Public Criticism Irks Board Secretary

Fairfield County School Board members sniped at one another during their regularly scheduled meeting Monday night, held this month in the un-miked, un-amplified media center at Fairfield Middle School.

The bickering got under way quickly, following the public comment portion of the meeting, during which time Oliver Johnson, a resident of District 6, directed criticism to the Board over this summer’s unauthorized Atlanta field trip (see The Voice, Aug. 24). While Johnson also addressed the District’s high per-pupil expenditures, a trip last year to Myrtle Beach by the Transportation Department and the Board delving into the day-to-day operations of the District, his comments about the Atlanta trip caused tensions to rise.

“A board member rented an SUV for the exorbitant price of $1,123, when it could have been rented locally for as little $492,” Johnson said. “The trip total was $4,289. Hauling students around to conferences is not board business, but clearly a school administrative function. This Atlanta trip is a prime example of the perverted power and control, the micromanagement and missing accountability that plagues the school board.

“Could not bullying expertise be found locally or in Columbia?” Johnson asked. “Could the money not be better put to use in the classroom? Has the money been returned to the district?

“Additionally, another board member attended the same conference in a district car and unanswered questions remain concerning that individual’s mileage claim. Will any money be refunded in this situation? The citizens of this county deserve and demand answers in writing to these questions. This kind of waste and abuse must stop.”

Following Johnson’s comments, Board Secretary Danielle Miller, who indeed attended the Atlanta conference in a district car and claimed more than $240 in mileage, broke with Board policy and responded to Johnson’s critique.

“I’d just like to ask Mr. Johnson, if he could, to get all of his facts first before making such statements and judgment calls about what we’re doing, especially when it comes to me and my integrity,” Miller said. “I ask that he speak with me, or anyone else regarding, especially me, regarding the truth . . . before making blatant comments.”

When Marchella Pauling asked Board Chairwoman Andrea Harrison to remind the Board of the policy prohibiting response to public comments, Miller snapped.

“Miss Pauling, you’re not going to tell me what to do,” Miller barked before Harrison could bring the gavel down and restore order.

Miller has refused to answer questions from The Voice about her mileage claim relating to the Atlanta trip, and Monday night was no different. After open session, and before the board retired into executive session, Miller was asked twice if she would care to help the public get their facts straight by addressing whether or not she had returned any of her mileage money to the District. On both occasions, Miller turned her back to The Voice and walked away without offering a response.

The mood became testy a second time when Board member Annie McDaniel asked why items she had requested to be placed on the agenda had not been included on the evening’s itinerary. When McDaniel attempted to get answers, Board member Beth Reid objected. That discussion, Reid said, should be between McDaniel and the Superintendent (J.R. Green) and not aired out in public session.

“Are we trying to hide something from the public?” McDaniel asked. “Some of these questions are very detrimental to the District, like why are we holding calculus classes at 7:15 in the morning?”

Harrison said those questions should have been directed to Green, but McDaniel said the public has a right to hear the answers to those questions. Harrison pointed out that McDaniel did not request the items for the agenda until Friday, at which time the agenda had already been prepared. McDaniel then delivered her list of questions to the Board Secretary so they could be reflected in the minutes.

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