Burcham Strikes Again

I really hadn't planned to address this topic but after the totally irresponsible editorial that appeared in the News Herald, presumably written by the paper's editor Kevin Burcham, I changed my mind.

I knew something was up at the last school board meeting when I saw Mr. Burcham slithering in for the meeting. I just didn’t know what was about to go down.  It all unfolded pretty quickly.  At least one agenda item promised high drama for the meeting: the contract extension for the Director of Schools.”

Board member Gary Ubben, who is also the board vice chair and chairman of the director's evaluation committee, began his comments by making very, very serious accusations against at least a majority of other board members. Ubben stated that he had had four or five calls that other board members had violated the Sunshine Law to conspire to achieve certain goals. See minutes of meeting below.

Dr. Ubben then stated  - “ I had several phone calls this week from concerned citizens of Loudon County about what they had heard about what was going to happen tonight in Mr. Honeycutt’s contract.  The theme seemed to be the same of the (4) or (5) people I spoke with this week, that there is a group of the Board members who had made some decisions on their own and it is the fact of the Open Meeting I guess, that there was a plan set for what we were going to do tonight.  The plan had (4) major parts to it and they seemed to be consistent among these individuals who called me.  The first was that we were going to vote tonight and there seemed to be a majority to not renew Mr. Honeycutt’s contract.  The second thing that I was told by this group was that there would be an effort tonight to remove Mr. Honeycutt by trying to buy out his contract or by moving him to a different position.  The third thing that was supposed to be happening was that one of the principals in Loudon County had already been pre-selected to fill the Director’s position should they be successful in the second one.  The last thing, and I thought this was a little humorous, was that since I am Vice-Chair and since our tradition has been move the Vice Chair  to Chair the following year, that there was a distrust of me that I would not go along with this plan, so they would ask Scottie Newman to stay on as Chair for another year.  Now if these things are true, and we will begin to find out in a few minutes if they are or not, it seems like there is the gross violation of the Open Meetings Law and if that stuff takes place then I think it is evident that that is what has happened.” 

Enter the News Herald and Mr. Burcham. In the first paper after the meeting, the News Herald ran a story on the meeting that vaguely related the events of the meeting. Then, right on queue, in the next paper, Burcham pens his editorial that supports Mr. Ubben's accusations of sunshine violations except Burcham takes it even further accusing the school board of making backroom deals with absolutely no proof or evidence. Click Here For Editorial

Yes, Mr. Newman did state that board member Bill Marcus called him, and the paper tried to make it sound as if Newman and Marcus were debating the board's vote. The reality was that Marcus called Newman to badger him about the possibility of a second term as chairman. 

Ultimately, the director's contract was not extended, but it didn't take a conspiracy to see that coming. Several months ago, each board member filled out a very lengthy evaluation on the director, ten pages with forty questions. I think most of us probably put a lot of thought into the evaluation. It was a 0-5 scoring scale, 5 being best. Mr. Honeycutt's overall score when all 10 board members evaluations were tallied was a 2.2. The no extension vote came as no surprise to myself. You almost have to ask how anybody could have voted to extend. After being the director for 2 years, Honeycutt scored less than a 50. That's a failing grade in any part of education.

As to Mr. Ubben moving to the chairmanship of the board, I think by his actions at this meeting he showed why at least I had concerns about him becoming chairman. I made the first motion to keep current board chairman, Scott Newman, as chairman for another term. Mr. Newman has been chairman for the last year and in my opinion has done an excellent job. His personality and training and background in law enforcement seem to have given him a unique ability to manage meetings that can sometimes be a bit contentious.

For weeks, one of the hottest discussions within the local education circles has been the director contract extension and the board chairmanship. I have been asked by a number of school administrators and employees where I stood on both issues, and I have not been bashful in giving my opinions on both. If I have been asked about the issues, I'm sure other board members were too. There are very few secrets in the education system.

As to Mr. Ubben, his charges against other members of the school board with not a shred of proof or evidence are entirely unacceptable. By education and pedigree, Ubben should be one of the best and brightest among board members. But such foolish attacks on other board members certainly bring into question his motives and credibility. Hopefully, by our next meeting, Mr. Ubben will be prepared to prove his allegations or apologize to the board for his statements.

As for Mr. Burcham, he has a long history of trying to use his scantly read, so called "news" paper to push his own personal agenda. However, even he sank to an all-time low by accusing not just school board members, but nearly all local officials, of breaking the law without offering any proof.

Here’s a challenge for Mr. Burcham: Put up or shut up.  If he's going to make accusations in a nameless editorial, then back it up with proof.

Foot note. I couldn't resist. When you read Burcham's editorial, pay close attention to the very first sentence. Exactly what kind of records is he interested in?