School Board bullies?

Published 9:39 am Thursday, June 17, 2010

JACKSON — A Northampton County Board of Education member dismissed herself from a regular meeting Monday night after fellow board members did not move on a resolution placing sanctions on Lafayette Majette and civility policy she presented to them.

On Monday, Erica Smith-Ingram presented an ethics review detailing alleged misconduct she received from fellow board members Majette and Charles Tyner.

Ingram said her presentation was a follow up to her request for an investigation in May; she spoke to the Board’s Attorney Rod Malone, Jimmy Murphy and Allison Schafer with the North Carolina School Board Association.

Quoting the likes of Martin Niemller and Martin Luther King Jr., she asked the board to speak up.

“If it were you, I would speak up for you,” Ingram said. “I’m not doing any of this to embarrass anybody; I don’t want to put anybody to shame; I don’t want to air our dirty laundry.”

Ingram noted this was the fifth board meeting she asked her family not to attend.

“My husband no longer comes to board meetings because he cannot sit there as a man and allow me to be mistreated, cursed at (and) disrespected,” she said. “I’m only doing this because I’m tired and I want to speak up.”

Ingram said when bullying occurrences were looked at in the North Carolina School Board Association conference she attended, many young people talked about others standing by and saying nothing when they were being taunted. She added many of those young people went on to commit suicide.

“Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal, but I am tired,” she said.

Ingram gave the board a timeline of five incidents of unethical conduct that allegedly occurred over a two year span.

The first, she said, happened on April 1, 2008 during a briefing with MBAJ Architects. Ingram said she was on the facility committee at the time and she was going to be on conference call with the group.

Ingram said Tyner told Administrative Assistant Patricia Harris that the committee had decided they didn’t want Ingram on the phone and hung up.

Ingram said she called back and contacted Malone and was eventually patched back in after a 30 minute wait. Ingram said there was no vote taken and two people didn’t know what was going on.

Ingram noted her next occurrences as November 2009 through March 2010. She said she attends Northampton Black Caucus and NAACP meetings every other month and board members have approach her upset about comments she allegedly made about them.

“It was reported at the March Black Caucus meeting that I spoke junk, and talked junk about the superintendent and about my fellow board members,” she said. “That is not true.”

Ingram accused Tyner of passing around that information.

“But why Mr. Tyner has done this; it’s been done to create this spirit of not wanting to work together on the board,” she said.

The next occurrence Ingram spoke about involved Tyner shutting her out of a meeting again.

Ingram said the meeting involved every board member with exception of her and the discussion was about a proposal to merge the two high schools and bussing the kids from Northampton County High School-West to NCHS-East. Ingram said she pulled Chairwoman Grace Edwards from the meeting.

“Then when I told the Chair that’s against the law, that breaks the rules, they need to come out, the door was opened and the attorney was explaining to the board members and Mr. Tyner that before schools could be merged that there is a statute order requirement,” she said.

In January 2010, Ingram said she was threatened by Majette in an open meeting. She said during the meeting the conversation had gotten off the agenda and she called for the agenda.

“I said ‘I call for the order of the day’ that’s a parliamentary procedure to get back on to the agenda,” she said.

Ingram said Majette told her whatever she said she better not say it again.

On April 28, 2010, Ingram said she was cursed at, verbally abused, threatened, bullied and intimidated by Majette.

“I felt threatened,” she said. “Mr. Majette jumped up, he was raising his voice, he was cursing at me.

Ingram said Board Chair Edwards did speak up and asked Majette not to curse at her.

She added this occurred during a Policy Committee hearing for a “Party A” who had filed a grievance. Ingram said it was revealed Majette had a conversation with “Party A” prior to the hearing being called.

In that conversation, Ingram said Majette admitted he told “Party A” he did care if that person had a job.

“And in telling ‘Party A’ that he (Majette) needed to recuse himself as a Policy Committee member,” she said.

Upon conferring with two attorneys, Ingram said she asked Majette to recuse himself. She said Majette began to curse at her and at one point threw a folder containing briefing material at her.

After leaving the hearing, Ingram said Majette came back and told her, “I don’t give a d— you can’t tell me what to do.”

Ingram said Majette has also cursed at Edwards.

“He even said to two board members that if she (Edwards) were to say anything about his behavior, he was going to curse her a-s-s out,” she said.

Ingram said in her review with the School Board Association, they made recommendations to her in terms of sanctions.

Included in the board’s packet, Ingram presented a resolution outlining sanctions that would remove Majette from the Board’s Policy Committee for two years and ban him from out of state travel for 2011 and 2012.

She also presented a civility policy, which pursuant to the Board’s ethics and responsibilities policy (1210), “any board member who willfully interrupts, disrupts, verbally abuses or otherwise assaults a member of the board, or any employee of Northampton County Schools or causes disturbances at an official meeting shall be directed to leave by the presiding officer. Any person who refuses to leave after being directed to do so is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

The policy also states, that any board member with two or more infractions in one fiscal year or three infractions of unethical conduct within two years will be barred from out of state travel. Repeated misconduct would result in solicitation of the offender’s resignation.

Upon Ingram finishing her presentation she returned to her seat, Edwards called for a motion on the sanctions resolution and when none was offered Ingram moved to approve the resolution as is. No second was offered and chair later declared that motion dead.

Tyner questioned Malone that according to statutes of state law, the only body that can remove a board member is the state legislature.

Ingram said no one was suggesting removal from the board.

“You can’t remove a board member, but can provide sanctions,” she said. “If you were being cursed out you would ask for sanctions.”

“No, I’d curse them back,” said Tyner over Ingram.

The board members continued to talk over one another. Edwards tapped her gavel for order.

Edwards said she was going to refer the policy recommended by Ingram to the existing policy committee.

Malone agreed the civility policy could be dealt with at a later date because it was not person specific meanwhile, the resolution should be dealt with by the board now.

“So this board is satisfied in saying that it is not going to anything about board members being cursed out,” said Ingram.

“Go to the law,” said Tyner.

Ingram said others, including employees, had been cursed out and the board had stepped up for them.

“This is reprehensible,” said Ingram. “And you think about the violence upon women, because none of the men up here have been cursed out; only the women. So you’re making a bold statement tonight gentlemen.”

“Where is your honor? Where is your integrity? Where is your character,” she said before collecting her belongings and dismissing herself. “I hope it’s not your children, your sister, your mother…I hope it’s not. I doubt you will sit idly by and allow people to be cursed at and disrespected and think it’s okay. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”