By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Feelings ran high following a chamber of commerce luncheon after a school board candidate did not follow the forum’s planned format.
Chamber President and Piedmont Vice Mayor Bobby Williamson was the moderator for the forum that featured school board candidates Greg Duffy and Karen Green.
The board election is set Tuesday, Feb. 13. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Williamson announced the specific format for Piedmont Board of Education President Green and challenger Duffy. However, the meeting did not go as planned when Green spent her allotted time defending herself against what she said were rumors and inaccuracies.
Candidates were supposed to talk about their qualifications, the most critical issues facing Piedmont Public Schools, and how they would address those issues.
Each candidate had two timed opportunities to speak.
Green did not follow the format of stating her qualifications. She did not mention the most critical issues facing the district or how she plans to address them.
“You guys know me,” she began. “You know me from around town and all the things I do for Piedmont School District. I don’t have to introduce myself.”
Green was prepared with a power point presentation titled “Entertaining accusations and pie-in-the-sky promises.”
She opened her presentation complaining about the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette’s coverage of the race.
“I thought about getting this information together and giving it to the paper, but then I stopped to think about that idea. I put it together because they’ve made it obvious if you’re not buying ads in their paper they’re going to skew it away from you. You’re not going to get the facts.”
Her presentation included items that Duffy has previously said he planned to address if he wins the election: teacher retention, communication, and transparency with the public.
Green began defending current communication protocols, listing at least eight methods of contact with parents including email blasts, phone calls, and social media posts. She said principals update Facebook pages “many times every day.”
In an interview with the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette, Duffy said a teacher complained there was a high turnover rate at a particular school, but the article read “district.”
Green took the error, not as a misprint or misunderstanding, but as the basis for her presentation on the district’s glowing teacher retention rate.
“We have 343 full time teachers and 39 of them left…less than 1 percent,” she said. Although the number of teachers that left is 11 percent. Green did not state how many teachers left from which school site.
During her second chance to speak, Green addressed a rumor on Facebook. She referred to a post stating if Green won her school board seat that she would resign so Superintendent James White could appoint a replacement of his choosing. Green refuted the claim, stating it was against the law.
“It said that ‘Dr. White asked me to run again,’ out and out lie. When ‘she is reelected’ which I appreciate because they’re assuming I’ll be reelected and I’m confident I’ll be reelected. So, when ‘I’m reelected, Dr. White is going to replace me.’ Our policy book is based on state law and it states that there is no way that the superintendent can ever for any reason appoint a school board member. It’s the job of the school board to fill that vacancy if it were to occur. So that’s a lie.’”
She also addressed another rumor that she runs the school board meeting like a tyrant.
“If I’m a tyrant, then I’m a benevolent tyrant, right? We have to follow open meeting requirements and sometimes I have to be firm to make sure that happens. I would rather be called firm and a tyrant, than someone who is breaking the law.”
She said she had never seen Duffy at a school board meeting and “didn’t know how he would know to run one.”
During Duffy’s speech listing his qualifications he pointed out that he has conducted public meetings for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, a state agency where he worked for 19 years. Duffy said he has been involved in the school district because both of his daughters went through the school system. His grandchildren now attend Piedmont schools.
After the meeting, Duffy told the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette that he has attended school board meetings over the years, though possibly only a few since Green has been on the board.
Green concluded her presentation with, “You know what you’re going to get with me. My acts are clear…here’s the problem. If the good and solid people in Piedmont don’t get out and vote, then you’re going to leave this election to the mudslingers and rumor mongers.”
Green distributed a pamphlet at the meeting listing what the district has accomplished in the last several years.
Duffy followed the format of the meeting, citing his years working for a large state agency, his experience with budgets and holding public meetings. As executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), he oversaw a budget of more than $15 million annually, 325 full-time employees and hundreds of volunteers. He conducted public meetings regularly across the state.
“I led the agency in developing both short and long-term plans, held public input meetings, performed legislative liaison duties and was responsible for the trust fund investment of over $125 million. I personally negotiated contracts on oil and gas leases and oversaw the purchase of over 85,000 acres of land. I completed over 250 hours of continuing education credits, including but not limited to course work on: Conflict Resolution, the Open Records and Meetings Act, Public Speaking, Employee Relations, Planning and Development, and Media Relations,” he said.
He listed the critical issues of the rapid growth in Piedmont, calling for the need to establish long and short-term goals with clear benchmarks. His comment seemed to address a hot issue, special education.
“My goal is to provide our students the tools, the environment, the subject matter, the extracurricular activities to serve the many different learning styles that are inclusive of all of our students. It’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for Piedmont,” he said.
He referred to the budget as the “number one priority” saying “expenditures are hard to come by and need to be looked at closely.” He pointed to the need for improved financial transparency.
“We need to have strict purchasing policies, inventories, budget line items, bid practices and reviewing class size with the educators we have. It’s important for board agendas to be descriptive that tells what actions are going to be taken…also I’d like to see minutes posted so constituents can see the action of the board and not wait a month til they publish them.
We need to address that any loss of teachers is a loss that affects our children,” he said.
The Piedmont Chamber of Commerce made it clear it did not endorse any candidate.
Williamson did not stop Green but said there were would be repercussions since she did not follow format.
“It was brought to my attention after the meeting,” Williamson said. “I wasn’t feeling well that day and had been up all night driving. There is a meeting Friday with the (chamber) board personnel to discuss if any action needs to be taken. It could be that the chamber will not do candidate meetings at all or some other action. We’re going to discuss how it happened, why it happened, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”