By Jesse Wood
Jan. 30, 2013. About the same time Watauga County Board of Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges released a statement detailing a conversation between her and Supt. David Kafitz, a closed session school board meeting to discuss personnel matters was announced on Monday afternoon to take place tonight.
Hodges released details of that conversation after prodding from school board member Barbara Kinsey, who said this incident was “another story that wasn’t particularly good” for Kafitz and Watauga County Schools in general.
The meeting is scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m. at the Gragg Education Center. While no school board members or school officials are talking about the specifics of the meeting, there is much speculation swirling around town that it regards Kafitz’ future – or lack there of – at the helm of Watauga County Schools.
This same speculation existed last week after school board agenda items, including personnel and attorney-client privilege matters, were added to a work session after Kafitz’s notorious Mellow Mushroom incident.
“There’s no indication of action pending in any of these matters, but in light of the controversy over an incident involving Superintendent Dr. David Kafitz, it will be closely watched,” read Steve Frank over the airwaves on WATA-1450 AM last week.
Before that meeting took place last Thursday, an official with the school system was asked if Kafitz’s situation would be discussed.
“Some of the rumors and speculations, there may be something to them, or people may be chasing ghosts,” that person said. “Honestly, I just don’t know.”
Well, Kafitz’s behavior at Mellow Mushroom wasn’t directly discussed at that work session meeting, however Chris Campbell, an attorney from Asheville that specializes in education law was present. Watauga County Schools is a client of Campbell, who represents nearly 30 other county schools systems. Normally, he doesn’t attend school board meetings – closed or open.
Portion’s of Campbell’s biography on his firm’s webpage reads: “Chris’s practice includes a focus on education and legal training for Boards and Administrators. In addition to full-time representation of public clients, his practice includes complex personnel investigations, construction litigation and school funding issues.”
Campbell will be present once again on Wednesday to help the school board on “how we should work” through challenging issues, Kinsey said.
However, Kinsey wouldn’t disclose any more details about tonight’s meeting.
“You can’t discuss everything thoroughly in public. Every little nugget gets picked up on,” Kinsey said, adding that she understands the public’s concern for complete transparency.
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.”
Unless a school board member speaks candidly after the fact, it’s possible we won’t know the topics of discussion – even after the closed-session meeting. The board isn’t required to release minutes from the closed session meeting unless the school attorney reviews those minutes and deems them releasable, said Jennifer Combs, administrative assistant to the superintendent.
Even though the Election Day conversation with Hodges happened before the Mellow Mushroom incident, it wasn’t publicly revealed until after the pizzeria incident came to light.
Right after the Mellow Mushroom incident was revealed, Kinsey said that the incident wouldn’t put Kafitz’s job in jeopardy.
“We are not to that point yet,” Kinsey said last week. “Hopefully, we won’t get to that point.”