Removed as the district spokesperson, Henry Kelley was admonished for not adhering to school district hiring procedures and for not properly vetting public records requests before releasing them to a media member.
TOM McLAUGHLIN @TomMnwfdn
Henry Kelley has been conspicuous by his absence.
Once a fixture at Okaloosa County School District public events, the man who holds dual titles as program director for community affairs and executive director of the Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation hasn’t been present at recent School Board meetings.
Though Kelley did not respond to messages seeking comment, the explanation as to why he hasn’t been seen could be found in a letter dated Nov. 9 in which Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson reprimanded him for two violations of district “processes and procedures.”
In the letter, Jackson also notified Kelley that he is no longer the district’s spokesman.
“From here forward, I have transferred the duties and responsibilities of spokesperson to another department,” Jackson’s letter said.
Jackson acknowledged Wednesday she had assumed the role.
“I will be the spokesperson for now,” she said in an email.
Hiring procedure violation
Kelley got himself in trouble for attempting to hire a secretary of community affairs without going through the proper procedures.
“All applicants that met the eligibility requirements stated in the job description along with your desired criteria should have been interviewed,” Jackson said in her letter. “From the interview notes and records that you provided it is evident this was not the case, as several applicants who met all of the eligibility requirements and possessed the requested experience were not provided interviews for the position.”
Kelley’s effort to hire the secretary without going through proper application processes sparked a conversation at the School Board’s Nov. 13 meeting. Board member Dewey Destin said actions such as those by Kelley were part of a “systemic problem” within the district’s Human Resources Department.
“That one (Kelley’s personnel move) tipped the scale to take some action. My issue all along has been with making some decisions that we’re not sure are correct when it comes to H.R.,” Destin said Friday.
At the meeting, Destin proposed that future hirings be treated as separate School Board agenda items and hiring recommendations come before the board bearing a written statement confirming that the interview process conducted had met School Board policy and state law.
The motion passed unanimously.
Kelley responded to the reprimand on Nov. 14, and admitted he’d acted without consulting Human Resources “fully” on the hiring process.
“Most of my professional career has been in a corporate setting, and I thought that was the proper practice and did not follow School Board processes fully,” Kelley wrote. “There was no intent to deny anyone a fair chance to earn the position. Indeed, my first selection for the position turned us down.”
Kelley said that in the future he would work more carefully with the Human Resources Department.
Public records violation
In the same letter of reprimand, Jackson admonished Kelley for releasing emails and a complaint against a school district administrator to a WEAR television reporter without vetting them through the proper channels.
“It is imperative that all public records requests are sent through the appropriate channels to include Eric Mitchell in our Information Systems Department,” the letter said. “The district must ensure that all requests are answered in full and that records are correctly redacted.”
The emails, released to Channel 3 reporter Christopher Saul on Oct. 18, became an issue for Kelley when Gene Earley, who had sent them, objected to their release. Earley’s work history has provided him an extensive knowledge of Florida’s Sunshine Laws.
“These emails contained a direct complaint against an OCSD employee, Ms. Stacie Smith; and discussions concerning that complaint with Mary Beth Jackson. Florida Statute and Florida Department of Education policies and rules (dictate) those emails were confidential and excluded from release under Florida Sunshine Law exclusions,” Earley wrote in a formal complaint lodged against Kelley.
Earley pointed out in the complaint that Kelley’s releasing the emails to Saul also violated “the specific public guidance and direction of the superintendent of schools.”
Jackson has notified the Northwest Florida Daily News and others seeking public records that requests must be made in a written email communication through Eric Mitchell, the district’s director of Management Information Systems and Instructional Technology.
In his response to the second reprimand, Kelley also admitted wrongdoing.
“In an effort to assist our media, I took a verbal request for records and sent the emails in question without sending it to the custodian of records first,” his response said. “I apologize for any problems this has caused and going forward I will ensure all public records requests are sent to the custodian of records for proper handling.”
Private investigator questioned
After the letter of reprimand regarding Kelley was released with other documents to the public, Earley filed another complaint with the School Board. In it he noted that Jackson hired a private investigator to look into the release of documents from the first complaint after she’d issued the letter of reprimand.
“Mary Beth Jackson has mismanaged my formal complaint against Mr. Henry Kelley,” an email from Earley to the School Board said.
Earley said he was notified of the hiring of the private investigator on Nov. 15.
“Ms. Jackson inappropriately allowed an independent private investigator to conduct a preliminary investigation into a formal complaint on an OCSD employee — who had already been formally reprimanded by Ms. Jackson for the issues within my complaint and for which the OCSD employee had already admitted in his reply to Ms. Jackson’s letter of reprimand that he had in fact received a verbal records request and in fact did send those records (emails),” the email said.
“Ms. Smith was aware of this well before the date of contracting with/hiring/assigning the independent Private Investigator and well before he started his investigation,” Earley said, noting the investigator was paid $1,499.50, or $90 an hour, for his work.
Jackson defended the decision to hire the investigator.
“When the issue of Mr. Kelley releasing emails to the media without following proper procedure was brought to my attention by my staff, I conferenced with Mr. Kelley and decided then to issue a letter of reprimand,” she said. “Mr. Gene Earley later filed a formal complaint against Mr. Kelley regarding the release of those records. I felt it appropriate to handle his formal complaint through an outside independent investigator to ensure that the matter was fully documented.”
More disciplinary action
On the day Earley alleges the private investigator was hired to investigate an already resolved complaint, Kelley received notice of another disciplinary action. A “letter of guidance” from Jackson was sent directing him to use greater care when communicating on behalf of the Okaloosa County School District.
The letter of guidance was in reference to a complaint filed by Destin resident Steve Menchel concerning a series of harassing text messages from Kelley on Oct. 20. The text messages berated Menchel for posting on Facebook stories by the Daily News that Kelley viewed as negative toward the school district.
Menchel’s complaint led to an inquiry conducted by an “investigator” on loan from Walton County, Danny Graham, whose actual position with the neighboring school district is as an attendance officer and safe school liaison. Graham cleared Kelley of allegations in the complaint, finding Kelley was not on official school district time, but rather on personal leave from the district the afternoon the text messages were sent.
Menchel, a former federal investigator, immediately criticized the inquiry conducted into his complaint as “shallow” and a failure of “basic investigative techniques.”
As an example, Menchel was never interviewed by Graham.
“The failure of the investigation to address in this case any possible policy infractions committed by the accused — a step which is standard in any investigation — is suspect and begs the question what did the investigator investigate?” Menchel told the Daily News.
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