The fate of the complaint filed by Destin resident Steve Menchel against Okaloosa County School District spokesman Henry Kelley lies in the hands of Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, according to school district attorney Jeff McInnis.
TOM McLAUGHLIN @TomMnwfdn
Dissatisfied with Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson’s failure to address his questions about a recent social media outburst by district spokesman Henry Kelley, Destin resident Steve Menchel filed a formal complaint by email Wednesday morning.
Included in the body of the complaint — addressed to Jackson but also forwarded to members of the Okaloosa County School Board and State Attorney Bill Eddins — are transcriptions of 16 text messages Kelley sent to Menchel, including 13 sent between 1:16 and 2:09 p.m. Friday.
“Unless Mr. Kelley was on leave on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, based on the time he initiated the text messages, he was doing this during ‘working hours,’” Menchel states in the complaint.
Though neither Kelley or Jackson returned phone calls seeking comment, the focus of Kelley’s texts seemed to be pointing out to Menchel the mistake he is making by posting on Facebook articles from the Northwest Florida Daily News covering recently exposed scandals within the school district.
“You keep posting stories and making it appear the Daily News is telling the truth,” a text sent at 1:33 p.m. Friday said. “I’m not standing for it anymore. Citizens like you either set the record straight or you perpetuate lies.”
Kelley also appeared to be warning Menchel that his Facebook posts are somehow negatively impacting the reputation of the Okaloosa County Republican Executive Committee, an organization Menchel had formerly served as an officer.
“Many people will watch your Facebook. OCREC has developed quite the reputation,” Kelley texts at 1:24 p.m.
Menchel wonders in a later post “why out of the clear blue did you come at me today(?)” and states he is “puzzled by the OCREC comment.”
The exchange with Kelley, which spilled over onto Facebook, was bothersome on several levels, Menchel said, particularly the mean-spirited tone of the remarks made and the appearance that Kelley had sought him out during the course of a taxpayer-funded work day.
“With all the scandals taking place at the schools, why would he spend an hour texting me?” Menchel said.
Menchel went before the School Board on Monday night to ask Jackson if she was aware her spokesman had initiated what would become a heated online argument with him.
He also asked the superintendent if she had sanctioned the text message discussion and if she had any information concerning other county residents who may have received the same type of admonishment from Kelley.
Menchel said he decided to file the complaint, “since I asked that question to Ms. Jackson at the board meeting and she chose not to answer.”
The scandal that apparently sparked the animosity Kelley has expressed toward the Daily News started with allegations of possible child abuse at Kenwood Elementary.
A report filed by a school district investigator in 2016 confirmed special education teacher Marlynn Stillions had violated school policies with interactions and procedures that might have caused harm to pre-K special needs students.
The school district dismissed the report findings and withheld the document from public scrutiny for nearly a year. When a victim’s father placed the report in the hands of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in May, then provided a copy to the Daily News in August, an investigation ensued that resulted in three felony arrests, including Stillions on Sept. 13 for four counts of child abuse without great bodily harm. Also arrested that day for failing to report suspected child abuse were former Kenwood principal Angelyn Vaughan and school district investigator Arden Farley.
The investigation into the Stillions case remains open, with the First Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office now in the lead role.
Menchel said the decision to include State Attorney Eddins as a recipient of the email he sent announcing his formal complaint was not intended to allege criminal wrongdoing.
“I’m not expecting anything criminal, not at all,” he said. “And the questions I have asked may be questions he’s (Eddin’s) already asked. I’m just keeping him in the loop.”
Rodney Walker, who has spent decades as a member of the Okaloosa County School Board, said he couldn’t recall receiving a past complaint similar to the one filed by Menchel.
The fate of the Menchel complaint lies in Jackson’s hands, according to school district attorney Jeff McInnis.
“The complaint falls within the superintendent’s jurisdiction, she would determine how that complaint will be handled and processed,” he said.
According to Walker, if Jackson decides to suspend Kelley without pay, or determines that his actions should result in termination, it must be brought before the School Board for a vote.
Walker said the issue around which the complaint revolves is a troubling one.
“It surprised me,” he said. “It would not matter whether it was Mr. Kelley or anybody else, to get into an exchange on Facebook with things that concern the school district, it doesn’t appear to be an appropriate place to do it.”