Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

TOP STORY >> Frustrated McGill considers lawsuit

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Rob McGill, acting superintendent for the Pulaski County Special School District, is considering legal action after a confidential report was leaked regarding allegations he had made racist remarks.

Rizelle Aaron of the Jack-sonville chapter of the NAACP divulged that he had been sent the report, which summarizes findings of the investigation by Lassiter and Couch, a Little Rock law firm.

He made the revelation during the public-comment period at a special meeting Monday of the PCSSD School Board.

The firm released the 24-page report last Friday to school board members and Jay Baquette, attorney for PCSSD. Only late Monday afternoon did McGill receive the report.

The report on the investigation is part of McGill’s personnel file. Releasing it without authorization violates district policy.

In response to Aaron’s statement, McGill said he wanted to release the report after all names of witnesses – all PCSSD employees – were blacked out. The report sent to board members and leaked to Aaron contained witness names.

The report was released to news media Tuesday afternoon, with names blacked out.

“It is very serious, something that you just don’t do other than to officials who have the need and right to know,” McGill said. “I am considering an investigation into the matter.”

McGill would not say whether he was considering a sanction against the individual who released the report or legal action.

“I will be talking to my personal legal counsel about that,” McGill said.

School board president Tim Clark said that whether to go for ward with an investigation will be a board decision.

“It is important to keep personnel information confidential,” Clark said. “A, it is important that it never happen again, and B, does the board want another investigation?”

The report summarizes interviews with four witnesses regarding an incident alleged to have occurred in January in the lobby of the Arkansas Department of Education building immediately following the Arkansas Board of Education’s denial of two PCSSD charter school applications.

The lawyers’ report concluded: “(W)e find that Mr. McGill did not make a racially insensitive remark. We wish to point out at this time that we do not believe any of the witnesses are lying or even shading the truth. We believe they told us exactly what they remember hearing or not hearing.”

McGill requested the independent investigation after a copy of a letter about the alleged incident was publicized. The letter was from a black PCSSD employee to McGill. The person alleges McGill said, following denial of the charter application,

“They gave the blacks something, but didn’t give the whites nothing.”

McGill has since said that what was overheard was his chastising a white employee, who had made the charter school presentation. He said that out of frustration the person commented that the race of the presenters might have had a bearing on the state board’s decision. All members of the PCSSD presentation team were white.

According to McGill, he corrected the employee, pointing out that Little Rock School District presenters, also white, were denied an application as well.

McGill met with the employee who sent him the letter, distraught over the alleged comments. Subsequently, the employee sent a letter to the PCSSD saying that the matter was resolved.

“I met with Acting Superintendent Rob McGill today. Apology extended and accepted. I want to make sure that my letter does NOT interfere with his opportunity to interview for our district’s superintendent.”

McGill says he was not apologizing for making racial remarks but for the other employee’s comments.

According to the report, sometime after the incident, rumors began to circulate among PCSSD personnel that McGill had used the word, “nigra,” or “negro” that day in the ADE building lobby.

And by other reports, McGill apologized for the alleged remarks at a PCSSD school board meeting, which would seem to indicate that he indeed made the comments.

According to the investigators’ report, regarding what McGill said about the matter at a board meeting: “(T)here is significant dispute about whether he admitted making the remark or not. Mr. McGill’s explanation, as well as that of other witnesses who attended the meeting, leads us to the conclusion that Mr. McGill tried to explain the comment as it related to the comment of another employee without providing too many details prior to the investigation. This explanation has been apparently construed by some as an admission, although we do not believe that is a fair construction.”

Board vice president Charlie Wood said that he favored “asking someone to prosecute” whoever leaked the report.

Aaron says that the report does not clear McGill, but simply fails to make a clear case against him. His obtaining the report without authorization is no different than what occurs with leaks to the press in the public’s interest – “kind of like reporters,” he said.