Stephens allegedly told a Seattle schools attorney: "We need to make the program look good."
Yet Stephens' loss is bound to have had an effect on his later job performance. And he would do much better to admit it than to give the lame excuse he e-mailed to The Seattle Times on Friday, which was that the whole mess was the fault of "Potter's dishonest behavior."