Flagler County School Board member Sally Hunt would rather parents follow what she calls the “chain of command” before emailing her. Even then, she remains uncomfortable receiving certain types of communications questioning her.
Hunt made the startling assertion toward the end of Tuesday evening’s board meeting, placing parents and constituents in a subordinate role to what she twice described as a a board as “super boss,” and in effect reversing the roles of elected officials and constituents: she as an elected official is the boss. She wants constituents, her subordinates, to follow the chain of command, starting at school and through the administration, before their case is elevated to her level.
Hunt does not appear to have been aware of the elitist arrogance her statement projected, nor of the apparent misunderstanding–14 months into her tenure on the board–of her role as an elected official. She admitted to still not entirely knowing what the role of the School Board is in relation to constituent services. Those services are central to the responsibilities of elected officials at any level of government, but seemingly not for Hunt, who does not return calls and has had an automatic reply on her emails directing correspondents to communicate with the administration through the district’s portal.
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“As I have now been on the board for over a year, a recurring kind of theme that I’m seeing as we get emails from parents, for instance, is maybe this idea that this board is almost like a super boss of of the operation side of the house, right?” Hunt said. “So I you know, if it’s a parent who has worked with the district, and they either don’t like the outcome, or maybe they’re not getting information as quickly as they would like, a lot of times they’ll come to the board, right? I just wanted to really discuss with my colleagues whether we have a position or what maybe your understanding of our role is, because for me, I don’t see–I see Superintendent Moore handling her side of the business and in the schools and that would always be for me, I would want a parent to continue to work through the administrator at their child’s school, and then work up through, up through and including the chain of command.” (Her remark was first reported Tuesday evening by Flagler Schools Parent.)
Parents and constituents, of course, answer neither to school administrators or the superintendent nor to any kind of “chain of command.” They take their concerns where they think it is likeliest to be addressed. While some elected officials may be adept at evading constituents, most welcome direct contact, since it’s the most effective, unfiltered way to keep the pulse of their community, and the “chain of command” may be more frustrating or bureaucratic than necessary.
Hunt, however, remains perplexed by the demands put upon her as a school board member–a role she clearly is not relishing. “We got an email recently that said, hey, board members, where are you? And I don’t like that,” Hunt said. “I don’t want that to be the case. But I also don’t see us as being super boss over this district. And so, whether it is a communication, clarification, you know, how do we communicate with our families of really what the role is of the school board and what the role isn’t.”
Hunt was also being remarkably disingenuous: last year as she machinated with then-Wadsworth Elementary principal Paul Peacock to get former Superintendent Cathy Mittlestadt fired, she never followed her own school board’s chain of command, operating on her own–and possibly with some of the other board members–in a shade of her own making, so that by the time of the vote to get rid of Mittlestadt, it was a done deal.
Will Furry, who chairs the board, embraced the “chain of command” terminology, applying it both to parents and students. But he appeared more instinctively aware of his role as board member. “There is a time when a parent, their issue may fall through the cracks, right? And that’s oftentimes if that happens, they come to the board,” he said. “It’s when it gets to us and we bring it forward to Superintendent Moore and the appropriate staff, it gets attention. And I think that’s what we can do is bring attention to these these issues.”
Furry then schooled Hunt: “We got to let our leadership follow policy and we’re there to make sure that policy is being enforced and it’s being followed. Right? So you as a board member are an advocate for your constituents, and many of them are students and parents, right? And so you can get involved in that way.
Colleen Conklin, who has been on the schoolboard since 2000, described how she’s typically steered constituents through channels(she, too, used the words “chain of command”), but at the same time, she does so by copying top administrators to ensure that the issue is being addressed, while telling the constituent to follow up if necessary. But she was very clear about constituent expectations: “I can tell you in the 24 years” she’s been on the board, Conklin said, when constituents “send an email to the entire board, they expect the entire board to answer.”
Hunt’s chain-of-command wasn’t the only startling statement she made Tuesday. In an earlier meeting, she revealed that she was making decisions based on what would best support Furry and Board member Christy Chong.
The board met three times on Tuesday. At that morning’s workshop, on selecting new legal representation, Hunt made a cryptic remark about her future on the board: “I’ve been going back and forth on whether I’m going to share this or not, but I feel just I like to be transparent. You know, I’m not going to be on the board that much longer,” she said, without elaborating. It wasn’t clear if she meant she would not be completing her term–she has once resigned than un-resigned, and has since considered resigning–or if she was limiting herself to one term.
Hunt made the statement in the context of her ranking law firms vying to represent the school board, and to say that her ranking was to support Furry and Chong, who will continue to be on the board beyond her. In other words, she was putting her vote in the service of Furry and Chong.
“It’s really important for me that they trust, that this legal counsel works for them,” Hunt said of Furry and Chong, “because they are the ones who are for sure going to be here, right? So I just felt like I wanted to share that. A little bit of where I’m at is that I certainly I still have a vote and I still want to make the best decisions with my vote for the district. But I’m also very mindful of the long term, who the board is going to be.” Board member Cheryl Massaro, who is running again, did not enter into Hunt’s calculation. Conklin is not running again.