Ethics Committee Dismisses Complaints Against Rhonda Thurman
By David Carroll
UPDATE: Thur. June 3, 5:40 p.m.
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- The Hamilton County Schools Ethics Committee has voted to dismiss all complaints against District 1 Board member Rhonda Thurman. The five-member committee, chaired by Board member Jeffrey Wilson, said their scope was too narrow to censure Ms. Thurman for what Normal Park parents Channing Center, April Eidson and Kelley Elliott had characterized as negative, disruptive behavior on the Board.
Ms. Thurman called the process "a waste of time and tax dollars." She said, "Maybe now we can get back and focus on fixing what's wrong with their magic lottery system. and find out how certain people have no trouble getting into that school, while people who can see it from their window are blocked out. Some of these parents need to grow up."
UPDATE: Wed. June 2, 8:00 p.m.
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Hamilton County District 1 School Board member Rhonda Thurman has responded to various complaints from Normal Park parents which were presented to the Board's recently re-formed Ethics Committee. The group is scheduled to meet Thursday. Normal Park parents had complained that Ms. Thurman unfairly criticizes the school in public forums and has targeted the school and its families. Ms. Thurman has questioned the school's "mysterious" lottery process, which she says favors "wealthy people and school district administrators, while neighborhood children who are black and poor are routinely turned away."
Here is the text of Ms. Thurman's letter to the Ethics Committee, dated June 1.
At Thursday's, May 27, Ethics Committee Meeting I was given a copy of complaints filed against me by April Edison, Kelley Elliott and Channing Bevil Center. I would first like to address the complaints from April Edison.
Ms Edison says she is "in possession of enough information to show that Ms Thurman working in conjunction with Jim Crooks and Mr. Bikas did in fact compile personally identifying information about children and their parents, and generated a map for the purpose of fabricating a civil and criminal case against NPS."
First, I have only seen Jim Crooks twice. The first time was at the Warren Chapel Church, 503 North Market at a meeting held by Dr. Scales concerning the zoning of Bell and Spears Ave. At this meeting, when Mr. Crooks spoke, he made reference to the fact he attended Washington Elementary and Tyner High School. Mr. Crooks looked to be about the age of my younger brother who also attended Washington and Tyner. After the meeting, I approached Mr. Crooks and asked if he knew my brother, Tim. He did and proceeded to ask about Tim and his family. We talked about other people from the neighborhood where they grew up. He then told me his mom was a customer of one of my co-workers. After talking about his mom for a short while, our conversation moved on to the Normal Park zoning issue. I asked Mr. Crooks if he lived in the Bell and Spears Avenue area in question. He said he had lived in North Chattanooga for years, but the area where he lived was already zoned for Normal Park. After a few more minutes of conversation about the Bell-Spears Ave. zone, I left.
The next time I saw Jim Crooks was at the school board meeting when we voted on the Bell-Spears Avenue zone. He was sitting in the audience. However, I never spoke to Mr. Crooks. So, Ms Edison's accusation that I worked in conjunction with Mr. Crooks to "compile" or "generate" anything is not an accusation it is an absolute fabrication.
As far as my working with Mr. Bikas to compile personally identifying information or generating maps for lawsuits, I am at a total loss. I have not generated any map for any reason. The only map I have used is the Normal Park zoning map given to all board members. I spent hours checking addresses in the Normal Park Lower student directory to see which ones were in the zone. I then marked the addresses belonging to faculty by comparing names. I then marked addresses of administrators, principals and other teachers I knew. However, this was a very cumbersome task. I also realized that not all parents were listed in the directory because I knew several students who attended Normal Park who were not in the directory. So, I decided as a school board member, there was no need to continue spending time dissecting information when I could get what I needed from the administration.
I have seen a map with values placed on houses. While it was interesting, it was not the information I was looking for so I did not record any of the information. To say I had anything to do with "generating" this type of map is a total lie. Even if I did research public information and put it on a map, what does that have to do with ethics violations?
All board members have received information regarding Mr. Bikas' son and his situation with the Normal Park school zone. Mr. Bikas has sent some of the information via e-mail, other by regular mail and still other information was hand delivered to me at work. I have sympathized with Mr. Bikas because I think it is ridiculous that he can stand in his yard and see a school a couple of blocks away yet his son cannot go there. While other children who live farther away can attend and walk past his house everyday.
Then Ms Edison says the Thurman Group (whoever that is) is "fabricating a civil and criminal case against NPS" and "Each of them have disclosed and bragged about participating in compiling the data and/or filing complaints of NAACP, and Federal, Sate, and Local agencies."
"Bragged about compiling data"? I have a Normal Park Lower School student directory that I received in the mail. I do not have a directory for the Upper School. I did not "compile" or "generate" the directory, I only received it. Someone at the school level is responsible for compiling the information for the directory, not me.
By far the most ridiculous accusation made by Ms. Edison was, "Ms Thurman working with Charles Bikas also conspired together to rally the African American community for their own selfish agenda that ranges from revenge to financial gain. The NAACP has been provided with false information that was facilitated by Ms Thurman"
How did I "conspire" with Charles Bikas to "rally" the African American community? Where exactly is the African American community? Was pointing out at a school board meeting that only 3 of the 100 staff members at Normal Park Upper and Lower are African Americans the rallying cry? I know some North Chattanooga residents have contacted the NAACP and possibly had meetings. However, I was never in attendance. Unless, I was spotted sitting outside in my Lexus, talking on my cell phone and taking notes.
Ms Edison's accusation that I have "a selfish agenda ranging from revenge to financial gain" is totally out of line. Revenge for what? Dennis Clark's letters? Does Ms Edison think I just started talking about magnet schools when Dennis Clark wrote a comment a few months ago? Anyone who has been paying attention since 2002 knows I have been talking about, what I feel, is an uneven playing field for magnet schools. A search of my opinion letters over the past several years to chattanoogan.com lays out the reasons I feel magnet schools do not play by the same rules as "regular" schools.
Revenge is not my "selfish agenda". I do not know Dennis Clark. I have only seen him in the May 2010 edition of Chatter Magazine with his wife, Danielle, Cinnamon Smith, who teaches dance at Normal Park Lower, and her husband, Ken Smith, a candidate for the school board in District 3. His company, Episode 49, was awarded the $60,000 HCDE web site contact 11/19/09. His company has also constructed web sites for the PEF and Normal Park.
As I said, revenge is not the reason I want the truth about the computer generated lottery process used at magnet schools. I want to insure that all students, schools and teachers are treated equally. The only way to insure this is to obtain information about the application and acceptance practices used for admission into magnet schools.
The most egregious statement made by Ms Edison's is the reference to my doing something in regards to Normal Park for financial gain. If I am doing something in North Chattanooga for financial gain, not only is this an ethics violation, it is criminal. This is a very serious allegation.
Her next statement, "The NAACP has been provided with false information that was facilitated by Ms Thurman." I have never knowingly met with anyone from the NAACP. The only person I know affiliated with the NAACP is Eddie Holmes, former president of the Hamilton County Chapter of the NAACP. Eddie and I have been friends for years. However, I have not talked to Eddie in a long time and to my knowledge I have never discussed Normal Park with him. I have also never knowingly provided information to anyone in the NAACP. But again, so what if I did? Is it unethical for a white girl from Soddy-Daisy to talk with the NAACP? Exactly what is Ms Edison saying?
Ms Edison goes on, "Only identifying information was collected for NPS, no other magnet school was targeted."
Normal Park was not "targeted". It was simply the magnet school in the limelight with all of the $5,000 pre-k discussion. Each magnet school that uses the computer generated lottery for student selection needs to be examined. But, the investigation process has to start somewhere. No matter which school is examined first, they will feel they are being targeted.
With Ms Edison being so concerned with people distributing her personal information, I think it is interesting that she ends each of her letters with her cell phone number as well as her home number. With just that simple information, one can find out her address, see a picture of her house, know her occupation, her husband's name, his occupation, her age, his age, her former residences , and how many children live in her house. Like it or not the internet changed our lives forever.
Ms Edison also says, "Ms Thurman has methodical sought to cause unwarranted harm against a public school, which is contrary to the mission of a school board member." While I am not sure what "methodical sought" means, I am sure I am not doing it.
FYI-The letter that Ms Edison references as "chattanoogan thurman comment", was not sent to chattanoogan.com by me. It was a personal e-mail I sent to Ms Edison when she accused me of distributing her child's confidential educational information.
Now, I will address Kelley Elliot's complaints, even though I am not sure why I should have to. She says, "The charge, (creating an atmosphere of contempt and suspicion), has been led by one of its members who is clearly disruptive and difficult to work with." I'm not sure, but I think she is referring to me. So, I guess not playing well with others is unethical? She goes on to say "this member has made statements that are inaccurate and offensive. (I really would like to comment on a police report with inaccurate statements, but I won't.) Since when is offending someone unethical?
Ms Elliott goes on to say, "members are allowed to act outside of official meetings as independent spokespersons on school issues." Since when do elected officials have to give up their first amendment rights? I can speak on school issues anytime I wish, to anyone I wish, as long as I let it be known that my statements are mine and not that of the Board.
Ms Elliott goes on to say I have "lost my right to speak or vote in matters regarding magnet schools." Excuse me? I have lost my right to speak or vote because some are offended? Unless I am found guilty of a crime (then it depends on the crime),the only people who can take my right to vote or speak away are the same people who gave me the right to vote and speak for them to begin with-the citizens in District 1.
Ms Elliott says MY "unethical conduct is on public record". Well, at least it is not in a police report. Ms Elliott goes on; she "has made public, unsubstantiated allegations…" Do I really need to comment?
Ms Elliott threatens to take this further, if she" does not see these issues addressed that have caused a crisis in community confidence of the HCDE School Board." If community confidence was not shaken by a HCDE board member being a "bag man" for the Tennessee Waltz, the HCDE school board attorney taking a bribe, or a shoplifter who was not found innocent but given a diversion, I expect the confidence level will remain about the same with someone who does not play well with others.
As far as the rest of Ms Elliott's comments questioning my character; I refuse to continue to defend myself. I will, however, consider the source.
Now, for Ms Channing Bevil Center's ethics complaint. In the chattanoogan.com letter to which she refers I said, "… every school could be a Normal Park if all schools could hand pick their students the same way some magnet schools do." The fact is, I have not been able to find out who picks the students at Normal Park or any other magnet school that uses the computer generated lottery process. This is why I am demanding to know how the computer generated lottery works. I was told one administrator got her children in Normal Park "fair and square", that her application was not even "weighted". Huh? "Weighted?" Applications can be "weighted?" This tells me there really is a process to give favor to some applicants. Now, we are getting somewhere.
NPMM website also says"…downtown worksites get priority in the lottery. To find out if your workplace is one of the specified sites, check page 2 of the magnet school application…" Now, we also know that certain worksites get priority in the lottery. This brings on more questions. Who picks the worksites? Why?
Regular schools have to take every student who walks through their door. Magnet schools, by their own admission, "weights" applications for acceptance and picks certain worksites for priority in the "lottery". I think the entire board should demand to know how this admittance process works.
I know this letter has been lengthy and I apologize. However, after reading some of the outrageous accusations made in these complaints, I felt I had to respond in order to defend myself.
Thank you for your time,
PREVIOUS STORY FROM MAY 24:
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - The saga of a "visibly upset" Normal Park School parent who thought she saw Hamilton County School Board member Rhonda Thurman in her neighborhood continues.
The parent, Kelley Elliott, has called for an ethics investigation into Rhonda Thurman, who she says "creates an atmosphere of discontent" on the School Board. Wednesday, Ms. Thurman said she will ask Board chairman Kenny Smith to create an Ethics Committee "so that I can clear my name, and stop wasting so much time on ridiculous people making ridiculous accusations. We have a $300 million budget to study, and these Normal Park parents keep creating distractions. They may not be aware, but we have 78 other schools to worry about, not just them."
Thursday, a Normal Park parent who did not identify herself said "One of our main complaints is that Ms. Thurman is in violation of Board policy 1.106, which says that Board members will not criticize employees publicly but will make such criticism to the director of schools for investigation and action if necessary. She has done that over and over. We want an Ethics committee to convene, hear both sides and render a decision so this issue can be put to rest."
Chairman Smith said that he had indeed received ethics-related complaints, not all of which related to Ms. Thurman. He said he planned to create a five-member Ethics Committee, with two Board members, and three "regular citizens."
Tuesday, Ms. Thurman threatened legal action against Kelley Elliott, who promptly wrote a letter to School Board members giving her side of the story.
It all started Friday April 30, when Ms. Elliott called police to her home, just prior to a meeting she was holding with fellow parents from Normal Park School. The parents were reportedly upset with Ms. Thurman, who has been critical of the school's admission policies, which she says favor the children of attorneys, doctors, business owners and School District employees.
Several days later, Dennis Clark, husband of the School District's Communications Director Danielle Clark, went public with the police report, naming Ms. Thurman as the person who was in the Elliott's Fairhills Drive neighborhood. Clark's comments set off a firestorm of controversy. He said he was called to the address by Ms. Elliott, who now says she has no relationship to Mr. Clark. At the time, Ms. Elliott's husband, attorney David Elliott said she would have no comment. But on Wednesday Ms. Elliott spoke out for the first time. She told Eyewitness News, "Mr. Clark is a Normal Park parent, so he has the same goals that we do. He is crying out for better leadership on the School Board. But we are not associated with him any longer, he is pursuing his goals in a different manner than we are."
Ms. Thurman said, "They can make up all the stories they want about me. I've done my homework, I've done the research, and they're angry with me because when I see a school that doesn't follow the rules, I call them out on it. I guess the truth hurts."
Here is the text of Ms. Thurman's open letter responding to the police report, sent to WRCB.
"On Friday, April 30, 2010 at 14:15 hours (2:15 PM), a police report was filed by Kelly Elliott, 3 Fairhills Dr., Chattanooga, TN 37405. The report stated that I, Rhonda Thurman, was parked in front of her house at 3 Fairhills Drive at 1330 hours (1:30 PM), in a dark colored Lexus, talking on my cell phone."
This is an absolute lie. On Friday, April 30, 2010, I started my day at Allure Beauty Salon, 4767 Hwy 58, at 6:45 AM with Pat. My next appointment was Melvia at 7:30 for a color. My day continued, Sally @ 8:30, Dottie @ 9:00, Ruby @ 9:30, Regina @10:30, Mildred @ 11:00, Bertha @11:30, Jo @ 12:00, Mary @ 12:30, Liz @ 1:00, Kay @ 2:00, Mary @2:30, Nan @ 3:00 and Minnie @ 4:00. I finished my last customer, cleaned up and left the shop about 5:45 PM.
Not only are my customers willing to sign an affidavit affirming their appointment times and the fact I was at the shop, the other three operators, Diane, Teri and Peggy are willing to do the same. In addition, each of their customers from 12:00 until the end of the day is willing to sign an affidavit as well. In all, there are 42 people willing to testify that I was at the shop during the so-called, stalking episode.
It is 10.4 miles from the shop on 58 Hwy to 3 Fairhills Drive. Going the speed limit it takes about 21 minutes to get there. I didn't want anyone on Fairhills Drive to get excited, so I had a friend to clock the miles for me instead of doing it myself. I can still honestly say I have never been on Fairhills Drive.
Also, a few minutes need to be added to the driving time because, I had to stop along the way and pick up a black Lexus. How much time? I have no idea.
I did not know who Kelly Elliott was on Friday, April 30. The first time I ever heard her name was when she called me at work on Thursday morning, May 6. She said she needed to talk to me concerning school issues. I told her I was too busy to talk and would have to call her back later. I asked which school she was she calling about. She said Normal Park and left me her home number as well as her cell number.
Later, the morning of Thursday May 6, I saw Ms Elliott's name on the police report Channel 3 showed me. Needless to say, after seeing her name on the police report, I did not return her call from earlier that morning. I was afraid my number would show up on her caller ID and I would be accused of harassment.
About the Lexus, I have never driven or been in a black Lexus. Nor do I have a family member or friend who could loan me one.
The report also stated that "over the past couple of weeks she (Kelly Elliott) had sent a complaint to the Hamilton County School Board in regards to unethical behavior by board member Rhonda Thurman."
This was news to me. On April 30, the central office had yet to inform me that an ethical complaint had been filed against me. How could I have been upset over something I did not even know about?
The report continues, "Ms Elliott advised that several parents are upset with the (current) status of their school (Normal Park) and were going to have a parent's meeting at her house to discuss issues at 1500 hours (3:00 PM)."
I did not have a clue that Normal Park's parents were having a meeting on Friday, April 30 at 3:00; nor did I care. It is a rare occasion for me to take off on a Friday because it puts so much additional work on my coworkers. I will promise you, stalking a Normal Park parent's meeting does not rise to the level of taking time off on Friday.
The report continues, "Ms Elliott felt this was more than a coincidence and felt scared due to rumors she has heard in regards to Ms Thurman."
"Scared due to rumors she had heard in regards to Ms Thurman"? Did she hear my family was from Daisy Mountain? Did she hear I knocked my brother out with a telephone when I was a freshman in high school? I must admit this statement made me laugh out loud.
The report also makes this statement, "Ms Elliott became alarmed and went to see what Ms Thurman wanted, but Mrs. Thurman was leaving."
Let me get this straight. Ms Elliott was "visibly upset" when the police officer arrived and she was "scared due to rumors she has heard in regards to Ms Thurman." Yet, she walked out to the car to see what I wanted? Why did she not lock the dead bolt and set the alarm until the police arrived? Why did she not get a license number?
There is another very strange thing about Ms Elliott being "visibly shaken" and "scared". When I arrived home Thursday night, May 6, there was a message from Ms Elliott on my home phone. The time of the message was 10:59 AM.
This was the message, "Yes, Ms Thurman, this is Kelly Elliott. I am one of the Normal Park parents who have filed a complaint with the school board regarding policies and different things. My number is xxx-xxxx and my cell phone number is xxx-xxxx. I wanted to have the opportunity to talk to you myself, because I feel so much stuff goes around. I do believe in several of the points you make. I also wanted to have the opportunity to talk with you. So, if you could, call me back at one of these numbers. Maybe we could plan a time to sit down and talk."
Huh? Sit down and talk? Was she going to wear a bullet proof vest? Full riot gear? One week she is "visibly shaken and scared" because of me, the next week we need to "sit down and talk". Needless to say, I did not call her back. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.
Bottom line is this. I was at work from 6:45 AM until 5:45 PM on April 30. I have at least 42 people willing to attest to the fact I was at work on 58 Hwy the entire time of this alleged incident. I do not know Kelly Elliott and I have never been on Fairhills Drive. I did not know anything about a Normal Park parent meeting on Friday, April 30. On April 30 I had no knowledge of an ethics complaint having been filed against me. And finally, I have never been in a black Lexus.
This incident involving me never happened. I plan to take action to have my name cleared of these allegations."
Later Tuesday, Ms. Elliott sent this letter to School Board members:
"As you may know, recently I filed a complaint with the Board, in which I claimed Ms. Rhonda Thurman violated certain rules of the Board. I would like to respond to the interview of Ms. Rhonda Thurman by the chattanoogan.com, published on May 18, 2010 (copy enclosed, or visit http://chattanoogan.com/articles/article_175866.asp) as follows:
First, I have never accused Ms. Thurman of stalking, though she mentions that term four (4) times in the article.
Second, I did not "file" the police report against Ms. Thurman from which she quotes (which does not mention stalking). The police officer that arrived at my house prepared and filed an incident report after he left my house. I did not prepare it, nor did I sign it. I did not even see it until it was published by the newspaper a week later. I dispute certain statements contained therein attributed to me, and I have requested that the officer correct the report. I never told him that it was Ms. Thurman in the vehicle. I did state that it was a woman that looked like her. I had just filed a complaint with the Board against Ms. Thurman that week. She had indicated she had my personal information contained in the school directory. I did not press any charges against Ms. Thurman, and I did nothing to publicize the incident report.
Third, I have no reason to dispute Ms. Thurman's statements of her whereabouts on April 30. I apologize that I mistakenly believed that it might be her, and am sorry that she felt it necessary to "clear her name" in the chattanoogan.com. I had stated "no comment" to the media in hopes that Ms. Thurman would contact me to discuss this matter, or that it would just go away.
Fourth, as noted by Ms. Thurman, I did contact her after she had publicly indicated that the woman I saw outside my house was not her. It seems that reasonable people attempt to communicate with each other when there is a dispute or misunderstanding, instead of resorting to the media. But Ms. Thurman declined to speak with me, as she noted.
Additionally, I do not support the statements made by Dennis Clark to the media about Ms. Thurman, and I have no association with him. I have and have had no comment on and no involvement in the running feud between Mr. Clark and Ms. Thurman. I have apologized to Ms. Thurman. I hope that they will leave me out of their dispute in the future.
It is unfortunate that the reporting of the April 30 incident has detracted from the real issues facing the Board. I hope that Ms. Thurman accepts my apology, and that she and the rest of the Board concentrate on the important issues before you, including the appointment of members to an ethics committee at your May 20 meeting.
I stand by the statements and allegations contained in my complaint submitted to the Board, and I hope that the Board will take them seriously and follow procedure with regard to addressing the matters contained therein. My goal is for the Board to work together to do what is right for the students in Hamilton County. My wish is that the Members follow the rules, or suffer appropriate consequences."
Kelley S. Elliott
Dennis Clark did not return our call Wednesday. We had hoped to ask him about discrepancies between his account of the April 30 police call, and that of Mrs. Elliott. Also, the Chattanooga Police Department did not respond to our request concerning clarification of Mrs. Elliott's claim that she did not refer to the person in the car as "Rhonda Thurman," as Officer William S. Campbell wrote in his report. Mrs. Elliott said she had a long conversation with the officer, but believed she told him "it was someone who looked like Rhonda Thurman." She continued, "I wish we could all put this behind us, and focus on working together as a county to improve all schools. There are 300 children on a waiting list to go to Normal Park. That should be the focus, making all schools a desirable place to go."