Ever wondered what it looks like when a small town paper goes blindly to bat for someone under multiple investigations, someone who has repeatedly lied to them and dragged them into mess after mess by accidentally revealing their symbiotic relationship?
No, not talking about the paper in Morgan County and prison-bound Tim Conley.
We’re talking about the Mt. Sterling Advocate and that paper’s seeming desire to publish everything embattled/outgoing superintendent of Montgomery County Schools Joshua Powell says as the gospel. The paper publishes nearly every claim he makes, behaves as if every assumption he makes is based in reality and ignores mountains of evidence even when documents have been published or, lately, even when documents are in the paper’s possession.
Sure, the paper’s nose-turning coverage has been written here in the past but its coverage this week takes the cake. Along with actions from some of its stenographers.
We’re going to ignore its reporters demands that school board members issue public comments about documents and letters without allowing them to first read them — because even we give people the opportunity to have discussions and read documents (just ask Jacqui Johnston, cough). We’re also going to ignore those same reporters’ claims that we have used nefarious means to obtain the documents they have obtained from the same people. We’ll focus instead on the paper’s million page whackadoo coverage of the Powell mess this week.
This week the paper ran above-the-fold stories with headlines that paint Powell as a helpless victim. The headlines are just out of this world.
Take a look for yourself:
THE BIG PULL QUOTE
In the letter to Holliday, which is dated Jan. 7, Powell tells Holliday he is “in need of immediate intervention and assistance.” He specifically requests Holliday investigate school board members he mentions in the letter, alleged conduct that has occurred in the district “and advise me whether or not to forward this complaint to the Office of the Attorney General and/or the governor’s office.”
Last week, Karen Timmel, acting director for the OEA, said she could confirm the letter to Holliday was forwarded to her office from the Kentucky Dept. of Education.
“As KDE does not have authority to direct OEA to conduct an investigation, the letter is being reviewed as all complaints received in this office are reviewed. The review is to determine whether the letter contains allegations which would fall under the jurisdiction of OEA and would warrant an investigation by this office.”
Nancy Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the KDE, also confirmed last week the KDE received the letter to Holliday, but not the letter to the local board. No written response was issued to Powell, the KDE said.
“However, consistent with statutory authority and Kentucky Dept. of Education policy, the letter was forwarded to the Office of Education Accountability for further investigation since allegations against local school officials were raised in the letter,” she told the Advocate.
Nanzy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, is now spinning on behalf of Powell. The best part of that? She was the reporter at the Courier-Journal who half-assed coverage of Robert Felner as I blew his scandals out of the water several years ago. For playing pat-a-cake with KDE and Frankfort, Nancy was rewarded with a cushy job.
But the meat of that excerpt rests on KDE not receiving the letter Powell wrote to the board and the fact of the matter is that Holliday’s office definitely had it. In fact, a male former employee of Montgomery County Schools — a guy now working directly with Holliday — spread it far and wide. As did Montgomery County Schools central office employee, Cindy Kincaid, the woman who delivered Powell’s letter to the board.
On that note, the guy Powell used to deliver the Holliday letter is alleged to have made copies of it using district equipment. Because teachers at the high school sent me photos of it after finding several copies in a lounge.
The coverage continues:
“When I arrived, I was dumbfounded when I noticed the various issues related to leadership, management and personnel. In addition to that, I was equally surprised by the lack of checks and balances in financial affairs, and quickly realized why the district was low performing in virtually every area.
School finance was an area “that caused tremendous concern,” Powell alleges, and made him “extremely nervous due to the fact that a plethora of ‘red flags’ were noticed.'”
He went on to write about alleged abuse of federal stimulus dollars and complained about a lack of transparency, which was enough to cause anyone even loosely following this scandal to do a spit take.
But financial checks and balances? You know, the things that exist to guarantee the elected school board has financial control over taxpayer dollars. The statutorily-required things that keep local government running in Kentucky. The checks and balances Powell himself attempted to dismantle by pressing the board to give the central office more control over finances, by ousting individual bookkeepers from each school and moving all finance work into his office controlled by just a couple employees who answered only to him. The checks and balances he ignored when entering huge sales contracts. The checks and balances he ignored by using his personal attorneys — ELPO — who came with him from his previous school district, often working to prevent the entire board from having access to legal billing invoices.
Fascinating that the paper didn’t bother to dig in to any of those allegations.
If there actually was fiscal mismanagement with federal stimulus funds and Powell didn’t report it? Uh, can you smell the disaster that’ll spell out? If he had documentation that he’d reported anything or brought concerns to the board, he’d have revealed it by now.
However, Powell claims, that those held to a higher standard were not happy.
“They began to ferociously attack me, both personally and professionally.”
Powell then talks at length in his letter to Holliday about board members Sharon Smith-Breiner and Alice Anderson, both former school employees who Powell claims “quickly began on a path of retaliation” after being elected to the board.
Powell describes several reported encounters with Anderson during his first year while she was district custodial supervisor. She later resigned her position, and ran for school board.
Powell alleges in the letter that when both Smith-Breiner and Anderson were elected board meetings “quickly shifted from student-centered to adult-centered. Unprofessional comments were made publicly and privately.
He claims that Smith-Breiner “has been working closely with EPSB Director of Legal Services Alicia Sneed and has locally spearheaded the collaborative effort with Alicia Sneed to provide harm to me. She has interfered with the civil proceeding and in her own words, wants to pay me back,” noting that various other alleged infractions involving her have been reported to board members, the commissioner of education, Kentucky School Boards Association and Williams.
Fascinating, isn’t it? Projecting exactly what he’s done to so many employees that they’ve all sued him and the district. Most of their complaints backed up with audio tape, emails, dozens of sworn statements and even police reports. But all he’s got are his own claims — though, in his final days at the district, he had Jacqui Johnston and Phil Rison combing through stacks of records in an attempt to find straws onto which he could grasp (yep, Joshua, your buddies are spilling the tea).
And the crazy part? Even more about his bizarre fantasy of Alicia Sneed being on a witch hunt against him. It’s just… well, you can read all the documents we’ve previously published here and form your own opinion. But we think it’s batshiz crazy.
One thing that’s further fascinating to see is that board members have begun to stand up for themselves:
Smith-Breiner, reached by the Advocate Tuesday, said “This (letter) is another example of where he (Powell) is taking something completely out of context. Some of the statements have no truth whatsoever, and the others he’s taken out of context and made it into something more.”
Johnston told the Advocate, “I had only been to two board meetings when we received the seven-page manifesto. There was nothing confidential to leak, everything that we discussed we voted on. This is how Josh Powell operates, but Josh Powell can’t fire me, he can’t demote me, I’m not going anywhere.
“I’ve said and campaigned as such, that I didn’t want to renew his contract, and that we need a motivator instead of an intimidator,” Johnson added.
Lest anyone think we’re making it up about the paper not providing board members the opportunity to review what they’re commenting on?
“Smith-Breiner said Wednesday morning she had no comment on the letter. Anderson said, “I don’t know anything about the Terry Holliday letter, have not seen it.”
You’ll note that the paper didn’t mention a word about Powell’s claim of a death threat. Folks can suggest it’s because they didn’t want to mention racist language till the cows come home but let’s get real. If Alice Anderson made a death threat toward Joshua Powell or made him feel uncomfortable, he would have been screaming at the top of his lungs and pressing law enforcement to sink every tooth available into her. There also would have been OEA complaints and multiple government agencies would have investigated something so serious.
It’s just one big pustule of awful. Mind-boggling. Insanity. Corrupt. Unethical.
The man gets held accountable by his boss (the board), reviewed by the agencies tasked with licensing him (OEA, EPSB and such) and then goes on an extreme mission of retaliation against everyone remotely involved for merely doing their jobs. He’s worked to intimidate the board (you’ve read that scandalous letter), constantly claims Alicia Sneed is out to get him, threatened/frightened Michelle Henry (you’ve heard the audio), attempted to frog march Jennifer Hall (you’ve read the police report) in a publicity stunt with his friends at the paper, worked hard to attack the messenger by doing everything in his power to threaten and intimidate me. And the local newspaper just snickers, rolls its eyes and tries to keep the community ill-informed and complacent.
What the hell is wrong with the water in Montgomery County?
Seriously — what the hell is wrong there? Because everything related to the school district and this mess makes the entire community seem like good old boy central.
These poor people are terrified and stressed to the nines and the damn paper is playing along.