By Jesse Wood
Jan. 28, 2013. Just a few days after Watauga County Schools Supt. David Kafitz declared the matter of his behavior at Mellow Mushroom “settled,” another black eye surfaces.
According to a statement released by Jane Hodges, the director of the Watauga County Board of Elections, Kafitz was “very rude” to her on Election Day, after a dispute between the principal at Green Valley School, Phillip Griffin, and elections officials.
On Nov. 6, Hodges called the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office to remove students from the gymnasium, which was the location of the Meat Camp Precinct polling place. According to N.C. General Statutes, only certain people are allowed in the voting enclosures.
At the time, Hodges explained to High Country Press, “I believe strongly, we are going to follow the General Statutes. I don’t care if it’s a presidential election or a vote on a sales tax.”
Turns out by the time deputies arrived to the elementary school, the kids were no longer in the gym – and the issue sort of fizzled, resolving itself.
But what wasn’t publicly known then was what happened a few hours later in a phone conversation between Hodges and Kafitz.
Recently, Hodges released a statement about that conversation after Watauga County Board of Education Member Barbara Kinsey heard about “another story that wasn’t particularly good” for Kafitz. Kinsey heard about this story after the Mellow Mushroom incident, and followed up.
Kinsey, who voiced the anonymous concerns of teachers recently at a January board meeting, contacted Hodges last week, and Hodges told her what happened. Kinsey then asked Hodges if she would feel comfortable writing out all that happened because Kinsey didn’t want to tell Hodges’ side of the story verbatim.
“I felt much better in her telling the story,” Kinsey said.
Hodges explains the incident in the statement: “I received a call from Superintendent Kafitz. Dr. Kafitz said that he wanted to hear my side of the ‘story.’ 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….I was shocked that he would not even allow me to explain the General Statutes.”
“Finally after several minutes of dictating what should have happened and what would happen in the future….he stopped talking…there was a long pause….then he said….well are you not going to talk…and I informed him that I had not been given permission. He then informed me that he agreed with Principal Griffin….that I was one of those.”
Hodges also wrote in the letter that Kafitz said he would make sure that the 2012 election “would be her last.”
What “one of those” means is unclear. Kinsey, herself, said that was a “cryptic” statement.
Kinsey said she hasn’t discussed the issue with Kafitz, however there is a closed session meeting for personnel that was scheduled this afternoon for Wednesday at 6 p.m.
She mentioned that N.C. Public Schools legal counsel will be on hand for advice, but other than that she said she wouldn’t comment on the topic of the meeting.
While most meetings are required to be held open to the public, N.C. General Statutes allow a board to meet in private for several reasons, including “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 didn’t return a phone call on Monday afternoon.
Statement From: JANE HODGES, DIRECTOR, WATAUGA COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS
On November 6, 2012 (Election Day), I received a call from the Chief Judge at the Meat Camp Precinct (Polling Place is the Green Valley School). Janice Carroll, Chief Judge informed me that the Gym teacher, Mr. Jones, was allowing students to enter the gym and had pulled out a portion of the bleachers for such students to sit on until time for school to begin.
Ms. Carroll and all 118 precinct workers were trained by Director Hodges prior to Election Day concerning who is allowed to enter the voting enclosure.
According to GS 163-166.3, there is limited access to the voting enclosure.
Persons who may enter are:
- Election officials (Chief Judge, Judges, Assistants)
- Observers appointed pursuant to G.S. 163-45
- Runners appointed pursuant to G.S. 163-45
- Persons seeking to vote, but only while in the process of voting or seeking to vote.
- A person authorized to assist a voter
- Minor children of the voter while in the care of the voter…but only while accompanying the voter and while under the control of the voter.
Ms. Carroll informed Mr. Jones that the students would not be allowed to sit on the bleachers and would not be allowed in the gym. According to Ms. Carroll, Mr. Jones contacted Principal Griffin and the Principal was informed of the G.S., at which time he became very upset and stated that the children had been allowed in this area in the past. Mrs. Carroll contacted me and I spoke to the Principal who was very rude and informed me that he would not cooperate in this matter. I informed him that if he would not remove the students then I would need to call 911 and have such people removed. He stated…go ahead…by the time they get out here the school day will be already underway. He stated that the Sheriff’s Department was slow in responding to that area of the county. I informed him that he was giving me no choice but to have the Sheriff’s Department provide assistance. I hung up and contacted the Sheriff’s Department and ask that they go to the school and assist Ms. Carroll informed me that as soon as the Principal got off the phone…he immediately removed the students from the gym area.
Approximately 1 hour later the Press (WATA, High Country Press) came to my office and asked what the problem was… why we had requested assistance from the Sheriff’s office for the Green Valley School.
I informed them of the situation and told them evidently it was a misunderstanding, since the school had been allowed to have the Students in that area in the past, but should not have and would not be allowed to in the future.
Later that morning, I received a call from Superintendent Kafitz. Dr. Kafitz said that he wanted to hear my side of the “story.” 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….I was shocked that he would not even allow me to explain the General Statutes. He informed me that from that point on if I have a problem with a principal that I would call him and discuss it before I called anyone else. 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. Finally after several minutes of dictating what should have happened and what would happen in the future….he stopped talking…there was a long pause….then he said….well are you not going to talk…and I informed him that I had not been given permission. He then informed me that he agreed with Principal Griffin….that I was one of those. I then tried to explain G.S. 163-166.3 and that for the safety of the students we could not allow them in the voting enclosure unless they were with a parent or guardian. He informed me that the safety of students was not my concern. He informed me again that if I have a problem with the Principal that I should contact his Secretary and she would contact him and then he would call me back at his convenience. I informed Dr. Kafitz that my duty is to follow G.S. 163…..and if I feel that someone is violating the General Statutes of North Carolina, I will do whatever is needed to protect voter’s rights. He then informed me that this would be my last election and that he would see me in front of the County Commissioners. Several times while I was trying to explain what had happened earlier in the day and explain different General Statutes, 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.