Sunday, January 30, 2022

District Violates FOIA Response Deadline

On January 3, 2022 I filed a FOIA Request with Richland 2 school district for information about the "gag order" that the superintendent threw at Trustee Lashonda McFadden. McFadden had spoken out at a board meeting about being prohibited from speaking with the superintendent.

What kind of absurd control is that by a school superintendent to try to stifle a school board member???

South Carolina Code of Laws is very clear about the timeline during which a public body, such as a school district, has to respond.

§30-4-30. 30-4-30 (C) Each public body, upon written request for records made under this chapter, shall within ten days (excepting Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) of the receipt of the request, notify the person making the request of its determination and the reasons for it; (C) Each public body, upon written request for records made under this chapter, shall within ten days (excepting Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) of the receipt of the request, notify the person making the request of its determination and the reasons for it; 

Ten business days from January 3rd was January 18th.

On January 24 I emailed the District a follow-up and received a reply the same day that the goal was to have it to me by the end of the week.

Of course, that department's workload blew up on Tuesday night.

No doubt the lawyers are figuring out how to avoid giving me the details of just what the communications with Lashonda have been and the communications between the superintendent and the other board members have been about the attempt, if any, to block Lashonda from communicating with the superintendent outside of board meetings.

The Board Winter Retreat is back on the District's calendar (homepage) for February 4. I had thought the Retreat was planned around Robert's Rules of Order and the introduction of a Parliamentarian, who would presumably keep future board meetings from running off the rails. I have since learned that the Retreat may be more for the purpose of trying to eliminate (or, at least, reduce) the chaos, disharmony and conflict between board members.

The Retreat on Friday is a public meeting. The public can attend. I urge you to show up. Take your recorders and cameras. More information to follow on time and location. I am planning to attend, since the District has failed to follow up with any written Trespass Notice.

Teresa Holmes whined to WIS-TV on January 28th that there is no chaos on the board. There are only three chaotic members on the board. Seriously? Has just her body been at board meetings, but not her brain? (Don't answer that.)

Holmes and Manning - Serious Mistakes

On Friday afternoon, January 28, 2022, Board Chair (sort of) Teresa Holmes and Vice-Chair James Manning were wrong to use R2i2 property for their interviews with WIS-TV. By doing so, it led the community and the viewers to believe that they were speaking for the District. They weren't.

They were not authorized by the board to speak about what had happened earlier that week at the January 25th board meeting. For them to do so, the board, as a whole, should have discussed the events and arrived at a decision (by vote) about what should be said and what should not be said.

The board obviously had not done so.

Teresa is quick to say that everyone is entitled to his own opinion. What she means is, everyone is entitled to his own opinion "even if it's wrong" (i.e., different than hers).

Listen very carefully to the words used by each in the WIS-TV interviews.

In a email to the board members on January 29th I wrote, in part, "Trustee Manning made a serious error in his remarks to WIS-TV on Friday afternoon, when he mentioned the part of my previous email (below) about returning to Richland 2 properties, without referring to the failure of the District to provide me with written Notice"

I had emailed Richland 2's security director on January 27, saying in part, "Since I have not received a written Trespass Notice, I shall assume that your verbal Trespass Notice on January 25, 2022 has expired, and I shall feel free to visit any Richland 2 property at any time."

James Manning was the first to respond (two hours later) with "... I made no mistake in my comments. No citizen has the right to put students or staff at risk. ... Your email says you “shall feel free to visit any Richland 2 property at any time”.  This type of statement , in my opinion, threatens student and staff safety. No one can show up in a classroom, on a school playground with children, etc. without following district protocols. You have once again shown that you feel you are above the law and that you do not understand legal and appropriate boundaries."

Of course, Manning made a mistake. He neglected to include my statement about the failure of the District to provide me with a written Trespass Notice. Without that, a verbal warning is just like a verbal warning on a traffic stop. Richland 2 cannot prohibit my use of public property forever with a verbal warning. 

I have requested Supt. Davis to provide me with a written retraction of Claxton's verbal Trespass Notice (warning).

For Manning to intimate that my statement "threatens student and staff safety" is more serious than his earlier error. Keep digging, James.

Illegal Board Meeting on 1/25/2022 (Board Dinner)?

Did the Richland 2 School Board engage in an illegal board meeting on January 25th, before the two bruhahas that happened in the board room?

Now I understand why I was having difficulty determining how closely related in time were my contact with the woman who turned out to be the superintendent's wife, Pamela Davis, and the confrontation involving Pamela Davis with the 14-year-old student and then with Gary Ginn and the superintendent.

Based on information I received soon after the incidents, I believed that the confrontation created by Pamela Davis involving the student had occurred after the executive session. In fact, I have that information in writing.

Something said either in the media or at the board meeting mentioned a board appreciation dinner. When I heard that, I first believed that the dinner had occurred during the executive session which is normally held between 5:30-6:30PM.

When the board re-convened after the executive session, James Manning clarified the ending time of the executive session as 6:50PM. 

Something, somewhere, was said that the executive session was "contentious". I'll have to find that remark.

I noted a hesitation in Manning's comments that night (on the Livestream recording). I recall thinking that he was being careful, even evasive, how to word his comment.

Now I know why.

Did the Board hold an illegal meeting before 5:30PM? Is that when the board appreciation dinner was? If four board members gather in one place, that's a quorum. That's an official meeting. That meeting needs to be announced to the public at least 24 hours before it begins. There needs to be an agenda and Minutes. 

Even if it's "just" a dinner. Or attending a party (like the gathering at the Fort Jackson Commanding Officer's home last fall). The public is due Notice of a gathering of four or more board members. There is too much opportunity for discussing of business. The public is not there to witness it and to be certain that no official business is discussed.

It is critical that a public body (school board) appear every appearance of impropriety. Well, that's what some people think. How does the Richland 2 Board think?

I raised this issue previously with Richland 2, and the PR Department said the District does not have to give Notice of social gatherings. I wish I thought they were right. I don't.

When I was attending City Council meetings in Woodstock, Ill. before I moved to South Carolina, I never thought they would be such good training for understanding the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act. I attended a training for Appointed and Elected Officials that was conducted by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. I was not an official and held my questions until the end of the meeting. After the meeting the women from the AG's office told me that my questions were better than any than had been asked by the offcials. 

No Charges by RCSD???

How does a 14-year-old feel threatened at a Richland 2 school board meeting and no charges are filed?

Read the news article on WACH FOX 57, dated January 29, 2022, by Syndi Edwards. The 14-year-old told the reporter that Mrs. Davis said to him, "’re an effing child..."

How can the Richland County Sheriff's Department and the Fifth Circuit Solicitor shut their eyes and not file charges against Pamela Davis?

How can the Richland 2 school board not conduct a Special Meeting to uncover EXACTLY who said what, and when it was said?

It's called COVER-UP and White Wash.

And read this article on WACH FOX 57 by Maegan Carter on January 29, 2022. This article containes Richland 2's recitation of the incident. 

I worked at the Sears, Roebuck and Co. headquarters in the late 1990s and had an opportunity to observe first-hand how big business responds to a public incident. Before a statement is ever released to the public, certain officers and the lawyers spend a lot of time crafting the statement to be exactly the way they want it. And obviously to dispel any responsibility for what had happened.

The Richland 2 version in Maegan Carter's article shows just that same type of creative wordsmithing, designed to avoid all blame and to acknowledge no responsibility.