Why did the state Department of Education pay a community activist for tech services?

Joseph B. Kyles
Joseph B. Kyles

State officials have been trying to figure out why the Mississippi Department of Education was buying information technology goods from Memphis community activist Joseph B. Kyles.

So far MDE’s only explanation has been that whoever authorized paying him more than $214,469 in fiscal 2015 is no longer with the agency and that they cannot locate any contract or other paperwork beyond the payment invoices.

Kyles has been the head of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition for Memphis and has been active in the Black Lives Matter movement, including a protest that shut down the Hernando DeSoto Bridge over the Mississippi River, according to The Commercial Appeal newspaper.

He also made news late last year with his arrest on an aggravated assault charge for allegedly choking his pregnant girlfriend, according to numerous Memphis news reports.

Kyles has not returned multiple calls from The Clarion-Ledger seeking comment since last week.

Records show Kyles owns a company called The Kyles Company, which filed as an LLC in Tennessee in 2015, but has since been dissolved. An online reference to the company described it as an international business development company. Mississippi secretary of state records showed no registration for the company, but the office said such a company should be registered here if doing business in Mississippi.

The five payments by MDE to Kyles in fiscal 2015 were all below $50,000, the threshold that would have triggered a competitive bidding requirement. But they all appear to be for the same project, according to scant invoice records.

In addition to the five payments totaling $214,000 in fiscal 2015, MDE contracted with the Kyles Company in 2016 for $49,908 as a consultant.

MDE said in response to a probe of the Kyles spending that it does have documentation to show Kyles did provide the goods and services for which he was paid.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering on Thursday said he was not satisfied that Kyles was a legitimate vendor from which the state should be buying information technology equipment.

Pickering called the purchases, “not just a red flag, but a red neon sign with an arrow on it, pointing.”