Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Suzanne Jones Caught in Crossfire of Accusations; Publicly Scolded at GMSD Budget Work Session

I will get to the "public scolding" shortly, but this report has to be chronological to understand it. 

Meg Skinner Jackson attended the joint retreat of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the GMSD Board, and reported on an incident that she witnessed. It sparked a lot of discussion on the GMS Discussion Group on Facebook:

Note: I received permission from the author to repost this here.  She bowed out of the discussion due to her need to finish a project, but I think she may have set some sort of record for the group. This post spawned over 600 responses and several other threads were started on the same subject. 

It was telling to me that Mark Billingsly, Shelby County Commissioner from Germantown, had no idea about the "soft offer" and said he would never discuss an offer that was not in writing.

In general, in the Facebook group there was a lot of support for the idea to make a written offer rather than a "soft" offer, and there was lots of conjecture about whether or not the administration was really serious about wanting to purchase Germantown Elementary School and Germantown Middle School from SCS (Shelby County Schools). This issue stems from the formation of the new district in 2014. SCS would not release these three schools to GMSD because of the number of non-Germantown students assigned to the schools. Many residents felt misled and were angered when the City agreed to give them up without a stronger fight. Some of those old resentments bubbled up with this new issue.

Apparently someone in power did not like the tone of the messages. The next thing we know an email to the Mayor is leaked to the Facebook group. Well, parts of it were posted, but the whole text of it was later revealed in a report in JAM in Germantown. The author is Chris Caldwell, the chairman of the Shelby County School Board. Here is the text: 

It was clear that he was referring to Ms. Jones, although he did not mention her name in the email. First of all, Suzanne Jones happened to have the largest margin of victory in any contested municipal race in the recent election, and is very popular. She was not supported by the Mayor. Part of her platform was to try to build a relationship with SCS to help facilitate a purchase of at least one or two of the schools for GMSD.  It is important to do that as soon as possible, because we desperately need a new elementary school, and GMSD will likely sign a contract soon for a property for a new school.  Once the sale of the property closes, there will be no need for Germantown Elementary.  

There is one positive revelation in Mr. Caldwell's email. Mark Billingsly will now be included in the discussions. That is welcomed by everyone in the City, and seems to be a direct result of Suzanne bringing up the 3G negotiations at the retreat.

Almost as soon as the Mayor received the email on the 13th of this month, he distributed it to the aldermen, Jason Manuel, GMSD superintendent, and Linda Fisher, chairman of the school board. The mayor asked that they share it with the rest of the school board.  The timing was particularly interesting because the GMSD work session for the budget was scheduled later on that day. The press, of course, often attends these work sessions. 

Here is JAM in Germantown's report on the GMSD work session: 

Linda Fisher neglected to forward the Mayor's email to the rest of the board (including Suzanne Jones) until after the meeting when this confrontation took place. 

Since this is a blog, I have the right to insert my opinion in the middle of an otherwise factual account. I was aghast at this. I cannot stand public humiliation or bullying. Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that Ms. Jones was not engaged in productive behavior, it is completely unprofessional and inappropriate to handle the situation in this manner. Furthermore, the whole thing smacks of a setup to me--The email was perfectly timed and shared just prior to the public meeting where the press could have been present. I was particularly disheartened by the public humiliation and cross examination of Ms. Jones by Linda Fisher, who was supported by the Mayor in her election campaign. How did she fall for this scam? I believe it was all done for the benefit of the press, in order to "scold" Ms. Jones for attempting to fulfill her campaign promises. 

Am I resorting to unfounded speculation in asserting that this was a deliberate attempt to discredit Ms. Jones? No. It fits a pattern of vicious attacks on political opponents by this administration.  I will provide you with one reminder. Do you remember when they had the staff prepare press packets lambasting a volunteer football organization and coach, and accused the organization of somehow endangering the City's tax status because of its contract with the football league? (That was a doozie.) 

This will refresh your memory. 

Germantown Plays Political Football with Popular Sports Program

Naturally, even though nobody from the Commercial Appeal attended the meeting, Jennifer Pignolet was either tipped off or picked up the story on social media, and she came out with an article about the scolding of Ms. Jones during the budget work session. So the administration's ploy worked just the way it intended.

Germantown School Board Member Scolded for SCS Outreach 

Oddly enough, the only person quoted in the CA's article who seemed at all disturbed by the behavior of Ms. Jones was Chris Caldwell. Dorsey Hopson, superintendant of SCS, had lunch with Ms. Jones on the same subject and didn't seem a bit bothered by it.  

Mr. Caldwell seemed to double down on his criticism. 

Shelby County Schools board Chairman Chris Caldwell slammed a Germantown Municipal School District board member this week for continuously negotiating with him and other SCS board members over control of the suburb's three namesake schools.

Caldwell said Suzanne Jones, elected in November, called him and sent him emails to the point where he asked her to stop contacting him.

Suzanne Jones just put out a statement about this incident. You can judge for yourself, but I feel that she is completely blameless in this incident. In fact, she was simply fulfilling her campaign promises, and her account and timeline does not sound anything like the above characterization in the newspaper article.   

Suzanne Jones is dedicated to transparency and the betterment of education for our children.  We need more public servants like her.

Note: There were two errors in my original posting that I changed within a few hours.  The original post said that Ms. Pignolet attended the Budget Work Session, and she did not. The original post said that the Mayor forwarded Mr. Caldwell's email to the members of BMA and GMSD. In fact, he forwarded it only to the BMA, Linda Fisher, Board Chairman of GMSD, and Jason Manuel, Superintendent. 


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