Superintendent complaints mount
by Kellen Moore
Another community member has raised concerns about the conduct of Superintendent David Kafitz, who on Monday flatly denied the new claims about his character.
Now, the Board of Education has planned a closed-session meeting for this evening to discuss personnel, and one board member is warning that more serious matters may emerge.
“I think that there may be other things that come up, even more serious than what these are,” board member Barbara Kinsey said. “I hope not. I hope to goodness they do not.”
In a statement obtained Monday, Jane Ann Hodges, director of the Watauga County Board of Elections, further described a dispute that occurred at Green Valley School on Nov. 6, 2012.
That morning, Janice Carroll, chief judge of the Meat Camp precinct polling place, informed Hodges that the gym teacher was allowing students to enter the gym while waiting for school to begin, the statement says.
According to elections officials, that action was in conflict with the state statute that prevents unauthorized people from entering the voting area. Hodges wrote in the statement that students incorrectly had been allowed in the area during past elections but should not have been.
The gym teacher then contacted Principal Phillip Griffin, who “was very rude and informed me that he would not cooperate in this manner,” Hodges wrote in the statement.
After further discussion, Hodges called the sheriff’s office to ask that
deputies respond to the school to assist Carroll in removing anyone who should
not have been in the voting enclosure.
Hodges said the principal removed the students from the gym after the conversation, according to Carroll.
Later that morning, Hodges received a call from Kafitz, who said “that he wanted to hear my side of the ‘story,’” she wrote in the statement.
“When I tried to tell him who is allowed in a voting enclosure, he told me to shut up, and he would tell me when to talk,” the statement says. “I was shocked that he would not even allow me to explain the General Statutes.”
Kafitz then told her that if she had a problem with a principal in the future, she ought to call him first before calling anyone else, the statement says.
“He was very rude and even informed me that this would be my last election, because he would be meeting me before the county commissioners,” the statement says.
Hodges could not be reached by press time Tuesday to further explain the conflict.
“Dr. Kafitz would interrupt me, and I repeatedly told him that I had shown him the courtesy of listening to him, and he should do the same for me,” her statement concluded.
Griffin said in an email that poor communication was to blame for the conflict. He said students have routinely stayed in the gym until 7:40 a.m. during election events since 2003, when he became principal of Green Valley.
"Had I been given ample planning time, a solution would have been developed," Griffin wrote. "I do wish my conversation with Mrs. Hodges would have gone better. We did resolve the situation and at the same time maintained the safety of our students, which was and continues to be my top priority.”
Reached by phone Monday evening, Kafitz said that he spoke with Hodges on
Monday afternoon as he began to hear that a statement might be released.
"I absolutely deny that that was the content or the tone or how the conversation went," he said.
Kafitz said the polling place staff did not communicate with the school principal about how the polling place would operate.
As for the claim that Kafitz told Hodges to "shut up," he said Monday, "Absolutely not. That is not the truth."
The board will meet at 6 p.m. tonight in closed session. Asheville attorney Chris Campbell, who provided board training last week, may again be present to advise the board, Kinsey said.
While most meetings of elected officials must be open to the public, N.C. statutes do allow a board to meet privately “to consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, conditions of appointment or conditions of initial employment of an individual public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee; or to hear or investigate a complaint, charge or grievance by or against an individual public officer or employee.”
Kafitz has been under scrutiny from the public since a letter surfaced last week describing a conflict that stemmed from the superintendent’s use of a discount card at Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant in Boone.
Kinsey, elected to the school board in November, said she learned about both incidents after the Jan. 14 board meeting where she read a statement about numerous concerns she was hearing from school staff and others.
“Since then, of course, it’s like we opened the door, and that’s sort of what we intended to do,” she said. “ … Everybody’s doing his or her part to find information — not to dig it up, but to find it.”
Kinsey said she asked Hodges, who she considers a friend, to prepare the statement two days after that meeting.
Board chairman Lee Warren, vice chairwoman Delora Hodges and board member Brenda Reese would not say much about the matter Tuesday, mentioning concerns about violating restrictions on the public discussion of personnel. Board member Ron Henries could not be reached by press time.
Kinsey said she couldn’t predict whether the board would take action after closed session Wednesday.
“I do not like doing this,” Kinsey said. “This is not my personality. I’m very uncomfortable with this, but I feel like when it has gone as far as it has, we need to move forward.”