You Made People Uncomfortable

010512 Board

Standing silently, making eye contact, and making people feel uncomfortable are now considered threats at Huntsville City Schools Board of Education meetings.

Honestly, I really don’t know why any of you believe what I post here about the school board. Most of the time, if I didn’t see it for myself, I wouldn’t believe it either.

You’d think by that point, I’d be over my ability to be shocked by the board and the superintendent, but the six of them just kept pushing the limits of credulity. They claimed that they knew they were meeting IEPs because they weren’t being sued. They thought paying $1.9 million dollars to recruit unqualified “teachers” to teach when they could instead hire qualified teachers for $1.9 million less was a great idea. They suggested filing a grievance would be the best way to get a response, and then moments later decided that the grievance policy didn’t apply to them.

If I were writing a novel, no one would ever publish it. It’s too ridiculous.

And Thursday night, the ridiculousness continued.

This all started on December 15th. That night, I read my statement, and with about 90 seconds remaining, I stood, silently waiting for an answer from the board for approximately 80 of those seconds. I did not move my hands nor my feet. I stood still, making eye contact with each of the board members as well as the superintendent. When my time clock approached 15 seconds remaining, I said, “Thank you,” and I took my seat.

It seems that standing and waiting about 80 seconds for an answer to a question that I’ve been asking for three months is considered threatening, or so I was informed by Mr. Alfred Lankford, the head of Board Security, in a private discussion Thursday night before the board meeting. Mr. Lankford tapped me on the shoulder as I was sitting waiting for the board meeting to begin, and asked me if he could speak with me in private. As he and I have spoken to each other often at meetings before, I quickly agreed. While looking for a private room to have our conversation, he asked for Mr. Jeff Broadway the other board security officer to join us. Mr. Broadway did not speak during our discussion.

I want to make one thing clear. I like Mr. Lankford and Mr. Broadway. They are both nice guys, and I am fully aware that they have a difficult job. It is not my intention to make their job harder.

Thursday night I was informed by Mr. Lankford that if I wish to speak during the Citizen’s Comments section of the board meeting, I would not be allowed to stand silently waiting for an answer. I would have to speak and then sit down. The consequences of pulling this “stunt” again would mean that I would be banned from all future board meetings.

Mr. Lankford went on to inform me that I had made “everyone” feel uncomfortable and that he considered my actions as a threat. He certainly hoped that I didn’t intend to threaten others.

I asked him if this new rule was being applied to everyone or just to me, and he said everyone. He followed this up by saying, “This was my call as security, so don’t blame Dr. Wardynski.”

I had a difficult time not laughing when he said this to me.

He then told me that if I had questions for the board, I should ask them via email or in a private meeting. I suppose that Mr. Lankford was too busy watching for threats to actually listen to the content of my comments. Sometimes silence speaks much louder than words.

We concluded our meeting with him asking me if I understood the consequences of what would happen if I tried my “stunt” again. I assured him that I did, offered him my hand and left to take my seat to wait for Mr. Blair to read his Citizen’s Comments preamble at the end of the meeting.

Before allowing citizens to speak at the board meetings, Mr. Blair reads the following text:

The Citizen Comments section of the board agenda provides an opportunity for public comment on any item concerning public education and provides for any resident up to three minutes to fully present his or her position on a particular issue. Speakers are required to include their name and address before speaking. A speaker cannot delegate his or her time to another person. Speakers will not be limited unless they become repetitive and no new information is provided. The time clock is displayed in the front board station. We request that no one make any disparaging remarks, comments or statements pertaining to the good name and character of any individual. Finally, please do not expect any board action or response on a request or a comment made under this section. This will allow the board the opportunity to responsibly study, research all expressed concerns, issues or requests.

There were no changes to the preamble from the previous meetings I have attended.

After the meeting, I approached Mr. Lankford for some clarification.

Seeing me, he smiled and jokingly asked why I didn’t speak tonight. I informed him that it had never been my intention to speak tonight, but that I did have something that I needed him to clarify for me.

RW: So, let me make sure that I understand your position.

AL: Okay.

RW: You, and others, believe that a person standing silently is making a threat?

AL: Well, there was a lot of staring as well.

RW: You’re right. The board members were staring at me. I was making eye-contact. But again, you believe that is making a threat?

AL: You made a lot of people in the audience uncomfortable. You can’t do that. I’m not sure that the board even noticed. It’s my job to make sure that people aren’t uncomfortable in the board meetings.

RW: Listen, I want you to know that it was not my intention to threaten anyone. Nor did I intend to make your job more difficult. If I did, I’m sorry.

To those people sitting in the audience on Thursday, December 15th, I would like to offer you my apology as well. It was not my intention to make any of you feel threatened nor to make you uncomfortable. If I have caused your Christmas holidays to be less than a joyous occasion, please let me know so that I may apologize to you personally. My questions, on the other hand, were specifically intended to make the board uncomfortable. It seems that it worked.

Waiting quietly for answers, making eye contact, and generally making people feel uncomfortable are all off limits now. At least for me. I would therefore suggest to Mr. Blair the following changes to his “Preamble” to Citizen’s Comments.

The Citizen Comments section of the board agenda provides an opportunity for public comment on any item concerning public education and provides for any resident up to three minutes to fully present his or her position on a particular issue. It also provides us an opportunity to appear to care about the little people as we pack up to go home. Speakers are required to include their name and address before speaking. A speaker must show the expected reverence due to the board of education when approaching the board. A speaker cannot delegate his or her time to another person. A speaker should approach the board slowly and quietly as the board members are easily threatened. We suggest that speakers keep their heads down at all times as eye contact with your superiors is inappropriate. Speakers will not be limited unless they become repetitive and no new information is provided or unless we’re just sick of hearing from you. The time clock is displayed in the front board station. God help you if you make any disparaging remarks, comments or statements pertaining to the good name and character of any individual. Finally, please do not expect any board action or response on a request or a comment made under this section unless you have sued us. This will allow the board the opportunity to pretend to responsibly study, research all expressed concerns, issues or requests and quietly dismiss them without embarrassment to us or harming our reelection campaigns.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

48 Comments

  1. Russell: I’m with you. Just when you think it can’t get any more ridiculous, it does. How could you be perceived as threatening? And why do they get to not provide answers to questions? What’s the point of having a citizen comment option? This is IDIOTIC! And the security people need to get a clue. I think it’s a way for the board to try to intimidate you into not blogging about the meetings and to shut you up. Don’t let them. You are well within your rights, and we all lose if their bullying tactics win.

    Rhonda

  2. and i do believe that would be censorship and a 1st amendment violation, although i am not positive about the latter. keep giving them hell until they get it right, or until we can vote them all out for some who will.

  3. Being at both meetings I feel the Mr. Lankford’s conversation was unnessary. As you implied above, seems to me an open forum is no longer acceptable. You have graciously accepted this undertaking, and are doing an excellent job with it. Thank you.

    If Mr. Lankford was truly a good security officer he would of done his research first, before just assuming a threat. By being so foolish as to open his mouth and attack your character. This is a school board meeting. Not a UN Convention. If he had done so he would of known how educated and informed you are. Professor not student. Passionate, but not intimidating. He would of realized that the sometimes silence is just that, pause for effect. Just as lawyers have done in court.

    We know as parents this is part of the job. Being our child’s best advocate. In most cases only. In every IEP meeting I am repeatedly told by HSVCS staff that this is what is expected of me as a parent.

    Not only do I find Wardynski’s methods condescending and hypocritical, but pathetic. Wardynski had to have taken a part. One thing that was not mentioned was the extra police officer. I don’t think in a situation of upped security would have not been mentioned to him or the rest of the board.

    Thank you again for all your continuous effects. Keep up the fight.

    1. Thanks Aysha. I agree. We are the only advocate our children have. No one else is going to do it for us. We have to speak (or stand silently) for those who cannot.

  4. Perhaps you ought to prepare an innocuous interpretive dance to fill the silent seconds following your questions. After all, who would find that threatening?

    Kidding aside, it is a common misconception that First Amendment speech freedom is absolute. Courts have routinely upheld time/place/manner restrictions on speech rights. Silence and symbolic speech (think flag-burning) are all subject to governmental regulation to ensure the safety of both the speaker and those in the vicinity. Note, however, that the audience’s “comfort” is not a consideration that enters into the evaluation of whether speech ought to be regulated. If the head of security is acting of his own accord, he has overstepped his authority. If the members of the board have directed this action, they have overstepped theirs.

    1. Oh my dear god, the idea of me dancing would absolutely be a threat. I would think being summarily executed would be about right at that point. 🙂

      You’re absolutely right that public safety regularly and often trumps the First Amendment. As I said to Mr. Lankford, it wasn’t my intention to make his job more difficult. I appreciate him being there and being willing to risk his well-being for mine.

      Although Mr. Lankford assured me that this was his decision, I have no doubt whatsoever that the discussion he had with me was done with Dr. Wardynski’s full knowledge and approval. It happened, after all, not during the “stunt” but rather two weeks after. Dr. Wardynski has pushed hard from day one to assert his control over his staff. I don’t believe that this happened without his knowledge.

  5. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s hilarious that they think proper etiquette (waiting for a person to answer a question when asked one) is threatening. It’s sad that this is the kind of thing time and money is spent on.

  6. “Mr. Lankford went on to inform me that I had made “everyone” feel uncomfortable and that he considered my actions as a threat. He certainly hoped that I didn’t intend to threaten others.”

    You better be glad they didn’t have you arrested and prosecuted and convicted.

    “We concluded our meeting with him asking me if I understood the consequences of what would happen if I tried my “stunt” again. I assured him that I did,”

    That sounds like a threat to me.

    “I want to make one thing clear. I like Mr. Lankford and Mr. Broadway. They are both nice guys, and I am fully aware that they have a difficult job. It is not my intention to make their job harder.”

    Uh, that was not nice and it’s not their job to use their authority to intimidate and threaten taxpayers…you know the people who pay their salaries.

    I wish we could get 25 people or more to sign up to speak and stand silently at the podium during CITIZENS COMMENTS.

    They work for us.
    We don’t work for them.

    I’m going to remember this when they come around asking for my vote/support votes at election time.

    That’s not a threat.
    It’s a promise.

    It’s not wise to threaten tax payers.

  7. Corrections for clarification

    You better be glad they didn’t have you arrested,prosecuted and convicted.

    I’m going to remember this when they come around asking for my vote/support at election time.

  8. I would ask an opinion from the Alabama Ethics Commission. I do believe your 1st Amendment Rights are being violated. You were not facing the audience so they did not feel threaten. It was Casey so he needs to get accustomed to being criticized and get over it. If he has it his way there would be no Citizens Comments.

  9. there actually is case law supporting you that having audience comments is an open forum and cannot be infringed. even the “no disparaging comments” has been ruled invalid. they continue to tread on dangerous ground.

  10. Thank you for keeping us informed about what happens (or doesn’t happen) inside the board meetings. We are new to the HSV City Schools system. Please clarify for us when we can vote for board members and which ones are up for election next time. It is truly appalling that time was wasted by their staff to tell you that standing silently is offensive.

    1. It certainly is true that McCauley and Morrison are the only two board members who have ever voted against anything that Wardynski has recommended (The Teach for America contract, comes to mind), they do bare part of the responsibility. Neither have pushed at all for a response to the cuts in SPED. Both voted in support of the budget.

      However, it is possible for Wardynski’s support on the board to grow in this election cycle if they are voted out, and I believe that would be a tragedy for our kids, schools, and community.

      The three most ardent supporters of Dr. Wardynski on the board, Robinson, Blair, and Birney aren’t up for re-election until 2014.

      They are, however, subject to recall, but that would be extremely difficult.

  11. Just sitting here this AM, having coffee, and wondering a few things: (playing devils advocate again…LOL):
    1. Is it possible that Wardynski’s “Sue Us” comment was meant as a possible scapegoat of sorts to bring attention to an issue that he knows exists and can’t control? (i.e. Was HE the one that suggested the Special Ed budget cuts, OR did it get put into the budget by someone else and he was “railroaded” into it? Is it possible that he secretly/silently OPPOSES those cuts that were made? I don’t know all the history on the Budget “processes.” thus my asking…. If so, this would explain the bizarre response of “Sue Us,” as maybe he favors this being brought to light?!? As odd as this scenario sounds, I still can’t wrap my mind around why someone would have responded this way, and something seems REALLY ODD about it….
    2. Jedi’s commonly used silence as part of their “Jedi Mind Tricks.” Use the Force next time, Obi-Wan. 😉 lololol
    3. Wouldn’t THEIR silence during your 3 minutes be deemed equally “threatening?”
    4. In light of the fact that these Sessions are video’ed, I wouldn’t sweat this one. Any legal action arising from your “Threatening Silence” would probably be laughable, at best.
    Furthermore, banning you from future sessions (based SOLELY on your Blog, Questions, Silence, etc) would infringe on your Constitutional Rights, and probably open up the biggest sh*t-storm they have ever seen.

    1. Dusty,

      Thanks for reading and for the questions. I really appreciate it when people question what I write and play “devil’s advocate” with me. It helps us all gain a better understanding of the truth.

      Now to your question. Honestly, I have no idea what motivates Dr. Wardynski, and I would be just guessing if I said I did. I typically try to avoid doing that at least on the blog. It is possible that Dr. Wardynski opposes the cuts, but I sincerely doubt it. Here’s why:
      1. There’s no evidence at all that he thinks SPED is underfunded, but based on his comments with Mr. Spinelli in the Budget Hearings on September 8th, there does seem to be evidence that he believes that SPED is over funded. You can read my transcript of their discussion in “The Rule of Gold” post that I put up on December 9th. I believe that he is convinced that we are spending too much money on SPED students. I believe that many on the board, particularly Dr. Robinson, believes that this is the case as well. I am basing this on her comments/questions during Mr. King’s follow-up SPED report that he, inexplicably, offered on November 17th.

      2. Other than receiving input from the state and somewhat from the Justice Department, Dr. Wardynski is completely responsible for the creation of the Huntsville City School Budget. This budget was developed by Mr. Spinelli, whom Wardynski brought in with him from Aurora, CO. as CSFO, and was recommended to the board by Wardynski himself. The Board then voted unanimously to approve the budget. I do not believe that the state reviewed the budget until after it had been passed by the board. (They passed it on September 8th because it had to be submitted to the state department of education by September 15th, I believe.)

      So, perhaps he does believe that this should be brought to light, but if he does, then he has done an excellent job of pretending that he doesn’t believe it should be. Why would he find that necessary?

      3. He regularly, as can be seen in today’s article about the E-Verify process that the system much undergo to meet the requirements of new immigration law, expresses his opinion and often disdain for things that he disagrees with. I cannot think of a reason why he would not do the same about SPED funding if he believed it to be a mistake.

      Finally, since I’ve been asking about these cuts both publicly and privately since September, I find it difficult to believe that if he agreed with me that they were wrong but couldn’t say so, that he couldn’t find some way of quietly contacting to let me know that he agrees and would like me to push the question on a legal level.

      I think the simpler explanation is that he thinks I’m unwilling to sue, and therefore he was calling what he believed to be a bluff on my part. But I could of course be wrong.

      I’m not at all concerned about my conversation with Mr. Lankford, nor am I concerned about being “banned” from attending the meetings. All it would mean is that I wouldn’t have to waste every other Thursday night listening to them tell each other just how hard being a board member is. 🙂

  12. (Continued)…
    And I think they are aware of this. This is just a feeble attempt at getting rid of the squeaky wheel. Why not just send you a “Cease and Desist” via the Law Firm that it seems we use so much here lately (if you are TRULY “Out of Bounds?”) …. Because you have done nothing LEGALLY WRONG, that’s why.
    All of this is just my Opinion, just for the record. (Insert Silence Here.) 😉

  13. I am really concerned about the information you provide here and it seems to me like you are in the right on so many points. But I’m a little confused by this post. When Mr. Blair read the statement that included, “Finally, please do not expect any board action or response on a request or a comment made under this section. This will allow the board the opportunity to responsibly study, research all expressed concerns, issues or requests.”, was this a new “rule.” Has the protocol changed from the past that they used to provide responses to citizen commnents? If not, then why were you standing waiting for a response? Could you clarify?

    1. Ms. Bryant,
      As I said to Dusty, thank you for reading and for asking this question. I apologize for not making my post and reasons clearer. I’ll try and do so now.

      I have been asking about the $7 million dollars in cuts in SPED funding since September. I began asking about them by contacting my board member, Dr. Robinson, in private via email on September 24th. She responded on September 29th, that Dr. Wardynski was planning to offer another presentation concerning SPED funding in November. As I detailed in “Ignoring the Public” Dr. Robinson told me that I would “have my answers in November.”

      On November 17th, Mr. King offered a presentation on SPED staffing and costs per student, but he did not discuss the $7 million in cuts to SPED funding (those are their numbers, by the way, not mine) in any way. I was the only person who brought up those cuts during that meeting and I did so during the public comments. They offered no response.

      I continued to raise the issue both publicly and privately through every channel that they offer up until the December 15th meeting. As I stated in my comments to the board that night, they had three months to formulate a response, and I was offering them one last chance to respond.

      All of that is background to your question. No, the “please do not expect any board action” statement is not new. That statement has been in their preamble for as long as I have been attending board meetings.

      So why did I expect an answer?

      First, because they often break their own rules. That very night they allowed the speaker that preceded me to delegate part of her time to a student she had brought with her. I agreed with them doing this; it was the right thing to do. But it was a change in their response.

      Second, I expected an answer because Dr. Wardynski himself has actually responded to my questions/statements before. You can read about his response in my post “Nationally Competitive or State Competitive Salaries.”

      So to finally get to your question directly: I was standing and waiting for a response to offer them one final opportunity to avoid legal involvement in this matter. I don’t want to sue the district. It’s a complete waste of money that should be used to help our kids. I was attempting to do everything I could to avoid that. I was attempting to draw public attention to the matter. I was attempting to encourage them to simply answer a question without having to be sued.

      They refused.

      I hope that helps you understand my thinking. Thanks again for asking; if you have any follow up questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I appreciate it when people challenge me.

  14. This is really all that the Board’s By-Laws state, and it doesn’t seem to address their responsibility (or lack thereof) to respond:
    Non-Agenda Comments – Citizen non-agenda comments are welcome, but should not unnecessarily delay the conducting of the business of the Board of Education.  To that end, citizen non-agenda comments will be limited to four (4) minutes in length.  A speaker may not delegate his or her time to another person.  Citizen non-agenda comments shall be placed at the end of the Work Session agenda and shall be placed after the section entitled “Resolutions” on the Business Meeting agenda.

    Agenda Comments – Citizen comments germane to a topic on the Work Session agenda may be allowed at the conclusion of Board member questions and comments, but will be limited to the specific issue under discussion at the time of the comment. Citizen comments regarding topics on the Business Meeting agenda are permitted during the time allotted for comments as set forth in paragraph six above and shall not be permitted at any other time during the Business Meeting.

    The Board requests that citizens who plan to address the Board during the “Citizen Non-Agenda Input” item on the agenda provide written input to the superintendent, board president, or board clerk.

  15. “Why not just send you a “Cease and Desist” via the Law Firm that it seems we use so much here”

    Remember when Board VP moved out of the District he was elected to represent and didn’t tell anyone and when it did surface he lied and said he had an apartment in the district and Councilman Bill Kling implied he and his wife were separating?

    Please give details on recall, I fear the money people are gearing up to take McCaully and Morrisons seats.

    1. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I don’t remember when the Board VP moved out of the district. I agree that McCaulley and Morrison (if she runs) will face challenges from the same people who support Robinson, Blair, and Birney. This would be a bad outcome for the students in our community.

      1. It’s not a shout out, I am shouting out against suppressing dissent, censorship and injustice.

        “Silence helps the oppressor not the oppressed.”

        “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”

        “Freedom isn’t FREE”.

        We need to get off these keyboards and attend the next school board meeting in support of teachers, administrators, support personnel and most importantly the students who are our hope for the future.

  16. The corporatists, Doug Martinson, David Blair and their leader, Jennie Robinson built fancy schools to appease land developers, got us 20 million in a hole – and have gotten away with it! You never even hear about it anymore! Why are they not being held accountable?

    Somebody like Russell comes along and is smart enough to decipher their tricks and expose them to the public – and now they’re threatening to ban him from their meetings? Ain’t gonna happen.

    Every school system needs a Russell. There are millions and millions of dollars in education and there are people out there just itching to get their hands on it.

    Keep up the good work, Russell. We really need you.

    1. Thank you Esther. I really appreciate the support, and all that you do to get the word out. I’m hopeful that there are hundreds of thousands of others willing to step up and watch, too. I’m not smart enough to do this on my own; I’m sure there are hundreds of things that need attention that I’m missing.

      Thanks for reading!

  17. Lots of people who have influenced important changes have stood (or sat) silently, and have been treated the way you have been. We need to get you a rotating set of shirts for these meeting featuring Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Norma Rae… at least you’ll be in good company.

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