Who exactly is the spokesperson for School District?

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With spotlight on current OCSD investigations, there’s confusion over who should be responsible for providing information to the public and media.

By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn | hosbourne@nwfdailynews.com

FORT WALTON BEACH — The responsibilities of an Okaloosa County School District “spokesman” has caused confusion among district faculty, staff, School Board members and the community.

Henry Kelley, whose official title is Program Director of Community Affairs, said in a text message to retired Federal Special Agent Steven Menchel on Oct. 23 that he isn’t the district spokesman.

“Despite a constant misstatement of my job as a ‘District spokesman,’ I have multiple other additional duties, and I will be tending to you those this week … ,” Kelley said in the text.

Kelley added that it “may be a while” before he got back with Menchel to answer questions regarding School Board policy and details about recent district investigations because “your questions require legal review.”

That exchange followed a total of 21 text messages between the men on Oct. 20, which led Menchel to file a formal complaint against Kelley for harassing communications.

The complaint was emailed Wednesday to Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson — while also forwarded to members of the School Board and State Attorney Bill Eddins — and invites an interesting question: If Kelley isn’t the designated spokesperson for Okaloosa County School District, and the position’s inherent duties, then who is?

According to Kelley’s official job description, his responsibilities include developing and managing mentor programs and a network of volunteers. He also serves as executive director of the Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation, Okaloosa Communications Foundation and other supporting groups.

In a district-wide email from Jackson on Aug. 5, however, she instructed faculty and staff to refer all district-related questions from the media to Kelley.

“We have a spokesperson for the district and he is the person who will speak to the press about school district issues,” Jackson said.

Again, according to Kelley’s job description, the superintendent does have the power to add additional responsibilities to his workload. The description states he’s required to perform “all other duties as assigned by the Superintendent,” plus “This employee is an employee at will serving at the pleasure of the Superintendent.”

As an example of the fairly standard expectations for a school district spokesperson, Norwin School District in Pennsylvania includes on its job description for the position:

“Serves as information liaison between the District and the greater community, including the news media … Maintains open lines of communication with all community organizations and provides prompt responses to requests for public information about the District (in coordination with the Right-to-Know Officer), its policies and its programs.”

School Board member Rodney Walker said Menchel has sparked an interest in Kelley’s duties and responsibilities.

“I just yesterday went back and looked at the job description when he was hired,” Walker said. “His main responsibility, when I voted for it, I thought was going to be for him to go out in the public and raise funds. If you really look at what he’s done, 98 percent, to be honest with you, is being the spokesperson for the superintendent.”

In an email in August 2016, Kelley referred to himself as the “district spokesman.”

School Board Chairman Lamar White said, to the best of his knowledge, Kelley’s position as spokesman has not changed.

Kelley, who earns an annual income of $103,889, was hired in 2014 after Jackson revived the Program Director of Community Affairs position.

“I think the program director for community affairs is a unique job description in that this position reports directly, unlike the other program director positions, to the superintendent,” White said.

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