Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Emails Confirm Suzanne Jones' Account of Contact with SCS Board Chair Chris Caldwell

As background, please read Suzanne Jones Caught in a Crossfire of Accusations, Publicly Scolded at GMSD Budget Work Session.

Because this blog promotes transparency above all, I thought it a good idea to look further at the communications that took place between Ms. Jones and SCS Board Chair Chris Caldwell.  Ms. Jones has provided a detailed description of those communications.
Suzanne Jones Statement
Mr. Caldwell's description of those same communications, as portrayed in Jennifer Pignolet's article in the Commercial Appeal, directly contradicted Ms. Jones. As I now explain, the facts, based on the evidence I have been able to review to date, reveal that Ms. Jones' version is 100% correct.  

Let's now review Ms. Jones' and Mr. Caldwell's differing accounts.

Mr. Caldwell's original email to Mayor Palazzola, dated February 13, and read aloud just hours later by Linda Fisher at the GMSD Budget work session, stated the following:

There is nothing really factual or specific about the contact in this email, and it does not even name Suzanne Jones. However, the Commercial Appeal article, written in response to the "scolding" of Ms. Jones by Ms. Fisher at the budget work session, states the following: 

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, in her description of the events, states:  

I would like to be very clear….I have not tried to negotiate at any level for the 3Gs. What I did do was to try to establish a rapport with fellow Board members and Administration to begin to build relationships...........................(snip).....................................

I called him the day after my lunch and he was not receptive to my call and he asked me to send him an e-mail which I did. These occurred on January 20th. Mr. Caldwell then called me and e-mailed me on January 23rd and let me know that he did not want to speak with me again and that any and all negotiations would go through the Mayor and our School Board Chair. Since this date I have not proceeded with any conversations nor contacted any SCS board members related to the 3Gs. 

The two things I wanted to shine a light on, given the discrepancy in the two accounts:

1. Did Suzanne Jones attempt to "negotiate"?

2. Did Suzanne Jones call and email him excessively? Was her account consistent with email records?

Having already been provided with Ms. Jones' detailed account, I decided to give Mr. Caldwell the opportunity to refute or confirm her statement. I emailed him on February 20th requesting more details, and asked him if, in light of Ms. Jones' detailed account, he confirmed or denied the Commercial Appeal's portrayal of his description of his communications with Ms. Jones. He never responded to my email.

I simultaneously filed an open records request with GMSD for all emails between Mr. Caldwell and Ms. Jones. Here is the sum total of their email communication:  

As can be seen, Ms. Jones sent one email of significance, on January 20. It begins by her thanking him for his time that night. The email thus corroborates Ms. Jones' statement that she talked to him by phone that night.  Mr. Caldwell briefly responded on the 23rd, and then followed up that response with another email in which he underlined and capitalized in bold the word "IF". It is obvious that Mr. Caldwell was signaling that there might be no further negotiations for the possible purchase of the legacy schools. 

Ms. Jones briefly acknowledged receipt of Mr. Caldwell's emails. No other email communications took place between the two.  

The Commercial Appeal's story, as supposedly told by Mr. Caldwell, would have us believe that Ms. Jones was constantly harassing Mr. Caldwell.  As I have explained, the evidence squarely refutes the Commercial Appeal's version of the communications.The Commercial Appeal to date has taken no steps to clarify this story.  Assuming the newspaper is sincerely interested in accurate reporting, it should follow up with another article that reports the truth.

Many will be concerned not only by the Commercial Appeal's inaccurate story, but also by the made-for-the-media public scolding delivered by Ms. Fisher at the beginning of the February 13 budget work session.  Had Ms. Fisher not made these remarks, there would have been no story in the Commercial Appeal. One may wonder whether this was nothing more than an orchestrated scheme to cast a dedicated public servant in a bad light.

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