Although Director of Schools Jesse Register sat quietly while members attacked or defended his leadership in an airing of grievances at the school board last night, the superintendent aired his own.
Finding himself the target of Board Member Will Pinkston’s criticism over how he handles constituent issues and informs them on details of recent charter school closures, Register said he’s found it difficult to keep up with 389 emails Pinkston has sent him since November.
“I’ve had many emails from Mr. Pinkston, questions that have been raised about various things. I respond when I can, but when you’re dealing with two or three hundred emails it can become quite cumbersome,” said Register.
Pinkston’s emails represent 59 percent of the 659 total emails Register said he has received from the nine-member board in that time on all subjects, he said, adding it highlights difference in approaches board members have to solving problems.
"If he's spending his time analyzing where emails are coming from, then that's not a great use of anybody's time," Pinkston responded. "For every email Jesse Register claims to have received from me, I've probably received three times that volume complaining about him and the Central Office."
Until April, Pinkston said he and Register were "pretty close and talking multiple times a day," and the volume of emails should be a sign of their alliance at the time. "That of course is done now, so I suspect he'll be seeing fewer emails from me."
Counting up the number of emails from the former state-level political operative is the first clear move Register has made to counter attacks from Pinkston who wants to start a conversation about replacing Register when his contract expires next summer.
The board debated for nearly two hours about various school board policies at its Governance Committee meeting Tuesday night aimed at reviewing board policies. At times, the meeting singled out Pinkston for attacking Register in the media instead of within the school board.
“Sometimes you just need to air your differences to get them out of the way to that you can move on. So I think it will make for a much better working relationship for all board members because we’ve had that opportunity,” said Board Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes after the meeting where she accused Pinkston of playing "gotcha" with Register.
Frustration among board members had been brewing for months. Some issues were minor, like tension about the days and times committee meetings could be scheduled. Others boiled over, like whether Pinkston’s public criticisms of Register are hurting the board and the superintendent.
Mayes called Pinkston on the carpet Sunday for publicly voicing criticisms of Register in the media and to constituents in violation of board policy that requires any disapproval be voiced in the superintendent’s yearly performance evaluation. Pinkston argued he had privately shared his concerns to no avail and refused to defend decisions he didn’t agree with.
“Let’s be honest. Things don’t go so well over here sometimes,” he said.
Board Member Anna Shepherd called Pinkston’s criticisms “distracting,” adding they’re “tearing down” Register and the rest of the school board. She added Pinkston should follow the policy and speak with his vote instead of publicly airing their dirty laundry.
Whether the board can constitutionally enforce a policy that bans members from publicly expressing “individual negative judgements” about the director and staff is unknown. A lawyer from Metro’s legal department said the law was unclear and there have been no similar legal challenges, and thus hard to predict what a court would rule.
The board ultimately tabled several policy revisions regarding the board conduct and executive expectations in an attempt to hear more from Register and maintain Tuesday’s dialogue, leaving the issues to reboot later this summer.
Update (10:29 a.m.): In a follow up interview about the volume of emails he sends to Register, Pinkston added: "If you look at that amount of emails going back to November, that's less than two emails per day. If that amount of email traffic is considered to be overwhelming, the Central Office may have bigger problems than I imagined."
Below is a full blow-by-blow of last night’s meeting.