It’s not news that political candidates tell tall tales about themselves or get embroiled in even taller tales they blame others for, tales that strain credibility, tales that insult voters’ intelligence but that get told anyway, as if it’s part of the accepted norm of running for office. It shouldn’t be. But it continues to be. Here’s another one of those tales.
Starting on July 18, someone called “satch” began posting campaign messages online about Peter Peligian, a candidate for the Flagler County School Board. The messages appeared on flagleronline, the popular web community that seems to have a chat thread about every topic under the sun. The first message was the beginning of a new thread that “satch” started, entitled “What the School Board Needs,” with this as the kick-off post: “We have to put someone on the board with serious business experience. Money problems really bother me. I met Peter Peligian and he fits the bill.”
It worked. A few others joined in, prompting a longer post from “satch” the next day that was pure campaigning: “Stop the madness. Stop the political favoritism,” “Let’s get some real people on the board.” That sort of thing.
But that didn’t get too many responses, at least not the kind “satch” was prompting. There was this by another poster, several days later: “Just so it is clear, I just did some research after reading another post and ‘satch’ is actually Peter Peligian himself posing as someone else who supports him as a candidate.”
“‘Satch” had abandoned that thread and started another on July 22, but in greater details relating to current developments at the school board and announcing a fundraiser at McCharacters, a local bar, at the end of the month. Again the questions about “satch” arose the next day, asking “satch” if he (or she) was Peligian’s wife, or Peligian himself. Peligian’s wife is a teacher at Wadsworth Elementary, and no stranger to Flagleronline. “No relation,” ‘satch’ said on July 25, “just informed.”
Then came this: “If I prove you are lying and therefore not trustworthy to be on the schoolboard, would you pull out of the race?” There was no answer. But it was proven that “satch” was, indeed, a relation. It at least looked like Peligian himself. A Flagleronline member posted a screen shot of Peligian’s profile, which lists his campaign email ([email protected]) and links it to “satch.” Of course someone could have impersonated Peligian and created the account with his email. But considering that no one had heard of Peligian before, it’s also a near-mathematical impossibility that anyone would have bothered.
But that’s what Peligian is now saying happened. He was impersonated. And not by just anyone: by his own daughter.
After comments about this alleged impersonation started appearing on this site, including one from Peligian himself explaining the business, I called him. We’d talked a couple of times before and exchanged emails. He’s an affable man, clearly bright, friendly, well-spoken, with a baritone voice fit for a late-night radio jazz show, but savvy and compulsively guarded, too: He’ll speak about his forefathers in Armenia; he’ll barely speak about his immediate family in Palm Coast. His first name is Sarkis, his middle name is Peter. This is good old Flagler County (where ‘satch,’ in one of his or her postings, had complained that the “good ole’ boys and girls are stealing our tax dollars and pointing fingers elsewhere”). “Sarkis,” with that Armenian ring, might not fly as well as the more Anglo-Saxon, if not biblical, “Peter.” That foreign feel, you see. So off went Sarkis. Peligian knows his way around names, in other words.
Peligian agreed that the impersonation was “pretty disturbing,” but he said he’d addressed it. Here’s how he did so on this site: “This concern has prompted my daughter to come forth and admit the she is Satch ( a nickname). With ready access to my campaign email – an always open application on my home desktop – she wanted to ‘help her father.'”
Some help. I assumed Peligian’s daughter was a teenager, a 13 or 14 year old who, like most teenagers, is prone to pretty colossal misjudgments. But Peligian’s daughter is 29. Hardly a child. She’s a young mother raising a child. What could have possibly motivated her, or allegedly motivated her, to impersonate her father in hopes of helping him, using his email address, does a bit more than strain credibility. So does Peligian’s own reaction.
“I can’t keep track of everybody all the time. I’m responsible for myself. I can’t be responsible for everybody in the household,” he said. Not quite what one expects to hear from a candidate for a board that will be responsible for 1,800 employees and 13,000 children–a candidate who is making his managerial skills the centerpiece of his campaign.
Peligian, keep in mind, says on his website that he had no aspirations to hold public office, but “recent events have moved me.” He doesn’t say what those events are. He does say that “communicate with credibility” and “hold myself accountable first” are among the things that define him.
Really? Not much desire to hold himself accountable here. Blame it on the daughter.
Peligian also said he didn’t know about the impersonation until yesterday, when he found out about it at FlaglerLive. That, too, strains credibility. When messages are posted in response to a thread on Flagleronline, as on most community chat sites, blogs and Facebook, the person who started the thread–even people taking part in the thread–are alerted by email of follow-up comments. Peligian is suggesting that he did not get any of these alerts in the 10 days the two threads started by his account generated them. Maybe he didn’t. Let’s assume he didn’t. Or that his wife didn’t, either. Or that his wife’s friends didn’t. Thousands of people go on Flagleronline every week. Chatter there spills out, especially when particular individuals are singled out. Is Peligian–a candidate for office who, if he’s anything like the warm-blooded candidates who usually run for office, is on the highest alert for any reference that could heighten his profile was being said, peddled, alleged–suggesting that he never once got wind of alternately flattering and credibility-busting things being said about him over those 10 days? From anyone? This is beginning to sound as credible as beach-front property in Arizona.
Peligian called it “poor judgment” and “a misstep” on his daughter’s part. If his daughter was responsible for “satch,” she had thrust herself, and Peligian of course, to the center of a situation which, in other circumstances, carries criminal penalties: impersonating an individual is a grave offense. It would only be fair to hear Peligian’s daughter’s side of the story. Peligian balked. He said he’d have to ask her first. Does the daughter have a name? He would not disclose that, either. Two follow-up calls went to voice-mail. He returned a call on Thursday afternoon (July 29). We spoke regarding this and additional matters. I asked him how many children he had. He wouldn’t say. Not even the number of children he had. I reminded him that he’d brought up the fact that his children had gone through the Flagler school system. Ah, yes. So he conceded that one: two. He wouldn’t elaborate. No names.
For good reason, as it turns out: Aria, his 29-year-old, the daughter allegedly responsible for those postings, and for excoriating a school board that, in his/her words, “bows before the superintendent rather than show the backbone to live up to its job description and make the necessary expenses”–just had a court judgment filed against her for failing to pay her $2,666 credit card bill (a Disney Rewards card, no less). The judgment was followed by a garnishment order last December, which was dissolved within weeks, presumably when the bill was finally paid. Peligian, of course, would not talk about that.
I asked him about a small claims judgment entered against him and his wife, Sharon, in 2006, which also goes to his credibility as a candidate banging the drums of financial management and fiscal responsibility. His answer: “No comment.” In 1989, Peligian himself failed to pay $7,419 in taxes, which resulted in a lien slapped on all of Peligian’s properties from the IRS (the bill was paid in 1991). I asked him about that. “No comment.” And he wants to manage our tax dollars. That one needs no comment, either. It speaks for itself.
Peligian isn’t running for a PTA presidency. He’s running for the Flagler County School Board. His character and transparency — in his own words, his credibility and his accountability — matter. He may be a rookie candidate. But he’s portraying himself as a seasoned supervisor and manager. That, too, is raising questions.
In responses to written questions from FlaglerLive, Peligian said his “management experience includes supervision of 600 employees with an operating budget of $150M,” a claim he repeated at a candidates’ forum two days ago. Nowhere in his resume, which he provided on request, is anything approximating that impressive line listed. Between 2005 and 2008, he lists directing 11 district sales managers in the operation of 124 Claire’s stores “with an average annual volume of $47 million,” and launching 13 new locations. (No mention of Claire’s closing 118 stores in 2008). He’s currently a district sales manager with Beall’s, with responsibility for nine stores “worth a total of $14 million in sales volume.”
Peligian in his remarks at the candidates’ forum on Tuesday stressed transparency and criticized the school board for lacking it. The stones he cast opened his own can of worms in what he calls “this noble campaign.”