Flagler County School Board member Sally Hunt and Wadsworth Elementary Principal Paul Peacock were orchestrating the firing of Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt as far back as February 22, a text Peacock sent Hunt two hours before a school board meeting shows.
All along, Hunt claimed she was doing her “due diligence,” and that she had not made up her mind.
On Feb. 9, two days after a school board retreat meant to bring the board and the superintendent closer together, Hunt told her colleagues on the board that “I want to make sure I’m doing my due diligence” on the superintendent’s contract. Less than two weeks later, she was feverishly working on how to fire her, with Peacock strategizing, encouraging and “regrouping” alongside her, according to a batch of her texts, examined by FlaglerLive.
Hunt received by text a literal script on firing the superintendent during a board workshop on Feb. 22, two hours before an evening board meeting when she could have followed the script. She did not do so, because she learned she would have needed four votes to change the agenda to enable the maneuver. She would not have had four votes.
But the script is unequivocal proof that Hunt had not only been secretly maneuvering for a possible replacement for Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt in case her contract was not renewed, but that she was actively planning to fire her, and with the direct guidance of a school principal who reports to Mittelstadt, and who had a grievance pending before the board.
Peacock is the Wadsworth Elementary school principal who a month later was to have his grievance heard by the board (over a $7,500 payment he felt owed), and who has threatened to sue the district. (He is represented by Michael Chiumento III. See: “Behind Principal Paul Peacock’s $7,500 Grievance, a Roil of Politics and Sideshow Maneuvers.”)
A trove of texts between Hunt and Peacock that Hunt disclosed after repeated public record requests show a far more involved (if strictly business) relationship between Peacock and Hunt, with Peacock calling the shots on who Hunt should speak with, what she should do on the board, what questions to send in board surveys, how to react to board dynamics: far from a casual, gossipy or informative role, Peacock had a direct line to board actions.
“I can’t believe they talked to you that way,” Peacock texted Hunt the day he’d sent her the script, after Hunt had discussed the superintendent’s contract but felt she’d failed to get as far as she wanted. “We have to regroup,” Peacock wrote her. “Gavin totally misrepresented Mittelstadt we need outside counsel too many thoughts to put down in a text.”
The next day he texted her: “Let’s regroup that was an ambush all four of them were part of it,” before adding: “I’m staying on it like a dog on a bone.”
Peacock so far has not disclosed his own batch of texts in accordance with public record requests, and appears to be in violation of the state’s public records law. But both his refusal to comply with the administration’s requests to turn in the texts and his open involvement in maneuverings to fire the superintendent suggest he is being brazenly defiant and insubordinate. The superintendent’s silence on the matter is inexplicable. (He lost his grievance last Tuesday. See: “School Board Denies Paul Peacock’s Grievance Appeal in Skirmish Over Larger Power Struggle.”)
The script Peacock sent Hunt was titled “script” and was an explicit parliamentary how-to on getting rid of the superintendent. It isn’t clear who wrote it. The fact that Peacock took a screen shot of his screen showing the script and sent the picture, rather than wrote the script out himself in a text, as he did all other texts, suggests he may have received the script from a more able legal hand. It reads:
“1. Make motion to discuss and address Super’s contract. If second, then you can discuss and address.
“2. After discussion, make the motion to terminate and get the second. Once there is a second, it has to be voted on or withdrawn.
“3. Chair or Gavin object that it is improper, have her cite where in Roberts Rules which governs board policy 206 C1 last [illegible] [Kristy Gavin is the school board attorney.]
“4. See the above as Roberts to allow new business or old business.
“5. If they object follow the above of process [illegible] above.”
The image as reproduced in texts (see the image at the top of the article) and copied in response to a public record request is a bit blurry, making one or two words illegible. The bulk of the text is clear enough.
Hunt has claimed that she spoke with Peacock no differently than she did many other people. She was the assigned “liaison” to Wadsworth Elementary. Every board member is assigned one or two schools as liaison. That role entails one responsibility: to attend the monthly School Improvement Council meetings and report back to the board. Hunt did not appear to know when the SAC meetings were when she spoke of the matter last Tuesday.
“There’s been a lot of chat about my speaking with Paul Peacock,” she said in a March 21 radio interview. “I mean, I’ve, I’ve talked with a lot of people and so to kind of have this idea that I’m just, you know, speaking with one principal at one school is is really just, it’s disappointing.”
Hunt’s phone, text and in-person contacts with Peacock are so copious that her claims that he was just another person she spoke with are between disingenuous and dishonest. So are her claims that she was doing her “due diligence” on the superintendent, as she continued to say as late as March 21: “I am doing my due diligence. It’s an incredibly important role. All I have asked for with my fellow board members is for us to get it on the agenda to publicly notice it so that we can all speak in detail to it, where the public has been made aware that we’re going to be talking about it.”
That’s not true, of course: the only thing keeping her from putting it on the agenda herself had been the fourth vote, and she didn’t want to just talk about it, but to make a motion to fire Mittelstadt.
She will get to do that on Tuesday. It’s on the agenda now, as a special meeting called by Board member Will Furry and scheduled for April 4 at 5:30 p.m., when the board will be discussing each member’s evaluation of Mittelstadt, assuming they’re completed by then (three of the five were not turned as of this afternoon). That special meeting will be the fourth time the board will have met that day, starting with a workshop on the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club at 10:30, a closed-door session on security, and a 3 p.m. agenda workshop, where the superintendent’s evaluations were originally to be discussed.
After its discussion of the evaluations at the 5:30 meeting, the board will take a vote on whether to renew her contract and for how long, or whether to not renew–essentially, firing her.
Board members Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro have already said they support continuing the superintendent’s contract. Furry and Board member Christy Chong have been mum, saying, like Hunt, that they want to do their due diligence, though ideologically, they fill the two seats of previous board members who had sought to fire Mittelstadt, too.
If Hunt might have claimed in public that her mind was not made up, she cannot make that claim now (unless she has changed her mind).
“I’ve been criticized that I’m not sharing. It’s like I’m hiding something or I’m not sharing, you know, my thoughts on on the current superintendent and so it’s again, it’s a little bit bizarro land for me,” Hunt said on March 21, when her texts show she was doing exactly that: orchestrating board actions and policies with a shadow board member who was openly antagonistic to the district and had a personal stake before the board. Peacock’s and Hunt’s interest in firing the superintendent had merged.
They compared notes after board meetings and strategized together for months, all in secret even as Hunt claimed on the board that she was all about transparency: She and Peacock had a “regular briefing,” in Peacock’s words, “biweekly,” though their contact was far more frequent. He gave thumbs up and thumbs down to people Hunt sought to meet (former principal and security consultant Winnie Oden, up, current Coordinator of Student Supports and Behavior John Fanelli, down).
She sought his help “drafting the best 7-10 questions to be given to administrators, community leaders, stakeholders like realtor assoc, etc” (“on it!” he replied). He coached her on board parliamentary maneuvers, she called him before school board meetings, she called him after. Their relationship had grown intimate enough that by the end of February, when she butt dialed him, she texted, “Well hello butt.”
Hunt last Tuesday asked to be reassigned from Wadsworth. She gave no indication that she was doing so out of ethical responsibility, again blaming “media narrative” rather than her own actions, or Peacock’s conflicts. But unlike Peacock, she has, after significant delays, complied with some–not all–record requests.
In those texts, Hunt revealed herself more than she knew: “Impartial!!! That’s the word I could not think of,” she texted Peacock at the beginning of February. She apparently could not think of what she no longer was.