Rep. Johnson supporters urge forgiveness in scholarship flap

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by GROMER JEFFERS JR. and MELANIE MASON

The Dallas Morning News

Posted on September 13, 2010 at 6:55 PM

DALLAS — Ministers and other community leaders from Dallas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's congressional district urged Monday that people accept her explanation about her handling of charitable scholarships and move on from the controversy surrounding it.

"We all make mistakes," said community leader Willie Mae Coleman at a rally at Dallas City Hall. "We've all done things that weren't right. But I forgive her, and it's over and done. let's all move on."

Johnson did not attend the rally, which came two weeks after The Dallas Morning News reported that the Dallas Democrat awarded at least 23 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarships to relatives and children of a top aide – a violation of the foundation's anti-nepotism and residency rules.

Johnson has said she made a mistake and has repaid the foundation $31,000. She also announced last week the formation of a committee to help screen scholarship applicants.

That should be enough to quell the uproar, her backers argued.

The five-person scholarship-review panel – comprising local educators and community activists, as well as her former district office director — will have its first meeting today.

Committee member Raul Magdaleno, director of diversity and community outreach at Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts, said the panel would serve as an independent third-party to screen applications.

"It's one of the best practices that should be implemented across the board," Magdaleno said. "It decreases the amount of error and bias."

King said the rally organizers support formation of the committee but have had no interaction with the panel's members.

"We want them to remain autonomous," he said.

On Saturday, Johnson made her first public appearance since the scholarship controversy surfaced. At the 18th annual community park picnic in her district, Johnson said she was ready to move past the scandal.

"I have not done anything to violate any laws," she told WFAA. "I haven't taken any new cars. I have not taken any money from the government, and I feel fine going forward."

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