Alabama board of education member arrested on ethics charges; here’s what she’s accused of doing
Published 9:33 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023
An Escambia County Board of Education board member was arrested today on ethics charges, according to officials.
According to an arrest warrant, an indictment was returned by the grand jury, charging Sherry Digmon, 72, of Atmore, on the offense of using her position and materials for personal gain.
According to the indictment, count one alleges Digmon, who is serving as the board member for District 6, did in the course of her position as a school board member, use her position for personal financial gain by selling ads in a publication, Atmore Magazine and/or Grace Publishing LLC, which she has a financial interest in and which received a financial gain in excess of $2,500, in violation of Code of Alabama 36-25-5(a).
Count two of the indictment alleges Digmon did in the course of her position as a school board member solicit a thing of value U.S. currency for payment of advertising, from a subordinate, Superintendent John Knot and/or Chief School Financial Officer Julie Madden, by soliciting ads for the financial benefit of a business, to-wit: Atmore Magazine and/or Grace Publishing LLC, which she has a financial interest in and having a financial gain in excess of $2,500, in violation of Code of Alabama 13A-25-5(d).
District Attorney Steve Billy said the arrest today stems from the ads that were approved by the board for the Atmore News’ magazine.
“The school board was buying ads in her newspaper, but we didn’t consider those because they were comparable to other newspapers,” Billy said. “The concern, or what was reported to us, was the amount of ads, the number of ads and how much they were spending.”
Billy said during board of education meetings, the board votes on the paying of financials, which she should’ve abstained from voting during the meeting.
“Of course, count two is soliciting a thing of value from a subordinate, which count two of the indictment alleges,” he said. “It was an amount well above $2,500.”
Billy said Digmon turned herself in, and her bond, which was set by the grand jury, was $100,000. Digmon was booked at 11:01 a.m., and released at 11:45 a.m.
“Her next court appearance would be an arraignment date,” Billy said. “Once the arraignment comes, and she enters a plea, we’ll start exchanging discovery. It’ll then be on track for a trial.”
Billy said essentially, it was two counts for ethics violations. Both are under different subsections.
“Both are Class B felonies, which carries a punishment of 2-20 years,” he said.
Billy said the investigation into Digmon goes back even before the previous board of education administration.
“This is part of an ongoing investigation that’s been ongoing for a while,” he said. “It’s nothing our current superintendent (Michele McClung) had nothing to do with.”
This is the second arrest for Digmon in six days. She was arrested Oct. 27 for publishing grand jury information, which is secret by statute. Digmon is the co-owner and publisher of the Atmore News.
Digmon, Atmore News reporter Don Fletcher and Escambia County School System Payroll/Benefits Clerk Veronica Fore were arrested — and released — on Friday. All three were released within hours of their arrests.
Billy said Saturday that both Digmon and Fletcher were arrested for breaking the law, for publishing jury information that’s secret by statute.
“It’s not allowed,” Billy said. “All three of them were all charged with the same thing. But, you just can’t do that, and there’s no reason for that. Innocent people get exposed, and it causes a lot of trouble for people.”
Billy said the arrest stems from the publishing of an article, which was in the Atmore News where a subpoena and COVID checks were mentioned, and “even called out some names.” The article was published in the Wed., Oct. 25, edition.
“They also mentioned – and I was at the school board meeting on the (Oct.) 12th, and they said I mentioned that (subpoena and COVID checks) at the school board meeting, which is not correct at all,” he said. “I didn’t mention anything about COVID at all. That was just misinformation. They were at the meeting. That was, I think, calculated.”
During the meeting Billy was referring, the district attorney spoke in defense of Superintendent Michele McClung, whose contract was not renewed by the board.
When asked if there are any future arrests that will occur, Billy said he couldn’t comment.
“All I can say is that this has been an ongoing investigation,” Billy said. “This was way before the school board vote (to non-renew McClung’s contract). Regardless of how the vote went, the investigation would’ve happened anyway.
“Another thing I wanted to clear up is they keep (saying) this was initiated by Ms. McClung, and that is totally not true,” he said. “This was initiated by employees and basically a couple of members of the community. The superintendent did not initiate this. She’s getting a lot of blow back from it, and that’s not what she deserves.”
Billy said Fore was the person the subpoena was served on, adding that it was advised by the sheriff that it was a criminal offense to divulge it (the subpoena).
“It started with her,” he said. “That’s our belief.”
Digmon and Fletcher had no comment.